Candidate Choice Without Party Labels: New Insights from Conjoint Survey Experiments


Patricia A. Kirkland and Alexander Coppock

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Kirkland, Patricia A. & Alexander Coppock (2017). Candidate Choice Without Party Labels: New Insights from Conjoint Survey Experiments. Political Behavior. First Online: 16 June 2017. DOI:10.1007/s11109-017-9414-8.
In the absence of party labels, voters must use other information to determine whom to support. The institution of nonpartisan elections, therefore, may impact voter choice by increasing the weight that voters place on candidate dimensions other than partisanship. We hypothesize that in nonpartisan elections, voters will exhibit a stronger preference for candidates with greater career and political experience, as well as candidates who can successfully signal partisan or ideological affiliation without directly using labels. To test these hypotheses, we conducted conjoint survey experiments on both nationally representative and convenience samples that vary the presence or absence of partisan information. The primary result of these experiments indicates that when voters cannot rely on party labels, they give greater weight to candidate experience. We find that this process unfolds differently for respondents of different partisan affiliations: Republicans respond to the removal of partisan information by giving greater weight to job experience while Democrats respond by giving greater weight to political experience. Our results lend microfoundational support to the notion that partisan information can crowd out other kinds of candidate information.
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