Who Are the Likely Voters?

Kevin Lewis

November 03, 2009

The Effect of Local Political Context on How Americans Vote

Joshua Dyck, Brian Gaines & Daron Shaw
American Politics Research, November 2009, Pages 1088-1115

Neighborhood context could condition voting decisions, but systematic investigation of whether (how) the traits of a given locale shape individual voting decisions is sparse. We explore the possibility that local partisan balance affects turnout and the use of convenience voting in particular. Using comprehensive registered-voter lists from four swing states in the 2002 and 2006 elections, we find an intriguing asymmetry: Republican registrants are usually sensitive to partisan context, whereas Democrats are not. Republican election-day turnout rates generally decrease with the proportion of partisan registrants that are Democratic in the area. This demobilization is only sporadically counterbalanced by greater use of convenience voting. In contrast, Democrats exhibit less systematic patterns. In many cases, there are seemingly perverse effects, wherein Democratic turnout rates fall with growing Democratic registration advantages. The asymmetry may be driven by differences in the competitiveness of elections in areas with notable imbalances in partisan registration.


Candidate Faces and Election Outcomes: Is the Face-Vote Correlation Caused by Candidate Selection?

Matthew Atkinson, Ryan Enos & Seth Hill
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, October 2009, Pages 229-249

We estimate the effect of candidate appearance on vote choice in congressional elections using an original survey instrument. Based on estimates of the facial competence of 972 congressional candidates, we show that in more competitive races the out-party tends to run candidates with higher quality faces. We estimate the direct effect of face on vote choice when controlling for the competitiveness of the contest and for individual partisanship. Combining survey data with our facial quality scores and a measure of contest competitiveness, we find a face quality effect for Senate challengers of about 4 points for independent voters and 1-3 points for partisans. While we estimate face effects that could potentially matter in close elections, we find that the challenging candidate's face is never the difference between a challenger and incumbent victory in all 99 Senate elections in our study.


Does the Content of Political Appeals Matter in Motivating Participation? A Field Experiment on Self-disclosure in Political Appeals

Hahrie Han
Political Behavior, March 2009, Pages 103-116

Although robust citizen participation is fundamental to a healthy democracy, we still lack a clear sense of how to motivate participation. This paper presents the results of an experimental study designed to see if the content of political appeals matters in motivating participation. Previous research in this area has had mixed results. This paper finds that political appeals that include some self-disclosure about the person making the request triggers a liking heuristic that causes subjects to be more likely to comply with a request for action. Subjects receiving the treatment appeal are significantly more likely to donate money to support a political cause.


The Place of Inequality: Non-participation in the American Polity

Joe Soss & Lawrence Jacobs
Political Science Quarterly, Spring 2009, Pages 95-125

Joe Soss and Lawrence R. Jacobs argue that the widely held prediction that rising inequalities would motivate the disadvantaged to use their political rights seems to falter badly in the United States today. They present findings that demonstrate how inequality has reshaped participation patterns in the American polity.


The Political Participation Puzzle and Marketing

Ron Shachar
Journal of Marketing Research, forthcoming

This study shows that one of the most intriguing findings on political participation (that the participation rate is higher in close elections) is due to the omission of variables - the marketing activities. The finding about the relationship between closeness and participation is intriguing because (1) it seems to imply that people participate in elections because their vote might be decisive, but (2) such an incentive to vote is unreasonable. This study presents a theoretical model that suggests that closeness does not affect the turnout rate directly, but rather through the marketing activities of the parties. In other words, it is shown that in equilibrium, close elections attract higher marketing spending, which in turn increases turnout. We use data on the 1996-2004 presidential elections in the US to examine the model and its implications. Using structural (and non-structural) estimation we find that the data support the model and its implications. Specifically, closeness does not have a direct effect on turnout. Furthermore, the effect of marketing on turnout is quite dramatic. For example, it turns out that if the marketing activity were cancelled in the 2004 elections, the number of voters would have decreased by 15 million.


Campaign Microtargeting and the Relevance of the Televised Political Ad

Travis Ridout
The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics, July 2009

Several trends, both societal and technological, suggest that televised political advertising should be losing its position at the center of today's political campaign, but is this the case? Analyzing ad-tracking data from the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential nominating campaigns, I show that the use of televised political advertising has, if anything, increased over time. Although campaigns may be focusing more nowadays on micro-targeting and "ground war" tactics, they have far from abandoned the traditional 30-second political spot.


Context and Strategy in Presidential Campaigns: Incumbency and the Political Climate

James Campbell & Bryan Dettrey
Journal of Political Marketing, October 2009, Pages 292-314

We propose and examine a theory of how the context of the political climate and incumbency interact to affect candidate strategies and their impact on candidate evaluations and the vote in presidential elections. From this theory, we generate four hypotheses. Two concern the difference between elections in which the incumbent runs as opposed to open seat races with a successor in-party candidate. The other two hypotheses concern the difference in evaluations of incumbents and successor candidates in open seat elections. The results indicate that open seat elections are less reflective of the political climate than incumbent elections, that incumbents experience higher highs and lower lows than successor candidates, that evaluations of successor candidates tend to be more muted representations of evaluations of incumbents, and that the vote in open seat races depends more heavily on how voters judge the successor candidate rather than the incumbent leaving office. The contextual campaign made a substantial difference in 2008, allowing John McCain to distance himself from the unpopular President Bush and to do significantly better in evaluations and at the polls than the incumbent would have.


