University of Wisconsin–Madison

Recent Faculty Publications

The Stealth Media? Groups and Targets Behind Divisive Issue Campaigns on Facebook
Young Mie Kim, Jordan Hsu, and Levi Bankston with David Neiman, Colin Kou, Soo Yun Kim, Richard Heinrich, Robyn Baragwanath, and Garvesh Raskutt

In light of the foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, the present research asks the question of whether the digital media has become the stealth media for anonymous political campaigns. By utilizing a user-based, real-time, digital ad tracking tool, the present research reverse engineers and tracks the groups (Study 1) and the targets (Study 2) of divisive issue campaigns based on 5 million paid ads on Facebook exposed to 9,519 individuals between September 28 and November 8, 2016. The findings reveal groups that did not file reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC)—nonprofits, astroturf/movement groups, and unidentifiable “suspicious” groups, including foreign entities—ran most of the divisive issue campaigns. One out of six suspicious groups later turned out to be Russian groups. The volume of ads sponsored by non-FEC groups was four times larger than that of FEC- groups. Divisive issue campaigns clearly targeted battleground states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where traditional Democratic strongholds supported Trump by a razor thin margin. The present research asserts that media ecology, the technological features and capacity of digital media, as well as regulatory loopholes created by Citizens United v. FEC and the FEC’s disclaimer exemption for digital platforms contribute to the prevalence of anonymous groups’ divisive issue campaigns on digital media. The present research offers insight relevant for regulatory policy discussion and discusses the normative implications of the findings for the functioning of democracy.

Kim, Y. M. (2018). The Stealth Media? Groups and Targets Behind Divisive Issue Campaigns on FacebookPolitical Communication.

Learning From Recounts
Barry Burden and Kenneth Mayer with Ansolabehere Stephen and Stewart Charles III

This paper compares the results of two recent statewide recounts in Wisconsin—the 2011 Supreme Court election and the 2016 presidential election. Using the measure of absolute differences between the original tally and the recount, they find an error rate at the reporting unit level of 0.21% in 2011 and 0.59% in 2016. The 2016 error rate drops to 0.17% when write-in votes are removed from the analysis. The authors also find that paper ballots originally counted with optical scanners were counted more accurately than ballots originally counted by hand. To reach these conclusions, they address the methodology of measuring differences in election night and recounted vote tallies. The most commonly used measure to compare election-night and recounted tallies, the net difference, significantly understates the magnitude of errors in the original tally. The authors also develop a regression-based technique that estimates what the error rate should be if a ballot-by-ballot recount were possible. They conclude by discussing the implications for requiring post-election audits.

Ansolabehere, S., Burden, B. C., Mayer, K., & Stewart III, C. (2017). Learning from RecountsElection Law Journal.

The Effects of Malapportionment on Cabinet Inclusion: Subnational Evidence from India
Rikhil Bhavnani

Malapportionment doubly penalizes people from relatively large electoral districts or constituencies by under-representing them in the legislature and in the political executive or cabinet. The latter effect has not been studied. This article develops theoretical reasons for large constituency disadvantage in the cabinet formation process, and tests them using a new repeated cross-sectional dataset on elections and cabinet formation in India’s states, from 1977–2007. A one-standard-deviation increase in relative constituency size is associated with a 22 per cent fall in the probability of a constituency’s representative being in the cabinet. Malapportionment affects cabinet inclusion by causing large parties to focus on winning relatively small constituencies. These effects are likely to hold in parliamentary systems, and in other contexts where the legislature influences cabinet inclusion.

Bhavnani, R. R. (2018). The Effects of Malapportionment on Cabinet Inclusion: Subnational Evidence from IndiaBritish Journal of Political Science48(1), 69-89.

Political Behavior of the American Electorate
Michael J. Wagner with Elizabeth Theiss-Morse

The 2016 elections took place under intense political polarization and uncertain economic conditions, to widely unexpected results. How did Trump pull off his victory?

