Tactical voting and party preferences: a test of cognitive dissonance theory

Jørgen Bølstad, Elias Dinas, Pedro Riera

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Studying the development of stable political attitudes, political scientists have argued that repeated voting for a political party reinforces initial party preferences, in a seemingly mechanistic process of habit-formation. However, the empirical evidence is scarce and the theoretical framework underdeveloped. Does the act of voting for a party improve an individual’s evaluation of this party? If so, is this effect simply due to habit-formation, or a more complex psychological mechanism? Drawing on cognitive dissonance theory, we examine the act of voting as a choice inducing dissonance reduction. We go beyond existing research, by focusing on tactical voters—a group for which the notion of habitual reinforcement does not predict an effect. The analyses reveal a positive effect of the act of voting tactically on the preferences for the parties voted for and may thus call for a revision of the traditional understanding of the role of voting in shaping party preferences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-452
Number of pages24
JournalPolitical Behavior
Issue number3
Early online date30 Jun 2012
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013


  • party preferences
  • cognitive dissonance
  • party identification
  • partisanship

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