Running wild

Kevin Lewis

December 11, 2015

Negative Advertising and Political Competition

Amit Gandhi, Daniela Iorio & Carly Urban
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, forthcoming

Why is negative advertising such a prominent feature of competition in the US political market? We hypothesize that two-candidate races provide stronger incentives for going negative relative to non-duopoly contests: when the number of competitors is greater than two, airing negative ads creates positive externalities for opponents that are not the object of the attack. To investigate the empirical relevance of the fewness of competitors in explaining the volume of negative advertising, we exploit variation in the number of entrants running for US non-presidential primaries from 2000 through 2008. Duopolies are over twice as likely to air a negative ad when compared to non-duopolies, and the tendency for negative advertising decreases in the number of competitors. The estimates are robust to various specification checks and the inclusion of potential confounding factors at the race, candidate, and advertisement levels.


Assessing (and Fixing?) Election Day Lines: Evidence from a Survey of Local Election Officials

Stephen Ansolabehere & Daron Shaw
Electoral Studies, March 2016, Pages 1-11

Despite recent studies that find few people face significant wait times when attempting to vote in U.S. elections, the 2012 election produced numerous anecdotal and journalistic accounts claiming otherwise. This study relies on a national survey of local election officials to systematically ascertain their views about the challenges and successes they had in administering the 2012 general election. Consistent with surveys of voters, most officials report that wait times and lines were minimal. Furthermore, the relative amount of money available to a jurisdiction for election administration was unrelated to the occurrence of these problems, while the presence of more poll workers - especially first-timers - may actually exacerbate them.


Wage Reimbursement and Minority Voter Turnout

Joshua Hostetter
Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming

Objective: In this article, I estimate the conditional effect of racial minorities and women on the relationship between wage reimbursement laws and voter turnout. Scholars have found evidence that voting laws affect demographic segments of the population differently. However, scholars have not considered the theoretical implications of pay incentive structures for different minority groups.

Methods: Using pooled cross-sectional survey data from the November Supplement Current Population Survey 1996-2012, I test whether paid time off to vote laws increase the likelihood of voting for racial and gender minorities.

Results: The findings indicate that women and Asian Americans are highly responsive to wage reimbursement, Hispanic Americans are relatively unresponsive, and blacks are highly unresponsive relative to whites.

Conclusions: Reimbursing minorities for wages lost while voting decreases the costs of voting and increases turnout for these racial and gender minority groups except for blacks. I suggest the long history of discrimination and mistreatment by economic and political institutions has led to a lower level of blacks willing to engage in wage reimbursement because of mistrust in the delivery system.


The Value of the Right to Vote

Stephan Tontrup & Rebecca Morton
NYU Working Paper, November 2015

We conducted a mixed lab and field experiment during a naturally occurring election presenting subjects with the opportunity to relinquish their voting rights for money. Significantly more participants refused to sell their rights than later submitted a vote. We rule out that ethical objections distort our results. In another treatment we gave subjects an incentive to vote. After the election we measured their knowledge concerning the parties' and candidates' positions. Even though many participants would not have voted without the incentive, they were significantly more knowledgeable suggesting that they value their voting rights. Our study suggests that people derive strong utility from their democratic rights and status independently of whether they intend to use them. Our new concept of rights utility suggests that low turnout does not translate into voter apathy and should not be used to justify quorum rules and the general reduction of voting rights.


Negative Campaigning, Fundraising, and Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment

Jared Barton, Marco Castillo & Ragan Petrie
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, forthcoming

Why do candidates risk alienating voters by engaging in negative campaigning? One answer may lie in the large empirical literature indicating that negative messages are more effective than positive messages in getting individuals to do many things, including voting and purchasing goods. Few contributions to this literature, however, gather data from a field environment with messages whose tone has been validated. We conduct field experiments in two elections for local office which test the effect of confirmed negative and positive letters sent to candidates' partisans on two measurable activities: donating to the candidate and turning out to vote. We find that message tone increases partisan support in ways that may help explain the persistence of negative campaigning. Negative messages are no better than positive messages at earning the candidates donations, but negative messages yield significantly higher rates of voter turnout among the candidates' partisans relative to positive messages. Positive messages, however, are not neutral relative to no message.


Racial Salience, Viability, and the Wilder Effect: Evaluating Polling Accuracy for Black Candidates

Christopher Stout & Reuben Kline
Public Opinion Quarterly, Winter 2015, Pages 994-1014

This study assesses whether polling discrepancies for black candidates can be explained by an interaction of racial salience in an election and the candidate's electoral strength. We hypothesize that voters will have few nonracial justifications for their lack of support for a black candidate when race is a salient issue and the candidate is electorally viable. As a result, polls will experience more problems with socially desirable response bias in such contexts. We use pre-election polls for the near-complete universe of black US Senate and gubernatorial candidates from 1982 to 2010, statewide polls from the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, and an original measure of the racialization to test our hypothesis. Our results demonstrate that the racialization of the election leads polls to significantly overestimate only support for state-level black candidates and President Obama in contexts where the candidate has the most electoral strength. In the conclusion, we discuss how the results inform pollsters about potential hazards for social desirability response bias.


