More Important, but for What Exactly? The Insignificant Role of Subjective Issue Importance in Vote Decisions

  • Thomas J. Leeper
  • Joshua Robison
Original Paper


The nature of democratic governance is intimately connected with how citizens respond to candidate position taking. But when will a generally uninformed public base its vote choices on candidate positions? Since Converse scholars have argued that citizens should place greater weight on candidate positions on issues they consider personally important. However, this claim has received mixed empirical support. We revisit this question with compelling new evidence. First, we expand the limited temporal focus of existing work in our first study where we analyze all available ANES data on importance and issue voting between 1980 and 2008. We then overcome endogeneity concerns through a nationally representative conjoint experiment in which we randomize two candidate’s positions on five issues. Results from both studies demonstrate that there is scant evidence that subjective issue importance consistently moderates the relationship between candidate positions and vote choices. We discuss the implications of these results for “issue public” theories of political engagement, for research on voting behavior, and for political representation.


Issue importance Vote choice Issue voting Candidate positioning Experiment Issue publics 



An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the 2016 Annual conference of the American Political Science Association. We thank Scott Clifford and Rune Stubager for their insightful comments on the manuscript and the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University for research support for Study 2. Author order is alphabetical. All errors remain our own.

Supplementary material

11109_2018_9494_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1698 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GovernmentLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark

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