Nominating Presidents: An Evaluation of Voters and Primaries

By John G. Geer | Go to book overview

point was made in the previous chapter and reinforced in this chapter when many voters appeared unable to pick candidates on the basis of their views on issues, ideological positions, or chance for victory. Being unfamiliar with these matters is not as serious a problem as previously thought since it is reasonable for voters to cast their ballots on the basis of personality concerns. It is not clear, however, whether voters have good information about candidates' personal attributes, especially in the early contests. But as the primary season progresses, voters appear to become more informed about the contenders ( Patterson 1980; Brady and Johnston 1987; Bartels 1988). Moreover, voters do seem to be generally familiar with the "serious" contenders even at the outset of the campaigns. These two "facts" suggest that under some, but clearly not under all conditions, voters in primaries may be able to choose candidates well.

The final criticism involves the news media's role in the voters' choice of candidates. Many of the weaknesses of voters' decision-making appear to be linked to the central role the news media play in supplying information to voters. The question becomes, then, whether the news media's influence is destructive or constructive. It is to this question I now turn.


NOTES
1.
Campbell et al. ( 1960) posited a similar test for "issue voting," arguing that there were three prerequisites for it to occur: a voter must have an opinion about a given issue, the issue should be salient to the voter, and the voter must think that one of the candidates better represents his or her position than do other candidates (p. 170). Because saliency is a condition I cannot measure with my data, I have to assume that either the questions used are salient to the voters or that they compose a representative sample of issues in the primaries and thus provide some idea of the perceived differences concerning issues. The issues cover a broad range of topics from abortion to military spending to economic concerns. This breadth makes it likely that many voters would find at least some of these issues relevant to their choice of candidates.
2.
Table 5.1 reports only the comparison between Jackson and Carter--the two main contenders in Pennsylvania--and Carter and Brown--the two main contenders in California. One might contend that these candidates are not representative of the differences in issues that the complete field of candidates had to offer. If one treats Wallace and Bayh as the two contenders, few voters, as one might expect, see these candidates agreeing on many issues. But about 75 percent of respondents did not know either Wallace's or Bayh's positions on any of the six issues, making issue voting unlikely. The same is true for using Wallace and Morris Udall as the two major contenders. These questions are on a seven-point scale. For the actual wording of the questions see Appendix II.
3.
The figures present in Tables 5.1 and 5.2 treat each primary as a two- candidate race. Issue voting in primaries, under my definition, would be even

-84-

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Nominating Presidents: An Evaluation of Voters and Primaries
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Political Science ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures and Tables ix
  • Foreword xi
  • Preface xv
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • Notes 11
  • 2 - The Representativeness of Voters in Presidential Primaries 15
  • 3 - Participation in Presidential Primaries 31
  • 4 - Information and Voters Presidential Primaries 45
  • 4 Information and Voters Presidential Primaries 57
  • 5 - Voting in Presidential Primaries 63
  • Notes 84
  • 6 - The Media and Voters in Presidential Primaries 89
  • Notes 103
  • 7 - A Few Rules of the Game 105
  • Conclusion 120
  • Notes 120
  • 8 - A Proposal for Reform 125
  • Notes 136
  • Appendix I Definition of Variables Used in Explaining Turnout 139
  • Appendix II Description of Survey Questions 141
  • Appendix III The Coding of the Open-Ended Comments 145
  • Bibliography 147
  • Index 155
  • About the Author 161
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