American Political Science Review

The Social Calculus of Voting: Interpersonal, Media, and Organizational Influences on Presidential Choices

a1 Professor of Political Science, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210-1373 (
a2 Professor of Politics and Society, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 (
a3 Assistant Professor of Political Science, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 79409-1015 (
a4 Professor of Political Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405 (


Voting choices are a product of both personal attitudes and social contexts, of a personal and a social calculus. Research has illuminated the personal calculus of voting, but the social calculus has received little attention since the 1940s. This study expands our understanding of the social influences on individual choice by examining the relationship of partisan biases in media, organizational, and interpersonal intermediaries to the voting choices of Americans. Its results show that the traditional sources of social influence still dominate: Interpersonal discussion outweighs the media in affecting the vote. Media effects appear to be the product of newspaper editorial pages rather than television or newspaper reporting, which contain so little perceptible bias that they often are misperceived as hostile. Parties and secondary organizations also are influential, but only for less interested voters—who are more affected by social contexts in general. Overall, this study demonstrates that democratic citizens are embedded in social contexts that join with personal traits in shaping their voting decisions.