OCW049: Why People Vote

Socioeconomic Factors

Depending on socioeconomic factors like wealth, education, or occupation, people are more or less likely to vote.

Learning Objectives

Describe the relationship between socioeconomic status and voting behavior

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Wealthier people are more likely to vote, as they generally possess the resources and time to be active in politics.
  • Of all the socioeconomic factors impacting voter turnout, education has the greatest impact. The more educated a person is, the more likely they are to vote, as they have a better understanding of how the system works, how to influence the system, and why participation is important.
  • A person is more or less likely to vote depending on their occupation. Managerial or professional workers are more likely to vote, and the unemployed are the least likely group to vote.

Key Terms

  • vote: To cast a vote; to assert a formalised choice in an election.
  • socioeconomic status: Socioeconomic status (SES) is a combined economic and sociological measurement of a person’s work experience and of an individual’s or family’s economic and social position in relation to others, based on income, education, and occupation.
  • voter turnout: Voter turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in an election. Exactly who is eligible varies by country, and should not be confused with the total adult population.


Socioeconomic status (SES) is determined by an individual’s level of education, income, and occupation. Socioeconomic factors significantly affect whether or not individuals develop the habit of voting. Voters and political activists generally are more educated and better off financially than the general population. Because of this, these people have the best chance of having their views represented in government. Meanwhile, those who rely the most on government programs and policies, such as recipients of public assistance, often have fewer opportunities to participate and are less engaged with the process of electing representatives.

Income and Voting

Independently, income has some effect on whether or not people vote. Wealthier people are more likely to vote, regardless of their educational background. Wealthier and better educated people tend to vote more often, participate more in political activities, and donate more money to causes than poorer or less educated people. They also have greater access to the resources that facilitate political activity, including contact with people in powerful positions.


Voter Turnout by Income (2008): This is a figure illustrating the different rates of voting in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election by income. The higher income, the more likely a person is to vote.

Education and Voting

The most important socioeconomic factor affecting voter turnout is education. The more educated a person is, the more likely he or she is to vote. Studies show that this is true, even controlling for other factors that are closely associated with education level, such as income and class. Education has the strongest impact on participation, as it provides people with background knowledge as to how the political system works and how the action of voting is connected with the realities of their lives. Educated people develop the skills that allow them to follow and understand national and international events through the mass media. They are likely to form opinions about political issues and engage in discussions. The most popular political blogs, such as Daily Kos and Huffington Post, are produced and read by well-educated people. Education also prepares people to deal with the bureaucratic aspects of participation, such as registering to vote or organizing petition drives. Eighty-three percent of people with a graduate school education voted in the 2008 presidential election. In comparison, only 39% of those without a high school diploma voted that year. The 2010 midterm elections were decided primarily by people with at least some college experience. Less than 5% of voters had no high school education, 16% were high school graduates, 29% had some college education, and 50% were college graduates.


Voter Turnout by Educational Attainment –2008 Presidential Election: Educational attainment, an indicator of social class, can predict one’s level of political participation. Those with high educational attainment are more likely to vote in elections than those with little education.

Occupation and Voting

People’s occupations also are related to their participation and their likelihood to vote. People in managerial and professional positions are the most politically active, followed by craftspersons, service workers, and laborers. Many managers and professionals follow politics as part of their jobs. The unemployed are the least inclined to participate in politics through voting, however, because they may rely on governmental services to survive, they are frequently among those most immediately affected by the outcome of elections.

Additional Factors: Gender, Age, Religion, Race, and Ethnicity

Certain factors like age, gender, race, and religion help describe why people vote and who is more likely to vote.

Learning Objectives

Describe the voting patterns of various demographic subsets of the American electorate

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Traditionally people ages 30 to 65 are most likely to vote, but recently young people have been coming out to the polls more frequently, in part due to mobilization via social media.
  • Since the 1980s, women have voted as much or more than men, removing the idea that there is a gender gap in certain types of political participation like voting.
  • Different ethnic groups also have unique voting trends. African-American voters vote as much as other voters of the same socioeconomic status, and Asian voters have lower voter turnout rates. Latinos tend to vote less than other groups, but their vote has been rising in importance.
  • People may vote due to religious convictions or socially conservative viewpoints, such as those voters who identify with the Christian right. Voters identifying with the Christian right have high turnout rates and vote frequently.

