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2 More Repetitions: A Follow-Up Experiment with Longer Sequences of Elections

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Patterns of Strategic Voting in Run-Off Elections


Table 9 Strategic resolution of dilemmas (myopic anticipations assumption), by order of election

in a sequence (15-election sequence)

Type 1

Type 2

Type 3

Type 4


First 4 elections

33 %


29 %


26 %




23 %


Middle 7 elections

68 %


48 %


31 %




38 %


Last 4 elections

73 %


45 %


49 %


17 %


55 %



58 %


37 %


31 %




34 %


profile and the same randomly assigned positions for the subjects. In this follow-up

experiment, we had only run-off elections and we ran eight such sessions in Paris.

Table 9 shows, for each type of reasoning, the percentage of dilemmas which are

resolved strategically. The numbers shown in Table 9 correspond to those in Table 5

for the baseline experiment.

The last column presents the total over the 15 elections. For example, one can

read that we observed a total of 437 Type 1 dilemmas, of which 256 are resolved

strategically, that is, 58 %. Summing over types (last line of the table), we observe

in our data 1567 dilemmas, of which 34 % are resolved strategically. Note that the

results are very close to those observed with the shorter sequence of elections.

Table 9 also provides some information on how the resolution of dilemmas

evolves over time (column “First 4 Elections” to column “Last 4 Elections”). As in

the shorter sequence, we observe a strong evolution for Type 1 reasoning: the

strategic resolution of dilemmas increases from 33 % in the first four elections up to

73 % in the last four elections. Contrary to what was observed for the other types of

reasoning in the shorter sessions (weak or unclear evolutions), we observe over a

larger number of elections that some learning also takes place for the other types of

reasoning, although the evolution is much more modest than for Type 1 reasoning.

But, even in the last four elections, the performance of the strategic model remains

far from perfect in Type 2 and Type 3 situations (between 45 and 50 % of correct

predictions) and quite weak in the case of type 4 reasoning: only 17 % of correct


5 Conclusion

The objective of this research has been to deepen our understanding of strategic

voting at the individual level in two-round run-off elections.


K. Van der Straeten et al.

To that end, we have proposed a precise description of what it means, in theory,

for a voter to be rational in such elections and we have put forward a coherent

typology of the types of reasoning a voter may have to perform in such elections.

We then conducted a laboratory experiment designed to test, at the individual

level, whether subjects perform or not the strategic reasonings prescribed by the

theory. We find that voters tend to vote strategically when the strategic recommendation follows from a simple line of reasoning. In particular, when there is a serious

possibility that a candidate reaches the absolute majority threshold in the first

round, the same simple reasoning that drives rationality in FPTP elections applies.

In that case, a substantial fraction of the subjects cast votes which are consistent

with this line of reasoning.

On the other hand the conditional reasonings implied in “backward induction”

which are inherent to strategizing in multi-stage procedures are much less followed

by voters, despite the fact that the run-off game has only two steps. The experimental literature has noticed that backward induction, even if each step is straightforward, is not well performed by interacting human subjects (Rosenthal 1981;

McKelvey and Palfrey 1992). This raises doubts about the empirical relevance of

the corresponding game-theoretical concept of iterative elimination of dominated

strategies in the context of voting, despite its leverage in the mechanical design

literature (Moulin 1979; Bag et al. 2009; Horan 2013).

In their lab voting experiments, Esponda and Vesta (2014) find that between

50 and 80 % of subjects behave non-strategically, and they note that “mistakes are

mainly driven by difficulty in extracting information from hypothetical, rather than

actual, events”. Backward induction is precisely a case where the required “information” is not present in observable events but has to be deduced from hypothesis.

