The research team at the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have a new paper analyzing the partisan impact of early voting laws, in combination with a set of other election reforms. The abstract is provided below; the piece is gated at the Political Research Quarterly but may be available from the authors.
Conventional political wisdom holds that policies that make voting easier will increase turnout and ultimately benefit Democratic candidates. We challenge this assumption, questioning the ability of party strategists to predict which changes to election law will advantage them. Drawing on previous research, we theorize that voting laws affect who votes in diverse ways depending on the specific ways that they reduce the costs of participating. We assemble datasets of county-level vote returns in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections and model these outcomes as a function of early voting and registration laws, using both cross-sectional regression and difference-in-difference models. Unlike Election Day registration, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the results show that early voting generally helps Republicans. We conclude with implications for partisan manipulation of election laws.
The piece is a follow up from the team’s widely cited 2014 piece (conveniently available because it is part of the North Carolina case)that shows that early voting may have a mixed effect on turnout, depending on the mix of other election reforms that are already in place.
I like what the authors have done here, and I don’t find it particularly surprising. I’ve never been convinced by the conventional political wisdom that early voting always helps Democrats. That just doesn’t comport with the longstanding findings that Republicans use no-excuse balloting at higher rates than Independents or Democrats. The reasons for this are complex, including what I suspect is a historical legacy of the emergence of direct mail mobilization by Richard Viguerie in the late 1970s, tied to higher rates of absentee voting among older, more conservative, more Republican voters, and Reagan’s roots in California politics.
This kind of suspicion led to some criticism of the 2014 piece because the team coded “early voting” as a single administrative procedure, not discriminating between no-excuse absentee and early in-person. They’ve fixed that here, and the results hold. A key table of results is reproduced below.
I would still caution against overinterpreting these results as providing a roadmap for election law gamesmanship. Burden et al. spend a bit too much time, in my judgment, opining about how partisan actors may or may not misestimate the political impact of reforms to election laws, without acknowledging the highly contingent and dynamic nature of the legal and administrative environment.
For example, it’s almost certain than when a new voting method is made available, strategic political actors from both parties look at these changes, look at what groups opt for one or another method, and start to change their campaigns accordingly. Capturing this kind of institutional dynamic is nearly impossible to do in a national study like this, and can easily make gamesmanship seem a lot simpler than it actually is.
(This is a guest posting from Nick Solomon, Reed College senior in Mathematics)
One of our first assignments in our Election Sciences course was to take a look at the Oregon Motor Voter data and try and tease out any patterns we could find in it.
I’ve always been interested in geographic statistics, so I decided to examine Oregon counties. This can be especially valuable because geography tends to to be a good proxy for making inferences about demographic variables we might not have access to, like income, race, or education level (none of these are accessible via the Oregon statewide voter registration file).
The figure displays party of registration among citizens registered via OMV. It’s important to remember when looking at the graphic that the OMV process initially categorizes all citizens as “NAV” (non-affiliated voters), and citizens must return a postcard designating a party. As of January 2017, as shown on the left, 78% of registrants did not return the card, and only 11% decided to select a party.
The county by county totals are fascinating. OMV voters constitute the highest percentage of registered voters in Malheur county. Many readers may recognize the name–the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was the site of a 41 day standoff between law enforcement and a small group of occupiers.
Malheur is located in the farthest southeast corner of the state. It’s rural, relatively poor, and much more Republican than the rest of the state. John McCain received 69% of the vote in Malheur in 2008.
In an upcoming blog post, another student will be posting a map of this county by county visualization, and it’s apparent that a number of rural counties have high percentages of OMV registrants.
At the recommendation of a few experts who looked at the graphic I decided to examine the percentage of OMV voters by county versus the total number of registered voters. This lets us get a sense of whether Malheur is an outlier caused by a very small sample size making the percentage value overly sensitive or if this is a number that we can trust.
Here, the total number of voters is plotted on a log scale, as many counties have smaller numbers of voters, while the Portland metro area has many more.
The log scale allows us to get a better sense of any relationship between number of voters and percent registered by OMV without the few large numbers dominating the plot.
This graphic shows that there are quite a few counties of similar size to Malheur, and some that are even smaller. Furthermore, we see that Malheur is not very far from other counties of its size.
Finally, to my eye, there seems to be no meaningful relationship between these two variables, so I find myself concluding that Malheur county, along with Umatilla and Morrow and Curry and Coos are experiencing a much greater benefit in access to voter registration than some larger, more urban counties.
For those interested, these graphics were made with R and ggplot2. I’ll be posting on my personal blog with more details about how I made them.
Eventually, I hope to learn more I was also curious about hoe OMV might be affecting party turnout at the polls. Keep tuned for future updates!