Key Terms

  • gender gap: A measurable difference between the behaviors of men and women.
  • Christian right: Christian right is a term used in the United States to describe right-wing Christian political groups that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies.
  • Youth vote: The youth vote is a political term used primarily in the United States to describe 18 to 29-year-olds and their voting habits.

Age and Political Participation

Political participation differs notably by age. People between the ages of 35 and 65 are the most politically active. At this stage in life, people are more likely than younger people to have established homes, hold steady jobs, and be settled into communities. Those with stable community roots often have strong incentives and greater resources for becoming involved in politics. Senior citizens, people age 65 and older, also have high turnout rates of around 70 percent.

Historically, young people have been less likely to vote as they often lack the money and time to participate. However, the youth vote has been on the rise: turnout among 18 to 24-year-olds was at 36 percent in 2000, but this rose to 47 percent in 2004 and 51 percent in 2008. This rise in youth vote is partly a result of voter registration and mobilization efforts by groups like Rock the Vote. An important factor in the increase of younger voters in 2008 was the greater appeal of a younger, non-white candidate in Barack Obama. According to the Pew Research Center, 66% of voters under 30 chose Obama in 2008. New technology, especially the internet, is also making it easier for candidates to reach the youth. Websites such as Facebook and YouTube not only allow students acquire information about the polls, but also allow them to share their excitement over the polls and candidates.

Gender and Political Participation

Political scientists and journalists often talk about the gender gap in participation, which assumes women lag behind men in their rates of political engagement. However, the gender gap is closing for some forms of participation, such as voting. Since 1986, women have exceeded the turnout rate for men in presidential elections; 66 percent of women cast a ballot in 2008 compared with 62 percent of men. This may be due to the political prominence of issues of importance to women, such as abortion, education, and child welfare.

Race, Ethnicity, and Voting: African Americans

Participation and voting differs among members of racial and ethnic groups. Discriminatory practices kept the turnout rate of African-Americans low until after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation kept black voters from the polls. Eventually, civil rights protests and litigation eliminated many barriers to voting. Today, black citizens vote at least as often as white citizens who share the same socioeconomic status. Collectively, African Americans are more involved in the American political process than other minority groups in the United States, indicated by the highest level of voter registration and participation in elections among these groups in 2004. Sixty-five percent of black voters turned out in the 2008 presidential election compared with 66 percent of white voters.


Reaching the Latino Vote: Candidates routinely aim campaign ads at the fast-growing Latino and Asian American populations.

Race, Ethnicity and Voting: Latinos

The Latino population in the United States has grown to over 47 million people from diverse countries of origin. Although this group forms a substantial political bloc, only 49 percent of eligible Latino voters voted in the 2008 presidential election. Language is one barrier to Latino participation. Candidates recognize that Latinos constitute a large and growing voting bloc and have begun campaigning in Spanish. During the 2000 presidential election campaign, candidate George W. Bush ran nearly as many ads in Spanish as in English. The 2008 presidential candidates’ websites, as well as the 2010 congressional candidates, featured extensive Spanish-language content.

Race, Ethnicity, and Voting: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

According to the U.S. Census, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing and most diverse ethnic group, yet their rates of participation are lower than other groups. In 2008, 48 percent of Asian Americans turned out to vote. Some argue that cultural factors, such as a strong tie to their ethnic culture, contribute to the lower levels of Asian American and Pacific Islander voting. However, Asian Americans who have been victims of hate crimes or consider themselves to be part of a deprived group find their way to the polls in greater numbers.

Religious Convictions and Voting

Oftentimes, religious convictions motivate voters. The most prominent example of this in American politics is the Christian right, which consists of right-wing Christian political groups that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies. In the U.S., the Christian right is an informal coalition formed around a core of white evangelical Protestants that draws support from other groups who share their goals. Voters who are part of the Christian right hold socially conservative positions on issues including school prayer, stem cell research, homosexuality, contraception, abortion, and pornography. About 15% of the electorate in the United States supports the Christian right. Much of the Christian right’s power within the American political system is attributed to their extraordinary turnout rate at the polls. The voters that identify with the Christian right are highly motivated and driven to deliver a viewpoint on issues they care about.

