Does Partisan Self-interest Dictate Support for Election Reform? Experimental Evidence on the Willingness of Citizens to Alter the Costs of Voting for Electoral Gain
Elite support for modifying electoral institutions and policies generally depends on whether a proposed change is expected to improve their party’s electoral prospects. Prior studies suggest that the average citizen evaluates potential reforms in a similar manner, but they fail to directly demonstrate that individuals actually consider their partisan self-interest when forming policy preferences. I address this limitation through two survey experiments that manipulate the specific group for whom reforms make voting more or less difficult. The results provide strong causal evidence that individuals update their attitudes as expected in response to that information. Members of both parties consistently express greater support for changes when framed as advancing their party’s electoral prospects than when characterized as benefiting their opponents. The findings have important implications for the constraints faced by political actors in gaming the electoral system in their favor and for understanding the role of self-interest in shaping policy attitudes.
KeywordsElection reform Partisan self-interest Survey experiment Public opinion
I thank Greg Huber, Shaun Bowler, Craig Burnett, Tom Carsey, Alan Gerber, the two anonymous reviewers, and the editor for their helpful comments and feedback. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2014 State Politics and Policy Conference. All errors are my own.
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