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Sunday, April 27, 2008

"The Enlightened Preferences Hypothesis"

Will Democrats be in a "self-inflicted state of confusion" when they vote this fall? Andrew Gelman says there's no need to worry about that:

What would Rosenstone say?, by Andrew Gelman: I can understand Paul Krugman's frustration over the level of discourse in the Democratic primary election campaign, but I don't know of any evidence to support the implicit claim in his last sentence: "unless Democrats can get past this self-inflicted state of confusion, there’s a very good chance that they’ll snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this fall." I pretty much take the general view of political scientists that general election outcomes are pretty much determined by fundamentals--that the voters will get the information needed to realize roughly where Obama (or Clinton) and McCain stand on the key issues and vote accordingly. (See here and here for our evidence, including the picture below.) ...

Here's a bit more from the first link:

As most political scientists know,  [using the Rosenstone model,] the outcome of the American presidential election can be predicted within a few percentage points (in the popular vote), based on information available months before the election. Thus, the general campaign for president seems irrelevant to the outcome (except in very close elections), despite all the media coverage of campaign strategy. However, it is also well known that the pre-election opinion polls can vary wildly over the campaign, and this variation is generally attributed to events in the campaign. How can campaign events affect people's opinions on whom they plan to vote for, and yet not affect the outcome of the election? For that matter, why do voters consistently increase their support for a candidate during his nominating convention, even though the conventions are almost entirely predictable events whose effects can be rationally forecast? In this exploratory study, we consider several intuitively appealing, but ultimately wrong, resolutions to this puzzle and discuss our current understanding of what causes opinion polls to fluctuate while reaching a predictable outcome. ... We show that responses to pollsters during the campaign are not generally informed or even, in a sense we describe, 'rational'. In contrast, voters decide, based on their enlightened preferences, as formed by the information they have learned during the campaign, as well as basic political cues such as ideology and party identification, which candidate to support eventually. We cannot prove this conclusion, but we do show that it is consistent with the aggregate forecasts and individual-level opinion poll responses. Based on the enlightened preferences hypothesis, we conclude that the news media have an important effect on the outcome of presidential elections - not through misleading advertisements, sound bites, or spin doctors, but rather by conveying candidates' positions on important issues.

In the paper, the authors say that the results go against their prior beliefs. That describes my reaction as well.

    Posted by on Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 01:08 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (25)

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