Popularity contest

Kevin Lewis

February 09, 2018

#NeverTrump: Why Republican members of Congress refused to support their party's nominee in the 2016 presidential election
Lauren Johnson, Deon McCray & Jordan Ragusa
Research & Politics, January 2018


In an election characterized by countless headlines, the refusal of Republicans to support their party's nominee was a constant topic of discussion in 2016. Our paper looks to explain why Republican members of Congress joined the so-called #NeverTrump movement. In the first part, we document the varied - and often contradictory - explanations of the #NeverTrump movement offered by journalists, pundits, and politicians during the campaign. We then categorize these popular explanations into four theoretical categories: policy preferences, identity, electoral motivations, and establishment dynamics. In the second part, we test the varied claims. We believe two findings stand out and have broader implications for American politics. First, despite the popular belief that members of Congress are single-minded in their pursuit of reelection, we found that a lawmaker's religion and sex - both in the identity category - had the largest effects on the decision to join the #NeverTrump movement. Second, the results show that establishment Republicans were more likely to support Donald Trump's candidacy. Notably, the direction of this effect is inconsistent with popular explanations of the #NeverTrump movement but consistent with a range of academic studies.

From the Bargaining Table to the Ballot Box: Political Effects of Right to Work Laws
James Feigenbaum, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez & Vanessa Williamson
NBER Working Paper, January 2018


Labor unions play a central role in the Democratic party coalition, providing candidates with voters, volunteers, and contributions, as well as lobbying policymakers. Has the sustained decline of organized labor hurt Democrats in elections and shifted public policy? We use the enactment of right-to-work laws - which weaken unions by removing agency shop protections - to estimate the effect of unions on politics from 1980 to 2016. Comparing counties on either side of a state and right-to-work border to causally identify the effects of the state laws, we find that right-to-work laws reduce Democratic Presidential vote shares by 3.5 percentage points. We find similar effects in US Senate, US House, and Gubernatorial races, as well as on state legislative control. Turnout is also 2 to 3 percentage points lower in right-to-work counties after those laws pass. We next explore the mechanisms behind these effects, finding that right-to-work laws dampen organized labor campaign contributions to Democrats and that potential Democratic voters are less likely to be contacted to vote in right-to-work states. The weakening of unions also has large downstream effects both on who runs for office and on state legislative policy. Fewer working class candidates serve in state legislatures and Congress, and state policy moves in a more conservative direction following the passage of right-to-work laws.

Why Can't We Agree on ID? Partisanship, Perceptions of Fraud, and Public Support for Voter Identification Laws
John Kane
Public Opinion Quarterly, Winter 2017, Pages 943-955


Much scholarship and media commentary contends that, with few documented instances of in-person voter fraud, voter identification laws (VID) are strategically enacted to advantage the Republican Party in future elections. Research on elected officials finds support for this contention, but as yet, no direct empirical test exists of whether citizens' attitudes toward VID are guided by such strategic considerations, particularly while accounting for differential perceptions of fraud prevalence. In this article, I first demonstrate the robustness of partisanship as a significant predictor of public support for strict VID with nationally representative survey data. Then, relying upon survey experiments, I uncover two important asymmetries among partisans. First, Republicans tend to increase support for VID upon learning of even a miniscule amount of in-person voter fraud, but appear relatively insensitive to strategic considerations. Second, Democrats' support for VID depends significantly upon which party stands to benefit from the laws, but Democrats do not appear sensitive to information about fraud. Overall, the evidence suggests that, in the mass public, Democrats' views toward VID are more rooted in strategic concerns about electoral outcomes than are Republicans'. In fact, Democrats who were told that VID will reduce Republican turnout were statistically indistinguishable from Republicans in terms of support for VID. Importantly, the results also suggest that efforts to correct misperceptions about the actual prevalence of voter fraud may, paradoxically, further stoke Republicans' (and, to a lesser extent, Independents') support for stringent voter identification legislation.

