research of seth j. hill
- Hill, Seth J. 2022. Frustrated Majorities: How Issue Intensity Enables Smaller Groups Of Voters To Get What They Want. In production, Cambridge University Press.
Partisanship and polarization
- Hill, Seth J. and Margaret E. Roberts. "Acquiescence Bias Inflates Estimates of Conspiratorial Beliefs and Political Misperceptions." Working paper.
[ Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Citizen beliefs about the political world interest scholars, pundits, and politicians. Political scientists use opinion surveys to study beliefs about facts, such the current unemployment rate, and more conspiratorial beliefs, such as whether Barack Obama was born abroad. We find that these studies often ignore acquiescence-response bias, the tendency for survey respondents to endorse any assertion made in a survey question regardless of content. Replicating recent scholarship we show that acquiescence bias inflates estimated incidence of conspiratorial beliefs and political misperceptions among survey respondents in the U.S. and China by up to 50%. Acquiescence bias is disproportionately prevalent among more ideological respondents, inflating correlations between political ideology such as conservatism and endorsement of conspiracies or misperception of facts. We conclude that more attention ought to be paid to survey measurement, and propose and demonstrate two methods to correct for acquiescence bias.
- Hill, Seth J. 2020. "Sidestepping Primary Reform: Political Action in Response to Institutional Change."
Political Science Research and Methods Online first. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Many believe primary elections distort representation in American legislatures because unrepresentative actors nominate extremist candidates. Advocates have reformed primaries to broaden voter participation and increase representation. Empirical evidence, however, is quite variable on the effects of reform. Why have primary reforms not been consistently consequential? I argue that when institutional reform narrows one pathway of political influence, actors who desire influence take political action elsewhere to circumvent reform. I use a difference-in-differences design in the American states and find that although changing primary rules increases primary turnout, campaign contributions also increase with reform. Implementing nonpartisan primaries and reforming partisan primaries lead to estimated 9 and 21 percent increases in individual campaign contributions per cycle. This suggests actors take alternative avenues of political influence to limit effects of institutional reform.
- Hill, Seth J. and Gregory A. Huber. 2019. "On The Meaning of Survey Reports of Roll Call `Votes'."
American Journal of Political Science 63 (3): pp 611-625. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. | Online appendix. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Contemporary efforts to evaluate representation often compare survey measures of how citizens say they would vote on legislation to what elected officials do in office. These comparisons generally suggest poor representation. We argue here that this common design is unlikely to effectively evaluate representation because responses to survey questions differ in important aspects from voting in legislatures. Measurement error and construct validity undermine the comparison. Three survey experiments show that providing partisan and non-partisan information readily available to legislators materially changes respondents' expressed preferences on roll call votes. With information, expressed policy positions are both less centrist and more closely matched to legislator behavior in their preferred party. Respondents also appear aware of their own lack of knowledge in evaluating roll call policy votes. The treatment effect of information decreases in confidence judging policy in that area. We show similar patterns for respondent opinions on Supreme Court decisions.
- Hill, Seth J. and Chris Tausanovitch. 2018. "Southern Realignment, Party Sorting, and the Polarization of American Primary Electorates, 1958-2012."
Public Choice (special issue in honor of Keith Poole) 176 (1-2): pp 107-132. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Many scholars have argued that primary elections are an important factor in the polarization of the American Congress. Yet little research measures change in the policy preferences of primary electorates to evaluate the connection directly. We create the first explicit measures of the preferences of primary voters over the last 60 years using a Bayesian item-response theory model. Although the overall distribution of population preferences has changed little, the preferences of primary voters are now much more related to the party of the primary that they attend. We show that liberals are much more likely to turn out in Democratic primaries and conservatives are much more likely to turn out in Republican primaries. We estimate that the divergence of primary from general electorates is six times larger in 2012 than in 1958 owing to this ``primary sorting''. This trend began with the emergence of the Southern Republicans. As the Republican party became viable, conservative Southerners switched to Republican primaries leading to a leftward shift in Democratic primary electorates. Nationwide, primary sorting began sometime after it began in the South. We speculate that Southern Realignment played a clarifying role that contributed to subsequent sorting of primary electorates nationwide.
- Hill, Seth J. 2017. "Learning Together Slowly: Bayesian Learning About Political Facts."
Journal of Politics 79 (4): pp 1403-1418. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. | Online appendix. ]
Abstract: Although many studies suggest that voters learn about political facts with prejudice towards their preexisting beliefs, none have fully characterized all inputs to Bayes' Rule, leaving uncertainty about the magnitude of bias. This paper evaluates political learning by first highlighting the importance of careful measures of each input and then presenting a statistical model and experiment that measure the magnitude of departure from Bayesian learning. Subjects learn as cautious Bayesians, updating their beliefs at about 73 percent of perfect application of Bayes' Rule. They are also modestly biased. For information consistent with prior beliefs, subject learning is not statistically distinguishable from perfect Bayesian. Inconsistent information, however, corresponds to learning less than perfect. Despite bias, beliefs do not polarize. With small monetary incentives for accuracy, aggregate beliefs converge towards common truth. Cautious Bayesian learning appears to be a reasonable model of how citizens process political information.
