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Do small wording differences in message-based behavioral interventions have outsized effects on behavior? An influential initial study, examining this question in the domain of political behavior using two small-scale field experiments, argues that subtle linguistic cues in voter mobilization messages describing someone as a voter (noun) instead of one who votes (verb) dramatically increases turnout rates by activating a person's social identity as a voter. Two subsequent large-scale replication field experiments challenged this claim, finding no effect even in electorally competitive settings. However, these experiments may not have reproduced the psychological context needed to motivate behavioral change because they did not occur in highly competitive and highly salient electoral contexts. Addressing this major criticism, we conduct a large-scale, preregistered replication field experiment in the 2016 presidential election. We find no evidence that noun wording increases turnout compared to verb wording in this highly salient electoral context, even in competitive states.
Doubts about the integrity of ballot secrecy persist and depress political participation among the American public. Prior experiments have shown that official communications directly addressing these doubts increase turnout among recently registered voters who had not previously voted, but evaluations of similar messages sent by nongovernmental campaigns have yielded only suggestive effects. We build on past research and analyze two large-scale field experiments where a private nonpartisan nonprofit group sought to increase turnout by emphasizing ballot secrecy assurances alongside a reminder to vote in a direct mail voter mobilization campaign during the 2014 midterm election. Our main finding is that a private group’s mailing increases turnout by about 1 percentage point among recently registered nonvoters. This finding is precisely estimated and robust across state political contexts, but is not statistically distinguishable from the effect of a standard voter mobilization appeal. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.
Missing outcome data plague many randomized experiments. Common solutions rely on ignorability assumptions that may not be credible in all applications. We propose a method for confronting missing outcome data that makes fairly weak assumptions but can still yield informative bounds on the average treatment effect. Our approach is based on a combination of the double sampling design and nonparametric worst-case bounds. We derive a worst-case bounds estimator under double sampling and provide analytic expressions for variance estimators and confidence intervals. We also propose a method for covariate adjustment using poststratification and a sensitivity analysis for nonignorable missingness. Finally, we illustrate the utility of our approach using Monte Carlo simulations and a placebo-controlled randomized field experiment on the effects of persuasion on social attitudes with survey-based outcome measures.
Regression discontinuity (RD) designs enable researchers to estimate causal effects using observational data. These causal effects are identified at the point of discontinuity that distinguishes those observations that do or do not receive the treatment. One challenge in applying RD in practice is that data may be sparse in the immediate vicinity of the discontinuity. Expanding the analysis to observations outside this immediate vicinity may improve the statistical precision with which treatment effects are estimated, but including more distant observations also increases the risk of bias. Model specification is another source of uncertainty; as the bandwidth around the cutoff point expands, linear approximations may break down, requiring more flexible functional forms. Using data from a large randomized experiment conducted by Gerber, Green, and Larimer (2008), this study attempts to recover an experimental benchmark using RD and assesses the uncertainty introduced by various aspects of model and bandwidth selection. More generally, we demonstrate how experimental benchmarks can be used to gauge and improve the reliability of RD analyses.
The debate about the cost-effectiveness of randomized field experimentation ignores one of the most important potential uses of experimental data. This article defines and illustrates “downstream” experimental analysis—that is, analysis of the indirect effects of experimental interventions. We argue that downstream analysis may be as valuable as conventional analysis, perhaps even more so in the case of laboratory experimentation.
Many political observers have expressed doubts as to whether America's leaders are up to the task of addressing major policy challenges. Yet much of the critical commentary lacks grounding in the systematic analysis of the core institutions of the American political system including elections, representation, and the law-making process. Governing in a Polarized Age brings together more than a dozen leading scholars to provide an in-depth examination of representation and legislative performance. Drawing upon the seminal work of David Mayhew as a point of departure, these essays explore the dynamics of incumbency advantage in today's polarized Congress, asking whether the focus on individual re-election that was the hallmark of Mayhew's ground-breaking book, Congress: The Electoral Connection, remains useful for understanding today's Congress. The essays link the study of elections with close analysis of changes in party organization and with a series of systematic assessments of the quality of legislative performance.
Field experiments on voter mobilization enable researchers to test theoretical propositions while at the same time addressing practical questions that confront campaigns. This confluence of interests has led to increasing collaboration between researchers and campaign organizations, which in turn has produced a rapid accumulation of experiments on voting. This new evidence base makes possible translational works such as Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout that synthesize the burgeoning research literature and convey its conclusions to campaign practitioners. However, as political groups develop their own in-house capacity to conduct experiments whose results remain proprietary and may be reported selectively, the accumulation of an unbiased, public knowledge base is threatened. We discuss these challenges and the ways in which research that focuses on practical concerns may nonetheless speak to enduring theoretical questions.
Regular church attendance is strongly associated with a higher probability of voting. It is an open question as to whether this association, which has been confirmed in numerous surveys, is causal. The repeal of the laws restricting Sunday retail activity (‘blue laws’) is used to measure the effects of church-going on political participation. Blue laws’ repeal caused a 5 percent decrease in church attendance. Its effect on political participation was measured and it was found that, following the repeal, turnout fell by approximately 1 percentage point. This decline in turnout is consistent with the large effect of church attendance on turnout reported in the literature, and suggests that church attendance may have a significant causal effect on voter turnout.
This article measures the social rewards and sanctions associated with voting. A series of survey experiments shows that information about whether a person votes directly affects how favorably that person is viewed. Importantly, the study also compares the rewards and sanctions associated with voting to other activities, including the decisions to recycle, volunteer and return one’s library books on time. It presents a behavioral test of the consequences of non-voting and finds that individuals are willing to take costly action in a dictator game to reward political participation. Finally, it shows that survey measures of social norms about voting are correlated with county-level voter turnout. The study adds to the growing literature documenting the important influence of social concerns on turnout and other political choices.