Psychological dimensions in voter choice


Journal Article (Review)

In this paper, I have advanced what I regard as the "truly rational" account of voting behaviour. This account depends essentially on the application of relative price logic in the comparative institutional context. For that logic to get purchase, certain (I think, minimal) psychological assumptions are required. These assumptions are: that people have views about matters over which they exercise negligible control; and that they have a desire to express those views. Of course, they also have a desire for their own material flourishing. This latter desire predictably plays a larger role in market settings where the individual's choices are consequential; the former play a larger role in the electoral setting where the individual's choices are not consequential. When I say "larger" here, I mean relative to markets: and I mean LARGER by a factor of many thousands! This means that homo economicus and homo politicus are likely to be rather different animals- behaviourally speaking. This difference is, I think, something that the rational choice method properly applied would predict. To deny it requires what seem to me to be very strong psychological claims about expressive and instrumental preferences - namely that they are very highly correlated. No one, to my knowledge, has provided any direct evidence on this matter. Certainly, the fact that we can find occasional instances (areas of policy say) where they do appear to be highly correlated does not, of course, establish the case one way or the other! Equally, to assert a difference in market and political behaviour does not commit one to a "wholly different model of man". On the contrary, it is this same model of man - the rational responder to incentive changes - that drives the whole analysis. I am totally committed to the logic of rationality. But I believe that much of public choice has got the "behavioural implications" of that logic just plain wrong! Voters and consumers are the same, rational persons: but the considerations that drive them in the marketplace where their choices are decisive are not the same considerations that drive them in the ballot-box. In that sense, rational choice logic predicts that homo economicus and homo politicus will exhibit different behaviours, in the sense that the kinds of considerations that weigh with them are likely to be rather different. © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Brennan, G

Published Date

  • December 1, 2008

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 137 / 3-4

Start / End Page

  • 475 - 489

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0048-5829

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1007/s11127-008-9356-0

Citation Source

  • Scopus