The Perot Candidacy and Attitudes toward Government and Politics

By Koch, Jeffrey | Political Research Quarterly, March 1998 | Go to article overview

The Perot Candidacy and Attitudes toward Government and Politics


Koch, Jeffrey, Political Research Quarterly


Prior studies of third-party movements document both an individualand aggregate-level relationship between disatisfaction with government and its leaders and third party support. Unfortunately, these studies are unable to determine whether citizen dissatisfaction precedes third-party support or if third-party support results in heightened negativity toward the political system. Using American National Election Study data to examine 1992 Perot voters, I demonstrate that the causal direction is from third-party support to decreased trust in government and external efficacy Additionally, this research reveals that the Perot campaign increased voter turnout in 1992 by enhancing citizens' interest in that year's campaigns and strengthening the relationship between interest in campaigns and voter turnout. These findings indicate that American third party movements can perform the mobilizing and mentoring functions commonly associated with the maior parties.

H. Ross Perot's 1992 presidential candidacy represents one of the most serious third party challenges in American political history and thus provides a unique opportunity to study the forces that give rise to third party movements as well as their effects on citizens' political dispositions and behavior. In this research three questions with respect to the causes and consequences of Perot's third party challenge are addressed. First, did Perot supporters, relative to those who voted for the major party candidates, possess a distinctive set of political orientations toward the federal government and its leaders prior to the 1992 election, suggesting fertile ground existed for a third party challenge? Or, contrariwise, did Perot's candidacy alter the political orientations of his supporters, producing distinctions between his supporters and those of the major parties' candidates where previously none existed? Second, did Perot's 1992 candidacy mobilize citizens who previously failed to participate in the electoral process at a rate comparable to that of other citizens? Although several studies have already examined the effect of Perot's candidacy on voter turnout in 1992, they present conflicting findings, necessitating a closer, more thorough analysis of the Perot candidacy's effect on citizens' political involvement. Third, where were Perot voters after the 1992 presidential election in terms of their political orientations and involvement in politics? If distinctions existed between Perot supporters in terms of their political orientations and level of involvement, did these differences endure beyond the 1992 election?

THE ORIGINS AND EFFECTS OF THIRD PARTY MOVEMENTS

One set of political attitudes associated with the rise of third party movements are those that can be placed under the general rubric of political cynicism. Research on the determinants of voting for Perot documents a relationship between citizens' trust in government and their support for Perot: those with lower levels of trust or regard for the federal government were more likely to support Perot than those with higher levels of trust or who were more positive about the federal government (Abramson et al. 1994; Asher 1995; Atkeson et al. 1996; Gold 1995; Rosenstone et al. 1996; Zaller and Hunt 1995). Models of third party support assume causality flows from political cynicism to candidate support, they are unable to demonstrate empirically the extent the issue positions or concerns of third party supporters that distinguish them from major party supporters were present prior to the emergence of the third party candidate. This is a common problem in the study of voting behavior: the endogenous nature of the choice process makes determining the direction of causality between issue concerns or positions, partisanship (in the case of third party voting, the lack of), and candidate choice problematic. Did a citizen prefer a particular candidate because of the congruity between her political concerns and the candidate's positions, or did the citizen alter her political orientations, bringing them into line with the message of the candidate she preferred for reasons other than the political orientation under study? …

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