Ballot issues

Kevin Lewis

March 25, 2016

Infections and Elections: Did an Ebola Outbreak Influence the 2014 U.S. Federal Elections (and if so, How)?

Alec Beall, Marlise Hofer & Mark Schaller

Psychological Science, forthcoming

In the studies reported here, we conducted longitudinal analyses of preelection polling data to test whether an Ebola outbreak predicted voting intentions preceding the 2014 U.S. federal elections. Analyses were conducted on nationwide polls pertaining to 435 House of Representatives elections and on state-specific polls pertaining to 34 Senate elections. Analyses compared voting intentions before and after the initial Ebola outbreak and assessed correlations between Internet search activity for the term "Ebola" and voting intentions. Results revealed that (a) the psychological salience of Ebola was associated with increased intention to vote for Republican candidates and (b) this effect occurred primarily in states characterized by norms favoring Republican Party candidates (the effect did not occur in states with norms favoring Democratic Party candidates). Ancillary analyses addressed several interpretational issues. Overall, these results suggest that disease outbreaks may influence voter behavior in two psychologically distinct ways: increased inclination to vote for politically conservative candidates and increased inclination to conform to popular opinion.


Campaign Civility under Preferential and Plurality Voting

Todd Donovan, Caroline Tolbert & Kellen Gracey

Electoral Studies, June 2016, Pages 157-163

We present reasons to expect that campaigns are less negative under preferential voting. We then examine if preferential voting systems affect how people perceive the conduct of elections. This paper reports results from surveys designed to measure voters' perceptions of candidates' campaigns, comparing places with plurality elections to those that used preferential voting rules. Our surveys of voters indicate that people in cities using preferential voting were significantly more satisfied with the conduct of local campaigns than people in similar cities with plurality elections. People in cities with preferential voting were also less likely to view campaigns as negative, and less likely to respond that candidates were frequently criticizing each other. Results are consistent across a series of robustness checks.


The Appearance and the Reality of Quid Pro Quo Corruption: An Empirical Investigation

Christopher Robertson et al.

Journal of Legal Analysis, forthcoming

The Supreme Court says that campaign finance regulations are unconstitutional unless they target "quid pro quo" corruption or its appearance. The Court has used this doctrine to strike down many efforts at campaign finance reform. However, the court has merely speculated or reasoned in a conclusory way about when that criterion is satisfied. To operationalize and test the "appearances" standard, we fielded two empirical studies. First, in a highly realistic simulation, three grand juries deliberated on charges that "independent" campaign spending in a Congressional race met the legal standard for bribery of the candidate. Second, 1276 nationally-representative online respondents considered whether to convict in such a scenario, with five variables manipulated randomly to enhance generalizability. In both studies, jurors found quid pro quo corruption for behaviors they believed to be common in contemporary politics. Because these tests use the procedural and substantive apparatus of Federal law to operationalize the quid pro quo corruption concept and draw from a diverse population of respondents, they are a stronger test of the "appearances" standard than mere opinion polling or judicial speculation. The data suggest that prior Supreme Court's decisions were wrong, and that Congress and the states have greater authority to regulate campaign finance. This research also suggests that actual prosecutions under current bribery laws are surprisingly viable, but this risk is deeply problematic under the First Amendment, Due Process, and Separation of Powers doctrines. A regulatory system using safe harbors may be a solution.


The Determinants of State Legislator Support for Restrictive Voter ID Laws

William Hicks, Seth McKee & Daniel Smith

State Politics & Policy Quarterly, forthcoming

We examine state legislator behavior on restrictive voter identification (ID) bills from 2005 to 2013. Partisan polarization of state lawmakers on voter ID laws is well known, but we know very little with respect to other determinants driving this political division. A major shortcoming of extant research evaluating the passage of voter ID bills stems from using the state legislature as the unit of analysis. We depart from existing scholarship by using the state legislator as our unit of analysis, and we cover the entirety of the period when restrictive voter ID laws became a frequent agenda item in state legislatures. Beyond the obviously significant effect of party affiliation, we find a notable relationship between the racial composition of a member's district, region, and electoral competition and the likelihood that a state lawmaker supports a voter ID bill. Democratic lawmakers representing substantial black district populations are more opposed to restrictive voter ID laws, whereas Republican legislators with substantial black district populations are more supportive. We also find Southern lawmakers (particularly Democrats) are more opposed to restrictive voter ID legislation. In particular, we find black legislators in the South are the least supportive of restrictive voter ID bills, which is likely tied to the historical context associated with state laws restricting electoral participation. Finally, in those state legislatures where electoral competition is not intense, polarization over voter ID laws is less stark, which likely reflects the expectation that the reform will have little bearing on the outcome of state legislative contests.


