The thesis which I will be researching is: Do voters choose their candidates out of personal interest or because of their views on social issues? I may focus on one particular issue, such as affirmative action. So in this case, would a white individual who supports greater racial equality vote against affirmative action because it might hurt their chances at college acceptance or employment, or would they vote in support because of their desire for more equality? Secondary questions would evaluate the impact of party allegiances on voting behavior in regards to the primary questions, and the effect of voter information and issue knowledge. In my research thus far, both of these factors have had an impact on research addressing similar questions.
After reading “Whites’ Opposition to “Busing”: Self-Interest or Symbolic Politics?” (Sears, Hensler, and Speer, 1979), “Economic Discontent and Political Behavior: The Role of Personal Grievances and Collective Economic Judgments in Congressional Voting” (Kinder and Kiewet, 1979), and “Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind” (Bartles, 2005), I have come to the conclusion that my primary method of research will be analysis of large data sets such as the American National Election Studies data set. This data includes surveys taken every presidential election of voters, with questions regarding current economic and political issues as well as demographic questions and political and social ideology questions. I will locate the questions which best fit my thesis and analyse this data to arrive at an answer for my thesis question. In order to complete this research, I will need to learn how to conduct statistical analysis, and it is my hope that my research adviser will be able to assist me in this. Also, a source which I obviously still need to read, and very thoroughly, is the data set itself.
It is quite likely that I will need to conduct some original research to answer my secondary questions, particularly the one regarding voter information or knowledge of the subject at hand. The ANES data set contains information on political party allegiance, so I can use that to determine how that might effect voting behavior. However I don’t believe that it can evaluate voter information on the issues. To determine the impact that this has on voter behavior in regards to my primary thesis question, I will design an experiment which will measure voter behavior before and after being properly informed on the issue. I will first present the research subjects with a survey determining their demographics and social beliefs so that I can determine how the issue on hand, such as affirmative action, would effect them personally and how they would feel about it based on their world views. Then I would ask them how they would vote for a candidate who either supports or opposes the issue. After this, I would provide them with information on the issue, such as how it actually would or would not affect them, and the social difference it would make. After being given this information, I would ask them to vote again. Finally, I would study how their vote did or did not change, and from this determine if voter information makes a difference in how people vote on issues which concern their personal and social interests. Here again, I have some learning to do so I can design a sound experiment that properly collects meaningful data which could answer my research question. I will gain this experience through readings recommended by my adviser on research methods and how to design experiments, such as the Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science.
Though I have now read enough articles related to my thesis question to know that data set analysis will be my primary method of research, and to know that political party and voter information are important secondary questions to ask, I still could do additional reading to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the academic consensus on the topic of self interest versus social interests in voting behavior. From what I’ve read so far, most seem to believe that self interest is not involved at all, but I have encountered a couple important exception to this which I will need to consider more closely. I am also interests in the ethical implications of this voting behavior, especially if I do find that some people vote out of self interest, so I may want to speak with Dr. Flanigan or Dr. Price to discuss how I could work ethical considerations into my thesis.