Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5d6d958fb5-rfz7g Total loading time: 0.418 Render date: 2022-11-29T04:32:43.686Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

Estimating Voter Registration Deadline Effects with Web Search Data

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2017

Alex Street*
Political Science, Carroll College, Helena, MT 59625
Thomas A. Murray
Department of Biostatistics, MD Anderson Cancer Center, e-mail:
John Blitzer
Google, Inc., Mountain View, CA, e-mail:
Rajan S. Patel
Google, Inc., Mountain View, CA, e-mail:
e-mail: (corresponding author)
Rights & Permissions[Opens in a new window]


HTML view is not available for this content. However, as you have access to this content, a full PDF is available via the ‘Save PDF’ action button.

Electoral rules have the potential to affect the size and composition of the voting public. Yet scholars disagree over whether requiring voters to register well in advance of Election Day reduces turnout. We present a new approach, using web searches for “voter registration” to measure interest in registering, both before and after registration deadlines for the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Many Americans sought information on “voter registration” even after the deadline in their state had passed. Combining web search data with evidence on the timing of registration for 80 million Americans, we model the relationship between search and registration. Extrapolating this relationship to the post-deadline period, we estimate that an additional 3–4 million Americans would have registered in time to vote, if deadlines had been extended to Election Day. We test our approach by predicting out of sample and with historical data. Web search data provide new opportunities to measure and study information-seeking behavior.

Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open-Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Copyright © The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Political Methodology


Authors' note: The authors thank Mike Alvarez and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments, and Joshua Dyck, Peter Enns, Matt Filner, Alex Kuo, Renee Liu, Philipp Rehm, Steve Scott, Daniel Smith, Nigel Snoad, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Hal Varian and seminar participants at Cornell University and Google for helpful suggestions. Replication data are available in Street et al. (2015). Supplementary materials for this article are available on the Political Analysis web site.


