Elections and the Quality of Public Officials: Evidence from U.S. State Courts

48 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2012 Last revised: 28 Aug 2021

See all articles by Claire Lim

Claire Lim

Queen Mary University of London; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

James M. Snyder

Harvard University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: September 2012

Abstract

We investigate the influence of electoral rules and voter information in elections on voting outcomes and the quality of public officials, using new data on state court judge elections in 39 states in the U.S. from 1990 to 2010. We find, first, that voting is very partisan in partisan judicial elections - i.e., there is a strong correlation between the Democratic "normal vote'' and the Democratic vote share for judges - but not in non-partisan or non-competitive "retention'' elections. This partisan voting behavior cannot be attributed to clear differences between Democratic and Republican judges in their sentencing decisions, since such differences, if any, are small and not consistent. Second, we find that incumbent judges' quality has little effect on their vote share or probability of winning in partisan general elections. By contrast, it has a substantial effect in non-partisan elections and partisan primary elections. It also has a noticeable effect on their vote share in retention elections, but the magnitude is often too small to affect reelection. Evidence on turnout is consistent with a simple "voting cue'' hypothesis. We find that about 83\% of the voters who vote on the top office on the ballot also vote on judicial elections in partisan elections. In contrast, in nonpartisan and retention elections, only 76\% and 67\% of those who vote on the top office also vote on judicial candidates, respectively. In addition, the amount of newspaper coverage affects voter turnout only in non-partisan elections.

Suggested Citation

Lim, Claire and Snyder, James M., Elections and the Quality of Public Officials: Evidence from U.S. State Courts (September 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2143542

Claire Lim (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London ( email )

Mile End Road
London, London E1 4NS
United Kingdom

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

James M. Snyder

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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