A recent Monkey Cage piece by political scientists Jesse Richman and David Earnest, which suggested that non-citizen voting could decide the 2014 Election, received considerable media attention over the weekend. In particular, columns such as Breitbart.com’s “Study: Voting by Non-Citizens Tips Balance for Democrats” and the National Review’s “Jaw-Dropping Study Claims Large Numbers of Non-Citizens Vote in U.S” cited results from the authors’ forthcoming Electoral Studies article to confirm conservatives’ worst fears about voter fraud in the United States. A number of academics and commentators have already expressedskepticism about the paper’s assumptions and conclusions, though. In aseries of tweets, New York Times columnist Nate Cohn focused his criticism on Richman et al’s use of Cooperative Congressional Election Study data to make inferences about the non-citizen voting population. That critique has some merit, too. The 2008 and 2010 CCES surveyed large opt-in Internet samples constructed by the polling firm YouGov to be nationally representative of the adult citizen population. Consequently, the assumption that non-citizens, who volunteered to take online surveys administered in English about American politics, would somehow be representative of the entire non-citizen population seems tenuous at best.
Perhaps a bigger problem with utilizing CCES data to make claims about the non-citizen voting in the United States is that some respondents might have mistakenly misreported their citizenship status on this survey (e.g. response error). For, as Richman et al. state in their Electoral Studies article, “If most or all of the ‘non-citizens’ who indicated that they voted were in fact citizens who accidentally misstated their citizenship status, then the data would have nothing to contribute concerning the frequency of non-citizen voting.” In fact, any response error in self-reported citizenship status could have substantially altered the authors’ conclusions because they were only able to validate the votes of five respondents who claimed to be non-citizen voters in the 2008 CCES.
It turns out that such response error was common for self-reported non-citizens in the 2010-2012 CCES Panel Study — a survey that re-interviewed 19,533 respondents in 2012 who had currently participated in the 2010 CCES. The first table below, for instance, shows that nearly one-fifth of CCES panelists who said that they were not American citizens in 2012 actually reported being American citizens when they were originally surveyed for the 2010 CCES. Since it’s illogical for non-citizens in 2012 to have been American citizens back in 2010, it appears that a substantial number of self-reported non-citizens inaccurately reported their (non)citizenship status in the CCES surveys.