POLI 423  --- Presidential Elections

This course examines the subject of U. S. Presidential selection from institutional, historical, and theoretical perspectives. We will first examine the problem of forecasting Presidential election outcomes and then take a look at the present bases of party support in Presidential politics. We then turn to examine the creation, evolution, and contemporary structure of the Presidential selection process and the strategic considerations that derive from this structure. Much of the course will focus on the design and evolution of the Electoral College, its contemporary function as a vote counting mechanism, and proposals for its reform or abolition. A variety of alternative institutions will be considered and compared with electoral methods in other countries and analyzed in light of concepts in the theory of voting and social choice. We will also consider the problem of multi-candidate elections, a problem that is relevant both to the major-party Presidential nominating process and to Presidential elections with significant third-party activity.

Course Syllabus for Fall 2012

Guide to Final Test

PowerPoint Files (with slides not discussed in class deleted) covered since the In-Class Midterm Test
        Presidential Election Mechanics
        Election Inversion under the Electoral College
        Voting Power under the Electoral College
        Presidential Nominations
        Multi-Candidate Elections and Electoral College Deadlock

Guidelines for Research Reports
        Student Election Selections
            1840 (Jones)
            1904 (Socha)
            1912 (Cook)
            1916 (Good)
            1932 (Fernandez)
            1936 (Winning)
            1948 (Dike)
            1972 (Lahl)
            1976 (Nagra)
            1980 (Broadstone)
            2000 (Evans)
            2008 (Wallace)

We agreed on Nov. 19 that the make-up class for Hurricane Sandy will be held on Wednesday, December 12 (Study Day), beginning at 3:00 in the POLI conference room.  Student presentations will be given on December 10 and 12 in chronological order of elections reported on, except that Nicholas Evans and Jacob Wallace will give the lead-off presentations.

Sample Reports from earlier semesters (Fall 2008 and Spring 2004) are posted below.  These were among the better papers, receiving grades from B+ to A-.  They may not include the very best papers because I restricted them to reports on elections not selected by students this semester.


Guide to In-Class Midterm Test
Midterm Take-Home Essay Assignment

PowerPoint Files (with slides not discussed in class deleted) covered by the In-Class Midterm Test:
        The 2012 Election in Context
        Forecasting Presidential Elections
        Trends in Party Support
        Media and Presidential Campaigns
        Frank and Gelman
        The U.S. Electoral College

CNN 2012 Election and Exit Poll Results
2012 Cartograms    More
Washington Post's Crystal Ball
Real Clear Politics
Election Forecasts (Nate Silver 538)
David Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections
The Monkey Cage
Gallup Organization
Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball
Washington Post Wonkblog (
Ezra Klein)
PollyVote Election Forecasting
Princeton Election Consortium
270 To Win

Course Outline, Reading Assignments, and Problem Sets (Topics #6-10 Revised 10/19/12):

During the first month of the semester, you should read the entire Polsby and Wildavsky textbook on Presidential Elections.  Careful reading of this book will give you a solid foundation in the basic political science findings concerning public opinion, party identification, voting behavior, campaign finance, interest groups, political parties, and election campaigns needed to understand the present Presidential selection process — both the prenomination campaign that took place last Spring (and earlier) and the general election campaign that is now beginning.  While I will certainly be willing and able to take time in class to discuss points that arise out of this book and to address any questions you have, I will not “go over” the book  on a regular basis in class. Rather class time will be devoted largely to the topics as outlined below. 

Several copies of Polsby and Wildavsky and of Lichtman (various recent editions) have been placed on reserve in the library; the library is acquiring a copy of the most recent edition of Edwards and place it on reserve.  The reserve loan period is 3 days [per student requests, will be changed to 1 day].

  1.    (September 10)    Introduction / 2012 in Context / Forecasting Presidential Elections

                    Presidential Trial Heats
                    Gallup Presidential Election Trial-Heat Trends, 1936-2008
                    Real Clear Politics
Lichtman, The Keys and Table 2.1
                    Lichtman, Introduction and Chapters 1-2

                    The 2012 Election in Context [PPT]
                    Forecasting Presidential Elections [PPT]

                    Incumbency Crosstabulation
                    Forecasting Data

  2.    (September 17)    Forecasting (cont.) / Trends in Party Support

                    Lichtman, Chapters 8-12
                    Larry M. Bartels, "What's the Matter with What's the Matter with Kansas?"
                    Andrew Gelman et al., “Rich State, Poor State, Red State, Blue State: What’s the Matter with Connecticut”  [optional]
                    Andrew Gelman, "Rich State, Poor State, Red State, Blue State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do" [slides for talk]  [optional]

