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Can October Surprise? A Natural Experiment Assessing Late Campaign Effects


  • Meredith, Marc


  • Malhotra, Neil

    (Stanford U)


One consequence of the proliferation of vote-by-mail (VBM) in certain areas of the United States is the opportunity for voters to cast ballots weeks before Election Day. Understanding the ensuing effects of VBM on late campaign information loss has important implications for both the study of campaign dynamics and public policy debates on the expansion of convenience voting. Unfortunately, the self-selection of voters into VBM makes it difficult to casually identify the effect of VBM on election outcomes. We overcome this identification problem by exploiting a natural experiment, in which some precincts are assigned to be VBM-only based on an arbitrary threshold of the number of registered voters. We assess the effects of VBM on candidate performance in the 2008 California presidential primary via a regression discontinuity design. We show that VBM both increases the probability of selecting candidates who withdrew from the race in the interval after the distribution of ballots but before Election Day and affects the relative performance of candidates remaining in the race. Thus, we find evidence of late campaign information loss, pointing to the influence of campaign events and momentum in American politics, as well as the unintended consequences of convenience voting.

Suggested Citation

  • Meredith, Marc & Malhotra, Neil, 2008. "Can October Surprise? A Natural Experiment Assessing Late Campaign Effects," Research Papers 2002, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:stabus:2002

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Brian Knight & Nathan Schiff, 2010. "Momentum and Social Learning in Presidential Primaries," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(6), pages 1110-1150.
    2. Klumpp, Tilman & Polborn, Mattias K., 2006. "Primaries and the New Hampshire Effect," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(6-7), pages 1073-1114, August.
    3. Gelman, Andrew & King, Gary, 1993. "Why Are American Presidential Election Campaign Polls So Variable When Votes Are So Predictable?," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 23(04), pages 409-451, October.
    4. Steven Callander, 2007. "Bandwagons and Momentum in Sequential Voting," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 74(3), pages 653-684.
    5. repec:cup:apsrev:v:94:y:2000:i:03:p:653-663_22 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:cup:apsrev:v:74:y:1980:i:03:p:651-669_16 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Rogers, Todd T & Middleton, Joel A., 2012. "Are Ballot Initiative Outcomes Influenced by the Campaigns of Independent Groups? A Precinct-Randomized Field Experiment," Scholarly Articles 9830357, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

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