Sophisticated and myopic? Citizen preferences for Electoral College reform
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.
KeywordsWilliam Riker Strategic voting Electoral college Institutions Majority rule
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