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Basinger and Lavine: Ambivalence, information, and electoral chioce

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Basinger and Lavine. 2005. Ambivalence, information, and electoral chioce. APSR.


Scholars have argued that people use partisanship (and presidential approval) as shortcuts ("cues") in their voting. But what about people who are ambivalent (in a Zaller and Feldman sense of conflicting considerations) between the parties? They can't be served well by cues. Among those who are ambivalent between the parties, their voting calculus varies with their level of information and with the level of campaign intensity.

The Model

Two Axioms

  1. Least-effort principle: We want to make judgments using as little cognitive effort as possible. Thus, we use "cues."
  2. Sufficiency principle: We wish to make our judgments as accurate as possible, subject to the least-effort principle.


  1. If voters are confident in using a partisan cue, they will do so.
  2. If voters do not trust partisan cues, they will want to make good political judgments regardless. Those with more information will use this information to cast an issues-based (ideological) vote. Those with less information will use a less reliable but easier shortcut: economic voting (based on the state of the macroeconomy).
  3. Intense elections cause all voters, regardless of partisanship and information, to desire more confidence in their decision. Thus, ideological (issue-based) voting increases with intensity.

Measurement and Data


Uses NES data from 1990 to 2000.

Partisan ambivalence

Partisan cues

Refers to both party (candidate's and respondent's) and presidential approval.


The findings are presented in Table 2, but the figures are easier to interpret.

Figure 2: Ambivalence and ideological voting

Figure 3: Ambivalence and economic voting

Figure 4: Campaign intensity, ambivalence, and information

Research on similar subjects


Basinger, Scott (author)Lavine, Howard (author)American PoliticsInformationVotingEconomic VotingShortcuts

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