Many political science researchers study the forces that drive the vote. One of the earliest, and most well known, books about election studies is The American Voter. Written in 1960, the book tries to explain a model that describes what drives Americans to vote the way they do. The model suggests that social factors determine ones party identification, which determines one's issue positions and evaluation of candidate's characteristics. These forces all work together to determine how one will vote. This model may or may not still hold true today, as political researchers are not in agreement as to what exactly drives the vote. One thing that does remain true, however, is that factors such as social groups, party identification, issues, and retrospective evaluations all play some part in determining the vote.
Although issues play a role in determining vote choice, social forces and retrospective evaluations are the most important factors the American public takes into consideration when deciding who to vote for. Fewer Americans identify with a political party today- in 1992 about 39% of the American public considered themselves as Independents. Before the 1982 election only 35% reported that they were Independents. This suggests that party identification is on the decline despite the American Voter finding that most everyone had a party identification and that their identification did not change much over their lifetime. (Abramson, Aldrich, Rohde, 225)
Many people change their opinion about an issue over time, and only feel strongly about a few issues. Because Americans lack the knowledge of politician's positions on issues, and lack opinions of their own for the most part, they rely on other factors when determining who to vote for. Many Americans look to see which candidate their social groups are backing or evaluate the performance of the incumbent or the national economy. No one really knows what drives the vote, and we probably never will. It does seem, however, that retrospective evaluations do have a much more significant impact than they were once thought to.
It has been found that issues do not play a significant role in voter choice. The American Voter authors found that the public is often not well informed about public policy and may not be able to vote on the issues alone. They also found that for voters to decide who to vote for based on issues three conditions must first be met. The first is that the voters must hold an opinion on the issue. They must also see what action the government is taking on the issue, and finally they must be able to see a difference in issue positions between the two parties. It is highly unlikely that a majority of the American public is able to meet all three requirements. Another reason why Americans are unable to make decisions based on issues is that they lack the knowledge and sophistication such a decision requires. Most of those people who do vote on issues know the candidates...