Presidency Research; Voting Behavior

Resolution of the paradox of why polls are so variable over time during presidential campaigns even though the vote outcome is easily predictable before it starts. Also, a resolution of a key controversy over absentee ballots during the 2000 presidential election; and the methodology of small-n research on executives.

Voting Behavior

Estimating Partisan Bias of the Electoral College Under Proposed Changes in Elector Apportionment
Thomas, AC, Andrew Gelman, Gary King, and Jonathan N Katz. 2012. “Estimating Partisan Bias of the Electoral College Under Proposed Changes in Elector Apportionment.” Statistics, Politics, and Policy, 1-13. Statistics, Politics and Policy (publisher version)Abstract

In the election for President of the United States, the Electoral College is the body whose members vote to elect the President directly. Each state sends a number of delegates equal to its total number of representatives and senators in Congress; all but two states (Nebraska and Maine) assign electors pledged to the candidate that wins the state's plurality vote. We investigate the effect on presidential elections if states were to assign their electoral votes according to results in each congressional district,and conclude that the direct popular vote and the current electoral college are both substantially fairer compared to those alternatives where states would have divided their electoral votes by congressional district.

Ordinary Economic Voting Behavior in the Extraordinary Election of Adolf Hitler
King, Gary, Ori Rosen, Martin Tanner, and Alexander Wagner. 2008. “Ordinary Economic Voting Behavior in the Extraordinary Election of Adolf Hitler.” Journal of Economic History 68 (4): 996.Abstract

The enormous Nazi voting literature rarely builds on modern statistical or economic research. By adding these approaches, we find that the most widely accepted existing theories of this era cannot distinguish the Weimar elections from almost any others in any country. Via a retrospective voting account, we show that voters most hurt by the depression, and most likely to oppose the government, fall into separate groups with divergent interests. This explains why some turned to the Nazis and others turned away. The consequences of Hitler's election were extraordinary, but the voting behavior that led to it was not.

Did Illegal Overseas Absentee Ballots Decide the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election?
Resolved for the New York Times a key controversy over the 2000 presidential election. Imai, Kosuke, and Gary King. 2004. “Did Illegal Overseas Absentee Ballots Decide the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election?.” Perspectives on Politics 2: 537–549.Abstract

Although not widely known until much later, Al Gore received 202 more votes than George W. Bush on election day in Florida. George W. Bush is president because he overcame his election day deficit with overseas absentee ballots that arrived and were counted after election day. In the final official tally, Bush received 537 more votes than Gore. These numbers are taken from the official results released by the Florida Secretary of State's office and so do not reflect overvotes, undervotes, unsuccessful litigation, butterfly ballot problems, recounts that might have been allowed but were not, or any other hypothetical divergence between voter preferences and counted votes. After the election, the New York Times conducted a six month long investigation and found that 680 of the overseas absentee ballots were illegally counted, and no partisan, pundit, or academic has publicly disagreed with their assessment. In this paper, we describe the statistical procedures we developed and implemented for the Times to ascertain whether disqualifying these 680 ballots would have changed the outcome of the election. The methods involve adding formal Bayesian model averaging procedures to King's (1997) ecological inference model. Formal Bayesian model averaging has not been used in political science but is especially useful when substantive conclusions depend heavily on apparently minor but indefensible model choices, when model generalization is not feasible, and when potential critics are more partisan than academic. We show how we derived the results for the Times so that other scholars can use these methods to make ecological inferences for other purposes. We also present a variety of new empirical results that delineate the precise conditions under which Al Gore would have been elected president, and offer new evidence of the striking effectiveness of the Republican effort to convince local election officials to count invalid ballots in Bush counties and not count them in Gore counties.