- Bullock, John G., Alan S. Gerber, Seth J. Hill, and Gregory A. Huber. 2015. "Partisan Bias in Factual Beliefs About Politics."
Quarterly Journal of Political Science 10 (4): pp 519-578. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Partisanship seems to affect factual beliefs about politics. For example, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that the deficit rose during the Clinton administration; Democrats are more likely to say that inflation rose under Reagan. What remains unclear is whether such patterns reflect differing beliefs among partisans or instead reflect a desire to praise one party or criticize another. To shed light on this question, we present a model of survey response in the presence of partisan cheerleading and payments for correct and "don't know" responses. We design two experiments based on the model's implications. The experiments show that small payments for correct and "don't know" answers sharply diminish the gap between Democrats and Republicans in responses to "partisan" factual questions. Our conclusion is that the apparent gulf in factual beliefs between members of different parties may be more illusory than real. The experiments also bolster and extend a major finding about political knowledge in America: we show (as others have) that Americans know little about politics, but we also show that they often recognize their own lack of knowledge.
- Hill, Seth J. 2015. "Institution of Nomination and the Policy Ideology of Primary Electorates."
Quarterly Journal of Political Science 10 (4): pp 461-487. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Many hypothesize that the divergence between Democratic and Republican members of Congress is partly attributable to partisan primary elections. Yet most empirical evidence on the influence of primary elections finds small to no effect on member behavior. I argue that existing designs that compare members elected out of nomination systems with more open rules of access to members elected out of more closed systems rest on the crucial and untested assumption that more closed institutions lead to more polarized primary electorates. With survey opinions, turnout validated to voter files, and an IRT model of ideology, I characterize the preferences of Democratic and Republican primary electorates and general electorates in each House district in 2010 and 2012. To the extent that there is a relationship between primary ideology and closed primary institution, it is in the direction opposite that hypothesized. I then show that the primary electorate diverges from the general electorate in every House district and even from supporters of the party in the general election in almost every district, which is consistent with a centrifugal influence of primary voters. These results suggest that institution of nomination may not have a large influence on the type of voters who turn out, and that some other feature of nominating contests must be implicated in polarized primary voters.
- Hill, Seth J. and Chris Tausanovitch. 2015. "A Disconnect in Representation? Comparison of Trends in Congressional and Public Polarization."
Journal of Politics 77 (4): pp 1058-1075. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. | Online appendix. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: While it is widely agreed that Congress has polarized over the past 40 years, there is considerable disagreement about the extent of public polarization and its connection to congressional polarization. We present the first estimation of time series of polarization using the same method on the most comprehensive data for both the public and the Senate. With statistics of various definitions of polarization, we find little increase in the dispersion of views in the public from 1956 to 2012, but do find an increase in ideological sorting starting around 1980. The two time series bear little resemblance to one another with respect to divergence. Further, while congressional sorting exceeds that in the public today, we find that Congress has always been unrepresentative of the public. These results suggest that it is unlikely that changes in public preferences alone explain the widening gulf between the two parties in Congress.
- Fowler, Anthony, Seth J. Hill, Jeffrey B. Lewis, Chris Tausanovitch, Lynn Vavreck, and Christopher Warshaw. "Moderates." Working paper.
[ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Moderates are often overlooked in contemporary research on American voters. Many scholars who have examined moderates argue that these individuals are only classified as such due to a lack of political sophistication or conflicted views across issues. We develop a method to distinguish between three ways an individual might be classified as moderate: having genuinely moderate views across issues, being inattentive to politics or political surveys, or holding views poorly summarized by a single liberal-conservative dimension. We find that a single ideological dimension accurately describes most, but not all, Americans' policy views. Using the classifications from our model, we demonstrate that moderates and those whose views are not well explained by a single dimension are especially consequential for electoral selection and accountability. These results suggest a need for renewed attention to the middle of the American political spectrum.
- Lockhart, Mac and Seth J. Hill. "How Do General Election Incentives Affect the Visible and Invisible Primary?" Working paper.
[ Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Previous research finds that nominating more centrist candidates increases vote share and win probability at the general election. Yet party primary elections often nominate non-centrist candidates, likely connected to political polarization in the United States. We develop a model of choice in nomination politics that shows when and how actors respond to incentives of the general election. We then combine 200 million contribution records with data on 22,400 candidates in 7,100 House primary elections from 1980 through 2016. We find that potential candidates and primary voters respond to general election incentives but that contributors and the winnowing process of the invisible primary do not, suggesting that actors in the invisible primary either place higher value on in-party candidate ideology or have different beliefs about the general election. Our evidence adds to a body of research that suggests primary voters are a larger moderating force than elites in American party politics.
