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Marginal Thinking in "Swing Vote"
by Dirk Mateer `

The median voter model, which posits that the person whose preferences fall in the middle of a policy continuum will be the decisive voter, is a mainstay of public choice research. An important implication of the median voter model is that candidates will move to the middle of the policy space to try to win elections. A good film for introducing the median voter model is 2008’s “Swing Vote.” Kevin Costner plays a good ole boy, Bud, who is accidentally thrust into the role of being the median voter in a U.S. presidential election. (When Bud plays pool instead of meeting his daughter as promised at the voting precinct, his goody-goody daughter sneaks into the polling place to cast his vote but miscasts it when she fears being caught by the precinct workers.) After election night neither candidate has a majority of the Electoral College votes, and the remaining state, New Mexico, is tied pending Bud’s recasting his miscast vote. Over the next few days, as Bud is trying to decide which candidate to support, he seems to reveal preferences on policy issues such as abortion and gay marriage. We then see candidates adapting their positions to his utterances: e.g., the Democratic candidate (played by Dennis Hopper) comes out against abortion rights and the Republican candidate (played by Kelsey Grammer) endorses gay marriage. Hence, the clip shows candidates moving toward the center as the median voter model predicts. Another good clip for teaching economics comes when we see Costner and his daughter riding in his pickup truck. This is a wonderful example of budget constraints, trade-offs, and diminishing marginal utility.

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Marginal Thinking in "Swing Vote" by Director: Joshua Michael Stern, Producers: Kevin Costner and Jim Wilson (2008) Kevin Costner causes trouble in the political realm.