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The comfortable voter: Voter affect as a switching mechanism for traditional vote determinants

Laura L Ebke, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

Vote choice has traditionally been viewed as a function of partisan predispositions, issue positions, ideology or assessment of candidate image, with partisanship typically viewed as the dominant factor. Except for some studies of voter assessment of candidate image, attention has been paid to emotional aspects of vote choice only occasionally. This dissertation develops a theory of vote choice that sees affective and perceptual judgments of voters as switching mechanisms for the traditional determinants. Through the use of path analysis we see that when there are strong positive or negative feelings about candidates, it appears that voters may switch off traditional partisan predispositions. Case studies of the 1964 and 1980 presidential elections illustrate likely switching effects. In 1964, many voters were fearful of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater and the implied potential for nuclear war of a Goldwater presidency. The evidence indicates that Republican voters in states that almost always vote Republican, turned “off” their party identification and voted—contrary to that predisposition—for Democrat Lyndon Johnson. In 1980, voters thought that incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter was a weak leader, while challenger Ronald Reagan was viewed as a strong leader. That, combined with generally positive affective responses to Reagan resulted in Democrats, especially in the South, switching “off” partisan predispositions and voting for Reagan. While partisan predispositions are important determinants of vote choice, they do not explain why Republicans have won the presidency in seven out of the last twelve election cycles, in spite of having a numerical disadvantage in terms of voters identifying as Republicans. The switching effects of affect and image perception help us to understand that electoral advantage. ^

Subject Area

Political Science, General

Recommended Citation

Ebke, Laura L, "The comfortable voter: Voter affect as a switching mechanism for traditional vote determinants" (2005). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3176776.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI3176776

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