MPSA Roundtable on Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair

MPSA Roundtable on Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair

Sean M. Theriault of the University of Texas at Austin, chairs this MPSA roundtable session on “Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair” with Gregory Koger, University of Miami, Daniel John Palazzolo, University of Richmond, Kathryn Pearson, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, David W. Rohde, Duke University and Matthew N. Green, Catholic University of America. Members of the panel remember the contributions of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair to the field of political science through the sharing of memories and personal reflections and take an early look at congressional leadership in the 115th Congress.

Topics discussed include:

  • Reflections on the lives and careers of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair and their contributions to the study of leadership in a representative body and to the field leadership studies overall.
  • Discussion of Barbara Sinclair’s influence and impact on congressional studies scholarship by women.
  • Recollection of the theoretical insights and perspectives these scholars brought to the study of congressional leadership.

MPSA members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations.

MPSA Roundtable on Applying to Grad School

MPSA Roundtable on Applying to Grad School

Mackenzie H. Eason of the University of California – Los Angeles chairs this MPSA roundtable session on “Applying to Graduate School” with Coty J. Martin, West Virginia University, Joan Ricart-Huguet, Princeton University, and Jovan Milojevich, University of California-Irvine. Members of the panel discuss questions and issues related to applying to graduate programs, such as when and where to apply, and how to make yourself a more appealing and ultimately successful candidate for admission.

Additional topics discussed include:

  • Challenges faced by first-generation and international college students.
  • Financial considerations and obtaining funding for graduate study.
  • Selecting a graduate program that will be a good fit based on research interests and geographic location.
  • Writing a personal statement or statement of purpose.
  • Networking, mentoring and building relationships with faculty.

MPSA members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations.

MPSA Roundtable: Teaching LGBTQ Politics (audio)

Susan Burgess, Ohio University-Main Campus, chairs this discussion among panelists and participants in the audience on Teaching LGBTQ Politics. Panelists include Christine Keating of Ohio State University-Main Campus, Megan Elizabeth Osterbur of Xavier University of Louisiana, Marla Brettschneider of University of New Hampshire-Main Campus, and Courtenay Daum of Colorado State University-Fort Collins. Session topics included selecting topics, readings, and pedagogical strategies pertaining to teaching LGBTQ politics classes.

The LGBTQ Politics Teaching Collective, a project in which scholars simultaneously teach courses in LGBTQ politics during Spring 2018, was also introduced during this discussion.

Additional topics from the discussion include:

  • New strategies on teaching LGBTQ politics and queer theory
  • Addressing enrollment and environmental issues
  • Finding interdisciplinary partners on your campus
  • Overall themes and supplementary texts used when shaping syllabi

Attendees also received a Table of Contents from the panel’s new collection of essays “LGBTQ Politics: A Critical Reader”, due out from NYU Press on September 5, 2017.

MPSA members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations.

For more information or to join the LGBTQ Politics Teaching Collective (even if you are not teaching a related course in the Spring – all are welcome), contact Marla Brettschneider at marlab@unh.edu.

 

 

MPSA Career Roundtable on What to Do/Not Do at a Job Talk (audio)

MPSA Roundtable: What to Do (and What Not to Do) at a Job Talk
Listen in as Elizabeth A. Bennion of Indiana University-South Bend chairs the MPSA Career Roundtable on “What to Do and What Not to Do at a Job Talk” with Mary Hallock Morris of University of Southern Indiana and David C. Wilson of University of Delaware. During the discussion, the members of the panel share their observations on how to know if the university is a good fit for you (personally and professionally) and what can make you stand out as a successful candidate.

Topics discussed also include:

  • Preparing to present and explain your research.
  • Identifying your potential audience and building rapport.
  • Tips for handling unanticipated questions and awkward scenarios.
  • Advice for successful phone interviews, teaching demonstrations, and meals.
  • A variety of questions from the audience at the April 2017 MPSA Conference.

