With the 2020 election fast approaching and coronavirus complicating normal processes, the issue of voting has become a critical concern for many.

book covers

Devine, Christopher J. The VP advantage: how running mates influence home state voting in presidential elections, by Christopher J. Devine and Kyle C. Kopko. Manchester University Press, 2016. 198p bibl index ISBN 9781784993375, $110.00; ISBN 9781784993382 pbk, $34.95; ISBN 9781526109231 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2016

American politics is rife with conventional wisdom.  Politicians often make decisions based on statements that are thought to be true, though there is no empirical data to support them—even worse when the evidence suggests otherwise.  One of the most enduring political myths is that vice presidential picks matter.  The idea is that vice presidents overall can sway presidential voting, that they can serve as a geographic balance, and can specifically act as “favorite sons or daughters” who can flip their home state.  This book tests the evidence contending a vice president home state advantage.  Using a variety of statistical data bases and measures, the authors overwhelmingly and convincingly debunk this myth.  They find that except in exceedingly rare occasions, vice presidents do not matter.  They also challenge the wisdom that John Kennedy’s selection of Lyndon Johnson in 1960 made it possible for Democrats to win Texas and the presidency.  The authors’ analysis suggests in fact that Johnson cost Kennedy votes and that JFK would have won Texas without him.  An excellent book for collections in political science, American politics, and the 2016 presidential elections. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —D. Schultz, Hamline University

Dolan, Kathleen A. Voting for women: how the public evaluates women candidates. Westview, 2003. 184p ISBN 0813341051, $65.00; ISBN 081339841X pbk, $20.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2004

Dolan (Univ. of Wisconsin) studies elections to the US House and Senate for six elections from 1990 through the elections of 2000. She concludes in her review of the history of women running for Congress that voter response to women candidates “has a more complex and nuanced impact on voters than we may have imagined.” She also thoughtfully examines the ways in which voters evaluate women candidates for public office. Apparently, the two most important factors shaping a voter’s decision are incumbency status and party affiliation of the woman candidate and the voter. Not surprisingly, these are the same factors that shape voters’ decisions on male congressional candidates. As students of electoral behavior might anticipate, political party affiliation rather than a candidate’s gender is more likely to govern a voter’s reaction to a candidate. Dolan found few issues to be significantly related to voting for women candidates in House elections. In Senate contests, issues were more important in voting decisions. Are voters more likely today to vote for women candidates for Congress? Absolutely. Are voters more likely to cast aside gender as a factor? Not necessarily. But its importance pales in comparison to party and incumbency. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through graduate students. —W. K. Hall, Bradley University

Hart, Austin. Economic voting: a campaign-centered theory. Cambridge, 2016. 219p bibl index ISBN 9781107148192, $99.99; ISBN 9781316884232 ebook, $80.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2017

Conventional wisdom continues to hold that electoral outcomes are based on retrospective analyses of the health of a nation’s economy, but, according to Hart, “the economic voting model incorrectly predicts about one-third of presidential elections worldwide, including some of the most politically consequential contests in recent history.” Building on previous scholarship that argues that campaigns matter, Hart uses public opinion surveys and data about campaign advertisements and national news to support his theory that the outcome of elections also depends on how often candidates and the media prime voters to think about the economy. Major cases come from the US (1992 and 2000) and Mexico (2000 and 2006), with additional cases in South Korea (2007), West Germany (1972), Canada (2006), and Brazil (2002), to explore the generalizability of his findings. Overall, adding individual-level psychology and candidate behavior to the basic economic voting model allows Hart to present a compelling explanation for election outcomes that seem to defy classic predictions, including, in retrospect, Trump’s victory in 2016. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —M. R. Michelson, Menlo College

McDonald, Laughlin. American Indians and the fight for equal voting rights. Oklahoma, 2010. 347p ISBN 9780806141138, $55.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2010

McDonald (director, Voting Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union) has written an essential record of contemporary voting rights litigation in Indian Country. In chapters detailing struggles in seven western states, McDonald evidences the shockingly pervasive anti-Indian sentiment and violence manifested in local reactions to Indian voting mobilization, and the mechanisms used to dilute or deny the Indian vote institutionalized at various levels of state government. Drawing heavily on court documents and first-person observation, these chapters uncover the richness of the personal and political struggles over voting. The various legal bases for successful litigation include the presence of Indian vote dilution and racially polarized bloc voting; obviously racialized redistricting schemes, lack of polling places, or access to the vote; denial of protection for Indians as language minorities; and the profoundly detrimental effects of Indians’ depressed socioeconomic status. Including chapters on the history of federal Indian policy, the development of the Voting Rights Act, and the growing importance of the Indian vote, this engaging, well-written book makes no assumptions about readers’ prior knowledge; it is appropriate and useful for general readers and undergraduates. It is detailed enough to make it important for specialists in the fields of Indian law and voting rights. Summing Up: Essential. General readers through research faculty. —R. A. Cramer, Drake University

Neuman, Johanna. And yet they persisted: how American women won the right to vote. Wiley-Blackwell, 2019 (c2020). 268p bibl index ISBN 9781119530831 pbk, $38.95; ISBN 9780700628704 ebook, $25.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2020

