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Published April 2009 | Submitted
Journal Article Open

Rationality and Rationalistic Choice in the California Recall


The California recall election of 2003 provides an excellent setting for investigating voter rationality and certain forms of sophisticated voting. In a pre-election telephone survey, 1,500 registered voters were asked to make pairwise comparisons between the major candidates, and their responses were combined to infer preferences. Individuals' preference orderings over the major candidates rarely exhibited intransitivity. The patterns of tactical voting observed in the replacement part of the recall election were consistent with the declining rate hypothesis. Voters also engaged in 'hedge voting' on the recall question itself. The results suggest that voters' decisions are 'rationalistic': while voters are consistent in forming utility-based preference rankings and choosing on that basis, their voting strategies do not incorporate probability assessments in a realistic, consistent fashion, if at all.

Additional Information

© Cambridge University Press 2009. Published online: 17 February 2009. The authors wish to thank Ralph Adolphs, Stephen Ansolabehere, Peter Boessarts, Bruce Cain, Jack Citrin, John Ellwood, Diana Evans, Alan Gerber, Donald Green, David Grether, Tim Groseclose, Phil Hoffman, Sam Kernell, Thad Kousser, John Lapinski, John Ledyard, Andrea Mattozzi, David Mayhew, Rebecca Morton, Jonathan Nagler, Peter Ordeshook, Tom Palfrey, Charles Plott, Julian Romero, Nasos Roussias, Robert Sherman, Betsy Sinclair and Matt Spitzer for comments and suggestions, and also the seminar participants at the University of Michigan, University of Southern California, University of California-San Diego, Princeton University and Yale University, as well as the JournaI's anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. They also gratefully acknowledge the California Institute of Technology for its financial support of this research.

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August 20, 2023
October 17, 2023