Michael G. Miller

Assistant Professor, Barnard College, Columbia University

C.V.                     Homepage

Scroll down for my published articles and working papers


Miller, Michael G. 2014. Subsidizing Democracy: How Public Funding Changes Elections, and How it Can Work in the Future. Cornell University Press.

In the wake of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), the case that allowed corporate and union spending in elections, many Americans despaired over the corrosive influence that private and often anonymous money can have on political platforms, campaigns, and outcomes at the federal and state level. In McComish v. Bennett (2011), the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the matching funds feature of so-called “Clean Elections” public financing laws, but there has been no strong challenge to the constitutionality of public funding as such. In Subsidizing Democracy, Michael G. Miller considers the impact of state-level public election financing on political campaigns through the eyes of candidates. Miller’s insights are drawn from survey data obtained from more than 1,000 candidates, elite interview testimony, and twenty years of election data. This book is therefore not only an effort to judge the effects of existing public election funding but also a study of elite behavior, campaign effects, and the structural factors that influence campaigns and voters.

The presence of publicly funded candidates in elections, Miller reports, results in broad changes to the electoral system, including more interaction between candidates and the voting public and significantly higher voter participation. He presents evidence that by providing neophytes with resources that would have been unobtainable otherwise, subsidies effectively manufacture quality challengers. Miller describes how matching-funds provisions of Clean Elections laws were pervasively manipulated by candidates and parties and were ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court. A revealing book that will change the way we think about campaign funding, Subsidizing Democracy concludes with an evaluation of existing proposals for future election policy in light of Miller’s findings.


"Subsidizing Democracy is a serious contribution to the literature on public funding of elections. Michael G. Miller effectively combines his quantitative analysis with qualitative information gleaned from interviews with candidates. The end result is a book full of original, comprehensive, important, and convincing findings. "—Peter L. Francia, East Carolina University, coauthor of The Financiers of Congressional Elections: Investors, Ideologues, and Intimates

"In Subsidizing Democracy, Michael G. Miller explores how public financing programs in jurisdictions across the United States affect candidate behavior in elections. This excellent book is timely and useful. Miller leverages original data collected with interviews with candidates to present rare and persuasive empirical evidence. This impressive piece of scholarship advances knowledge about this important topic and contributes meaningfully to the literature."—Costas Panagopoulos, Fordham University, coauthor of All Roads Lead to Congress

"Campaign finance reformers are looking for anything that might improve U.S. campaigns in the Citizens United era. Michael G. Miller takes a fair and sober look at public funding to figure out whether—and how—public money can help improve the democratic process. Miller's results should be carefully studied by supporters and opponents of public funding."—Richard L. Hasen, Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science, UC Irvine, author of The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown


MSNBC. "Public Funding Creates 'Clean Elections.'" January 27, 2014.

CSPAN-2. "Government Election Funding." January 13, 2014.

Vox.com. "How Public Funding Changed Politics in Arizona." August 13, 2014.

Pacific Standard. "What If We Just Got Rid of All the Money in Political Campaigns?" January 22, 2014.

New America Weekly Wonk. "The New Campaign Model That Could Change Politics." January 16, 2014.

Election Law Blog. "Subsidizing Democracy: Can Public Funding Change Politics?" January 8, 2014.

Washington Post WonkBlog. March 23, 2011. “The Importance of Campaign-Finance Reform in One Graph.” 

United States Supreme Court. Docket No. 10-239. McComish/Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett
Argued March 28, 2011.

Cited in Numerous Amicae Briefs in Support of Petitioner and Respondent.
Quoted in Oral Argument.
Dowling, Conor M., and Michael G. Miller. 2014. Super PAC! Money, Elections, and Voters After Citizens United. Routledge.

Recent federal court activity has dramatically changed the regulatory environment of campaign finance in the United States. Since 2010, the judiciary has decided that corporations and labor unions may freely spend in American elections, and that so-called "Super PACs" can accept unlimited contributions from private citizens for the purpose of buying election advertising.

