Questionable elections

Kevin Lewis

December 07, 2018

Outcome‐Based Perceptions of Morality and Support for Political Candidates
Caroline Drolet & Carolyn Hafer
Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, forthcoming


During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Trump supporters expressed that they believed Trump was a moral candidate because of his past successes. Such statements are consistent with our argument that people judge others’ morality based on their success and failure‐related outcomes, even though these outcomes are usually associated with judgments of competence. Moreover, we argue that these outcome‐based perceptions of morality play a crucial role in responses to political candidates, independent of perceived competence. In three experiments, we manipulated a hypothetical candidate's outcomes (past successes vs. failures, or success in light of past misfortune vs. good fortune). We examined the effect of the manipulation on perceptions of the candidate's morality and competence, as well as support for the candidate (e.g., voting intentions). Across the three experiments, candidates’ outcomes affected not only perceptions of their competence, but also their morality. In turn, outcome‐based perceptions of competence and morality independently predicted candidate support. Our findings have implications for how people responded to the campaigns in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, especially the campaign run by Donald Trump.

Blue Endorsements Matter: How the Fraternal Order of Police Contributed to Donald Trump’s Victory
Michael Zoorob
PS: Political Science & Politics, forthcoming


Conventional accounts of Donald Trump’s unexpected electoral victory stress idiosyncratic events and media celebrity because most observers assume this unusual candidate won without much organized support. However, considerable evidence suggests that the support of conservative organizational networks, including police unions such as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), propelled Trump to victory. The FOP is both a public-sector union and a conservative, mass-membership fraternal association that was courted by the Trump campaign at a time of politically charged debates about policing. Four years before, the FOP had refused to endorse Republican candidate Mitt Romney because he opposed public-sector unionism, which provided fruitful and rare variation in interest-group behavior across electoral cycles. Using a difference-in-differences approach, I find that FOP lodge density contributed to a significant swing in vote share from Romney to Trump. Moreover, survey evidence indicates that police officers reported increased political engagement in 2016 versus 2012. Belying the notion that Trump lacked a “ground game,” this research suggests that he tapped into existing organizational networks, showing their enduring importance in electoral politics.

Measuring Bias against Female Political Leadership
Mark Setzler
Politics & Gender, forthcoming


Much research examining gender bias in politics analyzes responses to explicit survey questions asking individuals whether they prefer male over female leaders or agree that male political leaders are superior. Drawing insights from the measurement of other types of prejudice, this article explores the methodological shortcomings of a widely used question of this type. Analyzing the results of two surveys — one national and one state-level — I compare response patterns to a standard, highly explicit question that is frequently administered by the Pew Research Center with those for a modestly altered item that employs multiple strategies to reduce social desirability bias. Compared with the alternative measure, the conventional item seriously underreports prejudice against women leaders. Moreover, the underreporting of bias is especially prevalent among individuals belonging to groups that are strong advocates of gender equality.

The Differential Effects of Economic Conditions and Racial Attitudes in the Election of Donald Trump
Jon Green & Sean McElwee
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming


Debates over the extent to which racial attitudes and economic distress explain voting behavior in the 2016 election have tended to be limited in scope, focusing on the extent to which each factor explains white voters’ two-party vote choice. This limited scope obscures important ways in which these factors could have been related to voting behavior among other racial sub-groups of the electorate, as well as participation in the two-party contest in the first place. Using the vote-validated 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, merged with economic data at the ZIP code and county levels, we find that racial attitudes strongly explain two-party vote choice among white voters — in line with a growing body of literature. However, we also find that local economic distress was strongly associated with non-voting among people of color, complicating direct comparisons between racial and economic explanations of the 2016 election and cautioning against generalizations regarding causal emphasis.

The Temporal Dimension of System Justification: Gender Ideology Over the Course of the 2016 Election
Andrea Miller & Eugene Borgida
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Although psychological science has documented individual and situational factors that affect the process of system justification, the temporal dimension of system justification has not been systematically examined. This study used the 2016 U.S. presidential election as a naturalistic setting in which to test for the existence of a temporal dimension. We propose that the potential for a Clinton victory represented a system threat for individuals who supported traditional gender roles, and the approaching election provided a mechanism for measuring the effect of the temporal proximity of the system-threatening event. The results show that gender role ideology played a substantial role in decision-making during the 2016 election, and they support the existence of a temporal dimension of system justification. Participants who began the study with a stronger gender-system justification motive exhibited greater changes in their psychological responses to Clinton over time and greater sensitivity to the temporal proximity of the election.

