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Theory of differing local and national voter choice

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The effect of voter preference on legislator policy decisions - 2003 California Recall.
  3. Do the voters actually care about past performance?
  4. The 2000 school board election in South Carolina.
  5. Downs's theory on the rationality of being informed.

This paper aims to critique Downs's Economic Theory of Political Action in Democracy with experimental research that supports and refutes the assumptions and results of his model. First, I look at if legislators' policy making decisions are ideologically fixed or susceptible to constituent preferences. Next, I consider if voter choice in incumbency races is dependant on the incumbent's performance during their previous term. Then I examine the rationality of voting, specifically the assumption that all voters are self interested. Based on my findings in these areas I conclude that there are different mechanisms for local election and national elections.

[...] That is because measures of national accountability are part of information, voters don't need statistics on GDP to understand how the economy is doing, and they simply need to look at their bank accounts and the prices of the goods they buy. Downs's theory on the rationality of being informed is based on the axiom that all actors are self interested (137). However, Fowler's study of Altruism and Turnout suggests that voters are not self interested (680). This empirical study finds that voters make their decision to vote not based just on their own utility gained, but also by how many other voters there are, and as an extension of themselves, how much utility those other voters get as well (Fowler, 681). [...]


[...] A voter is much more likely to belong to similar networks and have connections with a local politician then with a national one. And similarly the vote of that one person with the connection is a lot more likely to matter in a local election then in a national one. One exception Berry and Howell found was the 2000 South Carolina school board election (857). During this election there had been extensive media coverage of student achievement scores. It was only in this year that a correlation was found between performance during their term and the outcome of the election for the incumbent. [...]

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