Despite the potential for such unregulated contributions to dramatically alter the conduct of campaigns, little is known about where  Super PACs get their money, where they spend it, or how their message compares with other political groups. Moreover, we know almost nothing about whether individual citizens even notice Super PACs, or whether they distinguish between Super PAC activity and political activity by other political groups.

This book addresses those questions. Using campaign finance data, election returns, advertising archives, a public opinion survey, and interviews with congressional candidates in the 2012 election, Super PAC! provides unprecedented insight into the behavior of these organizations, and how they affect public opinion and voting behavior. The first in-depth exploration of the topic, this book will make significant contributions in both political science and applied policy.


"This book takes readers beyond the hyperbole. It is an impressive early analysis of some of the ways in which these new organizations are, and are not, changing American politics. Specialists will be returning to the book’s themes for years. They will want to read Dowling and Miller before doing so."

—Michael J. Malbin, The Campaign Finance Institute and University at Albany, SUNY

"The rise of Super PACs is a monumental development with wide-ranging implications for the future of American democracy. Yet, until the publication of Super PAC!, very little was known about how Super PACs operate, and the influence that Super PACs have had on public opinion and voting behavior. Conor M. Dowling and Michael G. Miller fill this void by writing what can only be described as a pioneering and must-read book for all who care about campaign finance, organized interests, and U.S. elections. "

—Peter L. Francia, East Carolina University

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
 David Doherty, Conor Dowling, and Michael G. Miller. 2019. Do Party Chairs Think Women and Minority Candidates Can Win? Evidence from a Conjoint Experiment. The Journal of Politics. Forthcoming.

We conducted a national survey of local party chairs that included a conjoint experiment to assess the effects of candidatesrace and gender on chairs’ assessments of their likelihood of winning a state legislative primary election in their area. Chairs from both parties viewed women candidates as just as likely as men to win the support of their base, but viewed Latinx and black candidates as substantially less likely to win. The disadvantage chairs believe minority candidates face is insensitive to variation in county demographics among Republican chairs, but is attenuated among Democratic chairs serving counties with larger minority populations. Our findings suggest that officials from both parties—who are presumably attuned to voters’ preferences—believe that minority candidates face an uphill battle with their base. This perception may color chairs’ decisions about which candidates to recruit and most vigorously support.

 Hamel, Brian, and Michael G. Miller. 2019. How Voters Punish and Donors Protect Legislators Embroiled in Scandal. Political Research Quarterly. Forthcoming.

Previous studies have largely overlooked three key components of a scandal that could determine how it shapes election outcomes: the extent to which it is covered in the media, the potential that donors respond differently than voters, and the likelihood that the impact of scandals have changed over time. Examining U.S. House scandals between 1980 and 2010, we find that while scandal-tainted politicians receive fewer votes and are less likely to win than otherwise-similar legislators not embroiled in scandal, donors actually contribute more money to their campaigns after the scandal’s revelation. Both of these effects, however, are limited to financial and sex scandals that garnered national media attention. Moreover, both voters and donors are less punitive in the post-1994 period of nationalized electoral politics.

 Dowling, Conor, Michael Henderson, and Michael G. Miller. 2019. Knowledge Persists, Opinions Drift: Learning and Opinion Change in a Three-Wave Panel Experiment. American Politics Research. Forthcoming.

Considerable evidence exists that Americans possess not only low levels of political knowledge, but also relatively uninformed—and sometimes misinformed—opinions on policy matters. Many recent studies focus on whether informational treatments have immediate effects on citizens’ factual beliefs and opinions about policy, but less is known about whether such treatments have enduring effects. Using a three-wave panel experiment, we assess the immediate and enduring effects of factual information provision on factual beliefs and opinion of the Affordable Care Act. We find a relatively persistent effect of information provision on accuracy of factual beliefs, but only an ephemeral shift in opinion, which typically drifts back to its pre-treatment state within a few weeks. Our findings have implications for the understanding of citizen learning and opinion change, as well as ongoing scholarly debates about how long-lasting the effects of (experimental) interventions are.

Kulesza, Christopher, Michael G. Miller, and Christopher Witko. 2017. State Responses to U.S. Supreme Court Campaign Finance Decisions. Publius: The Journal of Federalism 47(3): 467-490.

