Electoral choice and issue voting : the relevance of citizens' perceptions in the 1972 presidential election
Wright, John R., 1952-
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The fundamental question raised in this paper concerns the conditions under which American citizens are most likely to make their voting decisions on the basis of public issues. A literature review reveals that one condition commonly set forth for issue oriented behavior is that political candidates be ideologically distinct from one another. According to this theory, elections involving extremist candidates such as Goldwater or McGovern tend to stimulate higher levels of issue voting. This theory is challenged in the subsequent pages on the grounds that most citizens are not capable of accurately perceiving candidates' issue positions, either because of lack of interest of imperfect information. Consequently, It is argued that the ideological distance between candidates is accurately perceived mostly by citizens who already possess the ability and interest to cast issue oriented votes, and therefore, the existence of extremist candidates has only a marginal effect on the level of issue voting in presidential elections. Individual-level perceptual data from the 1972 general election are used to test this assertion, and the primary finding is that once the level of perceptual accuracy is held constant, the perception of ideological distance between candidates has little effect on the extent of issue voting. In addition, it is found that many citizens have noticeably distorted perceptions of candidate and party positions on a number of issues relevant to the 1972 campaign.