Race, Region, and Vote Choice in the 2008 Election: Implications for the Future of the Voting Rights Act

Nathaniel Persily, Stephen Ansolabehere & Charles Stewart
Harvard Law Review, forthcoming

The election of an African American as President of the United States has raised questions as to the continued relevance and even constitutionality of various provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Barack Obama's apparent success among whites in 2008 has caused some to question the background conditions of racially polarized voting that are key to litigation under Section 2 of the VRA. His success in certain states, such as Virginia, has also raised doubts about the formula for coverage of jurisdictions under Section 5 of the VRA. This Article examines the data from the 2008 primary and general election to assess, in particular, the geographic patterns of racial differences in voting behavior. The data suggest that significant differences remain between whites and racial minorities and between jurisdictions that are covered and not covered by Section 5 of the VRA. These differences remain even when controlling for partisanship, ideology and a host of other politically relevant variables. The Article discusses the implications of President Obama's election for legal conceptions of racially polarized voting and for decisions concerning which jurisdictions Section 5 ought to cover.


Redistribution, Pork and Elections

John Huber & Michael Ting
Columbia University Working Paper, July 2009

Why might citizens vote against redistributive policies from which they would seem to benefit? Many scholars focus on "wedge" issues such as religion or race, but another explanation might be geographically-based patronage or pork. We examine the tension between redistribution and patronage with a model that combines partisan elections across multiple districts with legislation in spatial and divide-the-dollar environments. The model yields a unique equilibrium that describes the circumstances under which poor voters support right-wing parties that favor low taxes and redistribution, and under which rich voters support left-wing parties that favor high taxes and redistribution. The model suggests that one reason standard tax and transfer models of redistribution often do not capture empirical reality is that redistributive transfers are a less efficient tool for attracting votes than are more targeted policy programs. The model also underlines the central importance of party discipline during legislative bargaining in shaping the importance of redistribution in voter behavior, and it describes why right-wing parties should have an advantage over left-wing ones in majoritarian systems.


The Economy, the Candidates, and the 2008 Campaign

Richard Johnston & Emily Thorson
University of British Columbia Working Paper, August 2009

We claim that although the economy was an important factor it is hard to relate the evolution of vote intentions to the financial crisis. When the crisis reached voters' consciousness, the vote shift was already under way. Already on the scene was Sarah Palin. Not only was her candidacy unraveling by this time but its continued deterioration tracked that of John McCain's support with uncanny precision. We show that the dynamics of opinion on her were not epiphenomenal. We also show that her impact was extraordinary, twice as great as for any other recent Vice-Presidential candidate. We speculate on why this was so and ask what this reveals about contingent elements in campaigns.


From Ferraro to Palin: Sexism in Media Coverage of Vice Presidential Candidates

Caroline Heldman
Occidental College Working Paper, August 2009

Print media coverage of vice presidential candidates is examined from 1984 through 2008 to determine whether gender differences exist in the amount, type, tone, and content of coverage. We find persistent gender differences in mention of dress/appearance, mention of candidate family, gendered policy coverage, and negative tone that disadvantage female candidates. Additionally, female candidates are four times more likely to receive sexist media coverage, and the intensity and volume of sexist coverage increased dramatically from Ferraro's run in 1984 to Palin's run in 2008. We also compared Palin's coverage in Old Media (print) and New Media (blogs) and found that sexist coverage and negative coverage are more pronounced in this new medium. This does not bode well for female candidates considering that New Media is eclipsing Old Media in readership.


What's In an Endorsement? An Analysis of Web-Based Marketing in the 2004 Presidential Campaign

Christine Williams, Girish Gulati & Ellen Foxman
Journal of Political Marketing, July 2009, Pages 173-189

This study examines the role of endorsements in the 2004 presidential campaign by analyzing the Web sites of candidates and endorsing organizations. Because the Web sites are controlled by the respective organizations, examining their content provides objective information about the use of endorsements by candidates and endorsing organizations. The study finds that endorsements in the 2004 presidential election had very different roles and prominence for the Democratic and Republican nominees: there were very few publicized endorsements of President Bush. Analysis of the postings by 75 organizations, 71 of which supported Senator Kerry, shows that these organizations allocated more space to their endorsements than did the candidates. The candidates' Web sites tended to publicize the endorsements of larger organizations and more generous donors. Union endorsements tended to be posted by both the candidates and the organizations, but issue group endorsements were more often found only on the endorsing organizations' sites. Similarly, endorsements by organizations focused on the economy/jobs tended to be posted on both candidate and endorsing organization sites, whereas endorsements by organizations focused on social issues tended to appear only on endorsing organization Web sites. The Kerry Web site's emphasis of endorsements from organizations concerned with homeland and national security was not reciprocated on the Web sites of the organizations themselves.


