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Family Matters? Voting Behavior in Households with Criminal Justice Contact

  • ARIEL WHITE (a1)


Contact with the criminal legal system has been shown to reduce individuals’ political participation, but its effect on friends and family members is less clear. Do people who see loved ones arrested or incarcerated become mobilized to change the system, or do they withdraw from political life? I address this question using administrative data from one large county, identifying registered voters who live with someone facing misdemeanor charges. Court records and vote histories allow me to accurately measure proximate criminal justice exposure and voting for a broader sample of people than survey data would. Using case timing for arrests shortly before and shortly after the election allows me to avoid bias from omitted variables. I find evidence of a short-term demobilization effect for people who see household members convicted or jailed in the weeks before the election, but no evidence of a lasting turnout effect from these experiences.


Corresponding author

*Ariel White, Assistant Professor of Political Science, MIT,


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I thank Andrea Campbell, Ryan Enos, Julie Faller, Claudine Gay, Jennifer Heerwig, Jennifer Hochschild, Connor Huff, Christopher Lucas, Michael Morse, Noah Nathan, Rob Schub, Amy Erica Smith, Kris-Stella Trump, and participants in the 2016 MIT American Politics Conference, the 2017 Visions in Methodology Conference, and the Yale American Politics and Public Policy Workshop for helpful comments and thoughts. NationBuilder and the Harris County District Clerk’s office generously provided data. This research has also been supported by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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