- Hill, Seth J. 2022. "A Theory of Intensity, Electoral Competition, and Costly Political Action."
Journal of Politics Online first. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Individuals vary in how intensely they care about political outcomes. Despite attention to intensity in studies of representation and public opinion, the study of elections has paid less attention to the strategic dynamics of intensity. I present a theory that brings intensity to electoral competition. I investigate the pre-election actions of voters and the response of candidates through a game-theoretic model. Because intensity is unobserved and subject to misrepresentation, voters communicate intensity through costly political action. Candidates respond to voter actions by sometimes proposing policy opposed by a low-intensity majority. The theory suggests when and why citizens choose costly action and expression, describes why citizens might prefer candidates with negative traits such as history of misconduct, indicates when majoritarian systems might implement non-majoritarian policy, shows when costly political action is welfare-enhancing, and may help scholars reason about how candidates learn about voter interests.
- Hill, Seth J., Daniel J. Hopkins, and Gregory A. Huber. 2021. "Not by Turnout Alone: Measuring the Sources of Electoral Change, 2012 to 2016."
Science Advances 7 (17): eabe3272. [ Link to paper. | Online appendix. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Changes in partisan outcomes between consecutive elections must come from changes in the composition of the electorate or changes in the vote choices of consistent voters. How much composition versus conversion drives electoral change has critical implications for the policy mandates of election victories and campaigning and governing strategies. Here, we analyze electoral change between the 2012 and 2016 U.S. presidential elections using administrative data. We merge precinct-level election returns, the smallest geography at which vote counts are available, with individual-level turnout records from 37 million registered voters in six key states. We find that both factors were substantively meaningful drivers of electoral change but the balance varied by state. We estimate that pro-GOP conversion among two-election voters was particularly important in states including Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania where the pro-GOP swings were largest. Our results suggest conversion remains a crucial component of electoral change.
- Coppock, Alexander, Seth J. Hill, and Lynn Vavreck. 2020. "The Small Effects of Political Advertising are Small Regardless of Context, Message, Sender, or Receiver: Evidence from 59 Real-time Randomized Experiments."
Science Advances 6 (36): eabc4046. [ Link to paper. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Evidence across social science indicates that average effects of persuasive messages are small. One commonly-offered explanation for these small effects is heterogeneity: persuasion may only work well in specific circumstances. To evaluate heterogeneity, we repeated an experiment weekly in real time using 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign advertisements. We tested 49 political advertisements in 59 unique experiments on 34,000 people. We investigate heterogeneous effects by sender (candidates or groups), receiver (subject partisanship), content (attack or promotional), and context (battleground versus non-battleground; primary versus general election; early versus late). We find small average effects on candidate favorability and vote. These small effects, however, do not mask substantial heterogeneity even where theory from political science suggests we should. During the primary and general election, in battleground states, for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents --- effects are similarly small. Heterogeneity with large offsetting effects is not the source of small average effects.
- Hill, Seth J., Daniel J. Hopkins, and Gregory A. Huber. 2019. "Demographic Change, Threat, and Presidential Voting: Evidence from U.S. Electoral Precincts, 2012 to 2016."
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116 (50): pp 25023-25028. Co-winner APSA Migration and Citizenship Best Article Prize, 2020. [ Link to paper. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Immigration and demographic change have become highly salient in American politics, partly because of the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump. Previous research indicates that local influxes of immigrants or unfamiliar ethnic groups can generate threatened responses, but has either focused on nonelectoral outcomes or analyzed elections in large geographic units, such as counties. Here, we examine whether demographic changes at low levels of aggregation were associated with vote shifts toward an anti-immigration presidential candidate between 2012 and 2016. To do so, we compile a precinct-level dataset of election results and demographic measures for almost 32,000 precincts in the states of Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington. We employ regression analyses varying model specifications and measures of demographic change. Our estimates uncover little evidence that influxes of Hispanics or noncitizen immigrants benefited Trump relative to past Republicans, instead consistently showing that such changes were associated with shifts to Trump’s opponent.
- Hill, Seth J., James Lo, Lynn Vavreck, and John Zaller. 2013. "How Quickly We Forget: The Duration Of Persuasion Effects From Mass Communication."
Political Communication 30 (4): pp 521-547. [ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: Scholars do not usually test for the duration of the effects of mass communication, but when they do, they typically find rapid decay. Persuasive impact may end almost as soon as communication ends. Why so much decay? Does mass communication produce any long-term effects? How should this decay color our understanding of the effects of mass communication? We examine these questions with data from the effects of advertising in the 2000 presidential election and 2006 sub-national elections, but argue that our model and results are broadly applicable within the field of political communication. We find that the bulk of the persuasive impact of advertising decays quickly, but that some effect in the presidential campaign endures for at least six weeks. These results, which are similar in rolling cross-section survey data and county-level data on actual presidential vote, appear to reflect a mix of memory-based processing (whose effects last only as long as short-term memory lasts) and on-line processing (whose effects are more durable). Finally, we find that immediate effects of advertising are larger in sub-national than presidential elections, but decay more quickly and more completely.
