Does the Ideological Proximity Between Candidates and Voters Affect Voting in U.S. House Elections?
Do citizens hold congressional candidates accountable for their policy positions? Recent studies reach different conclusions on this important question. In line with the predictions of spatial voting theory, a number of recent survey-based studies have found reassuring evidence that voters choose the candidate with the most spatially proximate policy positions. In contrast, most electoral studies find that candidates’ ideological moderation has only a small association with vote margins, especially in the modern, polarized Congress. We bring clarity to these discordant findings using the largest dataset to date of voting behavior in congressional elections. We find that the ideological positions of congressional candidates have only a small association with citizens’ voting behavior. Instead, citizens cast their votes “as if” based on proximity to parties rather than individual candidates. The modest degree of candidate-centered spatial voting in recent Congressional elections may help explain the polarization and lack of responsiveness in the contemporary Congress.
KeywordsSpatial voting Electoral accountability Congress Representation
We are grateful to Devin Caughey, Robert Erikson, Anthony Fowler, Justin Grimmer, Seth Hill, Stephen Jessee, Jeffrey B. Lewis, Howard Rosenthal, and seminar participants at MIT’s American Politics Conference, Princeton University, the University of California-Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD for feedback on previous versions of this manuscript.
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