Working Papers

How Did Absentee Voting Affect the 2020 U.S. Election?

The 2020 U.S. election saw high turnout, a huge increase in absentee voting, and brought unified national Democratic control—yet, contrary to much punditry, these facts do not imply that vote-by-mail increased turnout or had major partisan effects. In fact, states newly implementing no-excuse absentee voting for 2020 did not see dramatically larger increases in turnout than states that did not. Focusing on natural experiments in Texas and Indiana, we find that 65-year-olds turned out at nearly the same rate as 64-year-olds, despite voting absentee at higher rates since they didn’t have to provide an excuse to do so. Being old enough to vote no-excuse absentee did not substantially increase Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout, either. In sum, no-excuse absentee voting seems to have mobilized few voters and had a muted partisan effect despite the historic pandemic. Voter interest appears to be far more important in driving turnout.

No Evidence for Voter Fraud: A Guide To Statistical Claims About the 2020 Election

After the 2020 US presidential election Donald Trump refused to concede, alleging widespread and unparalleled voter fraud. Trump’s supporters deployed several statistical claims that supposedly demonstrated that Joe Biden’s electoral victory in some …

Are Dead People Voting By Mail? Evidence From Washington State Administrative Records

A commonly expressed concern about vote-by-mail in the United States is that mail-in ballots are sent to dead people, stolen by bad actors, and counted as fraudulent votes. To evaluate how often this occurs in practice, we study the state of Washington, which sends every registered voter a mail-in ballot. We link counted ballots and adminis- trative death records to estimate the rate at which dead people’s mail-in ballots are improperly counted as valid votes, using birth dates from online obituaries to address false positives. Among roughly 4.5 million distinct voters in Washington state between 2011 and 2018, we estimate that there are 14 deceased individuals whose ballots might have been cast suspiciously long after their death, representing 0.0003% of voters. Even these few cases may reflect two individuals with the same name and birth date, or clerical errors, rather than fraud. After exploring the robustness of our findings to weaker conditions for matching names, we conclude that it seems extraordinarily rare for dead people’s ballots to be counted as votes in Washington’s universal vote-by-mail system.

How Does Expanding Absentee Voting Affect Participation During COVID-19? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Texas

The partisan battle over vote-by-mail in the 2020 election is raising questions about how absentee voting will affect political participation and election outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic. We study this question using administrative data from Texas’s July 14th primary runoff, where only people 65 and older could vote absentee without an excuse. Despite concerns that COVID-19 would depress turnout in the absence of absentee voting, we find that the turnout gap between 64 and 65 year olds did not markedly increase during COVID-19, even as the rate of absentee voting tripled relative to previous runoffs. While we find that the gap in rates of absentee voting is three times larger for Democrats than Republicans during the pandemic, high rates of in-person voting by Republicans offset this increase, leaving the partisan composition of turnout unchanged from past runoffs. Though extrapolating these results requires caution, they suggest that expanding absentee voting during the pandemic may cause large numbers of voters to shift to a more health-preserving mode of voting, without necessarily changing election outcomes even despite major partisan differences in enthusiasm for absentee voting.

Who Becomes a Member of Congress? Evidence from De-Anonymized Census Data

We link future members of Congress to the de-anonymized 1940 census to offer a uniquely detailed analysis of how economically unrepresentative American politicians were in the 20th century, and why.

Understanding the Legislative Gender Gap: Evidence from U.S. States

Women legislators are more likely to serve on committees related to women’s issues and to sponsor women’s issues bills, but it is unclear if these patterns are driven by district preferences, differences in background, or institutional factors. We introduce new data on the legislative activities of over 25,000 U.S. state legislators to help explain these patterns.

How Do Electoral Incentives Affect Legislator Behavior?

We study how electoral incentives affect how politicians allocate their effort. To do so, we compile a new dataset containing roughly 780,000 bills, combined with more than 16 million roll-call voting records for roughly 6,000 legislators serving in …

Ideology and News Content in Contested U.S. House Primaries

Pundits and scholars often claim that congressional primary elections favor extremist candidates, but the mechanisms by which primary voters might learn about candidate platforms are not well understood. In this paper, we collect a new dataset of …

Economic Distress and Voting: Evidence from the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Roughly 7 million Americans lost homes to foreclosure during the Great Recession. Despite claims that the subprime mortgage crisis helped fuel recent political turmoil in the U.S., we lack systematic empirical evidence about the effects of this …