The American Voter Revisited

The American Voter Revisited



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780472070404
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication date: 05/22/2008
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Michael S. Lewis-Beck is F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa.

William G. Jacoby is Professor of Political Science at Michigan State University.

Helmut Norpoth is Professor of Political Science at Stony Brook University.

Herbert F. Weisberg is Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University.

Read an Excerpt

The American Voter Revisited

By Michael S. Lewis-Beck William G. Jacoby Helmut Norpoth Herbert F. Weisberg
Copyright © 2008

University of Michigan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-07040-4

Chapter One Setting

Voting has become a virtually universal means by which individuals make collective decisions. It is used by legislatures and reading groups, by panels of judges, church conclaves, and the United Nations, and, most importantly, it has become the way that nations represent their mass public in determining governmental actions. The importance of voting in modern society is seen in the rapidity with which free elections were adopted by the new nations that emerged with the end of the Cold War.

The scholarly literature on voting has exploded in the last several years, as regards voting in the United States but even more so voting in other nations. In addition to coverage of the field in the general political science journals, there are now the specialty publications Political Behavior, Electoral Studies, and Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties. Furthermore, voting continues to receive attention in a wide variety of disciplines. Political sociologists, political psychologists, and public choice economists have found voting a fertile topic for their research, applying their own theoretical perspectives to this fascinating democratic behavior.

If we are to add to the research on voting, we must locate our work in broad perspective in three important ways, which will be discussed in this chapter. First, voting occurs within a larger political system. Research on voting behavior is valuable to the extent that it contributes to the literature on political systems more broadly. Second, any election occurs within a particular historical setting. We focus in this book on two elections that occurred four years apart, and the particular period in which they were held affects the results that we obtain. Therefore, it is essential to consider how the historical context of these elections affects our conclusions. Third, our study is part of a lengthy series of studies on voting. The substantive topics we examine and the methodology we use to examine them flow from these earlier studies.


While voting is of great interest to a variety of social sciences, it is important not to lose track of its political import. Researchers may study voting because of what it reveals about attitude formation and change, social group identification, the effects of social status, the role of personality factors, the role of the media, the economic rationality of voting, and its geographical structure. Those interpretations of voting data are worthwhile, and some will be covered in chapters in this book. Still, voting behavior is of interest primarily because of its effects on the political system. Voting is so important because of its import at the collective level. However much we focus on the determinants of individuals' votes, it is their impact on the political system that matters in the end.

Elections are fundamental to democracy. Governments allocate resources within their jurisdictions, and elections are the main means by which the governed control and consent to this process. Furthermore, if these elections are to be meaningful, they must be free and competitive, with some candidates being elected to power and others being denied election, through a peaceful process of leadership selection and transfer of authority. Direct democracy may seem an attractive alternative to representative democracy, but the latter is more realistic given the size of modern nations and the complexity of issues that they face.

Elections are one form of decision making in democracies; decisions are also made in legislatures, the executive, and the courts. Each of these forums has a constitutional basis, amplified by laws, with actors deciding according to specified rules and with various influences affecting the decisions. Of course, these are intertwined processes in a democracy, not independent ones. For example, the legislative process is inherently a matter of representation affected by elections, and the actions of legislators and other elected officials are always influenced by possible electoral consequences.

Our focus in this volume will be on elections for the U.S. presidency. The determination of who will be the executive head is important in every country, but it is the key choice in the United States. When it was instituted in the United States, choice of the president by the electorate was very rare. In parliamentary systems the electorate does affect the determination of the executive, though even more indirectly than in the United States, in which the Electoral College elects the president. But whether the electorate chooses the executive directly by popular vote or indirectly through an Electoral College or parliamentary system, such systems are more democratic than ones in which the electorate is manipulated, controlled, or permitted no real choice. Most totalitarian countries profess to have elections, but the electorate has no genuine choice. As democratic theorists have long emphasized, popular consent through elections is meaningful only when voters are given genuine alternatives.

We and other scholars are interested in the governmental process more generally, and not just how voters choose between presidential candidates. The presidential vote, however, provides a useful focus for the current inquiry, illuminating decision making in elections that receive considerable public attention and thereby providing a standard for comparison with elections that receive less public attention.

Another important topic is the effects of elections on the governmental process. In voting for president, the public considers actions taken by the president, the executive more broadly, the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and other parts of the federal government. In turn, the election results affect subsequent government action by the president, by the executive, the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and other parts of the federal government, sometimes directly and sometimes through their interpretations of the significance of the election result.

