Charles Stewart’s New “Graphic of the Week” Focuses on Partisan Gap in Voter Confidence

[Screenshot image via electionupdates]

Last week, MIT’s Charles Stewart had a post on his Election Updates blog that illustrates the impact of partisan polarization on the issue of voter confidence:

Beginning today, I hope to post a weekly graphic that I have produced, or that has been produced by one of the team members of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, that provides some new or interesting insight into how elections are run in the United States.

This week, the subject is voter confidence.  This is a big topic.  Lots of people make claims about voter confidence, particularly what causes it to go up or down, oftentimes tying these claims to support for some type of election reform.

In fact, the literature on voter confidence suggests that very little in the way of election reform can move voter confidence.  What does move it is the election results.  If your guy wins, you’re more confident than if your guy loses. [emphasis added]

I came across a nice example of this as I was preparing for some talks at upcoming summer election conferences.  The underlying measure of voter confidence is the percentage of respondents to the Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE) who stated they were “very confident” that votes were counted accurately in their state in 2016.  I separated those responses by the party of the respondent and then took the difference.  Positive amounts mean that Republicans were more confident that votes were counted accurately in their state, negative amounts mean that Democrats were more confident.

[Above] you see the results.  With only three exceptions (Maine, Michigan, and Pennsylvania), the more-confident partisans in a state match the party of the presidential candidate who won the state.

On average, there is a 34-point net jump associated simply with living in a state won by Trump compared to being a state won by Clinton.

There are some states with less polarization than we would expect (Wyoming, West Virginia, and Hawaii) and some with more (Alabama, Washington).  Understanding why this is will have to wait for another day.

This graphic is tremendously illuminating and worth remembering the next time a policymaker (of either party) suggests that her preferred election reform is aimed at improving voter confidence. The data (and Charles’ graphic) suggest that simply isn’t true. Voter confidence is an elusive goal in election administration, and is less likely to be helpful than objective measures in gauging the strength or weakness of any jurisdiction’s election system. Thanks to Charles for crunching the numbers and sharing them with the field!

Stay aware – and stay tuned …

PS [NOTE to any election officials reading this piece: Charles is currently fielding a survey of local election officials seeking data on wait times at the polls and voting technology purchases. If you received the survey, please respond!]


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