Shrinking audiences and political coverage cutbacks threaten newspapers’ ability to inform the public about politics. Despite substantial theorizing and widespread concern, it remains unclear how much the public can learn from these struggling news sources. I link measures of the newspaper-produced information environment with large-scale surveys that capture the public’s awareness of their member of Con- gress. This shows the contemporary effects of newspapers on representative-specific awareness are one-half to one-third estimates from earlier eras. Despite this decline newspapers remain an important contributor to political awareness in a changing media landscape, even for those with limited political interest. These results estab- lish broader scope conditions under which the public can learn from the media environment.
The premise that constituents hold representatives accountable for their legislative decisions undergirds political theories of democracy and legal theories of statutory interpretation. Yet, studies for this idea at the individual level are still sparse. This paper provides a unified assessment of policy representation from the constituents' perspective, using 50,000 respondents across the twelve-year span of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. Correlational, instrumental variables, and experimental methods provide strong and robust evidence supporting accountability: (1) people's perceptions of their representatives' votes reflect actual roll call votes and are on average correct, and (2) those beliefs about representatives' policy decisions causally affect constituent's evaluations of their representatives. Issues and party matter equally. When conflicts between issue agreement and party labels arise, each has approximately the same power for approval and vote choice. Ultimately, constituents hold representatives accountable for their actual decisions on key legislation.
Although it is widely known that the self-reported turnout rates obtained from public opinion surveys tend to substantially overestimate the actual turnout rates, scholars sharply disagree on what causes this bias. Some blame overreporting due to social desirability, whereas others attribute it to non-response bias and the accuracy of turnout validation. While we can validate self-reported turnout by directly linking surveys with administrative records, most existing studies rely on proprietary merging algorithms with little scientific transparency and report conflicting results. To shed a light on this debate, we apply a probabilistic record linkage model, implemented via the open-source software package fastLink, to merge two major election studies – the American National Election Studies and the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey – with a national voter file of over 180 million records. For both studies, fastLink successfully produces validated turnout rates close to the actual turnout rates, leading to public-use validated turnout data for the two studies. Using these merged data sets, we find that the bias of self-reported turnout originates primarily from overreporting rather than non-response. Our findings suggest that those who are educated and interested in politics are more likely to overreport turnout. Finally, we show that fastLink performs as well as a proprietary algorithm.
Theories of representation suggest that candidates should respond ideologically to their constituency. Two-stage elections like those in the U.S. force candidates to decide which parts of their constituency they should respond to: citizens who are active enough to participate in primaries or those who only participate in general elections. We posit that non-incumbent candidates should mostly focus on the preferences of primary voters while incumbents should be largely unmoved by the preferences of either set of voters. We test these expectations using data from U.S. House and Senate contests and find support for our theory. Our results suggest that scholars should pay closer attention to the two-stage nature of U.S. elections when evaluating electoral responsiveness.
Political commentators have offered evidence that the “polling misses” of 2016 were caused by a number of factors. This project focuses on one explanation: that likely-voter models—tools used by preelection pollsters to predict which survey respondents are most likely to make up the electorate and, thus, whose responses should be used to calculate election predictions—were flawed. While models employed by different pollsters vary widely, it is difficult to systematically study them because they are often considered part of pollsters’ methodological black box. In this study, we use Cooperative Congressional Election Study surveys since 2008 to build a probabilistic likely-voter model that takes into account not only the stated intentions of respondents to vote, but also other demographic variables that are consistently strong predictors of both turnout and overreporting. This model, which we term the Perry-Gallup and Demographics (PGaD) approach, shows that the bias and error created by likely-voter models can be reduced to a negligible amount. This likely-voter approach uses variables that pollsters already collect for weighting purposes and thus should be relatively easy to implement in future elections.
Imagine you’ve scooted into a red booth in an unfussy local diner somewhere in Michigan, not unlike those portrayed in the numerous articles reporters have dispatched from the Midwest since the 2016 election. One booth over, you’re overhearing a middle-aged white man talk about his politics with a buddy of his.
You find out over the course of your meal that he’s a moderate Democrat who wants to keep Obamacare protections in place and opposes concealed-carry, but who also supports mandatory minimum sentencing and favors deporting illegal immigrants. He also happens to mention that he voted for Donald Trump.
This sort of conflicted, “cross-pressured” voter often appears in vigorous debates over swing voters in quasi-hypothetical terms. However, we know from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (C.C.E.S.), a nationwide scientific survey, that this aforementioned voter in Michigan is a very real, living, breathing man, who was among the roughly 65,000 Americans asked about their identities, policy preferences and voting behavior by the study.
