Columbus Conference: Second panel

As promised, here are my notes from the second set of papers presented two weeks ago at the “2008 and Beyond: The Future of Ethics and Election Reform in the States“, sponsored by Kent State University.

Michael McDonald –Examined turnout effects of competitive / close congressional races. Mike reported on a Pew survey of voters that included an oversample in closely fought districts. He compare perceptions of competitiveness with reality.
Mike stressed the responsiveness of preceptions to reality–when races are closer, respondents perceived it correctly. [ED note: At the same time, what do we conclude when 60% say a race will be “close” even when only one candidate??]
He also found, less surprisingly, that respondents had far more information about
Senate and Governors races than House races.
The paper is available online.

Christopher Mooney – Chris provided a comprehensive literature review on the impact of state legis term limits. He described the paper as the Cliff’s notes version of this very active area of scholarship. Sort of a natural experiment, as many states implemented term limits in the 1990s. Surprisingly, not much of an effect on legislatures–somewhat more diverse candidate pools, stronger executives and lobbyists.

Barry Burden – Examined the mpact of ballot access laws on 3rd party emergence. Essentially, if you code the difficulty of access (in his case, what percentage of general election voters are needed for a candidate to get on the ballot, typically .5 – 2%), does this correlate negatively with a) number of candidates on the ballot and b) percentage of votes received by non major parties.

His key finding: there is a strong negative impact of the percent of signatures required to get on the ballot with # of 3rd party candidates (e.g. more sigs required, fewer third party candidates). BUT there is NO IMPACT of the number of 3rd party candidates on the percent of vote received by major parties–that is almost completely determined by the closeness of the race.
What’s the lesson here? “What me worry” for the major parties. Stop trying to limit 3rd party access by ramping up the sig requirements.

Chris Cooper – Reported on the use of multi-member districts in state legislative elections. What is the impact on representation? As with Mooney, something of a non-finding. MMD have a minor impact on turnover or gender representation. There is some evidence that MMD’s encourage extremism. Overall, the presented seemed in favor of more use of MMD because they can make the legislature reflect more closely the final vote division.

Daniel Smith – Do the appearance of initiatives on the ballot correlate with the adoption of ethics and election reform? Extension of the work with Tolbert, where they count the number of initiatives on the ballot–that is the dependent variable–and examine what other characteristics are associated with initiative use.
Providede an interesting categorization of initiative, he claims that initiatives pass if they are populist (pitched as us vs. them), like ethics reforms are usually characterized, but do not pass if they are majoritarian (us vs. us), like election reforms, which typically pit one segment of the population against another.
[Ed note: This categorization sparked a rather lively debate in the discussion and afterwards over lunch–Bruce Cainagreed with the distinction between “us vs. us” and “us vs. them” but not the categories.
I mentioned to Daniel that, if he’s correct, he should see initiatives sold with one or the other “label”, and attempts to “frame” initiatives in different ways. ]