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Cognitive Heterogeneity and Economic Voting: A Comparative Analysis of Four Democratic Electorates


  • The authors wish to thank Tom Hansford, Christopher Kam, Carole Wilson, and Elizabeth Zechmeister for their helpful comments at various stages of this project. We thank Raymond Duch, the Center for Public Opinion at El Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas A.C., Mexico, and the Election Study Center at National Chengchi University, Taiwan, for use of their survey data. They bear no responsibility for our interpretation of the data. We also are indebted to the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina, the USC Center for Asian Studies and its director, John Fuh-sheng Hsieh, and the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University for their financial assistance with this project.

Brad T. Gomez is assistant professor of political science, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 ( J. Matthew Wilson is associate professor of political science, Southern Methodist University, Box 750117, Dallas, TX 75275-0117 (


This article examines the cognitive foundations of economic voting in four diverse democratic electorates: Canada, Hungary, Mexico, and Taiwan. We present a theory of heterogeneous attribution, where an individual's level of political sophistication conditions his or her ability to attribute responsibility for economic conditions to governmental actors. In contrast to previous literature, we argue that higher, not lower, levels of political sophistication prompt citizens to “vote their pocketbook.” Using data from surveys done in conjunction with recent elections in all of these countries, we find that more politically sophisticated respondents are more likely to make use of pocketbook evaluations in their decisions to support or oppose the incumbent government. These findings both present a significant challenge to the conventional wisdom on political sophistication and economic voting and shed light on the necessary cognitive preconditions for democratic accountability.

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