Findings

Electability

Kevin Lewis

June 17, 2016

Estimating the gender penalty in House of Representatives elections using a regression discontinuity design

Lefteris Anastasopoulos

Electoral Studies, forthcoming

Abstract:
While the number of female candidates running for office in U.S. House of Representatives elections has increased considerably since the 1980s, women continue to account for about only 20% of House members. Whether this gap in female representation can be explained by a gender penalty female candidates face as the result of discrimination on the part of voters or campaign donors remains uncertain. In this paper, I estimate the gender penalty in U.S. House of Representatives general elections using a regression discontinuity design (RDD). Using this RDD, I am able to assess whether chance nomination of female candidates to run in the general election affected the amount of campaign funds raised, general election vote share and probability of victory in House elections between 1982 and 2012. I find no evidence of a gender penalty using these measures. These results suggest that the deficit of female representation in the House is more likely the result of barriers to entering politics as opposed to overt gender discrimination by voters and campaign donors.

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How Divisive Primaries Hurt Parties: Evidence from Near-Runoffs

Alexander Fouirnaies & Andrew Hall

Stanford Working Paper, May 2016

Abstract:
In many democracies, parties and their voters rely on competitive primary elections to choose nominees for the general election. Competitive primaries may help parties select higher quality candidates and advertise these candidates to voters, but they also run the risk of exposing nominees' flaws, offending losing candidates' supporters, and making the party look weak to general-election voters. Do longer, more competitive primaries help or harm parties in the general election? The existing literature on so-called divisive primaries comes to mixed conclusions, likely because of chronic issues of omitted variable bias and reverse causation. In this paper, we address these problems by taking advantage of U.S. states that use runoff primaries, second-round elections which, when triggered, create longer, more contentious primaries. Using a regression discontinuity design in primary elections close to the runoff threshold, we find large and negative effects of runoffs on the party's general-election fortune in the U.S. House and Senate. We estimate that going to a runoff decreases the party's general election vote share by 6-9 percentage points, on average, and decreases the probability that the party wins the general election by roughly 21 percentage points, on average. In U.S. state legislatures, in contrast, runoff primaries do not hurt, and in competitive contexts may in fact help, parties in the general election. The results suggest that divisive primary elections are highly damaging when salience is high but beneficial when salience is low, a pattern we argue is driven by the opposing effects of information in high vs. low salience primary elections.

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Citizens United: A Theoretical Evaluation

Carlo Prato & Stephane Wolton

Georgetown University Working Paper, June 2016

Abstract:
Following the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Citizens United v FEC, interest groups engaging in outside spending can receive unlimited contributions from unions and corporations. Critics of the decision have rejected the notion, espoused by the majority opinion, that outside spending does not corrupt or distort the electoral process. Fewer, however, have examined the decision's implications under the Court's assumptions. Using a game-theoretic model of electoral competition, we show that informative outside spending from a group whose policy preferences are partially aligned with the electorate may reduce voter welfare. This negative effect is more likely to arise when the value of the interest group's information is large, or congruence between voters and the interest group is high. Further, the regulatory environment produced by the Court's decision is inefficient: the electorate would be better off if either outside spending were banned or coordination between candidates and the interest group allowed.

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Organizations, Credibility, and the Psychology of Collective Action

Adam Seth Levine & Cindy Kam

Political Communication, forthcoming

Abstract:
Political organizations frequently attempt to recruit sympathetic citizens to support their causes. Doing so requires communicating credibility - that is, persuading potential new supporters that they can actually achieve the goals they set out to achieve. In this article we investigate two of the predominant kinds of information that organizations might use to establish credibility: retrospective information (about past successes) and prospective information (about future plans). Using one field experiment and one survey experiment, we find that retrospective information fails to increase people's willingness to spend scarce resources supporting political organizations. We find that this occurs because information about past successes suggests that the organization can succeed without any additional help. In contrast, we find that prospective information motivates new participants to become active.

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Do Successful Electoral Outcomes Encourage Future Donations?: A Regression Discontinuity Approach

Nicolas Dumas & Kyle Shohfi

MIT Working Paper, April 2016

Abstract:
Previous research has focused on the effect of past success on future voting behavior. We extend this analysis to the realm of political donations, combining data from state legislative elections and a database of political donations. This allows us to use a regression discontinuity design to distinguish between successful and unsuccessful participation. When an individual donates to a candidate, and that candidate wins, two mechanisms emerge which could affect her likelihood of donating again: the recipient candidate is more likely to run in the future, and the donor experiences a feeling of success, which can activate several psychological mechanisms that encourage participation. We find evidence for both of these mechanisms. Overall, we find that donors to candidates in close races are well more than twice as likely to donate if their candidate barely wins than if she barely loses.

