Political Science Voting1

Published on January 7th, 2013


Research on Electoral Behavior – A History

By Tor G. Jakobsen

In 1960 the book The American Voter was published. It was authored by Angus Campbell, Phillip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes who worked at the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. The book deals with the structure of causes that influence the individual when making political choices. It was based on American surveys from 1952–1958.

Their findings are held together by what the authors name the “funnel of causality,” where the axis of the funnel represents a time dimension. The funnel gives a picture of what influences a person’s vote. At its narrow end are located those factors that the authors reckon to be immediate determinants of the vote.

At the other end we find more remote and underlying factors, like economic structure, social divisions, and historical patterns. This book is reckoned as the most important publication of what was to become known as the Michigan model of electoral research.

The next influential work originating in this research tradition was Philip E. Converse’s (1964) article “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics.” Here he argued that the majority of the voting public had no clear ideology and lacked the ability or desire to understand issues that are not directly related to them as individuals.

One must also mention Vladimer O. Key’s (1966) The Responsible Electorate. Here, the author argues that in large the electorate behaves relatively rationally and responsible. Some more recent contributions are the works of Stimson and Zaller, which came in 1991 and 1992 respectively.

Stimson argued that mass public opinion can be described as policy “moods,” that pendulum between conservatism and liberalism. Zaller’s argument is that people’s responses to survey questions comes from knowledge of public affairs, and also that people will resist holding opinions that are inconsistent with their political predispositions.


Further reading:


Campbell, Angus, Philip E. Converse, Warren Miller, & Donald Stokes (1960). The American Voter. New York: Wiley.

Converse, Philip E. (1964) “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics” in David E. Apter (ed.) Ideology and Discontent. New York: Free Press: 206-261.

Key, Vladimer O. (1966). The Responsible Electorate: Rationality in Presidential Voting, 1936-1960. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Stimson, James A. (1991). Public Opinion in America: Moods, Cycles and Swings. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Zaller, John R. (1992). The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion.Cambridge:CambridgeUniversity Press.


*Cover photo by Maryland GovPics


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