A number of Northeast states are considering adding or expanding early voting, according to a story in The Hill.
I hope that administrators and legislators in the states make sure they make a decision based on comprehensive and accurate information and not rely on anecdote.
Most importantly, early voting has a complicated relationship to overall voter turnout. Most studies show a small but positive relationship, though one prominent study reports a negative relationship. If you put in more early voting locations, more citizens vote early (but it’s not clear if more voters overall cast a ballot).
Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler put it best in a recent blog posting (in the context of voter registration laws): higher turnout depends mostly on parties and candidates, not on changes to voting laws.
The point? New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is quoted in the story and his statement reflects many common misconceptions about early voting:
“We’re seeing turnout nationally go down in each of the last three elections even as more and more states rush to make it easier to vote by having early voting,”
Misconception 1: there has been no “rush” to add early voting options since 2008. The rate of states adding early voting provisions has slowed substantially as we get down the final 13 holdouts (according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states plus DC offered some form of early voting in 2016, compared to 36 plus DC in 2012, and 34 in 2008).
Misconception 2: turnout has not declined for the last three cycles. Final totals in 2016 appear to be slightly up from 2012 and about 2% lower than 2008.
Misconception 3: national turnout is the best way to understand the impact of state and local laws. National totals disguise enormous variation in turnout between and within states, competitiveness in statewide races, and differences in rules and laws. There is also some scattered evidence that early voting benefits some subpopulations more than others, and this can be overlooked in national and even statewide totals.
The second point in the article is harder to address: the costs of early voting. Michael McDonald suggests that there is resistance to early voting in the Northeast because most of these states administer elections at the township level. McDonald is right to highlight the importance of providing sufficient funding to jurisdictions to conduct elections, regardless of what options are offered (budgets were the most common point of discussion at a recent NCSL gathering).
All I’d add here is that we don’t have a clear sense of how much early voting costs, and whether cost savings can be obtained by strategically reallocating resources between early voting and election day voting (though mis-forecasts of voting turnout can turn disastrous).
The takeaway is that states considering adding early voting options should consider them mostly on the grounds of voter convenience, on how well the options can be adapted to the conditions faced by local jurisdictions, and only lastly on how they may increase overall turnout.
Nate Silver’s posted a quick analysis today that purports to show that “education, not income, predicted who would vote for Trump.” This is a pretty important finding, if true, because it stands in contrast to a lot of post-election analysis that claims that Democratic abandonment of the white working class played a large role in Clinton’s defeat.
It would also be an impressive finding before the major academic surveys, such as the National Election Study and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study are released, since they are the gold standard in terms of helping us understand how individual demographic and attitudes predict vote choice.
Silver takes a smart cut at the income and education relationship by partitioning up counties by their median income and percent college degree, and then comparing the 2016 Clinton vote to the 2012 Obama vote. Here he can show in some of the educated counties, Clinton did remarkably well.
He acknowledges that income and education are highly correlated, however, so he takes a different cut at the data, looking at a set of counties with relatively high educational levels and only moderate income levels.
Silver describes one of these counties, Ingham County, MI, where he grew up, as
…home to Michigan State University and the state capital of Lansing, along with a lot of auto manufacturing jobs (though fewer than there used to be). The university and government jobs attract an educated workforce, but there aren’t a lot of rich people in Ingham County.
Clinton, he notes, did quite well there, even though incomes aren’t that high. In most places that fit this description, according to Silver, Clinton did quite well. This is evidence, he argues, that education, not income, was the driving force in the 2016 election.
Anyone who is familiar with higher education should immediately recognize this list. If you don’t, you will in a moment.
Silver notes that “many of the counties on the list are home to major colleges or universities, although there are some exceptions.” He notes Davidson County, TN and Buncombe County, NC as not “really college towns.”
Not exactly. Below I list the major universities in each of these counties. Silver hit the jackpot with his list: every single one is home to a large university, in most cases, a huge university.
It’s true that college students as a percentage of total residents is pretty small in Davidson, TN and Buncombe, NC, but I’d be pretty skeptical to generalize anything from the homes of country music, bluegrass music–what Silver calls “cultural havens” (Missoula MT and New Hanover NC fit into that category as well).
But the rest? Almost all are college counties. Most are home to huge institutions that are the dominant cultural and economic force in those counties. Of course they have a combination of high education levels and modest income levels. That’s life as a student and employee of a university! It’s no wonder that Clinton did relatively better in those counties.
This list may be indicative of the kind of cultural divide that Silver speculates about at the end of the essay. I’m far less certain that this reveals anything systematic about the relationship of income and education and vote choice more broadly.
