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Voter Response to Salient Judicial Decisions in Retention Elections

  • Allison P. Harris
Abstract

Even at their most salient, judicial retention elections do not increase turnout on Election Day. However, those who vote often participate in judicial retention races at higher levels than usual following salient judicial decisions. I use a series of difference-in-differences analyses to estimate the effect of the Iowa Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage on the subsequent retention races. I find that retention race participation was higher than we would have otherwise expected after the decision. Scholars often cite the infrequence with which justices are removed as evidence of justices’ relative independence from voters in retention elections, but the overwhelming retention of these justices does not mean they are independent from voters. Increases in the number of ballots cast in these races is perhaps more important than increases in negative votes when it comes to judicial independence, because each vote is an evaluation of the justices, whether positive or negative.

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She thanks John Brehm, Michael Dawson, William Howell, Betsy Sinclair, members of the University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania State University Departments of Political Science, and the anonymous reviewers of this article.

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References
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Law & Social Inquiry
  • ISSN: 0897-6546
  • EISSN: 1747-4469
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