MPSA members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations.

What Makes Citizens Support Gender Quotas?

By Tiffany D. Barnes and Abby Córdova, University of Kentucky

The following is part of a series of posts written by MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences and in the American Journal of Political Science. Tiffany D. Barnes and Abby Córdova, University of Kentucky

Gender quotas have been adopted in over a hundred countries in an effort to address gender disparities in national legislatures. Latin America has been a pioneer region in the implementation of gender quota laws, in which the state requires political parties to place female candidates on their party ballot. As of 2017, all but two countries in the Latin American region had implemented a state-mandated legislative gender quota. In our award-winning article, Making Space for Women: Explaining Citizen Support for Legislative Gender Quotas in Latin America”, published in the Journal of Politics (JOP), we carry out the first systematic examination of citizens’ views about gender quotas, and what makes them more or less inclined to support this gender equality policy.

To evaluate the extent of citizen support for quotas, we utilize a survey question included in the 2012 round of the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) survey which covered 24 countries. On a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), respondents were asked their extent of agreement with the following statement: “The state should require political parties to reserve some space on their lists of candidates for women, even if they have to exclude some men.” Based on data for this survey item, we find that the average level of support for gender quotas in the region is 5 points on the 1-7 scale. There is, however, wide variation in support levels across countries, ranging from 3.72 in Trinidad and Tobago to 5.95 in El Salvador (see Figure 1). As depicted by the frequency distributions of the gender quota item across countries in Figure 1, there is also substantial within country variation in quota support. Our article seeks to shed light on this puzzle, what explains differences within and across countries in citizen support for gender quotas in the Latin American region?

Figure 1. Frequency Distribution: Support for Gender Quotas by Country
Figure 1. Frequency Distribution: Support for Gender Quotas by Country

To address this question, we have developed a theory that emphasizes citizen preferences for government intervention and the extent of governance quality to explain citizen support for gender quotas. We focus, moreover, on how these two factors differentially influence men’s and women’s quota support. In this summary, we highlight two findings from our research. The first finding is that citizens’ normative beliefs about the role of government in society are important determinants of support for quota policies, which helps explain within country variation in support for quotas. Consistent with our expectations, high support for government involvement results in stronger quota support among women than men—most likely because women are more prone than men to attribute gender disparities to unfair treatment rather than to women’s decisions, which makes them more supportive of government intervention to improve gender equality. We illustrate this result in Figure 2, which plots the predicted probability of expressing strong support for quotas on the y-axis as support for government involvement increases across the x-axis.

Figure 2. Effect of Preferences for Government Involvement
Figure 2. Effect of Preferences for Government Involvement

We also find that citizens rely on heuristic information they draw on from their national context to determine their level of quota support. Differences across countries in the level of quota support are largely explained by governance quality. A government’s track record of governance quality serves as a cue to citizens trying to decide their level of quota support, and men are more inclined to resort to this contextual information than women. Given that men are less likely to see gender quota policies as serving their interests, men rely more heavily on cues from national context than on policy content to form their opinions on gender equality policies. In countries with a better track record of governance quality, men in particular become more confident that state-mandated gender quotas might be a good idea. Figure 3 plots this relationship. Specifically, we show the predicted probability of expressing strong support for quotas on the y-axis across different levels of government capabilities across the x-axis. The results plotted in Figure 3 indicate that in countries with better governance quality, the gender gap in support for gender quotas disappears.

