Fit for the Job: Candidate Qualifications and Vote Choice in Low Information Elections

  • Lonna Rae Atkeson
  • Brian T. HamelEmail author
Original Paper


Cues and heuristics—like party, gender, and race/ethnicity—help voters choose among a set of candidates. We consider candidate professional experience—signaled through occupation—as a cue that voters can use to evaluate candidates’ functional competence for office. We outline and test one condition under which citizens are most likely to use such cues: when there is a clear connection between candidate qualifications and the particular elected office. We further argue that voters in these contexts are likely to make subtle distinctions between candidates, and to vote accordingly. We test our account in the context of local school board elections, and show—through both observational analyses of California election results and a conjoint experiment—that (1) voters favor candidates who work in education; (2) that voters discriminate even among candidates associated with education by only favoring those with strong ties to students; and (3) that the effects are not muted by partisanship. Voters appear to value functional competence for office in and of itself, and use cues in the form of candidate occupation to assess who is and who is not fit for the job.


Low information elections Voting behavior Heuristics Occupation Conjoint experiments 



We thank Kathleen Hale, participants in UCLA’s Political Psychology lab and at MPSA 2018, as well as the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Brian Hamel acknowledges the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program for support. Replication code and data are available at All errors are our responsibility.


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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