Political Behavior of the American Electorate, Fourteenth Edition, attempts to answer this question by interpreting data from the most recent American National Election Study to provide a thorough analysis of the 2016 elections and the current American political behavior. Authors Elizabeth Theiss-Morse and Michael Wagner continue the tradition of Flanigan and Zingale to illustrate and document trends in American political behavior with the best longitudinal data available. The authors also put these trends in context by focusing on the major concepts and characteristics that shape Americans’ responses to politics.

In the completely revised Fourteenth Edition, readers will explore get-out-the-vote efforts and the reasons people voted the way they did, as well as the nature and impact of partisanship, news media coverage, and other issues in 2016—all with an eye toward understanding the trends that led up to the historic decision.

Theiss-Morse, E. A., Wagner, M. W., Flanigan, W. H., & Zingale, N. H. (2018). Political Behavior of the American Electorate (14th ed.). Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Do the Effects of Temporary Ethnic Group Quotas Persists? Evidence from India
Rikhil Bhavnani

Do electoral quotas for ethnic groups continue to improve their chances of winning elections after quotas are withdrawn? This is an important question since ethnic group quotas are common, and are often intended to be temporary. Using natural experiments, Rikhil Bhavnani finds that electoral quotas for India’s “scheduled castes” (SCs) fail to boost SCs’ chances of winning office after they are discontinued. These results contrast with the significant positive effects of past women’s quotas found in similar contexts.

Bhavnani, Rikhil R. 2017. Do the Effects of Temporary Ethnic Group Quotas Persist? Evidence from India.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics9(3): 105-23.

The 2016 Presidential Election: The Causes and Consequences of a Political Earthquake
Kenneth R. Mayer with Amnon Cavari, and Richard J. Powell

The 2016 Presidential Election: The Causes and Consequences of a Political Earthquake critically analyzes the 2016 presidential election. The chapters in this book identify key factors behind the election of Donald J. Trump, explore the unconventional campaign, analyze the unexpected election result, evaluate the forecasting models, and speculate on the effect of the election outcome on politics and governance in the Trump Administration.

Amnon, C., Powell, R. J., Mayer, K. R. (2017) The 2016 Presidential Election: The Causes and Consequences of a Political Earthquake. Lexington Books.

The Fact of Experience: Rethinking Political Knowledge and Civic Competence
Kathy J. Cramer with Benjamin Toff

In the study of political knowledge, the emphasis on facts is misplaced. Evidence has grown that predispositions and social contexts shape how individuals are exposed to and interpret facts about politics, and the ready availability of information in the contemporary media environment may exacerbate these biases.

We reexamine political knowledge from the bottom up. We look at what citizens themselves treat as relevant to the task of understanding public affairs and how they use this information. We draw upon our research in three different projects involving observation of political talk and elite interviews to do so. We observe that people across a range of levels of political engagement process political information through the lens of their personal experience. Failing to acknowledge this aspect of the act of using political information presents an incomplete empirical understanding of political knowledge. We propose an Expanded Model of Civic Competence that presents an alternative interpretation for what it means to be an informed citizen in a democracy. In this model, the competence of listening to and understanding the different lived experiences of others cannot be considered separately from levels of factual knowledge.

Cramer, K. J., & Toff, B. (2017). The Fact of Experience: Rethinking Political Knowledge and Civic CompetencePerspectives on Politics15(3), 754-770.

Campaign Finance Reform Without Law
Robert Yablon

Conventionally understood, campaign finance reform is a matter of public regulation. Reformers believe that, without adequate government intervention, wealthy individuals and entities are destined to exert outsized influence over elections and governance. Propelled by that belief, they have spent decades advocating regulatory fixes, with relatively little to show for it. Many existing regulations are watered down and easy to circumvent. Efforts to bolster them have repeatedly hit doctrinal and political roadblocks — obstacles that are more formidable today than ever before.

