Learning by Voting

Sequential Choices in Presidential Primaries and Other Elections
Rebecca B. Morton and Kenneth C. Williams
Does the sequence of presidential primaries affect the choices voters make?


The presidential primary season used to be a long sequence of elections. In recent years many states have moved their presidential primaries earlier in the year in the belief that this increases their influence over the choice of presidential nominees. Similarly, in the past most voters have gone to a polling place and voted on election day. Now an increasing number of voters are not voting on election day but are using mail-in or absentee ballots to vote, often weeks before other voters.

Does the movement to a large number of early presidential primaries reduce the ability of voters to learn about the candidates? Do voters who vote early miss important information by not following the entire campaign, or are they, as some argue, more partisan? In a unique study Rebecca B. Morton and Kenneth C. Williams investigate the impact these changes have on the choices voters make. The authors combine a formal, theoretical model to derive hypotheses with experiments, elections conducted in labs, to test the hypotheses.

Their analysis finds that sequence in voting does matter. In simultaneous voting elections well-known candidates are more likely to win, even if that candidate is the first preference of only a minority of the voters and would be defeated by another candidate, if that candidate were better known. These results support the concerns of policy makers that front-loaded primaries prevent voters from learning during the primary process. The authors also find evidence that in sequential elections those who vote on election day have the benefit of information received throughout the whole course of the campaign, thus supporting concerns with mail-in ballots and other early balloting procedures.

This book will interest scholars interested in elections, the design of electoral systems, and voting behavior as well as the use of formal modeling and experiments in the study of politics. It is written in a manner that can be easily read by those in the public concerned with presidential elections and voting.

Rebecca B. Morton is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Iowa.

Kenneth C. Williams is Associate Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . this book serves as an important first step in considering the normative implications of sequential and simultaneous elections on voter behavior."
    —Lonna Rae Atkeson, University of New Mexico, American Political Science Review, September 2002
  • ". . . the essential work contrasting sequential and simultaneous elections. . . . [I]t provides a solid foundation for scholars who wish to begin thinking though [sic] these kinds of issues in a social scientific way."
    —Barry C. Burden, Harvard University, Public Choice, Volume 114 (2003)

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 184pp.
  • 16 drawings, 23 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11129-9

Add to Cart
  • $89.95 U.S.