Research for Social Good: About Voting

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Focus Research Social GoodResearch for Social Good was the MethodSpace focus for October, 2018. We explored this broad topic with guest posts, interviews, and links to articles or instructional resources. This post is particularly relevant now! Linked articles are all open-access.

 Fair Elections and Democracy

In democracies we think of fair elections as an essential “social good.” The United States is currently focused on a major election, and related turmoil and violence. The popular press, media, and most conversations seem to circle around issues related to voting access and voter engagement. I decided to look at the open access SAGE journals, to see what scholars have been studying and writing about on these topics, in articles published since 2016. Clearly, such questions are of interest to scholars across the world.

Here are some open access articles with links and abstracts. This multidisciplinary collection includes studies that utilized a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods. Share them with interested colleagues and students– and if you have other research to suggest, please use the comment area to share citations and links.

What do scholars have to say?

Approximately informed, occasionally monitorial? Reconsidering normative citizen ideals (Ytre-Arne & Moe, 2018)

This article identifies gaps between normative ideals and realistic accounts of news use in democracy today. Starting from the widespread but unrealistic ideal of the informed citizen, and its more realistic development through notions of the monitorial citizen, we analyze comprehensive qualitative data on news users’ experiences. We describe these news users as approximately informed, occasionally monitorial. This description emphasizes the limited, shifting, and partial figurations of societal information that citizens are able to obtain through their use of journalistic and social media, and thereby challenges normative ideals. How do monitorial ideals function when the citizens are only occasionally on guard? By zooming in on three key gaps between even a less demanding ideal and actual practices in news use, we underline the need to further reconceptualize our expectations of citizens’ news use.

Methods: The analysis is based on comprehensive qualitative data collected in Norway in the fall of 2016, as part of the project “Media Use, Culture and Public Connection: Freedom of Information in the «Age of Big Data».” Inspired by Couldry et al.’s (2007) study of media use and attention to democratic matters among U.K. citizens, the study combined two rounds of in-depth interviews with media diaries. (p. 232)

Compulsory voting and voter information seeking (Singh & Roy, 2018)

Compulsory voting is known to produce a relatively weak match between voters’ ballot choices and their preferences. We theorize that this link, in part, exists because compelled voters are relatively unlikely to seek out political information during an election campaign, even after differences in political sophistication across compelled and voluntary voters are taken into account. To test our expectations, we use a simulation of an Australian election, through which we track participants’ information searches. Our findings show that those who do not turn out voluntarily under Australia’s compulsory voting law tend to spend less time seeking out political information, and they engage with less information. While differences in political sophistication between those who feel compelled to vote and those who do not account for a portion of this pattern, feeling compelled also has an independent effect on information seeking. This suggests that the negative relationship between compulsory voting and the “quality” of votes is partly due to the fact that those who are compelled to turn out expend less effort when deciding how to cast their ballots.

Methods: To test their hypotheses, researchers simulated an Australian federal
election in April of 2016. Random sampling, conducted by Survey Sampling
International, was performed within strata for age, education, gender, and household income to help ensure the sample was reflective of the population in accordance with these characteristics. (p.2)

Deliberative democracy and the problem of tacit knowledge (Benson, 2018)

This article defends deliberative democracy against the problem of tacit knowledge. It has been argued that deliberative democracy gives a privileged position to linguistic communication and therefore excludes tacit forms of knowledge which cannot be expressed propositionally. This article shows how the exclusion of such knowledge presents important challenges to both proceduralist and epistemic conceptions of deliberative democracy, and how it has been taken by some to favour markets over democratic institutions. After pointing to the limitations of market alternatives, deliberative democracy is defended by arguing that tacit knowledge can be brought into deliberation through the mechanism of trust in testimony. By trusting the testimony of a speaker, deliberators are able to act on knowledge even without it being explicitly expressed. The article then goes on to discuss the implications of this defence for deliberative theory, and particularly, the forms of reason which deliberative democrats must see as legitimate.

Methods: Conceptual article.