Likewise, Koriyama and Ozkes 2014 try to fit models of cognitive hierarchies to

voting situations. The cognitive hierarchy model is another (different) case in which

the beliefs of the individual about the others’ behavior are based on more and more

hypothetical assumptions as one climbs the cognitive hierarchy. The results indicate that very few participants in the lab exhibit high levels of this kind of


Comparing observation in the laboratory with experiments closer to real elections, Igersheim et al. (2016) found that there is more strategic voting in the lab,

with monetary incentives, than out of the lab. Our results therefore tend to explain

why both extreme positions according to which voters are either absolutely rational

or always sincere are not valid. The conclusion of this chapter is thus rather

straightforward: there are many simple strategic votes but few sophisticated ones.

Acknowledgments The authors thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of

Canada (Project ‘Making Electoral Democracy Work’) and the Center for the Study of Democratic

Citizenship for their financial support, and the laboratories of experimental economics in Paris

(LEEP) and Montre´al (CIRANO). Thanks to Damien Bol for insightful comments.

Patterns of Strategic Voting in Run-Off Elections


Appendix: The Choice of Candidate Positions (“Political

Supply Structures”) in the Experiment

We explain here the precise choice of the positions of the candidates in the

experiment. We have identified, in theory, four possible types of strategic reasoning. Our objective in the experiment is to check whether the subjects follow each of

them. We therefore aim at designing political structures that are likely to generate

all these possible types of reasoning. Because it was difficult to do so with one

single profile of candidate positions, we chose to have four different candidate

profiles: two under structure sI—one with three and one with five candidates, and

two under structure sII—again, one with three and one with five candidates. We

explain below which types of reasoning are expected to arise under the various

political structures.

Structure sI with positions (1,4,11,13,20) Our typology in part rests on the

candidates’ relative strength in case of a run-off. Let us therefore start by describing

these relative strengths.

Relative run-off strength of the candidates Notice that the candidate in position

11 is a Condorcet winner: he gets at least 11 votes (the absolute majority) whoever

his opponent, and is therefore bound to defeat any opponent in a run-off.16 Consider

now the case of the candidate in position 4: he is defeated by the candidates in

positions 11 and 13 in case of a run-off, by about the same vote margin. Thus

candidates in position 11 and 13 are equally strong when opposed to the candidate

in position 4. Consider now the candidate in position 13: he loses the run-off against

the Condorcet winner, but wins against the candidate in position 4. The extreme

candidates are defeated by all candidates, except possibly by the other extreme

candidate. Based on this analysis of the candidates’ relative strength in case of

run-offs (Sect. 2), we will use the following terminology to describe the candidates:

the candidate in position 11 will be called the centrist candidate, candidate in

position 13 the strong moderate, and candidate in position 4 the weak moderate.

Types of reasoning What type of reasoning are voters required to perform when

facing such a political structure? To get a flavor of what can be induced by this type

of political supply, imagine that all voters start by voting sincerely for the candidate

closest to them.

Consider first the profile with three candidates. The centrist candidate gets votes

from voters in position 8–11 or 12, that is about 4.5 votes. His opponents in position

4 and 13 should respectively get about 8 and 8.5 votes and thus both would be in the


Remember that in a run-off with two candidates, voting for the candidate closest to her position is a

dominant strategy for the voter. We will assume that voters anticipate other voters to follow such a

strategy, possibly with some small unbiased mistakes. The run-off outcomes described here are

derived under this assumption. The details of our assumptions about how voters form beliefs about

run-off outcomes, and more generally about other voters’ behavior, are provided in Sect. 3.2.


