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 even say who wrote them. If you have more recent summaries to add to this collection, send them my way I guess. Sorry for the ads; they cover the costs of keeping this online.
Popkin, Gorman, Phillips, and Smith. 1976. Comment: What have you done for me lately? Toward an investment theory of voting. American Political Science Review 70 (Sept): 779-805.
In its analysis of the 1972 election, the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center (SRC) sought to revise the original "Michigan model" of voter behavior (based on 1960's The American Voter). In 1960, SRC researchers had concluded that voters were non-ideological and ignorant, voting based primarily on candidate appeal. But in 1972, SRC researchers claimed that rising education had changed voters, making the increasingly ideological and more likely to vote based on the actual issues.
Popkin et al. argue that the SRC is wrong; voters have not changed. The only thing that changed is the way SRC assesses voter knowledge of the issues. In fact, the authors content, the SRC has used an incorrect theoretical model all along. The correct way to model voting is as an investment.
The Survey Research Center's work on the 1972 election seeks to revise the SRC's earlier approach (i.e. The American Voter), claiming that rising education has changed voters from being non-ideological, ignorant voters who vote based on candidate appeal into increasingly ideological voters who know the issues and vote accordingly.
However, the voters have not changed; the only thing that changed is the way the SRC is looking for knowledge of the issues. When Popkin et al. use the SRC's pre-1972 measures to compare 1972 with previous elections, they find that candidates were actually more important in 1972 (relative to issues) than in previous elections. Thus, the SRC has the trend backwards; if anything, candidates were growing in importance, not declining.
Voters have not changed at all. The problem all along has been an inadequate performance by the SRC when it comes time to interpret its abundant ANES data.
Using a modified Downsian approach, Popkin et al. argue that voting is an investment. This has four components.
Popkin et al. use their own survey data to show that McGovern didn't lose because he was too extreme--they lost because he was too incompetent. Even within those issue publics that should have supported him (if issues mattered most), such as people who wanted rapid withdrawal from Vietnam, a guaranteed annual income, and a drastic cut in the military budget, voters switched from favoring McGovern over Nixon in June to the opposite in September.
Research by the same authors
Research on similar subjects
Popkin, Samuel (author) • Gorman, John (author) • Phillips, Charles (author) • Smith, Jeffrey (author) • American Politics • Downsian Model • Information • Public Opinion • Ideology • Voting • Retrospective Voting