Swinging Votes

Kevin Lewis

May 26, 2023

Heuristic Projection: Why Interest Group Cues May Fail to Help Citizens Hold Politicians Accountable
David Broockman, Aaron Kaufman & Gabriel Lenz
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


An influential perspective argues that voters use interest group ratings and endorsements to infer their representatives' actions and to hold them accountable. This paper interrogates a key assumption in this literature: that voters correctly interpret these cues, especially cues from groups with whom they disagree. For example, a pro-redistribution voter should support her representative less when she learns that Americans for Prosperity, an economically conservative group, gave her representative a 100 per cent rating. Across three studies using real interest groups and participants' actual representatives, we find limited support for this assumption. When an interest group is misaligned with voters' views and positively rates or endorses their representative, voters often: (1) mistakenly infer that the group shares their views, (2) mistakenly infer that their representative shares their views, and (3) mistakenly approve of their representative more. We call this tendency heuristic projection.

Television, Authoritarianism, and Support for Trump: A Replication 
Erik Hermann et al.
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming 


Many factors contributed to support for Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election, among them media influences. Morgan and Shanahan (2017) found that television viewing was associated with support for Trump, mediated through authoritarianism. In light of the changes in the political and media environments during Trump's presidency, our study examined whether Morgan and Shanahan's (2017) findings still held in the 2020 US presidential election. Replicating their findings, we found that authoritarianism still mediates the relationship between television viewing and Trump support. As in the original study, the indirect effect is moderated by political ideology and gender, with stronger indirect effects among liberals and females.

We Need Tough Brothers and Sisters in a Tight World: Cultural Tightness Leads to a Preference for Dominant and Muscular Leaders
Hao Chen et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming 


Cultural tightness is characterized by strong norms and harsh punishments for deviant behaviors. We hypothesized that followers in tight (vs. loose) cultures would more strongly prefer muscular leaders. This hypothesis was confirmed across seven studies (N = 1,615) employing samples from the United States, the United Kingdom, and China. Using actual political leaders, we demonstrated that the tighter the state's culture was, the more muscular the elected governor was (Study 1). Temporarily situating participants in a tight (vs. loose) culture made them select a leader higher on muscularity but not on body fat, and the effects obtained occurred for both male and female leaders (Studies 2-3B). In addition, we demonstrated the mediating role of authoritarianism and a preference for a dominant leadership in this process (Studies 4-5B). These results demonstrate the importance of considering the interface between culture and the physical appearance of leaders.

Covid-19 and the 2020 presidential election
David Mitchell
Constitutional Political Economy, June 2023, Pages 188-209 


Whether deserved on not, US Presidents often receive the blame or the credit for the nature of the economy and direction of the country. Therefore, the status of the economy and the country in an election year can be a very important factor in election success for an incumbent President (or his party if an incumbent is not running). This is especially true in 'battleground states' due to the presence of the Electoral College system where Presidential candidates need only win different combinations of states in order to become President. However, the 2020 Presidential election was vastly different from past election cycles in that an additional variable, COVID-19, was added to the decision calculus of voters. Eventually, the 2020 election came down to the extremely slim margins in three states (Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin) and thin margins in two others (Pennsylvania and Michigan). This paper shows that deaths from COVID-19 at the county level played a small role in demotivating voters to turnout in 2020 to cast their vote for Joe Biden as President. In other words, without Covid-19, President Trump's losses within these five states would have been even larger.

Electoral rewards for political grandstanding
Ju Yeon Park
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 April 2023 


Many assumed that legislators send political messages or even grandstand in expectation of gaining electoral rewards. However, largely due to a lack of proper data and measurements, this assumption has not been tested. Publicized committee hearings provide a unique environment to consistently observe changes in legislators' speech patterns and test this assumption. Using House committee hearing transcripts from 1997 to 2016 and Grandstanding Scores -- which capture the intensity of political messages conveyed in members' statements in hearings -- I find that an increase in a member's messaging efforts in a given Congress leads to increased vote share in the following election. This suggests that legislators' grandstanding remarks, often regarded as cheap talk, can be an effective electoral strategy. Additional findings suggest that PAC donors respond differently to members' grandstanding behavior. Specifically, while voters react to members' grandstanding positively but are ignorant about their legislative effectiveness, PAC donors are unmoved by members' grandstanding behaviors and reward members' effective law-making activities instead. These asymmetric reactions from voters and donors may provide members with a twisted incentive to appeal to voters merely by making impressive, political speeches while legislating in favor of organized interests, which raises concerns about how representative democracy works.

Evaluating (In)Experience in Congressional Elections
Rachel Porter & Sarah Treul
University of Notre Dame Working Paper, April 2023 


From the 1980s to the mid 2010s, three-quarters of newly elected members to the U.S. House of Representatives had previous elected experience; only half of freshmen elected from 2016 to 2020 held prior office. In this paper, we investigate emergence- and success-driven explanations for the declining proportion of experienced officeholders entering Congress. In our analyses, we find that the advantages traditionally afforded experienced candidates are waning. First, we show that inexperienced candidates' emergence patterns have changed; amateurs are increasingly apt to emerge in the same kinds of contests as their experienced counterparts. We then show that experienced candidates have lost their fundraising edge, and that -- for certain kinds of candidates -- the value of elected experience itself has declined. Lastly, we identify other kinds of candidate characteristics as strong predictors for success in modern elections. We demonstrate that these electorally advantageous identities overwhelmingly belong to candidates who lack elected experience.