Figure 3. Effect of Governance Quality
Figure 3. Effect of Governance Quality

The stronger effect of governance quality on quota support among men than women suggests that good governance may also narrow the gender gap in citizen support for other gender equality policies such as fair pay and equal access to employment. Beyond gender issues, governance quality can play a role in shaping support for other affirmative action policies currently topping the agendas of political elites and international organizations such as state-mandated quotas (or reserved seats) for ethnic and religious minorities in political decision-making bodies. Consequently, although political values such as support for government involvement may help explain attitude formation for policies intended to improve the lives of marginalized citizens, support for affirmative action policies in general is likely to be highest in countries with good governance. We are examining some of these issues in a new book project that leverages experimental data to test the theoretical mechanisms proposed in our JOP article.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearch

 

About the Authors: Tiffany D. Barnes and Abby Córdova are Assistant Professors in the Department of Political Science at the University of Kentucky. Their research “Making Space for Women: Explaining Citizen Support for Legislative Gender Quotas in Latin America was recently honored with the Sophonisba Breckinridge Award as the best paper on the topic of women and politics presented at the 2016 MPSA conference.

Modern Police Tactics, Police-Citizen Interactions and the Prospects for Reform

By Jonathan Mummolo, Stanford University

New York City, New York – May 19, 2011: The crest on the jacket of a New York City Police Officer while on patrol.

The following is part of a series of posts written by MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences and in the American Journal of Political Science.

The question of whether and to what degree police officers respond to orders from their commanders is fundamental to understanding the prospects of effective police reform. But for decades, the policing literature has offered no consensus. Indeed, social scientists since the publication of James Q. Wilson’s landmark study, Varieties of Police Behavior (1968), have tended to paint patrol officers as autonomous bureaucrats who are relatively impervious to rules and supervision because of the large amount of discretion they are granted and because the nature of their work allows them to operate largely out of view from their superiors.

There are several reasons this question deserves renewed empirical testing. For one, in light of a spate of recent high-profile incidents of police misconduct, there are widespread calls for police reform today with little agreement on which policy changes will produce the best results. Much research on police misconduct also tends to focus on individual-level officer traits such as implicit bias and personality which, while important determinants of police behavior, suggest few policy-based remedies because prior work shows these traits may be immutable. In addition, many sources of high-resolution data on police behavior have only recently come online.

In my study, I leverage a sudden change in the New York Police Department’s procedure for implementing “Stop, Question and Frisk” (SQF) in order to gauge the responsiveness of officers to orders from their commanders. SQF is a controversial police practice that has historically targeted disadvantaged communities of color, and has been widely criticized for being over-zealously applied in major cities across the U.S. Combining quantitative data covering millions of police stops in New York City with qualitative evidence from original interviews and court transcripts, I use an interrupted time series analysis to estimate the causal effect of a procedural reform within the NYPD on the nature of police-citizen interactions. Specifically, I measure the impact of an order mandating that officers provide their commanders with narrative descriptions of the reasons they stopped criminal suspects on the “hit rate,” the proportion of stops conducted by officers which produced evidence of the suspected crime that motivated those stops. This metric has often been used to approximate the rate at which officers are stopping people actually engaged in criminal activity, rather than needlessly detaining innocent citizens.

The results of this analysis are stark. The day the reform was put into place, the hit rate— which had been relatively stable for years leading up to this date— effectively doubled by some estimates. Further analysis shows that this increase in the hit rate was driven by a sudden and sustained decrease in the number of stops being conducted, which occurred even as the number of stops producing evidence of a crime remained relatively constant. Further, contrary to claims by critics of SQF reforms that crime surged in New York City following this change, an analysis of homicide and robbery data shows no detectable change following the intervention. Faced with the prospect of increased scrutiny from their superiors, officers suddenly and dramatically refrained from detaining thousands of innocent New York residents with no discernible impact on public safety.

There are of course some necessary caveats. Though analyzing the immediate discontinuity in the hit rate at the moment of the intervention provides valuable causal leverage, it also confines inferences about this intervention’s effectiveness to the short term. The high hit rate observed post-intervention persists, and appears to grow, through the end of 2015. But we cannot attribute this persistence to the new directive with much confidence, as intervening events could be responsible. This study also examines data from a single city, and the efficacy of similar reforms should be tested and validated in other settings. Future work that selectively implements similar interventions experimentally across multiple departments could test the robustness and persistence of these effects.

