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The Structure of Individual Decisions in American Elections: the Influence of Relevant Alternatives


McCue, Kenneth Frank (1984) The Structure of Individual Decisions in American Elections: the Influence of Relevant Alternatives. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/rpsf-5g81.


Studies in political behavior, when attempting to explain certain types of behavior, often concentrate upon those behaviors in the belief that other possible behaviors are irrelevant. This dissertation examines several forms of political behavior in American national elections with the intent of including or examining relevant alternatives which have an effect upon the primary behavior of interest. Three areas selected for examination are the question of political participation in American national elections (turnout), the influence of a race for one office upon the race for another office in American national elections (coattails), and the relationship between three forms of expression of political desire, one of which is the voting decision itself. Furthermore, an alternative model of describing decision making in human beings is discussed.

The results of these three examinations of political behavior may briefly be described as follows. With respect to turnout, by using a model which combines the voting decision with the decision to turnout, we show that the decline in turnout from 1960 to 1980 is strongly related to the way in which individuals translate their thoughts about politics into voting, rather than the changes which may have occurred in their thoughts themselves. With respect to coattails, we posit that individuals tend to associate their vote for president and congressman in order to overcome the separation of powers implicit in the American federal system, and provide strong evidence to support that hypothesis. With respect to the forms of expression of political desire, we show that the variables known as feeling thermometers, the sums of open-ended evaluations of the candidates, and the voting decision itself are, in a well–defined and empirically verifiable manner, the same variable.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Social Science
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Social Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Cain, Bruce E.
Thesis Committee:
  • Kiewiet, D. Roderick (chair)
  • Vuong, Quang H.
  • Rivers, Douglas
  • Fiorina, Morris P.
  • Ferejohn, John A.
  • Cain, Bruce E.
Defense Date:22 August 1983
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:11302018-120557222
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:11289
Deposited On:30 Nov 2018 22:35
Last Modified:16 Apr 2021 22:29

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