I posted on my Reed College introductory politics class “Moodle”. I shared this on Facebook and getting a lot of requests to share more broadly. Any questions about the class readings and other references below, please email email@example.com.
I’ve spent the day trying to absorb and understand the election results, and I thought it might help to provide a list of resources where I am going to try to reason through this. I certainly don’t mind, and I’m sure Chris would not mind, if people want to talk, or rant, or celebrate, or protest.
We are not suggesting that you should be dispassionate or apolitical about the election outcome. I handle unexpected political changes by doing by best to deconstruct it and understand it. That’s my makeup. It need not be yours. Do what you will with below.
1) The 50,000 Foot Look:
I still think the best place to look and reflect is at a site that allows you to drill down to the county level, and compare vote changes from 2012. I prefer the NY Times, but I list a number of other sites below. Click through at these sites to see the various maps.
The best interactive maps in my opinion at the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/president
Great mix of maps and exit polls at BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37889032
USA Today does a better job displaying change in support http://www.usatoday.com/…/intera…/how-the-election-unfolded/
CNN has a different look and feel, not my choice but has very nice individual state results http://www.cnn.com/election/results
2) This election is a game changer and this election is a realignment
Most of the evidence is that this election reinforced the existing divisions between the two parties. What was surprising to many observers was that more Republicans did not abandon their party standard bearer, given a lack of endorsements and many leaders distancing themselves from Trump. If you are able to ignore that for a moment, Trump’s support coalition looks nearly identical to Romney’s. Clinton underperformed Obama, especially among African Americans and Latinos. That’s the election in a nutshell.
Larry Bartels at the Monkey Cage examines election 2016 https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/2016-was-an-ordinary-elec…/
3) What about race, ethnicity, gender? Didn’t the horrible things Trump said make a difference?
You know from our class that voters decide based on a wide variety of things–partisanship most importantly, then issues (mostly the economy), and then finally candidate characteristics. It has never been the case that candidate characteristics are the most important consideration. And it is often the case that attitudes about particular “single issues” can overwhelm everything else. While the things Trump said may matter a lot to you, you can’t expect that those same things matter to other people, who may believe in very different things and have very different life experiences. We won’t be able to answer this question in detail for a few months, but I suspect we are going to find not that many Trump voters did not completely ignore the things he said, but they heavily discounted them because of other concerns. And for another big chunk, race and ethnicity in particular get bound up with fear and discontent. That, unfortunately, is very common in the human condition.
This graphic from the NY Times summarizes Trump and Clinton support, compared to elections back to 2004, among key demographics. You may want to look at this first before following up on the links below.http://www.nytimes.com/…/…/elections/exit-poll-analysis.html
3a) On Gender: Clinton simply did not benefit much from her gender, at least that’s what the evidence indicates. Gender identity is very different from racial solidarity, so expecting the gender effect in 2016 to function like the race effect in 2012 and 2008 was probably wishful thinking, no matter how much gender identity may matter to you.
Michael Tesler at the Monkey Cage, with extensive citations to past work on the comparative weakness of gender identity.https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/why-the-gender-gap-doomed…/
3b) On Ethnicity (primarily Latinos): Evidence is far more mixed. The finding you are seeing in the press is that Trump received 29% of the Latino vote, which exceeds Romney’s margin by 9%. However, others are disputing this finding, critiquing the way the exit polls are conducted. This one will be debated for a while.
Matt Barreto of UCLA and Latino Decisions (and older brother of a recent Reed alum in political science) runs down why he thinks the exit polls overestimate Trump support among Latinos http://www.latinodecisions.com/…/the-rundown-on-latino-vot…/ (UPDATE: Nice article at the Monkey Cage.)
3c) On African American support: Clinton did not do as well as Obama among African Americans. If the 88% number holds, that’s down 5% from 2012. But what appears to have been more damaging is lower turnout overall, and this really hurt in states like Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
Politico story on the number of African Americans in Florida who voted early in 2012 and did not in 2016, citing the work of political scientist Daniel Smith of University of Florida. http://www.politico.com/…/clinton-campaign-struggles-in-get…
Analysis of the exit poll data by political scientists Stanley Feldman and Melissa Herrman http://www.cbsnews.com/…/cbs-news-exit-polls-how-donald-tr…/
4) What about the polls and the forecasts? Does this indicate that polling and statistical forecasting is junk?
It may not surprise that my answer is “no.” There was a systematic miss for the polls, and consequently the forecasts, and the misses were all in red states. If the models were junk, they would have missed in the blue states as well. That means there was something going on in the red states that was missed by the political observers and political scientists who obviously need to scrutinize what they are doing. But your own fundamentals based forecasts predicted Clinton’s vote almost precisely, as did at least two of the forecasts in PS. Something is seriously amiss about Trump support, but there’s no evidence (yet) that there is something seriously amiss about the fundamental underpinnings of election science.
