Example Of Essay On Political Economy Of Voters

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Elections, Voting, Politics, Choice, Sociology, Behavior, Public, Theory

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2020/11/05

Foundation Course – Name

Voting Behavior
Electoral or voting behavior is a process of citizens’ decision-making regarding their participation in elections and voting for certain political forces and candidates. Electoral behavior represents a typical kind of political behavior, where the process of political preferences determination concerns elections. Who is an individual worth voting for is the milestone question, which guides voting decision of the citizens. In order to investigate the participation intensity of voters in election process political experts often use the term electoral participation, electoral activity and electoral absenteeism. Electoral behavior is a complex process assuming impact of the whole group of short term and long-term factors. Research of electoral behavior is quite a young political science.
There are numerous papers trying to explain the way the citizens chose to vote. According to Schumpeter’s theory “Another Theory of Democracy” (1942) major elements accounting for “irrational “ voting choice and peculiar power of a political leader are citizens’ preferences during the election campaign. However, A. Downs’ “Economic Theory of Democracy” (1957) despite some Schumpeterian approaches of “rational ignorance” describes the peculiar behavior of human nature, which is regarded as a cognitive economics. Buchanan (1978, pp. 42-91) and Mueller (1989) in its turn pointed out that “all of public choice or the economic theory of politics may be summarized as the ‚discovery‘ or ‚rediscovery‘ that people should be treated as rational utility-maximizers in all of their capacities“. Research relating to the political economy of voters is closely connected with coming out to political arena of large groups of voters.
A. Siegfried (1913) and Herbert Tingsten (1923) were the first to describe the voting behavior phenomenon. Political science adopted a tradition according to which electoral behavior is commonly understood as electors’ choice during the vote process. Electoral participation is considered separately and marked by a different term. Political sociology and economy has formed several main approaches, which interpret the determinants of electoral behavior. The first approach, sociological, is based on the acknowledgement of the overwhelming impact of social factors: social status and social environment. S. M. Lipset and S. Rokkan (1967) formulated the concept of impact on political preferences of citizens, electoral behavior and structure of party systems by division of political forces into four types such as: division between the center and the periphery, the state and the church, the city and the village and the owner and the employee.
Each of those political divisions determine availability of support and voting for certain parties: regional, ethnical, religious, agricultural, social-democratic and/or communist. Social and psychological approach is based on the assumption about the main determinant of voting behavior – party and ideological identification. The founder of this approach is Alexander Campbell (1960), who used in his empirical findings the concept called “the crater of causality”, which represents the model allowing to consider the cumulative impact on voting by different factors. Electoral behavior theory has a broad variety of analyses tools being recently implemented such as panel survey, questionnaires, interviews, which helped to elicit the dynamism of political preferences.
Sociological, social and/or psychological approaches could not give a convincing explanation of electoral behavior phenomenon. The theory of rational choice outlines the main idea that electors vote for the political movement, which, in their opinion, is able to represent more benefits than the others. We speak of retrospective voting concept assuming that the voter makes his choice basing on the positive and negative estimations of prior political forces activity. The voting can also be egotropic (when the citizens are interested preferably in their own prosperity) and/or sociotropic (when citizens show concern for current situation in the country at large). Voters support candidates, which they think will make their life better. From this perspective, voters are no different from bureaucrats who strive to acquire social benefits; and politicians who want to be elected to the office. If we take this as a starting point in the rational choice model then the matter of public choice simply transfers the mentioned model to the political realm (Mueller, D. C. 1997). The economic model of rational choice explains the voting behavior and implies the individual to be the major unit of analyses. Public choice theory refuse groups or communities as decision-makers because they cannot make the individual choice. The dilemma of this theory arises when the decision is made collectively thus conflicting with individual self-interests and preferences. Besides, public and individual choices differ in process and incentives having two different political settings (Duch R. 2008). However, the theory of rational choice does not give a complex picture of electoral behavior, therefore in recent researches experts attempt to create new international models of this process, which include several complex determinants.

