Voter access has become a deeply polarized issue in American politics. It is well-known that policymakers’ positions on election laws are often dictated by whether they think the laws will help their electoral interests and those of their party. But we know little about whether public opinion on election laws is similarly driven by partisan interest or is instead constrained by concerns of procedural legitimacy. To answer this question, I conduct a survey experiment that frames the issue of same-day registration (SDR) in terms of which major party it is expected to help electorally. The results provide clear evidence that both Democrats and Republicans are less likely to support SDR after being told the policy will primarily increase turnout among voters of the opposing party, but little evidence that being told SDR will benefit their own party affects opinion. These findings suggest an asymmetry in citizens’ willingness to choose partisan interest over democratic principles based on whether they perceive a rule change as benefiting the in-party or out-party.
The Limits of Partisanship in Citizen Preferences on Redistricting
The most commonly accepted model of public attitudes toward election rules assumes that citizens follow the cues of their preferred party’s elites and support rules that would benefit that party in elections. This paper proposes an alternative model in which most citizens prefer fair electoral institutions at the expense of partisan interest when that choice is made explicit, while a minority of committed partisans are driven by partisanship. To test this theory I use two survey experiments and the specific case of redistricting to determine how the presence of party labels and evidence of the opposing party behaving unfairly affect citizens’ choice between a “partisan gerrymander” district map and a “nonpartisan fair” map. The first experiment finds that while introducing party labels makes partisans more likely on average to choose a gerrymandered map, a clear majority of partisans choose a nonpartisan map across all experimental conditions. Only those citizens who strongly identify as members of a political party or score highly on a measure of negative partisanship are likely to choose partisanship over fairness. The second experiment finds that presenting Democrats with evidence of egregious Republican gerrymandering causes them to be more likely to support similar pro-Democratic gerrymandering, but the reverse was not true for Republicans.
The Generational Divide on Ranked Choice Voting
Co-authored with Jack Santucci
Ranked choice voting (RCV), a replacement for plurality or runoff voting in which voters rank candidates, is increasingly used in American state and local elections. Nearly all of these adoptions have been by referendum, which raises questions about what sorts of voters think they are likely to benefit from the change. While the literature and journalists have focused on race and partisanship, this paper identifies a third big factor in public support for RCV: the generational divide. We consult five surveys of varied question wording and political context. In four of five of these, age is a precise predictor of RCV support. Young people are especially likely to support RCV and older people are especially likely to oppose it. Race and partisanship matter, but age also explains variation within Republican and black subgroups. We conclude with thoughts on this generational support in a context of weakened voting rights and heightened reform agitation.
Researchers studying women's representation have long sought to determine whether voters have a bias toward choosing male or female candidates. While survey experiments have identified gender biases in voters, observational studies of voter behavior in partisan elections have largely failed to find a significant effect of candidate gender on vote choice. This paper demonstrates that in at least one state, New Hampshire, voters are significantly more likely to vote for women than men in state legislative elections. Using the unique nature of the New Hampshire state house’s large multi-member districts, I show that this gender gap is not caused by a “cream of the crop” selection bias in which only the best female candidates run for office, as suggested by previous research, but instead by a voter preference for female candidates. I also find that the use of multi-member districts may contribute to women’s electoral advantage.
Manipulating the Public’s Sense of Democratic Fairness
The public’s perception of the fairness of an election rule is an important determinant of popular support for that rule. As a result, the public’s sense of fairness might act as a constraint on party elite attempts to manipulate election rules for their own partisan benefit. However, the effectiveness of this constraint would be lessened if party elites are able to manipulate what the public considers fair. There are two possible mechanisms by which this manipulation could occur. First, elites could change the public’s perception of whether a given fairness value matches up with a given election rule. Party elites could induce citizens to associate a positive value with an election reform for which they would like to increase support. Second, elites could attempt to directly change which fairness values people prioritize or endorse. This study tests both mechanisms using survey experiments. In one survey respondents are presented with party elite messages attempting to change the democratic values they associate with certain election reforms. In a second survey, respondents are given party elite messages attempting to change the democratic values that they prioritize in general.