In the Running

Kevin Lewis

March 03, 2023

Electability salience can bias voting decisions
William Minozzi & Jonathan Woon
Research & Politics, February 2023 


"Electability" received considerable attention during the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, with some critics claiming that the term was code for sexism. From a rational choice perspective, "electability" could affect voting in multiple ways, including via expected utility; previous scholarship suggests that many voters consider it as such. Yet this scholarship ignores the role that salience plays in decision making, and is silent on which sorts of candidate might benefit from the effects of priming electability. To address these issues, we conducted a survey experiment during the 2020 primary season, measuring Democratic primary voters' preferences for candidates, electability estimates, and candidate rankings. Our experiment manipulated salience by randomizing the order in which preferences and electability were elicited. We show that electability salience caused a substantial increase in the probability that a respondent made decisions based only on electability.

Democracy on the Line: Polling Place Closures in Georgia and the Wait Time to Vote
Gerard Cachon & Dawson Kaaua
University of Pennsylvania Working Paper, January 2023 


Opponents of closures fear longer delays to vote, but queueing theory suggests the wait time to vote could improve, while also reducing costs, as advocated by proponents. Consistent with the hypothesis that voting capacity was reduced to lower costs, using a difference-in-difference analysis, we estimate that, due to voting process changes Georgia made between 2012 and 2016, the average wait time to vote in Georgia increased 13.67 minutes. Based on the home addresses of approximately four million Georgian voters, we estimate that closures increased the average distance to a voter's nearest polling place by 0.15-0.20 miles, which requires an additional driving time of about 1 minute. Using a cross-sectional analysis of counties in Georgia, we find that closures are associated with a county's income, but not its racial composition or party affiliation, which is more consistent with the motivation to reduce election administrative cost rather than a desire to suppress voting. Furthermore, these income-related closures appear to have increased wait times for low-income voters.

Compulsory Voting Diminishes the Relationship Between Winning and Satisfaction With Democracy
Shane Singh
Journal of Politics, forthcoming 


A robust body of research demonstrates that those who vote for electoral winners are most satisfied with democracy. In addition, a growing stream of literature shows that compulsory voting affects vote choices, attitudes, and emotions. Drawing insights from both literatures, I theorize that the relationship between winning and satisfaction with democracy is weaker for compelled voters. I test my theory with two separate studies. In Study 1, I leverage a natural experiment whereby individuals are quasi-randomly assigned to compulsory voting based on their birth date. Results show that compulsory voting causes the size of the relationship between winning and satisfaction to decrease. In Study 2, I harness post-election survey data from several dozen countries. Results show that the association between voting for winners and satisfaction with democracy is weaker in countries where nonvoters are subject to penalties, especially among citizens who are less likely to turn out volitionally.

Cross-State Strategic Voting
Gordon Dahl et al.
NBER Working Paper, February 2023 


We estimate 3% of the U.S. voter population is registered to vote in two states. Which state these double-registrants choose to vote in reflects incentives and costs, being more prevalent in swing states (higher incentive) and states which automatically send out mail-in ballots (lower cost). We call this behavior cross-state strategic voting (CSSV) and estimate there were 317,000 such votes in the 2020 presidential election. Because both Democrats and Republicans engaged in CSSV, the net effect was small, although it could matter in closer elections (e.g., Florida in 2000) or if one party increased CSSV relative to the other.

Election-Denying Republican Candidates Underperformed in the 2022 Midterms
Janet Malzahn & Andrew Hall
Stanford Working Paper, February 2023 


We combine newly collected election data with records of public denials of the results of the 2020 election to estimate the degree to which election-denying Republican candidates for senator, governor, secretary of state, and attorney general over- or under-performed other Republicans in 2022. We find that the average vote share of election-denying Republicans in statewide races was approximately 2.3 percentage points lower than their co-partisans after accounting for state-level partisanship. Election-denying candidates received roughly 2 percentage-points more vote share than other Republican candidates in primaries, on average, although this estimate is quite uncertain. The general-election penalty is larger than the margin of victory in battleground states in recent close presidential elections, suggesting that nominating election-denying candidates in 2024 could be a damaging electoral strategy for Republicans. At the same time, it is small enough to suggest that only a relatively small group of voters changed their vote in response to having an election-denying candidate on the ballot.

Who benefits from voter identification laws?
Jeffrey Harden & Alejandra Campos
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 14 February 2023 


In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, many American state governments implemented voter identification (ID) laws for elections held in their states. These laws, which commonly mandate photo ID and/or require significant effort by voters lacking ID, sparked an ongoing national debate over the tension between election security and access in a democratic society. The laws' proponents -- primarily politicians in the Republican Party -- claim that they prevent voter fraud, while Democratic opponents denounce the disproportionate burden they place on historically disadvantaged groups such as the poor and people of color. While these positions may reflect sincerely held beliefs, they also align with the political parties' rational electoral strategies because the groups most likely to be disenfranchised by the laws tend to support Democratic candidates. Are these partisan views on the impact of voter ID correct? Existing research focuses on how voter ID laws affect voter turnout and fraud. But the extent to which they produce observable electoral benefits for Republican candidates and/or penalize Democrats remains an open question. We examine how voter ID impacts the parties' electoral fortunes in races at the state level (state legislatures and governorships) and federal level (United States Congress and president) during 2003 to 2020. Our results suggest negligible average effects but with some heterogeneity over time. The first laws implemented produced a Democratic advantage, which weakened to near zero after 2012. We conclude that voter ID requirements motivate and mobilize supporters of both parties, ultimately mitigating their anticipated effects on election results.

