Understanding Voter Behavior Patterns Essay

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Democracy is meant to be a means for the 'every person' to help govern the nation. However, Popkin's theory of low information rationality posits that 'every person' is unlike the ideal citizen in that they do not make their decisions based on fact, but rather, personal interactions and information from the media. Populistic Democracy allows for the governing of the nation through the 'simple person' not the privileged elite. However, similar to Popkin, Berelson believes most citizens are not able to maintain specific standards needed to successfully govern a nation. This may be because most people lack the education and understanding of what it takes to run a country and select adequate political representatives. The four standards briefly covered by Berelson: discussion, principle, rationality, and knowledge, are what an ideal citizen upholds. The reality of ideality means no one represents the ideal citizen, especially in great numbers. This is because populistic democracy requires ideal conditions, making it an unfeasible means of democracy in the United States.

Voters according to Popkin, rely on ways of collecting information that come from popular outlets like the media and community. In a theory he calls, 'low information rationality' he explains the sources he collected to understand the process of voters in rationally choosing a political candidate.

My theory of how voters reason is a theory of low-information rationality which emphasizes the sources of information voters have about politics, as well as their beliefs about how government works. The theory is drawn from three main sources: the voting studies done at Columbia University in the 1940's; the theoretical contributions to the economics of information made by Anthony Downs; and certain ideas from modern cognitive psychology (9).[footnoteRef:1] [1: Samuel L. Popkin, The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), p. 9.]

Essentially, Popkin states voters ask themselves: 'Based on personal information, what is the likelihood a political candidate will be the best choice?'. Using Down's theory concerning information shortcuts, voters use the information they see from the media and from the community to build their opinions and personal knowledge of a political candidate. If they see that for example, Trump is a successful businessman, they will then use that information to weigh whether he will be a good president. Some Trump supporters believed Trump's economic policy will help put the United States back on the road to prosperity based on his ability to build an empire.

They also believed that immigrants were at fault for the current state of the American economy and wanted Trump would solve this problem by ridding the country of such immigrants. "Many people voted for Trump because they wrongly believe that undocumented immigrants take their jobs and hurt our economy, that equality for people of color comes at a cost for whites, and that if we just give more money and freedom to big business and the rich, the poor and working class will somehow reap the benefits" (1).[footnoteRef:2] This way of thinking is not based on facts or sourced from research.
It is based on growing negative sentiments that spark a need to act. [2: Sally Kohn, "Let Donald Trump Supporters Have What They Voted For | Time.com," TIME | Current & Breaking News | National & World Updates, last modified November 9, 2016, http://time.com/4564226/let-donald-trump-supporters-get-what-they-voted-for/.]

Even though Trump had no real, sound economic policy based on logic or experience, his supporters rallied behind him anyway and allowed for him to win the election. Popkin's theory of low information rationality allows to establish a reason for why citizens assessed candidates in a way that facilitated the outcomes seen in the electoral choices and supports the notion that American citizens are far from ideal citizens. By collecting information as a by-product of daily interactions and clarifying their beliefs and principles by what they see in the media, voters develop an affinity towards like-minded political leaders, creating that emotional reasoning that is continually present in voter behavior. Emotional reasoning comes with development of affinity. If someone seems like the voter, that voter likes the person, and will not question the motives or action of said person regardless of the outcome.

Such thinking leads into chapter 4 of Popkins book, the creation of candidate narratives. Voters use a broad narrative to inform their decisions rather than the ideal citizen who looks at facts. For example, Popkin says voters frequently compare candidates to pre-existing stereotypes. "Representatives is a heuristic, a 'rule of thumb' for judging the likelihood that a person will be a particular kind of person by how similar he or she is to the stereotype" (74).[footnoteRef:3] President Donald Trump fits the stereotype of the successful businessman very well. He is blond, blue-eyed, with a beautiful wife and children. He came from money, made money, and is now a billionaire. This the image that sold him to many of his supporters as a political candidate that will bring them prosperity. [3: Samuel L. Popkin, The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 74.]

Popkin also discussed Gresham's Law of Information, which posits that a small amount of personal information can drive out prior impersonal information (political information). President Trump had no real past political experience. Yet, because people know him as a successful businessman, that information erased his lack of political experience, and made him a viable candidate in the eyes of voters. This way of reasoning further distances the American citizen from the ideal citizen.

Idealism marks many theories. Like performing an experiment, theories rely on ideal….....

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Berelson, B. "Democratic Theory and Public Opinion." Public Opinion Quarterly 16, no. 3 (1952), 313. doi:10.1086/266397.

Kohn, Sally. "Let Donald Trump Supporters Have What They Voted For | Time.com." TIME | Current & Breaking News | National & World Updates. Last modified November 9, 2016. http://time.com/4564226/let-donald-trump-supporters-get-what-they-voted-for/.

Popkin, Samuel L. The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

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