research of seth j. hill
Partisanship and polarization
- Hill, Seth J. 2017. "Learning Together Slowly: Bayesian Learning About Political Facts."
Journal of Politics Forthcoming. [ 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. ]
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. ]
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. ]
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.
- Hill, Seth J. and Chris Tausanovitch. "Southern Realignment, Party Sorting, and the Polarization of American Primary Electorates, 1958-2012." Working paper.
[ Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Most work on the polarization of Congress has argued that primary elections have played little or no role. Almost none of this work, however, attempts to measure the policy preferences of primary electorates directly. We use Bayesian item-response theory estimates to compare the policy preferences of primary voters over time. Although the overall distribution of population preferences has changed little, preferences of primary voters are now more related to the party primary that they attend. 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 divergence of primary electorates is six times larger in 2012 than in 1958 due to this sorting. Sorting in primary elections appears to have begun in the mid-century South with sorting in non-Southern primaries following that lead, suggesting the Southern realignment was a mechanism for initiating the sorting of nationwide primary electorates.
- Hill, Seth J. and Gregory A. Huber. "On The Meaning of Survey Reports of Roll Call Votes Not Cast in a Legislature." Working paper.
[ Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: Contemporary efforts to evaluate the quality of representation often use survey measures of how citizens say they would vote on legislation to compare citizen preferences to what elected officials do in office. These comparisons often suggest poor representation. We argue here that this common design is unlikely to effectively evaluate representation because responses to survey questions, even on roll call votes, differ in important aspects from voting in legislatures. This leads to systematic measurement error that undermines the key assumption that survey responses measure preferences in the same policy space as legislative behavior. Results from two survey experiments show that providing information readily available to legislators though not readily available to survey respondents materially changes respondents' expressed preferences on roll call votes. Expressed policy positions in this ``informed'' survey condition indicate survey respondents are both more extreme than commonly estimated and more closely matched to legislator behavior in their preferred party. Information increases party splits among respondents by 40 and 60 percent. We also show that respondents appear aware of their own lack of knowledge in evaluating roll call policy votes and that the size of the treatment effect of information decreases in the confidence judging policy in that area.
- Hill, Seth J. 2017. "Changing Votes or Changing Voters: How Candidates and Election Context Swing Voters and Mobilize the Base."
Electoral Studies Forthcoming. [ 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.
- Hill, Seth J. "Following Through on an Intention to Vote: Present Bias, Norms, and Turnout." Working paper.
[ Local link to paper. ]
Abstract: I present a model that maps the intention to vote into action to help understand broad patterns of turnout. It extends the standard cost-benefit framework of turnout to multiple periods with uncertainty about how the choice to vote will be experienced and includes the possibility of present bias in time preferences. Civic duty and social pressure are voting norms that serve as commitment devices for citizens to follow through and vote. This Follow-Through Model parsimoniously accounts for two important features of turnout: the connection between voting and norms and increasing socio-economic standard of living in the United States without corresponding increase in aggregate turnout. Evidence from a nationally-representative survey merged to administrative records confirms that present bias is negatively related to both turnout and follow through of intended voting, and that voting norms mitigate each. The model and results highlight why lower-income Americans are less likely to vote, have implications for policy approaches to mitigate inequality in political participation, and serve as a framework to reason about individual influences on turnout.
- 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.
- 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.