- Bafumi, Joseph, Michael C. Herron, Seth J. Hill, and Jeffrey B. Lewis. 2012. "Alvin Greene? Who? How did he win the United States Senate Nomination in South Carolina?"
Election Law Journal 11 (4): pp 358-379. [ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: Alvin Greene surprised the political world when he handily defeated Vic Rawl for the United States Senate nomination in the 2010 Democratic Primary in South Carolina. Greene had not run a campaign during the primary and appears to have been almost completely unknown prior to his surprise victory. Greene's win over Rawl, who had served eight years in the South Carolina House, was previously a circuit judge, and had in fact run a legitimate primary campaign, raised a variety of questions about how Greene could have managed to generate so much voter support. In light of lingering concerns that Greene's victory was due to malfeasance of some sort, we analyze both ballot-level and precinct-level voting data with an eye toward determining whether the 2010 Democratic Senate Primary in South Carolina appears problematic. We find that voting patterns in Greene's victory over Rawl do not exhibit unusual peculiarities and in fact are consistent with the types of regularities observed in American elections. Rawl is white and Greene is black, and this difference played a major role in Greene's victory. While this victory may have been a surprise, voters in the Greene vs. Rawl primary appear in retrospect to have behaved similarly to voters in other elections in the United States, thus lending legitimacy to Greene's win.
- Huber, Gregory A., Seth J. Hill, and Gabriel S. Lenz. 2012. "Sources of Bias in Retrospective Decision Making: Experimental Evidence on Voters' Limitations in Controlling Incumbents."
American Political Science Review 106 (4): pp 720-741. [ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: Are citizens competent to assess the performance of incumbent politicians? Observational studies cast doubt on voter competence by documenting several biases in retrospective assessments of performance. However, these studies are open to alternative interpretations because of the complexity of the real world. In this article, we show that these biases in retrospective evaluations occur even in the simplified setting of experimental games. In three experiments, our participants (1) overweighted recent relative to overall incumbent performance when made aware of an election closer rather than more distant from that event, (2) allowed an unrelated lottery that affected their welfare to influence their choices, and (3) were influenced by rhetoric to give more weight to recent rather than overall incumbent performance. These biases were apparent even though we informed and incentivized respondents to weight all performance equally. Our findings point to key limitations in voters' ability to use a retrospective decision rule.
- Chang, Eric C. C., Miriam A. Golden, and Seth J. Hill. 2010. "Legislative Malfeasance and Political Accountability."
World Politics 62 (2): pp 177-220. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: One compelling justification for democracy is that public officials can be held accountable. Elected representatives who betray the public trust by extracting excessive rents are vulnerable to electoral retribution with loss of office. Perhaps surprisingly, however, evidence from a variety of countries documents that elected officials who are charged with or convicted of criminal wrongdoing are typically reelected rather than repudiated by the electorate. This finding resonates with studies that suggest in various ways that political accountability may be realized only imperfectly even in well-established democracies, either because voters hold politicians responsible for things patently not under their control or because voters fail to take unresponsive or malfeasant representatives to task. In this article we argue that electoral retribution for allegations of criminal behavior by national legislators hinges on the dissemination of relevant information by the mass media. Without media reports that inform voters of judicial allegations that public officials have engaged in criminal activities, the electorate's response to charges of malfeasance is one of apparent indifference. We thus identify the informational environment as a critical factor that affects the ability of voters to hold politicians accountable.
- Hill, Seth J., Michael C. Herron, and Jeffrey B. Lewis. 2010. "Economic Crisis, Iraq, and Race: A Study of the 2008 Presidential Election."
Election Law Journal 9 (1): pp 41-62. [ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was the beneficiary of a nationwide swing in 2008: he outperformed the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry across nearly the entire country. Nonetheless, there was substantial local variation in the degree to which support for Obama exceeded the support given to Kerry four years earlier. With this in mind we show that county-level variation in (1) economic conditions, (2) the human cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and (3) the sizes of African-American and Latino populations account for a major share of the local variation in the 2008 pro-Obama swing. Our estimates suggest that the downturn in the housing and mortgage markets and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq greatly advantaged Obama, increasing his national vote share by at least 5.8 percentage points. We also find that, within Southern states but not elsewhere in the country, the degree to which Obama outperformed Kerry across individual counties was strongly increasing in the size of African-American population.
- Atkinson, Matthew D., Ryan D. Enos, and Seth J. Hill. 2009. "Candidate Faces and Election Outcomes: Is the Face--Vote Correlation Caused by Candidate Selection?"
