RONALD KEITH GADDIE, CHARLES S. BULLOCK III,
AND SCOTT E. BUCHANAN
What is So Special About Special Elections?
Legislative Studies Quarterly XXIV:103-112

Some political scientists have regarded special elections as referenda on the approval of presidents—and therefore as products of national forces—while explaining regularly scheduled elections as the product of not only national political forces, but also constituency and candidate attributes specific to particular districts. In this paper we examine whether outcomes in special elections and their nearest counterpart, open-seat elections, are driven by similar or different forces. We used district-level data on U.S. House special elections and open-seat elections from 1973 to 1997 to test a model that integrates constituency, candidate, and presidential approval variables. The results of this analysis indicate that special elections are a subset of open-seat elections, with both types of contests strongly impacted by candidate and constituency influences. We found no evidence of a substantial presidential-approval effect in special elections. The absence of such a relationship underscores the importance of candidates and constituent preferences in structuring elections and indicates the inappropriateness of drawing national implications from special House contests.


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