My research agenda broadly covers American political behavior, congressional elections, and public opinion through examination of the characteristics of voters, politicians, and the electoral process. I am interested in questions concerning the relationships between knowledge, perception, and political attitudes; and in the intersection between partisanship and orientation on social issues. I seek to better understand how voters form their attitudes and positions on political issues and candidates
LOOKING FOR AN ELECTORAL BLIND SPOT:
THE EFFECTS OF INFORMATION AND PARTISANSHIP ON PERCEPTIONS OF CANDIDATES’ IDEOLOGY AND ON ELECTORAL OUTCOMES
My dissertation asks whether and how voters misperceive candidate ideology. The question is drawn directly out of Bawn and Zaller’s (2012) theoretical work suggesting an electoral “blind spot” in which voters’ assessments of candidates’ ideology is blurred by indifference to the space that is blinded. Bawn and Zaller do not offer a mechanism for the misperception and that is what I set out to uncover.
My work demonstrates that there is in fact a blurring of candidate placements but it is not in the manner Bawn and Zaller suspected. The shape and placement of the electoral blind spot seems to be driven by one particular thing: partisanship. There is a connection between voters’ perceptions – and misperceptions – of candidates and the partisanship of those candidates.
I develop a model of electorate awareness of candidate partisanship and determine what candidate, electorate, and campaign characteristics predict a more informed constituency. I explore possible mechanisms for why the parties in Congress have been becoming increasingly polarized. One possibility is that parties are nominating more extreme candidates because voters are demanding these candidates. My work suggests this may not be true. I view my findings as important part of the conversation about whether the polarization in Congress is being driven from the ground up or the top down. These findings are squarely in the top down category.