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Journal Article

The Nature of Utility Functions in Mass Publics

Henry E. Brady and Stephen Ansolabehere
The American Political Science Review
Vol. 83, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), pp. 143-163
DOI: 10.2307/1956438
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1956438
Page Count: 21
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The Nature of Utility Functions in Mass Publics
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Abstract

Survey data are used to test the basic tenets of rational choice theory. We find that (1) voters' preferences are orderly but voters do not always have preferences. When the perceived difference between two candidates is below some threshold, voters are indifferent between them. (2) Most voters choose candidates whose issue positions are congruent with their own. (3) Lack of knowledge about candidates affects choice and utility through two routes--indifference and risk aversion. Most voters have highly structured utility functions, but the thresholds and risk aversion in these functions place relatively unknown candidates at a disadvantage in presidential primaries and other electoral situations. Moreover, the importance of knowledge in these functions suggests that social choice theorists must take seriously the classic concerns of public opinion research--the operation of the media and the dynamics of information in elections.

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