My dissertation consists of three papers about the causes and effects of judicial elections. More specifically, it asks the following questions: Do campaign finance restrictions change voting behavior? Do certain types of media coverage about judicial candidates invite more public interest? Does policy-oriented information prevent ballot roll-off for judicial races? These three papers provide insight into an electoral landscape that has historically been lacking in information but has become increasingly costly and relevant in recent years.
The first paper, “Effects of Campaign Finance Regulations on State Supreme Court Signaling,” considers how state campaign finance restrictions influence the propensity of state supreme court justices to vote with their ideological counterparts. Using measures of campaign finance regulations and court disorder from 1995 to 2010, I find that judicial voting behavior is often a signaling story. In general, when there is an increase in campaign finance regulations, justices are more likely to vote with their ideological counterparts. When justices need to divulge more information about their donors, who are often ideologically diverse, they are especially likely to vote with their ideological counterparts as a way to signal to voters where their ideological loyalties lie. Justices, however, when faced with regulations that force them to expand their donor base, would vote more moderately as a way to appeal to more donors. These results demonstrate that campaign finance reform should not be evaluated as a monolith. Rather, state legislators should consider the effects of each regulation to ensure that the regulations work in step with judicial legitimacy. (Link to working draft of the paper)
The second paper, “Effects of News Stories on Public Interest in State Supreme Court Candidates,” evaluates how media coverage influences public interest in judicial candidates running for reelection. Using an original dataset of daily Google Trends hits and articles about each judicial candidate running for reelection from 2004 to 2020, I find that readers tend to prefer to read about the justices’ campaigns rather than their decision-making on the bench. When a media outlet publishes an article emphasizing a justice’s campaign activities, more people search the justice’s name on the Google search engine. In contrast, when a media outlet publishes an article emphasizing a justice’s judicial activities, less people search the justice’s name on the Google search engine. These results demonstrate that in a low-information environment, such as judicial elections, people connect to the personal more so than the professional. (Link to working draft of the paper)
The third paper, “Effects of Campaign Advertising on Ballot Roll-Off,” looks at how policy-oriented information on judicial candidates can prevent ballot roll-off because voters tend to be inclined to put candidates into partisan camps. I plan to conduct this study using both experimental and observational data. For the experimental study, I plan to field a survey experiment that looks at whether exposure to policy-oriented information in a nonpartisan retention election prevents ballot roll-off. For the observational study, I will transcribe text and code for specific policy and judicial symbols in TV ads about state supreme court candidates from 2000 to 2021 and look at whether policy symbols in TV ads influence ballot roll-off in each race. I expect that the presence of policy information in judicial elections will help prevent ballot roll-off and the absence of policy information will increase the propensity for ballot roll-off. (Link to working draft of the paper)