What Are Friends for? The Effect of Geographic Proximity on Primary Turnout in Gubernatorial Elections

Date01 June 2021
Published date01 June 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2021, Vol. 74(2) 317 –331
© 2020 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912920906202
Voter turnout is one of the most important and fundamen-
tal aspects of a functioning democracy. Concerns over
low turnout constantly loom over elections in the United
States, especially in nonpresidential election years and in
primary elections. As such, there is a large body of litera-
ture examining voter turnout, and we know much about
factors that impede or increase the likelihood of voting at
both individual and aggregate levels. However, much of
this research examines both general elections and federal
elections. Overall, we know less about the decision to
vote in primary elections, especially state-level primary
elections. In this paper, we examine the potential for
local1 candidates to mobilize turnout in gubernatorial pri-
maries, conditional on an individual’s previous participa-
tion in primary elections.
Candidates running for office tend to receive higher
vote shares in their home counties and states. This elec-
toral phenomenon, illustrated most famously in Key’s
(1949) examination of political behavior in the American
South, is documented across several time periods and
electoral contexts.2 Local candidates receive more sup-
port from their “friends and neighbors,” those voters who
live within the candidate’s county or state of residence.
Explaining the causal process through which geographic
proximity is translated into support for the so-called
hometown candidates is the subject of recent scholarship.
Some contend that voters put aside other allegiances to
support local candidates (Kawai and Watanabe 2013),
while others suggest that hometown candidates increase
the likelihood people turn out to vote in the election
(Bhatti and Hansen 2016). This paper contributes to this
latter explanation, demonstrating that candidates draw
increased numbers of local voters to the poll and that
some potential voters are more likely to turn out than
This study builds on previous scholarship in two prin-
ciple ways. First, we use novel data: the voter rolls and
histories of Georgia and Ohio during the 2018 guberna-
torial elections. These administrative data allow us to
examine every registered voter in a state, their history of
906202PRQXXX10.1177/1065912920906202Political Research QuarterlyBaumann et al.
1Florida Southern College, Lakeland, USA
2The University of Mississippi, University, USA
3California State University, Dominguez Hills, Carson, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jonathan Winburn, Department of Political Science, University of
Mississippi, P.O. Box 1848, University, MS 38677, USA.
Email: jwinburn@olemiss.edu
What Are Friends for? The Effect of
Geographic Proximity on Primary
Turnout in Gubernatorial Elections
Zachary D. Baumann1, Jonathan Winburn2, Salvatore James Russo3,
and Mohammed Shariful Islam2
“Friends and neighbors” voting is the tendency of candidates to earn a higher than expected share of the vote in their
home counties and states. This hometown effect has been witnessed across an array of elected offices and time periods,
prompting researchers to examine how local candidates impact voters’ turnout decisions and electoral choices. This
paper focuses on the effect of hometown candidates on turnout using voter rolls and histories from Ohio and Georgia
during the 2018 gubernatorial primary elections. These administrative data allow us to observe the decisions of all
registered voters in both of these contests along with, importantly, their prior turnout history. We find a consistent
relationship between the presence of a hometown candidate and turnout decisions; however, this effect is conditional
on voters’ previous vote histories in primaries. The effect is strongest among those who occasionally vote in elections,
smaller for those who habitually vote, and negligible for those who have never participated before. These results
contribute to our understanding of how the presence of local candidates translates into support for their campaigns,
and provide evidence that the size of this effect is not the same for all voters.
gubernatorial elections, voter turnout, political geography, primary elections

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