Whose Democracy

March 29, 2024

We Got Our Guy!: Populist Attitudes after Populists Gain Power
Yuchen Luo
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, March 2024

Research on populist attitudes and populist leaders' narratives has largely overlooked what happens to populist attitudes after a populist is elected, especially among the populist's supporters. Existing literature points to two possible directions of change. On one hand, if populist attitudes stem from a perceived lack of representation, then we would expect people's populist attitudes to decrease once their preferred candidate is in power. On the other hand, scholars have observed that populist politicians in power continue to deploy populist rhetoric, suggesting that their supporters' populist attitudes should stay constant or even increase. In this project, the author focuses on Donald Trump and his supporters to explore this mechanism. Drawing on a national survey conducted around the 2016 and 2020 elections, the author shows that Trump's supporters saw a significant decrease in populist attitudes after he came into power compared with both other American voters and other Republicans. The author also demonstrates that this decrease in populist attitudes is associated with changes in the level of "feeling represented." On the basis of these findings, the author argues that populist attitudes are driven by feelings of lack of representation over other mechanisms.

The Causal Effects of a Trump Endorsement on Voter Preferences in a General Election Scenario
Scott Blatte, Danielle Piccoli & Matthew Zachem
PS: Political Science & Politics, forthcoming

Former President Trump's persistent influence over Republican politics divides those who argue that he mobilizes otherwise apathetic voters against those contending he mobilizes Democrats at down-ballot Republicans' expense. Scholars and pundits alike question whether policy still matters in the face of increasingly strong personas like the former president's. Using a survey experiment, we find suggestive evidence that Trump's endorsement in a general election reduces the likelihood of voting for a hypothetical Republican candidate. We also test the effect of policy stances and find evidence that Republican respondents value policy stances over an endorsement, but Democrats show no signs of prioritizing one more than the other. However, when shown a hypothetical candidate with unorthodox policy stances, the mere mention of a Trump endorsement leads members of both parties to demonstrate significant changes in the likelihood of voting for that candidate. Ultimately, we show that elite signals can attenuate support derived from policies.

The Plurality Problem: Plurality Primary Victors Hurt Parties in General Elections
Laurel Harbridge-Yong & Rachel Hutchinson
Northwestern University Working Paper, January 2024

Most states do not have majority thresholds for primary elections, which means that "plurality primary victors" (who won the primary with less than 50% of the vote) often advance to the general election. We examine whether plurality primary victors harm their party in general elections. Building on the divisive primaries literature, of which "plurality primaries" share several characteristics and likely mechanisms, we hypothesize that candidates who win their primary election with a plurality of votes perform worse than majority primary victors, relative to expectations. We examine US House, US Senate, and gubernatorial partisan primaries from 2010-2022 in which three or more candidates ran. We find that plurality primary winners underperform relative to expectation and that in competitive districts, this translates into a reduced likelihood of winning the general election. We conclude by discussing how potential reforms, such as ranked choice voting (RCV), might change the partisan and representational consequences of plurality primaries.

Double penalty? How candidate class and gender influence voter evaluations
Jeong Hyun Kim & Yesola Kweon
Research & Politics, March 2024

Why are there so few working-class women in politics? While white-collar representatives dominate legislatures in general, the deficit of working-class members is particularly pronounced among female politicians. To answer this question, this study examines the influence of class and gender in voter evaluation. Through the cross-country comparison of conjoint experiments in the U.S. and the U.K., we find that working-class backgrounds disadvantage women candidates in a way that they do not disadvantage their male counterparts. Voters tend to prefer white-collar candidates to working-class politicians. Such a negative effect of working-class backgrounds is particularly evident for female candidates because the negative traits associated with the lower economic class, such as incompetence and lack of ambition, exacerbate voters' questions about female candidates' qualifications for political leadership. By contrast, for male candidates, whose qualifications are rarely questioned based on their gender, candidates' working-class background has a less negative impact.

Coordination in Plain Sight: The Breadth and Uses of "Redboxing" in Congressional Elections
Gabriel Foy-Sutherland & Saurav Ghosh
Election Law Journal, forthcoming

This article examines the campaign strategy known as "redboxing." Redboxing refers to efforts by candidates and parties to bypass laws prohibiting them from coordinating campaign advertising with outside spending groups such as super PACs. This coordination takes place in plain sight -- on official campaign websites and party "microsites" -- with campaigns asking outside groups to fund specific campaign messages that target particular groups of voters on desired media channels. The instructions contained in a redbox typically employ coded or technical language intended to guide the resulting "independent" expenditures, and are often presented in a distinctive, red-bordered text box designed to be easily identifiable by super PAC operatives. Overall, we find that campaigns use redboxing for two purposes: to engage an allied outside group to amplify the campaign's primary message to voters, or to delegate a given message to an allied group, often a negative or inflammatory attack on a political opponent. Complementing our legal analysis of this practice, we assess the prevalence of redboxing in the American political system, as well as the relationship between redboxing and independent expenditures in congressional races. Drawing on the first comprehensive dataset of redboxes in a single electoral cycle, we find that this strategy is far more widespread than previously understood. Over two hundred candidates for federal office employed redboxing during the 2022 electoral cycle, and these same candidates frequently benefitted from super PAC spending that was hundreds of times greater than candidates who did not redbox. We conclude by providing recommendations for legal reforms to bring redboxing under control, highlighting recent reform initiatives adopted in Philadelphia and Allegheny County, PA, to outline a workable rule that prohibits redboxing while not infringing on genuine, vital political speech.

