A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
Political Behavior:
Reasoning Voters and
Multi-party Systems

Franz Urban Pappi

STUDYING political behavior at the level of the general electorate has changed considerably from the early days, characterized by the predominance of the Michigan model in the 1960s ( Campbell et al. 1960; 1966) and the juxtaposition of this social-psychological approach with the rational choice approach of Downs ( 1957). Beginning with revisionist arguments in favor of issue voting ( Rusk 1987), and continuing through both traditional and rational choice ideas about retrospective voting ( Fiorina 1981), a concept of the "reasoning voter" has emerged.

This concept functions as a bridge between political psychologists and "realist" versions of the rational choice approach--versions which try to predict actual voting behavior, instead of focusing exclusively on equilibrium conditions for the demand and supply of policy packages. Reasoning voters are approximately rational, trying to come to terms with a decision situation about which they are only vaguely informed. Judgmental heuristics are used to solve "Simon's puzzle" of how to decide rationally "with limited information and processing capacity" ( Sniderman, Brody and Teflock 1991: 18).

Within a rational choice framework, Popkin adopts the term "reasoning voter" to describe a similar situation in which "voters actually do reason about parties, candidates, and issues" ( 1991: 7), "investing" their vote in collective goods on the basis of "costly and imperfect information under conditions of uncertainty" ( 1991: 10). As contrasted with private investors, these "public investors" have less incentive to gather costly information. Hence Popkin characterizes this choice situation as one of low-cost

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