The intervention was also followed by a sharp reduction in the number of stops producing a weapon. While we cannot necessarily attribute this change to the reform—since, again, there was no immediate change in this outcome the day of the reform, and intervening events could have easily been responsible for future changes—we also cannot rule out the possibility that this reduction was due to a lagged treatment effect. If the treatment did cause this decline, that would represent an important public welfare tradeoff. However, it is also worth noting that the primary purpose of removing weapons from the street according to proponents of SQF is to reduce violent crime. As the results show, the intervention did not lead to any detectable increase in homicides or robberies, a result that is consistent with earlier work finding no robust evidence that increases in SQF activity reduced crime rates in New York.

Despite the impact of this reform, the difficulty of improving the quality of police-citizen interactions should also not be understated. Officers still enjoy immense power and discretion as well as substantial barriers to prosecution in the event of wrongdoing. The effect observed here is limited to a single aspect of police work, and it is possible that the performance of other tasks which do not generate reports—or ones performed in environments where the press and populous are less able to scrutinize police behavior—would be much more difficult to improve. And even if similar interventions lead to widespread improvements in policing nationwide (a best case scenario), it may still take years, if not decades, to rebuild the atrophied levels of trust between residents of over-policed communities and law enforcement personnel.

But as solutions to the problems facing law enforcement continue to be sought, these findings should underscore for reformers the strong influence of institutional factors on police behavior. The trope of the “rogue cop” in discussions surrounding police misconduct has led to an individuation of social justice problems that, to a large extent, have institutional support. To be clear, this paper does not dispute that individual-level factors such as racial bias and personality affect police-citizen interactions, but rather that such results, at present, suggest few policy-based remedies. Even if some prejudice reduction strategies are effective, police organizations have often failed to demonstrate this by scientifically evaluating them during implementation. Indeed, the failure to adequately assess the merit of these initiatives may indicate a willful ignorance, and illustrate the resistance of institutions to more sweeping structural remedies. Announcing prejudice reduction initiatives while failing to properly evaluate them may allow political leaders to appear concerned about injustice while distracting attention from the fact that the institutions they control play a substantial role in shaping police behavior.

About the Authors: Jonathan Mummolo is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University. Mummolos research Can New Procedures Improve the Quality of Policing? The Case of ‘Stop, Question and Frisk’ in New York City was recently named as the Best Paper Presented by a Graduate Student presented at the 2016 MPSA conference.

The Loss Lab

“Trump was an alternative to interchangeable robots whose goal is to avoid saying anything interesting.” – Molly Ball, political reporter, The Atlantic

“If you wanted to write a playbook for how to lose an election, Trump did that and he won anyway.”  – Steve Peoples, AP reporter

What rotten luck for political scientists! We had just become established as purveyors of credible data analysis that can help real-world political campaigns target their resources, and then… Well, see the quotes above.MPSAblog-MediaRoundtable

The quotes came from this year’s MPSA roundtable on the media and the 2016 election, in which Ball and Peoples were joined by CNN reporter Nia-Malika Henderson and political scientists Jennifer Lawless of American University and Danny Hayes of George Washington University. The discussion was free-wheeling and wide-ranging, but a few themes did emerge. First, Democrats are in a world of hurt. Second, Trump mobilized voters that do not normally vote, both in the primaries and in the general elections. Third, Trump opponents should be on notice — his popularity among his base is rock-solid and the Democrats offer few alternatives right now, save the simple, unconvincing negation of being not-Trump. Fourth, the news media did not take Trump’s candidacy seriously and thus did not rigorously fact-check his claims until well after he became a serious contender. Fifth, regular folks, including women, do not take Trump’s offensive rhetoric regarding gender as seriously as do those of us in the establishment bubble.

Finally comes the theme that relates to Molly Ball’s quote above; one which will trouble political scientists. Trump ran against the very political establishment which our discipline helped to create. Unless Trump’s election is a pure aberration — which these reporters doubt — the data-driven political consultancies discussed in Sasha Issenberg’s seminal book The Victory Lab lie in shambles, and the future for political scientists in campaigns is unclear.

