At Sister District, using a data-driven approach to building state legislative power is core to our existence. That’s why today, I’m excited to bring you our first States & Stats Newsletter, highlighting the work of our award-winning political research team. 

Our research team works on projects like state legislative data and race targeting, understanding what motivates voters and volunteers down-ballot, and collecting, analyzing, and reporting on state-level data and trends. This research is the work that powers all of Sister District’s political strategy and programs.

In this month’s States & Stats:

  • Data Deep Dive – Explaining the problem of ballot roll-off.
  • Data Digest – Highlighting research on COVID-era voting behavior, and intimidation of state and local elected officials.

I hope this Newsletter is interesting and informative. And I welcome your feedback – let me know if there are particular topics or issues you’d like us to cover.

📊 Deep Dive

State Legislative Ballot Roll-Off: Our Research Challenge for 2024

In the past, our research program primarily conducted large-scale randomized controlled trials (RCTs) looking at voter and volunteer engagement tactics. Incredibly, we’ve conducted and published results from over 40 RCTs since 2018!  

This year, we’re embarking on a new and ambitious large-scale project that is absolutely bedrock to building progressive state power: understanding and combating down-ballot roll-off, which happens when voters tick the top, but not bottom, of their ballots.

What is Roll-off?

“Roll-off” is the term we use to describe what happens when a voter ticks the top, but not the bottom, of their ballot. We’ve already been studying downballot roll-off in depth for some time, and in our prior work, we showed that down-ballot Democrats experience ballot roll-off much more frequently than down-ballot Republicans

The difference between the two parties is stark: across 10 battleground states over 8 years, contested down-ballot Democrats experienced ballot roll-off 80% of the time, compared to only 37% for their Republican counterparts.

Keep in mind that state legislative races often hinge on razor-thin margins. In 2022, just 63 votes in one district flipped the entire Pennsylvania House blue. And take another example – in 2021, Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe received 60,000+ more votes than did Democrats running for state legislature. Democrats lost the House majority that year by about 750 combined votes in three districts. If Democrats had decreased roll-off just slightly, by convincing about 1% of the voters who voted for McAuliffe to vote all the way down their ballots, we could have held onto the House.

It’s clear that, in part, the GOP has gained and maintained control of state houses for so long because Republican voters consistently vote all the way down the ticket, while ours do not. And it makes all the difference in these incredibly narrow races.

So why do voters roll-off their ballots, and how do we get them to stop? 

To tackle this enormous question, we are first conducting focus groups with voters (both those who do and do not vote their whole ballots), and then we are fielding a large national survey. Both of these projects are in partnership with Data for Progress. This will help us better understand why voters do, or don’t, vote down-ballot – including important subgroups such as women, voters of color, and young voters. 

After the focus groups and national survey, we’ll develop and test messages to encourage progressive voters to vote their whole ballots. We’ll be sharing the messages that are most likely to decrease roll-off in this critical election year far and wide – starting with our next newsletter. Stay tuned, I can barely wait!

📝Data Digest

Right and Left Divide on Voting Methods. We are thrilled that peer-reviewed journal Political Psychology has accepted a paper for publication co-authored by Sister District researchers and collaborators at University of Michigan! To be published later this year, it describes the results of a national survey we ran in 2020 exploring voters’ attitudes and behaviors around voting during the COVID pandemic.

    • Key topline: Left-leaning voters were significantly more likely than right-leaning voters to support early and vote-by-mail/absentee voting methods, and were also more likely to endorse actions and statements that prioritize public health in the context of voting during a pandemic.  

Lawmaker Safety. Important new Brennan Center Report: Intimidation of State and Local Officeholders – an issue I wrote about with Dave Daley right after January 6th. A few toplines:

      • Women were nearly 4x as likely as men to experience abuse targeting their gender.
      • Officeholders of color were more than 3x as likely as white officeholders to experience abuse targeting their race.
      • More than 40% of officeholders are less willing to run for reelection or higher office because of abuse. For women, the rates of possible attrition are higher, with ~50% less willing to continue.

In future States & Stats Newsletters, we’ll begin to share results from our exciting new roll-off research, as well as take a dive into what the data suggest for state legislative elections this year. 

In solidarity,

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