If one would meet a group of economic voters, what would they look like? If we are to go along with either common political wisdom, or most scholars working on economic voting, they should look pretty much like normal people, more or less a random selection of society. The point here is not so much that economic conditions determine for a lot of people what parties they are going to support. Rather, the model of the “economic voter” claims to be less of a theoretical abstraction than its rational choice cousins “economic” or “political (wo)man”. At the same time, the economic voter still exhibits a lot of the defining characteristics of a rational choice actor. To quote Lewis-Beck (1988:33-34): “Voters are not blind subjects of sociological forces. Nor are they tabulae rasae, waiting to be filled with campaign promises. Rather, voters weigh how things have been and act accordingly.” Economic voting is an instrumental act.
The model of the economic voter, at least in the political science literature, may thus find itself between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the psychology of the economic voter is clearly underdeveloped. On the other hand, the claim that the model of economic voting as a rational-instrumental act applies fairly directly to reality raises several serious questions. It should come as no surprise that these questions have actually become the main controversies in the literature on economic voting.
A good illustration is the debate about whether the economic voter is mainly retrospective or prospective. The retrospective voter looks at past and current economic conditions and, at best, extrapolates from these conditions into the near future. If, in addition, such a voter only considers the most readily available information, we are looking at the “peasant” economic voter. Add some beer and a smoky bar, and the peasant easily becomes a real life character, but one that hardly fits the rational choice interpretation of economic voting. The prospective voter, or “banker, ” considers all available information and responds to events the moment that they are anticipated, rather than waiting until they occur. MacKuen et al. (1992:598) argue that economic voters actually behave accordingly: “In the aggregate, we can imagine an electorate
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Publication information: Book title: Economic Voting. Contributors: Han Dorussen - Editor, Michaell Taylor - Editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 303.
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