Violence and Voting in the United States: How School Shootings Affect Elections

Violence and Voting in the United States: How School Shootings Affect Elections

By Laura García-Montoya, University of Notre Dame, Ana Arjona, Northwestern University, Matthew Lacombe, Barnard College, Columbia University

How do citizens change their voting decisions after their communities experience catastrophic violent events? The literature on the behavioral effects of violence, on the one hand, and on political behavior, on the other, suggest different answers to this question. Using a difference-in-differences approach, we investigate the influence of indiscriminate, rampage-style school shootings on both voter turnout levels and the relative electoral support for the Democratic and Republican Parties at the county level in US presidential elections (1980–2016). We find that although voter turnout does not change, the vote share of the Democratic Party increases by an average of nearly 5 percentage points in counties that experienced shootings—a remarkable shift in an age of partisan polarization and close presidential elections. These results show that school shootings do have important electoral consequences and bring to the fore the need to further examine the effects of different forms of violence on political behavior.

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