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Basinger and Lavine: Ambivalence, information, and electoral chioce

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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

  • Respondents can say what they like/dislike about each party. After each statement, they are prompted for "anything else," for up to five statements. Using these statements, the authors use a metric similar to Zaller and Feldman's to code each respondent as
    • "Ambivalent": They have conflicting opinions about the parties.
    • "Univalent": Their opinions favor one party over the other.
    • "Indifferent": They don't really have opinions about the parties.
  • See p 173 for the precise formula used.

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

  • Fig 2a: The lines have similar slopes, showing that low-ambivalence partisans use partisan cues regardless of their level of information.
  • Fig 2b: High-ambivalence partisans: Those with high-information vote their ideology (strong slope); those with low information don't.

Figure 3: Ambivalence and economic voting

  • Fig 3a: Those with low ambivalence ignore the economy when voting.
  • Fig 3b: Those with low ambivalence AND low information vote according to their perceptions of the economy.

Figure 4: Campaign intensity, ambivalence, and information

  • Fig 4a: Among the univalent, ideology only matters for those with low information in high-intensity campaigns.
  • Fig 4b: Among the ambivalent, ideology matters a ton if you have more information and more campaign intensity.