Voting Systems

Kevin Lewis

January 08, 2021

The Effect of Social Media on Elections: Evidence from the United States
Thomas Fujiwara, Karsten Müller & Carlo Schwarz
Princeton Working Paper, October 2020


We study how social media affects election outcomes. We exploit variation in the number of Twitter users across U.S. counties based on early adoption among participants of the 2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival -- a key event in Twitter's rise to popularity. We show that this variation, which remains predictive of Twitter use a decade later, is unrelated to electoral outcomes before the platform's mass adoption. Our results suggest that exposure to Twitter lowered the Republican vote share in the 2016 presidential election but had limited effects on turnout and vote shares in House and Senate races as well as previous presidential elections. Analyzing two sources of survey data indicates the effects are driven by independent and moderate voters. Our results are consistent with the idea that Twitter's relatively liberal content can persuade voters to alter their views.

Just as electable: Black Democratic candidates in swing districts
Jacob Smith
Politics, Groups, and Identities, forthcoming


Considerable debate exists in the literature about whether white voters are willing to support Black candidates for office, particularly in electorally competitive, non-majority minority districts. This paper leverages the 2018 congressional election – which saw six Black Democratic candidates win electorally competitive, majority white congressional districts – to contribute to this debate. Controlling for an array of congressional district-specific factors, I find that Black candidates performed no worse than white candidates did in swing seats. These results suggest that worries from party leaders that Black candidates cannot win in majority white swing districts may be overblown.

Hostile Sexism, Racial Resentment, and Political Mobilization
Kevin Banda & Erin Cassese
Political Behavior, forthcoming


We argue that hostile sexism and racial resentment play an important and somewhat underappreciated role in American elections through their influence on voter turnout and engagement with political campaigns. The effects of these attitudes are not straightforward but depend on partisanship. We evaluate whether high levels of racial resentment and hostile sexism cross-pressure Democratic partisans, resulting in lower levels of political participation. We further consider whether high levels of racial resentment and hostile sexism bolster participation among Republicans. We find evidence of these divergent effects on the political mobilization of white voters using the 2016 American National Election Study. The results support our expectations and suggest that cuing resentment-based attitudes was an important strategy for engaging voters in the 2016 presidential campaign and will likely play an important role in future campaigns as well.

Polling place changes and political participation: Evidence from North Carolina presidential elections, 2008–2016
Joshua Clinton et al.
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


How do changes in Election Day polling place locations affect voter turnout? We study the behavior of more than 2 million eligible voters across three closely-contested presidential elections (2008–2016) in the swing state of North Carolina. Leveraging within-voter variation in polling place location change over time, we demonstrate that polling place changes reduce Election Day voting on average statewide. However, this effect is almost completely offset by substitution into early voting, suggesting that voters, on average, respond to a change in their polling place by choosing to vote early. While there is heterogeneity in these effects by the distance of the polling place change and the race of the affected voter, the fully offsetting substitution into early voting still obtains. We theorize this is because voters whose polling places change location receive notification mailers, offsetting search costs and priming them to think about the election before election day, driving early voting.

What Were the Odds? Estimating the Market's Probability of Uncertain Events
Ashley Langer & Derek Lemoine
NBER Working Paper, December 2020


An event study generates only a lower bound on the full effect of an event unless researchers know the probability that investors assigned to the event before it occurred. We develop two model-free methods for recovering the market’s priced-in probability of events. These methods require running event studies in financial options to complement the standard event study in stock prices. Validating both approaches, we estimate that the 2016 U.S. election outcome had a 12% chance of occurring. This probability is consistent with contemporary polling, bookmaker, and prediction market estimates. Demonstrating the usefulness of our approaches, we show that many OPEC meetings’ outcomes were well-anticipated. OPEC retained substantial influence on world oil prices even as the U.S. increased oil production.

Natural Disasters, ‘Partisan Retrospection,’ and U.S. Presidential Elections
Boris Heersink et al.
Political Behavior, forthcoming


Research investigating whether natural disasters help or hurt politicians’ electoral fortunes has produced conflicting results. Some find that voters punish elected officials indiscriminately in the wake of a natural disaster (i.e. ‘blind retrospection’). Others find that voters instead incorporate elected officials’ subsequent relief efforts in their assessment (i.e. ‘attentive retrospection’). We argue that an additional consideration affects voters’ response to natural disasters: the elected official’s partisan affiliation. We contend that whether voters reward or punish incumbents following a disaster is influenced by whether or not the official is a co-partisan. We look for evidence of such ‘partisan retrospection’ by examining the effects of Hurricane Sandy on the 2012 presidential election, and find that voters’ reactions to disaster damage were strongly conditioned by pre-existing partisanship, with counties that previously supported Obama reacting far more positively to disaster damage than those that had earlier opposed him. We then use existing data to investigate the relationship between disasters and presidential elections between 1972 and 2004. We find that incumbent-party candidates performed no worse in disaster-affected co-partisan counties than in non-affected co-partisan counties, but that they underperformed in disaster-affected counties safely in the opposing party column.