Theoretical framework of citizens’ voting decision

Median voter theorem explains the phenomenon when the extreme proposals have a tendency to merge to centrists’ trends making parties and political movements despite of left or right vision move to the center. As was put by Anthony Downs (1957) the voting is highly irrational because individual’s preferences have a very tiny chance of predicting and determining the outcome. If voters are rational in their choice then participation of the individuals in the elections may tend to be low. Scholars dealing with determinants of the public choice theory claim that in developed countries voters are usually poorly informed about the candidates and ballot issues therefore proving that voters’ ignorance is quite rational due to the high cost of information compared to the voting benefits. After all, it makes sense that a voter has no incentives to bother about being informed especially when the chance of changing the situation by a single individual’s vote is close to zero. Geoffrey Brennan and Mueller, D. C. (1989a) state that people go to vote not to change the situation or choose a better candidate but because it is a cheap way to express individuals’ preferences, which are not less irrational than the cheering of the favorite football team.
Surely, we should point out that rational behavior in the democratic countries differs in the descriptions of normative theorists by proving that individuals dominated by irrational forces still vote rationally or efficiently (Catt H. 1996). So, the major concept of rational choice in the imperfect democratic world can include apathy of citizens to elections, ignorance of the population to political campaign information and parties tendency to resemble each other’s actions because information is costly and reality may be worse than a promoted illusion (Duch R. 2008). The utility of voting having social individual preferences do not depend on the electorate size because these preferences will dominate the choice making it rational. Therefore linking social utility maximizing model to the empirical findings about individual socially motivated voting choice we can demonstrate that voting is a rational utility despite the insignificant decision power of the voter’s voice.
Recent economic theories recognize that voting among several candidates may deceive the voters’ best-waited outcome and produce the so-called cycles with no absolute winner or loser. Implications of the “Impossibility Theorem” by Kenneth Arrow state that there is no room for public collective choice beyond the dictatorship frame, which transforms the individual preferences into a “social utility function”. Individuals can also manipulate electoral rule as well by insincerely voting for less preferable candidates in order to block more unsuccessful outcomes. J. M. Buchanan (1972) studied collective decision-making during political process proved that voters acting individually or in a group can make median voter the main dimension during decision-making process. It means that other individuals whose opinion is closer to median voter principle will decline any step leftward or rightward from the commonly accepted.
Positive utility arises from the perception that social merits are counted not only as purely psychological characteristics of the individual but also as an endogenous variable impacted by the election process. Citizens are inclined to perceive their participation in the elections as a substantial contribution to the general welfare, which directly depends on the size of the election area or region; thus, potential effect can increase the larger is the area. Recent findings show that a simple rational choice model urges the individual to vote by choosing the way of voting and maximizing utility function in terms of social welfare and selfish preferences (Fiorina M., 1981). However, economic agents tend to separate rational and selfish preferences while the voter can act rationally during voting process.

Determinants of Electoral Behavior in Political Economy of Voters

In political science and political sociology, it is commonly accepted to outline the long run and the short-run determinants of electoral behavior. Social and political identification factors are referred to the long run determinants. Among the social factors special meaning have the following determinants: sex, age, type of behavior, education, income, sphere of professional activity, religious and national belonging. To the short run – economic environment, impact of mass media to the behavior of political leaders, maintenance of the election campaign and some others. Common tendency of the last decades in economically developed countries includes the decrease of long-run factors influence and the increase of short run factors significance. New tendencies led to the uprising of “new voters” category, which composes around 10-15% of all the developed countries’ electorate. This category is characterized by unstable political orientation and preferences, despite the regular participation in voting. The representatives of this category, as a rule, are well-educated, come out from upper middle level class/ “sociological center”. Majority of experts point out income, education, age and social status to be the main determinants influencing the electoral choice whatever rational or irrational it is. Therefore, these determinants are included as endogenous variables in the tested models of many scholars such as Mueller (1989a,b), Buchanan (1969-1972). Another aspect concerns the phenomenon that the rational choice models are stable if we include a number of additional variables tackling the size of the election and/or the discussion intensity.
Recent findings show that the larger is the election the more reasonable and rational the behavior of the voter despite the age and education determinants or individual preferences because the gain received by the large affinity group is expected to be higher than that of an independent individual. Therefore, determinants such as education, income, social status and age would make the public choice efficient if applied to voting process within a large community. Empirical tests of M. Benz and A. Stutzer (2003) showed that the voters have a larger influence on the political voting act if they are better informed about the whole campaign because the information variable is endogenous to the political process. Voters of lower and higher income categories in EU showed an evenly distributed degree of information mastering; thus proving that the higher is the information level of the individuals, the larger is the possibilities to influence the political process (M. Benz, A. Stutzer, 2003). According to the empirical tests, determinants influencing the voting possibilities and broader political participation include education (school and higher education) and individuals’ income. Besides several other endogenous variables can be seriously studied within the rational choice model such as party membership, social status, age and discussion intensity, which could capture the significance of voter information for the political participation of citizens.


