mpsa04_proceeding_ResearchPaper - The Behavioral...

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The Behavioral Foundations of the Midterm Effect * John Wiggs Patty Department of Social and Decision Sciences Carnegie Mellon University April 8, 2004 Abstract In this paper, we provide a general theory of political participation based on behavioral decision theory. The theory predicts that the President’s party will not only perform poorly in midterm congressional elections relative to its performance in the preceding election, but that it will tend to lose the midterm election, in terms of total votes cast in the electorate. The theory and its predictions are contrasted with existing explanations for the midterm effect. In addition to several theoretical advantages relative to the other explanations, the evidence comports better with the theory presented here as well. Keywords: Voting, participation, midterm congressional elections, loss aversion. 1 Introduction The midterm effect is one of the most striking empirical regularities in United States elections. Put succinctly, the President’s party has performed poorly in midterm congressional elections since 1870. The causes of this regularity have been the subject of debate since 1948, when it was first noticed by Louis Bean [1948]. In reality, however, there are at least four possible versions of the midterm effect. The midterm effect might be phrased in terms of either the total number of votes or the number of House seats won by the President’s party compared * Prepared for delivery at the Annual Meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 2004. Bill Keech offered many thoughtful comments on several previous drafts of the paper as well as providing valuable advice throughout the project. In addition, Fred Boehmke, Jeff Dominitz, Jeff Milyo, David Primo, Melvin Stephens, and Peter Thompsoneach contributed to the developmentof the paper and the analysis contained herein. The patience and comments of audiences at Carnegie Mellon University and the American Political Science Association meetings are also gratefully acknowledged. This paper utilizes data made available by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). As always, any errors of omission or commission are solely attributable to the author. 1
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to the opposition party. Similarly, the performance under either measure might be in absolute terms ( i.e. , the President’s party receives strictly less votes (seats) than the opposition party in midterm House elections) or relative to the outcome in the previous presidential election ( i.e., the margin of victory in votes (seats) for the President’s party declines in midterm House elections). The four versions are explicitly defined below. 1.
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  • Spring '07
  • Presidential Elections, United States presidential election, Elections in the United States, midterm effect

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mpsa04_proceeding_ResearchPaper - The Behavioral...

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