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Clinton's Elections: Redividing Government in the 1990s

Michael Nelson

Presidential Studies Quarterly, June 2016, Pages 457-472

Abstract:
Divided government has become the norm in American national politics. But its pattern redivided beginning in the 1990s from one of Republican presidents and Democratic Congresses to one of Democratic presidents and Republican Congresses. Drawing on oral history interviews with campaign and administration officials from the Clinton administration, this article explains how Bill Clinton forged a winning strategy for Democratic presidential candidates while contributing to the weakening of the Democratic congressional party.

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Aggregate Effects of Large-Scale Campaigns on Voter Turnout

Ryan Enos & Anthony Fowler

Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming

Abstract:
To what extent do political campaigns mobilize voters? Despite the central role of campaigns in American politics and despite many experiments on campaigning, we know little about the aggregate effects of an entire campaign on voter participation. Drawing upon inside information from presidential campaigns and utilizing a geographic research design that exploits media markets spanning state boundaries, we estimate the aggregate effects of a large-scale campaign. We estimate that the 2012 presidential campaigns increased turnout in highly targeted states by 7-8 percentage points, on average, indicating that modern campaigns can significantly alter the size and composition of the voting population. Further evidence suggests that the predominant mechanism behind this effect is traditional ground campaigning, which has dramatically increased in scale in the last few presidential elections. Additionally, we find no evidence of diminishing marginal returns to ground campaigning, meaning that voter contacts, each likely exhibiting small individual effects, may aggregate to large effects over the course of a campaign.

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Congressional Elections in Presidential Years: Presidential Coattails and Strategic Voting

Robert Erikson

Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming

Abstract:
This article analyzes voting for Congress in presidential election years. The national Democratic vote for the House increases with the Democratic vote for president but decreases with the Democrats' perceived chances of winning the presidency (anticipatory balancing). The evidence for coattails and for balancing become visible only when statistically controlling for the other. The aggregate evidence for coattails and balancing in presidential years is reinforced by the analysis of National Election Studies (NES) survey respondents. That analysis shows that politically informed voters are more likely to vote for Congress against the party that they believe will win the presidency.

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Presidential approval and macroeconomic conditions: Evidence from a nonlinear model

Seung-Whan Choi et al.

Applied Economics, forthcoming

Abstract:
Contrary to previous empirical studies that find a linear link between economic conditions and presidential approval, this study argues for and finds a nonlinear relationship. A threshold regression is used to assess potential nonlinear relationships between macroeconomic variables and presidential popularity. A quarterly data analysis for the 1960Q1-2012Q2 time period reveals that domestic factors prevail in shaping presidential approval. Most compelling is evidence of a threshold relationship involving economic conditions: When unemployment is slightly over 7%, its decline impacts significantly and favourably on presidential approval, an effect that virtually disappears below the threshold value. Change in consumer sentiment affects presidential approval in a limited way, while inflation shows no association at all. These results combine to encourage further investigation of nonlinear processes in the nexus of economics and politics.

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Off-Cycle and Out of Office: Election Timing, Incumbency, and Electoral Accountability

Justin de Benedictis-Kessner

MIT Working Paper, April 2016

Abstract:
Democratic accountability relies on the ability of citizens to reward and punish politicians in elections. High rates of incumbent reelection in US national elections suggest that elections may not always serve this purpose well. While this incumbency advantage is well-documented in national elections, the mechanisms producing it are unclear. In this paper, I assess the the incumbency advantage and its interaction with institutions using novel data on nearly 10,000 unique mayoral candidates in medium and large cities over the past 60 years. Using a regression discontinuity design, I find that incumbency carries a substantial advantage for individual candidates. Moreover, I find that incumbents in on-cycle (concurrent) elections have a far larger advantage than in off-cycle elections. These results demonstrate one possible mechanism for the incumbency advantage, and show that off-cycle elections, otherwise criticized for their negative effects, may have an upshot for democracy.

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The Ballot Order Effect is Huge: Evidence from Texas

Darren Grant

Sam Houston State University Working Paper, May 2016

Abstract:
Texas primary and runoff elections provide an ideal test of the ballot order hypothesis, because ballot order is randomized within each county and there are many counties and contests to analyze. Doing so for all statewide offices contested in the 2014 Democratic and Republican primaries and runoffs yields precise estimates of the ballot order effect across twenty-four different contests. Except for a few high-profile, high-information races, the ballot order effect is large, especially in down-ballot races and judicial positions. In these, going from last to first on the ballot raises a candidate's vote share by nearly ten percentage points.