Quarterly Journal of Political Science 4 (3): pp 229-249. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: We estimate the effect of candidate appearance on vote choice in congressional elections using an original survey instrument. Based on estimates of the facial competence of 972 congressional candidates, we show that in more competitive races the out-party tends to run candidates with higher quality faces.We estimate the direct effect of face on vote choice when controlling for the competitiveness of the contest and for individual partisanship. Combining survey data with our facial quality scores and a measure of contest competitiveness, we find a face quality effect for Senate challengers of about 4 points for independent voters and 1-3 points for partisans. While we estimate face effects that could potentially matter in close elections, we find that the challenging candidate's face is never the difference between a challenger and incumbent victory in all 99 Senate elections in our study.
- Kousser, Thad, Seth J. Hill, Mac Lockhart, Jennifer Merolla, and Mindy Romero. 2021. "How do Americans Want Elections to be Run During the COVID-19 Crisis?"
Research and Politics. [ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: To inform the vital conversation among the nation’s political leaders, elections administrators, and scholars about how to hold a safe, accessible, and fair election in November 2020, this article reports how a sample of 5612 eligible American voters, surveyed 8–10 April, wanted to see the election run during the COVID-19 crisis. We embedded a randomized experiment presenting respondents with truthful summaries of the projections of two teams of scientists about the pandemic. Our descriptive findings show that in November 2020, four in 10 eligible voters would have preferred to cast their ballot by mail rather than in person and that a majority of respondents favored policies expanding mail voting. Our experimental findings show that respondents who read the scientific projections were more likely to prefer voting by mail, were more likely to trust that a mail ballot would be counted accurately, and were more likely to favor holding the election entirely by mail.
- Hill, Seth J. 2020. "Following Through on an Intention to Vote: Present Bias and Turnout"
Political Science Research and Methods 8 (4): pp 803-810, Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 November 2018. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. | Online appendix. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Many citizens express an intention to vote but then fail to follow through on their motivation. It is well known that impulsiveness contributes to unsound behaviors with adverse individual consequences like smoking, overeating, and undersaving. I apply these findings and theory to political participation and argue that present bias is also likely to limit collective behaviors. Those who desire to act are challenged by impulsiveness in following through on their motivation. In a nationally-representative survey merged to administrative records, those with present bias are around 10 points less likely to vote. Importantly, those with present bias are less likely to vote even after expressing pre-election intention to do so. Along with a formal decision-theoretic model of turnout with present bias, the results provide a new framework to reason about the choice to vote, an alternative interpretation of the over-report of turnout, and have implications for policy approaches to promote individual action in the public interest.
- Hill, Seth J., Thad Kousser, Gabriel Lenz, Mackenzie Lockhart, and Elizabeth Mitchell. 2020. "How Can We Increase Turnout among Low Propensity Voters?"
The California Journal of Politics and Policy 12 (1). [ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: How can we increase voter turnout among low-propensity voters? Researchers and practitioners
have found interventions that increase voter turnout, but these interventions tend to increase turnout
among individuals already likely to vote, and therefore appear to exacerbate existing inequalities in
participation. This project developed and tested an intervention designed to encourage people with a lower
prior likelihood of voting into the electorate. First, in summer 2018, we surveyed a diverse sample of voting
and non-voting Californians about their political attitudes. We concluded that feeling inadequately
informed and feeling inefficacious may contribute to low turnout rates. Based on the results of the survey,
we designed messages to address these feelings and tested them in an experiment to increase turnout in
two special elections in June 2019 by targeting these sentiments among people with infrequent prior
turnout records. Letters with information and encouragement about the voting process did not increase
turnout in the subsequent election. We conclude that further work is needed to identify interventions that
successfully increase turnout among low-propensity voters.
- Lockhart, Mac, Seth J. Hill, Jennifer Merolla, Mindy Romero, and Thad Kousser. 2020. "America's Electorate is Increasingly Polarized Along Partisan Lines About Voting by Mail During the COVID-19 Crisis"
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117 (40): pp 24640-24642. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Are voters as polarized as political leaders when it comes to their preferences about how to cast their ballots in November 2020 and their policy positions on how elections should be run in light of the COVID-19 outbreak? Prior research has shown little party divide on voting by mail, with nearly equal percentages of voters in both parties choosing to vote this way where it is an option. Has a divide opened up this year in how voters aligned with the Democratic and Republican parties prefer to cast a ballot?
We address these questions with two nationally diverse, online surveys fielded from April 8-10 and June 11-13, of 5,612 and 5,818 eligible voters respectively, with an embedded experiment providing treated respondents with scientific projections about the COVID-19 outbreak. We find a nearly ten percentage point difference between Democrats and Republicans in their preference for voting by mail in April which has doubled in size to nearly twenty percentage points in June. This partisan gap is wider still for those exposed to scientific projections about the pandemic. We also find that support for national legislation requiring states to offer no-excuse absentee ballots has emerged as an increasingly polarized issue.