K. Van der Straeten et al.

run-off. In the run-off, the strong moderate candidate (position 13) should win in

front of his more extreme opponent (position 4). Then some voters who prefer the

weak moderate to the strong moderate may desert the centrist candidate in order to

try and provoke a first-round victory of the weak moderate (Type 1 reasoning). If

the weak moderate appears to be leading (again, the precise assumptions we make

about how voters form their anticipations are described in detail in Sect. 3.2), and if

voters believe that the most likely event is that they are going to be decisive in

determining who, between the centrist and the strong moderate, is going to be part

of the run-off, then, Type 2 reasoning should be performed, since as noted above,

both candidates are equally strong against the weak moderate. If now the strong

moderate appears to be leading, and if voters believe that the most likely event is

that they are going to be decisive in determining who, between the centrist and the

weak moderate, is going to be part of the run-off, then, the choice is really between

the centrist candidate and the strong moderate. Voters who prefer the centrist

candidate to the strong moderate should vote for the centrist candidate (Type

3 reasoning), whereas some right-wing voters should vote for the weak candidate

whom they dislike but who would secure a victory of their favorite candidate (Type

4 reasoning). All types of reasoning are thus possible under this structure.

What happens with five candidates? Again, imagine that all voters start by voting

sincerely. The centrist candidate still gets 4.5 votes. His moderate opponents now

share their votes with the extreme candidates. The weak moderate gets 5 votes, and

his extreme neighbor 3, whereas the strong moderate gets 4.5 votes, and his extreme

neighbor 4. First round winners become much less likely, thus Type 1 reasoning is

less likely. The vote difference between the two moderate candidates and the

centrist being small, we expect to see Type 2, 3 and 4 reasonings.

Structure sII with positions (0,3,8,15,20) In terms of relative run-off strength of

the candidates, one may check that a pattern similar to that described in structure sI

is observed here. We will therefore use the same terminology to describe the

candidates: the candidate in position 8 will be called the centrist candidate, the

candidate in position 15 the strong moderate (who loses against the centrist but

wins in case of a run-off against the candidate in position 3), and the candidate in

position 3 the weak moderate.

Let us now describe the types of strategic reasoning which might emerge with

such a structure. Let us start with the three-candidate profile. Again, imagine that all

voters start by voting sincerely for the candidate closest to them. The centrist

candidate, in position 8, gets votes from voters 6 to 11, that is 6 votes. The strong

and weak moderate opponents respectively get 9 and 6 votes. In that case it is clear

that the strong moderate will be in a run-off or win in the first round. If the strong

moderate is in position to win in the first round, this calls for Type 1 reasoning. If

not, in case a run-off is the most likely outcome, voters are pivotal in deciding

whom, between the centrist and the weak moderate, is going to be part of the

run-off. This is a typical situation that calls for reasonings of Type 3 and 4 (since the

weak moderate and the centrist candidate are of unequal strength, when facing the

Patterns of Strategic Voting in Run-Off Elections


strong moderate candidate). With such a structure, we expect to put voters in

situations calling for reasonings of Type 1, 3 and 4.

What happens with five candidates? Again, imagine that all voters start by voting

sincerely. The centrist candidate still gets 6 votes. The weak moderate gets 4 votes,

and his extreme neighbor 2, whereas the strong moderate gets 6 votes, and his

extreme neighbor 3. First round wins become much less likely, thus Type 1 reasonings are less likely. The vote difference between the two moderate and the centrist

are small, so we expect to see situations with Type 2, 3 and 4 reasonings.

Conclusion about the candidate profiles All types of reasonings can be generated by both political structures, but in different proportions: Type 1 is more likely

in structure sII, Type 2 is more likely in structure sI, and Type 3 and 4 should be

present under both structures. Furthermore, Type 1 situations are more likely to

occur with three candidates than with five candidates.


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Strategic Voting and Personality Traits

Cengiz Erisen and Andre´ Blais

Earlier work on strategic voting has largely relied upon utilitarian approaches (e.g.,

Cox 1997). Individuals are assumed to make decisions on the basis of their

preferences amongst the available parties in the political spectrum as well as the

perceived viability of these parties. Strategic voting is construed as the result of a

rational calculation that requires voters to order their political preferences, and to

seek information about the likely outcome of the election. In this study, we

introduce a new approach to this research paradigm through the lens of personality

traits that has been much studied particularly in political behavior and political

psychology. In line with earlier related research (Blais and Labbe´ St-Vincent 2011;

Gschwend 2007; Schoen and Schumann 2007), we propose and experimentally test

whether one’s personality traits influence strategic voting behavior in a PR system

with threshold.