Abadie, Alberto, Diamond, Alexis, and Hainmueller, Jens. 2010. Synthetic control methods for comparative case studies: Estimating the effect of California's tobacco control program. Journal of the American Statistical Association 105(490): 493505.Google Scholar
Angrist, Joshua, and Pischke, Jörn-Steffen. 2009. Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist's Companion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Konisky, David M. 2006. The introduction of voter registration and its effect on turnout. Political Analysis 14(1): 83100.Google Scholar
Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Hersh, Eitan. 2012. Validation: What big data reveal about survey misreporting and the real electorate. Political Analysis 20(4): 437–59.Google Scholar
Atkeson, Lonna R., Bryant, Lisa A., Hall, Thad E., Saunders, Kyle, and Alvarez, Michael. 2010. A new barrier to participation: Heterogeneous application of voter identification policies. Electoral Studies 29(1): 6673.Google Scholar
Bentele, Keith G., and O’Brien, Erin E. 2013. Jim Crow 2.0? Why states consider and adopt restrictive voter access policies. Perspectives on Politics 11(4): 10881116.Google Scholar
Berinsky, Adam J. 2005. The perverse consequences of electoral reform in the United States. American Politics Research 33(4): 471–91.Google Scholar
Brady, Henry E., and McNulty, John E. 2011. Turning out to vote: The costs of finding and getting to the polling place. American Political Science Review 105(1): 115–34.Google Scholar
Brians, Craig L., and Grofman, Bernard. 2001. Election day registration's effect on US voter turnout. Social Science Quarterly 82(1): 170–83.Google Scholar
Brodersen, Kay H., Gallusser, Fabian, Koehler, Jim, Remy, Nicolas and Scott, Steven L. Forthcoming. Inferring causal impact using Bayesian structural time-series models. Annals of Applied Statistics.Google Scholar
Burden, Barry C., Canon, David T., Mayer, Kenneth R., and Moynihan, Donald P. 2014. Election laws, mobilization, and turnout: The unanticipated consequences of election reform. American Journal of Political Science 58(1): 95109.Google Scholar
Cain, Bruce E., and McCue, Ken. 1985. The efficacy of registration drives. Journal of Politics 47(4): 12211230.Google Scholar
Carlin, Bradley P., and Louis, Thomas A. 2009. Bayesian methods for data analysis. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.Google Scholar
Choi, Hyunyoung, and Varian, Hal. 2012. Predicting the present with Google trends. Economic Record 88(1): 29.Google Scholar
Converse, Philip E. 1964. The nature of belief systems in mass publics. In Ideology and discontent, ed. Apter, David E., 206–61. New York: Free Press of Glencoe.Google Scholar
Crainiceanu, Ciprian, Ruppert, David, Claeskens, Gerda, and Wand, Matthew P. 2005. Exact likelihood ratio tests for penalised splines. Biometrika 92(1): 91103.Google Scholar
Fitzgerald, Mary. 2005. Greater convenience but not greater turnout: The impact of alternative voting methods on electoral participation in the United States. American Politics Research 33(6): 842–67.Google Scholar
Gallego, Aina, and Oberski, Daniel. 2012. Personality and political participation: The mediation hypothesis. Political Behavior 34(3): 425–51.Google Scholar
Gelman, Andrew, and Rubin, Donald B. 1992. Inference from iterative simulation using multiple sequences. Statistical Science 7(4): 457511.Google Scholar
Gerber, Alan S., Huber, Gregory A., Doherty, David, Dowling, Conor M., Raso, Connor, and Ha, Shang E. 2011. Personality traits and participation in political processes. Journal of Politics 73(03): 692706.Google Scholar
Gimpel, James G., Dyck, Joshua J., and Shaw, Daron R. 2007. Election-year stimuli and the timing of voter registration. Party Politics 13(3): 351–74.Google Scholar
Ginsberg, Jeremy, Mohebbi, Matthew H., Patel, Rajan S., Brammer, Lynnette, Smolinski, Mark S., and Brilliant, Larry. 2008. Detecting influenza epidemics using search engine query data. Nature 457(7232): 10121014.Google Scholar
Goel, Sharad, Hofman, Jake M., Lahaie, Sébastien, Pennock, David M., and Watts, Duncan J. 2010. Predicting consumer behavior with web search. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(41): 1748617490.Google Scholar
Green, Donald P., and Gerber, Alan S. 2008. Get out the vote: How to increase voter turnout. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
Hanmer, Michael J. 2009. Discount voting: Voter registration reforms and their effects. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Hay, John L., and Pettitt, Anthony N. 2001. Bayesian analysis of a time series of counts with covariates: an application to the control of an infectious disease. Biostatistics 2(4): 433–44.Google Scholar
Herron, Michael C., and Smith, Daniel A. 2012. Souls to the polls: Early voting in Florida in the shadow of House Bill 1355. Election Law Journal 11(3): 331–47.Google Scholar
Herron, Michael C., and Smith, Daniel A. 2013. The effects of House Bill 1355 on voter registration in Florida. State Politics & Policy Quarterly 13(2): 279305.Google Scholar
Highton, Benjamin. 2004. Voter registration and turnout in the United States. Perspectives on Politics 2(3): 507–15.Google Scholar
Jackman, Robert W. 1987. Political institutions and voter turnout in the industrial democracies. American Political Science Review 81(2): 405–23.Google Scholar
Keele, Luke, and Titiunik, Rocío. 2015. Geographic boundaries as regression discontinuities. Political Analysis 23(1): 127155.Google Scholar
Keele, Luke, and Minozzi, William. 2013. How much is Minnesota like Wisconsin? Assumptions and counterfactuals in causal inference with observational data. Political Analysis 21(2): 193216.Google Scholar
Key, Valdimer O. 1949. Southern politics in state and nation. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.Google Scholar
Keyssar, Alexander. 2009. The right to vote: The contested history of democracy in the United States (Rev. Ed.). New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
