Public Choice

, Volume 158, Issue 3–4, pp 541–558 | Cite as

Sophisticated and myopic? Citizen preferences for Electoral College reform

  • John Aldrich
  • Jason Reifler
  • Michael C. MungerEmail author


Different institutions can produce more (or less) preferred outcomes, in terms of citizens’ preferences. Consequently, citizen preferences over institutions may “inherit”—to use William Riker’s term—the features of preferences over outcomes. But the level of information and understanding required for this effect to be observable seems quite high. In this paper, we investigate whether Riker’s intuition about citizens acting on institutional preferences is borne out by an original empirical dataset collected for this purpose. These data, a survey commissioned specifically for this project, were collected as part of a larger nationally representative sample conducted right before the 2004 election. The results show that support for a reform to split a state’s Electoral College votes proportionally is explained by (1) which candidate one supports, (2) which candidate one thinks is likely to win the election under the existing system of apportionment, (3) preferences for abolishing the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote winner, and (4) statistical interactions between these variables. In baldly political terms, Kerry voters tend to support splitting their state’s Electoral College votes if they felt George W. Bush was likely to win in that state. But Kerry voters who expect Kerry to win their state favor winner-take-all Electoral College rules for their state. In both cases, mutatis mutandis, the reverse is true for Bush voters.


William Riker Strategic voting Electoral college Institutions Majority rule 



Our thanks to Nikolai Hoberg, William Keech, Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard, Sarah Necker, and Florenz Plassmann at the Public Choice World Congress in March, 2012 in Miami, Florida. We are extremely grateful to Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi of Duke University for letting us add questions about Electoral College reform to the end of a survey they conducted with Jason Reifler in October 2004. Ryan Yonk provided invaluable research assistance. Two anonymous reviewers made important contributions to the paper with their many helpful suggestions and corrections. The editor of Public Choice, William Shughart, made an unusually large contribution to clarifying and refining the arguments presented here. Finally, the financial assistance of the National Science Foundation is acknowledged in gratitude. Notwithstanding all of the above, the errors and shortcomings that remain are entirely the fault of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Aldrich
    • 1
  • Jason Reifler
    • 2
  • Michael C. Munger
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Duke UniversityDushamUSA
  2. 2.Georgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

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