NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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How Common are Electoral Cycles in Criminal Sentencing?

Christian Dippel, Michael Poyker

NBER Working Paper No. 25716
Issued in March 2019
NBER Program(s):Law and Economics Program, Labor Studies Program, Public Economics Program, Political Economy Program

Existing empirical evidence suggests a pervasive pattern of electoral cycles in criminal sentencing in the U.S.: judges appear to pass more punitive sentences when they are up for re-election, consistent with models of signaling where voters have more punitive preferences than judges. However, this pervasive evidence comes from only three states. Combining the existing evidence with data we collected from eight additional states, we are able to reproduce previous results, but find electoral cycles in only one of the eight additional states. Sentencing cycles appear to be the exception rather than the norm. We find that their existence hinges on the level of competition in judicial elections, which varies considerably across states.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25716

 
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