Often when we talk about social and political action we employ concepts first developed in the study of economics. Selected economic concepts have been applied to politics because some of the key problems studied in microeconomics involve the same types of individual decision-making that we commonly face in the political marketplace. Our decisions about whether and how to enter the economic marketplace and our assessments of the prices and quality of the things we, as consumers, might choose to buy resemble our decisions about political participation and vote choice.
In this vein, consider the following questions that often come up when we discuss voting:
- How difficult is it to vote?
- What are the costs?
- What procedures and qualifications need to be complied with to vote?
- How difficult is it to collect information on the issues, candidates, and parties?
- How difficult is it to know which candidate, or party, most closely reflects a particular policy or ideological orientation?
- How will a vote for an individual candidate affect policy outcomes?
Answers to such questions that we obtain by applying economic concepts to politics rest on an analogy between the political arena and a market for goods and services. Candidates and parties are like sellers offering products. Voters are like consumers trying to sort through a large amount of biased (and incomplete) market data in order to purchase a product (a candidate or policy) or a "basket" of products (several candidates, policies, or a party).
Like any analogy, the application of economic concepts to political behavior can be imprecise. But the basic decision-making process that individuals face in the political world is close enough that researchers and practitioners have profitably used some economic concepts to sort through the factors affecting voters' decisions.