Skip to main content Accessibility help

An Experimental Investigation of How Judicial Elections Affect Public Faith in the Judicial System

  • Anthony J. Nownes and Colin Glennon


Judicial scholars have often speculated about the impact of elections on the administration of justice in the state courts. Yet relatively little research has concerned itself with public perceptions of state court selection methods. Of particular interest is the concept of legitimacy. Do elections negatively affect public perceptions of judicial legitimacy? Bonneau and Hall (2009) and Gibson (2012) answer this question with an emphatic “No.” Judicial elections, these studies show, are not uniquely troublesome for perceptions of institutional legitimacy. This article aims to extend the findings of Bonneau and Hall and Gibson via a laboratory experiment on the effects of elections on public perceptions of judicial legitimacy. In the end, we find that because elections preempt the use of the other main selection method—appointment—they actually enhance perceptions of judicial legitimacy rather than diminish them.



Hide All
Alvarez, R. Michael, Sherman, Robert P., and VanBeselaere, Carla. 2003. Subject Acquisition for Web‐Based Surveys. Political Analysis 11 (1): 2343.
Bartels, Brandon L., and Johnston, Christopher D. 2013. On the Ideological Foundations of Supreme Court Legitimacy in the American Public. American Journal of Political Science 57 (1): 184–99.
Bartusek, Lisa. 2007. School Board Elections: Voter Turnout Needs Your Help. Iowa Association of School Boards. (accessed February 10, 2015).
Benesh, Sara C. 2006. Understanding Public Confidence in American Courts. Journal of Politics 68 (3): 697707.
Berdejó, Carlos, and Yuchtman, Noam. 2013. Crime, Punishment, and Politics: An Analysis of Political Cycles in Criminal Sentencing. Review of Economics and Statistics 95 (3): 741–56.
Bonneau, Chris W., and Gann Hall, Melinda. 2009. In Defense of Judicial Elections. New York: Routledge.
Brace, Paul, and Boyea, Brent D. 2008. State Public Opinion, the Death Penalty, and the Practice of Electing Judges. American Journal of Political Science 52 (2): 360–72.
Caldeira, Gregory A., and McGuire, Kevin T. 2005. What Americans Know About the Courts and Why it Matters. In The Judicial Branch, ed. Kermit, L. Hall and Kevin, T. McGuire, 262–79. New York: Oxford University Press.
Canes‐Wrone, Brandice, Tom, S. Clark, and Jason, P. Kelly. 2014. Judicial Selection and Death Penalty Decisions. American Political Science Review 108(1): 2339.
Cassese, Erin C., Huddy, Leonie, Hartman, Todd K., Mason, Lilliana, and Weber, Christopher R. 2013. Socially‐Mediated Internet Surveys (SMIS): Recruiting Participants for Online Experiments. PS: Political Science and Politics 46 (4): 775–84.
Choi, Stephen J., Gulati, G. Mitu, and Posner, Eric A. 2008. Professionals or Politicians: The Uncertain Empirical Case for an Elected Rather than Appointed Judiciary. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 26 (2): 290336.
Copeland, Gary, and Garn, Gregg. 2007. Voting When Few Care and Most Don't Know: Voter Decision‐Making in School Board Elections. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, August 30–September 2.
Epstein, Lee. 2013. Electoral Benefits: The Assault on the Assaulters of Judicial Elections. Judicature 96 (5): 218–22.
Gartner, Scott Sigmund. 2008. The Multiple Effects of Casualties on Public Support for War: An Experimental Approach. American Political Science Review 102 (1): 95106.
Geyh, Charles Gardner. 2003. Why Judicial Elections Stink. Ohio State Law Journal 64 (1): 4379.
Geyh, Charles Gardner. 2012. Judicial Selection Reconsidered: A Plea for Radical Moderation. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 35 (2): 623–42.
Gibson, James L. 2008a. Campaigning for the Bench: The Corrosive Effects of Campaign Speech? Law & Society Review 42 (4): 899928.
Gibson, James L. 2008b. Challenges to the Impartiality of State Supreme Courts: Legitimacy Theory and “New Style” Judicial Campaigns. American Political Science Review 102 (1): 5975.
Gibson, James L. 2009. “New‐Style” Judicial Campaigns and the Legitimacy of State High Courts. Journal of Politics 71 (4): 12851304.
Gibson, James L. 2012. Electing Judges: The Surprising Effects of Campaigning on Judicial Legitimacy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Gibson, James L. 2013. Electing Judges: Future Research and the Normative Debate About Judicial Elections. Judicature 96 (5): 223–31.