King, Gary. 2011. Ensuring the data-rich future of the social sciences. Science 331(6018): 719–21.Google Scholar
Knack, Stephen. 2001. Election-day registration: The second wave. American Politics Research 29(1): 6578.Google Scholar
Knee, Matthew R., and Green, Donald P. 2011. The effects of registration laws on voter turnout: An updated assessment. In Facing the challenge of democracy: Explorations in the analysis of public opinion and political participation, eds. Sniderman Paul, M. and Highton, Benjamin, 312–28. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Kousser, J. Morgan. 1974. The shaping of southern politics: Suffrage restriction and the establishment of the one-party South, 1880–1910. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Kousser, J. Morgan. 1999. Colorblind injustice: Minority voting rights and the undoing of the second reconstruction. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
Kousser, Thad, and Mullin, Megan. 2007. Does voting by mail increase participation? Using matching to analyze a natural experiment. Political Analysis 15(4): 428–45.Google Scholar
Lau, Richard R., and Redlawsk, David P. 2006. How voters decide: Information processing in election campaigns. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Lazer, David, Kennedy, Gary King, Ryan, and Vespignani, Alessandro. 2014. The parable of Google flu: Traps in big data analysis. Science 343(6176): 12031205.Google Scholar
Lippmann, Walter. 1922. Public opinion. New York: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
Lupia, Arthur, and McCubbins, Mathew D. 1998. The democratic dilemma: Can citizens learn what they need to know? New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Marcus, George E., Russell Neuman, W., and MacKuen, Michael. 2000. Affective intelligence and political judgment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
McDonald, Michael P. 2007. The true electorate a cross-validation of voter registration files and election survey demographics. Public Opinion Quarterly 71(4): 588602.Google Scholar
Mondak, Jeffery J., Hibbing, Matthew V., Canache, Damarys, Seligson, Mitchell A., and Anderson, Mary R. 2010. Personality and civic engagement: An integrative framework for the study of trait effects on political behavior. American Political Science Review 104(01): 85110.Google Scholar
Nagler, Jonathan. 1991. The effect of registration laws and education on US voter turnout. American Political Science Review 85(4): 13931405.Google Scholar
Neiheisel, Jacob R., and Burden, Barry C. 2012. The impact of election day registration on voter turnout and election outcomes. American Politics Research 40(4): 636664.Google Scholar
Piven, Frances F., and Cloward, Richard A. 2000. Why Americans still don't vote: And why politicians want it that way. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
Plummer, Martyn. 2003. JAGS: A program for analysis of Bayesian graphical models using Gibbs sampling. Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Distributed Statistical Computing (DSC 2003), Vienna, Austria, March, 20–22.Google Scholar
Powell, G. Bingham Jr. 1986. American voter turnout in comparative perspective. American Political Science Review 80(1): 1743.Google Scholar
Rosenstone, Steven J, and Wolfinger, Raymond E. 1978. The effect of registration laws on voter turnout. American Political Science Review 72(1): 2245.Google Scholar
Rosenstone, Steven, and Hansen, John M. 1993. Mobilization, participation and democracy in America. New York: MacMillan Publishing.Google Scholar
Ruppert, D., Wand, M., and Carroll, R. 2003. Semiparametric regression. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Sniderman, Paul M., Brody, Richard A., and Tetlock, Philip E. 1991. Reasoning and choice: Explorations in social psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Spiegelhalter, Richard, Best, Nicola G., Carlin, Bradley P., and Van Der Linde, Angelika. 2002. Bayesian measures of model complexity and fit. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series B 64(4): 583639.Google Scholar
Street, Alex, Murray, Thomas A., Blitzer, John, and Patel, Rajan S. 2015. Replication data for: Estimating voter registration deadline effects with web search data. Scholar
Teixeira, Ruy A. 1992. The disappearing American voter. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
Tokaji, Daniel P. 2008. Voter registration and election reform. William & Mary Bill of Rights 17(2): 156.Google Scholar
Valentino, Nicholas A., Hutchings, Vincent L., and Williams, Dmitri. 2004. The impact of political advertising on knowledge, internet information seeking, and candidate preference. Journal of Communication 54(2): 337–54.Google Scholar
Varian, Hal R. 2014. Big data: New tricks for econometrics. Journal of Economic Perspectives 28(2): 328.Google Scholar
Verba, Sidney, Lehman Schlozman, Kay, and Brady, Henry E. 1995. Voice and equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Wolfinger, Raymond E., Highton, Benjamin, and Mullin, Megan. 2005. How postregistration laws affect the turnout of citizens registered to vote. State Politics & Policy Quarterly 5(1): 123.Google Scholar
Wolfinger, Raymond E., and Rosenstone, Steven J. 1980. Who votes? New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Zeger, Scott L. 1988. A regression model for time series of counts. Biometrika 75(4): 621–29.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

Street et al. supplementary material

Supporting Information

Download Street et al. supplementary material(PDF)
You have Access Open access
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Estimating Voter Registration Deadline Effects with Web Search Data
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Estimating Voter Registration Deadline Effects with Web Search Data
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Estimating Voter Registration Deadline Effects with Web Search Data
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *