Session 1a: Knowledge and Information

Thursday, July 28     8:40 AM-10:10 AM


Chair: Dr. Michael G. Miller, Barnard College

Paper #1: How Voters Experience Campaigns in an Era of Convenience Voting

As early voting has become a staple of American elections, empirical studies of its effects have zeroed in on questions related primarily to voter turnout – for example, whether this and other forms of convenience voting increase aggregate turnout (e.g. Burden et al. 2014), and whether such reforms influence the partisan composition of voters (Kaplan and Yuan 2020). Fewer studies, however, have drilled down on the ways in which early voting affects elections themselves.

In this paper, we present two studies that speak to the interaction between early voters and late voters emerging from early voting reforms. First, using a sample from the 2020 CCES, we explore how early and late voters perceive the act of voting early, the benefits and downsides associated with casting an early vote, and the persons who do and do not avail themselves of early voting opportunities. Second, we study the social effects of early voting using an hour-long experiment (conducted in summer 2021) that combined a DPTE-style campaign experience with a small-group deliberation in which information from the campaign was shared among participants.

  • Todd Makse, Florida International University

  • Anand Sokhey, University of Colorado at Boulder

  • Drew Seib, Murray State University


Paper #2: Changing Access to Voting in the Aftermath of the 2020 Election

This paper explores the relationship between election results in 2020 and the passage of election laws that either expanded or restricted (sometimes both) access to the polls in subsequent state legislative sessions.  The primary dependent variable is the net valence of laws passed in the wake of the 2020 election, restrictive or expansive.  The primary independent variables are the partisan composition of state government, the closeness of the 2020 election, and the interaction of the two.  

Although there has been considerable attention to efforts to restrict access to the polls, many states have actually passed laws expanding access.  This paper will advance the field by coding the net results of state legislative activity in 2021 and 2022, characterizing the landscape of proposed vs. enacted legislation, and showing the relationship between the two.  

One additional topic the paper will address is the degree to which the diffusion of the "big lie" has led to less competitive states to jump on the restrictive bandwagon.  That is, we hypothesize that the 2021 legislative sessions were primarily motivated by the immediate reaction to the outcome of the 2020 election, thus leading to a sharp divide in the types of state that passed restrictive or expansive legislation.  By 2022, partisan attitudes about election administration were more diffuse, leading to a reduction in the relationship between the valence of legislative actions and the partisan competitiveness and control of the state.

  • Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Christina James, Spelman College, MIT Summer Research Program, Boston University




Paper #3: The Rise of Safe Seats and Party Indiscipline in Congress

Scholarly work has missed the key reason for the extraordinary levels of political polarization and poor governance in American politics in recent years. Contrary to the appearance that strong party leaders dictate member behavior, we argue that weak party discipline produces polarizing rhetoric in lieu of actionable policy proposals. We attribute this weak discipline to the rising number of safe House districts that play into the hands of extreme primary electorates. First, we provide comprehensive historical evidence of the rise of safe seats in U.S. House districts and show that this trend coincides with the greater divergence of legislators' preferences not just between but also within parties. Second, we demonstrate that representatives from safer districts-and especially those from the GOP-have more ideologically extreme and divergent preferences across multiple alternative measures. We then use redistricting as a plausible source of exogenous variation in electoral competition and corroborate that seat safety causes ideological extremism. Finally, we explore the potential mechanisms behind this relationship, showing that the more-extreme ideological tendencies in safer seats are likely present due to a combination of more extreme electorates, primary challengers, and donor influence there, which can all undermine legislators' willingness to support their party agendas.

  • Alexander Kustov, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

  • Maikol Cerda, Yale University

  • Akhil Rajan, Yale University

  • Frances Rosenbluth, Yale University


Paper #4: Correct Voting and Constraint: Evidence from Cast Vote Records

Political science has strong theoretical expectations about the conditions in which people vote "correctly," that is, in a way consistent with their true preferences and all information known, and the extent to which they display what Converse (1964) defined as "constraint," i.e., the ability of people to make choices that fit together in a clear ideological way. Yet, outside of surveys, we have little evidence about how people actually behave in the voting booth, because voting is a private act.

State election audit systems that provide electronic records of each cast vote (CVRs) offer a novel way to overcome this limitation. We exploit the availability of CVRs in South Carolina and San Francisco, California to conduct novel tests of correct voting and ideological constraint among the mass public. In both jurisdictions, we merge available cfscores to candidates on the ballot in a given election cycle. We then utilize several million individual cast votes in each election to infer voters' partisan preferences, and then to determine the extent to which people vote for the "correct" (or most ideologically proximate) candidate in non-partisan races (where there is no party signal on the ballot). 

We further employ the San Francisco data to study the extent to which voters show constraint. California elections are ideal for this effort because of the large number of ballot initiatives that voters must decide on in any given election. By coding the voter's partisanship and capturing their choices on initiatives, we can gain unprecedented insight into voting behavior. Our paper will result in substantially improved insight into both whether people vote correctly in "real" elections, and whether they can reach constrained decisions on ballot questions, absent strong partisan signals.

  • Michael G. Miller, Barnard College

  • Jonah King, University of Mississippi

  • Conor Dowling, University of Mississippi