Recent federal court decisions have deregulated state campaign finance systems to a significant degree. These decisions are not only rooted in First Amendment jurisprudence but also raise issues of federalism. Although most studies of federal–state conflict focus on disputes between state officials and elected federal policy makers, courts are also policy-making institutions, and in the absence of policy making by other federal branches, courts have become the critical federal policy maker in this area. In response to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that deregulate campaign finance rules and are out of step with the policy preferences of many state electorates and officials, states are attempting to resist these rulings, but using different approaches than are used by states in disputes with the Congress or President. We discuss these rulings and state responses to them. We also describe the implications of these dynamics for federalism.
Miller, Michael G. 2016. The Power of an Hour: Effects of Candidate Time Expenditure in State Legislative Elections. Legislative Studies Quarterly 41(2): 327-359.

Using survey data from more than 500 legislative candidates in 17 states during the 2008 election, I examine whether state house candidates who devote more time to their campaign win a larger share of the major-party vote. Consistent with previous work studying campaign spending in state legislative elections, I find a positive and significant association between campaign time and vote percentage for challengers--but not incumbents--in incumbent-contested elections. 

David Doherty, Conor Dowling, and Michael G. Miller. 2016. When is Changing Policy Positions Costly for Politicians? Experimental Evidence. Political Behavior 38(2): 455-484.

Although changing policy positions is often thought of as costly for politicians, this may not always be the case. We present findings from two survey experiments designed to assess how people respond to politicians who change positions on an issue. We examine the direct effects of position changes on both summary evaluations of a candidate and ratings of a candidate’s character. We find that the effect of changing positions varies across issues and that the passage of time attenuates the negative effects of a change of position. We also find that although individual voters prefer a candidate who moves closer to their own preferred policy position to one who sticks to a disliked policy position, in the aggregate changing policy positions may be costly unless the prospective new position is supported by a supermajority of the public.

Dowling, Conor, and Michael G. Miller. 2016. Experimental Evidence on the Relationship Between Candidate Funding Sources and Voter Evaluations. Journal of Experimental Political Science 3(2): 152-163.

Money comes from a variety of sources in American elections. It is unclear however whether voters’ knowledge about a candidate’s funding portfolio influences how that candidate is evaluated. We present the results of two survey experiments in which we randomly assigned a funding portfolio to a hypothetical candidate. We find that on average a candidate described as having received a majority of his contributions from individuals is evaluated more highly than one who received a majority of his contributions from interest groups. We also find that when it comes to self-financing a campaign, using private sector money is more beneficial to candidates than using inherited money, but only when the candidate is a member of the same party as the voter. Our results have implications for campaign strategy, academic debates concerning the effect of money on elections, and policy debates concerning the effects of increased campaign finance disclosure.

Miller, Michael G., Michelle Tuma, and Logan Woods. 2015. Revisiting Roll-Off in Alerted Optical Scan Precincts: Evidence From Illinois General ElectionsElection Law Journal 14(4): 382-391.

In November of 2007, Illinois passed a law requiring optical scan voting machines to provide voters with an audible warning if they failed to register a vote in elections to any one of five statewide offices. The policy took effect in 2010, but 12 counties failed to upgrade their equipment in time to implement the policy. Miller (2013) exploited this opportunity to determine whether the alert reduced undervoting in the precincts where it was implemented, and found no significant effects in primary elections. We extend the analysis to precinct-level returns from the 2010 Illinois General Election, and find little evidence for reduced aggregate under-voting resulting from the audible undervote alert. We do, however, find some evidence that the alert was more effective for races that appeared on the lower portion of the ballot.

Miller, Michael G. 2015. Going All-In: Gender and Campaign Commitment. Research and Politics 2(3). 

Recent evidence suggests that women overcome the potential negative impact of gender stereotypes by emerging when they are stronger candidates than men. I leverage an original survey of state legislative candidates to determine whether women devote more time to their campaigns. I find that women on the whole--and those who had previously been elected to a political office in particular--invested more of their personal time into the campaign than men. This difference is driven by the fact that women are more likely to forgo employment during the election. These findings suggest that women are more likely than men to arrange their personal obligations in such a fashion that they can run stronger campaigns.

