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CHAPTER 5 Private Interests and Instrumental Voting To this point we have said little about the prospects for self-interested or instrumental voting on ballot propositions. As noted earlier, there is a body of literature suggesting that voters should not be expected to engage in much systematic reasoning when making decisions about propositions. Early and contemporary commentators note that many voters lack the requisite information and ability for it. Our use of limited-information theories illustrates how this pessimistic evaluation of voters might be inaccurate, or at least overstated. Many voters seek out and find useful information, cues, and references. We have not yet established that voters can also make decisions on the basis ofpersonal (private) interests. We suggest that some voters do so when evaluating certain propositions. If we consider the information required to translate ballot proposals into an understanding of the personalized benefits (or costs) that an individual might derive from altering the status quo, we might see voting based on self-interest as more complex than (or at least as demanding as) voting based on the information shortcuts discussed in earlier chapters. To vote on the basis of private interests instrumentally so that a desired outcome might be produced, voters must know something about their own policy preferences, the proposition, and how (or if) the proposition will make them better or worse off. Some cues and shortcuts could help voters make self-interested evaluations of propositions, but it is another matter for voters to employ self-interested motivations when evaluating propositions. Evidence of that would bring us closer to establishing that voters do indeed reason systematically when they make their decisions in direct democracy. In this chapter we examine the motivations of voters in elections that are focused primarily on tax and spending (school voucher) initiatives. We advance the argument that voters are not simply motivated by the factors frequently cited to explain support for these issues (i.e., symbolic or "public-regarding" concerns ), but that they can also utilize private, instrumental interests when evaluating propositions. This argument is not entirely new, but we illustrate how the use of narrow private-interest motivations might be distinguished by available information and the voter's level of cognitive ability. 85 86 Demanding Choices The Case against Instrumental Voting The "Public-Regarding" and "Symbolic Politics" Traditions Given the portrait ofdirect-democracy voters we receive from the behavioral political science studies of the 1960s and 1970s (see chapter 2), instrumental motivations have not typically been seen as part of an accurate explanation of how voters decide what they are for or against when they evaluate ballot measures. One body of literature grants limited weight to the idea that direct-democracy choices reflect instrumental behavior or the private interests of individual voters. As Wolfinger and Greenstein noted, "it is common to assume that asking voters to pass judgment on substantive policy questions strains their information and interest, leading them to decisions that may be inconsistent with their desires" (Wolfinger and Greenstein 1968, 767). From this perspective, people lack information about the details of policy and have a limited capacity for deciding how a complex policy might affect them personally. Many voters are thus unable to translate their policy preferences into accurate votes on real propositions (Magleby 1984, 142; conversely, see Cronin 1989, chap. 4). It is also said that many people intentionally vote against their interests. Wilson and Banfield claim that "a considerable portion of voters, especially in the upper income groups, vote against their self-interest" in direct democracy (1963, 885). These authors claimed that a "public-regarding" ethos motivated these voters, but that some lower-status ethic groups might be motivated by a "private-regarding" ethos (see chapter 2). Since the publication of the Wilson and Banfield article, a substantial amount ofliterature (typically employing aggregated data) has illustrated that upper-status constituencies favor proposals that require them to finance broad public benefits (e.g., Minar 1966; Hicks 1972; Piele and Hall 1973; Jennings and Milstein 1973; Alexander and Bass 1974; Schroeder and Sjoquist 1978; see Hahn and Kamieniecki 1987, ll5, esp. n. 21, for a summary of various studies). Wilson and Banfield's aggregate analysis produced positive correlations between spatial indicators ofhigher social status and support for tax and expenditure measures. A more recent aggregate study produced similar results, showing that these patterns reflect that "high-status voters can afford the lUXUry of a diverse range of public expenditures " (Hahn and Kamieniecki 1987, 121). Given that voters might have an...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472023349
Related ISBN
9780472087150
MARC Record
OCLC
665834046
Pages
216
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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