Primary Barriers to Working Class Representation
Sarah Treul & Eric Hansen
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming 


How do working class candidates perform in primary elections? Working class candidates rarely emerge, but existing evidence suggests workers perform as well as white-collar candidates once on the ballot. However, this evidence comes from studies of general elections. It is unknown whether these findings extend to other types of elections like primaries, where candidates compete without the political and financial backing of a party. We collect and analyze novel data describing the occupational background of all candidates who competed in U.S. House primaries between 2008 and 2016. The results show that working class candidates received an average vote share 24 percentage points lower than nonworkers and are 31 percentage points less likely to win their primaries. Controlling for other candidate, contest, and district characteristics helps to attenuate the performance gap. We find mixed evidence that fundraising and prior officeholding experience moderates workers' performance, but weak or no evidence that voter bias, party affiliation, or primary type do so. The study suggests that workers struggle to compete in primaries and calls for further research explaining what prevents workers from winning public office.

Women Grab Back: Exclusion, Policy Threat, and Women's Political Ambition
Amanda Clayton, Diana O'Brien & Jennifer Piscopo
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


Previous work suggests that observing women officeholders increases women's political ambition. Yet, jumps in women's representation in the United States' "Years of the Woman" -- following the Anita Hill testimonies and the election of Donald Trump -- are linked to women's exclusion from political decision-making. Drawing on focus groups with prospective women candidates, we theorize that exclusion when combined with a gendered policy threat increases women's political ambition. Using survey experiments replicated across different samples, we show that women who read about an all-male city council poised to legislate on women's rights report increased ambition compared with their pretreatment ambition levels and to women in other treatment groups. Women's increased sense of political efficacy drives these results. When women's rights are not under discussion, men's overrepresentation does not move (or even depresses) women's ambition. Seeing the policy consequences of their exclusion causes some women to seek a seat at the table.

Using Twitter to Detect Polling Place Issues on U.S. Election Days
Prathm Juneja & Luciano Floridi
University of Oxford Working Paper, December 2022 


In this article we analyze whether Twitter can be used to detect barriers to voting at polling places. We use 20,322 tweets geolocated to U.S. states that match a series of keywords on the 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018 general election days. We fine-tune BERTweet, a pre-trained language model, using a training set of 6,365 tweets labeled as issues or non-issues. We develop a model with an accuracy of 96.9% and a recall of 72.2%, and another model with an accuracy of 90.5% and a recall of 93.5%, far exceeding the performance of baseline models. Based on these results, we argue that these BERTweet-based models are promising methods for detecting polling place issues on U.S. election days. We suggest that outputs from these models can be used to supplement existing voter protection efforts and to research the impact of policies, demographics, and other variables on voting access.

Running Towards Rankings: Ranked Choice Voting's Impact on Candidate Entry and Descriptive Representation
Jonathan Colner
University of California Working Paper, January 2023 


This research project investigates whether one of the purported benefits of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) - an expanded candidate pool - has been realized in the cities where it has been implemented. Employing a difference-in-differences approach with matching, I find that any increase in the candidate pool size dissipates after several election cycles. Similarly, related benefits such as a higher quality and more diverse candidate pool are also temporary. As the first project to systematically examine whether and how RCV influences candidate entry in the US, this analysis questions some of the purported benefits of RCV as well as offers a comprehensive new resource for scholars and practitioners investigating the effects of RCV.

Message Distortion as a Campaign Strategy: Does Rival Party Distortion of Focal Party Position Affect Voters?
Zeynep Somer-Topcu & Margit Tavits
Journal of Politics, forthcoming 


Do voters understand party positions? A growing literature is interested in answering this question but has limited its focus on parties' own policy messages. In real life, parties are engaged in constant exchange with their rivals about their policy positions, which creates possibilities for partisan rivals to misconstrue each other's policy messages. Using experimental (N = 9,562) and large-scale cross-national data, we show that such message distortion by rival parties significantly moves voters' perceptions away from where the party locates itself and toward the distorted position. Furthermore, contrary to expectations from the literature on partisan motivated reasoning, this effect holds for all voters, regardless of whether they support the rival party, the focal party, or neither. These findings have important implications for our understanding of voter perceptions, partisan bias, and party strategies.

Officially Mobilizing: Repeated Reminders and Feedback from Local Officials Increase Turnout
Daniel Hopkins, Susanne Schwarz & Anjali Chainani
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


In the U.S., voter turnout in many subnational elections is concerningly low. Campaigns and organizations have tested various interventions to increase turnout, but many are resource-intensive and not feasible for local governments to implement equitably at scale. Here, we report a pre-registered experiment with 1 million Philadelphia registered voters that is one such feasible intervention. Partnering with city officials, we sent postcards to some registrants before and after the spring 2019 municipal primary and before the November election, with the post-primary postcards thanking recipients for voting or saying "sorry we missed you." Others received postcards only before the November election. Receiving four postcards throughout the cycle increased November turnout by 1.5 percentage points; the two pre-general postcards increased turnout by 0.8 percentage points. Importantly, mailers increased turnout without also exacerbating racial inequalities, providing scalable, easy-to-implement techniques for local governments to adopt.


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