Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 12 > Issue 4

Choice vs. Action: Candidate Ambiguity and Voter Decision Making

Yanna Krupnikov, Stony Brook University, USA, yanna.krupnikov@stonybrook.edu , John Barry Ryan, Stony Brook University, USA, john.ryan@stonybrook.edu
Suggested Citation
Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan (2017), "Choice vs. Action: Candidate Ambiguity and Voter Decision Making", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 12: No. 4, pp 479-505. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00016051

Publication Date: 07 Dec 2017
© 2017 Y. Krupnikov and J. B. Ryan
CampaignsVoting behavior


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In this article:
Ambiguity and Candidate Choice 
An Impulsive Choice 
Empirical Analysis 
Voters and Candidates 
The Stages of the Experiment 
Which Candidate Do Subjects Choose? 
Expressing a Preference, but Not Paying to Vote 


A rich literature argues that electoral incentives lead candidates to take ambiguous positions on issues. Furthermore, empirical research suggests that ambiguity does not repel — and may actually attract — voters. This work, however, equates choosing a candidate with paying the costs of voting for that candidate. We reconsider the relationship between candidate ambiguity and candidate preference moving beyond candidate choice and considering turnout as well. Integrating political science with research on consumer decision-making and psychology, we argue that many who select an ambiguous candidate do not translate that choice into an actual vote for that candidate. We test this argument using three experiments which incorporate costly voting and other electoral conditions heretofore absent from research on ambiguity.