Simply defined, strategic voting is casting a vote for a party that is not the

preferred one in order to make one’s vote count (Alvarez et al. 2006; Blais and

Nadeau 1996; Blais et al. 2001; Cox 1997). There is a vast literature about the

definition, measurement, and effects of strategic voting. Yet, the individual level

determinants of strategic voting have been largely unexplored. In this chapter we

examine behavioral differences in strategic voting through personality traits.

Our approach aligns with the literature on personality and its effects on political

behavior. There is a developing research strand on how personality traits could

affect a number of domains central in political science. Among those scholarly

research has shown that personality traits influence voting behavior (Duckitt and

C. Erisen (*)

Department of Political Science, TOBB University of Economics and Technology, Ankara,


e-mail: cengiz.erisen@gmail.com

A. Blais

Department of Political Science, Universite´ de Montre´al, Montre´al, Canada

e-mail: andre.blais@umontreal.ca

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

A. Blais et al. (eds.), Voting Experiments, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40573-5_12



C. Erisen and A. Blais

Sibley 2016; Schoen and Schumann 2007) ideological orientations (Carney

et al. 2008; Jost et al. 2003) political participation (Blais and Labbe St-Vincent

2011; Brandstaătter and Opp 2014; Gerber et al. 2011b, 2013b; Mondak et al. 2010),

political attitudes (Gerber et al. 2010; Mondak and Halperin 2008), and many other

aspects of political behavior (Caprara and Vecchione 2013; Mondak 2010). Equally

important, economists (Almlund et al. 2011) and psychologists (Norman 1963;

Eysenck 1991; Goldberg 1990; Costa and McCrae 1992) have been working on the

constructs of personality and their distinct effects on various domains of behaviors

and decisions, This earlier literature motivates us to further examine the effect of

personality traits (the Big Five, in particular) in strategic voting.

This chapter explores the link between personality and strategic voting in the

following sequence. First, we provide an overview of strategic voting and its

potential determinants. Second, we present the Big Five personality traits and

discuss our expectations with respect to each trait. Next, we present the experimental design, sample, and procedure. Finally, we conduct our analyses and report our

findings with implications for future research.

1 Strategic Voting and Its Determinants

Strategic voting requires certain attributes from a voter among which the first one is

the ability to desert “too weak” or “too strong” candidates. This requirement

assumes that voters employ instrumental rationality, which requires that one is

able to order political candidates from the most to the least liked and also comprehend the competition amongst the candidates. Second, strategic voters are expected

to seek information about candidates’ viability. Viability in this context refers to the

probability of a candidate’s success to be elected in a race. In turn, strategic voters

ought to care about a number of things but most importantly how votes are

transformed into seats, how other voters are likely to vote, and what their ultimate

payoff would be.

Given these assumptions it makes sense to believe that the propensity to vote

tactically varies across individuals. First, people need to collect information, and

then make rational calculations about how they could benefit under various scenarios, and finally cast their vote for the candidate or a party that is most likely to

improve their utility. It is plausible to assume that individuals vary a lot in their

motivations and ability to undertake these tasks.

To understand the individual determinants of strategic voting let us first begin

with its basic requirements as laid out in the literature. As acknowledged by Cox

(1997, 76–79) a number of conditions must be met for a voter to engage in strategic

voting. The first is that the voter must have a set of preferences among the

candidates. If one likes only one candidate and is indifferent towards all the other

options, then there is no incentive to consider strategically deserting her preferred

option. There may be some types of voters who are more likely to have more intense

feelings about their first choice and less intense ones about the other options. A

Strategic Voting and Personality Traits


second condition is that the person seeks information about the viability of various

candidates. Again, some people may be more concerned about viability and more

willing to devote time to figure out who is and who is not viable. Some people even

take into account the signals shared by the elite or the parties to assess their viability

(Merolla 2009). The third condition is that the person uses the information about

viability to determine how to maximize her utility given her preferences. Again,

that willingness to think hard about the options may not be present among all voters.