Do authoritarians vote for authoritarians? Evidence from Latin America (Cohen & Smith, 2016)

During the 2016 presidential election campaign in the United States, scholars argued that authoritarian visions of the family are associated with support for Donald Trump, a candidate also noted to exhibit authoritarian or illiberal tendencies. Though it is plausible that “authoritarian” citizens (defined by parenting attitudes) vote for “authoritarian” candidates (defined by disrespect for democratic institutions), past research provides relatively little guide regarding this relationship. One reason is that few US candidates announce overtly authoritarian views. Latin America, by contrast, has had many such candidates. We take advantage of this variation using the 2012 AmericasBarometer, which applied a battery of authoritarian parenting attitudes. We first describe mass authoritarianism across Latin America, showing it is associated with many social attitudes. We then examine authoritarians’ voting behavior, distinguishing between support for “mano dura” (“strong arm”) candidates, who are usually rightists, and for candidates threatening violations of general civil liberties, who are often leftists in Latin America. We find that authoritarians tend to vote for right-wing authoritarian candidates, while authoritarianism boosts support for candidates threatening civil liberty violations only among citizens identifying on the ideological right. Education is the most consistent determinant reducing support for both leftist and rightist authoritarian candidates.

Methods: Data collection involved nationally representative samples of at least 1,500 interviews in each of 26 countries, using complex, stratified sample designs. Interviews were face-to-face throughout Latin America. (p.2)

Discursive deflection: Accusation of “fake news” and the spread of mis- and disinformation in the tweets of President Trump (Ross & Rivers, 2018)

Twitter is increasingly being used within the sociopolitical domain as a channel through which to circulate information and opinions. Throughout the 2016 US Presidential primaries and general election campaign, a notable feature was the prolific Twitter use of Republican candidate and then nominee, Donald Trump. This use has continued since his election victory and inauguration as President. Trump’s use of Twitter has drawn criticism due to his rhetoric in relation to various issues, including Hillary Clinton, the size of the crowd in attendance at his inauguration, the policies of the former Obama administration, and immigration and foreign policy. One of the most notable features of Trump’s Twitter use has been his repeated ridicule of the mainstream media through pejorative labels such as “fake news” and “fake media.” These labels have been deployed in an attempt to deter the public from trusting media reports, many of which are critical of Trump’s presidency, and to position himself as the only reliable source of truth. However, given the contestable nature of objective truth, it can be argued that Trump himself is a serial offender in the propagation of mis- and disinformation in the same vein that he accuses the media. This article adopts a corpus analysis of Trump’s Twitter discourse to highlight his accusations of fake news and how he operates as a serial spreader of mis- and disinformation. Our data show that Trump uses these accusations to demonstrate allegiance and as a cover for his own spreading of mis- and disinformation that is framed as truth.

Methods: For the purpose of the study, researchers conducted a corpus analysis
to determine the most frequently used words and word clusters in Trump’s tweets in comparison with typical twitter use by politicians in order to see how they aligned with
Lakoff’s taxonomy.  The taxonomy differentiated four discrete strategies: “pre-emptive framing,” “diversion,” “deflection,” and “trial balloon.” (p. 3)

Going positive: The effects of negative and positive advertising on candidate success and voter turnout (Malloy & Pearson-Merkowitz, 2016)

Given the depth of research on negative advertising in campaigns, scholars have wondered why candidates continue to attack their opponents. We build on this research by considering real-world campaign contexts in which candidates are working in competition with each other and have to react to the decisions of the opposing campaign. Our results suggest that it is never efficacious for candidates to run attack ads, but running positive ads can increase a candidate’s margin of victory. These results are conditioned by two factors: candidates must both stay positive and out-advertise their opponent. Second, the effects of positive advertising are strongest in areas where the candidate is losing or winning by a large margin—areas where they might be tempted to not advertise at all.


Populism and support for protectionism: The relevance of opposition to trade openness for leftist and rightist populist voting in the Netherlands (van der Waal & de Koster, 2017)

Leftist and rightist populist parties in Western Europe both oppose trade openness. Is support for economic protectionism also relevant for their electorates? We assess this in the Netherlands, where both types of populist parties have seats in parliament. Analyses of representative survey data (n = 1,296) demonstrate that support for protectionism drives voting for such parties, as do the well-established determinants of political distrust (both populist constituencies), economic egalitarianism (leftist populist constituency) and ethnocentrism (rightist populist constituency). Surprisingly, support for protectionism does not mediate the relationship between economic egalitarianism and voting for left-wing populists, or the link between political distrust and voting for either left-wing or right-wing populist parties. In contrast, support for protectionism partly mediates the association between ethnocentrism and voting for right-wing populists. We discuss the largely independent role of protectionism in populist voting in relation to the cultural cleavage in politics and electoral competition, and also provide suggestions for future research.