A very brief history: while the study of politics goes back to ancient civilizations, the modern-day discipline of political science emerged here in the United States. In the early twentieth century, the discipline was associated with scholars such as W.W. Willoughby, and Woodrow Wilson, who later became U.S. President. Early political science was largely descriptive, focusing on what we now call institutions — Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency (the office, that is, not just personal biographies of presidents, which are the bailiwick of our colleagues in History).

In the 1920s, scholars like Charles Merriam, who ran for mayor of Chicago, began to turn the discipline toward analysis of behavior. His classic book on non-voters was an early attempt to suggest that if the reasons why people don’t vote could be isolated, they could also be ameliorated. Happy days, and higher voter turnout, would surely follow. The belief that human behavior was subject to scientific analysis and “correction” was perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the times, where scholars in other disciplines promoted such approaches. Engineer Frederick Taylor, for example, believed that “scientific management” could bridge the gap between labor and management with a common goal of efficiency. In our discipline, public administration scholars like Wilson suggested similar goals for those working in growing bureaucracies: efficiency, not ideology. In practice, like Merriam’s failed bids for mayor, it didn’t quite work out as planned.

By the 1940s, the advent of early computers and spread of the telephone opened up new research avenues. Studies of voting behavior using polling proliferated at Columbia and Michigan, with Michigan’s iconic Institute for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) eventually emerging on top. Through the mid-to-late 20th century, data-based analyses of voting behavior were sobering, even cynical, with classic studies like The American Voter suggesting that most Americans had little understanding of political ideology, and that relatively well informed, strong partisans cancel out one anothers’ votes, leaving elections in the hands of the least informed, most fickle, undecided voters. By the 1970s, many political scientists went so far as to assert that campaigns had little impact, with fundamentals like the state of the economy and presidential approval telling us all we need to know, to predict the next election.

Next came rational choice theory, which rested on the assumption that individuals take rational actions in pursuit of goals (the goals themselves could not be judged as rational or irrational, only the actions; the goals simply were.) Rational-choice resembled economics and featured very sophisticated, mathematical models, some of which utilized no data and were purely theoretical. The goal was to make the study of human, political behavior more truly scientific, with rigor resembling the physical sciences — but then came the backlash.

The ‘90s saw Green and Shapiro’s Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory achieve great popularity by skewering “rat choice” as un-useful in predicting real-world outcomes. Meanwhile the discipline’s perestroika movement took its name from the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev and sought to re-establish traditional approaches like area studies in comparative politics. They even ran rival candidates for the boards of political science associations, and won enough seats to make their point.

By the early 2000s, the new trend was experimental research. In particular, Yale’s Alan S. Gerber and Donald Green conducted field-based research on what approaches and messages were most effective at mobilizing voters (they concluded that old-fashioned, in-person canvassing worked best). As documented by Issenberg, political campaigners began to notice. While initially skeptical, political campaigns began to hire political scientists as consultants. Gerber and Green helped out on Rick Perry’s bid for Texas Governor, where they targeted media buys and candidate appearances. Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s right-hand man, was also a fan. Democrats noticed, too. In 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign invested heavily in these political-science-based approaches, making very precise, precinct- and even voter-level predictions and targeting appeals accordingly. Obama’s victory only encouraged them, and the consultants were back in 2012, this time working for both campaigns.

As documented by Issenberg, the data-driven revolution in campaigns was nearly complete, old political hacks having to share the back rooms with these new number-crunchers. Targeting displaced market-share-based TV ad buys as the go-to strategy for serious candidates.

And then… Trump.

