Protest Voting in Plurality Elections: A Theory of Voter Signaling

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This paper develops a model of protest voting in which unsatisfied voters may abandon their most-preferred candidate even though he or she has a good chance of winning, in the hope that this signal of disaffection will lead to downstream improvements in that candidate's performance. We use a spatial model to identify voters whose ideological profile makes protest voting an option, and an expected utility model to identify the conditions under which potential protest voters will in fact use their vote as a signaling device. Aggregate-level data provide suggestive evidence in the argument's favor. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.






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Kselman, Daniel, and Emerson Niou (2010). Protest Voting in Plurality Elections: A Theory of Voter Signaling. Public Choice, 148(3-4). pp. 395–418. 10.1007/s11127-010-9661-2 Retrieved from

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Emerson S. Niou

Professor of Political Science

EMERSON M. S. NIOU (Ph.D., U. of Texas at Austin, 1987) is a Professor of Political Science at Duke University.  He co-authors two books: (1) The Balance of Power, Cambridge University Press, 1989; (2) Strategy and Politics: An Introduction to Game Theory, Rutledge, 2015. His recent publications include: (1) “Measuring Preferences for Divided Government: Some Americans Want Divided Government and Vote to Create It.” with Dean Lacy, Philip Paolino, and Robert A. Rein, Political Behavior, December:1-25, 2017; (2) “External Threat, Internal Rivalry, and Alliance Formation” with Sean Zeigler, Journal of Politics, 81(2):571-584, April 2019; (3) “Measuring ‘Closeness’ in 3-Candidate Elections: Methodology and an Application to Strategic Voting” with Daniel Kselman and Austin Wang, Electoral Studies, 68 (December):1-11, 2020; and “Entente Versus Alliance: When Should States Be Friends but not Allies?” with Sean Zeigler, Defence and Peace Economics, May 2023. 

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