Andrew Gelman does a nice job showing the consistent miss in red states http://andrewgelman.com/…/polls-just-fine-blue-states-blew…/
Gelman shows how a comparatively small yet systematic 2% shift in support toward Trump appears to explain virtually all the “misses.”http://andrewgelman.com/…/11/09/explanations-shocking-2-sh…/
See also Nate Silver http://fivethirtyeight.com/…/what-a-difference-2-percentag…/
Silver reminds us (as you read in his book) that there is a tendency among people to refuse to acknowledge the meaning of uncertainty and probability. He’s to blame as much as anyone for producing these seemingly precise forecasts, but he’s not to blame for reporters and citizens not understanding uncertainty.
Election day is all about ballot cast at the polling place, right?
In fact, millions of absentee ballots will be arriving today at county elections offices. These ballots may have been delivered right on time by the postal service, or dropped off at a drop box, or hand carried into the local elections office.
In so called “postmark” states (Alaska, California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Utah), ballots need only be postmarked by November 8th (oddly enough, November 7th in Utah) and can arrive a few days to two weeks later.
Finally, in a few states, such as Arizona, Montana and California, you can even drop off your absentee ballot at the local polling place. (Editor’s Note: If anyone knows a comprehensive list of these states, I’d appreciate a link.)
These late arriving ballots can easily make the difference in close races.
In Multnomah County, OR, elections director Tim Scott estimates that anywhere from 110,000 to 150,000 ballots will arrive today–that’s more than 20% of the total registered voters in the county, so likely more than 30% of the final tally! Statewide, assuming total turnout of 80%, nearly 500,000 ballots that will be making their way into county offices today.
In Maricopa County, AZ, the second largest election jurisdiction in the country, over 100,000 ballots are typically dropped off on election day, according to Tammy Patrick of the Bipartisan Policy Center who worked in Maricopa for a number of years.
What happens to these absentee ballots? Are they counted immediately or are they counted at the close of polls? What about the absentee ballots that arrived prior to Election Day? I’ve received a flurry of questions about this today.
The quick answer is that in most states, absentee ballots are processed as they arrive. The ballots are scanned but not counted, and tallying doesn’t occur until Election Day (in some states, at the start of the business day, in some states, after the polls close. The “scanning” vs.”tallying” distinction is important–election officials can’t just walk into a room and glance at vote totals–because no totals exist. Totals are only calculated when a particular form or report is created.
This means that in most states, the first results will include absentee ballots that arrived prior to Election Day, but will almost certainly not include ballots that arrived on Election Day.
The late arriving ballots will generally not even begin to be processed until Wednesday. While this may frustrate politicians, their supporters, and Americans who want to see an announcement of the final results, the delay is necessary to assure the security and integrity of our elections system.
First, in many states, absentee ballots cannot be processed before the close of the polls because election officials have to check to make sure that no one has voted twice, once by absentee ballot and a second time at a polling place. This is the kind of security measure that exists in the American election system and is often ignored by those making unsubstantiated charges of “rigging.”
Next, the absentee ballots need to be processed. This involves a multistep
- Signatures need to be verified
- Ballots need to be separated from the outside envelope
- In some states, ballots need to be inspected (and potentially “remade”) so they can be read by the machines.
After all these steps are completed, the ballots can be scanned and the votes counted.
In most states, none of this will happen on election night, when election officials have already worked a very long and arduous day. Election officials need their beauty sleep, just like the rest of us!
And they’ll be working hard to provide full and accurate results for days and weeks after November 8th.
We have nearly final figures on the early voting totals in each state, and the ballot return rates continue to force us to reconsider many of our previous assumptions about who votes early and where early voting is most popular.
Early voting as a percent of the 2012 early vote, as shown in the first map, is blowing old totals out of the water. Charles Stewart has reported on the pace of early voting in North Carolina and Daniel Smith has been doing the same for Florida. Other states with extraordinarily high numbers compared to 2012 include Arizona (106%), Georgia (124%), Maryland (167%), and Nevada (109%). As I noted in an early posting, the Massachusetts and Minnesota numbers are misleading because they have relaxed their early voting laws.
These numbers are more impressive when viewed as a proportion of the total 2012 vote. This indicates higher turnout overall, or an electorate that is switching wholesale to early voting. In either case, it means that in the states that rank high on this list (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington), it’s not going to be enough any more to have an election day GOTV operation.
Election day is rapidly becoming election week(s) in many parts of the country.