More Equal than We Thought? Using Vote Validation to Better Understand Participation Inequality in the States


Inequality in political participation is a well-known and often studied feature of American politics. An important study examining misreporting of voter turnout in opinion surveys, however, calls into question the true extent of participation inequality. Ansolabehere and Hersh’s first-ever 50-state vote validation project shows that those with more political resources are more likely to misreport turnout. That is, those with higher incomes are more likely than others to report that they had voted when in fact they did not. These findings suggest that income disparities in participation are not as large as opinion surveys have led us to believe. Moreover, studies using differences between voters and nonvoters as a key political indicator may also be biased. This article presents the first assessment of whether vote misreporting creates systematic bias in measures of state participation inequality. An index of economic inequality in participation for the 50 states is developed using the Ansolabehere and Hersh validated vote data and compares the measure of political inequality with a similar measure using traditional (i.e., nonvalidated) survey data. These state indices are used to determine the extent of bias produced by misreporting and whether this bias has implications for studies using these measures of participation inequality. The latter is assessed by examining the influence of the self-reported and validated inequality measures on state welfare programs and minimum wage policy.

State Politics & Policy Quarterly