Party Identification

Some people are motivated to vote because they identify very strongly with one party.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between two ways of understanding the stability of party identification

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Since the 1960s, more people have chosen to be independents rather than identify with either Republicans or Democrats, which means that less and less people vote based on their identification with a specific party.
  • Some argue that a person’s party identity is a relatively fixed social identity, formed by personal experiences, family beliefs, or social environment. Others claim that party identity is flexible, and that people change their party identity according to their experiences and rational choice.
  • Party identification is not just an individual identity; it can also be important for groups. Social, economic, racial, and other similar groups can become aligned to certain parties, and then vote according to that party identification.
  • When people identify very strongly with one party, they tend to vote for that party consistently. This can lead to straight-ticket voting.

Key Terms

  • party identification: Party identification refers to the political party with which an individual identifies. Party identification is typically determined by the political party that an individual most commonly supports (by voting or other means).
  • straight-ticket voting: The practice of voting for candidates of the same party for multiple positions. The finished voting ballot would consist of all Democrats or all Republicans, for example.
  • independent: A candidate or voter not affiliated with any political party, a free thinker, free of a party platform.

Party Self-Identification

Oftentimes, people vote according to what party they identify with. A person’s partisan identification is defined as a long-term attachment to a particular party. Americans are not required to formally join party organizations as is the case with other democracies. Instead, people self-identify as Republicans, Democrats, or members of minor parties. They also can declare themselves independent and not aligned with any political party. People who identify with a political party either declare their allegiance by joining the party or show their support through regular party-line voting at the polls.

Party Identity: A Fixed Social Identity?

Some researchers view party identification as “a form of social identity,” in the same way that a person identifies with a religious or ethnic group. In this view, party identification develops as a consequence of personal, family, social, and environmental factors. Childhood influence is one of main driving factors behind formation of party identification. During childhood, the main political influence comes from parents, other close family members, and close surroundings such as the immediate community. Children remember events that happened during their childhood and associate them with the political party, whether or not they were connected with those events. For example, a child growing up in the 1970s would associate the Republican party with the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration or a child growing up in the 1990s would associate the Democratic party with the sex scandal of the Clinton administration. Although these parties might or might not embrace the issues that happened during that administration, a child could forever associate the party with those memorable events.

During adulthood, people can begin to adjust their party loyalties according to their personal experiences. The longer an individual holds a party identification, the stronger that attachment to the party becomes. Because of this pattern, older adults are more likely to hold strong party attachments, and less likely to change them than young adults.

Party Identity: A Changing Choice?

Other researchers consider party identification to be more flexible and more of a conscious choice. They see it as a position and a choice based on the continued assessment of the political, economic, and social environment. People can easily switch their party affiliation or distance themselves from parties entirely.

Increase in Independents

Since the 1960s, there has been a gradual decline in identification with political parties and a rise in the number of independents, which means less and less people are motivated to vote along party lines alone. In 2000, more people identified as independents (40 percent of the voting population) than affiliated with either the Democratic (34 percent) or Republican (24 percent) parties for the first time in history. The proportion of people registering as independents increased 57 percent between 1990 and 1998, while those registering as Democrats declined by 14 percent and as Republicans by 5 percent. In 2011, 31 percent of the population identified as Democrats, 29 percent as Republican, and 38 percent as independents.


Party Identification, 2004: This chart indicates the number of citizens registered as Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. The number of people identifying as independents is rising, indicating that less people are voting solely along traditional party lines.

As voter identification with political parties has declined, so has dedication to the two-party system. According to a national survey, citizens have more trust in product brands, such as Nike, Levis, Honda, and Clorox, than in the Democrats and Republicans. Since the 1980s, Americans have become skeptical about the two major parties’ ability to represent the public interest and to handle major issues facing the country, such as crime, the environment, and saving Social Security. At the same time, support for third parties, like Libertarians, has increased over the last decade. A social movement grouped under the umbrella of the “Tea Party” emerged in 2010 but its adherents never created an officially recognized political party. Still, the two-party system continues to dominate the political process as a viable multiparty alternative has not emerged.


Voting Along Party Lines: This chart indicates the results of the 2008 presidential election. Dark red districts supported Republican for President and Congress; red districts supported a Republican for President, and Democrat for Congress. Dark blue indicates districts that supported Democrat for President and Congress; blue indicates districts that supported Democrat for President and a Republican for Congress.

Groups and Party Identification

Party coalitions consist of groups that have long-term allegiances to a particular political party. Regions of the country establish loyalties to a specific party as a result of the party’s handling of a war, a major social problem, or an economic crisis. Social, economic, ethnic, and racial groups also become aligned with particular parties, and then vote according to that party identification. For example, Catholics and labor union members in the Northeast form a part of the Democratic coalition. White fundamentalist Protestants are a component of the Republican coalition. Parties count on coalition members to vote for them consistently in elections.