                    Forecasting Presidential Elections [PPT]
                    Trends in Party Support  [PPT]

                    David Hopkins and Laura Stoker, "Partisan Voters, Partisan States: How the Rising Strength of Party and Ideology in the American Public Affects Aggregate Electoral Results"

                    Frank and Gelman (and Hopkins & Stoker) [PPT]

  3.    (September 24)    How the Electoral College Works in Practice / Alternatives to the Electoral College

                    Edwards, Chapter 1
                    Danny Adkinson and Christopher Elliot, “The Electoral College: A  Misunderstood Institution”
                    Koza et al., Chapter 1
  Koza et al,  Chapter 2
                    Edwards, Forward (by Neal R. Peirce),  Preface, and Chapter 1 (preview)
Judith Best, Testimony On Proposals For Electoral College Reform Before The House Judiciary Subcommittee On The Constitution, 1997
                    Koza et al,  Chapter 3
                    Koza et al,  Chapter 4
                    Koza et al,  Chapter 6
Nicholas R. Miller, "Why the Electoral College Is Good for Political Science," pp. 22-23

                    The U.S. Electoral College  [PPT]

  4.    (October 1)        Origins and Transformation of the Electoral College

                    Nicholas R. Miller, "Why the Electoral College Is Good for Political Science," pp. 1-10
                    Edwards, Chapters 1 and 4
                    Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 68
                    Robin Kolodny, “The Several Elections of 1824”

The U.S. Electoral College  [PPT]

  5.    (October 8)        The Media and Presidential Elections [Guest Lecture]

                    Polsby and Wildavky, Chapter 3, section on Control Over Information, and Chapter 5, The Campaign (pages vary by edition)

                    Media and Presidential Elections [PPT]

  6.    (October 15)       
Origins and Transformation of the Electoral College (cont.)

                    Edwards, Appendices A and B
Nicholas R. Miller, "Why the Electoral College Is Good for Political Science," pp. 12-13

                    The U.S. Electoral College  [PPT]

  7.    (October 22)       
Origins and Transformation of the Electoral College (cont.) / Presidential Election Mechanics

                    Edwards, Chapters 5-7

                    Presidential Election Mechanics [PPT]


  8.    (October 29)      CLASS CANCELLED (HURRICANE SANDY)

  9.    (November 5)    IN-CLASS MIDTERM EXAM (1 hr.) / Election Eve Preview /
Presidential Election Mechanics

                   Presidential Election Mechanics [PPT]

10.    (November 12)        Post-Election Review / Presidential Election Mechanics (complete)

11.    (November 19)    Election Inversions / Voting Power under the Electoral College

Edwards, Chapter 2
Nicholas R. Miller, "Why the Electoral College Is Good for Political Science," pp. 16-18
                    Nicholas R. Miller, "Election Inversions by the U.S. Electoral College" (optional)

                    Nicholas R. Miller, "Why the Electoral College Is Good for Political Science," pp. 10-11, 13-16
                    Nicholas R. Miller, "A Priori Voting Power and the U.S. Electoral College" (optional)

                    Election Inversions under the Electoral College [PPT]                  
                    Voting Power under the Electoral College [PPT]

12.    (November 26)   
Presidential Nominations

                    Polsby and Wildavsky, Chapter 4
                    James Bryce, "Why Great Men Are Not Chosen President"
                    Hugh Heclo, “Presidential and Prime Ministerial Selection”
                    Anthony King, “How Not to Select Presidential Candidates: A View From Europe"

Lichtman, Chapters 3-7

                    Presidential Nominations [PPT]

13.    (December 3)   
Multi-Candidate Elections and Electoral College Deadlock

Edwards, Chapter 3
Nicholas R. Miller, "Why the Electoral College Is Good for Political Science," pp. 18-22

                    Multi-Candidate Elections and Electoral College Deadlock [PPT]

13.    (December 10)     Historical Presidential Elections: Student Presentations

14.    (December 12 beginning at 3:00PM [Make-Up Class])  Historical Presidential Elections: Student Presentations (cont.)

