"Quality Control: Unpacking the Microfoundations of Retrospective Voting"


Friday October 20, 2023
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

The Canadian Opinion Research Archive (CORA) and the Corry Colloquium Speaker Series of the Department of Political Studies presents:

Scott Matthews - Memorial University

"Quality Control: Unpacking the Microfoundations of Retrospective Voting

photo of Scott Matthews

Friday, October 20, 2023 

12:00-1:30 PM

Robert Sutherland Hall | Room 334

Light lunch served


The theory of retrospective voting – the idea that voters reward and punish incumbents at the ballot box according to their record of performance in office – is one of the dominant models in the study of voting behaviour. The model also aligns with common intuitions about how democracy ought to work. Yet, we have remarkably little credible evidence for the theory’s fundamental premises: that citizens integrate streams of performance information into manageable impressions of the state of the world during an incumbent’s term, and then form appraisals of incumbents based on those impressions. In this talk, I will advance a novel experimental framework for studying the microfoundations of retrospective voting. I will also report results from an extended series of experiments applying the framework to a range of critical questions regarding how, and how well, voters evaluate incumbent performance. I will conclude that the results suggest voters process performance information in a way that ably, if not always optimally, identifies competent incumbents.


Dr. Matthews (Ph.D., UBC) specializes in the study of elections, voting and public opinion in established democracies. While much of his work focuses on Canada or the United States, he is also a student of comparative political behaviour. His research focuses primarily on the effects of election campaigns on political decision making, the impact of institutional context on policy attitudes, and retrospective voting. He is past holder of the Fulbright Canada Visiting Research Chair at Vanderbilt University and a Humboldt Fellowship at the University of Mannheim.