Questions about people’s perceptions of politicians or other political actors are of central interest in a wide variety of research areas. But measuring these perceptions is difficult in part because respondents may use survey response scales in different ways. In a classic article, Aldrich and McKelvey (1977) introduce a method adjusting for such differential item functioning by assuming that all respondents perceive political stimuli identically. I propose a modeling approach built on the Aldrich and McKelvey framework but incorporating anchoring vignettes. This approach allows for scale use adjustments without assuming that all respondents perceive a given politician identically. I apply this model to data on Americans’ perceptions of parties, elected officials, and other political actors, showing that, contrary to previous arguments, most variation in ideology ratings is due not to differing scale use, but to differences in underlying perceptions. Specifically, while perceptions of Republican politicians and the Republican party show no significant differences by respondent partisanship, Democratic and Republican respondents differ strongly in their perceptions of the ideology of Democratic political actors as well as the Supreme Court.
We evaluate whether citizens’ trust in Congress is influenced by perceptions of ideological distance between themselves and their representatives. We argue that citizens view members as the “face” of Congress, and thus trust the institution more when the face of that institution is more ideologically proximal to themselves. We test our hypotheses using responses to survey questions regarding both trust in Congress and perceptions of ideological distance between respondents and members of Congress in the 2008 and 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. We then pair these observational survey data with a survey experiment administered by Qualtrics in 2016. Ordinal logistic regressions from our survey data evince strong empirical support for our arguments, showing that as perceived ideological distance between a respondent and her member of Congress increases, trust in Congress as a whole declines. These observational analyses are corroborated by our survey experiment, which again shows that as perceptions of ideological distance increase, trust in legislatures declines. Our results suggest that a lack of faith in legislative institutions is often the result of a failure of representation. One way to restore Americans’ trust in Congress is for members to demonstrate more fidelity to the ideological leanings of their constituents.
CLOSE OBSERVERS of America know that the rules of its democracy often favour Republicans. But the party’s biggest advantage may be one that is rarely discussed: turnout is just 60%, low for a rich country. Polls show that non-voters—both people uninterested in voting and those blocked by legal or economic hurdles—mainly belong to groups that tend to back Democrats.
What would change if America became the 22nd country to make voting mandatory? To estimate non-voters’ views, The Economist used the Co-operative Congressional Election Study (CCES), a 64,600-person poll led by Harvard University. The survey includes demographic data such as race and age, as well as participants’ recollections of whom they voted for and verified records of whether they voted. In general, voters and non-voters from similar backgrounds had similar opinions. Using a method called “multilevel regression and post-stratification”, the relationships between demography and vote choices can be used to project state-level election results—and to estimate what might have happened in the past under different rules.
Washington and California adopted the Top-Two Primary in 2008 and 2012, respectively. Under this new system, all candidates regardless of party affiliation run against each other, narrowing the field down to the top two for the general election. In some jurisdictions, the general election features two candidates from the same party. Ten percent of California voters chose not to vote in the 2016 U.S. Senate election which featured two Democrats. Using data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (2012–2016), I find that among those who vote in the national November elections, orphans, or voters without a copartisan candidate on the ballot are more likely to undervote, opting out of voting in their congressional race. Levels of undervoting are nearly 20 percentage points higher for orphaned voters compared to non-orphaned voters. Additionally, voters who abstain perceive more ideological distance between themselves and the candidates compared to voters who cast a vote. These findings support a multi-step framework for vote decisions in same-party matchups: voters are more likely to undervote if they are unable to vote for a candidate from their party (partisan model), but all voters are more likely to vote for a candidate when they perceive ideological proximity (ideological model).
Recent work on US policymaking argues that responsiveness to public opinion is distorted bymoney, in that the preferences of the rich matter much more than those of lower-income Americans. A second distortion—partisan biases in responsiveness—has been less well studied and is often ignored or downplayed in the literature on affluent influence. We are the first to evaluate, in tandem, these two potential distortions in representation. We do so using 49 Senate roll-call votes from 2001 to 2015. We find that affluent influence is overstated and itselfcontingenton partisanship—party trumps the purse when senators have to take sides. The poor getwhatthey wantmore often fromDemocrats. The rich getwhatthey wantmoreoftenfromRepublicans, butonly ifRepublican constituents side with the rich. Thus,partisanship induces, shapes, and constrains affluent influenc
Debates over the extent to which racial attitudes and economic distress explain voting behavior in the 2016 election have tended to be limited in scope, focusing on the extent to which each factor explains white voters’ two-party vote choice. This limited scope obscures important ways in which these factors could have been related to voting behavior among other racial sub-groups of the electorate, as well as participation in the two-party contest in the first place. Using the vote-validated 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, merged with economic data at the ZIP code and county levels, we find that racial attitudes strongly explain two-party vote choice among white voters—in line with a growing body of literature. However, we also find that local economic distress was strongly associated with non-voting among people of color, complicating direct comparisons between racial and economic explanations of the 2016 election and cautioning against generalizations regarding causal emphasis.