This leads us to expect some relationship between individual personality traits and

the propensity to cast a strategic vote.

By default, in an election environment when several options lead to the same

outcome individuals exhibit a tendency to vote for the party/candidate closest to

their sincere preference. Particularly in an election where no history about vote

distribution is available, individuals are more likely to vote according to their

sincere preference. This expectation comes with the assumption that all other voters

will vote sincerely for their most preferred party. However, as history becomes

available voters would alter their position and coordinate on winning parties,

especially when those parties are close to their sincere preference.

In an earlier study we found clear evidence of strategic voting as history

becomes available (Blais et al. 2014). Participants are more likely to vote sincerely

in the first elections. Later on, as the elections progress and history develops, some

of the voters attempt to coordinate on the party that won the previous elections. We

see this decision process occurring mostly when one’s sincerely preferred party

does not pass the threshold in the previous elections, and when the winner of the

previous election is closer to one’s sincere preference. As a result, the behavioral

precedent of casting a vote strategically reveals itself in the form of desertion of

non-viable parties and candidates.

One important structural factor that we note here is the electoral threshold. In the

presence of electoral threshold coordination dilemma arises among the supporters

of a given coalition. This means that individuals should take into account the

probability of their party passing the threshold to gain a seat. The threshold is

thus a crucial factor to be considered in the process of reaching a decision.

Following this conceptualization of strategic voting, we lay out below how

various personality traits could be linked, positively or negatively, to strategic


2 The Big Five Personality Traits

Research on personality traits has shown the multitude of its effects across a

number of political issues from political attitudes (Adorno et al. 1950; Altemeyer

1996) to political behavior and voter participation (Blais and Labbe´ St-Vincent

2011; Gerber et al. 2011a, b, 2013a, b; Mondak 2010; Mondak and Halperin 2008;

Schoen and Schumann 2007) political protest (Brandstaătter and Opp 2014) and

voting (Caprara and Vecchione 2013; Duckitt and Sibley 2016). The original


C. Erisen and A. Blais

studies go back decades earlier examining how to define and measure the dimensions of personality (Norman 1963; Eysenck 1991; Goldberg 1990). Recent interest

on personality traits however has been over a broad range of topics. Before we

formulate our specific hypotheses, we elaborate on these personality traits.

Personality has a long history in political science. Prior work has worked out the

many facets of personality (for a review, see Gerber et al. 2011a). Over the last three

decades, research has shown that independent of the methodology used to measure

personality dimensions there are five main domains, the Big Five. The Big Five

traits measure individuals’ tendencies and leanings forming the underpinnings of

political behavior (Norman 1963; Eysenck 1991; McCrae and Costa 1996).

These five dimensions of personality are Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability. Individual differences across personality traits are categorized in five domains and defined as

follows (Caprara and Vecchione 2013, 30–31): “Extraversion refers to individuals’

tendency to behave and react vigorously in different situations and is usually

conveyed by adjectives as dynamic, active, and sociable. Agreeableness refers to

individuals’ concern for altruism, generosity, and loyalty and is usually conveyed

by adjectives such as kind, honest, and sincere. Conscientiousness refers to individuals’ tendency to pursue order and meet one’s own obligations and is usually

conveyed by adjectives such as diligent, reliable, and precise. Emotional stability

refers to the control of impulses and emotions and is usually conveyed by adjectives

such as calm, patient, and relaxed. Finally, openness to experience refers to an

interest in culture and curiosity about new experiences and is conveyed by adjectives such as innovative, imaginative, and creative.”

