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CHAPTER 7 Partisan Interests and Campaign Information: Support for Term Limits In examining instrumental motivations for choices on tax and spending propositions , we imputed interests to voters on the basis of narrowly defined private (or localized) interests. Interests were defined in terms of how the narrow, economic costs and benefits associated with a proposition might have an immediate effect on a person's income. From this perspective, the decisions of many voters appear to be a way to achieve some sort of tangible economic ends. The effects ofmany initiatives, however, are often more intangible. As further evidence that voter behavior in direct democracy reflects an ability to reason , we demonstrated that some voters can also use instrumental motivations when evaluating less tangible, noneconomic initiatives. Instrumental decisions on ballot propositions-voting to advance one's interests-need not be seen as limited to narrowly defined economic self-interest. Voters may view an issue in terms of how it affects the interests of the political parties or social groups with which they identify. This perspective might be particularly relevant with governmental reorganization measures that lack easily identifiable fiscal impacts but nevertheless have consequences on the distribution of political influence. Unlike a tax or spending proposal, a voter might have a hard time assessing how a reapportionment proposal, campaign finance reform, or legislative term limitation will affect his or her personal finances. But rules proposed by such measures still affect people by changing the ways in which they (or their representatives) interact with government and by changing the ways in which elections are conducted. In such a context, where the costs and benefits of a proposition are diffuse and more abstract--or are political rather than economic -outcomes can affect the political parties and groups that are elected to office, and they can influence government. Rather than deciding on the basis of personal motivations, voters might think instrumentally about such measures in terms of their partisan or group interests. In this chapter we examine how motivations based on partisan and socialgroup interests might allow voters to decide whether they are for or against term limitations. We examine, in particular, how partisan voters might "learn" over the course of a campaign and how voters respond to party cues. Some suggest that cues related to party labels and demographic characteristics may be suffi129 130 Demanding Choices cient for voters to act as if they had perfect information (Page and Shapiro 1992, 387-88; McKelvey and Ordeshook 1985). We are not attempting to assess how behavior in direct democracy might compare to a hypothetical, perfectly informed voter. Rather, we seek to learn whether preferences for ballot initiatives appear to "make sense" in terms of underlying values, imputed interests, and available information, and whether changes in opinions reflect sensible adjustments to information. Term-Limit Initiatives in California Given the highly visible and contested nature of the 1990 California term-limit conflict, we feel it provides a useful test for group- and party-based instrumental voting. Two term-limit initiatives (Propositions 131 and 140) were on the 1990 California ballot, each supported by distinct political groups. We suggest that as the campaign matured, information about how each initiative might affect partisan representation in California became more clearly defined. In the end, many voters could have had a fairly easy time applying the "Who's behind it?" cue to determine whether their party's interests were served by the proposals. One proposal, Proposition 140, was drafted by a former Assembly Republican (Pete Schabarum) and was endorsed by many incumbent Assembly Republicans, by Republican Governor Pete Wilson (in a televised debate with Democrat Diane Feinstein), and by Republican President George Bush. Acompeting initiative (Proposition 131) was drafted by a ranking Democrat (John Van de Kamp) and supported by a handful of elites-notably, Tom McKennery (the Democratic mayor of San Jose) and Ralph Nader. Opposition to both proposals was led by Senate and Assembly Democrats, with Republicans playing a less visible role (Price and Baccioco 1990, 579-80). It is reasonable to expect that many voters could learn some of this information from ballot pamphlets, television news, and general media coverage as the campaign heated up. Each major party also funded efforts to contact voters (direct mail and phone banks). In this chapter, we test whether support for these initiatives was affected by partisanship and whether the distribution of partisan opinions changed over the course of the campaign in a manner suggesting that voters learned which measure was most consistent...

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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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