Strong Party Identification and Voting Patterns

Those people who identify with a party tend to vote for their party’s candidate for various offices in high percentages. Those who consider themselves to be strong partisans, strong Democrats and strong Republicans respectively, tend to be the most faithful in voting for their party’s nominee for office, and are typically the voters who practice straight-ticket voting.

Political Ideology

People can be motivated to vote based on their political ideology, or how they think government, economy, and society should be structured.

Learning Objectives

Describe the ideological spectrum of the American electorate

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Voters typically agree with one of the main political ideologies ( liberalism, conservatism or moderates) and they vote according to the beliefs of that particular ideology.
  • Libertarians are less organized and well-known than conservatives, liberals or moderates, but are a significant minority ideology. They believe in social liberties, but conservative economic policies.
  • Moderates fall somewhere in between liberalism and conservatism on the spectrum of political ideologies. Approximately 35% of Americans identified as moderates in 2010, and these voters tend to vote either Republican, Democrat, or neither.
  • Liberals believe in progressive social policies and more government provision of positive rights, such as healthcare or education. Liberals tend to vote Democrat, and in 2010, roughly 25% of Americans identified as liberals.
  • Conservatives prefer to maintain the status quo and believe in socially conservative policies, as well as limited government intervention in the economy. This is a prominent ideology in US politics, as roughly 40% of Americans self-identify as conservatives.

Key Terms

  • liberal: One with liberal views, supporting individual liberty (see Wikipedia on Liberalism for a description of the various and diverging trends of liberalism).
  • political ideology: A political ideology is a certain ethical set of ideals that explains how society should work, and offers some political and cultural blueprint for a certain social order. It focuses on type of government and economy.
  • conservative: A political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions; often exemplified by the Republican Party in US politics.

Voting Based on Ideology

Sometimes, people vote based on their political ideology. The ideological position a person or party takes may be described in terms of what kinds of social and economic policies they would like to see implemented. Political ideologies in the United States vary considerably. Persons in the U.S. generally classify themselves either as adhering to positions along the political spectrum as liberal-progressive, moderate, or conservative, but there are several subgroups of all of these three. Among those who do identify as either liberal or conservative, few identify as “far left” or “far right. ” Most Americans either identify as “moderate” or as “somewhat” liberal or conservative.

Conservatives and Liberals

Modern American liberalism aims at the preservation and extension of human, social and civil rights as well as the government guaranteed provision of positive rights. American conservatism commonly refers to a combination of economic liberalism and social conservatism and to an extent, libertarianism. It aims at protecting traditional values (especially on social issues) while promoting the concept of small government.

In the U.S., the Democratic Party generally represents liberal ideals, while the Republican Party commonly represents conservative ideals. The size of ideological groups varies slightly depending on the poll. Gallup/USA Today polling in June 2010 revealed that 42% of those surveyed identify as conservative, 35% as moderate, while 20% identify as liberal. In another polling in June 2010, 40% of American voters identify themselves as conservatives, 36% as moderates and 22% as liberals, with a strong majority of both liberals and conservatives describing themselves as closer to the center than to the extremes.


Percentage of LIberals in the US: Percent of self-identified liberals in the United States, broken down by state, according to Gallup, August 2010. The darkest colors to lightest colors, respectively, indicate the greatest percentages of people identifying as liberals. (The darkest color represents 28% and above, while the lightest color is under 14%).


Political Ideology Trends: This chart, using Gallup Poll data, depicts trends in US political ideologies from 1992-2012.

Liberalism and conservatism are the most common ideologies in the U.S., apart from those who identify as moderate. Individuals embrace each ideology to widely varying extents. Liberals and progressives commonly advocate strong civil liberties, social progressivism, cultural pluralism, government ensuring of positive rights (education, health care, etc.) and a mixed economy. Conservatives commonly defend the notional status quo of some point in the past, believing that the US has deviated significantly from it, and advocate more traditional stands on social issues, protection of gun rights and much less government intervention.


