Political Behavior

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 429–452 | Cite as

Tactical Voting and Party Preferences: A Test of Cognitive Dissonance Theory

  • Jørgen Bølstad
  • Elias Dinas
  • Pedro Riera
Original Paper


Studying the development of stable political attitudes, political scientists have argued that repeated voting for a political party reinforces initial party preferences, in a seemingly mechanistic process of habit-formation. However, the empirical evidence is scarce and the theoretical framework underdeveloped. Does the act of voting for a party improve an individual’s evaluation of this party? If so, is this effect simply due to habit-formation, or a more complex psychological mechanism? Drawing on cognitive dissonance theory, we examine the act of voting as a choice inducing dissonance reduction. We go beyond existing research, by focusing on tactical voters—a group for which the notion of habitual reinforcement does not predict an effect. The analyses reveal a positive effect of the act of voting tactically on the preferences for the parties voted for and may thus call for a revision of the traditional understanding of the role of voting in shaping party preferences.


Party preferences Partisanship Party identification Cognitive dissonance Tactical voting Genetic matching Multiple control groups 



The authors are grateful for comments by three anonymous reviewers, the editors of this journal, Juan A. Mayoral, and the participants of the Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (EPOP) Annual Conference at the University of Essex, September 10–12, 2010. The usual disclaimer applies.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Nuffield CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  3. 3.European University InstituteFlorenceItaly

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