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WORKING PAPER
The Political Entropy of Vote Choice: An Empirical Test of Uncertainty Reduction
Gill, Jeff

Abstract
Recent literature in voting theory has developed the idea that individual voting preferences are probabilistic rather than strictly deterministic. This work builds upon spatial voting models (Enelow and Hinich 1981, Ferejohn and Fiorina 1974, Davis, DeGroot and Hinich 1972, Farquharson 1969) by introducing probabilistic uncertainty into the calculus of voting decision on an individual level. Some suggest that the voting decision can be modeled with traditional probabilistic tools of uncertainty (Coughlin 1990, Coughlin and Nitzen 1981). Entropy is a measure of uncertainty that originated in statistical thermodynamics. Essentially, entropy indicates the amount of uncertainty in probability distributions (Soofi 1992), or it can be thought of as signifying a lack of human knowledge about some random event (Denbigh and Denbigh, 1985). Entropy in statistics developed with Kolmogorov (1959), Kinchin (1957), and Shannon (1948), but has rarely been applied to social science problems. Exceptions include Darcy and Aigner's (1980) use of entropy to analyze categorical survey responses in political science, and economic applications by Theil (1967) and Theil and Fiebig (1984). I examine voters' uncertainty as they assess candidates, and measure policy positions. I then test whether or not these voters minimize the cost of voting (specifically the cost of information) by determining a maximum entropy selection. Except for the inclusion of entropy terms, this approach is similar to others in the recent literature. In this paper I develop a measure to aggregate evaluation of issue uncertainty and corresponding vote choice where the uncertainty parameterization is derived from an entropy calculation on a set of salient election issues. The primary advantage of this approach is that it requires very few assumptions about the nature of the data. Using 1994 American National Election Study survey data from the Center for Political Studies, I test the hypothesis that the ``Contract with America'' reduced voter uncertainty about the issue positions of Republican House candidates. The entropic model suggests that voters used the written and explicit Republican agenda as a means of reducing issue uncertainty without substantially increasing time spent evaluating candidate positions.

Keywords
Entropy
Heteroscedastic Probit
Proximity Spatial Voting Model
Voting Under Uncertainty


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08-05-1997

Document ID Number
421


   
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