Quality & Quantity 32: 355–366, 1998.
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Can People Explain Their Own Vote? Introspective
Questions as Indicators of Salience in the 1995
Quebec Referendum on Sovereignty
ANDRÉ BLAIS, PIERRE MARTIN and RICHARD NADEAU
Département de science politique, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, Succursale, Centre-Viue,
Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3C 3J7
Abstract. Most scholars doubt that voters are able to explain their own vote. We argue that in-
trospective questions whereby respondents are invited to tell, in their own words, the reasons why
they vote the way they do, provide useful information on which considerations are most salient in
their voting decisions. We show that open-ended questions about reasons for voting Yes or No in the
1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty help us to sort out subgroups of voters for whom a given
consideration is more salient.
How can we best explain why people vote the way they do? There are two basic
approaches to understanding the reasons that lead people to vote for a party, a
candidate, or a referendum proposition. The ﬁrst approach is to ask them to ex-
press the reasons of their vote in their own words. The second approach is to infer
these reasons through the examination of correlations between voting behavior and
responses to close-ended questions about matters which the researcher believes
might affect the direction of the vote.
Mainstream survey research strongly favors the second approach. The standard
study of voting behavior is based on multivariate analyses in which the independent
variables correspond to opinions, feelings and perceptions, tapped through close-
Survey researchers do not, however, completely shun the ﬁrst approach. The
American National Election Studies still contain open-ended questions on what
respondents like and dislike about the parties, and on the things that might make
them want to vote for or against the presidential candidates. Although respon-
dents are not asked directly what motivates their vote choice, their responses to
these questions can be construed as expressing the reasons individuals themselves
believe underlie their vote choice (Kelley, 1983: 10). Likewise, British Election
Studies include open-ended questions where respondents are invited to say why
they voted for a given party and why they did not support the other parties.
Yet analysts are usually reluctant to rely on voters’ own professed reasons.
Why? There seems to be two major concerns. The ﬁrst is that many people may not