Extreme Candidates as the Beneficent Spoiler? Range Effect in the Plurality Voting System

Published date01 June 2019
Date01 June 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2019, Vol. 72(2) 278 –292
© 2018 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912918781049
The emergence of radical wing candidates in electoral
races has become a global phenomenon in recent times.1
For example, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the
United Kingdom, National Front (FN) in France, and the
China Unification Promotion Party in Taiwan all evi-
denced the extension of existing ideological spectrums in
each country (for review, see Kitschelt and McCann
1995; Mair 2007). This study investigates the effects of
extreme candidates’ appearance in electoral contests,
especially regarding how they influence supporters of the
mainstream parties.
Traditional theories of voting behavior suggest that
people vote for candidates who are closer to themselves
on the ideological spectrum. According to the spatial
models, the entrance of extreme left- or right-wing can-
didates into electoral races does nothing more than split
the vote from their moderate counterparts. For instance,
many people still blame Ralph Nader as the spoiler can-
didate who caused Al Gore’s defeat to George W. Bush
in the 2000 U.S. presidential election (Herron and
Lewis 2007).
However, mainstream parties’ reactions vary consider-
ably to the entrance of extreme candidates. Some main-
stream parties diverge from the median point to prevent
the entry of a new party (Palfrey 1984). After all, it is
easier for mainstream parties to appease and to absorb
newcomers, for example, by including candidates with
diverse backgrounds in the party list or providing more
credible promises. On the contrary, other mainstream par-
ties do not necessarily try to block those radical competi-
tors on the same side of the political spectrum. Are these
radical wing candidates harmful or beneficial to the
mainstream parties, especially to those on the same side?
Studies of cognitive psychology indicate that individ-
uals’ preference is context-dependent, primarily influ-
enced by the range of options (Parducci 1965). When the
stimuli—a new option—becomes available, individuals
will reaccess the end values first, and accordingly evalu-
ate the stimuli as well as the existing options. The range
effect has been found in various fields such as psycho-
physics (Laberge and Brown 1986) and marketing
(Simonson and Tversky 1992).
781049PRQXXX10.1177/1065912918781049Political Research QuarterlyWang and Chen
1University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA
2Michigan State University, East Lansing, USA
Corresponding Author:
Austin Horng-En Wang, Department of Political Science, University
of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Pkwy., Las Vegas, NV 89154,
Email: ahw15@duke.edu
Extreme Candidates as the
Beneficent Spoiler? Range Effect
in the Plurality Voting System
Austin Horng-En Wang1 and Fang-Yu Chen2
How does the entrance of radical candidates influence election results? Conventional wisdom suggests that extreme
candidates merely split the votes. Based on the range effect theory in cognitive psychology, we hypothesize that the
entrance of an extreme candidate reframes the endpoints of the ideological spectrum among available candidates,
which makes the moderate one on the same side to be perceived by the voters as even more moderate. Through
two survey experiments in the United States and Taiwan, we provide empirical support for range effect in the vote
choice in the plurality system. The results imply that a mainstream party can, even without changing its own manifesto,
benefit from the entrance of its radical counterpart; it explains why the mainstream party may choose cooperation
strategically. Our findings also challenge the assumption in regression models that the perceived ideological positions
of candidates are independent of each other.
extreme candidate, range effect, extremeness aversion, survey experiment, Taiwan politics

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