As Peoples notes in the quote above, Trump’s campaign used none of these insights. There were no political scientists on staff. There was no targeting. Trump’s preferred and often his only strategy was campaign rallies, widely dismissed by our discipline as only mobilizing those who already, enthusiastically support the candidate and having no effect on undecideds or those needing mobilization. Peoples points out that Trump campaigned as if bound and determined to do the opposite of everything detailed so carefully in The Victory Lab. And he won.

Now what?

Granted, political scientists pushing for renewed relevance in our discipline did not put all of our eggs in the Victory Lab basket. The popular Monkey Cage blog features well-respected scholarship that speaks in real time to policy challenges, and serves as an inspiration to this and other political science blogs that have sprung up in its wake.

Yet, if Trump’s win is not idiosyncratic–time will tell–the data-driven microtargeting that had just emerged is now called into serious question. The approach may still work for down-ballot races, but we can only use trial and error to determine that. The first order of business, of course, is for our discipline to deploy our formidable skills to determine why we did not see this coming.

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.

 

Four Stormy Days – #MPSA17

This year’s MPSA has been an interesting experience as opposed to other years. That is due to a near perfect storm of political events in the last few months. Add to this already interesting mix the fact that, due to inclement weather and flight cancellations, we end up with a more intimate conference with content that barely fits into four days.

The centerpiece to the conference, as always, are the expert roundtables and late-breaking sessions that for once are discussing critical issues like the executive order on travel and immigration, rise of populism, need for civic engagement, and the role of media in today’s world. But that is not all, this year one of the most awesome things is how much of a difference #WomenAlsoKnowStuff has made. The panels look and feel different. The voices and issues being discussed are of academic and public interest. It is refreshing to see an environment where one is encouraged to speak up and present their ideas without fear of being shut down or critiqued without logic.

I was fortunate enough to attend several panels during the first two days including two round tables; civic engagement of academia and media’s role pre-and post-election 2016. The civic engagement panel was phenomenal because for once academics are speaking up and having conversations about how to engage with the larger audience and not just an epistemic community. Matthew Lebo of Stony Brook University and Jennifer Victor of George Mason put in to words what I have been feeling for a while; we (academics) need to start engaging with a public at a very basic level. What this means is, we need to engage at school level, university level, and mass media. For a while now, there has been a heated debate in academia about the use of social media by academics to push their work and ideas. I have always been a proponent of this approach because how would we let the rest of the world know what amazing work we are doing given that majority of this planet does not have journal subscriptions but probably has twitter or snapchat.

This ties in to the next point I want to make that I observed in the panel on media’s view of the Election 2016 campaign with guests like Molly Ball from the Atlantic, Nia Henderson from CNN and Steve Peoples from the AP. During the discussion, the panelists were asked why the media allowed abundant free press coverage to now-President Trump. The answer by all three media persons was that he was interesting. When asked to elaborate, the unanimous reply was that he was always available and he was saying weird stuff that gets attention. This naturally opens the discussion on why academics need to be more involved in public engagement. For media in general, profits and numbers of viewers are far superior to facts and critical analysis. In absence of true experts, we are left with glorified media personalities who everyone assumes can talk policy. For instance, consider the level of know-how about the middle east or even health care that Alex Jones does compared to literally any middle east expert at the MPSA conference right now.  The difference is that Alex Jones has spent his life engaging with the public about his views, as outlandish as they are. So it only makes sense that in an environment where media is more interested in getting a fun story rather than a factual one, as academics we must step up and take the responsibility of protecting facts and logic.

The other set of panels that I was fortunate enough to attend included the Author Meets Critics session for the awesome new book by Christina Wolbrecht and Kevin Corder that talks about the women’s suffrage movement and incidents after 19th amendment came in to force. The excellent book not only details cases at the state level, it provides a set of answers to the question, “What happened to women voters after the 19th amendment?” Did the turnout shift the political power balance? How did voting patterns change over time? All these questions and others are answered in this book as it sets up a wider discussion for future work in the field.

