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Scott Guenther

American Politics, Voting Behavior, Electoral Rules, Social Influence, Congress, Political Polarization, Environmental Politics and Policy

Dissertation Title: Voting Alone: Institutional Mediation of Social Influence on Political Decisionmaking

Description: Many argue that electoral rules indelibly shape the strategic calculus of voters and the parties seeking their vote. Yet there is a dearth of research asking how these same institutional rules affect the social origins of political behavior. My dissertation presents a new theory linking these literatures, which argues that electoral rules structure the social context of voting and in turn impact the extent social influences affect voting decisions. In the first test of this theory I show secret ballot adoption in Vermont town meetings reduces voting conformity and leads to smaller budgets for public education. Consistent with my theory of social influence these changes are largest where political homogeny is greatest.  I then demonstrate that secret ballot adoption for congressional committee chair elections in the majority caucus produced decreased the survival of incumbent committee chairs who can no longer monitor and sanction the opposition to their leadership. This reform consolidated the agenda setting power of the majority party and planted the seeds of increasingly partisan voting in the House. Finally, I show that secret ballot adoption in 19th century elections led to changes in patterns of voter turnout consistent with the theory.  In addition to my dissertation research, I also study presidential vetoes, congressional politics, and environmental politics.

Committee: Co-Chair Sam Kernell, Co-Chair James Fowler, Thad Kousser, Seth Hill, and Julie Cullen (Economics Department, UC San Diego)