Petition Signing Draws Infrequent Voters to Polls

So says a University of Arkansas press release touting my recently published article in Political Behavior, “The Impact of Petition Signing on Voter Impact,” that I coauthored with Arkansas political science professor, Janine Parry, and her former undergraduate honors student, Shayne Henry.

The University of Arkansas press release is below, and here’s a link to the article.

Petition Signing Draws Infrequent Voters to Polls

Research suggests Wisconsin governor faces tough recall election

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Janine Parry, professor, political science, University of Arkansas.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Given the 1 million signatures on a petition to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, research on the voting behavior of petition signers suggests that Walker faces a tough time in the June special election. A study published in the March 2012 issue of Political Behavior finds that people who sign petitions are more likely to show up to vote.

“Not only does recall history generally suggest that the governor’s odds of surviving a special election are low, but our study demonstrates that the people who signed the petitions and who become uncharacteristically motivated may well drive his ouster,” said political scientist Janine Parry of the University of Arkansas.

Parry teamed up with Daniel Smith of the University of Florida and Shayne Henry, then an Honors College undergraduate at the University of Arkansas, to analyze data from 1,000 registered Arkansas voters, 1,100 registered Florida voters, and all 71,119 registered voters in Gainesville, Fla., to measure the relationship between petition signing and voting. The researchers matched individual petition-signers with their election behavior and found that voters who signed petitions were more likely to go to the polls.

While the data showed the probability of voter turnout was higher for voters of all voting histories who signed a petition — from functionally inactive voters to super voters — petition signing had the greatest effect on irregular voters and on voters in off-cycle elections, such as the recall election in Wisconsin. The researchers found that infrequent voters who signed a petition were sometimes as much as 20 percentage points more likely to turn up at the polls compared to those who did not sign a petition.

“The magnitude of the effects was most surprising and unexpected for voters with the spottiest records,” Parry said. “Having a 20 point increase in anything in social science is pretty amazing.”

Few studies have focused on the significance of petition signing as motivation for individual voters to go to the polls. This study is the first to couple actual ballot petitions with official voter records, because the data were available through the Know Thy Neighbor online database, a publicly available database of those who had signed a statewide constitutional initiative against gay marriage and adoptions.

“The data have never been available for scholarly purposes because no one has the time to type in 100,000 names and then cross check it with registered voters,” Parry said. “Most people don’t have the time or staffing to digitize that kind of information.”

In recent election cycles, having controversial social issues on the ballot has driven voter turnout.

“If you can get a hot-button social issue out there, people are more likely to respond and show up to the polls,” said Parry. “Parties and candidates were banking on this process, hoping to drive turnout, like in 2004 with George W. Bush and gay marriage, or in 2006 when the Democrats tried with somewhat less success with minimum-wage ballot measures.”

In contrast, Parry said, “Our findings add more authority to the claim that campaign contact matters and that it matters a lot for certain people.”

Parry is a professor of political science in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas and director of the Arkansas Poll. Smith is a professor of political science at the University of Florida. Henry was an Honors College student at the University of Arkansas and now studies law at the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, “The Impact of Petition Signing on Voter Impact,” appears in the March 2012 issue of Political Behavior.

The NYTimes discovers the “educative effects” of ballot measures

Crack reporter, Nicholas Confessore, in his story, “Anti-Gay Marriage Group Recommends Creating Tension Between Gays and Blacks,” recounts a classic tale of an interest group trying to use a ballot initiative to drive a wedge into a party’s base.

More than a decade ago, I wrote about the GOP using this tactic in California and Colorado. No time to summarize it here, but here’s a link to my 2001 article, Initiative to Party, with Caroline Tolbert on the topic, and it’s also retold in my book, Educated by Initiative.

 

Fetal Personhood and Spillover Effects of Ballot Measures on Candidate Races

Over the past decade, I’ve written a considerable amount about the “educative effects” of ballot measures, including the potential spillover effects initiatives and referendums can have on candidate campaigns.

Several “fetal personhood” ballot measures currently are being circulated in numerous states by Personhood USA.  If they manage to qualify for the ballot, they could have a very damaging effect on the eventual GOP nominee, as several candidates have taken affirmative positions on the extreme issue, notwithstanding the lack of popular support.

Most recently, Newt Gingrich proposed a national fetal personhood bill, which is modeled after the ballot measures soundly defeated by voters in Colorado and Mississippi.  Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and other hopefuls for the Republican nomination have tied their GOP primary fortunes to the idea that personhood begins at the moment of fertilization.

What the GOP candidates might simply view as symbolic politics during a primary campaign in order to cater to the whims of conservative voters might have real consequences next November if the fetal personhood measures manage to qualify for the ballot in some battleground states, including Florida.

That is, if the Democrats make it an issue.  Recall that in 2004, Democratic Party nominee, John Kerry, refused to touch the issue of raising the minimum wage with a 10 foot poll when he campaigned in Florida. The measure, which was on the ballot in that key state, ended up passing with 71 percent of the vote, garnering support from voters across the political spectrum. Kerry could have easily tied his campaign message to the wildly popular issue, but failed to do so.  Judging by the results in Colorado and Mississippi, Democrats will likely not forgo that opportunity if the fetal personhood measures qualify for the ballot.

Bring on the Personhood Initiatives in 2012

After the huge defeat of the so-called “personhood” ballot initiative in Mississippi yesterday, combined with the defeats in Colorado the past midterm and general elections, there’s good reason for Democrats to be giddy about the possibility that  Personhood USA and its state affiliates might actually qualify similar extreme ballot measures in more states for the 2012 general election.

The Mississippi ballot measure would have given legal “personhood” status to undeveloped zygotes. There’s goes our 7 billion population count…

But seriously, Democrats might think about encouraging Personhood USA co-founder Keith Mason to continue to blame the defeat of Proposition 26 Planned Parenthood and other progressive pro-choice organizations and elected officials. As Mason explained to the Huffington Post:

It’s not because the people are not pro-life. It’s because Planned Parenthood put a lot of misconceptions and lies in front of folks and created a lot of confusion.

Bryan Longworth, director of Personhood Florida, helpfully elaborated:

We’re not discouraged. It shows that the arguments that are being raised by Planned Parenthood, the scare tactics, and the second-guessing of Governor Haley Barbour did play a role.

Taking a page out of the RNC’s playbook when they helped to finance Proposition 209 in California in 1996, perhaps Democrats should actually encourage the qualification of personhood initiatives in Florida, Ohio, and other battleground states that permit direct democracy. Democratic candidates will have a clear wedge issue on which to run against Republicans. Wedge issues on the ballot have worked for Republicans in California and Colorado, as I write about in this 2001 article with Caroline Tolbert, “The Initiative to Party.”  Ballot measures can also have “educative effects” that help Democratic candidates, most notably, the minimum wage issues on the ballot in six states in 2006, as we analyze in our 2010 article, “Direct Democracy, Public Opinion, and Candidate Choice.”

As a scholar of direct democracy, the more initiatives on the ballot, the more to study.

Get Petitioning, Personhood USA!