Any given Tuesday

Kevin Lewis

November 03, 2017

The Minimal Persuasive Effects of Campaign Contact in General Elections: Evidence from 49 Field Experiments
Joshua Kalla & David Broockman
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


Significant theories of democratic accountability hinge on how political campaigns affect Americans' candidate choices. We argue that the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans' candidates choices in general elections is zero. First, a systematic meta-analysis of 40 field experiments estimates an average effect of zero in general elections. Second, we present nine original field experiments that increase the statistical evidence in the literature about the persuasive effects of personal contact 10-fold. These experiments' average effect is also zero. In both existing and our original experiments, persuasive effects only appear to emerge in two rare circumstances. First, when candidates take unusually unpopular positions and campaigns invest unusually heavily in identifying persuadable voters. Second, when campaigns contact voters long before election day and measure effects immediately - although this early persuasion decays. These findings contribute to ongoing debates about how political elites influence citizens' judgments.

Trump Will Likely Win Reelection in 2020
Musa al-Gharbi
Columbia University Working Paper, May 2017


Most political analysts failed to anticipate Trump's victory in the 2016 Republican Primary or the 2016 General Election. Nonetheless, the prevailing consensus seems to be that Trump and his party are poised for major losses in 2018 and 2020 - assuming the President can survive in office long enough to stand for reelection. Yet the base-rate for reelection of modern U.S. presidents is roughly 89%. A survey of historical models, Trump's liabilities and his likely opposition suggest that, contrary to prevailing narratives about Donald Trump's deep weaknesses and virtually-inevitable defeat, the President seems strongly positioned to win a renewed mandate in 2020.

The Democratic Party is Facing a Demographic Crisis
Musa al-Gharbi
Columbia University Working Paper, February 2017


At the time of Barack Obama's election, there was a widespread belief that as a result of demographic changes, the U.S. stood poised for an enduring Democratic majority that would radically reshape the American political system, its institutions and its values. However, rather than building on their historic gains, the Democrats suffered historic losses in the years that followed. Looking at exit-polls over the last six races (three midterm, 3 presidential), we see that not only does the Emerging Democratic Majority thesis lack empirical support, the trend actually seems to be going in the opposite direction.

2016 Presidential Statewide Polling - A Substandard Performance: A Proposal and Application for Evaluating Preelection Poll Accuracy
Spencer Kimball
American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming


This study implements a statistical accuracy (SA) measurement for assessing preelection poll accuracy by comparing Mosteller (1949) Method 5 (absolute difference between poll results and election results) with the poll's margin of error (MOE) or credibility interval. The expectation is that 95% of poll results would be SA by falling between the poll's margin of error or credibility interval and the actual margin of victory. The new measurement is described and then applied to the statewide preelection polls from the 2012 Presidential (n = 331) and 2016 Presidential (n = 539) races using n = 182 polling organizations in the last 21 days of each election cycle. This analysis finds statewide preelection polling in 2012 had a 94% SA and was not statistically different from the expected 95%, while the statewide polling in 2016 had a 77% SA and a binomial test found the distribution differs significantly from the expected 95%. There is a significant difference in SA between the two election cycles, χ2(1, N = 870) = 45.24, p < .000. The 2012 biased polls favored the Republican candidate 68% of the time; however, a binomial test found this distribution did not differ significantly from the expected 50/50 distribution, .50, p = .167 (two-tailed), suggesting this was caused by random error. In 2016, biased polls favored the Democratic candidate 90% of the time, a binomial test indicated that the proportion was higher than the expected .50, p < .000 (two-tailed), suggesting a systemic bias.

An exploration of Donald Trump's allegations of massive voter fraud in the 2016 General Election
David Cottrell, Michael Herron & Sean Westwood
Electoral Studies, forthcoming


As Republican candidate for president and later 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump has claimed repeatedly and vociferously that the 2016 General Election was tainted by massive voter fraud. Here we use aggregate election statistics to study Trump's claims and focus on non-citizen populations across the country, state-specific allegations directed at California, New Hampshire, and Virginia, and the timing of election results. Consistent with existing literature, we do not uncover any evidence supportive of Trump's assertions about systematic voter fraud in 2016. Our results imply neither that there was no fraud at all in the 2016 General Election nor that this election's administration was error-free. They do strongly suggest, however, that the expansive voter fraud concerns espoused by Donald Trump and those allied with him are not grounded in any observable features of the 2016 election.

The Decline of Local News and Its Effects: New Evidence from Longitudinal Data
Danny Hayes & Jennifer Lawless
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


We present the first longitudinal evidence that declining local political news coverage is reducing citizen engagement. Drawing on a content analysis of more than 10,000 stories about US House campaigns in 2010 and 2014, we show that local newspapers over this period published less, and less substantive, political news. We then use panel data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to investigate how the news environment influences citizen engagement. Tracking the same individuals over time and simultaneously measuring changes in media content in their communities reveals that reductions in citizens' political knowledge and participation follow declines in coverage about congressional elections. To the extent that the local news environment continues to deteriorate - a likely scenario as the industry continues to struggle - observers' concerns about political engagement in localities across the United States appear very much justified.

