Lost on Voters

Kevin Lewis

February 07, 2020

Battlefield Casualties and Ballot-Box Defeat: Did the Bush–Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House?
Douglas Kriner & Francis Shen
PS: Political Science & Politics, forthcoming


In the 2016 election, foreign policy may have played a critically important role in swinging an important constituency to Donald Trump: voters in high-casualty communities that had abandoned Republican candidates in the mid-2000s. Trump’s iconoclastic campaign rhetoric promised a foreign policy that would simultaneously be more muscular and restrained. He promised to rebuild and refocus the military while avoiding the “stupid wars” and costly entanglements of his predecessors. At both the state and county levels, we find significant and substantively meaningful relationships between local casualty rates and support for Trump. Trump made significant electoral gains among constituencies that were exhausted and politically alienated by 18 years of fighting. Trump’s foreign policy shows a president beset by competing militaristic and isolationist impulses. Our results suggest that giving into the former may come at a significant electoral cost.

Who Put Trump in the White House? Explaining the Contribution of Voting Blocs to Trump’s Victory
Justin Grimmer & William Marble
Stanford Working Paper, December 2019


A surprising fact about the 2016 election is that Trump received fewer votes from whites with the highest levels of racial resentment than Romney did in 2012. This fact is surprising given studies that emphasize “activation” of racial conservatism in 2016 — the increased relationship between vote choice and racial attitudes among voters. But this relationship provides almost no information about how many votes candidates receive from individuals with particular attitudes. To understand how many votes a voting bloc contributes to a candidate’s total, we must also consider a bloc’s size and its turnout rate. Taking these into account, we find that Trump’s most significant gains came from whites with moderate attitudes about race and immigration. Trump’s vote totals improved the most among swing voters: low-socioeconomic status whites who are political moderates. Our analysis demonstrates that focusing only on vote choice is insufficient to explain sources of candidate support in the electorate.

Locating the Representational Baseline: Republicans in Massachusetts
Moon Duchin et al.
Election Law Journal, December 2019, Pages 388-401


Republican candidates often receive between 30% and 40% of the two-way vote share in statewide elections in Massachusetts. For the last three Census cycles, Massachusetts has held 9–10 seats in the House of Representatives, which means that a district can be won with as little as six percent of the statewide vote. Putting these two facts together, it is striking that a Massachusetts Republican has not won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1994. We argue that the underperformance of Republicans in Massachusetts is not attributable to gerrymandering, nor to the failure of Republicans to field House candidates, but is a structural mathematical feature of the actual distribution of votes observable in some recent elections. Several of these elections have a remarkable property in their vote patterns: Republican votes clear 30%, but are distributed so uniformly that they are locked out of the possibility of representation. Though there are more ways of building a valid districting plan than there are particles in the galaxy, every single one of them would produce a 9–0 Democratic delegation.

The Importance of Candidate Sex and Partisan Preference Over Time: A Multi-day Study of Voter Decision-Making
David Andersen & Tessa DiTonto
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


Women often face challenges when running for political office, but precisely when and how candidate sex affects voter decision-making is unclear. Using a unique multi-day, high-information experiment, we examine how the presence of women candidates in an election influences subjects’ information search, candidate evaluations, and vote decisions. We focus on how the partisan alignment of women candidates (whether they run in the subject’s preferred “in-party” vs. their “out-party”) matters, and at which point in the campaign gender is most influential. We find that subjects who see in-party women candidates are more open to considering the out-party candidate, seeking out more information about the candidates in the race. Out-party women candidates strengthen subjects’ initial partisan preferences, however, leading to less search and higher in-party voting rates. We also find that candidate gender is most influential early in the campaign, and its effects diminish as the campaign progresses.

The Democrat Disaster: Hurricane Exposure, Risk Aversion and Insurance Demand
Raluca Pahontu
University of Oxford Working Paper, January 2020


How do voters respond to heightened risk? Dominant theories expect issues of accountability to surface or distributional conflict to intensify once threats become salient. Unsatisfactorily, these accounts rely on compound treatment effects of exposure not only to risk but also to direct losses or self-selection into unfortunate circumstances. To circumvent these issues, I use difference-in-differences estimates of nearly-hit disaster high-risk areas in the United States to study the effect of risk on vote choice. I identify significant electoral penalties for the Democratic Party whose vote share decreases following a near miss for both US House and Senate races between 2002 and 2014. Conventional explanations related to religiosity, authority, information, or competence fail to explain this effect. Instead, I propose that Republican gains are driven by voters' spending on private insurance and increased willingness to take risks when spared from disaster. I therefore advance an alternative theoretical explanation for vote choice under uncertainty. Relying on novel data on hurricane trajectories, longitudinal precinct electoral returns, risk aversion and private insurance inquiries, these results are politically meaningful not least because US general elections follow closely after the hurricane season.

Chinese Foreign Real Estate Investment and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections
Steven Liao
University of California Working Paper, August 2019


Few economic issues affect people as personally and universally as housing. Yet despite the increasing globalization of housing markets, little is known about its political implications. This study investigates whether rising Chinese investments in U.S. homes influenced local voting in recent U.S. presidential elections. Building on theories of self-interests, sociotropic politics, and nativism, I develop hypotheses on the electoral effects of foreign real estate investment through greater home equity, improved local economies, and increased immigration. Using a series of difference-in-differences designs that combine a unique exogenous shock to Chinese capital outflows in 2013 with original measures of local attractiveness to Chinese investments, I find that greater exposure helped local home prices recover but reduced 2012–2016 presidential vote for the incumbent Democratic Party. Larger white populations exacerbated this negative effect while stronger local economies attenuated it. Contradicting predictions of self-interests, the negative effect exacerbated in areas with high shares of homeowners. Together, the results suggest competing effects driven more by nativist and sociotropic concerns.