- Gerber, Alan S., Gregory A. Huber, David Doherty, Conor M. Dowling, and Seth J. Hill. 2019. "The Voting Experience and Beliefs about Ballot Secrecy."
PLOS One. [ Link to paper. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: The legitimacy of democratic election results rests on the perceived fairness of the rules and procedures for voting. New democracies, for example, go to great length to install democratic institutions, while one of the hallmarks of long-standing democracies is strong institutions protecting the electoral process. In this paper, we argue that beliefs about these democratic institutions, and not just their existence, are of central importance to legitimate elections. We show that even in the United States doubts about democratic institutions are surprisingly prevalent: We find that 36 percent of respondents to a nationally representative survey hold doubts that the choices they make on their ballots remain anonymous. We also present evidence that polling place voters experience a variety of situations that might violate the privacy of their voting process. Concerns about the anonymity of the ballot are greater among those who have not previously voted and for those voting with electronic machines and by mail. These findings suggest an important divergence between public perceptions about the secret ballot and the institutional status of the secret ballot in the United States, a divergence that may have important consequences. More broadly, this evidence suggests that individual beliefs should not be ignored when considering the effects and operation of political institutions.
- Hill, Seth J. 2017. "Changing Votes or Changing Voters: How Candidates and Election Context Swing Voters and Mobilize the Base."
Electoral Studies 48: pp 131-141. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: To win elections, candidates attempt to mobilize supporters and persuade swing voters. With what magnitude each operates across American elections is not clear. I argue that the influence of swing voters should depend upon change in the candidates across elections and that the consequences of changes in composition should depend upon the relative balance of campaign expenditures. I estimate a Bayesian hierarchical model on Florida electoral data for house, governor, and senate contests. Swing voters contribute on average 4.1 percentage points to change in party vote shares, while change in turnout influences outcomes by 8.6 points. The effect of swing voters is increasing in the divergence between the Democrat and Republican candidates. Candidates increasingly benefit from the votes of occasional voters as the relative balance of campaign spending increases in their favor. More broadly, the effects of swing voters and turnout are not constant features of American elections, instead varying across time and space in ways related to candidates and context.
- Hill, Seth J. and Gregory A. Huber. 2017. "Representativeness and Motivations of the Contemporary Donorate: Results from Merged Survey and Administrative Records."
Political Behavior 39 (1): pp 3-29. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Only a small portion of Americans make campaign donations, yet because ambitious politicians need these resources, this group may be particularly important for shaping political outcomes. We investigate the characteristics and motivations of the donorate using a novel dataset that combines administrative records of two types of political participation, contributing and voting, with a rich set of survey variables. These merged observations allow us to examine differences in demographics, validated voting, and ideology across subgroups of the population and to evaluate the motivations of those who donate. We find that in both parties donors are consistently and notably divergent from non-donors to a larger degree than voters are divergent from non-voters. Of great interest, in both parties donors are more ideologically extreme than other partisans, including primary voters. With respect to why individuals contribute, we show that donors appear responsive to their perception of the stakes in the election. We also present evidence that inferences about donor ideology derived from the candidates donors give to may not closely reflect the within-party policy ideology of those donors. Overall, our results suggest that donations are a way for citizens motivated by the perceived stakes of elections to increase their participation beyond solely turning out.
- Hughes, Alex D., Justin Levitt, Seth J. Hill, and Thad Kousser. 2017. "The Impact Of GOTV Depends Upon Campaign Context: A Field Experiment In The 2014 California Primary"
The California Journal of Politics and Policy 9 (2). [ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: Millions of California voters regularly turn out in November but abstain from primary elections. A randomized Get Out the Vote experiment conducted in the state's 2014 primary contest shows that this dormant electorate can be mobilized if campaigns target these unlikely voters. Here, we extend these findings to examine whether the electoral context of the district shapes the effectiveness of a primary mobilization effort. To do so, we develop two conceptualizations of campaign context. The first is based on a district's typical level of competitiveness. The second looks at total spending levels in the current campaign. Theories of voter information processing predict differential responsiveness by voters to mobilization efforts in these different contexts. To test these predictions, we analyze a field experiment that sends direct mail to 149,596 registered low-propensity California voters. Consistent with theory, we find that voter mobilization mailings have different effects in these two distinct contexts. Although mobilization efforts always increase turnout, in districts that are typically competitive we find that mobilization efforts are more effective. In contrast, in districts that saw large amounts of spending in the 2014 race, the same treatments are less effective. This suggests that a campaign looking for the largest marginal return should target races that have been competitive in prior races but that are receiving little attention in the present contest.
- Hill, Seth J. and Thad Kousser. 2016. "Turning Out Unlikely Voters? A Field Experiment In The Top-Two Primary."
