My friend and colleague Mike Alvarez of CalTech shared a new paper appearing in Political Analysis yesterday that not only has interesting conclusions about the effect of registration deadlines but also suggests that readily-available but under-appreciated data on web searches could help us get a better handle on how voters perceive the election process. The paper, “Estimating Voter Registration Deadline Effects with Web Search Data” by Alex Street, Thomas Murray, John Blitzer and Rajan Patel, dives into the search data available via the Google Trends website and examines when in 2012 people searched for voter registration in comparison to registration deadlines.
Here’s the abstract:
Electoral rules have the potential to affect the size and composition of the voting public. Yet scholars disagree over whether requiring voters to register well in advance of Election Day reduces turnout. We present a new approach, using web searches for “voter registration” to measure interest in registering, both before and after registration deadlines for the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Many Americans sought information on “voter registration” even after the deadline in their state had passed. Combining web search data with evidence on the timing of registration for 80 million Americans, we model the relationship between search and registration. Extrapolating this relationship to the post-deadline period, we estimate that an additional 3-4 million Americans would have registered in time to vote, if deadlines had been extended to Election Day. We test our approach by predicting out of sample and with historical data. Web search data provide new opportunities to measure and study information-seeking behavior.