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ing and most interesting races to study because of the variety of ways that voters process information and make decisions among multiple candidates. Often campaigns and consultants make one of two mistak- en assumptions about the way primary voters make choices and these lead to poor strategy and poor performance:


1) The “rational voter” assumption. Some cam-

paigns and consultants seem to assume that voters are paying close attention to the campaign and mea- suring it on every single possible issue. Campaigns that make this mistake tend to try to talk about ev- ery single possible issue, “win” every single point and use every possible argument for their candidate.

any of the campaigns we are involved in this time of the year are primary rac- es with crowded fields. As researchers, these can be some of the most challeng-

So, if assuming that voters are perfect computers com-

paring all of the pluses and minuses of each candidate is wrong and assuming that they are making superficial decisions based on no information is wrong, what is the right strategy? Something that economists and psycholo- gists call “bounded rationality.” Without delving into the complex arguments taking place in fields like cognitive psychology and behavioral economics, a working defini- tion of “bounded rationality” that serves our purposes as campaign researchers is that voters are capable of consid- ering a limited amount of information about candidates and they consider just enough information to reach a decision that satisfies them. The obvious question for a campaign researcher then

is: “What information do voters consider?”—or, in an important distinction that we will return to later: “What information are voters going to consider in this race on Election Day?” Fortunately for us, economists and psy-

Some campaigns assume that voters are paying close attention to every issue.

Campaigns that make this assumption waste time, effort and resources putting out messages that simply don’t matter. On the occasion that these campaigns succeed, it is only because they were lucky enough that some of the messages they put out did matter and their opponents were equally unsophisticated in their understanding of voter behavior.

2) The “ignorant voter” assumption. If the “ra-

tional voter” assumption gives voters too much credit, the “ignorant voter” assumption commits the opposite sin. Campaigns and consultants who make this assumption seem to think of voters as mindlessly shuffling into the voting booth and pulling the lever with almost no understanding of whom they are selecting. To these campaigns and consultants name ID is often the critical goal as under their assumption voters are likely to make a decision based on a simple “at least I’ve heard of him” criterion. Much like the “rational voter” assumption, the strategy suggested by this assumption can be a winning one, particularly in elections where only one campaign has sufficient resources to develop name ID. Unfortunately for many candidates, a campaign or consultant who assumes “ignorant voters” has only one strategy and will be unsuccessful when faced with a race where they are not alone in building name ID or where name ID alone turns out not to be enough.

18 Politics | Canadian Edition

chologists have developed an extensive understanding of this “bounded rationality.” (As an aside, pioneering researchers in this field such as Herbert Simon, Daniel Kahneman, and Amos Tversky were all psychologists by training who wrote extensively in the economics lit- erature.) One thing they have discovered is that people use predictable cognitive shortcuts called heuristics to simplify decision-making of all types. If we understand these heuristics we can easily see how they apply to voter decision-making. For the purposes of this discussion, we will limit our-

selves to those heuristics that voters often use in crowded primaries. There is a different set of heuristics that voters are more likely to use in a two-candidate primary or in a general election campaign. Below are some common heuristics that psychologists and economists have uncovered, each with a few com- ments about its relevance to crowded primary races.

Affect Heuristic: An affect is a feeling that occurs rapidly in response to a stimulus. The affect heuristic de- scribes the observation that people will often make a de- cision based on either an immediate emotional reaction to stimulus or a first impression even when their own evaluation of already known or subsequently revealed facts would lead them to a different decision. From the standpoint of a campaign, voters applying an affect heu- ristic support a candidate based on emotional attachment or repulsion rather than a consideration of facts and is- sues. Affect heuristic helps explain why we sometimes Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69
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