More Important, but for What Exactly? The Insignificant Role of Subjective Issue Importance in Vote Decisions
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.
KeywordsIssue 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.
- Boninger, D. S., Krosnick, J. A., Berent, M. K., & Fabrigar, L. R. (1995). The causes and consequences of attitude importance. In R. E. Petty & J. A. Krosnick (Eds.), Attitude strength: Antecedents and consequences. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
- Carpini, M. X. D., & Keeter, S. (1996). What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Converse, P. E. (1964). The nature of belief systems in mass publics. In D. E. Apter (Ed.), Ideology and discontent. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.Google Scholar
- Dahl, R. A. (1971). Polyarchy: Participation and opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Downs, A. (1957). An economic theory of democracy. Boston: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
- Fiorina, M. P. (1981). Retrospective voting in American national elections. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Hainmueller, J., Mummolo, J., & Xu, Y. (2018). How much should we trust estimates from multiplicative interaction models? Simple tools to improve empirical practice. Political Analysis.Google Scholar
- Hanretty, C., Lauderdale, B. E., & Vivyan N. (2018). Measuring Issue Importance.Google Scholar
- Iyengar, S. (1990). Shortcuts to political knowledge: The role of selective attention and accessibility. In information and democratic processes. (pp. 160–195).Google Scholar
- Jackson, J. E. (1980). Analysis of pilot study issue questions. ANES Pilot Study Report (No. nes002236), 1–42. http://www.electionstudies.org/Library/papers/documents/nes002236.pdf.
- Krosnick, J. A. 1990. Government policy and citizen passion: A study of issue publics in contemporary America. Political Behavior, 12(1), 59–92. http://www.jstor.org/stable/586285.
- Lupia, A., & McCubbins, M. D. (1998). The democratic dilemma: Can citizens learn what they need to know?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Marcus, G. E., & MacKuen, M. B. (1993). Anxiety, enthusiasm, and the vote: The emotional underpinnings of learning and involvement during presidential campaigns. The American Political Science Review, 87(3), 672–685. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2938743.
- Miller, J. M., Krosnick, J. A., & Fabrigar, L. R. (2017). The origins of policy issue salience: Personal and national importance impact on behavioral, cognitive, and emotional issue engagement. In J. A. Krosnick, I. C. A. Chiang, & T. H. Stark (Eds.), Political psychology: New explorations. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Pew Research Center. (2017). Americans express increasingly warm feelings toward religious groups.Google Scholar