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It’s My Party and I’ll Vote How I Want to: Experimental Evidence of Directional Voting in Two-Candidate Elections


  • Thomas Knight

    () (Department of Economics, University of Florida)

  • Fan Li

    () (China Center for Special Economic Zone Research, Shenzhen University)

  • Lindsey Woodworth

    () (Department of Economics, University of California)


The competing theories of proximity and directional voting have long been used to model voting behavior. Empirically evaluating these theories, however, requires knowledge of voters’ utilities, which are inherently unobserved. Empiricists have generally dealt with this by using self-reports of utility. Yet, self-reports are likely biased, leaving experimental predictions at odds with real-world election outcomes. We improve upon this method by constructing a discrete choice model which is able to measure the likelihood of any one voter exhibiting proximity voting behavior as opposed to directional voting behavior, without needing to know voters’ utilities. We subsequently conduct a voting experiment with over 1,800 participants to estimate the parameters of the model. Our results suggest that, among voters whose expected behavior differs across the two theories, there is an approximately even split between voting behaviors, and the probability of exhibiting proximity voting behavior decreases by roughly 10 percentage points for each step away from the midpoint of a (−10 to +10) political spectrum. Our results are robust across two measures of preferences and four candidate pairings. The outcomes of our experiment are also consistent with the results of the 2012 Presidential Election, which took place the day after our experiment closed.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Knight & Fan Li & Lindsey Woodworth, 2017. "It’s My Party and I’ll Vote How I Want to: Experimental Evidence of Directional Voting in Two-Candidate Elections," Eastern Economic Journal, Palgrave Macmillan;Eastern Economic Association, vol. 43(4), pages 660-676, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:pal:easeco:v:43:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1057_eej.2015.37
    DOI: 10.1057/eej.2015.37

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lewis, Jeffrey B. & King, Gary, 1999. "No Evidence on Directional vs. Proximity Voting," Political Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 8(1), pages 21-33, January.
    2. Merrill, Samuel, III, 1993. "Voting Behavior under the Directional Spatial Model of Electoral Competition," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 77(4), pages 739-756, December.
    3. Tomz, Michael & Van Houweling, Robert P., 2009. "The Electoral Implications of Candidate Ambiguity," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 103(1), pages 83-98, February.
    4. Westholm, Anders, 1997. "Distance versus Direction: The Illusory Defeat of the Proximity Theory of Electoral Choice," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 91(4), pages 865-883, December.
    5. Dow, Jay K, 1998. "Directional and Proximity Models of Voter Choice in Recent US Presidential Elections," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 96(3-4), pages 259-270, September.
    6. Cho, Sungdai & Endersby, James W, 2003. "Issues, the Spatial Theory of Voting, and British General Elections: A Comparison of Proximity and Directional Models," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 114(3-4), pages 275-293, March.
    7. Rabinowitz, George & Macdonald, Stuart Elaine, 1989. "A Directional Theory of Issue Voting," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 83(1), pages 93-121, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Isaac Duerr & Thomas Knight & Lindsey Woodworth, 2019. "Evidence on the Effect of Political Platform Transparency on Partisan Voting," Eastern Economic Journal, Palgrave Macmillan;Eastern Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 331-349, June.


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