From Open to Secret Ballot: Vote Buying and Modernization

Toke Aidt & Peter Jensen

Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming

The secret ballot is one of the cornerstones of democracy. We contend that the historical process of modernization caused the switch from open to secret ballot with the underlying mechanism being that income growth, urbanization, and rising education standards undermined vote markets. We undertake event history studies of ballot reform in Western Europe and the U.S. states during the 19th and 20th centuries to establish that modernization was systematically related to ballot reform. We study electoral turnout before and after ballot reform among the U.S. states and British parliamentary constituencies to substantiate the hypothesis that modernization reduced the volume of trade in the vote market.


Gender Inequalities in Campaign Finance

Michael Barber, Daniel Butler & Jessica Preece

Quarterly Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

Previous research suggests that female candidates do not face fundraising barriers; however, female politicians consistently report that fundraising is more difficult for them than their male colleagues. Using a regression discontinuity design to hold district characteristics constant, we study whether there is a gender gap in campaign fundraising for state legislators from 1990 to 2010. We find that male candidates raise substantially more money than female candidates. Further, male donors give more money to male candidates, while female donors, political parties, and PACs give approximately equally to men and women. At the same time, men face challengers who raise more money; consequently, male and female incumbents do not differ in the proportion of the overall district money that they raise in their next reelection bid. These results suggest that there are large gender inequalities in campaign finance, but they may not have immediate consequences for women's representation.


Effects of Welfare Reform on Women's Voting Participation

Dhaval Dave, Hope Corman & Nancy Reichman

NBER Working Paper, March 2016

Voting is an important form of civic participation in democratic societies but a fundamental right that many citizens do not exercise. This study investigates the effects of welfare reform in the U.S. in the 1990s on voting of low income women. Using the November Current Population Surveys with the added Voting and Registration Supplement for the years 1990 through 2004 and exploiting changes in welfare policy across states and over time, we estimate the causal effects of welfare reform on women's voting registration and voting participation during the period during which welfare reform unfolded. We find robust evidence that welfare reform increased the likelihood of voting by about 4 percentage points, which translates to about a 10% increase relative to the baseline mean. The effects were largely confined to Presidential elections, were stronger in Democratic than Republican states, were stronger in states with stronger work incentive policies, and appeared to operate through employment, education, and income.


Inferring Roll-Call Scores from Campaign Contributions Using Supervised Machine Learning

Adam Bonica

Stanford Working Paper, February 2015

This paper develops a generalized supervised learning methodology for inferring roll call scores for incumbent and non-incumbent candidates from campaign contribution data. Rather than use unsupervised methods to recover the latent dimension that best explains patterns in giving, donation patterns are instead mapped onto a target measure of legislative voting behavior. Supervised learning methods applied to contribution data are shown to significantly outperform alternative measures of ideology in predicting legislative voting behavior. Fundraising prior to entering office provides a highly informative signal about future voting behavior. Impressively, contribution-based forecasts of non-incumbent roll call ideology predict voting behavior with the same accuracy as that achieved by in-sample forecasts based on votes casts during a legislator's first two years in Congress. The combined results demonstrate campaign contributions to be powerful predictors of roll call ideology and stand to resolve an ongoing debate as to whether contributions records can be used to make accurate within-party comparisons.


From Miss World to World Leader: Beauty Queens, Paths to Power, and Political Representations

Magda Hinojosa & Jill Carle

Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, Winter 2016, Pages 24-46

This article argues that participation in beauty pageants can serve as a path to power for women. This previously unidentified route to political office is unique to women, builds on representational elements of beauty pageants, and provides girls and women with skills necessary to political achievement. We analyze how this path to power is different from celebrity politicians, which has recently received much academic attention. We use examples from Venezuela, Jamaica, the United States, and France to illustrate this path to power and differentiate between two types of beauty queens turned politicians.


The Declining Relevance of Candidate Personal Attributes in Presidential Elections

Martin Wattenberg

Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2016, Pages 125-139

This article examines sixty years of data from the American National Election Studies, and finds that the electorate's focus on candidate attributes has declined substantially. Whereas 80% of respondents had mentioned personal attributes in the past, in recent elections only about 60% have done so. Furthermore, such comments are now more tied to partisan identification and have less of an independent impact on voting behavior. The chances of presidential image makers successfully making a difference by emphasizing a president's personal character are now much less than in the era of Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan.


Fact-Checking Polarized Politics: Does The Fact-Check Industry Provide Consistent Guidance on Disputed Realities?

Morgan Marietta, David Barker & Todd Bowser

The Forum, December 2015, Pages 577-596

In the contemporary political environment of polarized claims about disputed realities, the online fact-check industry was born. These enterprises have received awards and praise but also accusations of bias and error, bringing their methods and conclusions into question. This paper examines the comparative epistemology of the three major fact-check sites: do they examine the same questions and reach the same conclusions? A content analysis of the published fact-checks addressing three disputed realties - the existence of climate change, the influence of racism, and the consequences of the national debt - suggests substantial differences in the questions asked and the answers offered, limiting the usefulness of fact-checking for citizens trying to decide which version of disputed realities to believe.


