The rationally uninformed electorate: Some experimental evidence


This essay reports on a series of twenty-four election experiments in which voters are allowed to decide between voting retrospectively and purchasing contemporaneous information about the candidate challenging the incumbent. Each experiment consists of a series of election periods in which dummy candidates choose spatial positions which represent either their policy while in office or a promise about policy if elected. Subjects (voters) are told the value to them of the incumbent's policy, but they must decide, prior to voting, whether or not to purchase information about the value of the challenger's promise. In general, our data conform to reasonable expectations: voters purchase less information and rely more on retrospective knowledge when the candidates' strategies are stable, and their likelihood of purchasing information during periods of instability is tempered by the likelihood that their votes matter, by the reliability of the information available for purchase, and by the degree of instability as measured by changes in each voter's welfare.

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This research was supported by a National Science Foundation grant to the University of Texas at Austin. We also wish to thank Peter Gray for preparing the network over which the experiments were conducted.

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Collier, K., Ordeshook, P.C. & Williams, K. The rationally uninformed electorate: Some experimental evidence. Public Choice 60, 3–29 (1989).

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  • Experimental Evidence
  • Public Finance
  • Spatial Position
  • Reasonable Expectation
  • Election Period