Voting smarts

Kevin Lewis

March 09, 2018

Does the Ideological Proximity Between Candidates and Voters Affect Voting in U.S. House Elections?
Chris Tausanovitch & Christopher Warshaw
Political Behavior, March 2018, Pages 223-245


Do citizens hold congressional candidates accountable for their policy positions? Recent studies reach different conclusions on this important question. In line with the predictions of spatial voting theory, a number of recent survey-based studies have found reassuring evidence that voters choose the candidate with the most spatially proximate policy positions. In contrast, most electoral studies find that candidates' ideological moderation has only a small association with vote margins, especially in the modern, polarized Congress. We bring clarity to these discordant findings using the largest dataset to date of voting behavior in congressional elections. We find that the ideological positions of congressional candidates have only a small association with citizens' voting behavior. Instead, citizens cast their votes "as if" based on proximity to parties rather than individual candidates. The modest degree of candidate-centered spatial voting in recent Congressional elections may help explain the polarization and lack of responsiveness in the contemporary Congress.

From the Obama Youthquake of '08 to the Trumpquake of '16: How Young People's Dislike of Hillary Clinton Cost Her the Election
Martin Wattenberg
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Young Americans cost Hillary Clinton the presidency. Voters under the age of 30 liked Barack Obama very much in 2016, just as young people did in 2008 and 2012, but a surprising number balked at voting for Hillary Clinton to continue the Obama legacy. For such a pro-Democratic group, the ratings that young voters gave Clinton were astoundingly low in 2016, spurred in large part by the very poor image they had of her personal character. Also surprising is that young people were not particularly put off by the extreme stands that Donald Trump took on many issues.

Economic Anxieties Undermine Support for Female (but Not Male) Political Candidates
Ryan Lei & Galen Bodenhausen
Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, forthcoming


Are female politicians disadvantaged by adverse economic conditions in ways their male counterparts are not? To examine this issue, we had participants read a news article about the current economic situation. The article emphasized either economic stability or volatility. Afterward, they evaluated an advertisement for either a female or a male candidate for the U.S. Senate. Exposure to news depicting economic instability caused devaluation of the female but not the male candidate. A second study provided a direct replication of this finding with a larger sample.  An omnibus analysis (N = 535) showed that this devaluation pattern occurred primarily among male participants. Study 2 also examined whether gender stereotypes play a role in this process.  Indeed, men's confidence in the female candidate's ability to handle stereotypically masculine issues decreased under economic instability and this tendency mediated their devaluation of the female candidate.

Clear as Black and White: The Effects of Ambiguous Rhetoric Depend on Candidate Race
Spencer Piston et al.
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


Campaign advisors and political scientists have long acknowledged the benefits of ambiguous position taking. We argue, however, that these benefits do not extend to black candidates facing nonblack voters. When a white candidate makes vague statements, many of these voters project their own policy positions onto the candidate, increasing support for the candidate. But they are less likely to extend black candidates the same courtesy. We test these claims with an original two-wave survey experiment varying the race of male candidates on a national sample of nonblack voters. We find that ambiguity boosts support for white male candidates but not for black male candidates. In fact, black male candidates who make ambiguous statements are actually punished for doing so by racially prejudiced voters. These results clarify limits on the utility of the electoral strategy of ambiguity and identify a key condition under which prejudice shapes voter behavior.

Asking about social circles improves election predictions
Mirta Galesic et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, March 2018, Pages 187-193


Election outcomes can be difficult to predict. A recent example is the 2016 US presidential election, in which Hillary Clinton lost five states that had been predicted to go for her, and with them the White House. Most election polls ask people about their own voting intentions: whether they will vote and, if so, for which candidate. We show that, compared with own-intention questions, social-circle questions that ask participants about the voting intentions of their social contacts improved predictions of voting in the 2016 US and 2017 French presidential elections. Responses to social-circle questions predicted election outcomes on national, state and individual levels, helped to explain last-minute changes in people's voting intentions and provided information about the dynamics of echo chambers among supporters of different candidates.

Political Advertising in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election: Ad Hominem Ad Nauseam
John Tedesco & Scott Dunn
American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming


Political advertisements (N = 136) from the 2016 U.S. presidential election are content analyzed in this study that investigates message strategy used by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in their televised ads. The negative nature of the campaign, and the high negative views voters held for Trump and Clinton, seems to have influenced the tone and focus of the ads. Despite Trump's reputation for ad hominem attacks throughout the primary and general election phases of the presidential campaign, it was Clinton who waged more ad hominem attacks in her advertisements, mostly focused on labeling Trump as unfit for office. Trump and his supportive political action committee groups were more likely to run contrast ads to compare differences between his policies and Clinton's policies, but Clinton's campaign failed to use a full range of message strategies to contrast her policies with Trump's and to bolster her own image through her campaign ads.

