Tough Elections

Kevin Lewis

June 21, 2024

Razor-Thin Mass Elections with High Turnout
David Levine & Cesar Martinelli
International Economic Review, forthcoming

We argue that traditional voting models fail to fully explain the frequency of very close mass elections with high turnout. Instead, we model elections as a competition between incentive schemes to mobilize voters. We elucidate conditions under which parties might prefer close elections, as the potential to be pivotal motivates voters instead of exclusively costly incentives as in nonclose elections. We show that, under those conditions, better voter targeting results in tighter races and increased turnout. Furthermore, the smaller party often has a strong incentive to commit to strategies that ensure a close election.

The Impact of Online Competition on Local Newspapers: Evidence from the Introduction of Craigslist
Milena Djourelova, Ruben Durante & Gregory Martin
Review of Economic Studies, forthcoming

How does competition from online platforms affect the organization, performance, and editorial choices of newspapers? What are the implications of these changes for the information voters are exposed to and for their political choices? We study these questions using the staggered introduction of Craigslist -- the world's largest online platform for classified advertising -- across US counties between 1995 and 2009. This setting allows us to separate the effect of competition for classified advertising from other changes brought about by the Internet, and to compare newspapers that relied more or less heavily on classified ads ex ante. We find that, following the entry of Craigslist, local newspapers reliant on classified ads experienced a significant decline in the number of management and newsroom staff, including in the number of editors covering politics. These organizational changes led to a reduction in news coverage of politics and resulted in a decline in newspaper readership, particularly among readers with high political interest. Finally, we document that reduced exposure to local political news was associated with an increase in partisan voting and increased entry and success of ideologically extreme candidates in congressional elections. Taken together, our findings shed light on the determinants of the decline of print media and on its broader implications for democratic politics.

U.S. Democratic Backsliding and the Decline of Democratic Support Abroad
Amnon Cavari, Amichai Magen & Benjamin Yoel
International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Summer 2024

A burgeoning literature considers the domestic causes and consequences of democratic backsliding for public perceptions of democracy but has yet to fully examine the role of international factors in explaining these perceptions. Specifically, the effect of democratic backsliding in one democracy on public support for democratic principles in other countries has, thus far, defied theoretical and empirical investigation. Addressing this gap, we propose and test a theory of the effects of backsliding on global opinion in which information about democratic decline in one country can lead to increased support for authoritarian governance in another country. To test this, we use an original survey experiment in Israel where we test the effect of two narratives regarding the 2020 U.S. elections -- one signaling democratic decline and one signaling democratic resilience -- on support for authoritarian governance. We find that respondents exposed to the narrative of U.S. democratic decline were more supportive of authoritarian governance compared to respondents exposed to the narrative of democratic resilience. We further find marginal evidence that the respondents' ideological preferences condition the effect of narrative exposure. Our findings suggest that the democratic backsliding literature has insufficiently explored the global consequences of domestic events and processes on democratic decline worldwide.

The effects of Facebook and Instagram on the 2020 election: A deactivation experiment
Hunt Allcott et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 21 May 2024

We study the effect of Facebook and Instagram access on political beliefs, attitudes, and behavior by randomizing a subset of 19,857 Facebook users and 15,585 Instagram users to deactivate their accounts for 6 wk before the 2020 U.S. election. We report four key findings. First, both Facebook and Instagram deactivation reduced an index of political participation (driven mainly by reduced participation online). Second, Facebook deactivation had no significant effect on an index of knowledge, but secondary analyses suggest that it reduced knowledge of general news while possibly also decreasing belief in misinformation circulating online. Third, Facebook deactivation may have reduced self-reported net votes for Trump, though this effect does not meet our preregistered significance threshold. Finally, the effects of both Facebook and Instagram deactivation on affective and issue polarization, perceived legitimacy of the election, candidate favorability, and voter turnout were all precisely estimated and close to zero.

Why Making Voting Easier Isn't Enough: Early Voting, Campaigns, and Voter Turnout
Brian Hamel, Jan Leighley & Robert Stein
American Politics Research, July 2024, Pages 343-354

Early voting laws intended to increase voter turnout seem to have had little to no effect on turnout. Why? We argue that the effects of early voting on turnout are contingent on campaigns providing citizens with information about the election, their choices, and how to vote early. When campaigns do so, turnout increases because citizens are more likely to vote - and more likely to vote early. Using individual-level panel data, we show that direct campaign contact increases turnout exclusively via the use of early voting. Using county-level data, we show that campaign ad volume also increases turnout via an increase in early voting turnout. Our results affirm our expectation that campaigns facilitate the expected mobilizing effects of early voting. At the same time, the effects of campaigns on early voting are small in magnitude, and emerge only under campaign mobilization conditions that are more the exception than the norm.