Teaching voters new tricks: The effect of partisan absentee vote-by-mail get-out-the-vote efforts (Hassell, 2017)

In the last few years policy innovators have implemented a variety of new voting reforms aimed at increasing the ways voters can cast their ballot and with it voter turnout. While these efforts have largely suggested that the net effect of these reforms has been minimal, scholars have not analyzed the effectiveness of the use of these methods by partisan campaigns to increase targeted turnout or to change the methods voters use to cast their ballot. In collaboration with a state party organization, I examine the effect of a partisan get-out-the-vote effort using an absentee vote-by-mail push. I find that these get-out-the-vote efforts to target voters using absentee ballot request forms are effective at shifting more voters to vote absentee. However, while pushing absentee vote-by-mail balloting may bank votes for a campaign before Election Day, the overall effect of partisan campaigns’ use of absentee ballot efforts to increase turnout appears limited.

Methods: Analysis of voting turnout in relation to a partisan get-out-the-vote effort using an absentee vote-by-mail push.

The communicative constitution of hate organizations online: A semantic network analysis of “Make America Great Again” (Eddington, 2018)

In the context of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, President Donald Trump’s use of Twitter to connect with followers and supporters created unprecedented access to Trump’s online political campaign. In using the campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” (or its acronym “MAGA”), Trump communicatively organized and controlled media systems by offering his followers an opportunity to connect with his campaign through the discursive hashtag. In effect, the strategic use of these networks over time communicatively constituted an effective and winning political organization; however, Trump’s political organization was not without connections to far-right and hate groups that coalesced in and around the hashtag. Semantic network analyses uncovered how the textual nature of #MAGA organized connections between hashtags, and, in doing so, exposed connections to overtly White supremacist groups within the United States and the United Kingdom throughout late November 2016. Cluster analyses further uncovered semantic connections to White supremacist and White nationalist groups throughout the hashtag networks connected to the central slogan of Trump’s presidential campaign. Theoretically, these findings contribute to the ways in which hashtag networks show how Trump’s support developed and united around particular organizing processes and White nationalist language, and provide insights into how these networks discursively create and connect White supremacists’ organizations to Trump’s campaign.

Methods: Statistical analysis of data from the Wisconsin Advertising Project (WAP). (p. 3)

The paradox of well-being: Do unfavorable socioeconomic and sociocultural contexts deepen or dampen radical left and right voting among the less well-off? (Rooduijn & Burgoon, 2017)

Radical left and right parties are increasingly successful—particularly among the less well-off. We assess the extent to which this negative effect of well-being on radical voting is moderated by contextual factors. Our study suggests that less well-off citizens vote for radical parties mainly under favorable aggregate-level circumstances. We distinguish two possible mechanisms underlying this effect—relative deprivation and risk aversion—and find support for relative deprivation only among radical right voters and for risk aversion for both types of radical voters, yet with predictable differences between the radical left and right supporter bases. Economic hardship leads to radical right voting when the socioeconomic circumstances are favorable and to radical left voting when net migration is modest. Our findings suggest a genuine paradox of radicalism: individual economic suffering might foster left and right radicalism, but mainly when that suffering takes place amid favorable conditions at the aggregate level.

Methods: Statistical analysis of data from the European Social Survey. (p. 1731)

Towards a critical sociology of democracy: The potential of the capability approach (Bonvin, Laruffa, & Rosenstein, 2017)

The aim of this article is to lay down the foundations of a critical sociology of democracy and participation. Based on Amartya Sen’s capability approach, we identify four major pitfalls of classical theories on justice and deliberative democracy: 1) an excessive emphasis on the procedural dimension of democracy at the expense of its substantial value; 2) an ideal of deliberation that does not sufficiently account for the inequalities that characterize actual participative practices; 3) an ideal approach to rationality which is inconsistent with the plurality of reasons to value and arguments that can be observed in social reality; and 4) a focus on official or institutionalized forms of deliberation that does not pay due attention to the many forms and dynamics of participation. We contend that, by contrast, Sen’s epistemology may be fruitful for the development of a critical sociology of democracy and suggest an agenda for empirical research on participation and deliberative practices.