Why are American Presidential Election Campaign Polls so Variable when Votes are so Predictable?
Resolution of a paradox in the study of American voting behavior. Gelman, Andrew, and Gary King. 1993. “Why are American Presidential Election Campaign Polls so Variable when Votes are so Predictable?.” British Journal of Political Science 23: 409–451.Abstract
As most political scientists know, the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election can be predicted within a few percentage points (in the popular vote), based on information available months before the election. Thus, the general election campaign for president seems irrelevant to the outcome (except in very close elections), despite all the media coverage of campaign strategy. However, it is also well known that the pre-election opinion polls can vary wildly over the campaign, and this variation is generally attributed to events in the campaign. How can campaign events affect people’s opinions on whom they plan to vote for, and yet not affect the outcome of the election? For that matter, why do voters consistently increase their support for a candidate during his nominating convention, even though the conventions are almost entirely predictable events whose effects can be rationally forecast? In this exploratory study, we consider several intuitively appealing, but ultimately wrong, resolutions to this puzzle, and discuss our current understanding of what causes opinion polls to fluctuate and yet reach a predictable outcome. Our evidence is based on graphical presentation and analysis of over 67,000 individual-level responses from forty-nine commercial polls during the 1988 campaign and many other aggregate poll results from the 1952–1992 campaigns. We show that responses to pollsters during the campaign are not generally informed or even, in a sense we describe, "rational." In contrast, voters decide which candidate to eventually support based on their enlightened preferences, as formed by the information they have learned during the campaign, as well as basic political cues such as ideology and party identification. We cannot prove this conclusion, but we do show that it is consistent with the aggregate forecasts and individual-level opinion poll responses. Based on the enlightened preferences hypothesis, we conclude that the news media have an important effect on the outcome of Presidential elections–-not due to misleading advertisements, sound bites, or spin doctors, but rather by conveying candidates’ positions on important issues.
On Party Platforms, Mandates, and Government Spending
King, Gary, and Michael Laver. 1993. “On Party Platforms, Mandates, and Government Spending.” American Political Science Review 87: 744–750.Abstract

In their 1990 Review article, Ian Budge and Richard Hofferbert analyzed the relationship between party platform emphases, control of the White House, and national government spending priorities, reporting strong evidence of a "party mandate" connection between them. Gary King and Michael Laver successfully replicate the original analysis, critique the interpretation of the causal effects, and present a reanalysis showing that platforms have small or nonexistent effects on spending. In response, Budge, Hofferbert, and Michael McDonald agree that their language was somewhat inconsistent on both interactions and causality but defend their conceptualization of "mandates" as involving only an association, not necessarily a causal connection, between party commitments and government policy. Hence, while the causes of government policy are of interest, noncausal associations are sufficient as evidence of party mandates in American politics.

Party Competition and Media Messages in U.S. Presidential Election Campaigns
A popular version of the previous article. Gelman, Andrew, Gary King, and Sandy L Maisel. 1994. “Party Competition and Media Messages in U.S. Presidential Election Campaigns.” The Parties Respond: Changes in the American Party System, 255-295. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 255-295.Abstract

At one point during the 1988 campaign, Michael Dukakis was ahead in the public opinion polls by 17 percentage points, but he eventually lost the election by 8 percent. Walter Mondale was ahead in the polls by 4 percent during the 1984 campaign but lost the election in a landslide. During June and July of 1992, Clinton, Bush, and Perot each had turns in the public opinion poll lead. What explains all this poll variation? Why do so many citizens change their minds so quickly about presidential choices?

