On Voter Competence

Research output: Book/ReportBook

91 Scopus citations


A half century of research shows that most citizens are woefully uninformed about public affairs, liberal-conservative ideologies, and the issues of the day. This had led most scholars to conclude that policy voting lies beyond the reach of typical American voters and to condemn them as politically inept. This book breaks sharply with this view. Once attention turns away from liberal-conservative predispositions and issue preferences, there is indisputable evidence that nearly everyone holds genuine policy principles and uses these to guide their votes come Election Day. Three principles that reflect the major cleavages long dividing the Democratic and Republican parties are paramount: limited government, traditional morality, and military strength. Integrating work from social and political history, social and political psychology, and electoral behavior, the book argues that these three principles are available in the minds of nearly all citizens; function as central heuristics in their belief systems; are rooted deeply in basic human values; and guide presidential choices to a comparable degree for voters across the sophistication spectrum. Analysis of opinion data from the past six presidential elections and three new surveys yields unequivocal support for these claims. Contrary to the indictment leveled by most of the scholarly community and political pundits more generally, ordinary citizens who are neither deeply knowledgeable nor engaged with the world of public affairs prove as adept as their more sophisticated counterparts at grounding presidential votes in abstract views about public policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages287
ISBN (Electronic)9780199979301
ISBN (Print)9780195396140
StatePublished - Jan 24 2013

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press, 2013. All Rights Reserved.


  • Elections
  • Limited government
  • Military strength
  • Political sophistication
  • Traditional morality
  • Voter competence
  • Voting


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