«Nicholas Carnes Sanford School of Public Policy Duke University nicholas.carnes Noam Lupu Department of Political Science University of ...»
After showing respondents the two candidate vignettes, we then asked four questions: (1) which candidate the respondents would vote for, (2) which candidate they would expect to be more leftist, (3) which candidate they thought better understood the problems facing people like themselves, and (4) which candidate they thought was more qualified for political office. 10 Above all, we were most interested in knowing whether respondents were more likely to vote for a candidate who was randomly portrayed as coming from a working-class job or a white-collar job. Political observers routinely argue that working-class citizens seldom hold office because voters prefer more affluent candidates (and would-be candidates know it). Our subsequent questions also allowed us to measure the effect of class on three other important aspects of voters’ opinions: how they perceive a candidate’s ideological orientation, whether voters think a candidate cares about their concerns, and whether they think a candidate is qualified to hold political office. 11
Were citizens in Britain, the US, and Argentina more likely to vote for white-collar candidates? And how exactly did they think white-collar and working-class candidates are different? To find out, we treated each hypothetical candidate in each experiment (that is, two candidates for every one survey respondent) as a unique case, following the recommendation of Specifically, the questions asked, “If you had to make a choice without knowing more, which of the two do you think you would be more likely to vote for?”, “Which of the two would you guess is more left-wing?”, and “Which of the two would you guess is more qualified for local office?” Our Argentina experiment also asked respondents, “Which of the two would you guess is more corrupt?” Argentine voters did not evaluate candidates from the working class differently on this item (see Table A4 in the online appendix). Since the question was only asked in Argentina, we do not include it in the figures below.
Hainmueller et al. (2014). 12 We then estimated ordinary least squares regression models 13 relating our outcome variables—for instance, whether a candidate got the respondent’s vote—to indicators for whether the candidate was randomly assigned to be a worker, a woman, less educated, a Tory/Republican/Radical, black (in the US), or an experienced politician (in Argentina). (Because each candidate was nested within a two-person election, we used standard errors clustered by election.) Figure 1 plots the difference in the probability that a typical citizen in Britain, the US, and Argentina would vote for a candidate described as a business owner and an (on average otherwise identical) candidate described as a factory worker (the first set of dots). For comparison, the figure also plots the difference when the candidate was described as a woman versus a man, more versus less educated, a member of the Labour/Democratic/Peronist Party versus the Conservative/Republican/Radical Party, white versus black (in the US), or a political novice versus an experienced politician (in Argentina). (Table A1 in the online appendix reports the complete results from the models these figures are based on.) 14 Our results were similar when we treated elections as the unit of analysis, rather than candidates. Consistent with our findings in Figure 1, in hypothetical elections that pitted a working-class candidate against a white-collar candidate, respondents reported that they were more likely to vote for the worker 53 percent of the time in our British study, 54 percent in our US study, and 51 percent of the time in our Argentina study (excluding respondents who said “don’t know”).
Our main results were substantively identical when we switched from ordinary least squares regressions to logistic regression models (see Table A10 in the online appendix).
Following Hainmueller et al. (2014), we conducted several diagnostic checks on our experiments. To check for profile order effects, we re-ran our analysis interacting each candidate characteristic with a variable indicating whether the candidate appeared first or second (see Table A11 in the online appendix). Only the positive effect of past experience seems partly to be an artifact of profile order. We also verified random assignment by regressing some respondent demographics (gender, age, and education) on the candidate characteristics they received (see Table A12 in the online appendix). And we checked for atypical profiles effects, which we discuss below in more detail later in this section and in Table A8 in the online appendix. The other diagnostic checks described in Hainmueller et al. (2014) were not applicable to this research design: our study could not exhibit carryover effects (since our experiments presented each respondent with only one pair of candidates, not multiple back-to-back pairs as in Hainmueller et al. 2014), and we could not test for attribute order effects the way Hainmueller et al. (2014) proposed (since our experiments use a pair of fixed-format vignettes, not tables listing candidate attributes side-byside in a random order), nor do we expect attribute order effects to bias our results (since respondents had to read through all of the attributes of the first candidate, then separately read through all of the attributes of the second).
Many of the findings in Figure 1 were not surprising (and helped increase our confidence in our research design). Candidates described as having more experience were more likely to get votes. Argentine voters were unenthusiastic about the UCR; Peronist candidates tended to do better. Consistent with recent studies showing that gender and racial biases are declining or nonexistent in many modern elections (Aguilar, Cunow, and Desposato 2015; Campbell and Cowley 2014b; Lynch and Dolan 2014; McElroy and Marsh 2010), female candidates tended to do about as well as male candidates and (in the US) black candidates performed (non-significantly) better than white candidates. Consistent with research finding few differences between candidates with more and less education (Campbell and Cowley 2014b; Carnes and Lupu 2016), candidates with more formal education fared about as well as those with less.
For our purposes, however, the most striking feature of Figure 1 was how unremarkable working-class candidates seemed. The average respondent in Britain and Argentina was essentially indifferent about candidates from the working class and candidates from white-collar jobs. The average US respondent was actually slightly more likely to prefer the working-class candidates in our experiments over the white-collar ones (although the gap was just shy of conventional levels of statistical significance). 15 In sharp contrast to the idea that voters prefer affluent candidates, citizens in these three democracies did not seem to be even remotely biased against working-class candidates.
