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24-07-2018 | Original Paper | Issue 1/2020

Political Behavior 1/2020

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

Journal:
Political Behavior > Issue 1/2020
Authors:
Lonna Rae Atkeson, Brian T. Hamel

Abstract

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.

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