Is the swing voter a myth?

Once upon a time, the academic economist Harold Hotelling (pictured below, left) developed a formal mathematical model called the median voter theorem to help explain elections. According to this influential theory of politics, a majority rule voting system will select the outcome most preferred by the median voter. But what if this model is wrong or incomplete? Rachel Bitecofer (pictured below, right), who is a professor of politics at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, has developed a new way of forecasting elections. This excellent essay by David Freedlander (via Politico Magazine) summarizes her ideas about voting this way: “Bitecofer’s theory, when you boil it down, is that modern American elections are rarely shaped by voters changing their minds, but rather by shifts in who decides to vote in the first place.” Freedlander adds: “To her critics, she’s an extreme apostle of the old saw that ‘turnout explains everything,’ taking a long victory lap after getting lucky one time. She sees things slightly differently: That the last few elections show that American politics really has changed, and other experts have been slow to process what it means. If she’s right, it wouldn’t just blow up the conventional wisdom; it would mean that much of the lucrative cottage industry of political experts—the consultants and pollsters and (ahem) the reporters—is superfluous, an army of bit players with little influence over the outcome. Actually, worse than superfluous: that whole industry of experts is generally wrong.”

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About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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