Party Power and the Causal Effect of Endorsements

42 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2013

See all articles by Seth E. Masket

Seth E. Masket

University of Denver

Eric McGhee

Public Policy Institute of California

Date Written: 2013


When parties make endorsements in primary elections, does the favored candidate receive a real boost in her vote share, or do parties simply pick the favorites who are already destined to win? That is, do parties act as kingmakers who swing elections or cheerleaders who merely root on the winning side? To answer this question, we draw on two research designs aimed at isolating the causal effect of Democratic Party endorsements in California’s 2012 primary election. First, we conduct a survey experiment in which we randomly assign a party endorsement, holding all other aspects of a candidate’s background and policy positions constant. Second, we use a unique dataset to implement a regression-discontinuity analysis of electoral trends by comparing the vote shares captured by candidates who barely won or barely lost the internal party endorsement contest. We find that endorsements do indeed matter, though the magnitude of their impact is smaller than might be estimated from research designs less attuned to recent advances in causal inference.

Keywords: endorsements, parties, top-two, California

Suggested Citation

Masket, Seth E. and McGhee, Eric, Party Power and the Causal Effect of Endorsements (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper; American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting. Available at SSRN:

Seth E. Masket (Contact Author)

University of Denver ( email )

Sturm Hall, Room 466
2000 E. Asbury Ave.
Denver, CO 80208
United States
303-871-2718 (Phone)
303-871-2045 (Fax)

Eric McGhee

Public Policy Institute of California ( email )

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Suite 800
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States
415-291-4439 (Phone)

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