Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version



Political Research Quarterly (March 1997) 50(1): 199-213.


Copyright 1997, SAGE. Used by permission.


The costs of political information differ between and among elections. In those elections where information costs are high, voters should rely on information from previous elections. Although research on voter choice has long recognized that voters use past information in their assessments of candidates, studies of voter turnout are solely concerned with information available in the current election. Specifically, the closeness of elections is a central concern in rational actor models of voter turnout. As such, these studies neglect the effects of prior electoral competitiveness on citizens’ decisions to vote. In this study we propose that actors rely on prior beliefs when deciding to vote in information-poor elections. Controlling for information available in the current election, we explore this possibility in the 1986 and 1988 House elections and find that prior beliefs have a significant effect on turnout.