15.    (December 17)    FINAL EXAM (75 minutes): 6:00-8:00PM

Other PowerPoint Presentations

          Electoral College Presentation for POLI 325 (11/26/12)
          Electoral College Presentation for POLI 323 (9/10/08)
          The U.S. Electoral College: Origins and Transformation, Problems and Prospects [Constitution Day presentation]
          Analyzing the Electoral College [prepared for INFORMS Meeting 10/14/08]
          Vote For a Black Presidential Candidate? [PPT]

Papers and Articles

Daniel J. Hopkins, "No More Wilder [or Bradley] Effect, Never a Whitman Effect: When and Why Polls Mislead about Black and Female Candidates"
"Pollsters Debate 'Bradley Effect'," Washington Post, Oct. 12, 2008
Andrew Gelman, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor States [PowerPoint presentation]
Andrew Gelman, Critique of the "Banzhaf Effect"
Thomas Palfrey, The Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project
Election 2008 Headlines
New York Times Election Maps
Arnold Barnett and Edward H. Kaplan, "A Cure for the Electoral College?" [Weighted Vote Shares]
          Minnesota Clallenged Spoiled Ballots?

Links to Course Related Websites

2008 Presidential Election

Five Thirty Eight
    Real Clear Politics
    Princeton Election Consortium
    Gallup Organization
          Gallup Tracking Poll
    CQ Politics: Presidential Election Maps
    2008 Election Forecasts
Rassmussen Report
    Political Forecasting
          Allan Lichtman Commentary
    HubDub: News Prediction Game
    Frontloading HQ
    Iowa Electronic Markets
    Electoral Compass USA

2004 Presidential Election

    Election 2004 Projections
    Electoral College Meta-Analysis

Election Data

    David Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections
    Gallup Presidential Trial Heats: 1936-2004
    Timeline of U.S. Presidential Elections
    U.S. Census: Voting and Registration Data
    Voting America: 1840-2004 ("Cinematic Maps")
    Maps and Cartograms of 2004
    Presidential Vote by Congressional District
    U.S. Presidential Election Maps: 1860-1996
    NORC Florida Ballot Project
    Lijphart Election Archive
    Psephos: Adam Carr's Election Archive

Electoral College

    National Archives Electoral College Page
    United States Electoral College (Pentopia)
    U.S. Electoral College Calculator
    Electoral College Calculator 
    Electoral College Calculator and Map Generator
    President Elect
    Resources on the Electoral College
    Colorado Proposition 36
    Hayes vs. Tilden: The Electoral College Controversy of 1876
    Proceedings of the Electoral Commission of 1877
    Exploring Constitutional Conflicts: The Electoral College

Presidential Nominations

    Presidential Selection Study

Voter Participation

    United States Election Project: Voting Turnout
    Vanishing Voter Project
    The Electorate: Voters and Nonvoters
    IDEA: Voter Turnout


    Fair Vote
    Fair Vote Canada
    Electoral Reform Society (UK)
    Representation and Democracy
    e-democracy: President 2008
    Citizens for True Democracy
    The Rest of Us: Abolish the Electoral College
    America's Worst College
    Ten Arguments for Keeping the Electoral College -- Refuted
    Black Vote Smothered by the Electoral College
    The Indefensible Electoral College
    The Preculiar Institution
    The Electoral College: Source of Social Inequality and Injustice
    Warped Democracy
    Options for Electoral College Reform

Electoral Systems

    Elections and Electoral Systems
    Comparative Study of Electoral Systems
    Report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System (UK)

Voting Integrity and Election Administration

    CalTech-MIT Voting Technology Project
    AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project
    Verified Voting
    Voting Technology and Ballot Design (Center for American Politics & Citizenship, UMCP)
    NORC Florida Ballots Project
    Open Voting Consortium
    Federal Election Commission
    Elections Canada
    Presidential election Law

Voting Power

    Computing Algorithms for Voting Power Analysis
    Voting Power and Procedures (LSE)
    Voting Power and Power Index Website
    Power Indices of Voting Games
    Banzhaf Power Index
    Banzhaf Power Index
    Mathematics of Voting Power
    Weighted Voting Systems
    European Voting Games
    AMS: Voting Games, Part 2

Voting Theory
Math Against Tyranny
    Accurate Democracy
    Approval Voting Home Page
    Approval Voting
    Rob's Politics

Social Science Blogs

    Statistical Modeling,  Causal Analysis, and Social Science (Andrew Gelman)
    Social Science Statistics Blog (Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard U.)
    Political Arithmetic (Charles Franklin)
    Fruits and Votes (Matthew Shugart)
    Josep Colomer's Blog