A Possible Explanation for the Findings of Bowler and Donovan (2011) in ‘Electoral Competition and the Voter’

‘Electoral Competition and the Voter’ by Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan (2011) looked at three interesting questions related to voter’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours. Specifically, they were looking at how campaign spending, in the form of campaign advertising and voter contacting, is a direct measure of how voters experience competition in the electoral domain. The questions they were asking were: what is the effect of electoral spending on voter perception of how close the election is, voter attention to campaign activity, and voter satisfaction with the election? This reading response will be focused on the latter question to understand the effect of competition, specifically political competition, on subjective satisfaction.

This article found that in regions where there was the most spending on campaigns, voters reported being less satisfied with their political voting options. This finding is consistent with findings from other related studies which show that people do not like to be exposed to politics. This finding reflects an interesting contract between a theory in psychology called the ‘mere exposure effect’. The mere exposure effect states that the more often a person sees something, the more they positively rate, or ‘like’, that object. The results of this study seem to suggest the opposite, that the more an individual was exposed to a political campaign, the less they like it. One possible reason for this may be that competition confounds the effects of the mere exposure effect. Since political campaigns reflect competition, constant exposure to competitive material may actually decrease people’s perception, or liking, of these campaign materials. Another possible reason is that if people do not like politics to begin with, they likely will become even more frustrated when seeing recurrent political advertisements. Another possible reason for this result comes from @salimsalimoff7648 who explained that “political rhetoric, wrapped under the umbrella of empty campaign promises, can erode our ability to trust each other” when explaining the article by Ryan Carlin and Gregory Love (2016). Using this as context, we can see that a possibility for why increased exposure to campaign material decreases candidate liking is that people may view political campaigns as empty promises, which in turn makes them more distrustful and upset with politicians.

An interesting question for future studies to address comes from Garcia’s (2013) article on the psychology of competition. Future studies could look at how individual and situational factors may affect campaign behavior and spending. In the article by Garcia, Garcia mentions the relevance of psychology to politics by noting that competitiveness among candidates would likely decrease with a higher number of candidates, stating that as the number of competitors increases, the motivation for competition and competitive attitudes decrease. This may be a relevant finding for the Bowler and Donovan study because a decreased number of competitors likely contributed to increased campaign spending and played a role in the results found.

4 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this reading response. I found it very interesting how you used evidence from the article to associate decreased liking of a particular candidate with the potential for empty promises. The fact is, though, that not all political campaigning involves promises. Personally, I see promising to make societal changes as merely a small part of political campaigning as there have been many candidates over the years in various places that have won (most smaller, local elections) with no or nearly no platform. Could it be perhaps that increased campaigning instead leads to more distrust in candidates due to other factors, like them exhibiting their less likable qualities more and more as they naturally take center stage in the public eye over time while campaigning. Alternatively. could candidates become less likable through more campaigning because of a perceived misuse of campaign money on advertising and such rather than “useful” causes? Do you think that rather than using party money for campaigning, candidates should use said money to give to charity to improve their public image instead? I believe that distrust over unfulfilled promises is merely a part of why an increased amount of campaigning leads to a lower public opinion as, as I stated above, there are probably many reasons for their phenomenon.

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  2. hello hello! thank you Leor for your post. I am interested to know what you think about politics and power. I find it hard to make any solid connections between politics with competition because of the nature of power involved. It was Gandhi who said that positions of power should not be sought after, but that the winners should reluctantly take the job because they are better suited for it. As I know you come from a psychological background, don’t you think there are so many other factors twisted up in politics that makes it different than other fields of competition? For one, basically in Canada and the United Stated they are two party systems, so for all intents and purposes there are only 2 candidates. another point is that politicians really don’t know anything. In other competitions, the people competing are proficient at what they are doing. You are not going to see two crappy computer programmers fighting it out for a job at Google, like the way we have Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau running our respective countries, without having any experience or any idea what they are doing. Politicians seem to me like they are all pathological, and so all the rules of competition go out the window.

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  3. Hi @josiahmedin, I think you bring up a great point! Empty promises are only one of the potential reasons why people seem to distrust politicians. I think it’s interesting that you ask if ‘rather than using party money for campaigning, candidates should use said money to give to charity to improve their public image instead’, because that is something I had not thought of before. A lot of money goes into campaigning which could definitely be spent on creating meaningful and impactful change in the community and instead of telling people what a politician wants to do, they could actually do it.

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  4. Hi @benrow, thank you for your comment! I think that you bring up some interesting points but they may be grounded in subjective opinions. For example, the idea that ‘that politicians really don’t know anything’ is something that reflects a belief that may not be widely held. To be honest, I think I disagree with your statement that ‘politicians seem to me like they are all pathological, and so all the rules of competition go out the window’, I am not sure that I agree that politicians are all pathological as you say (again, this reflects a personal belief) and I think that the basic idea of competition, especially in zero-sum competition where one person wins and the other person loses and essentially gets nothing, seems to reflect pretty accurately what happens in political races. Either way, I’m glad to read your opinion!

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