Too Liberal to Win? Race and Voter Perceptions of Candidate Ideology
Sarah Fulton & Sarah Allen Gershon
American Politics Research, forthcoming


Experimental research has long indicated that minority candidates are perceived as being more liberal than Whites. These expectations may hinder the electoral prospects of minority candidates campaigning for office who need the support of independents to win. Drawing upon a unique dataset of 933 informants (party delegates) and survey data from the 2006 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we investigate the accuracy and implications of these race-based stereotypes for voting in the U.S. House of Representatives. Our analysis indicates that ethnic and racial minority candidates for Congress are typically viewed by voters as being far more liberal than objective indicators would suggest. Moreover, we find that these misperceptions of ideological extremity may harm minorities' electoral chances at the ballot box, limiting their support among White voters, particularly independents. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for candidates campaigning for office.

Collective Narcissism and the 2016 US Presidential Vote
Christopher Federico & Agnieszka Golec De Zavala
Public Opinion Quarterly, Spring 2018, Pages 110-121


Explaining support for Donald Trump's presidential candidacy has become a key social-science challenge. An emerging literature highlights several important individual-level precursors of Trump support, including racial attitudes, sexism, and authoritarianism. In this report, we provide evidence for the role of a novel psychological factor: collective narcissism, an inflated, unrealistic view of the national ingroup's greatness contingent on external recognition. Using data from a recent national survey, we demonstrate that collective narcissism is a powerful predictor of 2016 presidential votes and evaluations of Trump, even after controlling for other variables known to predict candidate preferences in general and Trump support in particular.

The Fragility of Racial Transcendence: An Analysis of Oprah Winfrey's Endorsement of the Barack Obama 2008 Presidential Campaign
Harwood McClerking, Chryl Laird & Ray Block
American Politics Research, forthcoming


We define racial transcendence as an elevated status in which evaluations of an individual are no longer shaped by the race of the attitudinal target or the race of the person making the evaluations. Observers argue that Oprah Winfrey transcends race, meaning that she is just as likely to receive support from non-Blacks as she is from fellow Blacks. But this argument may not follow when Oprah moves into the political arena. We use two surveys to demonstrate this: The first survey supports Winfrey's transcendence, while we see in-group support in the second. We find that Oprah enjoys her greatest support among racial fellows, and her favorability flows along the lines of race and gender: Her greatest supporters are Black women. Oprah's ability to offer political cues also flows along lines of race and gender: Those most likely to be influenced by her Obama endorsement are Black women.

The Racial and Economic Context of Trump Support: Evidence for Threat, Identity, and Contact Effects in the 2016 Presidential Election
Eric Knowles & Linda Tropp
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Donald Trump's ascent to the Presidency of the United States defied the expectations of many social scientists, pundits, and laypeople. To date, most efforts to understand Trump's rise have focused on personality and demographic characteristics of White Americans. In contrast, the present work leverages a nationally representative sample of Whites to examine how contextual factors may have shaped support for Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries. Results reveal that neighborhood-level exposure to racial and ethnic minorities predicts greater group threat and racial identification among Whites as well as greater intentions to vote for Trump in the general election. At the same time, however, neighborhood diversity afforded Whites with opportunities for intergroup contact, which predicted lower levels of threat, White identification, and Trump support. Further analyses suggest that a healthy local economy mutes threat effects in diverse contexts, allowing contact processes to come to the fore.

Party Rules and Equitable Representation in U.S. Presidential Nominating Contests
James King
American Politics Research, forthcoming


Party rules for determining allocation of delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions once again drew criticism in 2016. Analyses of the effects of various rules indicate that the inclusion of party leader and elected official delegates ("superdelegates") within the Democratic Party and use of winner-take-all primary elections by Republicans bias the representativeness of states' delegations to national conventions; neither the choice of primary election or caucuses nor of open or closed events affect representativeness. The choice of primary election or caucuses did affect vote percentages of candidates, but the choice of open or closed events had no effect on candidates' vote percentages in recent nominating contests. The basic conclusion is that the party rules that created biased, unrepresentative state delegations to national conventions and that benefited certain candidates in the 1980s continue to do so in the 21st century.

Primary Elections and the Provision of Public Goods
Michael Ting, James Snyder & Shigeo Hirano
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


We develop a theory of primary elections and the provision of public and private goods. In our model, candidates from two parties compete for the support of "core" party voters in their respective primary elections and "swing" voters in a general election. Candidates within a party share a fixed ideology and offer platforms that distribute a unit of public spending across group-specific private goods and public goods. Without primaries, candidates offer only public goods when they are very valuable, and only private goods to the swing group otherwise. Because public goods appeal to both types of voters, primary elections increase their provision under a broad set of conditions. The level of public good provision is nonmonotonic in ideological polarization. The prediction of increased public goods spending following the adoption of primaries matches patterns in capital expenditures across US states.

