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Judicial Selection and Criminal Punishment

Trial Court Elections, Sentencing, and Incarceration in the States

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

Travis N. Taylor*
University of Kentucky, USA
Contact the author at


This paper develops and tests a theory that in states with judicial elections, criminal justice outcomes will be more punitive than in states without elections. Leveraging a data set previously unused in the judicial politics literature, I estimate time-series regressions of state sentencing and incarceration rates over a 38-year period while distinguishing between types of judicial elections to establish support for the theory. I find that states where trial judges are reelected are generally more punitive than states without judicial elections, and this punitiveness is in response to the public’s ideological preferences, indicating that elections serve as an important judicial accountability mechanism for citizens.

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I wish to thank Mark Peffley, Justin Wedeking, Mike Zilis, Rick Waterman, and Chris Crumrine for their feedback on previous drafts of this paper. I am also deeply ingratiated to Brandon Bartels and the four anonymous reviewers for their comments during the review process. Feedback from all of these scholars made this manuscript a better final product. Remaining errors are my own.


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