Public Choice

, Volume 158, Issue 3–4, pp 465–482 | Cite as

Modeling the effects of changing issue salience in two-party competition

  • Scott L. Feld
  • Samuel MerrillIII
  • Bernard GrofmanEmail author


For a given distribution of voter ideal points, candidates may compete, not only by changing their policy platforms, but also by seeking to persuade voters to place more weight on one of the given dimensions. We do not examine persuasion mechanisms, per se, but, rather, investigate how change of the salience weights can lead to alternation of majorities for the candidates, even though candidate positions remain fixed. Thus, competition over the salience of issue dimensions can, under certain circumstances, be crucial for determining election outcomes. We illustrate potential non-monotonicities in priming effects in terms of the Fourier series decomposition of the distribution of voter preferences, showing that the existence of higher-level harmonics leads to greater uncertainty about election outcomes and about best heresthetic strategies. We then demonstrate the empirical relevance of our results with data on two issue dimensions of political competition in the 2000 U.S. presidential election.


Heresthetics Priming Issue dimensions Salience Party competition 



Earlier versions of portions of this paper were given at the Annual Meetings of the Public Choice Society, in San Antonio, March 2001, and in San Diego, March, 2002, and at the Annual Meeting of the European Public Choice Society, Aarhus, Denmark, April 26–28, 2003. This earlier research was partially supported by National Science Foundation grant SBR 97-30578 (to Bernard Grofman and Anthony Marley), Program in Methodology, Measurement and Statistics; more recent work was supported by SSHRCC research grant #410-2007-2153. (co-PIs: Stanley Winer and Stephen Ferris), on which Grofman is an associate investigator, by the Jack W. Peltason (Bren Foundation) Chair, University of California, Irvine, and by the UCI Center for the Study of Democracy. We are indebted to Clover Behrend for library assistance and to Joseph Godfrey for assistance in programming and some of the graphics used in this paper We are indebted to the ICPSR for access to data from the U.S. National Election Studies.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott L. Feld
    • 1
  • Samuel MerrillIII
    • 2
  • Bernard Grofman
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Department of Mathematics and Computer ScienceWilkes UniversityOlympiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Political Science and Institute for Mathematical Behavioral ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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