I Think, Therefore I Vote (Correctly?): Systematic Cognitive Processing and Electoral Behavior

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Principal investigators:

David Barker

California State University

Email: david.barker@csus.edu

Homepage: http://www.csus.edu/isr/faculty_staff/bio_barker.html

Susan B. Hansen

University of Pittsburgh

Email: sbhansen@pitt.edu

Homepage: http://www.polisci.pitt.edu/person/susan-b-hansen

Sample size: 511

Field period: 10/8/2004-10/13/2004


This project explores the consequences of systematic cognitive processing (carefully considering a wide range of relevant choice criteria before making a decision) on electoral decisionmaking. We randomly expose some subjects to a decisionmaking tool designed to encourage systematic processing, and compare vote intentions to those made under normal conditions.


(a) In decision environments where correct choices depend on several relevant decision criteria (e.g. a presidential vote choice), then as decision-makers expand the integrative complexity of their cognitions, the overall quality of those decisions should improve, leading to more "correct."
(b) However, the honest and thoughtful consideration of an issue from several different sides may first provoke greater ambivalence, thus leading to weaker and less predictable votes, at least among knowledgeable voters.

Experimental Manipulations

Exposure to a decisionmaking tool designed to ensure systematic cognitive processing.


Candidate preference, strength of candidate preference, likelihood of voting, vote "quality."

Summary of Results

Exposure to a systematic cognitive processing tool is associated with greater voter ambivalence, less confidence in candidate preference, reduced likelihood of turning out.


Democratic theory suggests that voters carefully consider all relevant decision criteria before making a deliberate choice. These findings suggest that while such systematic processing might lead to votes that better reflect a voter's value priorities, they also induce ambivalence and reduce the likelihood that voters will participate in the democratic process.


Barker, David C. and Susan B. Hansen. 2005. "All Things Considered: Systematic Cognitive Processing and Electoral Decisionmaking" Journal of Politics 67:319-344.