The Hidden Independent: Identifying Non-Utility Maximizing Election Results

Eli Nir

Authors:  Eli Nir

Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Steven Slutsky

College:  College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


This paper aims to demonstrate the possibility of determining when constituencies fail to elect a candidate that maximizes their utility. This is contrary to popular modes of election analysis that center around the prediction of outcomes and not their reasonability. The analysis uses campaign finance scores (CFscores) developed by Adam Bonica at Stanford University to determine the ideology of the winning candidate and runner-up in each election. They are created using the methodology of NOMINATE scores to estimate a candidate’s ideology built off the ideology of his or her contributors. The “utility maximizing” ideology score of each constituency is then determined from economic conditions, views on policy questions, and self-reported ratings. The CFscores for candidates are then compared to the ideology of their constituencies using OLS regression and regression discontinuity design. The results show that winning candidate ideologies can correlate with various methods of defining constituency preferences. Disruptions in these regressions can indicate when constituencies vary from the utility maximizing candidate. This paper’s basic demonstration of the quantifiability of this scenario can give insight to where voting populations may be more vulnerable to an ideology shift than previously thought.

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