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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Democracy in an uncertain world : campaign information and voter decision-making Lachance, Sarah


Electoral campaigns serve an important democratic function by providing voters with information on the different electoral alternatives. Yet, the dominant narrative in the literature, based mainly on the U.S. case, is that campaigns only have “minimal effects” on electoral outcomes. This dissertation is comprised of three studies that cover cases outside the United States and employ precise data on the policy information delivered by the campaign to analyze its effects on voter decision-making. The first study challenges the claim that polarization in the United States has diminished the importance of issue voting by putting forward the communication of candidate on issues as a mechanism for campaign effects. To do so, I use a combination of survey and Twitter data on the issue statements made by candidates during the 2012 and 2016 presidential electoral campaigns. My findings show that voters respond to policy information that is congruent with their preferences from both the congenial candidate and the candidate they are predisposed against. While these effects are small in the aggregate, they can determine elections. The second study focuses on the role of the campaign in providing information to strategic voters who target coalition governments with their vote for a minor party. It clarifies the conceptual differences between three types of strategies and tests them with data on the 2013 and 2017 German federal elections from campaign-period surveys, polls and the candidates’ tweets about policy. The results show evidence of policy-driven voters using a hybrid strategy in 2013 and a compensatory strategy in 2017. There is no evidence of coalition-insurance voting in these elections. The third study addresses a puzzle rooted in the assumption that voters are risk-averse: If voters dislike ambiguity, why do candidates take ambiguous policy positions? To answer this question, this study uses insights from ecological rationality and an experiment fielded in Canada, the United States and Germany. The results offer a solution to the puzzle by showing that the net effect of policy ambiguity is positive. It attracts voters whose policy positions are between the centre and the extremes, while leaving centrist and extremist voters indifferent.

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