Wisconsin recall elections — lessons from the 2003 California recall

I’ve been hearing a bit of buzz in academic circles recently about potential recall elections in Wisconsin.

For a lot of reasons, recall elections haven’t been widely studied by political scientists: they are not terribly common in the types of elections we tend to study, and when they do occur they are often over and done before anyone has had a chance to mount a large-scale research study.

Of course, the 2003 recall in California was an exception, and there have been a number of important studies of that election. That body of research on the 2003 recall in California should be of great interest in the contemporary discussion of potential recall elections in Wisconsin.

First, there was a symposium in PS: Political Science & Politics published in 2004 on the California recall election. There were a number of papers in that symposium that are of interest to those interested in learning more about recall elections; readers of this blog might especially like the paper that Melanie Goodrich, Thad Hall, Rod Kiewiet, Sarah Sled and I published in that issue, “The Complexity of the California Recall Election.” Our paper discusses the administrative complexities of recall elections, and the effects of that complexity on voters.

Second, there was an volume published in 2006, edited by Shaun Bowler and Bruce Cain, “Clicker Politics: Essays on the California Recall”. This volume has a number of important studies of the 2003 recall election, especially papers on some of the legal issues of the election (Rick Hasen) and a variety of papers on behavioral issues in the recall election (for example, Becki Scola and Lisa Garcia Bedolla on race and gender; Matt Barreto and Ricardo Ramirez on race and the recall; Betsy Sinclair, Rod Kiewiet and I on rationalistic voting behavior).

Finally, there are a number of independent studies that consider important political and behavioral issues regarding the 2003 recall election:

  • Elisabeth Garrett, “Democracy in the Wake of the California Recall,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review.
  • R. Michael Alvarez and D. Roderick Kiewiet, “Rationality and Rationalistic Choice in the California Recall”,British Journal of Political Science.
  • Gary M. Segura and Luis R. Fraga, “Race and the Recall: Racial and Ethnic Polarization in the California Recall Election.”American Journal of Political Science.

    This is by no means an exhaustive list of studies, but these are just the ones that I have drawn upon in my recent research.