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Mobilizing Interest: The Effects of Money on Citizen Participation in State Supreme Court Elections


  • We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for sponsoring major portions of this work (Hall, SES 9911166; Bonneau, SES 0108906). A previous version of this article was presented at the Seventh Annual State Politics and Policy Conference, Austin, Texas, February 2007. We thank George Krause, Heather Elko McKibben, and Heather Rice for their comments and assistance. All errors are our own.

Melinda Gann Hall is distinguished professor of political science, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1032 ( Chris W. Bonneau is associate professor of political science, University of Pittsburgh, 4600 Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 (


In this article, we investigate one highly significant aspect of the role of money in judicial elections: whether campaign spending increases citizen participation in the recruitment and retention of judges. Specifically, by using a two-stage modeling strategy that allows us to separate the effects of challengers from the effects of money, we assess whether relatively expensive campaigns improve the chances that citizens will vote in the 260 supreme court elections held from 1990 through 2004 in 18 states using partisan or nonpartisan elections to staff the high court bench. We find that increased spending significantly improves citizen participation in these races. Whether measured as the overall spending in each election or in per capita terms, greater spending facilitates voting. We conclude, contrary to conventional wisdom about the deleterious effects of money in judicial elections, that by stimulating mass participation and giving voters greater ownership in the outcomes of these races, expensive campaigns strengthen the critical linkage between citizens and the bench and enhance the quality of democracy.