Election Data

Kevin Lewis

January 27, 2023

Nail in the Coffin or Lifeline? Evaluating the Electoral Impact of COVID-19 on President Trump in the 2020 Election
Carlos Algara et al.
Political Behavior, forthcoming 


From the onset of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in January 2020 to Election Day in November, the United States experienced over 9,400,000 cases and 232,000 deaths. This crisis largely defined the campaign between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, centering on the Trump administration′s efforts in mitigating the number of cases and deaths. While conventional wisdom suggested that Trump and his party would lose support due to the severity of COVID-19 across the country, such an effect is hotly debated empirically and theoretically. In this research, we evaluate the extent to which the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic influenced support for President Trump in the 2020 election. Across differing modeling strategies and a variety of data sources, we find evidence that President Trump gained support in counties with higher COVID-19 deaths. We provide an explanation for this finding by showing that voters concerned about the economic impacts of pandemic-related restrictions on activity were more likely to support Trump and that local COVID-19 severity was predictive of these economic concerns. While COVID-19 likely contributed to Trump’s loss in 2020, our analysis demonstrates that he gained support among voters in localities worst affected by the pandemic.

The Most Important Election of Our Lifetime: Focalism and Political Participation
Curtis Bram
Political Psychology, forthcoming


This article argues that a psychological bias called “focalism” contributes to an overestimation of the differences between political candidates, which in turn increases participation and polarization. Focalism causes people to confuse the allocation of attention to things with the importance of those things. Because attention to politics typically centers on conflict, the result is an exaggeration of differences across the partisan divide. I test this intuition using an experimental design that provides all respondents with all the information they need to estimate how much Joe Biden and Donald Trump objectively disagreed on policy positions just before the 2020 election. I find that shifting attention -- toward either those positions the candidates agreed or disagreed with each other on -- influences beliefs about the differences between candidates. The effect exceeds that of identifying as a Democrat or as a Republican. Beyond those perceptions, focalism increases turnout intentions, perceptions of election importance, negative feelings towards the out-candidate, and affective polarization.

Voter Bias and the Partisan Gender-Gap in Office
Sara Saltzer & Mary McGrath
Political Behavior, forthcoming 


In the United States, women compose a larger share of elected Democrats than of elected Republicans at every level of government. Drawing together literature on the gender-gap in office, on voters’ use of gender stereotypes, and on women’s descriptive representation, we propose a set of hypotheses about the role of voter bias in this partisan disparity. We show that, in addition to the pipeline effects documented in the literature, voters themselves likely contribute to the partisan imbalance of women’s representation in the U.S. Using two implicit mediation experiments, we investigate the mechanism behind the partisan difference in candidate-gender preferences, providing evidence that these biases stem at least in part from stereotype-based inferences about candidate political beliefs. However, even with clear information about which candidate offers greater policy congruence, evidence of gender bias remains among both Democratic and Republican voters.

Exposure to the Russian Internet Research Agency foreign influence campaign on Twitter in the 2016 US election and its relationship to attitudes and voting behavior
Gregory Eady et al.
Nature Communications, January 2023 


There is widespread concern that foreign actors are using social media to interfere in elections worldwide. Yet data have been unavailable to investigate links between exposure to foreign influence campaigns and political behavior. Using longitudinal survey data from US respondents linked to their Twitter feeds, we quantify the relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and attitudes and voting behavior in the 2016 US election. We demonstrate, first, that exposure to Russian disinformation accounts was heavily concentrated: only 1% of users accounted for 70% of exposures. Second, exposure was concentrated among users who strongly identified as Republicans. Third, exposure to the Russian influence campaign was eclipsed by content from domestic news media and politicians. Finally, we find no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior. The results have implications for understanding the limits of election interference campaigns on social media.

Moral Rhetoric, Extreme Positions, and Perceptions of Candidate Sincerity
Scott Clifford & Elizabeth Simas
Political Behavior, forthcoming 


Most Americans believe that politicians do not try to keep their campaign promises. This deep level of cynicism threatens to break a fundamental link in representation and undermines the legislative process. If candidates cannot credibly convey their positions, then voters will not trust them to enact policies. Yet, we know little about the strategies politicians might take to convey the sincerity of their claims. We argue that politicians can signal sincerity by justifying their stances in moral terms or by taking more extreme positions. Across three experiments, our results suggest that moral justifications tend to enhance perceived sincerity, while extreme positions do not. In a fourth study, we show that extreme stances increase polarization in candidate evaluations, but moral justifications do not. Taken together, our findings suggest that moral justifications are a useful strategy to reduce cynicism without contributing to rising levels of polarization.

Perceptions of Party Incongruence and Nascent Political Ambition
Justin Kirkland, Elizabeth Simas & Scott Clifford
Political Behavior, forthcoming 


Recent elections reveal a rise in first-time candidates. Building on prior works on nascent political ambition, we examine how ideological incongruence with one’s party relates to the initial development of interest in running for office. We advance the theory that individuals will be more motivated to run when they view their party as failing to represent their preferred position. Using two nationally representative surveys, we find support for this hypothesis, as we show that people are more likely to develop political ambition when they perceive themselves as ideologically distant from their party. Finally, using a panel study, we show that ideological distance predicts running for office for the first time. Our findings further highlight how the factors that contribute to the initial formation of ambition differ from the strategic concerns driving more advanced career decisions and illustrate another potential side-effect of ideological disagreement within parties.