No Evidence on Directional vs. Proximity Voting
Proves that the extensive debate between supporters of the direction and proximity models of voting has been based on theoretical specification rather than empirical evidence. Lewis, Jeffrey, and Gary King. 1999. “No Evidence on Directional vs. Proximity Voting.” Political Analysis 8: 21–33.Abstract
The directional and proximity models offer dramatically different theories for how voters make decisions and fundamentally divergent views of the supposed microfoundations on which vast bodies of literature in theoretical rational choice and empirical political behavior have been built. We demonstrate here that the empirical tests in the large and growing body of literature on this subject amount to theoretical debates about which statistical assumption is right. The key statistical assumptions have not been empirically tested and, indeed, turn out to be effectively untestable with exiting methods and data. Unfortunately, these assumptions are also crucial since changing them leads to different conclusions about voter processes.
Estimating the Probability of Events that Have Never Occurred: When Is Your Vote Decisive?
The first extensive empirical study of the probability of your vote changing the outcome of a U.S. presidential election? Most previous studies of the probability of a tied vote have involved theoretical calculation without data. Gelman, Andrew, Gary King, and John Boscardin. 1998. “Estimating the Probability of Events that Have Never Occurred: When Is Your Vote Decisive?.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 93: 1–9.Abstract
Researchers sometimes argue that statisticians have little to contribute when few realizations of the process being estimated are observed. We show that this argument is incorrect even in the extreme situation of estimating the probabilities of events so rare that they have never occurred. We show how statistical forecasting models allow us to use empirical data to improve inferences about the probabilities of these events. Our application is estimating the probability that your vote will be decisive in a U.S. presidential election, a problem that has been studied by political scientists for more than two decades. The exact value of this probability is of only minor interest, but the number has important implications for understanding the optimal allocation of campaign resources, whether states and voter groups receive their fair share of attention from prospective presidents, and how formal "rational choice" models of voter behavior might be able to explain why people vote at all. We show how the probability of a decisive vote can be estimated empirically from state-level forecasts of the presidential election and illustrate with the example of 1992. Based on generalizations of standard political science forecasting models, we estimate the (prospective) probability of a single vote being decisive as about 1 in 10 million for close national elections such as 1992, varying by about a factor of 10 among states. Our results support the argument that subjective probabilities of many types are best obtained through empirically based statistical prediction models rather than solely through mathematical reasoning. We discuss the implications of our findings for the types of decision analyses used in public choice studies.

Presidency Research

King, Gary, and Michael Laver. 1999. “Many Publications, but Still No Evidence.” Electoral Studies 18: 597–598.Abstract
In 1990, Budge and Hofferbert (B&H) claimed that they had found solid evidence that party platforms cause U.S. budgetary priorities, and thus concluded that mandate theory applies in the United States as strongly as it does elsewhere. The implications of this stunning conclusion would mean that virtually every observer of the American party system in this century has been wrong. King and Laver (1993) reanalyzed B&H’s data and demonstrated in two ways that there exists no evidence for a causal relationship. First, accepting their entire statistical model, and correcting only an algebraic error (a mistake in how they computed their standard errors), we showed that their hypothesized relationship holds up in fewer than half the tests they reported. Second, we showed that their statistical model includes a slightly hidden but politically implausible assumption that a new party achieves every budgetary desire immediately upon taking office. We then specified a model without this unrealistic assumption and we found that the assumption was not supported, and that all evidence in the data for platforms causing government budgets evaporated. In their published response to our article, B&H withdrew their key claim and said they were now (in 1993) merely interested in an association and not causation. That is how it was left in 1993—a perfectly amicable resolution as far as we were concerned—since we have no objection to the claim that there is a non-causal or chance association between any two variables. Of course, we see little reason to be interested in non-causal associations in this area any more than in the chance correlation that exists between the winner of the baseball World Series and the party winning the U.S. presidency. Since party mandate theory only makes sense as a causal theory, the conventional wisdom about America’s porous, non-mandate party system stands.
The Methodology of Presidential Research
Small-n issues in presidency research, and how to resolve the problem. King, Gary, George Edwards III, Bert A Rockman, and John H Kessel. 1993. “The Methodology of Presidential Research.” Researching the Presidency: Vital Questions, New Approaches, 387–412. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 387–412.Abstract
The original purpose of the paper this chapter was based on was to use the Presidency Research Conference’s first-round papers– by John H. Aldrich, Erwin C. Hargrove, Karen M. Hult, Paul Light, and Richard Rose– as my "data." My given task was to analyze the literature ably reviewed by these authors and report what political methodology might have to say about presidency research. I focus in this chapter on the traditional presidency literature, emphasizing research on the president and the office. For the most part, I do not consider research on presidential selection, election, and voting behavior, which has been much more similar to other fields in American politics.