Judicial Retention Elections
University of Missouri at Columbia - Department of Political Science
James W. Endersby
University of Missouri
Jennifer A. Dube
University of Missouri at Columbia - Political Science
July 8, 2011
Nineteen states require periodic voter review of incumbent state judges. Voters are given a referendum of whether to retain the current justice or judge. Although few judges lose a retention election, there is considerable variability to the electoral margin. These judicial retention elections are low information contests, and it is not clear how voters make decisions. Bar polls, the result of a survey of a state’s lawyers, are one form of information on how judges are perceived. Much of the scholarly literature on the effect of bar polls on judicial retention election outcomes is decades old, state specific, and mixed in terms of results. Research findings disagree on whether bar polls influence retention election results (Carbon 1980; Goldstein 1980; Stookey and Watson 1980; Hall 1985) or not (Jenkins 1977; Johnson, et al. 1978; Griffin and Horan 1979, 1983; Scheb 1983). This paper investigates the relationship between a judge’s evaluation from bar polls and subsequent electoral outcome and margin. Retention election data are available for several states (IA, IL, MO) and for district courts, appeals courts, and supreme courts. Data extend from 1970-2010, although bar polls are not available for all elections. Measures of partisanship and demographic characteristics are used as control variables. Findings strongly support the view that bar polls do serve as information sources for voters in the aggregate. A judge’s evaluation by attorneys is related to retention election margin.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 35
Date posted: July 15, 2011
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