Pigeonholing The Voters: U. Iowa Professor Develops Voter Type Model

This story was written by Regina Zilbermints, The Daily Iowan


Ever wonder what kind of voter you are?

Univeristy of Iowa political-science Associate Professor David Redlawsk may be able to tell you - he has developed a model to explain how voters make decisions.

"Our basic idea here is that there are different ways of making decisions, particularly voting decisions," he said.

His model has four voter types: rational, intuitive, confirmative, and fast and frugal. Each category of voter uses a different decision-making process.

Traditionally, political scientists have argued that the best way to make decisions is to obtain as much information as possible and assess it. Such a voter would be a rational, according to the model.

While Redlawsk said this has long been preferable, the professor's research showed that another type, the intuitive voter, can make equally good decisions - that is, choosing a candidate that fits the voter best.

The intuitive voter tries to make the best possible decision with the least effort. The person might chose a random candidate to learn about, and if satisfied with that candidate, may not research any others.

These two groups boast the most voters, but UI sophomore Jordan Buettner falls into a third group.

He is a fast and frugal voter. Buettner chose a few issues important to him and compared the candidates' stances on these issues.

A final category of voter is the confirmative decision maker. Historically, this voter has been guided by party identification, Redlawsk said. Rather than gathering information to compare candidates, these voters gather information to comfirm a belief.

The number of voters in each group depend on the election's nature. Generally, voters are split between being either intuitive or rational, but if there are more than two candidates - that rationality may be muddled.

Fewer voters are considered fast and frugal, but three or more candidates in an election makes people simplify their process.

This confirmative model affects general elections much more than primaries because all candidates are members of the same party.

These models ought to be useful to campaigns in the future, Redlawsk noted.

"Campaigns, almost intuitively, see voters in lots of different ways and focus their attention," Redlawsk said.

Though they may not think of voter types in Redlawsk's terms, campaigns already target specific groups of voters and build messages that appeal directly to different audiences.

Campaigns know that some voters are partisan, working to appeal to those, but knowing they must provide specific information on their websites.

Redlawsk said his research can also alter prevailing beliefs about the average voter.

"There is a lot of stuff in the political world that says voters aren't very smart," he said. "Lots of voters actually do a really good job voting, that is, making decisions that are right for them.

"Just because voters can't give us details about everything doesn't mean they can't do a good job."
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