Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Conditions for Competition in Low-Information Judicial Elections: The Case of Intermediate Appellate Court Elections

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Conditions for Competition in Low-Information Judicial Elections: The Case of Intermediate Appellate Court Elections

Article excerpt

Although much work has examined the conditions for competition and incumbent defeat in high-visibility elections, scholars have conducted little research on these conditions for less visible offices. We look at one particular type of low-information election: those to state intermediate appellate courts (IAC). Using a comprehensive data set of all IAC elections involving incumbents from 2000 to 2007, we estimate models of challenger entry and incumbent success once challenged. Our results comport, in some cases, and diverge, in others, with the findings of studies of more visible judicial and legislative offices.

Keywords: law and courts; elections; voting behavior

A critical component of a successful representative democracy is the ability of citizens to hold their elected officials accountable. Citizens must be able to remove elected officials whose actions do not reflect the wishes of the people (Dahl 1956) or who engage in unethical behavior. The potential for accountability is enhanced when elected officials face competitive elections (Griffin 2006; HaU 2007a). As a result, it is important to understand why some incumbents are challenged and others are not. Additionally, democratic scholars need to be aware of the conditions that make competitive elections - or even the possibility of the incumbent's defeat - likely. There is a substantial body of literature that focuses on these issues for high-profile elections such as for the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives (Abramowitz 1991; Abramowitz and Segal 1992; Jacobson 2004; Krasno 1994). Other research has examined the conditions for competitive elections for mid-level information offices such as the state legislatures or supreme courts (Hogan 2004; Carey, Niemi, and Powell 2000; Hall and Bonneau 2006). However, there is scant existing research that has analyzed comprehensively the conditions for competitive elections in lowinformation elections. Since the vast majority of elections in which people vote are low-information elections, and these elections raise the greatest number of questions about whether voters can hold elected officials for these offices accountable, it is essential to explore the conditions that lead incumbents in low-information elections to be challenged as well as the conditions that lead to their occasional defeat. Answering these questions is one step forward in evaluating whether elections for these offices can promote accountability.1

In this article, we examine contestation and competition in state intermediate appellate court (IAC) elections. IAC elections allow us to test systematically the impact of low visibility on conditions for competition because we can compare the determinants of competition and outcomes to semivisible but otherwise similar supreme court elections. We examine all 435 IAC elections held from 2000 through 2007 featuring an incumbent judge, estimating models of challenger entry and incumbent success once challenged.2 The results indicate that, similar to elections for higher-profile offices, challengers in these low-information elections do act strategically, entering races when conditions are best suited to beat an incumbent. Once contested, we find that incumbent judges who are appointed and have not yet run in an election are most vulnerable to defeat.

We begin by detailing what we can learn from studying IAC elections. From there, we develop our models and spell out our expectations based on the findings of past research on high- and mid-level-information elections. After analyzing the results, we conclude with a discussion of the implications of our findings.

Why Study Intermediate Appellate Court (IAC) Elections?

Examining contestation and competition in IACs is advantageous for two reasons. First, because of the low visibility of IAC elections, they allow us to speculate regarding conditions for contestation and competition in other low-information elections, a subject on which little systematic empirical research exists. …

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