Ghost of Elections Past

Kevin Lewis

December 04, 2020

The Political Premium of Television Celebrity
Heyu Xiong
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, forthcoming


This paper studies the electoral consequences of television stardom through the career of Ronald Reagan. I utilize quasi-experimental variation in television reception to estimate the causal effect of celebrity exposure on political support. I find that Reagan’s tenure as the host of a 1950s entertainment television program translated into support for his candidacy, in terms of votes and political donations, nearly two decades after the show’s first airing. Placebo checks suggest that this impact is not driven by unobserved heterogeneity or omitted variable bias. The effect was especially pronounced in the 1976 Republican primary elections relative to the general presidential elections and partially dissipated in locations where Reagan was a known political entity. Using the ANES surveys, I provide evidence on possible mechanisms. Consistent with rational updating, non-political media increased voters’ assessment of Reagan’s character and leadership, personalizing political considerations in elections featuring him.

Explaining Support for Conspiratorial Leaders in the Time of COVID-19: The Role of Situational Anxiety
Scott Radnitz & Yuan Hsiao
University of Washington Working Paper, October 2020


Why do people support politicians who endorse conspiracy theories? Previous studies have examined structural and personal factors that relate to beliefs in conspiracy theories, yet those beliefs are not necessarily predictive of voting preferences. Our study addresses support for conspiratorial candidates by highlighting the role of anxiety. In particular, we draw attention to the distinction between general anxiety, which results from individual disposition and long-term structural forces; and situational anxiety, which arises from unexpected events that produce sudden shocks. We test the effects of general versus situational anxiety by leveraging the occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using two survey experiments, one pre-COVID and the other during the pandemic, we show that situational anxiety but not general anxiety is related to support for conspiratorial candidates. We also find that the effect of situational anxiety is not limited to conspiracy theories related to COVID-19, but generalizes to other types of conspiracy theory as well. We further find that people who support conspiratorial candidates do not view them as better equipped to solve the problem than non-conspiratorial ones. We discuss implications for how sudden societal events can shift political support and provide opportunities for political actors whose rhetoric signals counter-establishment credibility rather than effective governance.

Close Relationships in Close Elections
Byungkyu Lee
Social Forces, forthcoming


Close elections are rare, but most Americans have experienced a close election at least once in their lifetime. How does intense politicization in close elections affect our close relationships? Using four national egocentric network surveys during the 1992, 2000, 2008, and 2016 election cycles, I find that close elections are associated with a modest decrease in network isolation in Americans’ political discussion networks. While Americans are more politically engaged in close elections, they also are less likely to be exposed to political dissent and more likely to deactivate their kinship ties to discuss politics. I further investigate a potential mechanism, the extent of political advertising, and show that cross-cutting exposure is more likely to disappear in states with more political ads air. To examine the behavioral consequence of close elections within American families, I revisit large-scale cell phone location data during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2016. I find that Americans are less likely to travel following close elections, and that families comprised of members with strong, opposing political views are more likely to shorten their Thanksgiving dinner. These results illuminate a process in which politicization may “close off” strong-tied relationships in the aftermath of close elections.

Local News, Information, and the Nationalization of U.S. Elections
Daniel Moskowitz
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


Has the decline in traditional sources of local news contributed to the nationalization of U.S. elections? I hypothesize that local news coverage mitigates nationalization by providing voters with information that allows them to assess down-ballot candidates separately from their national, partisan assessment. The geography of media markets places some voters in a neighboring state’s market and others in in-state markets. I demonstrate that residents of in-state markets have access to vastly more local television news coverage of their governor and U.S. senators, and this increased coverage translates into greater knowledge of these officeholders. Further, access to in-state television news substantially increases split-ticket voting in gubernatorial and senatorial races. Supplementary analyses provide strong evidence that the estimated effects are not the result of unobserved differences between residents of in-state and out-of-state media markets. These results imply that local news coverage attenuates the nationalization of elections even in the present polarized context.

