Findings

Facing the Voters

Kevin Lewis

September 15, 2010

Public Accountability and Political Participation: Effects of a Face-to-Face Feedback Intervention on Voter Turnout of Public Housing Residents

Tiffany Davenport
Political Behavior, September 2010, Pages 337-368

Abstract:
Low turnout among the urban poor has implications for democratic representation. The fact that turnout among the economically disadvantaged is especially low in municipal elections means that citizens most in need of services provided at the local level may not be represented in policy decisions that affect their daily lives. This paper reports the results of an experiment that compares the effects of two voter mobilization interventions: traditional canvassing appeals and face-to-face exchanges in which canvassers distribute a feedback intervention consisting of printed records of individual voter histories. In contrast to previous studies, this experiment measures the effectiveness of using social pressure to mobilize turnout among relatively infrequent voters in a low salience election. The campaign was implemented by a credible tenant advocacy organization within the context of a municipal election; the sample consisted of registered voters in two Boston public housing developments. I find that the feedback intervention dramatically increased voter turnout. Turnout among those reached by canvassers with voter histories was approximately 15-18 percentage points higher than turnout in the control group, an effect that is approximately 10 percentage points larger in magnitude than that of standard face-to-face mobilization.

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Voting and ID Requirements: A Survey of Registered Voters in Three States

Robert Pastor, Robert Santos, Alison Prevost & Vassia Stoilov
American Review of Public Administration, July 2010, Pages 461-481

Abstract:
Since the 2000 election, one of the most contentious issues in election administration has been voter identification requirements. This article provides the results of a survey of registered voters in Indiana, Maryland, and Mississippi, which aimed to explore the extent to which ID requirements pose a problem (if any) to registered voters. The survey found that only 1.2% of registered voters in all three states lack a photo ID and in Indiana, which has the most stringent requirements, only 0.3% lacked an ID. The survey also found that more than two-thirds of respondents believe the U.S. electoral system would be trusted more if voters were required to show a photo ID. The article concludes with a proposal on how to construct an ID system that will assure ballot integrity while attracting new and more voters.

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The Effects of Scandalous Information on Recall of Policy-Related Information

Beth Miller
Political Psychology, forthcoming

Abstract:
Political observers often criticize the news media's focus on scandalous activities of candidates as distracting voters from the "real issues." However, the extent to which such a fondness for scandal influences voters remains unclear. The present study examines whether exposure to scandalous information about a candidate interferes with memory for policy-related information. Two possibilities are considered. One possibility is that scandalous information attracts substantial attention and processing from individuals thereby interfering with previously stored campaign information. A second possibility argues that conceiving of memory as organized in associative networks suggests that scandalous information facilitates, rather than interferes with, recall of policy-related campaign information. Based on data from a longitudinal experiment, I conclude that exposure to scandalous information is less hazardous to voters than is often suggested by political observers.

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The Enduring Effects of Social Pressure: Tracking Campaign Experiments Over a Series of Elections

Tiffany Davenport, Alan Gerber, Donald Green, Christopher Larimer, Christopher Mann & Costas Panagopoulos
Political Behavior, September 2010, Pages 423-430

Abstract:
Recent field experiments have demonstrated the powerful effect of social pressure messages on voter turnout. This research note considers the question of whether these interventions' effects persist over a series of subsequent elections. Tracking more than one million voters from six experimental studies, we find strong and statistically significant enduring effects one and sometimes two years after the initial communication.

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Does it matter where we live?: The urban psychology of character strengths

Nansook Park & Christopher Peterson
American Psychologist, September 2010, Pages 535-547

Abstract:
Psychology has neglected the study of variation across cities. An urban psychology is needed that takes seriously such variation and focuses on strengths and assets contributing to the good life as much as on problems of urbanization. To illustrate the value of an urban psychology, we describe studies of character strengths among residents in the 50 largest U.S. cities (N = 47,369). Differences in character strengths were found to exist across cities, were robustly related to important city-level outcomes such as entrepreneurship and 2008 presidential election voting, and were associated in theoretically predicted ways with city-level features. We propose a framework that distinguishes between strengths of the "head," which are intellectual and self-oriented, and strengths of the "heart," which are emotional and interpersonal. Cities whose residents had higher levels of head strengths were those rated as creative and innovative. Head strengths predicted the likelihood of a city voting for Barack Obama, whereas heart strengths predicted voting for John McCain. More than half of the world's population now resides in cities, and urban psychology deserves greater attention.

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Casting Votes: The National Campaign Context and State Turnout, 1920-2008

Lyn Ragsdale & Jerrold Rusk
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming

Abstract:
This study examines voter turnout in the American states in U.S. presidential and House elections from 1920 through 2008. A model predicts turnout as the sum of the national campaign context, state autonomy, and electoral continuity. The national campaign context encompasses conditions that prompt turnout to shift similarly across states. State autonomy involves state-specific factors that prompt turnout to vary across states. Electoral continuity involves people voting in successive elections, regardless of other influences. Testing the model finds that national campaign context effects have increased, but they vary by year, election type, and region and have been mixed since the 1970s.

