What's the Public Got to Do With It? The Impact of Public Opinion on Judicial Decisions: An Empirical Analysis of Abortion Case Outcomes



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This dissertation contains three papers regarding the relationship between public opinion and state high court judge case decisions. The primary focus is to determine how public opinion influences these decisions when judges are elected. The first paper examines this question broadly looking at all abortion case decisions by elected judges from 1980-2018. The results show that as public opinion becomes more liberal within the state, so too do judicial decisions. Furthermore, the judge’s individual preferences are conditionally mildly significant when interacted with public opinion. The second paper focuses on the timing of the election cycle particularly cases which are heard within two years of that judge’s reelection and includes all competitive judicial elections from 1980-2018. While public opinion continues to be highly significant to judge decisions on abortion cases, when the case was heard was not significant. The third paper examines the relationship between judicial election systems comparing nonpartisan and partisan elected judges from 1980-2018. Holding with my theory, I did not find a significant difference between the behavior of partisan and nonpartisan judges in their deference to the public in cases on abortion. I find strong support across all three papers for my primary hypothesis: elected judges are significantly and positively deferential to public opinion on abortion in abortion cases. This research fills a gap in the literature by providing an important contribution to understanding the link between judicial behavior and the electorate.



Judicial Politics, State Courts, Abortion, Public Opinion, State Politics, Case Outcomes, Judicial Behavior, Judicial Institutions, Judicial Elections, Judicial Independence, Democracy