Evaluating (in)experience in congressional elections
Rachel Porter & Sarah Treul
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

From the 1980s to the mid-2010s, nearly three-quarters of members newly elected to the US House of Representatives had previous elected experience; however, only half of the freshmen elected from 2016 to 2020 held prior office. In this article, 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 to 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 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.

Changing the Dialogue: Descriptive Candidacies and Position Taking in Campaigns for the US House of Representatives
Rachel Porter, Sarah Treul & Maura McDonald
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Although the benefits of increasing descriptive diversity in Congress are well explored, less attention has been paid to the positive impacts of increasing descriptive diversity in elections. Employing a comprehensive collection of campaign platform text from nearly 5,000 campaign websites, we find that Democratic male and white candidates are significantly more likely to take up women's and Black-associated issues when a candidate who possesses that identity runs in their same-party primary election. Extending our analysis to military veterans, we find that Republicans are more likely to discuss veterans' issues when there is a military veteran in their primary; conversely, Democrats are not any more likely to discuss these issues when they run against a veteran. Looking to candidate position taking in the general election, our findings suggest that simply the presence of candidates from underrepresented populations in elections is important to broadening substantive representation in the legislative arena.

Impact of opponents' race, gender, and party on U.S. congressional fundraising
Dennis Halcoussis
Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming

Methods: This study uses data from the 2016, 2018, and 2020 U.S. congressional elections to estimate a regression model where the dependent variable is funds raised by each mainstream party candidate, with party, race, and gender of the candidate and the candidate's opponent accounted for in the model, as well as district competitiveness, district economic and demographic characteristics, and whether the seat is open.

Results: Female Democrats and non-white male Democrats have a fundraising advantage when running against a white male Republican. Female Republicans or non-white male Republicans do not have this advantage when running against white male Democrats.

Political contributions by American inventors: Evidence from 30,000 cases
Nicholas Short
Business and Politics, March 2024, Pages 64-101

Political scientists know surprisingly little about the political behavior of inventors, or those who produce new technologies. I therefore merged US patent and campaign contribution (DIME) data to reveal the donation behavior of 30,603 American inventors from 1980 through 2014. Analysis of the data produces three major findings. First, the Democratic Party has made significant inroads among American inventors, but these gains increasingly come from only a few regions and flow to a relatively small number of candidates. Second, deeper geographic trends explain most of the change in aggregate donation patterns. Third, inventors do not strategically donate to candidates outside their own district and, since 2006, inventors increasingly contribute to relatively centrist employer PACs with weak ties to the Democratic Party. These findings suggest that the interaction between market-oriented policy and American electoral institutions may inhibit the formation of broad cross-regional coalitions to support the knowledge economy.

Embodying Similarity and Difference: The Effect of Listing and Contrasting Gestures During U.S. Political Speech
Icy (Yunyi) Zhang, Tina Izad & Erica Cartmill
Cognitive Science, March 2024

Public speakers like politicians carefully craft their words to maximize the clarity, impact, and persuasiveness of their messages. However, these messages can be shaped by more than words. Gestures play an important role in how spoken arguments are perceived, conceptualized, and remembered by audiences. Studies of political speech have explored the ways spoken arguments are used to persuade audiences and cue applause. Studies of politicians' gestures have explored the ways politicians illustrate different concepts with their hands, but have not focused on gesture's potential as a tool of persuasion. Our paper combines these traditions to ask first, how politicians gesture when using spoken rhetorical devices aimed at persuading audiences, and second, whether these gestures influence the ways their arguments are perceived. Study 1 examined two rhetorical devices -- contrasts and lists -- used by three politicians during U.S. presidential debates and asked whether the gestures produced during contrasts and lists differ. Gestures produced during contrasts were more likely to involve changes in hand location, and gestures produced during lists were more likely to involve changes in trajectory. Study 2 used footage from the same debates in an experiment to ask whether gesture influenced the way people perceived the politicians' arguments. When participants had access to gestural information, they perceived contrasted items as more different from one another and listed items as more similar to one another than they did when they only had access to speech. This was true even when participants had access to only gesture (in muted videos). We conclude that gesture is effective at communicating concepts of similarity and difference and that politicians (and likely other speakers) take advantage of gesture's persuasive potential.

Sincere, Strategic, or Something Else? The Impact of Ranked-Choice Voting on Voter Decision Making Processes
Alan Simmons & Nicholas Waterbury
American Politics Research, forthcoming

The academic debate on how voters decide which candidates to support often centers on whether they prioritize their personal preferences or consider who can beat the opposing candidate. American research on voting behavior has largely focused on first-past-the-post (FPTP) elections. However, considering jurisdictions are adopting new electoral systems such as ranked-choice voting (RCV) this leads to several questions about the impact of system adoption on voter decision-making. Particularly, does the voter decision-making process differ depending on the system used? To investigate the impact of RCV on voter decision-making across electoral systems we conducted a survey experiment in a federal senate election. Our findings indicate that in comparison to FPTP elections, RCV elections may lead to decreases in both sincere and strategic voting. Instead, RCV appears to increase voter uncertainty around how to decide which candidates to support and leads to voters who appear to be neither sincere nor strategic.


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