How Issues Matter in Elections

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Smart points from political scientist Seth Masket:

To be sure, the candidates spend a good deal of staff time developing public positions on a broad array of issues. (Obama’s issue positions are here, Romney’s are here.) But do those things actually affect votes? The basic answer is no. But it’s not that issues don’t matter, it’s just that they’re already rolled into people’s impressions of the major parties.

Suffice it to say that the vast majority of Americans will never visit the above web pages and will never comb through newspaper coverage to find out what Obama and Romney feel about particular issues. Overwhelmingly, they will rely upon the “D” or “R” label that appears next to the candidate’s name and just infer the candidate’s beliefs from that. And that’s actually pretty reliable! Especially in a period of strong party polarization, the candidate’s party affiliation tells you just about everything you need to know about his or her issue stances. Parties very rarely nominate someone who’s less than doctrinaire about major party commitments, whether they’re running for president or governor or just about any other office.

What this says to me is that swing district reps actually have more wiggle room to vote with the party on “the issues” than they may perceive. Mark Critz, you can go to the Democratic Convention if you want! That is way less important than the D next to your name on the ballot.

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