So far, the MPSA conference has been fantastic and I hope the kind of discussions we are having this year will translate into work that reaches a wider audience. The blogs, social media presence, and op-eds help expose our research to a wider audience. We need that in these post-truth times.

About the Author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science, Georgia State University. He is also a Student Innovation Fellow at Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CETL) at GSU and Taiwan Fellow 2017 at National Sun Yat Sen University, Kaohsiung (Taiwan). His research focuses on role of bureaucracies in democratization and populist clientalistic appeal in new democracies. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and his website.

Election 2016: Did New Voting Laws Tip the Balance?

Since the early 2000s, a flurry of new voting laws have passed in the states. There is a marked Democrat-Republican divide.  Democratic-leaning states, such as California, Oregon, and Massachusetts, have passed laws making access to the ballot easier.  Oregon now automatically registers citizens to vote any time they do business with the state.  California does the same for those getting driver’s licenses — a must in many parts of a car-crazy state. Massachusetts joins a few other states in allowing pre-registration of 16 year-olds, who then automatically enter the voting rolls upon turning 18: a policy that North Carolina also has, for now, depending on court rulings.

Republican-leaning states, meanwhile, have taken a different turn.  Under the auspices of curbing voter fraud, GOP legislators and governors have passed a flurry of new restrictions.  Critics, myself included, are quick to point out the dearth of evidence for those voter fraud claims. Yet the theoretical possibility, anecdotes, and research by Richman, et. al. indicating that some fraud may go undetected, all combine to make a case for new laws requiring state-issued Photo ID at the polls, proof of U.S. citizenship to register, limiting early voting, complicating third-party voter registration drives such as those once undertaken by the controversial ACORN, and so forth.

Critics, again myself included, argue that these restrictive new laws are not neutral in their effects.  Research by scholars such as Matt Barreto (.pdf) indicate that African-Americans, Latinos, the poor, the disabled, and the elderly are more likely to lack photo ID.  Stories, admittedly anecdotal, circulate about voters having trouble getting birth certificates.  Some were not born in hospitals and were never issued birth certificates, while others contain clerical errors requiring a Kafkaesque legal labyrinth to untangle.  One thing most of these voters seem to share: a tendency to vote for Democrats;  that is, they if are able to vote at all. The popularity of these new restrictions in Presidential and Senatorial battleground states like Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin, heightens worries.

What was the bottom line in 2016?  Did the laws put a thumb on the scales and ensure Donald Trump’s victory?

I dove into this question for our roundtable, “Did It Matter in the End? Restrictive Voting Laws and the 2016 Election,” presented at this year’s MPSA conference in Chicago. Using ArcGIS mapping and multivariate regression, I traced the shift in voter turnout in each county in the U.S. I also considered the impact of various independent variables, such as percentage of white residents in a county, economic growth or decline, population (an urban-rural measure, since rural counties have smaller populations), and other factors as controls to explain vote changes between 2012 and 2016.  In addition, I put in the new voting laws.  After controlling for the “usual suspects” which explain partisan shifts and turnout change, is there anything left for these new voting laws to explain?  In other words, did they have an impact?

In terms of turnout, the evidence does suggest that restrictive new laws may have had an impact, at least in certain regions.  The most dramatic contrast is between Ohio and Pennsylvania, two states that “flipped” from Democrat to Republican in 2016.  Ohio shows marked turnout decline relative to the Keystone State. However, there is no clear partisan impact resulting from this.

