Designing structural election models for new policy analysis
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This dissertation focuses on designing new structural election models and applying modern estimation techniques to quantify policy reform questions. All three chapters use models that are based on individual decision-making and estimate the parameters using a novel data set of U.S. House of Representative elections. These models provide new opportunities to analyze and quantify election policy reforms. The first chapter utilizes a unique compilation of primary election expenditures to see if general election voters value the primary nomination signal. While producing new results on the relationships between primary elections and general elections and between candidate characteristics and vote shares, this model allows me to show that campaign finance reform can have an unintended consequence. A limit on expenditures would have little effect on the competitiveness of elections and substantially decrease voter turnout in the U.S. House elections. In contrast, it is shown that a mandatory public funding policy is predicted to increase competitiveness and increase voter turnout. The second chapter examines why unopposed candidates spend massive amounts on their campaign. The postulated answer is that U.S. House of Representative candidates are creating a barrier to entry to discourage candidates from opposing them in the next election. This barrier reduces competition in the election and limits the voters’ choices. An unbalanced panel of congressional districts is used to quantify how an incumbent’s expenditure in previous elections impacts the probability of running unopposed in a later election. The third chapter estimates the value of a congressional seat based on the observed campaign expenditures. Campaign expenditures are modeled as bids in an asymmetric all-pay auction. The model produces predictions on how much a candidate should spend based on the partisanship leaning of each district. The predictions and observed expenditures are then used to estimate the value of a congressional seat. Along with analyzing how expenditures would change with new campaign finance reforms, this model has the capability of quantifying the effect of redistricting. After 2010 Census results become available, the majority of states will redraw their congressional districts changing the distribution of partisan votes. This model can be used to quantify the effect that the change in voter distribution has on campaign expenditures.