According to M. Benz, A. Stutzer (2003) election campaigns offer a quite superficial information to the voters and cannot contribute to the substantial increase in voters’ information mastering. However, if voters are given broader participation possibilities the necessary effect of increase in information level could be achieved. This effect might also be increased by involving into the model of one more endogenous variable concerning discussion intensity both privately and on public. These discussions in case of consistent presentation can serve as transmission tool from the political institutions to better voter information. While findings seem to be in line with hypothesis stated in work of (M. Benz, A. Stutzer, 2003), we need to consider exogenous variables of apathy and alienation to politics (type of behavior determinant) and elections among some social group and private individuals; to overcome this obstacle the voters are suggested to be given more participation rights. Despite the regarded determinants (age, social status, income and education) voters tend to think about group and communities’ benefits. This becomes a good motivation to vote and to contribute to collective merits, however if it goes about selfish and utility maximizing individuals then there is a common view that they should not vote otherwise the model cannot be consistent (Campbell A. 1960).
Preferences of voters concerning candidates and parties are highly cross-correlated with respect to country’s welfare and lowly correlated with individual benefits (Kinder and Kiewiet, 1979). Therefore, we can conclude that in any way voters are motivation driven in their individual preferences with respect to public opinion. Despite the social benefits that can be attributed to voting process, the choice may become rational for any public choice theory of voting to capture perceived social merits in the utility function. According to surveys of British Election Study (2001) only a very small percent of respondents (25%) consider the political election process as a way to increase own well-being; more often this process is seen as a way to get group or community benefits such as care for handicapped, old men, pensioners and other social groups despite of political ignorance and lack of information. In this extent, we can view voting agents more as rationally ignorant individuals regarding the major determinants making choice in favor of the group rather than selfish utility maximizers seeking for private benefits.


Benzi, M., Stutzer, A. 2003. Are Voters Better Informed When They Have a Larger Say in Politics? Evidence for the European Union and Switzerland. Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands. Public Choice 119: 31–59, 2004.
Buchanan, J.M. 1969. Cost and Choice. An Inquiry into Economic Theory. Chicago:
Buchanan, J. M. 1972. Toward Analysis of Closed Behavioral Systems, in: James M.
Catt H. 1996. Voting Behaviour: A Radical Critique. New York: Leicester University Press.
Campbell A. 1960. The American Voter. New York: John Wiley and Sons. 
Downs, A. 1957. An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy. Author(s):
Source: Journal of Political Economy. Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable. Vol. 65, No. 2 (Apr., 1957), pp. 135-150.
Duch R. 2008. Economic Vote: How Political and Economic Institutions Condition Election Results. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fiorina M. 1981. Retrospective Voting in American Elections. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lipset S., Rokkan M. 1967. Cleavage Structures, Party Systems and Voter Alignments. An Introduction Party Systems and Voter Alignments. N.Y.: The Free Press.
Mueller, Dennis C. 1989a. Public Choice II - A Revised Edition of Public Choice. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Mueller, Dennis C. 1989b. Democracy: the Public Choice Approach, in: Geoffrey Brennan and
Mueller, Dennis C. 1997. Public Choice in Perspective, in his: Perspectives on Public Choice.
A handbook, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1-17.

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