Academic journal article Atlantic Economic Journal

Expressiveness and Voting: Alternative Evidence

Academic journal article Atlantic Economic Journal

Expressiveness and Voting: Alternative Evidence

Article excerpt


Since Downs [1957] introduced the idea of the rational voter, there have been numerous empirical studies to test the framework [Brazel and Silberberg, 1973; Ashenfelter and Kelly, 1975; Aldrich and Simon, 1986; Mueller, 1989; Cox and Munger, 1989; Green and Shapiro, 1994; Lapp, 1999; Greene and Nikolaw, 1999; Cebula, 2001; Copeland and LaBand, 2002].

The complexity of voting behavior is perhaps best exemplified in the classic work by Buchanan and Tullock [1962]. Moreover, the possibility of voting in alternative ways, such as voting with one's feet, is exemplified by the work of Tiebout [1956] and Tullock [1971], among others. In a recent study, Copeland and LaBand [2002, p. 351] use LOGIT techniques on longitudinal micro-level, cross-section data for 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, and 1996 to provide empirical evidence for yet another aspect or perspective on voting behavior, namely, "The theory of expressive voting ..." To some extent, this theory and its empirical testing reflect an effort to identify non-traditional or non-demographic variables that may explain voting behavior.

The purpose of this study is to investigate the phenomenon of expressive voting from a different perspective, namely, one using aggregate time series data. To identify factors reflecting expressive behavior, this study, in particular, focuses on the idea that the decision to vote may involve "Rational, self-interested individuals [who] ... engage in behavior that is not motivated directly by a benefit-cost calculation" [Copeland and LaBand, 2002, p. 351]. In particular, it is argued here that issues such as the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War, the public's dissatisfaction with government, or even the excitement of voting for the office of President can invoke such emotionalism as to profoundly affect the public's decision whether to vote or not, despite the negligible probability that any individual's vote could affect the outcome of an election.

This study is offered, in effect, as a complement to, or extension of, the analysis in Copeland and Laband [2002]. Namely, the purpose of this study is to empirically investigate the determinants of aggregate voter participation rates over time in a fashion that includes macro-level, time series variables that can potentially be viewed as eliciting expressive voting at the macro level. Included in this study of expressive voting is a dissatisfaction index (DIS). The dissatisfaction index (DIS) is constructed as an equally weighted average of three normalized indices, reflecting responses to the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (ISR) surveys concerning whether government officials can be trusted, whether they are dishonest, and whether government wastes tax dollars. Values for this index lie within a range of negative 1.5, which corresponds to least dissatisfied, to positive 1.5, which corresponds to most dissatisfied. Thus, the higher the value of this index, the greater the public's dissatisfaction with government. Arguably, the voter dissatisfaction index effectively allows for a measurement of voter attitudes toward government. The time series framework also includes other variables that are hypothesized to affect voters' emotional expressiveness and hence, voter participation rates through time. Included in this analysis are variables to reflect Presidential elections and the enthusiasm and excitement that such elections can engender, the Vietnam War (conflict) and the emotions (reflected in part by widespread public demonstrations and such coined phrases as "The Chicago Seven") it appeared to have invoked, and the Watergate scandal and the negative emotions and attitudes/cynicism it may have touched off, along with variables to reflect more purely economic issues, namely, income tax rates (which also may even evoke emotionalism) and inflation.

Data, Empirical Model, and Results

Presidential elections offer an opportunity to vote for an extremely important policy maker in conjunction with other elected officials. …

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