Replication Materials:

Stata File

Stata Do File

Dowling, Conor and Michael G. Miller. 2015. Can Information Alter Perceptions about Women’s Chances of Winning Office?  Evidence from a Panel Study. Politics and Gender 11(1): 55-88. 

One apparent component of the gap between men and women when it comes to political ambition is the fact that women consistently underestimate both their own qualifications and the likelihood that they would win. Yet, there is little evidence from campaign finance records or election results supporting the notion that women raise less money or receive fewer votes than their male counterparts. Thus, bridging the space between the conventional wisdom and observed trends holds some potential for easing the gaps in ambition and self-assessment of qualifications as a candidate. In this paper, we determine the extent to which the public downgrades the chances of women candidates vis-à-vis men, and how information affects public opinion in this area. We find that only about 40 percent of people believe that all else equal, a man and a woman have an equal chance of winning an election. In comparison, when we showed participants an informational video demonstrating that women do indeed perform comparably to men, about 75 percent believed men and women candidates have an equal chance of winning. When we re-polled the same respondents approximately two weeks later, the size of this treatment effect had decayed by about one-third, but participants who viewed the video were still significantly more likely to believe that women candidates were competitive with men. 

Masket, Seth, and Michael G. Miller. 2015. Does Public Funding Create More Extreme Legislators? Evidence From Arizona and Maine.  State Politics and Policy Quarterly 15(1): 24-40.

We investigate whether Maine and Arizona’s Clean Elections laws, which provide public funding for state legislative candidates, are responsible for producing a new cadre of legislators who are hostile to the major political parties and are unusually ideologically extreme. We find that there is essentially no important difference in the legislative voting behavior of “clean” funded legislators and traditionally funded ones in either Arizona or  Maine: Those who are financed by private donors are no more or less ideologically extreme than those who are supported by the state. This finding calls into question some concerns about the effects on polarization of money generally and public funding in particular, and suggests that concerns about the influence of money on politics may be misplaced.


538 Politics. March 4, 2014. "The Wild, Conservative West."

The Dish. January 22, 2014. "Chart of the Day."

The Monkey CageApril 6, 2012. “Clean Elections Make for Extremists?” 

Slate Magazine Money Box BlogApril 6, 2012“Fundraising Buys Moderation.”

David Doherty, Conor Dowling, and Michael G. Miller. 2014. Does Time Heal All Wounds? Sex Scandals, Tax Evasion, and the Passage of Time. PS: Political Science and Politics. 47(2).

Previous research has found that public responses to political scandals vary. Here we focus on one factor that may be particularly influential in determining the extent to which a political scandal can be used against a candidate—the length of time since it occurred. We report findings from two survey experiments in which we manipulate the amount of time that has elapsed since a politician engaged in a scandalous behavior. Our evidence suggests that the effectiveness of using mistakes to challenge a candidate’s character dissipates (but does not disappear) as a sex scandal recedes into the past. However, the passage of time does not appear to affect responses to all scandals in the same way. Specifically, we find no evidence that the passage of time diminishes voters’ negative response to a tax evasion scandal. This suggests that voters see some types of scandalous behavior as indicative of enduring character flaws, while they see others as reflecting important, but perhaps more ephemeral lapses in judgment.


Washington Post WonkBlog. July 8, 2013. “We Asked Science if Eliot Spitzer Could Win. It Said Yes.”

LiveScience. June 19, 2013. "Science of Scandal: Why Politicians Bounce Back."

The Monkey Cage
March 28, 2013. “Can Politicians Make a Come Back from Sex Scandals?”

Miller, Michael G. 2013. Do Audible Alerts Reduce Undervotes? Evidence From Illinois. Election Law Journal 12(2).

In November of 2007, Illinois became the only state to require that voters casting optical scan ballots be alerted to undervotes via the emission of an audible beep and ballot “kickback” when they insert their ballot into the optical scanning machine. The 2010 Illinois General Primary was the first election for which the undervote alert was to be implemented. Yet, of 99 counties employing optical scanning technology, 12 did not upgrade their machines in time for the election, citing a shortage of time to do so. The uneven implementation of the Illinois undervote alert presents a unique opportunity to examine whether such an external stimulus is an effective deterrent of aggregate undervoting, within the context of a precinct-level panel study. I find little evidence that the audible alert affected undervote patterns in the 2010 General Primary election. 


