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Lupia: Busy voters, agenda control, and the power of information

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Lupia. 1992. Busy voters, agenda control, and the power of information. APSR 86:390-403.

In Brief

Lupia seeks to explain how referenda work. There's no parties, so we rely almost exclusively on cues from interest groups (who read all the propositions and tell us how we should vote). If we know which interest groups we can trust, then we follow their advice.

The Argument

The Game

There is a monopolistic agenda setter who proposes a referendum for a new policy. The agenda setter has complete knowledge. The voters have varying levels of information about the setter's preferences (see Table on p 392). Voters have complete information about the status quo, however.

Lemmas (Some)

  • Centrist voters should always support the status quo.
  • Opposition voters should support the status quo.
  • If there is uncertainty as to the setter's true preferences, he should propose a new status quo that reflects his ideal point exactly.

Main Predictions

  1. Although voters lack complete information and lack an incentive to invest in information, they can heed information cues, which can help incompletely informed voters emulate informed voters.
  2. The setter should offer his personal ideal point as an alternative if he knows "that voters will be uncertain about the location (content) of the alternative" (p 398).

Data and Evidence

None. This is a formal model.

Future Research Proposals

  • Information cues have varying levels of credibility. This study assumed perfect credibility. How does this matter?
  • Electoral competition (non-monopolistic agenda control) would affect information, and information affects voting behavior. We should therefore develop models that incorporate both information and competition.

Comments and Criticisms

  • Key Insight: under conditions of incomplete information, the agenda-setter's dominant strategy is always to make their ideal point the offered alternative. (Thus, we're in model #4.). PROBLEM: Why is it credible if the setter claims that the proposal is really his ideal point?