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Do war casualties affect elections?

- January 30, 2008

Two studies in Legislative Studies Quarterly recently caught my eye.

The first (gated) cby Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen, sexplores the impact of war casualties on the vote shares of Republican Senate candidates in 2006. Controlling for the range of economic, political, and demographic forces that typically shape congressional election outcomes, Kriner and Shen show that the number of war casualties negatively affected the change in Republican candidates vote shares between 2000 and 2006 at the state level. Even with historically low numbers of war deaths, Senate candidates from the president’s party appear to pay a price for war. Granted, the price for incumbent GOP senators running in the hardest hit states was between two and four percentage points. But in closely contested races like those in Missouri and Virginia, the authors argue that the human cost of war may have been decisive in Democratic wins.

In a second piece, (gated) or (ungated), Christian Grose and Bruce Oppenheimer ask a similar question about the impact of war deaths on House elections in 2006. Capitalizing on the uneven distribution of war deaths across congressional districts, Grose and Oppenheimer show that voters punished Republicans, contingent on the number of war deaths in the district. Interestingly, the authors show that Democrats escaped blame for war; voters held only the in-party accountable for the administration’s conduct of the war.

As Republicans attempt this November to regain House seats lost in 2006, expect Democrats to keep hammering home the local human costs of war. National forces– as experienced at the local level– do seem to matter in contemporary congressional elections.