Past studies have offered diverse estimates of the role of policy preferences, party loyalties, candidate personalities and other factors in voting decisions. Most have postulated recursive (that is, one-way) causal relationships among the central variables.
This study specifies a non-recursive simultaneous equation model and estimates its parameters for the 1972 and 1976 elections using CPS data. The estimates differ markedly from those of simple recursive models. Policy preferences appear to have much more influence on voting decisions, and party attachments much less, than was previously thought. Candidate evaluations strongly affect voters' perceptions of closeness to candidates on policy issues. Party identification may be influenced by short-term factors. Differences between 1972 and 1976 reflect the issue-oriented McGovern candidacy.
Simultaneous equation models offer no cure-all; in the absence of accepted theory many specifications are open to controversy. But future research must take account of reciprocal causal paths.