John Sides

John Sides is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at George Washington University.

Recent Articles

What Makes a Referendum Campaign Sing?

A Monkey Cage reader asks:

I’m just curious, is there much information out there about what (if anything) precisely impacts voting on referendums or initiatives? And if so, what aspects of a referendum campaign are most effective (like advertising, phone banking, door to door campaigning, etc.). Any information and/or help locating any information would be much appreciated.

Do Campaign Spending Bans Work?

This paper seeks to understand the effect of campaign finance laws on electoral and policy outcomes. Spurred by the recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which eliminated bans on corporate and union political spending, the study focuses on whether such bans generate consequences notably different from an electoral system that lacks such bans. We observe three key outcomes: partisan control of government, incumbent reelection rates and corporate tax burdens. Using historical data on regulations in 49 American states between 1935 and 2009 we test alternative models for evaluating the impact of corporate and union spending bans put in place during this period. The results indicate that spending bans appear to have limited, if any, effect on these outcomes.

Everything You Think About Negative Advertising is Wrong

Continuing the series, here’s another zombie idea: negative advertising “works.” Either by hurting the candidate who is attacked or by turning off voters from the campaign altogether.  The sheer volume of negative ads certainly keeps this zombie living.

As does the terrific string of cliches attached to so much writing about negative ads. Consider this piece. We have effluvia: “tsunami of slime,” “toxic.” Boxing: “win the fight with a knockout punch.” Gore: “expensive and brutal evisceration,” “bloody victory.” And, of course, war, war, war: “ammo,” “counter-offensive,” “sharpening their arrows,” etc. (I am not even one-fifth of the way through the piece.)

As does many examples of campaign reporting that discuss tactics—like negative ads or the micro-targeting of ads—with only vague statements about their effects. Often from people whose very profession involves convincing candidates to pay them to make ads!

And so you get this from a forthcoming New America Foundation event:

Mudslinging isn’t pretty. But research—and conventional wisdom—says negative political ad campaigns work. Indeed, the tone early on in the 2012 contest suggests that accentuating the positive will not be the hallmark of this election cycle. Should that be of concern to us all? Are negative ads corrosive to our political discourse, or are they, in fact, a vital means of informing the electorate? Join us to consider how political messaging has evolved to its current state, as well as its impact on our broader culture. (And yes, we’ll be airing many past and current commercials.)

Why Tuesday?

A readers points me to the group, Why Tuesday, that wants to move Election Day to a more convenient time.  They write:

Today, we are an urban society, and we all know how hard it is to commute to our jobs, take care of the children, and get our work done, let alone stand on lines to vote. Indeed, Census data over the last decade clearly indicates that the inconvenience of voting is the primary reason Americans are not participating in our elections.

If we can move Columbus Day, Presidents’ Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Holiday for the convenience of shoppers, why not make Election Day more convenient for the sake of voters? First and foremost, it is time to end the deafening silence of good people on this vitally important issue. So we ask: Why Tuesday?

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