Racial attitudes & political cross-pressures in nationalized elections: The case of the Republican coalition in the Trump era
Carlos Algara & Isaac Hale
Electoral Studies, forthcoming


While scholars have found that Trump was able to capitalize on the racial attitudes of white voters, it is less clear how these racial attitudes influenced vote-choice across partisan and ideological cleavages in the electorate. It is also unclear whether racial attitudes affected voting at the congressional level or electoral outcomes at the aggregate level. Using a novel measure of racial attitudes at the subnational level and survey data, we make three clear findings: (1) Trump and Republican congressional candidates benefited from conservative racial attitudes both at the aggregate level and among white voters, (2) this electoral benefit for Republicans persisted during the 2018 midterm elections, and (3) the effect of attitudes on vote-choice did not significantly vary across partisan and ideological cleavages in the white electorate. Our findings suggest that, even during the era of highly nationalized and partisan elections, racial attitudes are still a mechanism by which Republicans can win significant electoral support among Democrats and relatively liberal voters in the white electorate. These findings have implications for the growing salience of race in the Republican electoral coalition.

Making Rallies Great Again: The Effects of Presidential Campaign Rallies on Voter Behavior, 2008-2016
James Snyder & Hasin Yousaf
NBER Working Paper, October 2020


Populism has surged around the world in recent decades. One campaign activity that may be especially important for populist leaders is holding large rallies to gain unmediated support from "the people." In this paper, we explore whether populist leaders are particularly effective in gaining support via their rallies. We do this by studying the effect of campaign rallies held by Donald Trump and other U.S. Presidential candidates since 2008. To measure the short-run causal impact of rallies, we exploit the fact that some respondents in the CCES were surveyed a few days before a rally, while others were surveyed a few days afterwards. We find that Trump's rallies produced a short-lived increase in his support over Clinton (especially among leaning Republicans), intention to vote (especially among strong Republicans), and individual campaign contributions for him. We do not find consistent, robust effects for other candidates. In terms of channels, we find that local media coverage of all candidates increased around their rallies, suggesting that the quantity of media coverage alone does not explain the findings.

How Social‐Class Background Influences Perceptions of Political Leaders
Crystal Hoyt & Brenten DeShields
Political Psychology, forthcoming


In this research, we contribute to a nascent literature examining how cues to social class can guide voters' political judgments. Drawing upon and merging a voting‐cues framework with the stereotype‐content model, we test predictions that, relative to those from high‐class backgrounds, candidates from lower‐ and working‐class backgrounds will be perceived to be more ideologically liberal, warmer, and will be evaluated more positively. We test these predictions across four experimental studies (NStudy1 = 200; NStudy2 = 537; NStudy3 = 352; NStudy4 = 654) employing a candidate‐evaluation paradigm; participants were presented with basic candidate background information, including cues to candidate class and other demographics, and were asked to read an excerpt from a speech before providing their judgments. Findings reveal that candidates from lower‐ and working‐class backgrounds were perceived to be more liberal and warmer than those from high‐class backgrounds. Additionally, we found that lower‐class candidates were generally evaluated more positively than high‐class candidates, and we found some evidence for evaluations across class to be moderated by participants' political ideology. These effects generally held across candidate gender and race. This work has important theoretical and practical implications offering insight into the social‐class gap between the electorate and the largely elite elected policymakers.

Delayed Gratification in Political Participation
Jerome Schafer
American Politics Research, forthcoming


Delayed gratification is associated with myriad desirable outcomes — like eating right and saving money. In this article, I explore whether it also increases political participation. To this end, I provide an explicit decision-theoretic framework, which predicts that less patient individuals are less willing to vote and to donate; these forms of participation are costly before Election Day, but their rewards are partially delayed. I then discuss how to elicit individual time preferences with real monetary incentives. In the empirical analysis, I provide evidence from a representative U.S. survey showing that monetary discount rates predict turnout and donations. Though mostly correlational and exploratory, these findings hold when controlling for a host of potential confounds. Overall, my results indicate that impatient types are less likely to prepare for and ultimately participate in elections. This sheds light on when and how deep psychological traits constrain political decisions involving a trade-off over time.

Estimating the unintended participation penalty under top-two primaries with a discontinuity design
Shawn Patterson
Electoral Studies, forthcoming


Participation in U.S. elections lags behind most of its developed, democratic peers. Reformers seeking to increase voter turnout often propose changes to the electoral system as means of addressing these shortcomings. One such reform, the top-two blanket primary, has been adopted in California and Washington in part to boost voter participation. Despite the promises of reformers, however, observers disagree as to its efficacy. In this paper, I estimate the participation penalty generated by top-two primaries using a regression discontinuity design (RDD). I estimate that general elections featuring two members of the same party – the arrangement reformers contend would increase turnout – actually decrease voter participation. I find that approximately 7% of voters “roll off” the ballot in the absence of party competition while overall turnout is unaffected. These results suggest that top-two primaries are likely to exacerbate rather than ameliorate trends in participation.