Moderates, who may be left or right leaning, incorporate different aspects from liberalism and conservatism into their personal perspective. According to recent polls, moderates are commonly identified as the second largest group, closely trailing conservatives, constituting between 36% and 39% of the population. Moderates are commonly defined through limiting the extent to which they adopt liberal and conservative ideas. CNN exit polls have found moderates to be rather evenly divided between the country’s two main parties. Even though liberals as a whole tend to be the most educated ideological demographic (as indicated by Pew research), moderates tend to become increasingly conservative with increased economic prosperity, causing the professional class to be split between Republicans and Democrats.


While often not mentioned in major polls and less organized than liberal or conservatives, libertarians are a significant minority, constituting roughly 13% of the electorate. Libertarians commonly hold liberal views on social issues but conservative views on economic issues. Since the 1980s, a majority of libertarians have favored the Republican Party, although in recent years, the margin favoring the Republicans has begun to shrink because of the libertarians’ opposition to many recent Republican supported social issues.

Typological Groups

In a 2005 study, the Pew Research Center identified nine typological groups. Three groups were identified as part of “the left,” “the middle,” and “the right. ” In this categorization system, “the right” roughly represents the Republican base, those on “the left” the Democratic base and those in “the middle” independents. Within the left are the largely secular and anti-war “Liberals”, the socially conservative but economically left “Conservative Democrats”, and the economically “Disadvantaged Democrats” who favor extended government assistance to the needy. In “the middle” are the optimistic and upwardly mobile “Upbeats”, the discouraged and mistrusting “Disaffecteds,” and the disenfranchised “Bystanders. ” The right compromises the highly pro-business “Enterprisers,” the highly religious “Social Conservatives” (also known as the Christian right), and the “Pro-Government Conservatives” who are largely conservative on social issues but support government intervention to better their economic disposition.

The Candidates

Oftentimes, people vote based on specific candidate’s characteristics, experiences, or likeability.

Learning Objectives

Discuss partisan dealignment and the factors that make it more prevalent

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • While party loyalty, political ideologies, and specific policy issues are important to voters, candidates ‘ personal popularity may also be a crucial factor for voters.
  • In recent years, more and more voters are identifying as independents. This partisan dealignment means that more and more people do not base their votes on party identification, and may be more likely to vote based on short-term criteria like the likeability of a specific candidate.
  • Campaigns attempt to create an image for their candidate. By presenting a candidate in the right way, campaigns hope to make their candidate look like a more attractive and desirable choice than the opponent.

Key Terms

  • candidate: A person who is running in an election or who is applying to a position for a job.
  • mass media: The mass media are all those media technologies that are intended to reach a large audience by mass communication, which includes broadcast media and print media.
  • partisan dealignment: Dealignment, in political science, is a trend or process whereby a large portion of the electorate abandons its previous partisan affiliation, without developing a new one to replace it.

While identifying with and believing strongly in a particular party or political ideology can be important in explaining why and how people vote, these factors seldom decide elections alone. A candidate’s image and her position on issues are also very important, particularly when independents and undecided voters hold the balance.

Partisan Dealignment

Party identities become less important when voters base their decisions on short-term, election-specific factors, such as the leadership qualities of a candidate. This is often called a partisan dealignment. A partisan dealignment may be occurring today, as more people are identifying as independents and more voters choose based on personal traits of candidates, such as honesty. Mass media can contribute to partisan dealignment by focusing attention on candidates’ personalities and scandals, which are short-term factors that can influence vote choice.

Candidates’ Images and Voting


Candidate Image: The media’s depictions of presidential candidates Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore during the 2000 presidential election influenced public perceptions. Bush was depicted as being unintelligent by news organizations that compiled lists of his gaffes and malapropisms. Gore was construed as being dishonest for allegedly claiming that he invented the Internet. When people decide to vote based on candidates rather than party identification or political ideology, candidate image can be very important.

Voters often vote based on candidates’ images or likeability. Candidate images consists of the background, experiences, and personal qualities of people running for elected office. Campaigns strive to present an image of their candidate that fits the public’s expectations of the office sought, especially in comparison with the opponent, who is often portrayed as less qualified. Voters expect the president to have leadership skills and to be principled, decisive, and honest. Other qualities, such as military service and compassion, may be deemed by the public and the media to be important as well. Candidate images are not entirely malleable. Age, gender, race, and military service cannot be changed easily, but they can be manipulated by selective accounting and shrewd presentation of the facts. Images are easiest to create early in a campaign when many people may not know much about a candidate. The public acceptance of a candidate’s possible images tends to depend on the media’s depictions. Oftentimes, voters will make decisions about who to vote for based on their perception of a specific candidate’s personality, leadership traits, or family values.

