The Effects of Campaign Finance Laws on Turnout, 1950-2000
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Scholars have proposed many routes by which campaign finance laws may impact turnout. For instance, laws restricting campaign spending may decrease mobilization, resulting in lower turnout. Alternatively, such laws might increase the competitiveness of elections, resulting in higher turnout. Existing studies tend to focus on only one causal pathway, ignoring the net effects of campaign finance reforms on voter turnout. We exploit the variation in state campaign finance laws from 1950 to 2000 in order to estimate the reduced-form relationships between reform and turnout. Using both aggregate and individual-level data, we find that campaign finance laws on net have little impact on turnout in gubernatorial elections. There are two exceptions to this finding: Limits on organizational contributions are shown in an individual level analysis to increase turnout prior to a sea change in campaign finance ushered in by the Buckley v. Valeo decision in 1976, while public financing laws are shown to have an equally large negative impact on turnout in the post-Buckley era. These results strengthens the existing literature, which finds similarly perverse effects of public financing on the “quality of democracy,” and demonstrates the advantages of reduced-form analysis for understanding the influence of laws on behavior.
Department of Economics, 2006