Evaluating the persuasive influence of political microtargeting with large language models
Kobi Hackenburg & Helen Margetts
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 June 2024

Recent advancements in large language models (LLMs) have raised the prospect of scalable, automated, and fine-grained political microtargeting on a scale previously unseen; however, the persuasive influence of microtargeting with LLMs remains unclear. Here, we build a custom web application capable of integrating self-reported demographic and political data into GPT-4 prompts in real-time, facilitating the live creation of unique messages tailored to persuade individual users on four political issues. We then deploy this application in a preregistered randomized control experiment (n = 8,587) to investigate the extent to which access to individual-level data increases the persuasive influence of GPT-4. Our approach yields two key findings. First, messages generated by GPT-4 were broadly persuasive, in some cases increasing support for an issue stance by up to 12 percentage points. Second, in aggregate, the persuasive impact of microtargeted messages was not statistically different from that of non-microtargeted messages (4.83 vs. 6.20 percentage points, respectively, P = 0.226). These trends hold even when manipulating the type and number of attributes used to tailor the message. These findings suggest -- contrary to widespread speculation -- that the influence of current LLMs may reside not in their ability to tailor messages to individuals but rather in the persuasiveness of their generic, nontargeted messages. We release our experimental dataset, GPTarget2024, as an empirical baseline for future research.

Political Fear and Loathing on Wall Street: Electoral Risk Hedging in the United States (1986-2020)
Sebastian Saiegh
Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy, November 2023, Pages 311-331

To the extent that asset prices are responsive to unexpected political events, hedging against election risk should be valuable to investors. This study uses option prices to investigate market expectations of electorally-induced financial risk in the United States between 1986 and 2020. The evidence reveals that the sensitivity of asset prices to U.S. national election outcomes is quite large, statistically significant, and varied substantially over time. A comparison between the electoral risk estimates (based on option prices) and the actual post-electoral volatility of stock market returns, indicates that hedging against election risk has become increasingly expensive over time. Finally, an examination of the 2016 presidential election suggests that options markets may provide more reliable estimates of electoral uncertainty than election forecasts based on public opinion polls and/or prediction markets.

Did private election administration funding advantage Democrats in 2020?
Apoorva Lal & Daniel Thompson
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 28 May 2024

Private donors contributed more than $350 million to local election officials to support the administration of the 2020 election. Supporters argue these grants were neutral and necessary to maintain normal election operations during the pandemic, while critics worry these grants mostly went to Democratic strongholds and tilted election outcomes. How much did these grants shape the 2020 presidential election? To answer this question, we collect administrative data on private election administration grants and election outcomes. We then use advances in synthetic control methods to compare presidential election results and turnout in counties that received grants to counties with similar election results and turnout before 2020. While Democratic counties were more likely to apply for a grant, we find that the grants did not have a noticeable effect on the presidential election. Our estimates of the average effect on Democratic vote share range from 0.03 to 0.36 percentage points. Our estimates of the average effect of receiving a grant on turnout range from 0.03 to 0.14 percentage points. Across specifications, our 95% CIs typically include negative effects and all fail to include effects on Democratic vote share larger than 0.58 percentage points and effects on turnout larger than 0.40 percentage points. We characterize the magnitude of our effects by asking how large they are compared to the margin by which Biden won the 2020 election. In simple bench-marking exercises, we find that the effects of the grants were likely too small to have changed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Inflation in 2022 did not affect congressional voting, but abortion did
Diana Mutz & Edward Mansfield
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 21 May 2024

This study examines voting in the 2022 United States congressional elections, contests that were widely expected to produce a sizable defeat for Democratic candidates for largely economic reasons. Based on a representative national probability sample of voters interviewed in both 2020 and 2022, individuals who changed their vote from one party's congressional candidate to another party's candidate did not do so in response to the salience of inflation or declining economic conditions. Instead, we find strong evidence that views on abortion were central to shifting votes in the midterm elections. Americans who favored (opposed) legal abortions were more likely to shift from voting for Republican (Democratic) candidates in 2020 to Democratic (Republican) candidates in 2022. Since a larger number of Americans supported than opposed legal abortions, the combination of these shifts ultimately improved the electoral prospects of Democratic candidates. New voters were especially likely to weigh abortion views heavily in their vote-shifting calculus. Likewise, those respondents whose confidence in the US Supreme Court declined from 2020 to 2022 were more likely to shift from voting for Republican to Democratic congressional candidates. We provide direct empirical evidence that changes in support for the Supreme Court, a nonpartisan branch of the federal government, are implicated in partisan voting behavior in another branch of government. We explore the implications of these findings for prevalent assumptions about how economic conditions influence voting, as well as for the relationship between the judiciary and electoral politics.

When Push Comes to Shove: An Experimental Analysis of Voter Support of a Woman President and the 2024 Nomination
Meagan Tadevich, Ashley Hutson & Gregory Shufeldt
American Politics Research, July 2024, Pages 414-431

A woman has not yet shattered the "hardest, highest glass ceiling" of the American presidency. Our research answers two questions: Which groups are more likely to believe electing a woman president to be historically important? (R1), and When a presidential election is at stake, who is likely to support a woman candidate? (R2). Using observational data (n = 1075), our findings indicate that women, people who recognize sexism within politics, Democrats, and liberals are more likely to view a woman president as historic. Utilizing a list experiment of hypothetical 2024 presidential matchups, few who claimed to view a woman president as historic were willing to cast a vote in their favor. When push came to shove, Democratic women were the group most likely to vote for a woman presidential candidate. As parties look toward the future, this study offers insight into how voters respond to potential nominees and who parties will nominate.


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