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Erschienen in: Political Behavior 1/2020

28.08.2018 | Original Paper

More Important, but for What Exactly? The Insignificant Role of Subjective Issue Importance in Vote Decisions

verfasst von: Thomas J. Leeper, Joshua Robison

Erschienen in: Political Behavior | Ausgabe 1/2020

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Abstract

The nature of democratic governance is intimately connected with how citizens respond to candidate position taking. But when will a generally uninformed public base its vote choices on candidate positions? Since Converse scholars have argued that citizens should place greater weight on candidate positions on issues they consider personally important. However, this claim has received mixed empirical support. We revisit this question with compelling new evidence. First, we expand the limited temporal focus of existing work in our first study where we analyze all available ANES data on importance and issue voting between 1980 and 2008. We then overcome endogeneity concerns through a nationally representative conjoint experiment in which we randomize two candidate’s positions on five issues. Results from both studies demonstrate that there is scant evidence that subjective issue importance consistently moderates the relationship between candidate positions and vote choices. We discuss the implications of these results for “issue public” theories of political engagement, for research on voting behavior, and for political representation.
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1
Replication materials for this study can be accessed via the Political Behavior Dataverse.
 
2
Respondents on the 2008 ANES Time Series were randomly assigned to either Ballot A, where they were asked about seven issues, or to Ballot B where six issues were queried about. We thus investigate the two ballots as if they were two separate surveys, yielding seven ANES Time Series surveys to analyze. Subjective issue importance was not asked on other ANES surveys during this time frame.
 
3
This is not the only way of operationalizing issue voting. For instance, voters may alternatively vote directionally and simply favor the candidate that they perceive to be on their side of the issue (e.g. Adams et al. 2004). Our goal is not to adjudicate between these rival theories of decision making. We focus on a proximity rule both because of its prominence in prior studies of issue importance and voting (i.e., Krosnick 1988b) and because Van Houweling and Tomz’ (2008) experimental analyses suggest a proximity rule may be the most commonly used strategy by voters.
 
4
See Online Appendix B for full model results. We have also done this on an issue-by-issue basis, which yields 48 models. Our basic conclusions remain the same. Indeed, these issue-by-issue models yield a slightly more pessimistic account. For instance, in only 6/48 cases would a Wald test for the inclusion of importance and the interaction term yield a significant test statistic.
 
5
To address this lack of support, we re-estimate interactions using the binning estimator suggested by Hainmueller et al. (2018) and find little reason to believe a simple linear interaction is problematic (see Online Appendix E). Given the small range of possible values of the importance variable, we nearly always have some observations across its full domain mitigating the main concern with interaction analyses about bases inferences on extreme extrapolation.
 
6
Such uncertainty may raise questions regarding the measurement of importance and its role in affecting these interactions. Notably, as part of a survey experiment three importance questions on the 2008 Time Series featured an alteration to their response options that led to significantly higher numbers of respondents saying the issues were of low importance. All items on the 2008 ANES Panel, moreover, featured this importance depressing alternative wording. Notably importance continues to play an inconsequential role in moderating issue voting in these cases despite the potential for enhanced precision in estimating the effects of issue distance at lower levels of importance afforded by the change in measurement. In addition, we experimentally induced lower levels of issue importance on one issue in Study 2 yet still did not find a meaningful interaction between importance and issue voting. Finally, in Online Appendix D we address the potential for social desirability to create a skew in the importance measures. We do this by subtracting from each individual importance report the respondent’s mean score on all importance items. Notably we find the same pattern of results as in-text.
 
7
The order of this information was constant. As noted, the characteristics of both candidates were fully randomized, i.e. we did not restrict particular combinations of attributes. However, we did restrict the probability with which the race and religion characteristics were drawn to better reflect their population characteristics. The racial categories were drawn randomly with the following probabilities: 0.60 (White), 0.15 (Black), 0.15 (Hispanic) and 0.10 (Asian). The religion categories had the following probabilities of being drawn: 0.20 (Evangelical), 0.20 (Mainline), 0.20 (Catholic), 0.10 (Jewish), 0.10 (Muslim) and 0.20 (None). As a final note, one candidate was always a Democrat and the other a Republican. Which candidate was a Democrat/Republican was randomly assigned.
 
8
Our results are the same when we fully stack the data such that each row is a vignette-candidate and proximity is measured as the level of proximity to the candidate in question; see Table OA6 and Figure OA12.
 
9
See Figure OA4 for the distribution and sample means for all eight issues.
 
10
A similar result emerges on the TPP issue when we use the manipulation treatment assignment instead of importance in the interaction with relative proximity. We also explored a three-way interaction between proximity/importance/and importance manipulation as well as a two-stage least squares equation where we use the exogenous importance treatment condition as an instrument for importance and its interaction with proximity. These analyses also show a failure for importance to positively moderate proximity. See Table OA5/Figure OA10 for these results.
 
11
A Wald test for the equivalence of these two effects is not statistically significant [F(1, 655) = 1.27, p = 0.26], i.e. we cannot reject the null that the difference between the two equals 0.
 
12
As with above, we cannot reject the null that the two are equivalent; F(1, 657) = 1.84; p = 0.18.
 
13
In Online Appendix A we also investigate the relationship between importance, proximity and co-partisanship and find scant evidence that Independents were more likely to behave in accordance with the Issue Public hypothesis. We also compare results taken from just the first vignette versus those obtained from the full sample of vignettes to investigate potential learning effects. Notably, a negative interaction emerged for three of the five issues on the first vignette, which suggests that Fig. 4 is not an artifact of respondent learning over the course of the experiment.
 
14
Of course, we are unable to completely rule out the possibility of some projection (that is, respondents viewing party and policy positions of profiles but ignoring or modifying them to some extent.) Researchers employing conjoint experiments on candidate evaluation and vote choice should consider how best to measure this possible projection dynamic.
 
15
We thank an Anonymous Reviewer for making this point.
 
16
Even if voters choose based on the rational proxy of recent economic performance, as suggested by Fiorina (1981), we may still see such a breakdown occur on non-economic issues, especially when partisan biases in economic perceptions are considered (e.g. Bartels 2002). Of course, there are issues with this type of demand-input model, most importantly the endogeneity of voter preferences to elite rhetoric (Disch 2011; Druckman 2014). When the endogeneity of mass preferences are accounted for the normative implications of proximity voting, of any degree, becomes much more complicated to assess.
 
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Metadaten
Titel
More Important, but for What Exactly? The Insignificant Role of Subjective Issue Importance in Vote Decisions
verfasst von
Thomas J. Leeper
Joshua Robison
Publikationsdatum
28.08.2018
Verlag
Springer US
Erschienen in
Political Behavior / Ausgabe 1/2020
Print ISSN: 0190-9320
Elektronische ISSN: 1573-6687
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-018-9494-0

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