MPSAblog-Smith-Image1

In the map above: darker green=higher turnout relative to 2012, lighter = lower turnout

To the north and west of these states lies a region containing three states which flipped from Obama to Trump (Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin) and one where Trump made major gains but did not win (Minnesota). In the northern Midwest, only Wisconsin had new, restrictive voting laws take effect between 2012 and 2016.  Sure enough, turnout dropped in diverse, urban, Democratic-voting Milwaukee County, by 0.3%.  Problem is, it also shifted in other area urban counties. In fact, the 3% drop in Hennepin County (Minneapolis), and 2% drop in Polk County (Des Moines) were both greater than that in Milwaukee—and Minnesota and Iowa had no new voter ID laws.  Wayne County (Detroit) and Cook County (Chicago), also in states with no new restrictive voting laws, had smaller drops at 0.2% and 0.01%, respectively.  Again, it is important to note that I am computing turnout as a percentage of the country’s adult population, as per U.S. Census population estimates from the year before the election.  Furthermore, the turnout drop in Milwaukee did not come with a Republican shift—if anything Milwaukee shifted to being more Democratic—more so than Detroit or Minneapolis.


In the map above, red=Republican shift, blue = shift away from Republican. Milwaukee is the southernmost blue county on Lake Michigan, in eastern Wisconsin

 

In other words, the results did not fit the prediction that restrictive new laws would hinder Democratic vote share.
The results were even more startling with my regression analysis.  Regarding turnout, the imposition of other new restrictions (limiting early voting days, reigning in organized voter registration drives, etc.) correlates with higher voter turnout — evidence of a possible “backlash” effect.  Democrats in affected states may use the presence of these laws to mobilize constituencies that feel targeted by the laws, a sort of “don’t let them take your vote away” message, which colleagues and I found may have boosted Democratic turnout for Pennsylvania in 2012, when that state did try to implement new voter restrictions. It probably didn’t help that a Republican leader in the state legislature boasted that the law would deliver Pennsylvania to Mitt Romney.

Even more startling was my regression for Republican vote share. Even when controlling for other factors (% white, job loss, urban-rural, etc.), there is a strong, negative relationship between the imposition of these new laws and Republican vote share.

That’s right: it appears that restrictive new voting laws hurt voter turnout for Trump.

How can this be?  A thoughtful, post-election analysis by two reporters at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests an answer.  Journalists Kristina Torres and Jennifer Peebles secured the entire voter file for Georgia and analyzed it for patterns.  Their findings: counties that showed strong increases in support for Trump, mostly rural, also showed significant increases in ballots cast by new and infrequent voters in 2016.  Meanwhile, some of the voters from 2012 did not vote this time.  The result was an older, whiter, more-rural electorate.

New voting laws are likely to have the greatest impact on new and infrequent voters.  Those who vote regularly will adjust to a photo ID or proof-of-citizenship requirement, while those that do not may not be prepared for the changes.  Given that Trump appears to have mobilized new and infrequent voters, it makes sense that those voters would be the most “thrown” by new requirements.

Thus the impact of new restrictions appears to be greatest on those who are new to voting–one of Democrats’ biggest fears, but with a twist, in that it was the Republican, not the Democratic candidate, that mobilized such voters in 2016.  This is not to say that the laws won’t hurt Democrats next time, as they are the party that typically tries to bring in new voters through registration drives, election-day canvassing, “souls to the polls” drives for Sunday early voting at predominantly African-American churches, and so forth.  Yet it appears to be Trump that took the brunt this time – and it did not prevent his Electoral College victory.

Finally, a personal note: I dislike these laws.  I find scant evidence for the voter fraud claims used to substantiate them, and I see little rationale (.pdf) for them other than for the purpose of hindering those who do have a right to vote, from exercising that right.  I also think these laws, passed with few exceptions by Republican state legislatures, clearly are meant to target Democrat-leaning voters. At the same time, I am a political scientist, and facts are facts.  The fact that these laws appear to have hindered vote shifts to a (quirky, unexpected) Republican candidate this year does not mean they will do the same in the future. More importantly, it does not justify the laws. The voter-fraud premise remains as flimsy as before, while evidence of disparate impact on society’s most vulnerable remains credible.

The suggestion that the laws hinder Democratic vote share has always been an understood supposition in the debate over them, but it is not part of the actual, legal case against them. Most importantly, as political scientists we must go where the data take us. These laws do appear to be affecting elections – just not in the direction predicted… at least, not this time.

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.