Voting, Popularity, and the Electoral College

Kevin Lewis

December 03, 2009

The Electoral College after Census 2010 and 2020: The Political Impact of Population Growth and Redistribution

Edward Burmila
Perspectives on Politics, December 2009, Pages 837-847

The combined effects of an aging population, domestic migration, and the geographically heterogeneous effects of foreign immigration are producing politically significant changes in the distribution of the American population. Using statistical projections of state populations in the 2010 and 2020 US Censuses combined with statewide estimates of the normal vote based on the last five presidential elections (1992-2008), I show that by 2024 Republican presidential candidates will receive a net benefit of at least eight electoral votes due to the declining population of the Northeast and upper Midwest relative to the rapidly-growing Sun Belt. Democratic presidential candidates will find it increasingly difficult to win elections without having some success in the South and Southwest as Barack Obama did in 2008 but many previous candidates failed to do. While migration will also benefit some solid Democratic states such as California, on balance Republican presidential candidates are poised to benefit from the status of Sun Belt states as magnets for both foreign immigration and domestic migration from a retirement cohort of unprecedented size.


Seeing Red (and Blue): Effects of Electoral College Depictions on Political Group Perception

Abraham Rutchick, Joshua Smyth & Sara Konrath
Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, December 2009, Pages 269-282

Colored maps depicting electoral results may exacerbate perceptions of polarization, rather than merely reflecting them. Participants viewed maps of state-by-state Presidential election results that were either Electoral (red/Republican or blue/Democrat) or Proportional (purples that proportionally reflected each group's support). Half of the maps also displayed state-level numeric electoral results. Participants viewing Electoral maps perceived the nation as more politically divided, stereotyped the political beliefs of residents of various states more, and saw people holding views in the political minority as less agentic and less likely to vote. These differences occurred even in the presence of numeric data. Implications of these findings for intergroup perception in several domains are discussed, including the impact of electoral depictions on political campaigns and elections.


American Idol: Should it be a singing contest or a popularity contest?

Atsu Amegashie
Journal of Cultural Economics, November 2009, Pages 265-277

In the popular FOX TV reality show, American Idol, the judges, who are presumably experts in evaluating singing effort, have no voting power when the field is narrowed to the top 24 contestants. It is only the votes of viewers that count. In the 2007 season of the show, one of the judges, Simon Cowell, threatened to quit the show if a contestant, Sanjaya Malakar, who was clearly a low-ability contestant, won the competition. He was concerned that the show was becoming a popularity contest instead of a singing contest. Is this a problem? Not necessarily. I show that, under certain conditions, making success in the contest dependent on a contestant's popularity and not solely on her singing ability or performance, could paradoxically increase aggregate singing effort. It may be optimal to give the entire voting power to the viewers whose evaluation of singing effort is noisier.


The Perils of "Pure Democracy": Minority Rights, Liquor Politics, and Popular Sovereignty in Antebellum America

Kyle Volk
Journal of the Early Republic, Winter 2009, Pages 641-679

Examining conflict over local option liquor license laws passed in numerous states during the mid-1840s, this article exposes a pioneering moment in the history of direct democracy. Spurred by the temperance movement's crusade against alcohol and liquor licensing, local option laws empowered local voting majorities, in a referendum-like manner, to decide annually at the ballot box whether or not licenses would be issued. Based on investigation of reform literature, legislative reports, newspapers, and court opinions, this article illustrates how reformers' enlistment of the ideas of majority rule and popular political empowerment to legitimate local option prompted debates that moved beyond the propriety of restrictive liquor regulation and resulted in a widespread reassessment of fundamental tenets of American popular sovereignty. Turning to the activities of liquor dealers and others who resisted local option, this article uncovers a groundbreaking strain of dissent that coalesced in Delaware. By suggesting limits to popular political empowerment and majority rule and stressing the ability of representative democracies to protect minority rights, attorneys representing pro-liquor forces convinced Delaware's highest court to declare local option unconstitutional. Not only did their ideas reverberate in other court decisions and policy debates of the period, but they established a lasting practice of questioning ballot box legislation grounded in the ideas of James Madison and other elite thinkers concerned about the threat of majority tyranny. In the process, pro-liquor groups helped democratize the tradition of questioning majority rule for future use by other nonelite minorities.


Not So Fast, My Friend: Biases in College Football Polls

McDonald Paul Mirabile & Mark David Witte
Journal of Sports Economics, forthcoming

The national championship game in Division IA football is selected in part by voters. Are the voters biased? Examining all weekly rankings from 2004 to 2008, the authors find the following results. Voters in the USA Today (Coaches') Poll tend to rank their team's recent opponents 4.3 places higher than the average voting coach and rank the recent opponents of their alma mater 3.2 places higher. Additionally, both coaches and sports media (AP Poll) overassess teams who play in certain Bowl Championship Series (BCS) conferences relative to non-BCS conferences and reward "running up the score" by voting teams with high offensive output above their peers.