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Gender themes in state legislative candidates' websites

Rebekah Herrick

Social Science Journal, forthcoming

Abstract:
Female candidates can represent women by campaigning on issues that have traditionally been the purview of women, and motivating their opponents to do likewise. Although recent research on gubernatorial and congressional elections has found relatively little difference between male and female candidates in their campaign issues, it is possible that greater differences could be found at the state level. This article examines the effects of state legislative candidates' sex and party and opponents' sex on whether candidates campaign on women's or men's issues. It does so by examining campaign websites in three states in 2012: Alaska, Colorado, and Minnesota. The article finds that female, and candidates with female opponents focus more on women's issues in their campaigns than do male candidates and those running against male candidates. In addition, it finds that although Democrats too are more likely to campaign on women's issues, party does not explain away the sex differences. Also as predicted, the article finds little sex difference in the degree to which candidates focus on men's issues, but Republicans are more likely to campaign on men's issues than are Democrats.

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Illicit Tactics as Substitutes: Election Fraud, Ballot Reform, and Contested Congressional Elections in the United States, 1860-1930

Didi Kuo & Jan Teorell

Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming

Abstract:
What is the relationship between ballot reforms and electoral malpractice? This article contributes to the growing comparative politics literature on the causes of election fraud in democratizing countries using the case of the 19th-century United States. We examine the adoption of the Australian ballot and disenfranchisement laws, and estimate their effects on multiple types of election fraud. Using a new measure of fraud in elections to the House of Representatives from 1860 to 1930, we find that the Australian ballot and disenfranchisement measures reduced vote-buying and voter intimidation. However, we further find that the Australian ballot had an "iatrogenic effect" of increasing registration and ballot fraud. Voting secrecy therefore led to substitution of one illicit electoral tactic for another.

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Unacquainted callers can predict which citizens will vote over and above citizens' stated self-predictions

Todd Rogers, Leanne ten Brinke & Dana Carney

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 7 June 2016, Pages 6449-6453

Abstract:
People are regularly asked to report on their likelihoods of carrying out consequential future behaviors, including complying with medical advice, completing educational assignments, and voting in upcoming elections. Despite these stated self-predictions being notoriously unreliable, they are used to inform many strategic decisions. We report two studies examining stated self-prediction about whether citizens will vote. We find that most self-predicted voters do not actually vote despite saying they will, and that campaign callers can discern which self-predicted voters will not actually vote. In study 1 (n = 4,463), self-predicted voters rated by callers as "100% likely to vote" were 2 times more likely to actually vote than those rated unlikely to vote. Study 2 (n = 3,064) replicated this finding and further demonstrated that callers' prediction accuracy was mediated by citizens' nonverbal signals of uncertainty and deception. Strangers can use nonverbal signals to improve predictions of follow through on self-reported intentions - an insight of potential value for politics, medicine, and education.

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Coping with Lengthy Ballots

Drew Seib

Electoral Studies, forthcoming

Abstract:
Given voters' limited cognitive abilities, the learning environments voters face may have implications for how voters learn and make decisions. One prominent feature of American elections is the variation in the length of the ballot across jurisdictions and elections. This paper explores the consequences of lengthy ballots on the ability of voters to learn about candidates. Using an experimental design and a dynamic information board (Lau and Redlawsk, 2006), subjects participate in a mock election where they are asked to gather information about a single election or multiple elections. The results indicate that while voters compare more information as ballot length increases, they spend significantly less time learning about individual pieces of candidate information.

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A Spiral of Skepticism? The Relationship Between Citizens' Involvement With Campaign Information to Their Skepticism and Political Knowledge

Myiah Hutchens et al.

Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, forthcoming

Abstract:
Scholars have emphasized the importance of an informed citizenry for a healthy democracy. As a result, research has examined whether campaign information fosters positive or negative democratic outcomes. This article examines the relationship between information seeking and skepticism. We also examine whether skepticism leads to democratically beneficial outcomes. We examine these relationships using survey data collected during the course of the 2012 Presidential Election. We found an over-time relationship between campaign information seeking and skepticism. We also found that skepticism leads to increased knowledge at the end of the election through information seeking.

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Following the Crowd or Thinking Outside of the Box? Saliency and Issue Consistency

Andrew Garner & Harvey Palmer

Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming

Objective: This article examines the distinction between group-based issue opinion formation (what we term "following the crowd") and idiosyncratic or nongroup-based formation (what we term "thinking outside of the box"). The argument put forth is that issue saliency can lead citizens to think about issues in nongroup-based terms.

Method: We use heteroskedastic regression to measure the degree to which group-based variables explain issue opinions. Using group variables (demographics, party identification, etc.) to estimate respondents' issue responses means that nongroup variation is soaked up by the error term.

Results: We find that citizens who view an issue as highly salient are more likely to "think outside the box," while citizens who view an issue as less salient are more likely to "follow the crowd" by defaulting to their group memberships and identifications.

Conclusion: Our results indicate that response variability (less consistency within groups) on issue opinions is not always the result of uncertain citizens, nonattitudes, or measurement error. In some situations, greater response variability can reflect a deliberative and policy-based form of opinion formation.


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