What Are Good‐Looking Candidates, and Can They Sway Election Results?
Rodrigo Praino & Daniel Stockemer
Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming

Methods: We proceed in four distinct steps, using data from the 2008 U.S. House of Representatives elections. First, we collect data on candidate attractiveness. Second, we build our “ideal candidates” and obtain their attractiveness ranking. Third, we model the effect of candidate attractiveness on candidate vote margins. Fourth, we run four hypothetical scenarios that assess whether candidate attractiveness can sway the electoral results in marginal seats.

Results: About two‐thirds of marginal races would trigger a different winner if the actual loser looked like our ideal candidates. In addition, virtually every single marginal race would have had a different outcome if the unsuccessful candidate looked like our “ideal candidate” and the successful candidate was very unattractive.

The Comeback Kid: Donald Trump on Election Day in 2016
Seth McKee, Daniel Smith & Trey Hood
PS: Political Science & Politics, forthcoming


The surprise outcome of the 2016 presidential election continues to raise more questions as experts grapple with the evidence for why most prognosticators considered a Hillary Clinton victory almost certain. This article uses the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study data to show that a primary explanation for why the election of Donald Trump was difficult to predict is that the bulk of his support did not materialize until Election Day, in the battleground states that he had to carry to win the Electoral College.

Prospects for Third Party Electoral Success in a Polarized Era
Sean Goff & Daniel Lee
American Politics Research, forthcoming


The trend of increasing major party polarization in the United States has raised concerns about the quality of representation and governance. One potential corrective is third parties, as they can hold the major parties accountable and instigate positive change. We, however, highlight limits to their influence. Two factors dampened the electoral support for third party candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential election despite favorable conditions. First, the cost of third party voting is higher in the current polarized era, since casting a vote for a third party can lead to their less-favored major party candidate winning. Voters today have especially negative feelings toward their less-favored major party. Second, Trump co-opted voters distrustful of the government, which is a group that tends to support third parties. Our analysis of American National Election Studies (ANES) data from 1992 and 2016 shows support for both factors.

Bounding Partisan Approval Rates under Endogenous Partisanship: Why High Presidential Partisan Approval May Not Be What It Seems
Pablo Montagnes, Zachary Peskowitz & Joshua McCrain
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


The presidential approval rate among a president’s copartisans has received a great deal of attention and is an important quantity for understanding accountability of the executive branch. We show that the reported composition of the president’s party is endogenous to presidential popularity, with the party growing and becoming more ideologically moderate as presidential popularity increases. As a result, observed partisan approval rates may be biased because of compositional change in respondents who self-identify with the president’s party. We derive bounds on the compositionally corrected partisan approval rate under a theoretically motivated monotonicity condition. We examine how the bounds have evolved during the Obama and Trump presidencies. The proportion of survey respondents who identify with the Republican party has decreased rapidly from the preelection benchmark during the Trump presidency and, as a result, the lower bound on Trump’s partisan approval rate is much lower than at a comparable point in the Obama presidency.

The Print Media and the American Party System: Evidence from the 2016 US Presidential Election
Michael Olson
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, October 2018, Pages 405-426


Does the ability of newspapers to influence readers' political choices extend to third parties? In this paper, I exploit a rare third-party endorsement by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in the 2016 US Presidential election to evaluate whether voters can be persuaded by the print media to vote for an unorthodox alternative. To establish the causal effect of this endorsement, I exploit discontinuous access to the newspaper at the edges of its delivery area, combined with ZIP Code-level data on newspaper readership and vote totals. Estimates suggest that this endorsement's persuasion rate was similar to those reported in previous research on major-party endorsements, despite the substantial barriers faced by third parties and their potential supporters. This suggests that newspapers could draw voters away from major parties if they more frequently endorsed and covered them and, consequently, that the typical pattern of endorsing and covering major parties buttresses the Democratic--Republican party system.

Descriptive Representation in Election Administration: Poll Workers and Voter Confidence
Bridgett King & Alicia Barnes
Election Law Journal, forthcoming


Citizen confidence in elections remains a salient topic when discussing democracy and representation. While scholars have argued that voter experiences affect satisfaction, confidence, and trust more broadly, often absent from this conversation is the unique role that poll workers play in shaping citizen confidence. For racial and ethnic minorities, descriptive representation in public institutions has a positive effect on trust in administrative procedures. However, the relationship between descriptive representation and confidence in local election administration has received limited attention. Utilizing the Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE), we investigate the influence of poll workers on citizen confidence in local election operations. Specifically, we focus on the relationship between citizen interaction with racially/ethnically congruent poll workers and trust in American elections for African American and Hispanic voters. Findings indicate that for African American and Hispanic voters, in-person interaction with a poll worker of the same race/ethnicity increases general confidence in election administration.