Methods: Conceptual article.

Voting and civic engagement: Results from an online field experiment (Werfel, 2017)

How does voting interact with civic engagement outside the electoral process? An online field experiment on more than 140,000 registered voters in San Francisco yielded two main results. Subjects who voted in the 2016 primary elections were nearly three times more likely to open a survey from a nonprofit organization than those who did not vote in the primary election. However, explicitly priming voter identity and gratitude made all subjects far less likely to engage in this form of civic participation.

Methods: Online field experiment using different survey language with a sample that
included 140,189 registered voters who provided their email address during the registration process. (p. 1)

Youthful hours: Shifting poll-opening times manipulates voter demographics (Urbatsch, 2017)

People vary in their preferred times of day for activity. Notably, as individuals age, their daily energy and attention typically peaks earlier in the day. When voting is permitted may then affect voters’ age distribution, even when holding constant the number of hours polls are open. Data from along the time-zone border in Kentucky, where poll-availability hours vary, supports this hypothesis: places where voting hours are later see higher turnout rates among younger voters and lower turnout rates among older voters. The one-hour delay in voting hours reduces older registrants’ turnout, and boosts younger registrants’, by roughly three percentage points.

Methods:  Analysis of voting data from along the time-zone border in Kentucky, where poll-availability hours vary. (p. 2)


Benson, J. (2018). Deliberative democracy and the problem of tacit knowledge. Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 1470594X18782086. doi:10.1177/1470594X18782086

Bonvin, J.-M., Laruffa, F., & Rosenstein, E. (2017). Towards a critical sociology of democracy: The potential of the capability approach Critical Sociology, 44(6), 953-968. doi:10.1177/0896920517701273

Cohen, M. J., & Smith, A. E. (2016). Do authoritarians vote for authoritarians? Evidence from Latin America. Research & Politics, 3(4), 2053168016684066. doi:10.1177/2053168016684066

Eddington, S. M. (2018). The communicative constitution of hate organizations online: A semantic network analysis of “Make America Great Again”. Social Media + Society, 4(3), 2056305118790763. doi:10.1177/2056305118790763

Hassell, H. J. G. (2017). Teaching voters new tricks: The effect of partisan absentee vote-by-mail get-out-the-vote efforts. Research & Politics, 4(1), 2053168017694806. doi:10.1177/2053168017694806

Malloy, L. C., & Pearson-Merkowitz, S. (2016). Going positive: The effects of negative and positive advertising on candidate success and voter turnout. Research & Politics, 3(1), 2053168015625078. doi:10.1177/2053168015625078

Rooduijn, M., & Burgoon, B. (2017). The paradox of well-being: Do unfavorable socioeconomic and sociocultural contexts deepen or dampen radical left and right voting among the less well-off? Comparative Political Studies, 51(13), 1720-1753. doi:10.1177/0010414017720707

Ross, A. S., & Rivers, D. J. (2018). Discursive deflection: Accusation of “fake news” and the spread of mis- and disinformation in the tweets of President Trump. Social Media + Society, 4(2), 2056305118776010. doi:10.1177/2056305118776010

Singh, S. P., & Roy, J. (2018). Compulsory voting and voter information seeking. Research & Politics, 5(1), 2053168017751993. doi:10.1177/2053168017751993

Urbatsch, R. (2017). Youthful hours: Shifting poll-opening times manipulates voter demographics. Research & Politics, 4(3), 2053168017720590. doi:10.1177/2053168017720590

van der Waal, J., & de Koster, W. (2017). Populism and support for protectionism: The relevance of opposition to trade openness for leftist and rightist populist voting in the Netherlands Political Studies, 66(3), 560-576. doi:10.1177/0032321717723505

Werfel, S. H. (2017). Voting and civic engagement: Results from an online field experiment. Research & Politics, 4(1), 2053168017690736. doi:10.1177/2053168017690736

Ytre-Arne, B., & Moe, H. (2018). Approximately informed, occasionally monitorial? Reconsidering normative citizen ideals. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 23(2), 227-246. doi:10.1177/1940161218771903

One thought on “Research for Social Good: About Voting

  1. Thank you – great annotation, very useful, and so good to have open access.

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