Principled Moderation: Understanding Parties' Support of Moderate Candidates
Hans Hassell
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Recent scholarship has argued that parties strategically support more moderate, and thus more electable, candidates. Using interviews with party elites and new data on the party support and the ideology of primary candidates for the US Senate, I show that parties do support moderate candidates. However, using evidence from districts with different levels of competitiveness and over time, I find that support of moderate candidates appears not to be strategic. Rather, party support of moderate candidates appears to be the result of the ideological preferences of party leadership rather than a strategic effort to win elections.

An Evaluation of the 2016 Election Polls in the United States
Courtney Kennedy et al.
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming


The 2016 presidential election was a jarring event for polling in the United States. Preelection polls fueled high-profile predictions that Hillary Clinton's likelihood of winning the presidency was about 90 percent, with estimates ranging from 71 to over 99 percent. When Donald Trump was declared the winner of the presidency, there was a widespread perception that the polls failed. But did the polls fail? And if so, why? Those are among the central questions addressed by an American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) ad hoc committee. This paper presents the committee's analysis of the performance of preelection polls in 2016, how that performance compares to polling in prior elections, and the extent to which performance varied by poll design. In addition, the committee examined several theories as to why many polls, particularly in the Upper Midwest, underestimated support for Trump. The explanations for which the most evidence exists are a late swing in vote preference toward Trump and a pervasive failure to adjust for overrepresentation of college graduates (who favored Clinton). In addition, there is clear evidence that voter turnout changed from 2012 to 2016 in ways that favored Trump, though there is only mixed evidence that misspecified likely voter models were a major cause of the systematic polling error. Finally, there is little evidence that socially desirable (Shy Trump) responding was an important contributor to poll error.

Who voted for Brexit? A comprehensive district-level analysis
Sascha Becker, Thiemo Fetzer & Dennis Novy
Economic Policy, October 2017, Pages 601-650


On 23 June 2016, the British electorate voted to leave the European Union (EU). We analyse vote and turnout shares across 380 local authority areas in the United Kingdom. We find that exposure to the EU in terms of immigration and trade provides relatively little explanatory power for the referendum vote. Instead, we find that fundamental characteristics of the voting population were key drivers of the Vote Leave share, in particular their education profiles, their historical dependence on manufacturing employment as well as low income and high unemployment. At the much finer level of wards within cities, we find that areas with deprivation in terms of education, income and employment were more likely to vote Leave. Our results indicate that a higher turnout of younger voters, who were more likely to vote Remain, would not have overturned the referendum result. We also compare our UK results to voting patterns for the far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the 2017 French presidential election. We find similar factors driving the French vote. An out-of-sample prediction of the French vote using UK estimates performs reasonably well.

The Implications of Apportionment on Quality Candidate Emergence and Electoral Competition
Matthew Geras
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


The U.S. apportions congressional districts both across states and within states based upon population. Scholars have long focused on the electoral implications of redistricting within states, but there has been less consideration of the electoral implications of apportionment across states. In this paper, I analyze congressional elections from 2002 to 2014 and theorize that the limited number of political opportunities in states with few congressional districts will lead to higher levels of quality candidate emergence and electoral competition in these states. I find support for this theory; specifically, as the number of political opportunities in a state increases, the number of quality candidates running for office decreases.

Trait Associations for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in News Media: A Computational Analysis
Sudeep Bhatia, Geoffrey Goodwin & Lukasz Walasek
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


We study media representations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In particular, we train models of semantic memory on a large number of news media outlets that published online articles during the course of the election. Based on the structure of word co-occurrence in these media outlets, our models learn semantic representations for the two presidential candidates as well as for widely studied personality traits. We find that models trained on media outlets most read by Clinton voters and media outlets most read by Trump voters differ in the strength of association between the two candidates' names and trait words pertaining to morality. We observe some differences for trait words pertaining to warmth, but none for trait words pertaining to competence.