Past exposure to macroeconomic shocks and populist attitudes in Europe
Despina Gavresi & Anastasia Litina
Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming


This paper explores the interplay between past exposure to macroeconomic shocks and populist attitudes. We document that individuals who experienced a macroeconomic shock during their impressionable years (between 18 and 25 years of age), are currently more prone to voting for populist parties, and manifest lower trust both in national and European institutions. We use data for EU countries from the European Social Survey (ESS) to construct the differential individual exposure to macroeconomic shocks during impressionable years. Our findings suggest that it is not only current exposure to shocks that matters (see e.g., Guiso et al., 2020) but also past exposure to economic recessions, which has a persistent positive effect on the rise of populism. Interestingly, the interplay between the two, i.e., past and current exposure to economic shocks, has a mitigating effect on the rise of populism. Individuals who were exposed to economic shocks in the past are less likely to manifest populist attitudes when faced with a current crisis, as suggested by the experience-based learning literature.

Ballot Reform, the Personal Vote, and Political Representation in the United States
Daniel Moskowitz & Jon Rogowski
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming 


Theories of electoral accountability emphasize voters' ability to evaluate individual officeholders, which incentivises officials to demonstrate their quality. Before the Australian ballot was introduced in the US at the turn of the twentieth century, however, most ballot designs constrained voters' ability to distinguish individual candidates. Previous scholarship argues that ballot reform led to the rise of candidate-centred politics and the decline in party influence in the twentieth century. We reassess the evidence for this claim and implement the most comprehensive analysis to date on the secret ballot's effects on outcomes related to distributive politics, legislator effort, and party influence. Using an improved research design, we find scant evidence that ballot reform directly affected legislator behaviour, much less that it transformed political representation. While the Australian ballot may have been a necessary condition for the eventual rise of candidate-centred politics, ballot reform did not by itself reshape American politics.

Sit Still, Talk Pretty: Partisan Differences Among Women Candidates' Campaign Appeals
Annelise Russell, Maggie Macdonald & Whitney Hua
Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, forthcoming 


Women running for Congress make different choices from men about how to connect with constituents on social media, and the increasing number of women running for Congress from both parties suggests that further assessment of the gendered patterns of emotional appeals is needed. We use this opportunity to assess the joint influence of gender and partisanship on patterns of emotional appeals, showing how party moderates the distinct appeals women candidates make on social media. We use a dictionary-based computational approach to catalog congressional candidates' emotional rhetoric on Twitter during the 2020 election year, finding Republican women use more joyful appeals and fewer angry appeals compared to both Republican men and Democratic women, suggesting a gap in emotive appeals and differing expectations for how women communicate that varies with party. Our results underscore the importance of accounting for relative partisanship in developing a more nuanced explanation of how and when women adopt stereotypical styles of campaign communication as the number of Republican women running for Congress continues to increase.

Does Personal Door-to-Door Campaigning Influence Voters? Evidence from A Field Experiment
Charles Baum & Mark Owens
Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, forthcoming 


We investigate a quasi-randomized field experiment to determine the effectiveness of door-to-door campaigning by a candidate on outcomes in a general election. The candidate campaigned door-to-door in quasi-randomly-selected voting precincts, which represent the treatment group. Precincts in which the candidate did not campaign door-to-door are the control group. We utilize detailed precinct-level demographic characteristics, vote totals for the candidate in the prior election, and vote totals for a candidate for another office that appeared on the same ballots in both elections. This information allows us to control for various factors using difference-in-difference and first difference regression models to account for differences between treatment and control groups. Where statistically significant, we find that door-to-door campaigning by the candidate increases the candidate's vote by 3 percentage points and the vote margin by 6 percentage points in a two-candidate race.

The Obama effect? Race, first-time voting, and future participation
Jacob Brown
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


Did the 2008 United States presidential election produce stronger future mobilization for Blacks than non-Blacks? First-time voting influences long-term political behavior, but do minority voters see the most powerful effects when the formative election is tied to their group's political empowerment? I test this hypothesis in the context of the election of the first Black president in United States history, using voting eligibility discontinuities to identify the effect of voting in 2008 on future voting for Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites. Voting in 2008 caused a greater increase in the likelihood of voting in 2010 for Blacks than for other new voters, but there is no evidence of a sustained mobilizing advantage in subsequent elections. Furthermore, 2008 was not a unique formative voting experience for new Black voters, but rather produced similar effects on future voting as other presidential elections. These results signal that group political empowerment does not drive habitual voting.

Dark Defaults: How Choice Architecture Steers Campaign Donations
Nathaniel Posner et al.
Columbia University Working Paper, October 2022 


In the months before the 2020 U.S. election, several campaign websites added pre-checked boxes (defaults), automatically making donations into recurring weekly contributions unless donors unchecked them. Since these changes occurred at different times for different campaigns, we measure the causal effects of defaults on donors' behavior. We estimate that defaults increased campaign donations by over $44 million while increasing requested refunds by $3.5 million. The longer defaults were displayed, the more money campaigns raised through weekly donations. Donors did not compensate for starting weekly chains by changing the amount they donated through other means. We found that the default had a larger impact on smaller donors and on donors who had no prior experience with defaults.


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