Getting the vote

Kevin Lewis

November 08, 2019

Why Local Party Leaders Don't Support Nominating Centrists
David Broockman et al.
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

Would giving party leaders more influence in primary elections in the United States decrease elite polarization? Some scholars have argued that political party leaders tend to support centrist candidates in the hopes of winning general elections. In contrast, the authors argue that many local party leaders - especially Republicans - may not believe that centrists perform better in elections and therefore may not support nominating them. They test this argument using data from an original survey of 1,118 county-level party leaders. In experiments, they find that local party leaders most prefer nominating candidates who are similar to typical co-partisans, not centrists. Moreover, given the choice between a more centrist and more extreme candidate, they strongly prefer extremists: Democrats do so by about 2 to 1 and Republicans by 10 to 1. Likewise, in open-ended questions, Democratic Party leaders are twice as likely to say they look for extreme candidates relative to centrists; Republican Party leaders are five times as likely. Potentially driving these partisan differences, Republican leaders are especially likely to believe that extremists can win general elections and overestimate the electorate's conservatism by double digits.

The Activation of Prejudice and Presidential Voting: Panel Evidence from the 2016 U.S. Election
Daniel Hopkins
Political Behavior, forthcoming

Divisions between Whites and Blacks have long influenced voting. Yet given America’s growing Latino population, will Whites’ attitudes toward Blacks continue to predict their voting behavior? Might anti-Latino prejudice join or supplant them? These questions took on newfound importance after the 2016 campaign, in which the Republican candidate’s rhetoric targeted immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere. We examine the relationship between Whites’ prejudices, immigration attitudes, and voting behavior using a population-based panel spanning 9 years. Donald Trump’s candidacy activated anti-Black but not anti-Latino prejudice, while other GOP candidates had no such effect. This and other evidence suggests that Whites’ prejudice against Blacks is potentially activated even when salient political rhetoric does not target them exclusively. These results shed light on the continued political impact of anti-Black prejudice while deepening our understanding of the mobilization of prejudice and the associated psychological mechanisms.

Abandoning the Ground Game? Field Organization in the 2016 Election
Joshua Darr
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming

I examine the organizational and voter contact strategies of the presidential campaigns in the 2016 election, finding that Hillary Clinton opened many more field offices than Donald Trump. Both Clinton and Trump invested less aggressively in field operations than their predecessors while avoiding areas of opponent strength and “swing” areas. Neither Clinton nor Trump held a clear advantage in voter contact, and estimates of the effects of field offices were smaller than in previous cycles. Clinton's defeat should not be interpreted as evidence that field organizing is a poor investment in 2020.

Economic Insecurity and the Causes of Populism, Reconsidered
Yotam Margalit
Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2019, Pages 152-170

Growing conventional wisdom holds that a chief driver of the populist vote is economic insecurity. I contend that this view overstates the role of economic insecurity as an explanation in several ways. First, it conflates the significance of economic insecurity in influencing the election outcome on the margin with its significance in explaining the overall populist vote. Empirical findings indicate that the share of populist support explained by economic insecurity is modest. Second, recent evidence indicates that voters' concern with immigration - a key issue for many populist parties - is only marginally shaped by its real or perceived repercussions on their economic standing. Third, economics-centric accounts of populism treat voters' cultural concerns as largely a by-product of experiencing adverse economic change. This approach underplays the reverse process, whereby disaffection from social and cultural change drives both economic discontent and support for populism.

Strategic Candidate Entry and Congressional Elections in the Era of Fox News
Kevin Arceneaux et al.
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

Elections are designed to give voters the ability to hold elected officials accountable for their actions. For this to work, voters must be presented with credible alternatives from which to choose. In the United States, as in other weak‐party systems, the decision to challenge an incumbent representative rests with individual, strategic‐minded politicians who carefully weigh the available information. We investigate the role that one source of information - partisan media - plays in shaping electoral competition. We hypothesize that the haphazard expansion of the conservative Fox News Channel in the decade after its 1996 launch influenced congressional elections by affecting the decision calculus of high‐quality potential candidates. Using congressional district‐level data on the local availability of Fox News, we find that Fox News altered Republican potential candidates' perceptions about the vulnerability of Democratic incumbents, thereby changing their entry patterns.

