Mobilize for Our Lives? School Shootings and Democratic Accountability in U.S. Elections

Gun violence is a large and growing problem in the United States. Many reformers look towards elections to spur policy change in this area. In this paper, we explore the effects of school shootings on electoral mobilization and election outcomes. We pair data from several sources that measure validated voter registration; validated voter turnout; and the electoral performance of officials at the local, state, and federal levels with regression discontinuity and panel methods. Our effects show that shootings have little to no effect on electoral outcomes in the United States. Our work demonstrates that even when tragic events occur that are squarely in the realm of elected officials’ responsibility, have high levels of issue salience, are highly-covered by the media, draw citizens’ attention, and (perhaps) shift public opinion, these seemingly favorable conditions may not be enough to elicit democratic accountability.

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John Holbein