Voting for women in nonpartisan and partisan elections
Alex Badas & Katelyn Stauffer
Electoral Studies, forthcoming


Evidence on whether there is a gender-affinity effect in US elections is mixed. In this article, we develop a theory of when gender-affinity effects will be present and when they will be absent. Crucial to our theory is electoral context. In nonpartisan context, women will rely on a representational cue and this will produce evidence of gender-affinity effects. However, in partisan contexts, all voters will use partisanship as a cue and women will not need to rely on a representational cue and there will be no evidence of gender-affinity effects. We test and find support for our theory using data on vote choice in the 2012 state supreme court elections and a set of conjoint experiments. Our results have implications for theories of descriptive representation and the design of electoral institutions.

Media Coverage, Public Interest, and Support in the 2016 Republican Invisible Primary
Kevin Reuning & Nick Dietrich
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming


Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 presidential primary election prompted scrutiny for the role of news media in elections. Was Trump successful because news media publicized his campaign and crowded out coverage of other candidates? We examine the dynamic relationships between media coverage, public interest, and support for candidates in the time preceding the 2016 Republican presidential primary to determine (1) whether media coverage drives support for candidates at the polls and (2) whether this relationship was different for Trump than for other candidates. We find for all candidates that the quantity of media coverage had significant and long-lasting effects on public interest in that candidate. Most candidates do not perform better in the polls following increases in media coverage. Trump is an exception to this finding, receiving a modest polling bump following an increase in media coverage. These findings suggest that viability cues from news media contributed to Trump’s success and can be influential in setting the stage in primary elections.

Evidence that Casting a Ballot Increases Political Trust: Isolating the Downstream Effects of Voting by Generating Exogenous Shocks in Turnout
Victoria Shineman
University of Pittsburgh Working Paper, October 2018


This study provides empirical evidence that the act of voting causes trust in government to increase. Because political participation is also affected by political trust, empirical identification is challenging. An intensive mobilization treatment randomly increases instrumental motivations to cast a ballot in a local election, successfully generating a substantial increase in turnout. The mobilization treatment is treated as an instrumental variable, in order to isolate exogenously-driven increases in participation. The analysis estimates the effects of casting a ballot on trust in government. The results suggest that the act of voting causes citizens to increase their trust in both the electoral system used on the ballot, and in the government elected in that election. Additional analyses suggest the effects of voting are strongest among citizens who also approve of the electoral outcome, and among citizens who were not previously registered to vote.

Weathering the Storm: Conditional Effects of Natural Disasters on Retrospective Voting in Gubernatorial Elections — A Replication and Extension
Kevin Stout
Research & Politics, November 2018


Previous research shows that uncontrollable events like natural disasters hinder incumbent leaders’ chances at re-election, but also suggests that competent responses to such crises can benefit incumbents. Replicating and extending the work of other researchers, I show that disasters are informative events in retrospective voting where leaders have the opportunity to demonstrate competence and be rewarded by voters while incapable leaders face punishment for their failure to respond to such a crisis. Governors see greater electoral rewards for demonstrating competence when disaster damage is high as well as when the political situation is more difficult. In the context of a leader’s decision-making process, this reveals a complex and conditional relationship between voters and the leaders they are evaluating.

A God of Vengeance and of Reward? Voters and Accountability
John Griffin, Brian Newman & David Nickerson
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Theories of democratic politics prize congruence between citizens’ preferences and their elected representatives’ actions in office. Elections are a critical means for achieving such policy congruence, providing voters the opportunity to chasten representatives who are out of step with constituent preferences and to reward the faithful. Do voters act this way? Recent studies based on observational data find they do, but these data are somewhat limited. We employ a survey experiment to estimate the extent to which information about policy congruence affects voters’ evaluations of representatives. We informed some subjects how often their member of Congress’s voting decisions match their own stated preferences on the same policies. We find that information about congruence enhances accountability by affecting constituent evaluations of representatives and may also affect citizens’ propensity to participate in upcoming elections.

Twitter Influencers in the 2016 US Congressional Races
Yotam Shmargad
Journal of Political Marketing, forthcoming


In this paper, I outline a method for collecting Twitter data to identify two types of political actors that are increasingly prominent in social media environments: influential politicians and politicized influencers. Influential politicians are those whose messages are readily retweeted (i.e., shared) while politicized influencers are users who retweet politicians’ messages and who themselves receive many retweets. I find that highly retweeted politicized influencers tend not to have formal political affiliations, and so are politically influential but not in an official political capacity. I then relate the Twitter data to electoral outcomes of the 2016 US congressional races. I find that, for richer candidates and incumbents, receiving many retweets is associated with higher vote percentages while, for poorer candidates and challengers, receiving retweets from highly retweeted users is associated with higher vote percentages. Better-off candidates should thus strive to be influential politicians, whereas worse-off candidates should aim to get retweeted by influential users. I argue that the rise of social media begs for a study of what we might call influencer politics, which allows for new empirical investigations into the role that social media play in shaping the democratic process.


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