Political Behavior 38 (2): pp 413-432. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Those who turn out in American primary elections are a small and unrepresentative subset of the population. Why do citizens forgo participation in nominating contests yet vote in general elections? We argue that limited contact lowers participation in primary elections. We present results from a randomized field experiment with near 150,000 letters in California's 2014 primary. Each letter went to one of the four million Californians who had participated in recent general elections but not in primaries. We find that a single letter increased turnout by 0.5 points from a base rate of 9.3 percent. This increase is more than twice the average effect calculated in a recent meta-analysis and represents a proportional increase of 5.4 percent. Our experiment shows that registrants who typically abstain from primaries – and who are thus often ignored by campaigns – can be effectively mobilized.
- Hill, Seth J. 2014. "A Behavioral Measure of the Enthusiasm Gap in American Elections."
Electoral Studies 36: pp 28-38. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: What are the effects of a mobilized party base on elections? I present a new behavioral measure of the enthusiasm gap in a set of American elections to identify how the turnout rate of the party faithful varies across different contexts. I find that the advantaged party can see its registrants turn out by four percentage points more than the disadvantaged party in some elections, and that this effect can be even larger in competitive House districts. I estimate the net benefit to party vote share of the mobilized base, which is around one percentage point statewide, and up to one and one half points in competitive House contests. These results suggest that the partisan characteristics of an election have consequences not just for vote choice, but for the composition of the electorate.
- Gerber, Alan S., Gregory A. Huber, and Seth J. Hill. 2013. "Identifying the Effects of All-Mail Elections on Turnout: Staggered Reform in the Evergreen State."
Political Science Research and Methods 1 (1): pp 91-116. [ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: What effect does moving to all-mail elections have on participation? On one hand, all registered voters automatically receive a ballot to return by mail at their convenience. On the other hand, the social aspect of the polling place, and the focal point of election day, is lost. Current estimates of the effect of all-mail elections on turnout are ambiguous. This article offers an improved design and new estimates of the effect of moving to all-mail elections. Exploiting cross-sectional and temporal variation in county-level implementation of all-mail elections in Washington State, we find that the reform increased aggregate participation by two to four percentage points. Using individual observations from the state voter file, we also find that the reform increased turnout more for lower-participating registrants than for frequent voters, suggesting that all-mail voting reduces turnout disparities between these groups.
- Gerber, Alan S., Gregory A. Huber, David Doherty, Conor M. Dowling, and Seth J. Hill. 2013. "Do Perceptions of Ballot Secrecy Influence Turnout? Results from a Field Experiment."
American Journal of Political Science 57 (3): pp 537-551 (NBER Working Paper w17673). [ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: Although the secret ballot has been secured as a legal matter in the United States, formal secrecy protections are not equivalent to convincing citizens that they may vote privately and without fear of reprisal. We present survey evidence that those who have not previously voted are particularly likely to voice doubts about the secrecy of the voting process. We then report results from a field experiment where we mailed information about protections of ballot secrecy to registered voters prior to the 2010 general election. Consistent with our survey data, we find that these letters increased turnout for registered citizens without records of previous turnout, but did not appear to influence the behavior of citizens who had previously voted. The increase in turnout of more than three percentage points for those without previous records of voting is notably larger than the effect of a standard get-out-the-vote mailing for this group. Overall, these results suggest that although the secret ballot is a long-standing institution in the United States, beliefs about this institution may not match the legal reality and that providing basic information about ballot secrecy can affect the decision to participate to an important degree.
- Gerber, Alan S., Gregory A. Huber, David Doherty, Conor M. Dowling, and Seth J. Hill. 2013. "Who Wants to Discuss Vote Choices with Others? Polarization in Preferences for Deliberation."
Public Opinion Quarterly 77 (2): pp 474-496. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Should people discuss their vote choices with others? On one hand, many people argue that openly deliberating with others can lead to better decision-making. On the other hand, institutions like the secret ballot imply that keeping these choices secret has value, perhaps as a means of insulating people from unwanted social pressures. This paper examines public attitudes about whether it is best to discuss one’s choices with others or treat them as personal matters. We find that the American public is evenly divided on this issue. We also find that those who are least confident in their political capabilities—those who arguably could benefit most from deliberating their vote choices—are most likely to say that choices should be treated as personal matters. Our findings have implications for understanding the role of political deliberation in the United States.
- Carlson, Taylor N. and Seth J. Hill. 2021. "Experimental Measurement of Misperception in Political Beliefs."
Journal of Experimental Political Science First view. [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. | Online appendix. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Recent research suggests widespread misperception about the political views of others. Measuring perceptions often relies on instruments that do not separate uncertainty from inaccuracy. We present new experimental measures of second-order political beliefs. To carefully measure political (mis)perceptions, we have subjects report beliefs as probabilities. To encourage accuracy, we provide micro-incentives for each response. To measure learning, we provide information sequentially about the perception of interest. We illustrate our method by applying it to perceptions of vote choice in the 2016 presidential election. Subjects made inferences about randomly-selected American National Election Study respondents. Before and after receiving information about the other, subjects reported a probabilistic belief about the other's vote. We find that perceptions are less biased than in previous work on second-order beliefs. Accuracy increased most with delivery of party identification and report of a most important problem. We also find evidence of modest egocentric and different-trait bias.
