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Elections and the Quality of Public Officials: Evidence from U.S. State Courts

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  • Claire S.H. Lim
  • James M. Snyder, Jr.

Abstract

We investigate the influence of electoral rules and voter information in elections on voting outcomes and the quality of public officials, using new data on state court judge elections in 39 states in the U.S. from 1990 to 2010. We find, first, that voting is very partisan in partisan judicial elections - i.e., there is a strong correlation between the Democratic "normal vote'' and the Democratic vote share for judges - but not in non-partisan or non-competitive "retention'' elections. This partisan voting behavior cannot be attributed to clear differences between Democratic and Republican judges in their sentencing decisions, since such differences, if any, are small and not consistent. Second, we find that incumbent judges' quality has little effect on their vote share or probability of winning in partisan general elections. By contrast, it has a substantial effect in non-partisan elections and partisan primary elections. It also has a noticeable effect on their vote share in retention elections, but the magnitude is often too small to affect reelection. Evidence on turnout is consistent with a simple "voting cue'' hypothesis. We find that about 83\% of the voters who vote on the top office on the ballot also vote on judicial elections in partisan elections. In contrast, in nonpartisan and retention elections, only 76\% and 67\% of those who vote on the top office also vote on judicial candidates, respectively. In addition, the amount of newspaper coverage affects voter turnout only in non-partisan elections.

Suggested Citation

  • Claire S.H. Lim & James M. Snyder, Jr., 2012. "Elections and the Quality of Public Officials: Evidence from U.S. State Courts," NBER Working Papers 18355, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18355
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Tabarrok, Alexander & Helland, Eric, 1999. "Court Politics: The Political Economy of Tort Awards," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 157-188, April.
    2. Timothy Besley & Stephen Coate, 2003. "Elected Versus Appointed Regulators: Theory and Evidence," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 1(5), pages 1176-1206, September.
    3. Timothy Besley & Rohini Pande & Vijayendra Rao, 2005. "Political Selection and the Quality of Government: Evidence from South India," STICERD - Political Economy and Public Policy Paper Series 08, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation
    • H70 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - General
    • K40 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - General

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