They clearly noticed candidates from the working class, however—and it affected how they perceived some things about them. The left panel in Figure 2 plots the probability that a survey respondent would rate a given candidate more qualified for office, again averaging across As Figure 3 shows, what really seemed to drive vote choice was whether the candidate shared the respondent’s party affiliation and had prior political experience.
candidates who were described as business owners or factory workers, men or women, more or less educated, members of the two parties, white or black (in the US), and experienced candidates or novices (in Argentina). The middle and right panels in Figure 2 likewise depict the probability that respondents would rate a given candidate more likely to understand the problems facing people like themselves and the probability that respondents expect a given candidate to be more left wing.
On these important measures of voters’ impressions, candidates from the working class did well. Voters in all three countries were almost exactly as likely to rate a business owner and a factory worker as qualified to hold office—the effect of the candidate’s class was statistically insignificant and substantively miniscule. In Britain (where class consciousness is stronger), voters were significantly more likely to see working-class candidates as leftist. And in sharp contrast to the idea that voters prefer more affluent candidates, voters in the US and Britain were significantly more likely to see a hypothetical candidate from the working class as someone who understood the problems facing people like themselves. On this last point, the effect of class in the US and Britain was larger than the effect of gender, education, race, experience, or even political party. Far from being a liability or a mark of incompetence, being a candidate from the working class appears to have complex—and sometimes highly positive—effects on voters’ perceptions.
Other candidate characteristics also predicted sensible differences in Figure 2. Voters in Britain saw candidates with less formal education as slightly less qualified for office, slightly more likely to understand their problems, and slightly more leftist. In Britain and the US, voters saw candidates from the more leftist political party as more likely to be left wing.
Unsurprisingly, it was more difficult for Argentine voters to guess a candidate’s ideology from her party affiliation (see Lupu 2014; 2016). And consistent with recent research that finds little voter discrimination against women, a candidate’s gender did not have significant negative effects on any of the variables we examined in Figures 1 or 2; to the contrary, in the US, female candidates were seen as more understanding.
Of course, if voters see working-class candidates as more leftist (as British voters did), the effect on their ultimate vote choice will probably depend on whether the voters are themselves more leftist. In Figure 3 below, we replicated Figure 1—which examined differences in whether respondents said they would vote for each candidate—this time, splitting each country’s respondents by their own stated party affiliations. That is, the top panel presents results among respondents who identified with the Labour Party in Britain, the Democratic Party in the US, or the Peronist Party in Argentina; and the bottom panel presents results among respondents who identified with the Conservative Party, the Republican Party, or the Radical Party. 16
Not surprisingly, when we limited our attention to respondents from just one political party, 17 they tended to enormously favor candidates from their own party over candidates from the other. 18 Strikingly, however, separating voters by party did little to change our finding that voters do not dislike candidates from the working class. Conservative voters in Britain, Only 60 respondents in the Argentine sample identified with the Radical Party – the result of that party’s national collapse in the early 2000s (see Lupu 2016) – so our estimates for that group are quite imprecise.
We identify partisans using the standard item employed in each study. In Britain, the question asked, “Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or what?” In the US, the question asked, “Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent or what?” In Argentina, the question asked, “Setting aside which party you voted for in the last election and which party you plan to vote for in the next election, in general, do you identify with a particular political party?” In Argentina, we coded as Peronists those respondents who said they identified with Peronism, the Justicialist Party, the Front for Victory, or the Renovation Front.
This also reassures us that the null findings in Figures 1 and 2 are not the result of respondents simply not paying attention to the vignettes.
Republican voters in the US, and Radical voters in Argentina were slightly less likely to say that they would vote for a candidate described as a factory worker, but the difference was never statistically significant and was always substantively tiny (even in sizeable experimental samples of over 300 Republicans and 2,300 Tories). And left party respondents in the US and Britain were significantly more likely to report that they would vote for a working-class candidate— Labour voters were five percentage points more likely, and Democrats in the US were ten percentage points more likely to say that they would vote for a candidate who was randomly described as a factory worker. Far from being an electoral liability, in our survey experiment, working-class candidates seem to do fine with right party supporters and especially well with left party supporters.
To check that these findings were genuine, we also carried out several additional robustness tests. In Britain, we were able to subset respondents by their own occupations.
White-collar respondents were about as likely to vote for working-class candidates; workingclass respondents were somewhat more likely to vote for them (see Table A5 in the online appendix). In the US, we randomized the level of the office the hypothetical candidate was running for. Whether the survey respondent was asked about a race for city council, mayor, state legislator, or governor, we never found a substantively large or statistically significant bias against working-class candidates (see Table A6 in the online appendix). In the US experiment we also asked respondents not just which candidate they were most likely to vote for, but how likely they were to vote for them (extremely likely, very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not likely at all). The effects of candidate attributes on these ordinal scales were very similar to our results with the dichotomous vote choice question (see Table A7 in the online appendix).