Public Hearings and Congressional Redistricting: Evidence from the Western United States 2011-2012
Peter Miller & Bernard Grofman
Election Law Journal, forthcoming


We test theories about the effects of public input into redistricting, with evidence taken from remarks made in person at public hearings. One model, the cynical model, features legislators acting in their own interest and carries an expectation that public input is more or less a sham that line drawers will ignore, holding hearings only to give the appearance of responsiveness. A variant of this cynical model suggests that political parties and candidates will seek to manipulate the public input process by making partisan suggestions disguised as citizen input. An idealist vision, on the other hand, suggests input by the public can provide important information to line drawers about citizen preferences which can and will get integrated into plans. A further complication is who is drawing the lines. We might expect that redistricting commissions would be more responsive to public input than that of legislators, since the former has less of a partisan motivation. We analyze a sample of 937 suggestions proffered in person by individuals, public officials, and group representatives at 22 public comment hearings in nine states. We find the public does contribute a large number of "feasibly mappable" suggestions that are incorporated into plans, but only suggestions addressing a small geographical area are likely to be adopted. Finally, we find little difference in the degree to which different types of redistricting authorities incorporate suggestions made at hearings into their plans.

Do Mayors Run for Higher Office? New Evidence on Progressive Ambition
Katherine Levine Einstein et al.
American Politics Research, forthcoming


The mayor's office potentially offers a launchpad for statewide and national political ambitions. We know relatively little, however, about how frequently mayors actually run for higher office, and which mayors choose to do so. This article combines longitudinal data on the career paths of the mayors of 200 big cities with new survey and interview data to investigate these questions. While we find that individual and city traits - especially gender - have some predictive power, the overwhelming story is that relatively few mayors - just under one-fifth - ever seek higher office. We suggest that ideological, institutional, and electoral factors all help to explain why so few mayors exhibit progressive ambition.

In Through the Out Door: Examining the Use of Outsider Appeals in Presidential Debates
Jared Alan Stewart
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


A great deal of anecdotal analysis has been devoted to the use of anti-Washington language in presidential campaigns, but no effort has been made to systematically explain what type of candidate uses this language or what factors influence the adoption of outsider rhetoric. This work utilizes debate transcripts from 1976 to 2016. Using a keywords approach that captures "outsider" appeals, the data show that this rhetoric is not limited to pure outsiders but is employed by a myriad of candidates. Furthermore, the data suggest that the adoption of outsider appeals does not seem to be driven by presidential approval, divided government, or polarization. This work provides a rigorous methodological approach that goes beyond anecdotal explanations of how and why candidates attempt to go outside to get in.

Informative Cheap Talk in Elections
Navin Kartik & Richard Van Weelden
Review of Economic Studies, forthcoming


Why do office-motivated politicians sometimes espouse views that are non-congruent with their electorate's? Can non-congruent statements convey any information about what a politician will do if elected, and if so, why would voters elect a politician who makes such statements? Furthermore, can electoral campaigns also directly affect an elected official's behavior? We develop a model of credible "cheap talk" - costless and non-binding communication - in elections. The foundation is an endogenous voter preference for a politician who is known to be non-congruent over one whose congruence is sufficiently uncertain. This preference arises because uncertainty about an elected official's policy preferences generates policymaking distortions due to reputation/career concerns. We show that cheap talk can alter the electorate's beliefs about a politician's policy preferences and thereby affect the elected official's behavior. Informative cheap talk can increase or decrease voter welfare, with a greater scope for welfare benefits when reputation concerns are more important.

Agenda Setting through Social Media: The Importance of Incidental News Exposure and Social Filtering in the Digital Era
Jessica Feezell
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


Conventional models of agenda setting hold that mainstream media influence the public agenda by leading audience attention, and perceived importance, to certain issues. However, increased selectivity and audience fragmentation in today's digital media environment threaten the traditional agenda-setting power of the mass media. An important development to consider in light of this change is the growing use of social media for entertainment and information. This study investigates whether mainstream media can influence the public agenda when channeled through social media. By leveraging an original, longitudinal experiment, I test whether being exposed to political information through Facebook yields an agenda-setting effect by raising participants' perceived importance of certain policy issues. Findings show that participants exposed to political information on Facebook exhibit increased levels of issue salience consistent with the issues shared compared with participants who were not shown political information; these effects are strongest among those with low political interest.

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