Policy voting in U.S. House primaries
Kathleen Bawn et al.
Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, forthcoming

This paper uses exit surveys of voters in four House primaries to ask how well voters are able to use primaries for the purpose of giving policy direction to their congressional parties. The surveys found that nearly half of voters could not recall the names of any candidate and that 11% were uncertain or could not recall for whom they had just voted. The surveys also found that nearly 40% of voters could not offer a political evaluation - that is, a like or dislike having political content - about any candidate, and that fewer than a quarter could offer political evaluations of as many as two candidates. The surveys found no evidence of policy-motivated voting in three of the four primaries, but substantial evidence of it in one. Yet even in that one race, voters split their support among three candidates sharing majority voter opinion on the key election issue and thereby opened the way for nomination of a candidate not sharing majority opinion. The paper concludes from this evidence that voters in these House primaries, and probably more widely, made little use of them for the purpose of giving policy direction to their parties.

Tools for identifying partisan gerrymandering with an application to congressional districting in Pennsylvania
Jonathan Cervas & Bernard Grofman
Political Geography, forthcoming

In League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (2018) the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down as a “severe and durable” partisan gerrymander the congressional map drawn by Republicans in 2011 and used in elections from 2012-2016. It did so entirely on state law grounds after a three-judge federal court had rejected issuing a preliminary injunction against the plan. After Pennsylvania failed to enact a lawful remedy plan of its own (due to total disagreement as to how to proceed between the newly elected Democratic governor and the still Republican-controlled legislature), the Court then ordered into place for the 2018 election a map of its own drawn for it by a court-appointed consultant. In a split court, the Court map was endorsed only by judges with Democratic affiliations. Here we compare the 2011 and 2018 congressional maps in terms of a variety of proposed metrics for detecting partisan gerrymandering. We also examine the remedy map proposed by a group of Republican legislators and that proposed by the Democratic governor. We conclude that the 2011 map was a blatant and undisguised pro-Republican gerrymander. Moreover, the remedy map proposed by Republican legislators was a covert pro-Republican gerrymander (what we refer to as a “stealth gerrymander”). The Democratic governor's proposed plan cannot be classified as a pro-Democratic gerrymander and indeed has, if anything, a slight pro-Republican tilt. The 2018 court-drawn remedial map, by all measures, was not a gerrymander.

Bringing Voters into the Equation: An Individual‐Level Analysis of the Vice Presidential Home State Advantage
Christopher Devine & Kyle Kopko
Presidential Studies Quarterly, December 2019, Pages 827-854

This article critiques two leading analyses of the vice presidential home state advantage (VP HSA) and uses their fundamental methodological insights to develop a comprehensive, individual‐level analysis aimed at resolving a major conflict in the political science literature. Our analyses of the 1952-2016 American National Election Studies and the 2008-16 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies provide no evidence of a statistically significant VP HSA. These results are consistent with Devine and Kopko's findings, and inconsistent with Heersink and Peterson's, regarding the VP HSA, in general. However, they are also inconsistent with Devine and Kopko's previous findings regarding a conditional advantage based upon home state population and candidate experience. These results underscore the importance of using individual‐ rather than aggregate‐level data to analyze voting behavior, whenever possible.

Voter Response to Hispanic Sounding Names: Evidence from Down-Ballot Statewide Elections
Suzanne Barth, Nikolas Mittag & Kyung Park
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, October 2019, Pages 401-437

The study of how voters respond to ethnic heuristics is complicated by the possibility that candidates differ along other dimensions that affect voter choice. This paper focuses on down-ballot statewide elections in which voters are plausibly ill-informed about candidates but can still infer race and ethnicity via the informational content in their names. Using nearly two decades of election results from the state of Texas, we find evidence of voters switching party support when their party's candidate has a distinctively Hispanic name. This result is more pronounced in counties that are expected to have higher levels of racial animosity. These findings are important since holding lower statewide office is a valuable stepping stone for minority politicians who aspire to higher office.

