Heuristics Behaving Badly: Party Cues and Voter Knowledge


  • The authors would like to thank Adam Chamberlain, Paul Goren, Charles Gregory, Jon Hurwitz, Joanne Miller, Kathryn Pearson, Wendy Rahn, members of the Political Behavior Discussion Group at the University of Pittsburgh, and members of the American Politics Proseminar at the University of Minnesota for feedback on earlier versions of this article. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for their many helpful comments. Sheagley acknowledges financial support from the University of Minnesota's Center for the Study of Political Psychology and the Ph.D. minor in Political Psychology. The 2006 CCES data can be found online at http://projects.iq.harvard.edu/cces/. Replication code can be found at the AJPS Dataverse page.

Logan Dancey is Assistant Professor of Government, Wesleyan University, 238 Church Street, Middletown, CT 06459 (ldancey@wesleyan.edu). Geoffrey Sheagley is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, University of Minnesota, 1414 Social Sciences, 267 19 Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55455 (shea0105@umn.edu).


Party cues provide citizens with low-cost information about their representatives’ policy positions. But what happens when elected officials deviate from the party line? Relying on the 2006 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), we examine citizens’ knowledge of their senators’ positions on seven high-profile roll-call votes. We find that although politically interested citizens are the group most likely to know their senator's position when she votes with the party, they are also the group most likely to incorrectly identify their senator's position when she votes against her party. The results indicate that when heuristics “go bad,” it is the norm for the most attentive segment of the public to become the most misinformed, revealing an important drawback to heuristic use.