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Election rally

Because of the American National Election Studies, we know much more about elections, voting and voters than we did a half century ago.

Credit: Microsoft

The Political Pulse

The American National Election Studies (ANES) is a longstanding series of surveys on presidential and congressional elections, collected every two years. Thus, the studies are about the warp and woof of U.S. politics. They focus on the electoral linkages among the public, political parties and their candidates. Because of ANES, we know much more about elections and voting than we did a half-century ago.

Some insights from the studies:

  • Voters Predictability. Voters are not nearly as simple-minded or predictable as election analysts used to think. The American Voter, published in 1952, laid the groundwork for analysis of party identification and its role in voter choice. Subsequently, the concept has been enriched and modified using data from ANES studies over time. Researchers have gradually drawn a more complex picture of voters. Voters may cast their ballots based on issues rather than party affiliation. Or they may adopt a rational choice perspective, rewarding (by voting for) or punishing (by voting against) an incumbent based on whether their expectations have been fulfilled during the current term in office. They may “vote their pocketbooks” but are more likely to base their votes on the general economic condition of the nation. They do not necessarily vote for the party their parents favored. Instead, they may base their vote on multiple motivations involving longstanding partisan preferences and current conditions.
  • The Role of Money. Analyses of ANES data have debunked the popular view that money trumps everything in an election campaign. Name recognition, competition and strategy are at least as important as money spent.
  • Constituent Service. Yet another important element in reelecting an incumbent is constituency service, which political scientists call “pure profit” activities—responding to constituents’ requests, ensuring good local services, etc.

NSF has supported ANES since 1970. The survey data are an extensive and detailed time series that can be—and is—mined to compare election results and public opinion over time. The data are fully available to the public via the ANES Web site: http://www.electionstudies.org. Data have been downloaded more than 10,000 times in a single year, and thousands of research studies and political analyses rely on it.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Surveys: Tracking Opinion Special Report