Voice pitch predicts electability, but does not signal leadership ability
Casey Klofstad & Rindy Anderson
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming


Voice pitch, the perceived "highness" or "lowness" of a voice, influences how humans perceive and treat each other in various ways. One example is the selection of leaders. A growing number of studies, both experimental and observational, show that individuals with lower-pitched voices are more likely to win elected office. This leads to the yet untested question of whether individuals with lower voices are actually better leaders. That is, is voice pitch a reliable signal of leadership ability? Here we address this question with an observational study of the vocal pitch and leadership ability of elected officials, and an experiment where subjects were asked to respond to persuasive political policy statements made by speakers with different pitched voices. Both studies lead to the same conclusion: voice pitch does not correlate with leadership ability.

Reports from the Field: Earned Local Media in Presidential Campaigns
Joshua Darr
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Presidential campaigns that understand the behaviors and interests of media organizations are rewarded with increased exposure in the news. Campaigns attract attention from local media by appealing to the news values of proximity and conflict. I compare campaign coverage in areas with and without a local campaign presence using an original, nationwide data set from three recent U.S. presidential elections and find that candidates receive more stories in the local press in areas where they establish a presence. By subsidizing locally framed content, campaigns can increase their local earned media, with larger effects in competitive states and areas without investments in previous elections.

Voters' Response to Candidate Ambiguity in U.S. House Elections
Christine Cahill & Walter Stone
American Politics Research, forthcoming


There is a sizable literature on the causes and effects of candidate positioning in elections. An implication of this research is that candidates present clear issue positions to the electorate and citizens then make voting decisions based on this information. However, if candidates are ambiguous in the positions they take, this may impair voters' decision-making and prompt voters to punish them for inconsistency. Although there is a growing literature on the effects of candidate and party ambiguity, consensus on the implications of ambiguity for candidates and voters is yet to be achieved. Using data from the 2010 House elections, we find that candidate ambiguity undermines voters' ability to vote consistent with the spatial logic just as Downs speculated. We also find, in contrast to Downs, that voters punish rather than reward candidate ambiguity. We suggest that a possible mechanism is in voters' valence ratings of candidates.

How the West Was Won: Competition, Mobilization, and Women's Enfranchisement in the United States
Dawn Langan Teele
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


A long-standing puzzle in American political development is why western states extended voting rights to women before states in the East. Building on theories of democratization and women's suffrage, I argue that politicians have incentives to seek out new voters in competitive political environments. A strong suffrage movement reinforces these incentives by providing information and infrastructure that parties can capitalize on in future elections. If politicians believe they can mobilize the latent female vote, then large movements and competitive political environments should produce franchise expansion. Using data on legislative decisions pertaining to suffrage in 45 states from 1893 to 1920, I show that political competition and movement strength are robust predictors of support for women's suffrage in state legislatures. In the West, fluid partisan politics and relatively strong mobilization produced early reform. Since states determine who voted for national, state, and local offices, these decisions mattered for advancing political equality.

The Southern Accent as a Heuristic in American Campaigns and Elections
Karyn Amira et al.
American Politics Research, forthcoming


Are political candidates perceived differently based on the presence or absence of a southern accent? To address this question, we employ an experimental design that explores reactions to political candidates with a southern accent and a regionally neutral accent. We focus on perceptions of three general categories of candidate characteristics: candidate traits, candidate affect, and candidate issue positions. Overall, we discover that candidates with a southern accent are viewed more negatively, and they are thought to hold more conservative policy positions, than candidates with no discernible accent. Our findings suggest that the southern accent provides a heuristic that affects how voters perceive candidates.

Lying, Liars, and Lies: Incivility in 2016 Presidential Candidate and Campaign Tweets During the Invisible Primary
Kate Kenski, Christine Filer & Bethany Conway-Silva
American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming


Incivility is a growing concern among Americans and a burgeoning topic of scholarly research. The current study investigates the extent to which incivility via lying accusations was present in major party candidate and campaign expressions on Twitter during the invisible primary season preceding the 2016 presidential election. All tweets on verified major party candidate and campaign Twitter feeds were collected from March 5, 2015 through December 31, 2015 (N = 66,463). The collection of candidate tweets included 6 Democrats and 18 Republicans. While lying accusations were infrequent, they occurred 109 times over the preprimary period. The Republican candidates were more likely to make lying accusations than were the Democratic candidates. This was driven in large part by the candidacy of Donald Trump.

For and Against Brexit: A Survey Experiment of the Impact of Campaign Effects on Public Attitudes toward EU Membership
Matthew Goodwin, Simon Hix & Mark Pickup
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


What are the lessons of the 2016 referendum on UK membership of the European Union (EU) regarding the effects of message framing? This article reports findings from an innovative online survey experiment based on a two-wave panel design. The findings show that, despite the expectation that campaign effects are generally small for high-salience issues - such as Brexit - the potential for campaign effects was high for the pro-EU frames. This suggests that within an asymmetrical information environment - in which the arguments for one side of an issue (anti-EU) are 'priced in', while arguments for the other side (pro-EU) have been understated - the potential for campaign effects in a single direction are substantial. To the extent that this environment is reflected in other referendum campaigns, the potential effect of pro-EU frames may be substantial.

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