Valence Attacks Harm the Electoral Performance of the Left but Not the Right
Jae-Hee Jung & Margit Tavits
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


During election campaigns, parties attack each other’s nonideological traits such as competence and integrity. However, it is unclear to what extent valence attacks reduce voter support for the target party. Drawing from theories on left-right personality and associated cognitive flexibility, we argue that valence attacks harm the electoral performance of leftist but not rightist parties. The relative openness of leftist voters makes them more willing to accept negative information about their party and act on it. In contrast, the relative closedness of rightist voters makes them less likely to reconsider their political preferences in the face of negative information. We find robust evidence for our argument at the aggregate and individual levels, using original data on media coverage of party campaigns in 10 European countries. We also provide experimental evidence in support of our argument. The findings have important implications for research on nonideological rhetoric in party competition.

3G Internet and Confidence in Government
Sergei Guriev, Nikita Melnikov & Ekaterina Zhuravskaya
Quarterly Journal of Economics, forthcoming


How does mobile broadband internet affect approval of government? Using Gallup World Poll surveys of 840,537 individuals from 2,232 subnational regions in 116 countries from 2008 to 2017 and the global expansion of 3G mobile networks, we show that, on average, an increase in mobile broadband internet access reduces government approval. This effect is present only when the internet is not censored, and it is stronger when the traditional media are censored. 3G helps expose actual corruption in government: revelations of the Panama Papers and other corruption incidents translate into higher perceptions of corruption in regions covered by 3G networks. Voter disillusionment had electoral implications: In Europe, 3G expansion led to lower vote shares for incumbent parties and higher vote shares for the antiestablishment populist opposition. Vote shares for nonpopulist opposition parties were unaffected by 3G expansion.

If We Build It, Only Some Will Come: An Experimental Study of Mobilization for Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program
Geoffrey Henderson & Hahrie Han
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming


Seattle, Washington instituted a new “democracy voucher” program in 2017 providing each registered voter with four $25 campaign finance vouchers to contribute to municipal candidates. Prior research shows that without efforts to mobilize voters, electoral reforms like the voucher program are often insufficient to increase participation among underrepresented groups. We examine how mobilization affects the voucher program’s redistributive goals – does it increase participation among infrequent voters, or does it engage regular participants in politics? In the 2017 election cycle, we partnered with a coalition of advocacy organizations on a field experiment to estimate the effects of providing voters with information about democracy vouchers through door-to-door canvassing, texting, digital advertisements, and e-mails. While mobilization increased voucher use and voter turnout, responsiveness was greatest among frequent voters. As our findings suggest that transactional mobilizing is insufficient to engage infrequent participants, we posit that deeper organizing is necessary to fulfill the program’s redistributive goals.

Choosing a Candidate: Traits, Issues, and Electability
Cynthia Peacock et al.
American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming


This research investigates the roles of issues, traits, and electability in the 2020 U.S. presidential nominating contest. These analyses utilize survey data gathered at political rallies in Iowa leading up to the caucuses and state and national news coverage. First, we identified the traits and issues respondents used to describe their support for a particular Democratic candidate over others. Next, we determined how issues, traits, and electability differed among the candidates. Finally, an analysis of news coverage uncovered how each candidate’s electability was framed. We found supporters of moderate candidates were more likely to mention candidate traits as reasons for their support, whereas supporters of progressive candidates were more likely to mention issues. Despite the media focus on electability, respondents did not indicate that as a primary reason for supporting a candidate. State and national news coverage treated the electability of Democrats vying for the party nomination quite differently, depending on the candidate’s gender and ideology.

Driving Turnout: The Effect of Car Ownership on Electoral Participation
Justin de Benedictis-Kessner & Maxwell Palmer
Harvard Working Paper, November 2020


Inequalities in voter participation between groups of the population pose a problem for democratic representation. We use administrative data on 6.7 million registered voters to show that a previously ignored characteristic of voters – access to a personal automobile – creates large disparities in in-person voting rates. Lack of access to a car depresses election day voter turnout by substantively large amounts across a variety of fixed-effects models that account for other environmental and voter characteristics. Car access creates the largest hindrance to voting for those people who live farther from the polls, for young voters, and for non-white voters. These effects do not appear for absentee voting, suggesting a simple policy solution to solve large disparities in political participation. This study contributes to the theoretic understanding of political participation as well as the impact of potential policy reforms to solve participatory gaps.


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