Gibson, James L., and Caldeira, Gregory A. 2011. Has Legal Realism Damaged the Legitimacy of the U.S. Supreme Court? Law & Society Review 45 (1): 195219.
Gibson, James L., and Caldeira, Gregory A. 2012. Campaign Support, Conflicts of Interest, and Judicial Impartiality: Can Recusals Rescue the Legitimacy of Courts? Journal of Politics 74 (1): 1834.
Gibson, James L., Caldeira, Gregory A., and Kenyatta Spence, Lester. 2003. Measuring Attitudes Toward the United States Supreme Court. American Journal of Political Science 47 (2): 354–67.
Gibson, James L., Caldeira, Gregory A., and Kenyatta Spence, Lester. 2005. Why Do People Accept Public Policies They Oppose? Testing Legitimacy Theory with a Survey‐Based Experiment. Political Research Quarterly 58 (2): 187201.
Gibson, James L., Gottfried, Jeffrey A., Delli Carpini, Michael X., and Hall Jamieson, Kathleen. 2011. The Effects of Judicial Campaign Activity on the Legitimacy of Courts: A Survey‐Based Experiment. Political Research Quarterly 64 (3): 545–58.
Gordon, Sanford C., and Huber, Gregory A. 2007. The Effect of Electoral Competitiveness on Incumbent Behavior. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 2 (2): 107–38.
Grossman, Joel B. 1984. Judicial Legitimacy and the Role of Courts: Shapiro's Courts. Law & Social Inquiry 9 (1): 214–22.
Hall, Melinda Gann. 2001. State Supreme Courts in American Democracy: Probing the Myths of Judicial Reform. American Political Science Review 95 (2): 315–30.
Hall, Melinda Gann. 2007. Voting in State Supreme Court Elections: Competition and Context as Democratic Incentives. Journal of Politics 69 (4): 1147–59.
Hall, Melinda Gann, and Bonneau, Chris W. 2008. Mobilizing Interest: The Effects of Money on Citizen Participation in State Supreme Court Elections. American Journal of Political Science 52 (3): 457–70.
Hume, Robert J. 2013. Legitimacy, Yes, But at What Cost? Judicature 96 (5): 209–12.
Jamieson, Kathleen Hall, and Hardy, Bruce W. 2008. Will Ignorance and Partisan Election of Judges Undermine Public Trust in the Judiciary? Daedalus 137 (4): 1115.
Jones, Jeffrey M. 2014. Independents: Republican Identification Lowest in at Least 25 Years. Gallup Poll. (accessed July 1, 2015).
Kelleher, Christine A., and Wolak, Jennifer. 2007. Explaining Public Confidence in the Branches of State Government. Political Research Quarterly 60 (4): 707–21.
Maciag, Mike. 2014. Voter Turnout Plummeting in Local Elections. Governing, October. (accessed February 9, 2015).
National School Board Association. 2009. Selection of Local School Boards Chart (2009). (accessed February 10, 2015).
Robinson, William T. (Bill) III. 2013 Justice in Jeopardy: The ABA Perspective. Indiana Law Review 46 (7): 714.
Stephenson, Laura B., and Crête, Jean. 2011. Studying Political Behavior: A Comparison of Internet and Telephone Surveys. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 23 (1): 2455.
Streb, Matthew J. 2013. Gibson's Electing Judges. What We Know and What We Need to Know About the Effects of Politicized Judicial Campaigns. Judicature 96 (5): 213–17.
Tomz, Michael, Wittenberg, Jason, and King, Gary. 2003. CLARIFY: Software for Interpreting and Presenting Statistical Results. Journal of Statistical Software.
US Census Bureau. 2015. USA Quick Facts. (accessed February 9, 2015).
Verba, Sidney, Burns, Nancy, and Lehman Schlozman, Kay. 1997. Knowing and Caring About Politics: Gender and Political Engagement. Journal of Politics 59 (4): 1051–72.
Wedeking, Justin, Peffley, Mark, and Wininger, Philip. 2013. Controversy, the Courts and Institutional Legitimacy: Public Perceptions of Judge Selection Methods. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 11–14.
Wenzel, James P., Bowler, Shaun, and Lanoue, David J. 2003. The Sources of Public Confidence in State Courts: Experience and Institutions. American Politics Research 31 (2): 191211.
What's My Percent. 2015. Income Calculator. (accessed February 9, 2015).
World Bank. 2015. Population Female. (accessed February 9, 2015).
Zaller, John R. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

An Experimental Investigation of How Judicial Elections Affect Public Faith in the Judicial System

  • Anthony J. Nownes and Colin Glennon


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.