Do Presidential candidates’ positions on issues and policies matter to voters?

Who will win the election if voters decide based on which candidate they expect to do better in handling the issues? In a recent paper, Graefe and Armstrong (2008) address this question and provide a forecast by applying the index method. The authors are seeking peer review on the paper.

The role of issues and policies

Issues and policies play a fundamental role in election campaigns. They are discussed in the media and make voters aware of what the candidates stand for and, thus, enable voters to develop their own positions and values. Acting rationally, voters should select the candidate whose positions on issues and policies appear most beneficial. If so, knowledge about the relationship between voters' and candidates' positions should be useful in forecasting the outcomes of elections. In addition, such knowledge can help candidates to develop and communicate their positions on policies. 

Indexes for forecasting elections

The index method can be advantageous for election forecasting (Lichtman (2008), Armstrong and Cuzán (2006)). Indexes fraw on different information, use a different method, and are simple to use and easy to understand. Graefe and Armstrong (2008) extend previous use of the index method for election forecasting by focusing on variables that relate to issues and policies.

Forecast based on voters' perceptions of how candidates handle the issues

The issue-based index forecast is based on the assumption that voters select the candidate they believe will perform best in handling the issues. In particular, it is assumed that for the voter it is not primarily important how the candidates intend to solve the problems (i.e. what policies they candidates promise to pursue), but whether they will solve them.

Graefe and Armstrong (2008) tested the issue-based index forecast for the three U.S. Presidential Elections from 1996 to 2004. In all three cases, the approach correctly predicted the winner of the popular vote. For 2008, the approach predicts the Democratic candidate Barack Obama as the winner of the popular vote.

Forecast bases on what policies the voters want the candidates to pursue

This policy-based index forecast is based on the voters' preferences for policies and their perceptions of the candidates positions on those policies. This assumes that voters actually know how the candidates intend to solve problems and that they take this into account when making voting decisions. For example, on the issue of crime, a Democratic candidate might advocate education and training programs to improve the employment skills of those who might otherwise resort to law-breaking. A Republican candidate might advocate liberalizing handgun laws, increasing police numbers, and longer prison sentences.

The authors are seeking peer review on the paper. Suggestions appreciated.

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