The Winning Message: Candidate Behavior, Campaign Discourse, and Democracy

By Adam F. Simon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Ventriloquist's Hand: A Game-Theoretic
Model of Campaigns

In this chapter, I develop and analyze a game-theoretic model of campaigning in mass elections. My point of departure is candidate rationality; I assume candidates want to win election, so they act in ways that they believe will increase the likelihood of their electoral victory. More specifically, insofar as campaign activity is concerned, candidates choose to discuss the themes that they expect will maximize their likely share of the vote. I develop the model from a relatively simple representation of voting behavior, to which I add a typology of campaign effects. This typology consists of three effects: priming, learning, and direct persuasion, and so it includes all the social-scientifically documented effects of campaign activity on vote choice. By the end of this chapter, the completed model will identify the forces impelling candidates to resist dialogue. The model will also guide subsequent empirical investigations of candidate behavior and campaign substance that appear later in this book.

My approach diverges in three important respects from other formal models of elections. First, while candidates are understood to be strategic actors (as in other efforts), voters are taken to behave sincerely instead of strategically. I understand a vote to be the sum of a number of different considerations, weighted in proportion to their importance. This representation formalizes the well-researched psychological process underlying vote choice in which voters act in a nonstrategic fashion that minimizes the amount of thought needed to cast a ballot (Ferejohn and Kuklinski 1990; Fiske and Taylor 1991; Popkin 1991). Second, unlike extant formal models of the campaign, the model is multidimensional, consistent with the view of public opinion offered in chapter three. The political environment in which voters operate includes an infinite number of potential subjects, any of which can influence their decisions.

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