Some Folks You Just Can't Reach: The Genetic Heritability of Presidential Approval

Matthew Miles
Presidential Studies Quarterly, December 2015, Pages 760-777

Among the more robust fields of study in American politics is presidential approval. The influence of rally events, the economy, political sophistication, and partisanship on political attitudes began with explorations into the dynamics of presidential approval. Despite this, we lack a complete understanding of the processes through which people evaluate presidential performance. This article proposes a theoretical model that explains how presidential performance evaluations are strongly influenced by one's genetic makeup. The model is tested using twin data to estimate the genetic heritability of presidential performance evaluations and finds that presidential approval has a strong genetic component.


Money That Draws No Interest: Public Financing of Legislative Elections and Candidate Emergence

Raymond La Raja & David Wiltse
Election Law Journal, forthcoming

The lack of candidates and low competition for American legislatures prompts the search for institutional reforms to encourage more citizens to run for office. One proposed remedy is to provide public subsidies to qualified candidates to mitigate the cost of fundraising and improve the odds of winning. This study provides an empirical test of whether subsidies attract additional candidates. Using new data from a unique panel survey of political elites in Connecticut before and after reform, the findings indicate that subsidies may change attitudes about the cost of running, but they have little direct impact on the decision to run because other factors are much more salient. The results highlight the strength of the "strategic candidate" thesis and illustrate the difficulty of designing institutions to encourage more people to run for office.


Cross-cutting Messages and Voter Turnout: Evidence from a Same-Sex Marriage Amendment

Ying Shi
Political Communication, forthcoming

Does disagreement stimulate political participation, or discourage it? Some researchers find that exposure to cross-cutting views demobilizes voters. Selection bias in the way individuals expose themselves to disagreement and other sources of endogeneity pose challenges to causal inference. I address these concerns by using an experimental design that exogenously assigns cross-cutting or reinforcing messages. A random sample of North Carolina Democrats and Republicans received postcards summarizing either liberal or conservative opinions on a statewide same-sex marriage amendment. I find that individuals exposed to disagreement demobilize by 1.0 to 1.6 percentage points, with the majority of the combined effect attributable to a 2.0-percentage point decrease in turnout among Republicans receiving a Democratic message. I observe a similar level of demobilization when defining disagreement on the basis of predicted issue position on same-sex marriage in place of partisan affiliation. The effects are strongest among moderate supporters of traditional marriage that receive a cross-cutting treatment. The experimental design thus enables causal evidence on the nuanced interactions between political or issue position and exposure to campaign information from the opposing side.


Death and Turnout: The Human Costs of War and Voter Participation in Democracies

Michael Koch & Stephen Nicholson
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

War heightens public interest in politics, especially when human lives are lost. We examine whether, and how, combat casualties affect the decision to vote in established democracies. Drawing from social psychology research on mortality salience, we expect increasing casualties to increase the salience of death, information that moves people to defend their worldview, especially nationalistic and ideological values. By heightening the importance of values, we propose that combat casualties increase the benefits of voting. In particular, we expect the effect of combat casualties to be pronounced among the least politically engaged. Using both cross-national data of elections in 23 democracies over a 50-year period and survey data from the United States and United Kingdom during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we found that mounting casualties increase turnout. Furthermore, as expected, we found the effect of casualties to be most pronounced among those least interested in politics.


The psychological roots of populist voting: Evidence from the United States, the Netherlands and Germany

Bert Bakker, Matthijs Rooduijn & Gijs Schumacher
European Journal of Political Research, forthcoming

What are the psychological roots of support for populist parties or outfits such as the Tea Party, the Dutch Party for Freedom or Germany's Left Party? Populist parties have as a common denominator that they employ an anti-establishment message, which they combine with some 'host' ideology. Building on the congruency model of political preference, it is to be expected that a voter's personality should match with the message and position of his or her party. This article theorises that a low score on the personality trait Agreeableness matches the anti-establishment message and should predict voting for populist parties. Evidence is found for this hypothesis in the United States, the Netherlands and Germany. The relationship between low Agreeableness and voting for populist parties is robust, controlling for other personality traits, authoritarianism, sociodemographic characteristics and ideology. Thus, explanations of the success of populism should take personality traits into account.