Open Versus Closed Primaries and the Ideological Composition of Presidential Primary Electorates

Barbara Norrander & Jay Wendland

Electoral Studies, June 2016, Pages 229-236

Many journalists, political reformers and social scientists assume that electorates in open versus closed primaries are distinctive, especially in terms of their ideological orientations. Because voting in closed primaries is restricted to registered partisans, voters in this setting are assumed to be more ideologically extreme. Independents voting in open primaries are seen as moderating the ideological orientation of these primary electorates. However, our research demonstrates that the ideological orientations of voters in these two primary settings are quite similar. Prior research demonstrates the influence of primary laws on voters' self-identifications as partisans or independents. We expand upon this research to show how this influences the number and ideological positions of partisans and independents as they vote in presidential primaries held under differing participation rules.


Voter Turnout in Presidential Nominating Contests

Michael McDonald & Thessalia Merivaki

The Forum, December 2015, Pages 597-622

Presidential elections are conducted in two stages. The November general election is proceeded by a series of contests where delegates are selected to national party conventions, which is where the parties select their candidates for the fall election. These nominating contests' political environments vary: the rules regarding who can participate; the levels of electoral competition, which are related to when they are held; and that other offices present on the ballot, if any. We explore the effects of these conditions on voter participation in recent presidential contests and generally find turnout highest in competitive and inclusive contests where other offices are on the ballot. Examining the 2008 American National Election Panel Study, we find primary voters are more ideologically extreme than general election voters, but there is little difference between voters in closed and open primary states. We suggest primary type has little effect on the ideological composition of the electorate because modern nomination contests are low turnout elections that draw only the most politically interested.


Informing the Informed: How Content Preferences Limit the Impact of Voting Aids

Jonathan Mummolo & Erik Peterson

Stanford Working Paper, February 2016

Voters are often uninformed about the political candidates they choose between. Governments, media outlets and civic organizations devote substantial resources to correcting these knowledge deficits by creating tools to provide candidate information to voters. Despite the widespread production of these aids, it remains unclear who they reach. We collect validated measures of online voter guide use for over 40,000 newspaper readers during a state primary election. We show these guides are primarily used by individuals with high levels of political interest and knowledge, a finding in contrast to earlier hypotheses that providing these guides directly to voters online would reduce disparities in use based on political interest. A field experiment promoting voter guides failed to diminish these consumption gaps. These results show that the same content preferences that contribute to an unequal distribution of political knowledge also impede the effectiveness of subsequent efforts to close knowledge gaps.


When style obscures substance: Visual attention to display appropriateness in the 2012 presidential debates

Zijian Harrison Gong & Erik Bucy

Communication Monographs, forthcoming

As with the first televised debates in 1960, the 2012 US presidential debates accentuated the importance of nonverbal behavior in political competition, with President Obama receiving widespread criticism for his disengaged and arguably inappropriate communication style in the first debate. To investigate the perceptual impact of such nonverbal expectancy violations, this study first employs an experimental design to examine the consequence of inappropriate leader displays, operationalized as nonverbal behaviors that are incongruent with the rhetorical setting. Theoretical explanations about the evaluative consequences of inappropriate leader displays are described in light of expectancy violations theory. Results of a repeated measures eye-tracking experiment find support for the prediction that inappropriate facial expressions increase visual attention on the source of violation, prompt critical scrutiny, and elicit negative evaluations. These findings are further explored with qualitative analysis of focus group responses to key moments from the first and third presidential debates. The discussion considers the broader implications of nonverbal communication in politics and how expressive leader displays serve as meaningful cues for citizens when making sense of televised political encounters.


Women's Equality, Candidate Difference, and the Vote

Susan Hansen

Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, Winter 2016, Pages 47-67

This article argues that the status of women continues to be a major issue in the ongoing culture wars over morality politics. While more scholarly and media attention has focused on abortion and gay marriage, since the 1970s the Democratic and Republican Parties have also taken divergent positions on the status of women. Data from the American National Election Studies show that while the general public has become more supportive of equal roles for women, the presidential candidates are perceived to differ considerably on gender roles and positions on abortion. Since the 1970s perceptions of candidate differences on gender equity have been strong predictors of the presidential vote, even after controlling for party identification, abortion attitudes, religiosity, retrospective assessments of the economy, and perceived candidate differences on other issues, including abortion.


Do Public Matching Funds and Tax Credits Encourage Political Contributions? Evidence from Three Field Experiments Using Nonpartisan Messages

Michael Schwam-Baird et al.

Election Law Journal, forthcoming

We report the results of three field experiments that provided nonpartisan information about municipal- and state-level incentives for making political contributions to potential donors. Our experiments examine two types of contribution incentive programs, public matching funds and tax credits, in three different jurisdictions: New York City, Virginia, and Ohio. We find that providing information about matching funds and tax credits has negligible effects on both the probability that an individual will make a contribution and the amount that an individual donates. Our findings suggest that publicizing contribution incentive programs using nonpartisan messages does little to enhance the pool of new donors. Our research leaves open the possibility that contribution incentive programs, and donation matching programs in particular, may nonetheless affect campaign behavior and encourage campaigns to pursue more small donors.


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