Implicit Gender Bias in Linguistic Descriptions for Expected Events: The Cases of the 2016 United States and 2017 United Kingdom Elections
Titus von der Malsburg, Till Poppels & Roger Levy
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Gender stereotypes influence subjective beliefs about the world, and this is reflected in our use of language. But do gender biases in language transparently reflect subjective beliefs? Or is the process of translating thought to language itself biased? During the 2016 United States (N = 24,863) and 2017 United Kingdom (N = 2,609) electoral campaigns, we compared participants’ beliefs about the gender of the next head of government with their use and interpretation of pronouns referring to the next head of government. In the United States, even when the female candidate was expected to win, she pronouns were rarely produced and induced substantial comprehension disruption. In the United Kingdom, where the incumbent female candidate was heavily favored, she pronouns were preferred in production but yielded no comprehension advantage. These and other findings suggest that the language system itself is a source of implicit biases above and beyond previously known biases, such as those measured by the Implicit Association Test.

Trust Nobody: How Conspiracy Theories Can Distort Political Accountability
Giovanna Maria Invernizzi & Ahmed Ezzeldin Mohamed
Columbia University Working Paper, January 2020


Does the spread of conspiracy theories threaten democratic accountability? In this paper, we argue that conspiracy theories can hinder electoral accountability by helping bad politicians evade punishment, while reducing the political rewards of good performance in office. This happens via two mechanisms: (i) decreasing voters’ certainty about new information and the trustworthiness of the informational environment, and (ii) increasing indiscriminate mistrust of political institutions. To test this theory, we design a controlled online experiment among US subjects. Results show that conspiracy theories decrease certainty about new information, trust in sources of information, and trust in political institutions. This has negative implications for the role of voters in holding politicians accountable.

Why Would Hispanics Vote for Trump? Explaining the Controversy of the 2016 Election
Quinn Galbraith & Adam Callister
Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, forthcoming


Donald Trump was particularly vocal in shaping his presidential campaign around policies perceived as being anti-immigration. Consequently, many were shocked that Hispanic support for the Republican Party did not drop in the 2016 presidential election. In fact, our survey, which consisted of 1,080 people of Hispanic descent living in the United States, found that 74% of Hispanic Trump voters were in favor of generally deporting all illegal immigrants. Our results suggest that the population of Hispanics who voted in the 2016 presidential election was, on average, more conservative than the overall population of Hispanics living in the United States. Furthermore, our analysis suggests that issues such as the economy, health care, and education were more important to Hispanic voters than were issues related to immigration.

What’s in a name? Gauging the effect of labels on third party vote shares
M.V. Hood & Seth McKee
Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, forthcoming


In this paper we examine an understudied question: Does the inclusion of a party label boost the vote shares of third party candidates? For years, third parties in Tennessee have contended that the high barrier to appear on the ballot with a label is a decided disadvantage for their candidates. Our empirical analysis, however, tells a different story. Various federal court decisions have allowed third party candidates in Tennessee to appear on the ballot with their respective party label in the 2000, 2012, and 2014 election cycles. This fact creates a ready-made natural experiment whereby the electoral fortunes of third party candidates with a label can be compared to those running without a label. Using data from 1992 through 2016 we test whether the inclusion of a label for third party candidates enhances their vote share. The results of our analysis make it clear that in a dominant two-party system it makes no difference, in terms of electoral viability, whether or not a third party candidate appears on the ballot with a party label.

Lost in the Mail? Vote by Mail and Voter Confidence
Jesse Clark
MIT Working Paper, January 2020


Recently, the use of vote-by-mail has been increasing in popularity, with Washington, Colorado, and Hawaii moving exclusively to mail-based election systems. While election reformers tout the various benefits of this change, what impact does mail voting have on voter confidence? I seek to answer this by by leveraging the implementation of postal voting in Washington and Colorado through the use of the Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE) dataset, along with difference-in-differences design, genetic matching, Mahalanobis distance matching, and ordinal logistic regression analysis. In doing so, I demonstrate that the implementation of vote by mail causes a significant decrease in voter confidence in both states. However, this decrease appears to be temporary, disappearing after only a single election cycle. These results shed light on the potential impact of recent expansions of convenience voting in the United States, while also furthering the debate around perceptions of electoral integrity in democratic systems.

Does Compulsory Voting Foster Civic Duty to Vote?
Fernando Feitosa, André Blais & Ruth Dassonneville
Election Law Journal, forthcoming


Research has established that compulsory voting rules have a strong effect on turnout. There are good reasons to think compulsory voting has such an effect because it leads citizens to feel a stronger sense of civic duty. In this study, we put the link between compulsory voting rules and civic duty to a test by examining whether Chile's abolition of compulsory voting rules, in 2012, affected citizens' belief in the duty to vote. Our results are consistent with the claim that compulsory voting rules strengthen citizens' sense of civic duty to vote, a finding that stands up to several robustness checks.


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