When the newly formed US quickly backed away from its revolutionary ideology by limiting the right to vote to white males, women devoted the next 130 years to gaining the vote. Even then, women of color had to wait another 45 years for the passage of the Voting Rights Act (1965), which effectively shifted responsibility for voting from the states to the federal government. In the end, men did not grant women the right to vote, but rather women claimed this right for themselves. Reform-minded men also realized that women and their votes could help them with their causes. Neuman, an award-winning journalist, blends the suffrage movement, and woman’s rights in general, with broader historical themes and social reforms. She describes how women made a tactical error by ceasing their campaign during the Civil War, one that a newer generation corrected 60 years later during WW I. Though far from a supporter, Woodrow Wilson agreed to push the federal amendment at the same time the suffragists supported the war effort, despite the pacifist leanings of many of their leaders. This is a well-written, solid history of the long struggle for the woman’s franchise. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —D. R. Jamieson, Ashland University

Norris, Pippa. Electoral engineering: voting rules and political behavior. Cambridge, 2004. 375p ISBN 0521829771, $70.00; ISBN 0521536715 pbk, $26.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2004

By “electoral engineering,” Norris (JFK School of Government, Harvard) seems to mean reforms that “establish competitive, free, and fair elections.” Given that understanding, will the modest amount of electoral engineering undertaken by the various states under the Help America Vote Act prevent another disaster like the 2000 presidential election? Norris, of course, does not and cannot address that question. But she does examine voting behavior in 30 nations–both older and newer democracies–to determine whether electoral reforms really matter. Norris employs two competing perspectives to reach her conclusions. Rational choice theory suggests that electoral reforms will “alter the behavior of parties, politicians and citizens.” Cultural modernization theory is more problematical in holding that “rules adapt to, rather than alter, deeply embedded patterns of human behavior.” The evidence seems to support rational choice in that Norris finds that electoral rules can have important consequences–for campaign strategies, voting behavior, partisanship, turnout, and representation–the latter in terms of both constituency service and gender and ethnic equality. This is an extension of several of Norris’s earlier studies, notably Democratic Phoenix: Reinventing Political Action (CH, Sep’03). Summing Up: Highly recommended. Academic libraries and professional and advanced students interested in comparative electoral behavior, administration, and reform. —E. C. Dreyer, University of Tulsa

Rhodes, Jesse H. Ballot blocked: the political erosion of the Voting Rights Act. Stanford, 2017. 264p index ISBN 9780804797597, $90.00; ISBN 9781503603516 pbk, $27.95; ISBN 9781503603530 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2018

During its 50-year history, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has been consistently renewed and expanded by Congress with overwhelming support from Democratic and Republican members of Congress. Surprisingly, this has happened while those same Republicans have become increasingly conservative and increasingly hostile to the principles of the VRA. Rhodes (Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst) addresses this puzzle by reminding readers that while Congress is the public face of policy making, the presidency and the Supreme Court play policy-making roles. By voting in favor of the renewal of VRA, members of Congress can present a face to their constituents that they support civil rights while simultaneously working with the executive and judiciary to break down the act’s provisions. Rhodes carefully describes how this has happened in four periods of the VRA’s history. This engaging account of the process of the dismantling of this historic piece of legislation is carefully supported, tightly analyzed, and beautifully written. In addition to solving a perplexing (and important) puzzle regarding the state of voting rights in the US, it also provides a fascinating perspective on the real workings of separation of powers. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —T. Marchant-Shapiro, Southern Connecticut State University

Roth, Zachary. The great suppression: voting rights, corporate cash, and the conservative assault on democracy. Crown, 2016. 246p index ISBN 9781101905760, $26.00; ISBN 9781101905784 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2017

The 2016 presidential campaign has resurrected Eric Hoffer’s famous aphorism that “mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.” Roth (MSNBC) maintains in this short, readable book that for many conservatives, the new devil is an unusual one: democracy. “A zealous fetishizing of the Constitution with frank expressions of fear about the consequences of popular rule” has spurred a coordinated attack by conservative elites on voting rights, campaign finance regulation, and local efforts to empower ordinary citizens that places the US on the cusp of “a new era of democratic contraction.” Roth is perhaps too quick to assume that all Republicans share the priorities of a small group of conservative activists, and he romanticizes the populist promise of local governments, which are often controlled by organized policy demanders, such as teachers’ unions and developers. But his numerous examples of conservative efforts to invoke the Constitution to justify a campaign to treat democracy “as a means to an end [rather] than as a good in itself” will cause even skeptical readers to worry that American democracy is in peril. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through professionals. —R. P. Seyb, Skidmore College

Stonecash, Jeffrey M. Political parties matter: realignment and the return of partisan voting. L. Rienner, 2005. 174p ISBN 158826369X, $49.95; ISBN 1588263940 pbk, $19.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2006

Recently it has become dogma that American politics has shifted from party centered to candidate centered, as voters have become more independent. In this book Stonecash (Syracuse Univ.) argues for the importance of political parties. The author suggests that the decline in partisanship, beginning in the 1960s, resulted in transitions in voter allegiance caused by fundamental party realignments. In recent decades the regional base of the Democrats in the South shifted toward the Republicans and nationally from rural areas to heavily urbanized areas, obscuring for voters the movement toward clearer partisanship. The author demonstrates that as the parties have sorted themselves out pro and con on issues such as expanded government, the electorate has as well. Thus, despite an increase in independent voters during the 1960s-70s, partisanship within the electorate has returned, a phenomenon at odds with the idea of a candidate-centered politics. This book will be an excellent supplement to courses in American parties and American politics generally. The author’s use of a long-term perspective, clear statements of the issues, and effective use of charts and tables provide a paradigm of how argument in the discipline should proceed. Summing Up: Essential. General readers, upper-division undergraduates and above. —R. Heineman, Alfred University