- Fowler, James H., Seth J. Hill, Remy Levin, and Nick Obradovich. 2021. "Stay-at-Home Orders Associate with Subsequent Decreases in COVID-19 Cases and Fatalities in the United States."
PLOS One [ Link to paper. | Local link to paper. | Replication archive. ]
Abstract: Governments issue ``stay-at-home'' orders to reduce the spread of contagious diseases, but the magnitude of such orders' effectiveness remains uncertain. In the United States these orders were not coordinated at the national level during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which creates an opportunity to use spatial and temporal variation to measure the policies' effect. Here, we combine data on the timing of stay-at-home orders with daily confirmed COVID-19 cases and fatalities at the county level during the first seven weeks of the outbreak in the United States. We estimate the association between stay-at-home orders and alterations in COVID-19 cases and fatalities using a difference-in-differences design that accounts for unmeasured local variation in factors like health systems and demographics and for unmeasured temporal variation in factors like national mitigation actions and access to tests. Compared to counties that did not implement stay-at-home orders, the results show that the orders are associated with a 30.2 percent (11.0 to 45.2) average reduction in weekly incident cases after one week, a 40.0 percent (23.4 to 53.0) reduction after two weeks, and a 48.6 percent (31.1 to 61.7) reduction after three weeks. Stay-at-home orders are also associated with a 59.8 percent (18.3 to 80.2) average reduction in weekly fatalities after three weeks. These results suggest that stay-at-home orders might have reduced confirmed cases by 390,000 (170,000 to 680,000) and fatalities by 41,000 (27,000 to 59,000) within the first three weeks in localities that implemented stay-at-home orders.
- Nemerever, Zoe, Kelly Piazza, and Seth J. Hill. 2021. "Incorporating Gender Politics into Introduction to US Government Curriculum"
College Teaching Published online: 19 Jul 2021. [ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: Women are underrepresented among American legislators and political science majors. One explanation is that gender imbalances propagate through space and time. In this paper, we introduce a paired experiment aimed to assess the downstream attitudinal effects of priming the issue of women’s representation. At one predominantly male university and one gender-balanced university, we randomly assigned Introduction to American Politics classes to complete a reading, written reflection, and in-class group activity on either gender representation or general representation in Congress. As expected, students who were assigned to read the gender representation treatment article were more likely to discuss gender issues during the in-class activity than students who read the general representation control article. However, contrary to our theoretical expectations, the treatment was ineffective in changing lasting student attitudes on gender representation in politics. In sum, there were minimal differences in treatment effects between the two disparate experimental settings. Our results suggest that priming the issue of women’s representation in political science classrooms is, alone, insufficient to change perceptions, attitudes, and motivations underlying near ubiquitous political gender imbalances.
- Hill, Seth J. "Representation of Primary Electorates in Congressional Roll Call Votes." Working paper.
[ Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Do members of Congress represent voters in their primary election constituencies or do
general election voters discipline member roll call voting? Although conventional wisdom ascribes
great importance to primary voters, political science theory and empirical evidence often find little
influence. I present here evidence that member roll call votes are significantly related to the issue
preferences of primary voters in their district in the 111th and 112th House. This holds when
controlling for party. While members represent their primary constituents, they remain two to four
times more responsive to general electorates. These results suggest that primary elections lead
members to diverge from faithfully representing the interests of their general constituents, but that
general electorates remain a driving influence on member roll call voting.
- Hill, Seth J., James Lo, Lynn Vavreck, and John Zaller. "The Opt-in Internet Panel: Survey Mode, Sampling Methodology and the Implications for Political Research." Working paper.
[ Link to paper. ]
Abstract: All survey methodologies have weaknesses, some known and others unknown. Given that there are no "true" targets against which to assess the political marginal distributions about which we care, the decision to use any survey methodology must be met with caution and full disclosure about the strengths and weaknesses of the method, and how it might affect the results. In this paper, we assess the differences among several national surveys in terms of demographics, marginals on political variables, and ideological constraint among respondents at varying levels of political awareness. Our results suggest that Polimetrix's sample matching technique, used in the 2006 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, seems to produce Internet samples that look more similar to existing RDD phone surveys than to multi-stage probability face-to-face surveys, but surprisingly, many of the discernible differences are not large in size. We conclude that a mildly biased but large Internet survey can produce more reliable estimates than an unbiased but small survey (because of the random error due to the small samples). When matters of cost are factored in, the large, biased sample becomes even more appealing to researchers with limited budgets. The question about Internet samples (even matched samples such as those generated by Polimetrix) remains, however, whether the ignorability assumption holds such that the people who take surveys online behave the same way as those who do not, or more precisely, as those who take phone or in-person surveys.