Document de travail

Priming Ideology: Why Presidential Elections Affect U.S. Judges

Daniel L. Chen


U.S. Presidential elections polarize U.S. Courts of Appeals judges, doubling their dissents, partisan voting, and lawmaking along partisan lines and increasing their reversal of District Court decisions (Berdejo and Chen 2016). Dissents are elevated for ten months before the Presidential elections. I develop a theoretical model showing that the salience of partisan identities drives these behavioral patterns. The polarizing effects are larger in close elections, non-existent in landslide elections, and reversed in wartime elections. I link judges to their states of residence and exploit variation in the timing and importance of a state during the electoral season. Dissents are elevated in swing states and in states that count heavily to winning the election, when these states are competitive. U.S. Senate elections, the timing of which also varies by state, further elevate dissents. I link administrative data on case progression and frequency of campaign advertisements in judges’ states of residence to proxy for a state’s importance during Presidential primaries. Dissents occur shortly before publication, increase with monthly increases in campaign ads, and appear for cases whose legal topic, economic activity, is most heavily covered by campaign ads. Finally, I link the cases to their potential resolution in the Supreme Court. Dissents before elections appear on more marginal cases that cite discretionary miscellaneous issues and procedural (rather than substantive) arguments, which the Supreme Court appears to recognize and only partly remedy. The behavioral changes of unelected Courts of Appeals judges are larger than the behavioral changes of elected judges running for re-election.


Judicial Decision-Making; Group Decision-Making; Moral Decision-Making; Salience;

Codes JEL

  • D7: Analysis of Collective Decision-Making
  • K00: General
  • Z1: Cultural Economics • Economic Sociology • Economic Anthropology


Daniel L. Chen, « Priming Ideology: Why Presidential Elections Affect U.S. Judges », TSE Working Paper, n° 16-681, juillet 2016, révision août 2016.

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Publié dans

TSE Working Paper, n° 16-681, juillet 2016, révision août 2016