This book focuses on the United States. However, our interest in voting transcends national boundaries, and many of the ideas in this book are applicable to other nations as well. There are major differences between the political systems of different nations, particularly between presidential and parliamentary systems and between two-party and multiparty systems, that suggest caution is in order when one draws generalizations. But still we contend that the framework provided here offers a useful beginning point for studying voting in other nations, with due allowance for differences between the systems.

In focusing on the presidential election, we do not intend to slight the significance of other elections. The vote for Congress is important, and the comparison between presidential and midterm elections is important. Indeed, some of our results hold for nonpresidential elections. But there are also real differences between presidential and nonpresidential elections, so generalizations from our results to nonpresidential elections should be made with care. The presidential choice by itself provides enough material for this book, though it should be seen as part of the broader study of voting behavior.

In short, voting is important, free elections are vital to democracy, and U.S. presidential elections are among the most significant elections in the world. There are associated topics researchers do study, including the effects of presidential elections on the government, voting in other nations, and voting in nonpresidential elections. However, the study of voting in U.S. presidential elections is itself a sufficient topic for this book.


Our goal is to develop an explanation of voting that is not bound to any single time period. However, the specific elections and period studied inevitably affect the conclusions drawn, so it is necessary to begin with a description of the historical context of the elections considered in this book. Indeed, many of the results reported in this book describe these elections, though our goal is to provide a theoretical understanding of individual voting. A theory can be seen as positing the relationships among variables, indicating which independent variables affect the dependent behaviors of interest. Descriptive studies at any single historical point indicate the values of the variables at that point. The theory helps determine which variables should be examined, thereby guiding the descriptive historical analysis.

Some examples help show how theory can guide description. First, consider the effects of social class on voting. These effects vary over time. Rather than show only that class and voting are related, we are interested in showing how they vary, using that variance to test hypotheses and to describe how presidential politics has changed over the years. Second, our social-psychological theory of voting emphasizes the role of particular partisan attitudes in determining voting decisions. We use our measurements of those attitudes both to test our theoretical hypotheses and to describe systematically the factors that lead to particular election outcomes. Third, our theory is that people's psychological identification with a party affects these partisan attitudes but can also be affected by them. This possibility of partisan attitudes leading to changes in partisan identification leads to a fivefold classification of presidential elections: maintaining, deviating, reinstating, realigning, and balancing.

At the same time, it is necessary to admit that the historical period being studied inherently limits our theories. We observe elections in a particular period, and all we can do is to use those elections to develop and test our theories. Experiments can be useful in examining how manipulation of key variables affects dependent variables, but it is difficult to conduct experiments on elections. Researchers in studies of voting behavior cannot manipulate many of the essential variables. It is also difficult to control several variables simultaneously, especially since key variables are often too highly correlated to separate their effects fully. Another difficulty is the limited amount of variation in these key variables, particularly in a particular historical period. Since some variables may not vary during the period studied, researchers may not understand their importance, may not think of including them in their theories, and may not be able to estimate their true importance even when they are studied.

In this book, we examine voting in two presidential elections, using interviews with probability samples of the national electorate. We focus on the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, using surveys taken by the National Election Studies. Where appropriate, we also use surveys taken in earlier years.

The 2000 presidential election followed two decades of increased partisan division. Ronald Reagan brought the presidency back into Republican hands in 1980 and moved public policy in a more conservative direction, but always facing a Democratic House of Representatives. George H. W. Bush succeeded Reagan in 1988 and continued most of his policies, while facing unified Democratic control of Congress. Divided government led to the defeat of Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and Bush's nomination of John Tower to be secretary of defense, resulting in more heated fights between the political parties in Congress. The Bush administration was marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. invasion of Panama, and by the Gulf War to undo Iraq's seizure of Kuwait.

Bill Clinton defeated Bush in 1992, in a campaign that focused on the weak economy. While he received nearly 6 percent more of the vote than Bush, Clinton won only 43 percent of the popular vote, with H. Ross Perot's independent candidacy obtaining 19 percent. The Democratic president worked with the Democratic Congress in 1993-94 to pass several important new laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Brady Bill, which imposed limits on handgun purchases, and higher taxes in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, along with ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement. However, Congress forced Clinton to compromise on allowing openly gay people in the military, and Congress shelved his plans for health care reform. The Republicans used dissatisfaction with several of these Clinton initiatives, a scandal in the House of Representatives, and their Contract with America to return the country to divided government in the 1994 midterm election, with Republicans winning control of the Senate and the House together for the first time in 40 years. The major legislative accomplishments in 1995-96 were the passage of welfare reform and the Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed states to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages.

