in: Political science research and methods, Volume 7, Issue 2, p. 311-330
ISSN: 2049-8470 (print), 2049-8489 (electronic)
A growing literature in political science has pointed to the importance of heuristics in explaining citizens' political attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. At the same time, the multidisciplinary research on heuristics in general has revealed that individuals seem to use heuristics sensibly—applying them (perhaps subconsciously) when they are likely to be helpful but not otherwise. We extend this multidisciplinary work to political behavior and present a general theory of contextual variation in political heuristic use applied to discover under what conditions (i.e., what political contexts) voters will use a partisanship heuristic to infer the legislative votes of their legislators in imperfectly disciplined voting contexts. More specifically, we predict that US constituents of loyal partisan senators will use the partisanship heuristic more often than constituents of less loyal senators. Our empirical analysis reveals strong support for our theory, contributing to our understanding of political heuristics in general and adding nuance to our understanding of the partisanship heuristic in particular.