Priming Ideology: Why Do Presidential Elections Affect U.S. Judges
95 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2016 Last revised: 10 Feb 2020
Date Written: December 20, 2019
Politicians’ behavioral changes as an election nears have typically been attributed to the incentive effects of an election. I document that behavioral changes can occur even for unelected judges.Using data from 1925-2002 on U.S. appellate judges, who are appointed for life, I find that just before presidential elections they increase by roughly 100% the rates at which they vote along partisan lines and achieve an outcome reflecting the political views of the appointing president’s party. Exploiting monthly campaign ads in judges’ states of residence, dissents increase with campaign advertisements in states where judges reside and with the closeness of the state’s popular vote when that state has more electoral votes. Elections can explain 23% of all dissents. I rule out a number of incentive-based explanations.Topic of dissents, replication in concurrences (disagreement about reasoning), and judge heterogeneity support a transient priming mechanism reflecting the contexts and characteristics that make individuals more susceptible to and timing of priming. If elite U.S. judges are in fact susceptible to priming via the partisan nature of electoral cycles, then highly trained individuals may be susceptible to other forms of priming regardless of their professional commitments to be unbiased.
Keywords: decision analysis, judgement, legal process, priming, causal analysis
JEL Classification: D7, K0, Z1
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation