Strategic Voting in a U.S. Senate Election

Seth C. McKee, M. V. Hood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Due to the strength of its two-party system, the opportunity for voters to strategically defect in favor of third party or independent candidates is rare in high profile American elections. Indeed, it has been almost a century since a third party candidate finished better than one of the major party presidential nominees-in 1912 Bull Moose Progressive Teddy Roosevelt finished ahead of Republican William H. Taft. In this study we examine strategic voting in a U.S. Senate election where the independent candidate also finished above one of the major party nominees. In the 2010 Florida Senate contest the sitting Governor Charlie Crist shed his Republican label in order to compete in the general election since he was certain to lose in the GOP primary to Marco Rubio, the eventual winner. Crist finished second by taking a substantial share of votes away from the third place candidate, Democrat Kendrick Meek. Because this type of contest seldom occurs, in American politics there is scant empirical research on strategic voting under these conditions. We employ an unobtrusive survey of a large sample of registered Floridians in order to assess the likelihood of strategic voting among respondents who preferred the Democrat Kendrick Meek. For voters who sincerely preferred the Democrat, a significant portion defected in favor of the Independent Charlie Crist if they expected him to finish ahead of Meek. Additionally, we find that after a major news story broke, in which former President Bill Clinton allegedly advised Meek to drop out of the race so that Crist might win, respondents surveyed after this event were more likely to vote strategically in favor of Crist. Our study clearly demonstrates the importance of political context. Under the appropriate conditions, we find a high likelihood of strategic voting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-751
Number of pages23
JournalPolitical Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • 2010 election
  • Florida
  • Strategic voting
  • U.S. Senate


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