Corporate Voting versus Market Price Setting

Yair Listokin
American Law and Economics Review, forthcoming

This paper examines the relation between two means of corporate information aggregation -- corporate voting and stock market pricing. If the median voter and the price-setting shareholder share similar information, then close proxy contest outcomes should not have systematic effects on stock prices. The paper shows, however, that close dissident victories cause positive movements in stock prices, while close management victories lead to negative price effects. The median voter values management control more than the price-setting shareholder. Voting and market pricing aggregate information in very different ways, with important implications for the role of voting and market pricing in corporate law.

Should We Elect the US Supreme Court?.

Mariah Zeisberg
Perspectives on Politics, December 2009, Pages 785-803

Extensive political science research reveals that the decisions of the US Supreme Court are deeply political. And both advocates and critics of judicial elections concede that partisan elections are a democratic method of judicial selection. Does the value of democratic representation mean that US Supreme Court Justices should be selected through partisan elections? I argue not. Partisan judicial elections are actually far poorer institutional mechanisms for capturing the judgment of the people on legal matters than has been recognized. The role of parties in structuring a campaign distorts the deliberative environment surrounding judicial elections, creating significant barriers to voters expressing a judgment on matters of legal meaning. The kind of distortion is best understood through reference to a processual criterion of deliberative democracy, which provides a fitting normative template to ground theoretical inquiry into the reason-giving possibilities of existing democratic institutions and practices. Hence, answering why the US Supreme Court should not be elected on democratic grounds also reveals new insights about the role of parties in sustaining (or subverting) deliberative democratic ideals.


Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups

Sarah Anzia
Stanford Working Paper, October 2009

This paper develops a theory of how the timing of elections affects the representativeness of public policy by biasing who is likely to turn out to vote. It is an established fact that local elections held on days different than national and statewide elections have lower voter turnout. I show that the decrease in turnout that comes with off-cycle election timing does not occur uniformly across the electorate; rather, it creates a strategic opportunity for special interest groups. Members of interest groups with a large stake in the outcome turn out at high rates regardless of election timing, and their efforts to mobilize and persuade voters are more likely to have an impact on the election outcome when turnout is low. Consequently, policy made by local governments that hold off-cycle elections should be more favorable to interest groups than the policy of governments that hold on-cycle elections. I test this theory using data on school district elections in the U.S., in which teacher unions are the dominant interest group. I find that districts with off-cycle elections pay experienced teachers over 3 percent more than districts that hold on-cycle elections.


Getting it Right or Playing it Safe? Correct Voting, Confusion and the Status Quo Bias in Direct Democracy

Mike Binder
University of California Working Paper, September 2009

Vote choice in initiative races is typically discussed in terms of "yes" and "no" votes, and confusion is widely regarded as contributing to an increase in "no" votes. Using data from two San Diego, California exit polls in 2008 and the Washington Poll in 2007, I present an analysis that provides no consistent support for the claim that confusion leads to more "no" votes. Another method of exploring vote choice investigates correct voting, defined as voting in line with one's preferences. Though confusion does not consistently lead to "no" votes, confusion does lead to more incorrect votes and inhibits the ability of citizens to match their votes with their preferences. On a positive note, endorsements are shown to enable voters to better align their preferences with the choices they face on the ballot.


The Effect of Newspaper Entry and Exit on Electoral Politics

Matthew Gentzkow, Jesse Shapiro & Michael Sinkinson
NBER Working Paper, November 2009

We use new data on entries and exits of US daily newspapers from 1869 to 2004 to estimate effects on political participation, party vote shares, and electoral competitiveness. Our identification strategy exploits the precise timing of these events and allows for the possibility of confounding trends. We find that newspapers have a robust positive effect on political participation, with one additional newspaper increasing both presidential and congressional turnout by approximately 0.3 percentage points. Newspaper competition is not a key driver of turnout: our effect is driven mainly by the first newspaper in a market, and the effect of a second or third paper is significantly smaller. The effect on presidential turnout diminishes after the introduction of radio and television, while the estimated effect on congressional turnout remains similar up to recent years. We find no evidence that partisan newspapers affect party vote shares, with confidence intervals that rule out even moderate-sized effects. We find no clear evidence that newspapers systematically help or hurt incumbents.


Do Redistricting Principles and Practices Affect U.S. State Legislative Electoral Competition?

Richard Forgette, Andrew Garner & John Winkle
State Politics & Policy Quarterly, Summer 2009, Pages 24-55

Critics of U.S. congressional and state legislative redistricting have argued that gerrymandering severely undermines electoral competitiveness to the point of violating constitutional equal protection standards. In this article, we evaluate whether redistricting principles and processes have any measurable consequence on state legislative electoral competition. In addition to their substantive importance, state legislative general election contests provide greater variance than congressional data for empirically assessing theoretical propositions regarding redistricting principles and processes. We find that electoral competitiveness in state legislative races declined throughout the 1990s, even after term limit reforms were implemented. The proportion of uncontested state legislative seats has doubled since the 1970s, and there has also been a slight increase in average margin of election district victory. Our results show that political principles and some traditional, "politically-neutral" redistricting principles significantly decrease the probability of uncontested state legislative elections. In contrast, independent redistricting commissions did not appear to affect state legislative competition. We conclude with a discussion of how our findings relate to the redistricting reform debate.