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An Experiment Testing the Relative Effectiveness of Encouraging Voter Participation by Inducing Feelings of Pride or Shame

Alan Gerber, Donald Green & Christopher Larimer
Political Behavior, September 2010, Pages 409-422

Abstract:
Prior experimental research has demonstrated that voter turnout rises substantially when people receive mailings that indicate whether they voted in previous elections. This effect suggests that voters are sensitive to whether their compliance with the norm of voting is being monitored. The present study extends this line of research by investigating whether disclosure of past participation has a stronger effect on turnout when it calls attention to a past abstention or a past vote. A sample of 369,211 registered voters who voted in just one of two recent elections were randomly assigned to receive no mail, mail that encouraged them to vote, and mail that both encouraged them to vote and indicated their turnout in one previous election. The latter type of mailing randomly reported either the election in which they voted or the one in which they abstained. Results suggest that mailings disclosing past voting behavior had strong effects on voter turnout and that these effects were significantly enhanced when it disclosed an abstention in a recent election.

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Economic Voting and Welfare Programs: Evidence from the U.S. States

Matthew Singer
European Journal of Political Research, forthcoming

Abstract:
While scholars have hypothesized that a strong welfare state should reduce voter incentives to base their vote on economic outcomes, evidence for this proposition remains mixed. I test whether differences in welfare protections across American states affect the relationship between economic performance and support for the president's party in 430 state legislative elections over 1970-1989. Analyzing the results of over 42,000 contests in which an incumbent was running for reelection, I find that while unemployment insurance programs do not affect the importance of economic performance, the electoral fortunes of presidential copartisans are less strongly tied to the national economy in states with generous anti-poverty programs. Thus by reducing vulnerability to poverty, economic safety-nets lower the salience of the economy and provide electoral cover for politicians during economic slowdowns.

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Affect, Social Pressure and Prosocial Motivation: Field Experimental Evidence of the Mobilizing Effects of Pride, Shame and Publicizing Voting Behavior

Costas Panagopoulos
Political Behavior, September 2010, Pages 369-386

Abstract:
Citizens generally try to cooperate with social norms, especially when norm compliance is monitored and publicly disclosed. A recent field experimental study demonstrates that civic appeals that tap into social pressure motivate electoral participation appreciably (Gerber et al., Am Polit Sci Rev 102:33-48, 2008). Building on this work, I use field experimental techniques to examine further the socio-psychological mechanisms that underpin this effect. I report the results of three field experiments conducted in the November 2007 elections designed to test whether voters are more effectively mobilized by appeals that engender feelings of pride (for reinforcing or perpetuating social and cultural values or norms) or shame (for violating social and cultural values or norms). Voters in Monticello, Iowa and Holland, Michigan were randomly assigned to receive a mailing that indicated the names of all verified voters in the November 2007 election would be published in the local newspaper (pride treatment). In Ely, Iowa voters were randomly assigned to receive a mailing that indicated the names of all verified nonvoters would be published in the local newspaper (shame treatment). The experimental findings suggest shame may be more effective than pride on average, but this may depend on who the recipients are. Pride motivates compliance with voting norms only amongst high-propensity voters, while shame mobilizes both high- and low-propensity voters.

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Social Incentives and Voter Turnout: Evidence from the Swiss Mail Ballot System

Patricia Funk
Journal of the European Economic Association, September 2010, Pages 1077-1103

Abstract:
This paper uses a natural experiment to document the impact of social pressure on voting behavior. The main hypothesis is that social pressure creates incentives to vote for the purpose of being seen at the voting act. This incentive is particularly high in small and close-knit communities. Empirically, I analyze the effect of postal voting on voter participation in Switzerland. Optional postal voting decreased the voting costs, but simultaneously removed the social pressure to vote. In spite of the large reduction in voting costs, the effect on aggregate turnout was small. However, voter participation was more negatively affected in the smaller communities. This lends support to the view that social incentives played a role for certain people's voting decisions.

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What Is The Probability Your Vote Will Make A Difference?

Andrew Gelman, Nate Silver & Aaron Edlin
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming

Abstract:
One of the motivations for voting is that one vote can make a difference. In a presidential election, the probability that your vote is decisive is equal to the probability that your state is necessary for an electoral college win, times the probability the vote in your state is tied in that event. We computed these probabilities a week before the 2008 presidential election, using state-by-state election forecasts based on the latest polls. The states where a single vote was most likely to matter are New Mexico, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado, where your vote had an approximate 1 in 10 million chance of determining the national election outcome. On average, a voter in America had a 1 in 60 million chance of being decisive in the presidential election.

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Flexible pensions for politicians

Hans Gersbach & Markus Müller
Public Choice, October 2010, Pages 103-124

Abstract:
It may be difficult to motivate politicians in their last term. To solve this problem, we suggest a triple mechanism involving political information markets, flexible pensions, and democratic elections. An information market is used to predict the potential reelection chances of the politician. Pensions depend on the price in the information market and thereby motivate the politician to act in a socially optimal manner. We show that, on balance, the triple mechanism increases social welfare. Finally, we suggest several ways to avoid the manipulation of information markets and we discuss possible pitfalls of flexible pensions.