Clinton handily defeated Bob Dole in the 1996 presidential election (49 percent to 41 percent, with Perot obtaining 8 percent), though Clinton still faced a Republican Congress. He forced Congress to pass his budget in 1996 after initial defeat of that bill led to a shutdown of many government services. While this was not a period of major legislative accomplishment, the economy soared during the Clinton years. A major scandal erupted in 1998 over allegations that Bill Clinton had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton retained his popularity with the public, and Democrats gained seats in the 1998 congressional elections, but the Republicans continued to control an increasingly polarized Congress. After the midterm election, Clinton became the second president in U.S. history to be impeached. The Republican House of Representatives impeached him in 1999 because of alleged perjury and obstruction of justice in court testimony about his relationship with Lewinsky; the Senate failed to convict him on these charges, so he was able to finish his term in office. On the foreign front, U.S. troops led a NATO force in a successful bombing campaign against Serbian dominance in Kosovo in spring 1999, and there were attempts to bring peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. There were other scandals during the Clinton administration, but the major issues going into the 2000 election were a slowing economy and the aftermath of the Clinton moral scandal and impeachment.

The 2000 presidential election featured Democratic vice president Al Gore running against George W. Bush, the son of the forty-first president. Gore was not able to separate himself from Clinton's moral problems while still associating himself with the strong economy of the Clinton years. Ralph Nader's Green Party candidacy threatened to take liberal votes from Gore, though in the end Nader won under 3 percent of the vote. Pat Buchanan's Reform Party candidacy took some votes from Bush, but he received less than 0.5 percent of the vote. Gore had a popular vote plurality of more than 500,000 votes over Bush, but the 2000 election became the first in over 100 years when the leader in the popular vote lost the Electoral College. The election was so close that the result finally depended on Florida, which ultimately gave George W. Bush a 537-vote victory when the U.S. Supreme Court called a halt to ballot recounts. Bush began with a Republican Congress, but the party switch of one senator gave control of the Senate to the Democrats in early 2001. Still, Bush was able to get some of his domestic agenda through Congress, especially tax cuts and his "No Child Left Behind" education program.

The al-Qaeda attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, quickly led to foreign and defense policies becoming the main focus of the Bush administration. President Bush declared a war on terrorism; the 2001 war in Afghanistan quickly defeated its Taliban government, and the 2003 war in Iraq removed its president, Saddam Hussein. The original war on terrorism and the Afghan campaign were highly popular, helping the Republicans to win control of both chambers of Congress in the 2002 midterm election. However, the Iraq war became highly controversial by the time of the 2004 election when there proved to be no indication that Iraq had possessed weapons of mass destruction and U.S. casualties mounted in the aftermath of the war.

The 2004 presidential election was a contest between George W. Bush, seeking to win the popular vote as well as the Electoral College, and Senator John Kerry. Kerry sought to portray himself as a leader, pointing to his bravery in the Vietnam War, but negative ads brought his war and postwar activities into question, negating that campaign appeal. Kerry portrayed himself as better able to handle the ongoing war on terrorism and the Iraq situation, but a majority of the country decided to stay with Bush. While Bush won a majority of the popular vote, this time the Electoral College result finally depended on the vote in Ohio, which in the end narrowly went to Bush.


Excerpted from The American Voter Revisited by Michael S. Lewis-Beck William G. Jacoby Helmut Norpoth Herbert F. Weisberg Copyright © 2008 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents Preface....................ix
How to Read This Book....................xiii
Section I * Introductory 1. Setting....................3
2. Theoretical Orientation....................19
Section II * Political Attitudes and the Vote 3. Perceptions of the Parties and Candidates....................31
4. Partisan Choice....................60
5. Voting Turnout....................82
Section III * The Political Context 6. The Impact of Party Identification....................111
7. The Development of Party Identification....................138
8. Public Policy and Political Preference....................161
9. Attitude Structure and the Problem of Ideology....................201
10. The Formation of Issue Concepts and Partisan Change....................254
Section IV * The Social and Economic Context 11. Membership in Social Groupings....................305
12. Class and Other Social Characteristics....................334
13. Economic Antecedents of Political Behavior....................365
Section V * The Electoral Decision and the Political System 14. The Electoral Decision....................393
15. Electoral Behavior and the Political System....................415
Afterword: The American Voter Then and Now....................424
Appendix A: Counterpart Tables and Figures....................429
Appendix B: Replication of The American Voter....................435

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