Power to youth: Designing democracy for long-term well-being

Hans Gersbach & Tobias Kleinschmidt
Mathematical Social Sciences, September 2009, Pages 158-172

Democratic processes may not take the welfare of future generations sufficiently into account and thus may not achieve sustainability. We introduce rejection/support rewards (RSRs) and show that a dual democratic mechanism-RSRs and elections-can achieve sustainability. RSRs stipulate that incumbents who are not re-elected, but obtain the majority support among young voters, receive a particular monetary or non-monetary reward. Such rejection/support rewards induce politicians to undertake long-term beneficial policies, but may invite excessive reward-seeking. We identify optimal RSRs under different informational circumstances.


American and German Elite Journalists' Attitudes toward Election Polls

Wolfgang Wichmann & Frank Brettschneider
International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Winter 2009, Pages 506-524

Opinion polls are a highly prominent feature in today's reporting on election campaigns. But the relationship between journalists and opinion polls in the U.S. and Germany has been described as a rivalry in the past. This study presents results of two surveys that were carried out among American and German elite journalists. For the first time this study provides quantitative statements about the opinion of White House correspondents toward opinion polls and how they use poll results in their day-to-day business. Compared to results of a 2005 survey among members of the Bundespressekonferenz in Germany, this study reveals relevant similarities but also important differences between the attitudes of elite journalists in the two countries. In a nutshell, the findings lead to the conclusion that White House correspondents as well as members of the Bundespressekonferenz have a more confident than skeptical attitude toward scientific polling and the use of political poll results in their work. Even more, the results show that White House correspondents have a more confident attitude than their German colleagues.


Apportionment Matters: Fair Representation in the US House and Electoral College

Brian Gaines & Jeffery Jenkins
Perspectives on Politics, December 2009, Pages 849-857

The 2000 presidential election made various electoral institutions-from ballot format to voting mechanisms-suddenly prominent in public debate. One institution that garnered little attention, but nonetheless affected the outcome, was apportionment. A few commentators, looking ahead to 2004, noticed that Bush would have won more comfortably had the apportionment based on the 2000 census already been in place for the 2000 election. Little attention, however, was paid to the method by which 1990 census data were used to generate the 1992-2000 apportionment, even though there are many ways to perform that allocation, the United States has used different methods over its history, and the precise algorithm turned out, in this instance, to matter. More generally, previous discussions of apportionment methods have neglected the point that allocation to states of US House seats simultaneously determines Electoral College weights. Since the Electoral College has built-in biases favoring small states, an apportionment method that partially offsets this bias might be justifiable. We revisit some criteria by which one might prefer one apportionment rule to another, in light of this double duty.


Strategic Voting and Legislative Redistricting Reform: District and Statewide Representational Winners and Losers

Caroline Tolbert, Daniel Smith & John Green
Political Research Quarterly, March 2009, Pages 92-109

Political elites are generally reluctant to alter the status quo unless a change will benefit them. Scholars have found that institutions, and the rules governing them, tend to evolve in ways that maintain equilibrium, preserving the status of winners. Are voters - when presented the opportunity - more likely than elites to alter political institutions? Using survey data, the authors explore mass support in the American states for changing how legislative districts are drawn. They find evidence that representational losers at statewide and district levels are more likely to vote for reforms to create nonpartisan redistricting in ballot issue contests, while electoral winners oppose reform. They argue that ordinary voters - like elected officials - may exhibit a similar instrumental rationale, using a self-interested calculus when serving as policy makers for a day. Beyond theorizing about conditions under which the mass public might engage in strategic voting, the analysis has implications for practical election reform efforts in the American states.


Getting on the Rolls: Analyzing the Effects of Lowered Barriers on Voter Registration

Cynthia Rugeley & Robert Jackson
State Politics & Policy Quarterly, Spring 2009, Pages 56-78

States and the federal government have initiated reforms designed to increase voting participation. Research has focused on the effects of these reforms-specifically, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA)-on voter turnout, but little research has focused directly on voter registration. Moving beyond the question of whether the NVRA increased registration, we ask: Did its implementation diminish the influence of core demographic variables on registration, producing a more representative pool of registered citizens? Relying on data from Current Population Surveys, our analyses provide limited affirmative support. The NVRA attenuated the influence of income in the states with no previous Motor Voter laws. It also reduced the on-year influence of age and the off-year influence of residential stability in these states and those that had prior passive Motor Voter laws. It did not have a similar effect on the influence of other core characteristics.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


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.