This Article seeks to shift campaign finance discourse toward private ordering. Because scholars and reformers have long focused on public regulation, they have largely overlooked possible private correctives. The Article maps that uncharted terrain, revealing an array of extra-legal mechanisms that at least somewhat constrain money’s electoral clout. This survey suggests that numerous private actors have incentives and capacities to implement additional extra-legal reform. The Article then sketches several potential private interventions, and it assesses the interplay between public regulation and private reform. Private reform is no silver bullet, but to ignore private ordering even as public regulation flounders makes little sense. Especially given the significant constraints on public intervention, it is vital for campaign finance scholars and reformers to look beyond the law.

Yablon, R. (2017). Campaign Finance Reform Without LawIowa L. Rev.103, 185.

Revising the Communication Mediation Model for a New Political Communication Ecology
Michael W. Wagner with Dhavan V. Shah, Douglas M. Mcleod, Hernando Rojas, and Jaeho Cho

A long tradition of research focuses on conversation as a key catalyst for community integration and a focal mediator of media influence on participation. Changes in media systems, political environments, and electoral campaigning demand that these influences, and the communication mediation model, be revised to account for the growing convergence of media and conversation, heightened partisan polarization, and deepening social contentiousness in media politics. We propose a revised communication mediation model that continues to emphasize the centrality of face-to-face and online talk in democratic life, while considering how mediational and self-reflective processes that encourage civic engagement and campaign participation might also erode institutional legitimacy, foster distrust and partisan divergence, disrupting democratic functioning as a consequence of a new communication ecology.

Shah, D. V., McLeod, D. M., Rojas, H., Cho, J., Wagner, M. W., & Friedland, L. A. (2017). Revising the Communication Mediation Model for a New Political Communication EcologyHuman Communication Research43(4), 491-504.

The Complicated Partisan Effects of State Election Laws
Barry C. Burden, David T. Cannon, Kenneth R. Mayer, and Donald P. Moynihan

Conventional political wisdom holds that policies that make voting easier will increase turnout and ultimately benefit Democratic candidates. We challenge this assumption, questioning the ability of party strategists to predict which changes to election law will advantage them. Drawing on previous research, we theorize that voting laws affect who votes in diverse ways depending on the specific ways that they reduce the costs of participating. We assemble datasets of county-level vote returns in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections and model these outcomes as a function of early voting and registration laws, using both cross-sectional regression and difference-in-difference models. Unlike Election Day registration, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the results show that early voting generally helps Republicans. We conclude with implications for partisan manipulation of election laws.

Burden, B. C., Canon, D. T., Mayer, K. R., & Moynihan, D. P. (2017). The Complicated Partisan Effects of State Election LawsPolitical Research Quarterly70(3), 564-576.

Renewing the Voting Rights Act: Retrogression, Influence, and the “Georgia v. Ashcroft Fix”
David T. Canon

This article examines an important part of the Voting Rights Act renewal: the “Georgia v. Ashcroft fix,” which overturned the Supreme Court’s new standard for evaluating whether a redistricting plan is “retrogressive” under Section 5 of the VRA and restored the old standard for retrogression. I argue that the Ashcroft retrogression standard would have undermined the gains in minority representation that have been made in the past twenty years by allowing “ability-to-elect districts” to be traded for “influence districts.” This claim is based on an analysis of data from the Georgia state senate, which was the subject of the Ashcroft case. However, I recognize that while the Ashcroft fix needs to be fixed, ideally this should be done with a flexible standard that protects ability-to-elect districts, without discouraging coalitional districts that provide opportunities to elect minorities’ candidates of choice and protecting majority party leadership. The Voting This article examines an important part of the Voting Rights Act

Canon, D. T. (2008). Renewing the Voting Rights Act: Retrogression, Influence, and the “Georgia v. Ashcroft Fix”Election Law Journal7(1), 3-24.