Previous research shows that people commonly exaggerate the size of minority populations. Theories of intergroup threat predict that the larger people perceive minority groups to be, the less favorably they feel toward them. We investigate whether correcting Americans’ misperceptions about one such population—immigrants—affects related attitudes. We confirm that non-Hispanic Americans overestimate the percentage of the population that is foreign-born or in the United States without authorization. However, in seven separate survey experiments over 11 years, we find that providing accurate information does little to affect attitudes toward immigration, even though it does reduce the perceived size of the foreign-born population. This is true even when people’s misperceptions are explicitly corrected. These results call into question a potential cognitive mechanism that could underpin intergroup threat theory. Misperceptions about the size of minority groups may be a consequence, rather than a cause, of attitudes toward those groups.
This article asks whether legislators are able to reap electoral benefits from opposing their party on one or more high‐profile issues. Using data from a national survey in which citizens are asked their own positions on seven high‐profile issues voted on by the U.S. Senate, as well as how they believe their state's two senators have voted on these issues, I find that senators generally do not benefit from voting against their party. Specifically, when a senator deviates from her party, the vast majority of out‐partisans nonetheless persist in believing that the senator voted with her party anyhow; and while the small minority of out‐partisans who are aware of her deviation are indeed more likely to approve of and vote for such a senator, there are simply too few of these correctly informed citizens for it to make a meaningful difference for the senator's overall support.
This article validates donation-based measures of ideology against a rich battery of policy items from the Congressional Campaign Election Study. Donation-based measures are powerful predictors of policy preferences for a wide range of issues and successfully discriminate between donors from the same party. The overall predictive accuracy and relative improvement over party are comparable to what is achieved by scaling roll call votes in legislatures. The results add to an existing body of evidence on the internal validity and reliability of donation-based measures. They also resolve a standing debate in the literature over whether political donations are a valid indicator of donors’ policy preferences.
Does electoral competitiveness boost turnout in U.S. House elections? Using an individual panel of turnout records compiled from the voter files of all 50 states, we exploit variation in district competitiveness induced by the 2012 redistricting cycle to provide credible estimates of the effect of competitiveness on turnout. When tracking the same voters across time under differing levels of competitiveness, we precisely estimate the effect on turnout to be near zero. Although past cross-sectional research reports a link between competitiveness and turnout in House elections, we demonstrate that residents in competitive districts differ markedly from those in uncompetitive districts along a number of observable characteristics correlated with turnout, and we argue that this induces bias in most cross-sectional estimates. Secondary evidence tracking voter perceptions of competitiveness and campaign behavior provides support for our finding. Voters have scant awareness of competitiveness in House elections, and, while campaign spending is strongly related to competitiveness, it is directed into avenues that do not appreciably increase turnout. Our findings have important implications for the competitiveness--turnout relationship in other electoral settings with geographically compact, single-member districts.
Legislative staff link Members of Congress and their constituents, theoretically facilitating democratic representation. Yet, little research has examined whether Congressional staff actually recognize the preferences of their Members’ constituents. Using an original survey of senior US Congressional staffers, we show that staff systematically mis-estimate constituent opinions. We then evaluate the sources of these misperceptions, using observational analyses and two survey experiments. Staffers who rely more heavily on conservative and business interest groups for policy information have more skewed perceptions of constituent opinion. Egocentric biases also shape staff perceptions. Our findings complicate assumptions that Congress represents constituent opinion, and help to explain why Congress often appears so unresponsive to ordinary citizens. We conclude that scholars should focus more closely on legislative aides as key actors in the policymaking process, both in the United States and across other advanced democracies.
This paper explores public perceptions of congressional partisanship in an era of polarized parties. We use data from a module on the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) that asks respondents about the voting behavior of their legislators. Our results show that individuals underestimate the extent to which legislators from their own party vote the party line—even when primed with information about high levels of party-line voting in Congress—while fairly accurately perceiving levels of unity in the opposing party. We also find evidence that this perceptual gap endures, and at times widens, at higher levels of political knowledge and in the presence of elections. Finally, in a separate experiment, we explore how voters respond to differential levels of party-line voting by a hypothetical legislator. The combined results from the experiment and CCES module suggest voters’ perceptions often align with what allows them to have the most favorable impression of their party’s senators or unfavorable impression of the other party’s senators. The results suggest that biases in how voters process information about levels of partisanship in Congress may limit accountability in meaningful ways.