Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups

In this
fascinating study, Stanford political science doctoral candidate Sarah Anzia offers new reasons
for dropping “off-cycle” elections for school boards and other bodies—unless
you’re part of a special-interest group. As is well-known, such elections (those
that do not occur on a general-election or primary day) have notoriously low
voter turnouts—with a delta between them and on-cycle elections of as much as
20 percent. Anzia explains that this “empowers the largest and best organized
interest groups,” since those groups “make up a greater proportion of the total
vote when that election is held off-cycle.” As evidence, she analyzed
school-board election cycles and teacher salaries in those same districts.
Given teacher unions’ mobilization, common goals, and tight organization, writes
Anzia, “we should expect school board members to be more responsive to teacher
union demands for higher teacher salaries when those teachers exert greater
influence in their elections.” Because of the difficulty of cross-state
comparison, she limits her evaluations to eight states that have “within-state
variation in district election timing.” And her findings are striking: Districts
with off-cycle elections pay their experienced teachers over 3 percent more
than districts (in the same states) that hold on-cycle elections. The pay
differential increased further for the most senior teachers: Those with
more than ten years of experience received 4.2 percent more in districts with
off-cycle elections. In Minnesota
specifically, Anzia finds that a 5 percentage point decrease in voter turnout is associated with a 0.7 percentage point
increase in average teacher pay. This
is a fairly big deal since (as Rick Hess has reported) more than half of our
school-district elections are off-cycle.

A different
of this review originally appeared on Fordham’s
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Sarah F. Anzia, “Election
Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups
,” (Tucson,
AZ: Journal of Politics, forthcoming).

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