Classical theories of political representation claim that high levels of political knowledge and awareness across the electorate are crucial for a well-functioning democracy. In real life, though, the actual amount of political information possessed by voters is small and unevenly distributed. In addition, electoral decision making is complex and often characterized by severe time pressure. This study therefore experimentally tests the theoretical framework of “fast and frugal” voters and the “less-is-more effect” (Gigerenzer and Goldstein in Psychol Rev 103(4):650–669, 1996), which expects that in some instances low levels of political knowledge may actually result in equally good or even better outcomes than in the case of well-informed decisions. It is hence assumed that employing specific cognitive shortcuts can help voters make good and quick decisions, even with a lack of information. We have used a laboratory experiment to create an environment characterized by severe time pressure that allowed for only shallow information search and limited comparisons across alternatives. Subjects were able to base their decisions only on a small number of criteria operationalized by candidates’ positions on current political issues with various levels of perceived salience. Voters appear to simplify decision making by focusing mainly on those policy attitudes they consider important. Consequently, it seems that shifting the decision-making strategy from accuracy to efficiency has no effect on the final outcome.
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According to a survey made by the agency STEM/MARK, one-quarter of voters participating in elections to the Czech Republic’s Chamber of Deputies in 2013 decided at the last minute. Seventy-eight percent of them, who decided to participate in the election only a week beforehand, chose their candidates during that week or in the voting booth (STEM/MARK 2013).
Kuklinski and Quirk (2000b), nevertheless, argue that such a decision-making mechanism can sufficiently operate in various domains of life, but that it is unsuited for politics.
“Correct vote” is not the only way of evaluating whether a decision fits that definition or not. For example, Bartels (1996) and Delli Carpini and Keeter (1996) also focused on the differences between decisions made by more and less informed voters. They, however, did not use the term “correct decision”.
Baum and Jamison (2016) employed the term “consistent” voting because they strive to avoid the normative connotations ascribed to the term “correct vote”.
Our assumptions are based on a classical spatial model claiming that the relationships between political actors can be represented by proximity and distance. The basis for political success in this model is the smallest possible distance of the candidate from the voters (Downs 1957). However, it is important to note that it’s not the only way to model spatial political preferences. Another approach is represented by so-called directional models, which work not only with positions of voters and candidates, but they include also the status quo referential point. Such models suggest that voters’ utility of choice is not given by the absolute distance between voters’ and candidates’ positions, but by their directions, determined by the referential point (whether both voter and candidate are on the same side of the simple, dichotomous, policy space) (Claasen 2007). The most prominent type of directional models was introduced by Rabinowitz and Macdonald (1989). They propose that the utility associated with a choice depends on the intensity of a voter’s and a candidate’s relationship to the referential point (the further they both are in the same direction to the referential point, the larger is the voter’s utility).
All texts in the experiment were originally in Czech. For the purposes of this article they were translated into English.
See “Appendix” for the sample of possible candidate positions on the issue of involvement of the Czech Republic in the fight against ISIS. Full texts of other issues are available as electronic supplementary material (Online Appendix).
The experiment did not follow what would happen if even greater distances between the voter and the candidate were possible. We assume that such a treatment probably would raise the likelihood of casting a correct vote, since the greater attitudinal distance between the candidates would make it easier for the voter to do so. When designing the experiment, however, we had to take into consideration several aspects. First, we had to make sure that the selection of the correct candidate was not the result of chance, so we worked with up to three candidates. At the same time, we were not able to extend the range of the scale to more than five possible positions because the differences between the verbal expressions of the positions would be too small, which could cause an unclear decision-making situation and also jeopardize the reliability of the measurement. Since we wanted to ensure the same pattern of candidate placement on each issue and use a five-degree scale, we could not work with more extreme positions.
Differences in average salience of each issue between experimental groups were not statistically significant (the only exception was the “pensions” issue).
We also checked the assumption that on the most salient issues (the top two), voters take the most extreme positions (1 or 5). We found that for the time-constrained group the assumption holds true in 80% of the cases, and in 74.3% of the cases for the group without a time constraint. The positions of the candidates were then modeled according to the predesigned pattern described in Sect. 7 above.
We also checked for multicollinearity. Tests shows that multicollinearity is not present in our data (tolerance = 0.258, VIF = 3.874). In addition, we checked group characteristics in different dimensions (sex, age, sophistication) to ensure that random assignment of participants to each experimental condition worked. The results indicate that the two groups do not differ significantly along those dimensions.
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We would like to thank William F. Shughart II, the Editor in Chief, and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable and thoughtful suggestions, which helped us to improve the quality of the paper. Also many thanks to Peter Voda, Petra Svačinová, Peter Spáč and Lenka Hrbková for their comments and fruitful discussion upon manuscript. Early version of this paper was presented at the 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP) in Warsaw, Poland. This publication was written at Masaryk University with the support of the Specific University Research Grand provided by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic (MUNI/A/0850/2017).
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
A sample of possible candidate positions on the issue of involvement of the Czech Republic in the fight against ISIS (the full set of possible positions on all of the issues is available as electronic supplementary material in the Online Appendix).
The Islamic State is the biggest security threat for today’s Europe. The Czech Republic must therefore strive for the unconditional launch of a direct military ground operation. The deployment of the army is the most effective way to suppress the expansionism of the Islamic State, and the Czech Republic should therefore actively be involved in this effort by sending ground troops.
The Czech Republic should proceed vigorously in the fight against the Islamic State, but with regard to the security of its citizens. Military intervention is therefore the right step; however, it should be implemented in the form of air raids that do not pose such a threat to soldiers as a ground operation. The Czech Republic should therefore be involved in the fight against ISIS, in particular by deploying its fighter jets.
The aim of the international effort should be, in particular, to support the Arab States, which can lead the fight against the Islamic State most effectively. The Czech Republic should participate in this endeavor but only by delivering ammunition and weapons to Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi army, providing humanitarian aid, or engaging in stabilization activities in Iraq.
Engaging in a direct struggle against the Islamic State is ineffective given the abbilities of the Czech Republic. The United States and its allies have significantly better capacity to intervene effectively against the ISIS. Similar activities would be too demanding and costly for the Czech Republic. Its role should therefore be primarily to participate in the strengthening of the EU’s internal protection.
The Czech Republic should not participate in the fight against the Islamic State at all. By such action, the Czech Republic’s internal security and the lives of its citizens would be jeopardized. Moreover, the Czech Republic has no share in the destabilization of the Middle East region, and in no way should it participate in military or non-military activities against the ISIS.
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Tóth, M., Chytilek, R. Fast, frugal and correct? An experimental study on the influence of time scarcity and quantity of information on the voter decision making process. Public Choice 177, 67–86 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-018-0587-4