When does race matter? Exploring white responses to minority congressional candidates
Neil Visalvanich
Politics, Groups, and Identities, Fall 2017, Pages 618-641


How significant of a factor is race in minority candidate evaluation? I present theory of race and minority candidate evaluation which argues that candidate race acts as an informational heuristic that affects perceptions of a candidate's ideological leaning and competence but that this effect is dependent on contextual factors, including the racial group and candidate partisanship. Using the 2010 and 2012 Cooperative Congressional Elections Study, I provide an observational look at Latino and Asian candidates in addition to black candidates for the first time, as well as minority candidates of both partisan stripes. I examine voter perceptions about candidates that might drive their vote choice, namely ideological assessments and competence assessments. I find that white voters are less likely to support Latino and black Democrats because they are viewed as less competent and more ideologically extreme. I find that Asian candidates and minority Republicans are largely unaffected by these biases.

Republican Candidates' Positions on Donald Trump in the 2016 Congressional Elections: Strategies and Consequences
Huchen Liu & Gary Jacobson
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Donald Trump's nomination posed a challenge for Republican congressional candidates running on the ticket with him in 2016. The nominee's intense base of support within the party combined with his unprecedented unpopularity more broadly required these candidates to think strategically about supporting or opposing him. This article examines how they responded to that challenge, what explains their different responses, and what electoral consequences ensued from their choices. The data show that candidates' positions on Trump primarily reflected the partisanship of their districts and secondarily their gender and incumbency status. Their strategic choices had little general impact in an election almost completely dominated by partisanship, but in at least a few instances refusal to support Trump may have been necessary for the Republican incumbent to win reelection.

'Lyin' Ted', 'Crooked Hillary', and 'Deceptive Donald': Language of Lies in the 2016 US Presidential Debates
Gary Bond et al.
Applied Cognitive Psychology, forthcoming


Language in the high-stakes 2016 US presidential primary campaign was contentious, filled with name-calling, personal attacks, and insults. Language in debates served at least three political functions: for image making, to imagine potential realities currently not in practice, and to disavow facts. In past research, the reality monitoring (RM) framework has discriminated accurately between truthful and deceptive accounts (~70% classification). Truthful accounts show greater sensory, time and space, and affective information, with little evidence of cognitive operations. An RM algorithm was used with Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software to code candidates' language. RM scores were significantly higher in fact-checked truth statements than in lies, and debate language in the 2016 primaries was as deceptive as fact-checked lies. In a binary logistic regression model, one RM criterion, cognitive processes, predicted veracity using computerized RM, classifying 87% of fact-checked truth statements but only 28% of fact-checked lie statements (63% classification overall).

Ripping Yarn: Experiments on Storytelling by Partisan Elites
Andrew Gooch
Political Communication, forthcoming


This article explores the role of personalized storytelling by partisan elites using a content analysis and two experiments. By personalized storytelling, I mean a political message in the form of a narrative that includes a specific reference to an individual affected by an issue. Using a content analysis of party convention speeches, this article shows that presidential candidates tell an increasing amount of stories, particularly from 1980 onward. Through randomized Internet experiments and a general population sample, I demonstrate that personalized stories have a unique influence on the public by parsing out the independent causal effect of the storyteller's partisanship, the personalization of the story, and the content of the story. Not only can stories change attitudes about issues, but personalized stories can also change how individuals evaluate the candidate telling the story. However, an impersonal story that only references a generic group, rather than a singular individual, does not improve the partisan storyteller's favorability. Results suggest that modern presidential candidates might be motivated to tell more stories because personalizing an issue may improve their standing with the public.

County community health associations of net voting shift in the 2016 U.S. presidential election
Jason Wasfy, Charles Stewart & Vijeta Bhambhani
PLoS ONE, October 2017

Exposures: Physically unhealthy days, mentally unhealthy days, percent food insecure, teen birth rate, primary care physician visit rate, age-adjusted mortality rate, violent crime rate, average health care costs, percent diabetic, and percent overweight or obese.

Main outcome: The percentage of Donald Trump votes in 2016 minus percentage of Mitt Romney votes in 2012 ("net voting shift").