Earlier research has examined the several domains where personality traits exert

an influence. In this list we can include topics such as political ideology, partisanship, political participation, political knowledge, social networks, and political

persuasion. We also see growing research examining the origins of political predispositions in personality. One recent strand of research focuses on the genetic and

biological precursors of personality that form political attitudes and behavior

(Alford et al. 2005; Hatemi et al. 2009; Hibbing et al. 2014). The scholarly approach

to the topic is obviously interdisciplinary, primarily stemming from earlier research

in psychology to the developing interest in economics.

At this juncture, we need to acknowledge the inconsistent results of personality

traits relating to different domains of political behavior. With respect to voting

behavior, for instance, earlier research has consistently predicted that openness is

associated with voting left whereas conscientiousness is associated with voting

right (Caprara and Vecchione 2013; Duckitt and Sibley 2016; Schoen and Schumann 2007). Yet, earlier research showed that agreeableness is a difficult trait to be

associated with either ideological orientation. Agreeable people lean toward being

liberal because they are more likely to help others but at the same time they are keen

to maintain social cohesion (Gerber et al. 2010; Mondak and Halperin 2008). Other

studies have shown weaker effects of extraversion and emotional stability on voting

behavior. Some studies showed that those high on emotional stability lean toward

voting for right-wing parties and support the conservative ideology (Carney

Strategic Voting and Personality Traits


et al. 2008) but others have shown this ideological link is weak. Extraversion on the

other hand is found to be unassociated with any particular political ideology.

Results are even more perplexing with respect to the personality precursors of

ideological orientations across regions and countries (Duckitt and Sibley 2016).

Moreover, some domains of the Big Five are expected to produce null effects or the

direction of the effect is uncertain (e.g., Almlund et al. 2011; Gerber et al. 2013a, b).

While our claims are cognizant of earlier research that has showed somewhat

inconsistent results as to how each personality trait could influence political behavior, in this chapter we are interested in seeking individual differences in strategic

voting that relate to personality traits. This topic has remained unexplored and our

study offers a novel approach in that regard.

3 Big Five Personality Traits and Strategic Voting

Our expectations with respect to the effect of the Big Five personality traits on

strategic voting are domain specific (e.g., Blais and Labbe St-Vincent 2011;

Brandstaătter and Opp 2014). In line with earlier research each trait could generate

a distinct effect on an individual’s behavior, in our case the likelihood of casting a

vote strategically. Below we present our expectations:

1. Openness to experience: Previous research has shown that openness

(to experience) is strongly associated with the liberal ideology and voting for

the parties on the left (Jost et al. 2003; McCrae 1996; Mondak and Halperin

2008): not only attachment to liberalism but also greater support for liberal

social and economic policies (Gerber et al. 2010). A non-political definition of

this trait relates to two concepts. One more or less corresponds to cognitive

abilities. The other is the aesthetic ability, imagination, creativity, and ability to

adjust to different environments. Both concepts are fundamental to several

political tasks such as political participation and political interest. Those high

on openness are more likely to engage in cognitive tasks that require attention

and interest (Heinstrom 2003).

Scholarly evidence suggests that openness to experience is linked to risky

behavior such as drinking alcohol, drinking and driving, and smoking (BoothKewley and Vickers 1994) or risk-taking in foreign policy decision-making

(Kowert and Hermann 1997). Previous research in economics supports a similar

conclusion that this trait is associated with greater risk preference in economic

decisions such as preferring a lottery over a certain amount of money (Dohmen

et al. 2010).

In political terms, those high on openness to experience are more likely to

participate in politics and engage in the cognitive tasks that require one’s

involvement in calculation of viable candidates’ electoral success. These individuals are more likely to reconsider ideas and judgments, which would lead to

higher likelihood of switching party identification over time (Bakker et al. 2014).

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2 More Repetitions: A Follow-Up Experiment with Longer Sequences of Elections

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