When It's Not All About Me: Altruism, Participation, and Political Context

Cindy Kam, Skyler Cranmer & James Fowler
University of California Working Paper, June 2007

Altruism refers to a willingness to pay a personal cost to make others better off. Past research has established a link between altruism and political participation, primarily among college students. We show that dictator game behavior predicts support for humanitarian norms and donations to Hurricane Katrina victims, suggesting that dictator game allocations are valid measures of altruism. Moreover, we show that this measure of altruism predicts participation in politics, suggesting that past results with students can be generalized to a broader population. Finally, consistent with the argument that altruists only participate when they think doing so will make everyone better off, we show that there is no relationship between altruism and voter turnout in an election where the outcome is distributive and where it is not clear that either political outcome will produce a net societal gain.

Voters Hold the Key: Lock-In, Mobility, and the Portability of Property Tax Exemptions

Ron Cheung & Chris Cunningham
Federal Reserve Bank Working Paper, August 2009

Since California voters approved Proposition 13 in 1978, fifteen states have enacted caps on the annual growth in assessed property values. These laws often impose a great burden on municipal finances and create horizontal inequity among homeowners. Why do voters choose to limit local government in this way? Reasons may include controlling the power of special interests, addressing agency failures of government officials (the "Leviathan" hypothesis), or preserving the impact of a current but fleeting antitax political alignment. Yet research has found that voters' perception of a limitation's fiscal consequences do not match reality, questioning the rationality of voter behavior. To counter this position, another strand of literature argues that support for tax limitations is driven not by perceptions of government inefficiency but by reasonable expectations of who will ultimately bear the tax limitation's burden. We explore this view by exploiting the differential tax treatment generated by assessment caps in the context of a recent, novel referendum in Florida. We examine voter support for a 2008 constitutional amendment that included a unique provision making the existing assessment cap portable within the state. We test the hypothesis that voters understood the mobility consequences of tax limitations and the net burden of the cap. We find that high potential tax savings and high expected mobility rates result in higher support for portability. We also find that the degree of racial segregation, the presence of nonresidential tax bases, and the share of migrants from out of state all contribute to support for the amendment. Results suggest that voters were as concerned with reducing their own tax share at the expense of other property owners as they were with curtailing local expenditures.


The Aggregate Dynamics of Campaigns

Janet Box-Steffensmeier, David Darmofal & Christian Farrell
Journal of Politics, January 2009, Pages 309-323

Daily interactions between partisan elites, the media, and citizens are the driving dynamic of election campaigns and the central determinant of their outcomes. Accordingly, we develop a theory of campaign dynamics that departs from previous top-down models of campaign effects in its emphasis on the reciprocal campaign interactions between these actors. We examine these interactions with daily data on campaign expenditures, media coverage, and voter support in the 2000 presidential campaign. We find that partisan elites, the media, and citizens each played critical and interdependent roles in creating the dynamics of the campaign and producing the closest election in decades. We also find that the Gore campaign was hindered by its delayed responsiveness to the Bush campaign and its unwillingness to reinforce positive media coverage of Gore with increased campaign expenditures.


Television Advertising in Mayoral Campaigns

Timothy Krebs & David Holian
University of New Mexico Working Paper, September 2009

In this research we investigate the substance and tone of mayoral candidates' campaign speech as revealed in television advertisements. Our main empirical focus is on the behavior of minority candidates, who for strategic reasons are expected to deracialize their campaigns in an effort to appeal to white crossover voters. Unlike previous research we compare the speech of minorities and non-minorities alike, both within and across election contexts. We also examine primary and runoff elections with the expectation that candidates' issue speech and tone will differ depending on the phase of the election. We find that in primary elections, black candidates talk significantly more than non-blacks about redistributive issues, and significantly less than non-blacks on the issue of crime. The same is true in runoff contests with regard to redistribution. As for candidates' tone, Hispanic candidates are somewhat less negative than whites, controlling a large number of individual and contextual factors likely to influence candidates' campaigns. We discuss the implications of our findings for the theory of deracialization.


Collateral Consequences of a Collateral Penalty: The Negative Effect of Felon Disenfranchisement Laws on the Political Participation of Nonfelons

Melanie Bowers & Robert Preuhs
Social Science Quarterly, September 2009, Pages 722-743

Objective: Felon disenfranchisement (FD) policies are said to not only prohibit (ex)felons from voting, but also reduce the political influence of particular groups that are most affected by FD laws. This study tests several hypotheses regarding the role of socialization on individual-level political participation to examine the claims that nonfelons' probability of voting is reduced by strict FD laws.

Methods: The study uses multilevel modeling and two separate individual-level data sets of those registered to vote to examine the effect of FD laws on the probability of voting.

Results: The findings demonstrate that strict FD laws reduce the probability of voting for blacks, but not whites, while the results are mixed for several other demographic groups.

Conclusions: Beyond the direct removal of ex-felons from the voter pool, FD policy can undermine the mechanism of political socialization, leading to potentially greater biases in the electoral arena than previously thought.

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