Privileging Voters

Kevin Lewis

March 19, 2021

How Did Absentee Voting Affect the 2020 U.S. Election?
Jesse Yoder et al.
Stanford Working Paper, March 2021


The 2020 U.S. election saw high turnout, a huge increase in absentee voting, and brought unified national Democratic control -- yet, contrary to much punditry, these facts do not imply that vote-by-mail increased turnout or had major partisan effects. In fact, states newly implementing no-excuse absentee voting for 2020 did not see dramatically larger increases in turnout than states that did not. Focusing on natural experiments in Texas and Indiana, we find that 65-year-olds turned out at nearly the same rate as 64-year-olds, despite voting absentee at higher rates since they didn’t have to provide an excuse to do so. Being old enough to vote no-excuse absentee did not substantially increase Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout, either. In sum, no-excuse absentee voting seems to have mobilized few voters and had a muted partisan effect despite the historic pandemic. Voter interest appears to be far more important in driving turnout.

The durable differential deterrent effects of strict photo identification laws
Justin Grimmer & Jesse Yoder
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


An increasing number of states have adopted laws that require voters to show photo identification to vote. We show that the differential effect of the laws on turnout among those who lack ID persists even after the laws are repealed. We leverage administrative data from North Carolina and a photo ID law in effect for a primary, but not the subsequent general, election. Using exact matching and a difference-in-differences design, we show that for the 3 percent of voters who lack ID in North Carolina, the ID law caused a 0.7 percentage point turnout decrease in the 2016 primary election relative to those with ID. After the law was suspended, this effect persisted: those without ID were 2.6 percentage points less likely to turnout in the 2016 general election and 1.7 percentage points less likely to turnout in the 2018 general.

Campaign Finance Regulations and Public Policy
Martin Gilens, Shawn Patterson & Pavielle Haines
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


Despite a century of efforts to constrain money in American elections, there is little consensus on whether campaign finance regulations make any appreciable difference. Here we take advantage of a change in the campaign finance regulations of half of the U.S. states mandated by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. This exogenously imposed change in the regulation of independent expenditures provides an advance over the identification strategies used in most previous studies. Using a generalized synthetic control method, we find that after Citizens United, states that had previously banned independent corporate expenditures (and thus were “treated” by the decision) adopted more “corporate-friendly” policies on issues with broad effects on corporations’ welfare; we find no evidence of shifts on policies with little or no effect on corporate welfare. We conclude that even relatively narrow changes in campaign finance regulations can have a substantively meaningful influence on government policy making.

Economic distress and voting: Evidence from the subprime mortgage crisis
Andrew Hall, Jesse Yoder & Nishant Karandikar
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


We use nationwide deed-level records on home foreclosures to examine the effects of economic distress on electoral outcomes and individual voter turnout. County-level difference-in-differences estimates show that counties that suffered larger increases in foreclosures did not punish or reward members of the incumbent president's party more than less affected counties. Linking the Ohio voter file to individual foreclosures, difference-in-differences estimates show that individuals whose homes were foreclosed on were less likely to turn out, rather than being mobilized. However, in 2016 counties more exposed to foreclosures supported Trump at substantially higher rates. Taken together, the evidence suggests that the effect of local economic distress on incumbent performance is generally close to zero and only becomes substantial in unusual circumstances.

When does inequality demobilize? New evidence from the American states
David Macdonald
Electoral Studies, April 2021


Income inequality has been rising throughout the industrialized world, particularly in the United States. This long been thought to depress turnout, but extant research has yielded mixed findings. Here, I argue that the inequality-turnout relationship is conditional, depending crucially on election salience. I test this by using three decades (1984–2014) of panel data from the U.S. states and by leveraging the fixed and exogenous occurrence of presidential (higher-salience) and midterm (lower-salience) elections. Overall, I find a negative and statistically significant relationship between income inequality and voter turnout in midterm election years, but a substantively small and non-significant relationship in presidential election years. I attribute this to the ability of presidential contests, relative to midterms, to counteract the demobilizing influence of high inequality, by piquing voters’ interest and activating citizens who would otherwise abstain. Overall, these findings help us to better understand of the politics of electoral participation in an era of high, and rising economic inequality.

Gender and policy persuasion
Georgia Anderson-Nilsson & Amanda Clayton
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


Are policy arguments more or less persuasive when they are made by female politicians? Using a diverse sample of American respondents, we conduct a survey experiment which randomly varies the gender associated with two co-partisan candidates across four policy debates. We find strong effects contingent on respondent partisanship and gender, most notably on the issue of access to birth control. On this issue, regardless of the candidate's stance, Democratic respondents, particularly Democratic men, are much more likely to agree with the female candidate. Conversely, Republican respondents, particularly Republican women, are much more likely to agree with the male candidate. We discuss the implications of our findings for the meaning of gender as a heuristic in a highly partisan environment.

Terrorism and Voting Behavior: Evidence from the United States
Leonardo Baccini et al.
Research & Politics, January 2021


This article examines the impact of terrorism on voting behavior in the United States. We rely on an exhaustive list of terror attacks over the period 1970–2016 and exploit the inherent randomness of the success or failure of terror attacks to identify the political impacts of terrorism. We first confirm that the success of terror attacks is plausibly random by showing that it is orthogonal to potential confounders. We then show that on average successful attacks have no effect on presidential and non-presidential elections. As a benchmark, we also rely on a more naïve identification strategy using all the counties not targeted by terrorists as a comparison group. We show that using this naïve identification strategy leads to strikingly different results overestimating the effect of terror attacks on voting behavior. Overall, our results indicate that terrorism has less of an influence on voters than is usually thought.

Wikipedia: A Challenger’s Best Friend? Utilising Information-seeking Behaviour Patterns to Predict US Congressional Elections
Hamza Salem & Fabian Stephany
University of Oxford Working Paper, October 2020


Election prediction has long been an evergreen in political science literature. Traditionally, such efforts included polling aggregates, economic indicators, partisan affiliation, and campaign effects to predict aggregate voting outcomes. With increasing secondary usage of online-generated data in social science, researchers have begun to consult metadata from widely used web-based platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Trends and Wikipedia to calibrate forecasting models. Web-based platforms offer the means for voters to retrieve detailed campaign-related information, and for researchers to study the popularity of campaigns and public sentiment surrounding them. However, past contributions have often overlooked the interaction between conventional election variables and information-seeking behaviour patterns. In this work, we aim to unify traditional and novel methodology by considering how information retrieval differs between incumbent and challenger campaigns, as well as the effect of perceived candidate viability and media coverage on Wikipedia’s predictive ability. In order to test our hypotheses, we use election data from United States Congressional (Senate and House) elections between 2016 and 2018. We demonstrate that Wikipedia data, as a proxy for information-seeking behaviour patterns, is particularly useful for predicting the success of well-funded challengers who are relatively less covered in the media. In general, our findings underline the importance of a mixed-data approach to predictive analytics in computational social science.


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