Election Law Blog. December 30, 2010. "Do Audible Alerts Reduce Undervotes? A Natural Experiment in Illinois.”

David Doherty, Conor Dowling, and Michael G. Miller. 2011. Are Financial or Moral Scandals Worse? It Depends. PS: Political Science and Politics. 44(4): 749-757.

Previous analysis finds that people respond differently to “financial” (e.g., tax evasion) and “moral” (e.g., sexual misconduct) political scandals. However, experimental and observational studies tend to reach different conclusions about which type of scandal induces a stronger negative reaction from the public. We use an experiment embedded in a national survey to examine the possibility that these divergent findings can, in part, be explained by a failure to consider the effects of abuses of power. Consistent with previous experimental work, we find that people respond more negatively to financial scandals than moral scandals when they do not involve abuses of power. However, abuses of power substantially affect responses to both types of scandals. We also find that moral and financial scandals affect personal and job evaluations of a politician differently. These findings support our contention that in order to understand public responses to scandal, it is crucial to consider the relationship between the scandalous behavior and the official’s formal responsibilities.


538 Politics. March 13, 2015. "5 Lessons on the Clinton Email Scandal from Political Science."

El Periodoco (Spain). December 4, 2011.“El Largo Camino Hacia la Casa Blanca: Tocados por el Sexo.”

Pacific Standard. November 7, 2011.“Scandals Do Drive Voters — When Abuse of Power Is Involved.”

Washington Post WonkBlog. June 7, 2011. “What Political Science Says About Weiner.” 

The Monkey CageJune 6, 2011. “Can Anthony Weiner Survive?” 

Miller, Michael G. 2011. After the GAO Report: What Do We Know About Public Election Funding? Election Law Journal 10(3): 273-290.

In June of 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that evaluates of the effects of full public funding in Arizona and Maine. The report seeks to evaluate the policy effects of public funding in the states with regard to several stated goals of its supporters, including slower campaign spending growth, diminished interest group influence, enhanced political participation, and heightened electoral competitiveness. The GAO’s paper is timely considering that full funding programs are becoming both more common and more visible to the public at large. 

The GAO's analysis contains several interesting findings, and its publication marks a good opportunity for political scientists and policy analysts to compare notes. Combining the contributions from each provides a more complete picture of what is known and unknown in the study of publicly funded elections. In this paper, I review the findings of the GAO report as well as those of a growing number of scholars who have examined the topic. I describe what the GAO, political scientists, and policy analysts have found with regard to public election funding, as well as opportunities that remain for further research. Where applicable, I supplement this review with basic analysis of additional data. This essay should therefore be useful both for political scientists and the policy community. 


Election Law Blog. July 16, 2010. “After the GAO Report: What Do We Know About Public Election Funding?” 

Miller, Michael G. 2008. Gaming Arizona: Shifting Strategies in Publicly-Funded Elections. PS: Political Science and Politics 41(3).

Evaluations of public election financing schemes tend to focus on their primary objectives:  increasing competition, reducing spending growth, and diminishing the influence of special interests.  However, to date scholars have not considered the potential of full financing with matching funds provisions to deliver unintended consequences.  The administration of mandated financial parity changes the calculations of candidates, who time their expenditures for maximum strategic effect.  In Arizona, where the availability of subsidies and matching funds is unrivaled by any other state, interviews with sixteen legislative candidates illuminate a pervasive gaming of the system as candidates exploit the provisions of public funding for strategic advantage.  Candidates who opt out of public funding withhold expenditures until the final days of an election, denying their publicly-funded opponents an opportunity to spend matching funds. 


United States Supreme Court. Docket No. 10-239. McComish/Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett
Argued March 28, 2011.

Cited in Numerous Amicae Briefs in Support of Petitioner and Respondent.
Quoted in Oral Argument.