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Is There Backlash to Social Pressure? A Large-scale Field Experiment on Voter Mobilization

Christopher Mann
Political Behavior, September 2010, Pages 387-407

Abstract:
Using social pressure to mobilize voters has generated impressive increases in turnout (Gerber et al. Am Polit Sci Rev 102:33-48, 2008). However, voters may have negative reactions to social pressure treatments that reduce their effectiveness. Social psychologists have observed this ‘reactance' to persuasive pressure about other behavior, but it has been overlooked in voter mobilization. Using a large-scale field experiment, we find treatments designed to reduce reactance are just as effective as heavy-handed social pressure treatments in mobilizing voters. The success of gentler social pressure treatments should make the use of social pressure more palatable to voter mobilization organizations.

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Rational Choice and Voter Turnout: Evidence from Union Representation Elections

Henry Farber
NBER Working Paper, July 2010

Abstract:
The standard theoretical solution to the observation of substantial turnout in large elections is that individuals receive utility from the act of voting. However, this leaves open the question of whether or not there is a significant margin on which individuals consider the effect of their vote on the outcome in deciding whether or not to vote. In order to address this issue, I study turnout in union representation elections in the U.S. (government supervised secret ballot elections, generally held at the workplace, on the question of whether the workers would like to be represented by a union). These elections provide a particularly good laboratory to study voter behavior because many of the elections have sufficiently few eligible voters that individuals can have a substantial probability of being pivotal. I develop a rational choice model of turnout in these elections, and I implement this model empirically using data on over 75,000 of these elections held from 1972-2009. The results suggest that most individuals (over 80 percent) vote in these elections independent of consideration of the likelihood that they will be pivotal. Among the remainder, the probability of voting is related to variables that influence the probability of a vote being pivotal (election size and expected closeness of the election). These findings are consistent with the standard rational choice model.

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Does Electoral Reform Increase (or Decrease) Political Equality?

Elizabeth Rigby & Melanie Springer
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming

Abstract:
Over recent decades, the American states have implemented electoral reforms that make it easier for citizens to register and vote. This article examines the "equality effects" of these reforms: the degree to which reform serves to equalize or further skew participation rates between the rich and poor. Using the Voter Supplement to the Current Population Survey, the authors generate state-level estimates of income bias in registration and voting for elections from 1978 to 2008. Findings support their theory that some electoral reforms promote equality, while others further stratify the electorate - particularly when state registration rolls are already unrepresentative in terms of income groups.

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Political ad portraits: A visual analysis of viewer reaction to online political spoof advertisements

Anjali Suniti Bal1, Colin Campbell, Nathaniel Joseph Payne & Leyland Pitt
Journal of Public Affairs, forthcoming

Abstract:
The democratization of the Internet and the growing popularity of amateur video production have given rise to historic levels of voter engagement. In recent times, the populace has turned to YouTube and other similar websites to publicly voice their opinions through the posting of, and response to, amateur political videos. Political communication and campaign managers frequently struggle to consolidate, analyse, and respond to the vast array of commentary posted on the Internet in reply to these videos. The ability to quickly consolidate and interpret viewer responses to political videos provides campaign and communications' managers the opportunity to quickly make policy, positioning, or image changes. This is especially valuable considering that viewer responses provide a potentially unbiased picture of actual voter sentiment. Using the visualization software, Leximancer, we show how conversations around online political spoof videos can be mapped, interpreted, and used as a basis for strategic brand decision-making. We discuss the implications of our findings, outline the technique's limitations, and trace avenues for further research.

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Personality Traits and the Consumption of Political Information

Alan Gerber, Gregory Huber, David Doherty & Conor Dowling
American Politics Research, forthcoming

Abstract:
In this article, we examine the relationship between dispositional personality traits (the Big Five) and the consumption of political information. We present detailed hypotheses about the characteristics of the political environment that are likely to affect the appeal of politics and political information in general for individuals with different personalities as well as hypotheses about how personality affects the attractiveness of particular sources of political information. We find that the Big Five traits are significant predictors of political interest and knowledge as well as consumption of different types of political media. Openness (the degree to which a person needs intellectual stimulation and variety) and Emotional Stability (characterized by low levels of anxiety) are associated with a broad range of engagement with political information and political knowledge. The other three Big Five traits, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Extraversion, are associated only with consumption of specific types of political information.

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Learning While Voting: Determinants of Collective Experimentation

Bruno Strulovici
Econometrica, May 2010, Pages 933-971

Abstract:
This paper combines dynamic social choice and strategic experimentation to study the following question: How does a society, a committee, or, more generally, a group of individuals with potentially heterogeneous preferences, experiment with new opportunities? Each voter recognizes that, during experimentation, other voters also learn about their preferences. As a result, pivotal voters today are biased against experimentation because it reduces their likelihood of remaining pivotal. This phenomenon reduces equilibrium experimentation below the socially efficient level, and may even result in a negative option value of experimentation. However, one can restore efficiency by designing a voting rule that depends deterministically on time. Another main result is that even when payoffs of a reform are independently distributed across the population, good news about any individual's payoff increases other individuals' incentives to experiment with that reform, due to a positive voting externality.


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