Nationalization and the Incumbency Advantage
Jamie Carson, Joel Sievert & Ryan Williamson
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming

Legislative scholars have investigated both the growth in the incumbency advantage since the early 1970s and its decline in recent decades, but there are several unanswered questions about this phenomenon. In this paper, we examine the incumbency advantage across a much wider swath of history to better understand its connection with changing levels of electoral nationalization. Based on an analysis of U.S. House elections extending back to the antebellum era, we find that the incumbency advantage fluctuates in predictable ways over time with changes in nationalization, which can be a product of both institutional and political conditions. We also demonstrate that the increased influence of local forces in congressional elections may not be strictly necessary nor sufficient for the existence of an incumbency advantage.

Motivating Participation Through Political Ads: Comparing the Effects of Physiology and Self-reported Emotion
Kristyn Karl
Political Behavior, forthcoming

With numerous scholars expressing interest, and in some cases concern, over the impact of televised campaign ads on participation, it is vital that our understanding of the effects of political advertising be based on sound assumptions. Yet research regarding emotion and politics relies almost exclusively upon self-reported measures. How does reliance on self-reported measures of emotion impact our understanding of the short-term motivational forces that impact political participation? Using a randomized experiment with carefully manipulated campaign advertisements, I find evidence that an alternative measure of emotional response, physiological arousal, is a powerful predictor of citizens’ willingness to participate in politics. Arousal is not simply a proxy for self-reported emotion, but rather, a different and complementary measure of the emotional experience. I also explore the relationship between arousal and self-reported emotion and find evidence that the translation of arousal into self-reported emotion depends in part on characteristics of the message such as partisan tone and on characteristics of the individual such as political knowledge.

Targeted Issue Messages and Voting Behavior
Kyle Endres
American Politics Research, forthcoming

In today’s data-driven campaigns, presidential targeting strategies rely on detailed perceptions about the political leanings and policy positions of Americans to decide which registered voters to contact and which messages to emphasize in their outreach. However, identifying supporters and opponents of a candidate’s policy positions is far from foolproof. This reality results in some citizens encountering political message(s) on congruent issues, where their issue stance aligns with the messaging candidate, and others encountering incongruent issue message(s), where the candidate and message recipient do not share the same position. Examining official contact records from the 2012 presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney, I find evidence that Romney’s campaign had some success when targeting Democrats with congruent issues. Messaging Democrats with an issue where they and Romney share common ground is associated with decreased support for Obama, increased abstention, and increased support for Romney. Contacting Democrats with an incongruent message and contacting Republicans with either an incongruent or congruent issue message had minimal effects on the voting behavior of the recipient.

Ground Truth Validation of Survey Estimates of Split-Ticket Voting with Cast Vote Records Data
Alexander Agadjanian & Jonathan Robinson
MIT Working Paper, August 2019

From signaling trends in nationalization and partisanship to clarifying preferences for divided government, split-ticket voting has received copious attention in political science. Important insights often rely on survey data, as they do among practitioners searching for persuadable voters. Yet it is unknown whether surveys accurately capture this behavior. We take advantage of a novel source of data to validate survey-based estimates of split-ticket voting. Cast vote records in South Carolina (2010-18) and Maryland (2016-18) provide anonymized individual level choices in all races on the ballot for every voter in each election, serving as the ground truth. We collect an array of public and private survey data to execute the comparison and calculate survey error. Despite expectations about partisan consistency pressures leading to survey underestimates, we find that surveys generally come close to the true split-ticket voting rates in our set of races. Accuracy varies, but notably is more consistent for split-ticket voting in a given dyad of national races (e.g., President vs. U.S. House) than in one with state races, as the former is often of greater interest in research and practice.

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.