Policy Preferences

In some elections, voters are motivated to vote a certain way based on specific policy preferences, which is called issue voting.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between issue voting and party voting and the reason(s) a voter would opt for one or the other

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Issue voting can be complex for voters because candidate ‘s views may not match their own, or voters may have multiple issues or policies that concern them equally.
  • Issue based voting is often contrasted with voting based solely on party identification. Low-information elections often have more votes cast simply along party lines, while votes in higher-information elections (like presidential elections) may be based more in specific policy preferences.
  • Voters who vote based on policy preferences must be able to identify different opinions on a particular issue, form their own opinion, and then be able to identify which party or candidate best matches their opinion.

Key Terms

  • issue voting: The type of voting that occurs when voters cast their vote based on political issues.
  • party voting: The type of voting that describes when voters cast their vote based on their self-identification with a particular political party.
  • candidate: A person who is running in an election or who is applying to a position for a job.

Issue Voting

Rather than voting based on political ideologies, political parties, or candidates, sometimes voters cast votes based on specific policy preferences. In “issue voting,” voters cast their vote based primarily on specific political issues. In the context of an election, issues include “any questions of public policy which have been or are a matter of controversy and are sources of disagreement between political parties.” According to the theory of issue voting, voters vote based on policy preferences; they compare the candidates’ respective principles against their own in order to decide who to vote for.


Issue Voting: Education: Some voters cast their ballots according to specific policy issues, for example, education reform.

A voter does not need to have an in-depth understanding of every issue or know how a candidate stands on every issue, rather a voter should have a sense of which candidate he or she agrees with the most. Voters use many different tactics to rationalize their view on a particular issue. Some people look at what has happened in the past and predict how they think a particular issue will affect them in the future.

Issue voting is often contrasted with party voting. A 2010 University of California, Davis study found that voters switch between issue voting and party voting depending on how much information is available to them about a given candidate. Low-information elections, such as those for congressional candidates, would thus be determined by party voting, whereas presidential elections, which tend to give voters much more information about each candidate, have the potential to be issue-driven.

A voter’s understanding of parties’ principles is strengthened and developed over time as a person gains experience with more political events. In order for an issue to create the foundation for party choice, a voter must first be concerned about a particular issue and have some knowledge about that issue.

In order for a person to be an issue voter, they must be able to recognize that there is more than one opinion about a particular issue, have formed a solid opinion about it, and be able to connect their opinion to a specific political party. According to some studies, only 40 to 60 percent of the informed population even perceives party differences, and can thus partake in party voting. This would suggest that it is quite common for individuals to develop opinions of issues without the aid of a political party.

Complications with Issue Voting

Many factors can complicate issue voting. Firstly, issues are not always dichotomous; there are often many stances one could take. Voters must often settle for the candidate whose stances are closest to their own. This can prove difficult when two or more candidates have similar opinions, or when candidates have positions that are equally far from a voter’s beliefs. For example, education spending is a topic that is difficult to issue vote on. A voter may have a drastically different opinion from the available candidates on how much money should be spent on schools. This differing of opinion could lead the individual to vote based on party affiliation instead. More importantly, the nation does not have to have a high level of consensus for some campaign issues to be more salient than others.

A second complexity is that, oftentimes, problems do not line up on linear bases. That is, some issues may make it hard to even determine the candidate with the closest position. For example, in the 1980 United States presidential election, the growing threat of Communism in the Eastern Hemisphere was a salient issue for voters. There were many proposed solutions to this problem. For instance, Ronald Reagan endorsed military intimidation through increased spending and innovation (the Reagan doctrine), Jimmy Carter proposed diplomatic efforts to keep peace, and the independent John Anderson advocated a return to the containment strategy. None of these answers are mutually-exclusive, and they cannot be linearly plotted. The voter instead had to choose the candidate whose opinion represented the closest mix of possible solutions to his or her own.

A third problem complication of issue voting is if there are multiple issues that are equally salient to the voter. A candidate may have a similar position to a given voter on one issue, but may take a considerably different stance on another. During 2008 United States presidential election, the two issues the dominated attention were the economy and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many viewed these issues as equally salient, and had a hard time picking one issue to vote on.


Issue Voting: War in Afghanistan: Some voters vote for a candidate based on that candidate’s stance on a particular issue, such as the war in Afghanistan or healthcare.

Source: Political Science