Channelling attention and choice? Examining effects of consideration sets on electoral decision-making

  • Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr
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This article sheds light on the utility of consideration set modeling in analyzing electoral decision-making in multi-party systems against the background of the German federal election in 2013. The results show that large portions of the German electorate choose a party comprised by their consideration set over the course of the campaign. The size of consideration sets does not precipitously decline as Election Day approaches, however. The analysis also suggests that the composition of voters' consideration sets slightly affects their exposure to campaign communication and their evaluation of campaign events and gaffes. Finally, the evidence demonstrates that consideration sets virtually did not condition the impact of campaign reception and evaluations of campaign events on voting behavior. The overall results suggest that consideration set modeling deserves further exploration in future research.

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... Consideration set models can also be used to study campaign effects, as shown by Steinbrecher and Schoen (2018). They test hypotheses about how consideration sets relate to voters' reception of, and responses to, campaign messages with panel survey data from Germany in 2013. ...
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In electoral research, decisions by voters are usually analysed as if they choose at once from the whole set of all competing parties or candidates. Consideration Set Models (CSM) posit that voters choose differently, namely in two stages. In the first stage, they exclude certain choice options and create a consideration set of viable options, while in the second stage they choose from within this set. This paper, which serves as an introduction to a special symposium about consideration set models of electoral choice, outlines the theoretical foundations of these models and discusses three methodological issues: research design, measurement, and statistical modelling. More specifically, we recommend the use of pre-election panel surveys, direct measures of electoral consideration sets, and statistical models suitable for analysing dichotomous variables and voter-party dyads. Furthermore, we briefly summarise the other contributions to this symposium and sketch some avenues for their application in future research.
The consideration set model posits that in multi-party elections voters decide in two stages. We expect that in the consideration stage, when voters select viable options, ideological proximity is a key determinant, while in the choice stage election-specific factors become particularly important. This would imply that consideration sets are rather stable and that changes in voting preferences occur mainly within ideologically coherent consideration sets. This study examines both claims by analyzing panel survey data from Sweden and the Netherlands. Consideration sets were indeed rather stable, more so than voting intentions. After one year, voters still considered the same party in 81% of cases and only 13% of respondents shifted between ideological camps. This indicates that voters changed electoral preferences primarily within the boundaries of relatively stable consideration sets and ideological camps. These findings help to understand how elections can be volatile, despite the strong impact of highly stable ideological orientations.
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