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Who Punishes Extremist Nominees? Candidate Ideology and Turning Out the Base in US Elections

  • ANDREW B. HALL (a1) and DANIEL M. THOMPSON (a1)
Abstract

Political observers, campaign experts, and academics alike argue bitterly over whether it is more important for a party to capture ideologically moderate swing voters or to encourage turnout among hardcore partisans. The behavioral literature in American politics suggests that voters are not informed enough, and are too partisan, to be swing voters, while the institutional literature suggests that moderate candidates tend to perform better. We speak to this debate by examining the link between the ideology of congressional candidates and the turnout of their parties’ bases in US House races, 2006–2014. Combining a regression discontinuity design in close primary races with survey and administrative data on individual voter turnout, we find that extremist nominees—as measured by the mix of campaign contributions they receive—suffer electorally, largely because they decrease their party’s share of turnout in the general election, skewing the electorate towards their opponent’s party. The results help show how the behavioral and institutional literatures can be connected. For our sample of elections, turnout appears to be the dominant force in determining election outcomes, but it advantages ideologically moderate candidates because extremists appear to activate the opposing party’s base more than their own.

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Andrew B. Hall is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6044 (andrewbenjaminhall@gmail.com), http://www.andrewbenjaminhall.com.
Daniel M. Thompson is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6044 (danmckinleythompson@gmail.com), http://www.danmthompson.com.
Footnotes
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For helpful discussion, the authors thank Avi Acharya, Bob Erikson, Jim Fearon, Anthony Fowler, Stephen Pettigrew, Kevin Quinn, Ken Shotts, Brad Spahn, Danielle Thomsen, and participants of the MIT American Politics Conference and the Emory Institutions and Lawmaking Conference. For data, the authors thank Shigeo Hirano and Jim Snyder. For guidance using voter file data, the authors especially thank Brad Spahn. All remaining errors are the authors’ sole responsibility. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/9ZYFBX.

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American Political Science Review
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