Billboards and Turnout: A Randomized Field Experiment

Costas Panagopoulos & Shang Ha
Journal of Political Marketing, Fall 2015, Pages 391-404

Scholars argue that mass media appeals and other examples of communications that provide "noticeable reminders" to vote should elevate voter turnout (Dale and Strauss 2009), but a wide range of field experimental studies show that messages delivered via untargeted and impersonal means (such as mass media) are ineffective (Green and Gerber 2008). We test these competing hypotheses in a randomized, mass media field experiment using billboard advertisements to mobilize participation in local elections taking place in November 2007. Despite that outdoor advertising is commonly used in political campaigns to widely reach citizens, no study of which we are aware has experimentally tested the causal effects of billboard advertising on voter turnout. Our findings suggest that billboards are ineffective in generating higher levels of voter turnout. We discuss these results in comparison with other mass media advertisements and other get-out-the-vote methods. Experimental replication and extension is necessary to probe further the impact of outdoor advertising on voting behavior.


What's the Matter with Palm Beach County?

Eric Uslaner
Politics and Religion, forthcoming

American Jews voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2012 despite strong Republican efforts to win their votes. Republicans charged that Obama was not sufficiently supportive of Israel and that Mitt Romney was closer to Jewish opinions on this salient issue. Republicans miscalculated. For most American Jews, Israel was not a key voting issue. American Jews were also closer to Obama on Middle East issues than they were to Republicans. There was also a cultural chasm between American Jews and the Tea Party, reflective of long-standing tensions between Jews and evangelicals. Using surveys of the Jewish vote and the full electorate, I show that this cultural divide was more salient for Jews than for other white voters - and that there is at least preliminary evidence that this cultural divide may be important for other minority groups.


The Impact of District Magnitude on Voter Drop-Off and Roll-Off in American Elections

Paul Herrnson, Jeffrey Taylor & James Curry
Legislative Studies Quarterly, November 2015, Pages 627-650

This study demonstrates that multimember districts (MMDs) complicate ballots, reduce voter information, and increase incentives for strategic voting in ways that reduce voter participation. Using data from three states that elect members of at least one legislative chamber from both single-member districts (SMDs) and MMDs, we test hypotheses about the impact on MMDs on ballot drop-off (selecting fewer candidates for an office than permissible) and roll-off (not voting in down-ballot races). We find support for both sets of hypotheses, with the strongest results related to ballot drop-off. The results have broad implications for voter participation, representation, and election administration in the many states and localities that use MMDs to elect public officials.


Cueing Patriotism, Prejudice, and Partisanship in the Age of Obama: Experimental Tests of U.S. Flag Imagery Effects in Presidential Elections

Nathan Kalmoe & Kimberly Gross
Political Psychology, forthcoming

The American flag is a powerful symbol that campaigns seek to harness for electoral gain. But the flag's benefits may be more elusive than they appear. We begin by presenting content analysis of the flag's prevalence in 2012 U.S. presidential campaign ads, which suggests both candidates saw flags as advantageous. Then, in two experiments set during the 2012 campaign and a later study with prospective 2016 candidates, we find flag exposure provides modest but consistent benefits for Republican candidates among voters high in symbolic patriotism, racial prejudice, and Republican identification. These effects arise regardless of which candidate appears with the flag. Taken together, our results speak to both the power and limitations of the American flag in electioneering. Beyond practical implications for campaigns, these studies emphasize the heterogeneity of citizens' reactions to visual political symbols and highlight potent links between symbolic attitudes and a nation's flag.


Narratives of a Race: How the Media Judged a Presidential Debate

Zim Nwokora & Lara Brown
American Politics Research, forthcoming

The first debate in 2008 was a turning point in the presidential election campaign: a race that was close before the debate turned decisively in Obama's favor following it. This article explores how the media reached their verdict that "Obama won." We examine two aspects of this problem: how, in practice, the media reached this verdict and whether they made the right decision from a normative standpoint. Based on content analysis of debate transcripts, we argue that the media interpreted the debate by synthesizing three pre-debate narratives in roughly equal proportions. Crucially, two of these narratives favored Obama. We also find that the "Obama won" verdict was consistent with what we might expect had the debate been judged by a public-spirited umpire.


Strategic Challenger Entry in a Federal System: The Role of Economic and Political Conditions in State Legislative Competition

Steven Rogers
Legislative Studies Quarterly, November 2015, Pages 539-570

Over a third of state legislators do not face challengers when seeking reelection. Existing analyses of state legislative contestation almost exclusively focus on the stable institutional features surrounding elections and ignore conditions that change between elections. I remedy this oversight by investigating how political contexts influence challenger entry. State legislators - particularly members of the governor's party - more often face opposition during weak state economies, but the president's copartisans are even more likely to receive a challenger when the president is unpopular. My findings suggest that both national- and state-level political conditions have an important impact on challengers' entry strategies.


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.