Results: Complete public health data was available for 3,009 counties which were included in the analysis. The mean net voting shift was 5.4% (+/- 5.8%). Of these 3,009 counties, 2,641 (87.8%) had positive net voting shift (shifted towards Trump) and 368 counties (12.2%) had negative net voting shift (shifted away from Trump). The first principal component ("unhealthy score") accounted for 68% of the total variance in the data. The unhealthy score included all health variables except primary care physician rate, violent crime rate, and health care costs. The mean unhealthy score for counties was 0.39 (SD 0.16). Higher normalized unhealthy score was associated with positive net voting shift (22.1% shift per unit unhealthy, p < 0.0001). This association was stronger in states that switched Electoral College votes from 2012 to 2016 than in other states (5.9% per unit unhealthy, p <0.0001).

Conclusions and relevance: Substantial association exists between a shift toward voting for Donald Trump in 2016 relative to Mitt Romney in 2012 and measures of poor public health. Although these results do not demonstrate causality, these results suggest a possible role for health status in political choices.

A Negativity Bias in Reframing Shapes Political Preferences Even in Partisan Contexts
Amber Boydstun, Alison Ledgerwood & Jehan Sparks
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Humans evolved to attend to valence and group membership when learning about their environment. The political domain offers a unique opportunity to study the simultaneous influence of these two broad, domain-general features of human experience. We examined whether the pervasive tendency for negatively valenced frames to "stick" in the mind applies to both intergroup and intragroup political contexts. In a preregistered experiment, we tested the effects of negative-to-positive (vs. positive-to-negative) reframing on people's candidate preferences, first in the absence of party cue information and then in two partisan contexts: an intergroup context (analogous to a U.S. general election between opposing political parties) and an intragroup context (analogous to a U.S. primary election between candidates of the same party). We observed a persistent negativity bias in reframing effects, even in the presence of party cues. The results pave the way for future research at the intersection of psychology and political science.

Does Election Day Registration Make a Difference? Evidence from Illinois
Ikuma Ogura
Georgetown University Working Paper, October 2017


While many scholars have investigated whether election day registration (EDR) boosts turnout and who is influenced by it, empirical evidence is still mixed. Utilizing within-state registration rule difference in Illinois, this paper examines the effects of EDR on turnout rate, registration rate, and partisan composition of voters. In 2016 elections, counties in Illinois (i) with a population over 100,000 or (ii) using electronic poll books needed to allow their citizens to register to vote on election day at every precinct, while others only had to adopt the rule at one precinct per county. Analyses using randomization inference approach to regression discontinuity design reveal that EDR exerted small or no effects on turnout rate and registration rate but it seems to have somewhat increased the Democratic vote share.

On public opinion polls and voters' turnout
Esteban Klor & Eyal Winter
Journal of Public Economic Theory, forthcoming


This paper studies the effects that the revelation of information on the electorate's preferences has on voters' turnout. The experimental data show that closeness in the division of preferences induces a significant increase in turnout. Moreover, for closely divided electorates (and only for these electorates), the provision of information significantly raises the participation of subjects supporting the slightly larger team relative to the smaller team. We show that the heterogeneous effect of information on the participation of subjects in different teams is driven by the subjects' (incorrect) beliefs of casting a pivotal vote. Simply put, subjects overestimate the probability of casting a pivotal vote when they belong to the team with a slight majority, and choose the strategy that maximizes their utility based on their inflated probability assessment. Empirical evidence on gubernatorial elections in the United States between 1990 and 2005 is consistent with our main experimental result. Namely, we observe that the difference in the actual vote tally between the party leading according to the polls and the other party is larger than the one predicted by the polls only in closely divided electorates. We provide a behavioral model that explains the main findings of our experimental and empirical analyses.

The Role of Social Media in the 2016 Iowa Caucuses
Daniela Dimitrova & Dianne Bystrom
Journal of Political Marketing, forthcoming


Social media have become an indispensable tool in modern political campaigns, yet little is known about their impact, especially at the important primary and caucus stages of US presidential elections. This study investigates the effects of visiting political party and candidate websites as well as following presidential candidates, posting political comments, and liking or sharing political content on social media on participation in the primary stage of the 2016 US election. The results of a pre-caucus survey in Iowa show that active use of social media tends to have positive effects while passive social media use has a negative impact on likelihood of caucus attendance. Implications for the use of social media in future campaigns are discussed.

Picking Winners: How Political Organizations Influence Local Elections
Andrea Benjamin & Alexis Miller
Urban Affairs Review, forthcoming


Endorsements have become a part of most election cycles. They come from a variety of sources (civic organizations, elected officials, newspapers, etc.) and are intended to signal voters that one candidate is preferential to another. Yet, there is still a lot that we do not know about endorsements. In this article, we provide insight into the process of how organizations and newspapers endorse candidates, provide evidence that demonstrates candidates believe these endorsements are important, and test the claim that voters are aware of these endorsements even when controlling for factors such as partisanship, ideology, and education. We also test the claim that issue positions explain vote choice better than endorsements. We rely on interview data and exit poll data to test our claims. Using data from an at-large municipal election, in which voters selected up to three candidates, we find that awareness of endorsements explains vote choice better than issues.


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