Research by IGS Fellows Uses Rainfall as Experiment in Congressional Voting

rainy polling place
May 20, 2016

Incumbent representatives moderate their roll-call voting behavior in response to shifts in their prior electoral margins, according to new published research by IGS alumni John Henderson and John Brooks. 

Henderson and Brooks jointly published a new study in The Journal of Politics, “Mediating the Electoral Connection: The Information Effects of Voter Signals on Legislative Behavior.”

The paper utilized rainfall right before elections as a natural experiment in turnout in US House races from 1956 to 2008. The researchers found that each additional inch of rainfall exogenously dampened Democratic vote margins by 1.4–2.0 percentage points and subsequently shifted incumbents rightward in their roll call voting. They also found that responsiveness was highest in competitive districts, and among Democrats, rather than Republicans. The paper shows that while elites are willing to adapt to voters’ preferences, but also experience uncertainty that meaningfully impacts their legislative behavior.

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