To Emerge? Breadwinning, Motherhood, and Women’s Decisions to Run for Office
Rachel Bernhard, Shauna Shames & Dawn Langan Teele
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


Women’s underrepresentation in American politics is often attributed to relatively low levels of political ambition. Yet scholarship still grapples with a major leak in the pipeline to power: that many qualified and politically ambitious women decide against candidacy. Focusing on women with political ambition, we theorize that at the final stage of candidate emergence, household income, breadwinning responsibilities, and household composition are interlocking obstacles to women’s candidacies. We examine these dynamics through a multimethod design that includes an original survey of women most likely to run for office: alumnae of the largest Democratic campaign training organization in the United States. Although we do not find income effects, we provide evidence that breadwinning — responsibility for a majority of household income — negatively affects women’s ambition, especially for mothers. These findings have important implications for understanding how the political economy of the household affects candidate emergence and descriptive representation in the United States.

Dark necessities? Candidates’ aversive personality traits and negative campaigning in the 2018 American Midterms
Alessandro Nai & Jürgen Maier
Electoral Studies, forthcoming


Are candidates with “dark” personality profiles more likely to go negative? We triangulate data for the 2018 Senate Midterms in the United States from two independent sources (the automated coding of social media posts and an expert survey) and test the extent to which the candidates’ “dark” personality traits (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) are associated with their negativity and incivility. By and large, we find that this is the case, especially when combining the separate traits into broader indicators of “dark” personality (“dark core” and underlying personality dimensions). These results resist robustness checks via models run with alternative specifications, such as using measures of personality (and campaign) that are adjusted to filter out the ideological profile of experts, additional covariates, more restrictive modelling, and alternative measurement of key dependent variables.

Sidestepping primary reform: Political action in response to institutional change
Seth Hill
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


Many believe primary elections distort representation in American legislatures because unrepresentative actors nominate extremist candidates. Advocates have reformed primaries to broaden voter participation and increase representation. Empirical evidence, however, is quite variable on the effects of reform. I argue that when institutional reform narrows one pathway of political influence, aggrieved actors take political action elsewhere to circumvent reform. I use a difference-in-differences design in the American states and find that although changing primary rules increases primary turnout, campaign contributions also increase with reform. Implementing nonpartisan primaries and reforming partisan primaries lead to estimated 9 and 21 percent increases in individual campaign contributions per cycle. This suggests actors substitute action across avenues of political influence to limit effects of institutional reform.

The Direct Primary and the Incumbency Advantage in the US House of Representatives
Michael Olson
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, October 2020, Pages 483-506


What is the relationship between the United States' uniquely democratic nominating procedure — the direct primary — and the incumbency advantage? I argue that the adoption of primary elections incentivizes legislators to cultivate and voters to use non-party reputations, leading to an increase in the incumbency advantage. To test this argument, I combine a regression discontinuity approach for estimating the incumbency advantage with a panel design to identify effects of direct primary adoption. The estimates from this differences-in-discontinuities design suggest that the adoption of the direct primary increased the incumbency advantage by about two percentage points. These results offer one possible institutional basis for the incumbency advantage in the US House of Representatives and provide new evidence for the central importance of primary elections in American politics.

Understanding the Success of the Know-Nothing Party
Marcella Alsan, Katherine Eriksson & Gregory Niemesh
NBER Working Paper, November 2020


We study the contribution of economic conditions to the success of the first avowedly nativist political party in the United States. The Know-Nothing Party gained control of a number of state governments in the 1854-1856 elections running on a staunchly anti-Catholic and anti-Irish platform. Our analysis focuses on the case of Massachusetts, which had experienced a wave of Irish Famine immigration and was at the forefront of industrialization in the United States. Voters in towns with more exposure to Irish labor market crowdout and deskilling in manufacturing were more likely to vote for Know-Nothing candidates in state elections. These two forces played a decisive role in 1855, but not the other years of the Know Nothings’ success. We find evidence of reduced wealth accumulation for native workers most exposed to labor market crowdout and deskilling, though this was tempered by occupational upgrading.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.