Independent Redistricting Commissions Are Associated with More Competitive Elections
Matthew Nelson
PS: Political Science & Politics, forthcoming 


Competitive elections are essential for democratic accountability, yet most US House of Representatives elections are uncompetitive. Using district-level data from 1982 to 2018, I examine the relationship between redistricting institutions and election competition. I extend the work of Carson, Crespin, and Williamson (2014) by separating independent and political commissions and find that, relative to legislative redistricting, independent commissions are 2.25 times more likely to have competitive elections, and they decrease incumbent party wins by 52%.

Campaign Principal-Agent Problems: Volunteers as Faithful and Representative Agents
Taylor Kinsley Chewning et al.
Political Behavior, forthcoming 


Volunteer-based voter contact presents multiple potential principal-agent problems for political campaigns. Conflicting potential solutions to these principal-agent problems generate two opposing expectations about campaigns’ preferences for ideological types of volunteers. Concerns about volunteers substituting their own ideological messages for the moderate and noncommittal ones campaigns prefer should make moderate volunteers more desirable; concerns about maximizing volunteer work-hours should lead to preferences for volunteers whose ideology matches the candidate’s. Using interviews with campaign operatives, a conjoint experiment, and a correspondence experiment, we show campaigns prefer volunteers whose views align with the candidate -- interpreted by campaign operatives as a signal of likely enthusiasm and dedication -- rather than moderate volunteers. However, even without resource constraints, these preferences are weak and fade in the presence of stronger indicators of commitment. They are absent in real-world volunteer recruitment. Overall, campaigns are more concerned with volunteers shirking responsibilities than they are with volunteers going off-message.

Supporting Veterans: Source Cues, Issue Ownership, and the Electoral Benefits of Military Service
Peter McLaughlin, Matthew Geras & Sarina Rhinehart
Political Behavior, forthcoming 


Conventional wisdom has long assumed veteran status to be a beneficial credential for political candidates, but the evidence is mixed on the direct association between military experience and electoral success. Rather than a uniformly advantageous candidate characteristic, we argue veteran status is best understood as an influential source cue and issue ownership factor that can be capitalized on by effective campaign messaging. We outline three potential mechanisms through which veteran candidates unlock electoral gains - solidified issue ownership, enhanced trait ownership, and increased salience of advantageous policy issues. We test these expectations with two online survey experiments, randomizing a fictional candidate’s veteran status and the policy topic discussed in campaign messaging. We find veteran candidates can use a combination of veteran cues and policy messaging to gain an advantage over nonveterans. However, veteran candidates stand to benefit most by talking about crime rather than national defense, as a ceiling effect limits veterans’ ability to enhance their service-related issue and trait ownership ratings by messaging on national defense. By reconceptualizing military service as an effective communication tool rather than a uniformly advantageous biographical line, we clarify the substantial electoral value of veteran status in American politics. More broadly, our findings show that voters respond not just to individual cues derived from partisanship or a candidate’s background, but to the interaction of these cues with campaign messaging.

Electoral Competition, the EU Issue and Far-right Success in Western Europe
Sofia Vasilopoulou & Roi Zur
Political Behavior, forthcoming 


We argue theoretically and demonstrate empirically that to understand the electoral fortunes of far-right parties in Western Europe, we need to consider the advantages and disadvantages these parties encounter in the multidimensional political issue space. We argue that salience changes among the electorate benefit far-right parties more than shifting far-right parties’ policy positions. We further posit that changes in the public salience of European integration are more important for far-right success than other issues -- including immigration. Utilizing similar survey questions from the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES) about parties’ positions and the European Election Studies (EES) about voters’ policy preferences, we estimate multidimensional voting models in 12 West European countries. We then use mathematical simulations to show that the issue that matters most for far-right success is European integration. This research has important implications for the study of electoral competition, parties’ campaign strategies, and voting behavior.

Instrumental goal activation increases online petition support across languages
David Markowitz
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming 


Research on processing fluency and instrumental goal activation suggests people often perceive complex information positively when effort in a task is valued. The current article evaluates this idea in five online petition samples (total N = 1,047,655 petitions and over 200 million words), assessing how the linguistic fluency of a petition associates with support. Consistent with prior work, petitions with lower rates of lexical fluency (fewer common words) associated with more signatures and an increased probability of petitions making a concrete change than those with higher rates of lexical fluency (more common words). Exploratory results suggest other forms of linguistic complexity also associated with petition support: petitions with more analytic writing (e.g., more formal and complex writing patterns) and with less structural fluency (less readable writing) received more signatures than those with less analytic writing and more structural fluency. Controlling for the political leaning of the petition writers as inferred by their language patterns revealed consistent effects. Crucially, the lexical fluency results were maintained across eight languages as well. Various types of linguistic complexity are therefore instrumental to get people to support online causes. Contributions to fluency theory and the psychology of giving are discussed.


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