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Published in: Political Behavior 2/2021

01-08-2019 | Original Paper

Risk Attitudes and Independence Vote Choice

Authors: Robert Liñeira, Ailsa Henderson

Published in: Political Behavior | Issue 2/2021

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Abstract

In this article, we examine the impact of risk attitudes on vote choice in the context of a salient referendum with high levels of uncertainty about the consequences of the ballot proposal. Using data from a pre- and post-referendum panel survey conducted in the context of the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland, and a specific battery to measure attitudes to risk, we determine how these attitudes operate in such political contexts. We reach two main conclusions. First, risk attitudes have a direct effect on vote choice, even after controlling for alternative explanations of vote choice such as party identification and leaders’ evaluations. In the aggregate, the effect of risk attitudes on the vote choice contributes to the status quo bias found in referendums. Second, we find that information moderates the effect of risk attitudes on vote choice. Voters who are politically knowledgeable have a greater capacity to predict the consequences of political outcomes and, therefore, they are less affected by their risk attitudes when making their ballot choices.

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Appendix
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Footnotes
1
The massive turnout levels achieved in the independence referendums of Quebec and Scotland indicate the saliency of the choice. In Quebec, turnout was 85.6% in 1980 and 93.5% in 1995. In Scotland 2014, turnout was 84.6%. Both the 1995 referendum and the 2014 established turnout records in Quebec and Scotland respectively.
 
2
Although the no-vote usually implies no changes, this is not necessarily the case. In order to take into account the possibility that a vote against the proposal does not lead to a continuation of the pre-existing status quo, the literature distinguishes between the ballot proposal and the reversion point—the situation that prevails in the event of a no-vote—as the main alternatives of a binary-choice referendum (Hobolt 2009, pp. 45–46). In the context of independence referendums, a vote against secession does not necessarily mean that changes will not occur, but it is difficult to think of a context in which the uncertainties related to a no-vote can be compared to the unknowns associated to a yes-vote.
 
3
The clear road to the referendum enhanced the legitimacy of the vote further. The referendum was triggered by the Scottish National Party (SNP) victory in the May 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament. The SNP, which included the promise of holding an independence referendum in its manifesto, was the first party ever to achieve a majority in the Scottish Parliament, elected through an additional member system. This majority was interpreted by both the Scottish and the UK government as a mandate to hold an independence referendum.
 
4
The polls gathered in Fig. 1 signal the peak support for independence 1 week before the vote, a support that slightly dropped in the final days of the campaign. Actually, 5 out of the 6 polling companies that measured surveys in the last weeks of the campaign show a drop in the support to independence between the penultimate and the last survey; the other polling company showed no change between the last two surveys.
 
5
In the Scotland independence referendum, the electoral franchise was extended to include 16- and 17-year-olds.
 
6
The online fieldwork was conducted by ICM. The pre-referendum data were collected from 9 June 2014 to 30 June 2014, whereas the post-referendum data were collected from 2 December 2014 to 23 December 2014. The data can be downloaded from http://​doi.​org/​10.​5255/​UKDA-SN-8247-1.
 
7
Collinearity tests reveal no multicollinearity issues. None of the independent variables specified in Tables 1 and 2 show a variance inflation factor higher than 1.9.
 
8
See Table 3 in the “Appendix” section for details on the measurement of independent variables and descriptive statistics.
 
9
This is an important point because one of the main criticisms of Clarke et al. (2004) of the model produced by Nadeau et al. (1999) in the context of the 1995 Quebec referendum was that key variables political variables such as party identification and feelings about party leaders were absent in their model specification. They also criticize the fact that Nadeau et al. (1999) find interactive but not main effects of risk attitudes, noting that ‘it is difficult to argue that general orientations to risk impact on referendum choices but that there is no main effect’ (Clarke et al. 2004, p. 349).
 
10
Holding variables at their means indicates that we use the sample mean in the case of cardinal-level variables and sample proportions for the other types of variables to calculate our probabilities.
 
11
Three of the items involved showing pictures of different political leaders to our respondents and giving them four options about the office that each leader occupies. Only one option was correct. The political figures were Iain Duncan Smith (then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions); Hermann Van Rompuy (then President of the European Council); and Ruth Davidson (leader of the Scottish Conservative Party). Two additional questions also offered voters four options: ‘In which year did New Labour under Tony Blair first form a government?’ (correct answer ‘1997’), and ‘Which of the following positions does the Conservative Party hold in Westminster?’ (correct answer was ‘The Conservative party heads a coalition government’).
 
12
Figure 4 in the “Appendix” section displays the average marginal effects (Ai and Norton 2003; Clarke et al. 2015; Karaca-Mandic et al. 2012).
 
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Metadata
Title
Risk Attitudes and Independence Vote Choice
Authors
Robert Liñeira
Ailsa Henderson
Publication date
01-08-2019
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Political Behavior / Issue 2/2021
Print ISSN: 0190-9320
Electronic ISSN: 1573-6687
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-019-09560-x

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