It's Not Just What You Have, but Who You Know: Networks, Social Proximity to Elites, and Voting in State and Local Elections


Individual-level studies of electoral turnout and vote choice have focused largely on personal attributes as explanatory variables. We argue that scholars should also consider the social network in which individuals are embedded, which may influence voting through variation in individuals’ social proximity to elites. Our analysis rests on newly discovered historical records revealing the individual votes of all electors in the 1859 statewide elections in Alexandria, Virginia and the 1874 municipal elections in Newport, Kentucky, paired with archival work identifying the social relations of the cities’ populations. We also replicate our core findings using survey data from a modern municipal election. We show that individuals more socially proximate to elites turn out at a higher rate and individuals more socially proximate to a given political party’ elites vote disproportionately for that party. These results suggest an overlooked social component of voting and provide a rare nineteenth-century test of modern voting theories.

American Political Science Review
- Received APSA’s 2018 Heinz Eulau Award for the best article published in the American Political Science Review in the previous year
- Received the APSA Political Networks section’s 2018 Political Ties Award for the best article published on political networks over the past two years

This article is part of a larger project examining Viva Voce voting. For more information about the project, or to explore the data, visit: