Tactical voting and party preferences : a test of cognitive dissonance theory

Bølstad, Jørgen and Dinas, Elias and Riera, Pedro (2013) Tactical voting and party preferences : a test of cognitive dissonance theory. Political Behavior, 35 (3). pp. 429-452. ISSN 0190-9320

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Abstract

Studying the development of stable political attitudes, political scientists have argued that repeated voting for a political party reinforces initial party preferences, in a seemingly mechanistic process of habit-formation. However, the empirical evidence is scarce and the theoretical framework underdeveloped. Does the act of voting for a party improve an individual’s evaluation of this party? If so, is this effect simply due to habit-formation, or a more complex psychological mechanism? Drawing on cognitive dissonance theory, we examine the act of voting as a choice inducing dissonance reduction. We go beyond existing research, by focusing on tactical voters—a group for which the notion of habitual reinforcement does not predict an effect. The analyses reveal a positive effect of the act of voting tactically on the preferences for the parties voted for and may thus call for a revision of the traditional understanding of the role of voting in shaping party preferences.