British Journal of Political Science


Level-of-Analysis Effects on Explanations of Voting: The Case of the 1982 US Senate Elections

Gerald C. Wright*

The availability of rich survey data, and concerns over the ecological fallacy, have led voting researchers to focus on the explanation of individual voting decisions at the expense of accounting for patterns of aggregate election outcomes. This has skewed our understanding of the relative importance of various factors in the electoral process. A framework for analysis of elections at multiple levels is developed and applied using data from twenty-three exit polls from the US Senate elections. Comparable parameters for a simple voting model are estimated for individual voting and for election outcomes. Election-level factors, especially candidates' issue strategies and incumbency, are substantially more important in accounting for election outcomes than in explaining individual voting decisions. Finally, working with election outcomes permits an estimate of a path model of Senate election outcomes that shows key relationships that are not accessible from individual level data.


* Department of Political Science, Indiana University. This is a revised version of a paper prepared for the European Consortium for Political Research workshops, Rimini, April 1988. I am grateful to Joseph Aistrup for his assistance, and to the ‘Macro and Micro Election Analysis’ ECPR workshop participants, especially John Curtice, Jon Pammett, Elinor Scarbrough and Lawrence Silverman as well as to Christine Barbour and Morris Fiorina for their helpful comments. This research was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (SES 86-09562). The data analysed here were made available by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, and by the Elections and Survey Unit of CBS News.