Responding to some of the attacks on Dr. Lott after his testimony to the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity

Sep 14, 2017 | Featured

Over the last few days, there have been a lot of attacks on Dr. Lott research after his testimony to the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.  One of the common lines of attack has been that he testified in an area where he is not an expert.

The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham claims:

But Lott also occasionally branches out into other topics. Back in 2006, he wrote a paper on voter fraud, arguing that ‘regulations that prevent fraud are shown to actually increase the voter participation rate.’ He is not otherwise known for work on elections or voting.”

CNN’s Eric Bradner writes:

Vice News’ Carter Sherman wrote:

Lott is an unlikely pick to testify before the commission. He’s published just one paper on election law, which argued that voter fraud regulations actually improve voter turnout, but Loyola Law School election scholar Justin Levitt told the Washington Post that most political scientists don’t consider Lott credible.

Christopher Ingraham also states that Dr. Lott’s research is not widely accepted:

John Lott, an independent researcher and Fox News commentator, is best known for his book “More Guns, Less Crime,” which argues that increases in gun ownership are associated with drops in crime (most mainstream criminologists reject this view).

To justify his claim that “most mainstream criminologists reject” Lott’s view, Ingraham points to one paper that wasn’t even written by criminologists.  A survey by Professor Gary Mauser and John Lott of criminologists views on these issues is available here.

Others such as Heather Digby Parton at Salon and Shannon Watts, who works for Michael Bloomberg’s gun control organization Everytown for Gun Safety, asserted “whose usual field is the study of gun violence on behalf of the NRA” and “Lott does ‘research’ for the NRA,” respectively.

ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman attacked Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach for calling Lott a “prolific author” in academic publications.  Lott has over a hundred peer-reviewed publications.  Indeed, in a worldwide ranking of economists over the period from 1969 to 2000, Lott ranked 26th in terms of quality adjusted pages in refereed economics journals, 4th in terms of total pages published, and 86th in citations.

Many news stories, such as Lauren Rosenblatt’s in the Los Angeles Times, also raise the criticisms that Dr. Lott has made of the NICS system being “a mess,” so why would we want this imposed on voters.  As Lott told the commission, Democrats have defended the NICS system and said that it works well.  But Lott has also made it very clear in his writings that these problems with cost or accuracy are easily fixed (National Review, January 2016 and Fox News, October 2016).  Beyond that, in his testimony to the commission, he also made it clear that the cost problem that exists for gun purchases doesn’t apply to voting.


1) Is Dr. Lott an expert in the areas that he testified in? 

But Dr. Lott has indeed published many papers in peer-reviewed academic journals on the issues of elections, voting, and election law.  His most famous paper is undoubtedly published in the Journal of Political Economy, and it discusses a range of voting regulations from the secret ballot, women’s suffrage, poll taxes, and literacy tests.

“Did Women’s Suffrage Change the Size and Scope of Government?,” co-authored with Larry Kenny, Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 107, no. 6, part 1, December 1999: 1163-1198.

Among his other papers in the area are:

“Political Cheating,” Public Choice, Vol. 52, no. 2, 1987: 169-186.

“Explaining Challengers’ Campaign Expenditures: The Importance of Sunk Nontransferable Brand Name,” Public Finance Quarterly, Vol. 17, no. 1, January 1989: 108-118.

“Shirking and Sorting in a Political Market with Finite-Lived Politicians,” co- authored with W. Robert Reed, Public Choice, Vol. 61, no. 1, April 1989: 75-96.

“Attendance Rates, Political Shirking, and the Effect of Post-Elective Office Employment,” Economic Inquiry, Vol. 28, no. 1, January 1990: 133-150.

“Does Additional Campaign Spending Really Hurt Incumbents?: The Theoretical Importance of Past Investments in Political Brand Name,” Public Choice, Vol. 72, October 1991: 87-92.

“A Critical Review and An Extension of the Political Shirking Literature,” co- authored with Michael L. Davis, Public Choice, Vol. 74, no. 4, December 1992: 461-484

“Reconciling Voters’ Behavior with Legislative Term Limits,” co-authored with Andrew R. Dick, Journal of Public Economics, Vol. 50, no. 1, January 1993: 1-14.

“Time Series Evidence on Shirking by Members of the U.S. House of Representatives,” coauthored with Stephen G. Bronars, Public Choice, invited conference volume, Vol. 76, no. 1-2, June 1993: 125-149

“An Explanation for Why Senators from the Same State Vote Differently So Frequently,” coauthored with Gi-Ryong Jung and Lawrence W. Kenny, Journal of Public Economics, Vol. 54, no. 1, May 1994: 65-96.

“Legislator Voting and Shirking: A Critical Review of the Literature,” co-authored with Bruce Bender, Public Choice, Vol. 87, nos. 1 and 2, April 1996: 67-100.

“Term Limits and Electoral Competitiveness: Evidence from California’s State Legislative Races,” co-authored with Kermit Daniel, Public Choice, Vol. 90, nos. 1- 4, March 1997: 165-184.

“Do Campaign Donations Alter How a Politician Votes?,” coauthored with Steve Bronars, Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 40, no. 2, October 1997: 317-350.

“How Term Limits Enhance the Expression of Democratic Preferences,” coauthored with Einer Elhauge and Richard Manning, Supreme Court Economic Review, Vol. 5, 1997: 59-81.

“Non-Voted Ballots and Discrimination in Florida.” Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 32, no. 1 (January 2003): 181-220.

“Documenting Unusual Declines in Republican Voting Rates in Florida’s Western Panhandle Counties in 2000,” Public Choice, Vol. 123, June 2005: 349-361.

“Campaign Finance Reform and Electoral Competition,” Public Choice: Vol. 129 (3-4), 2006: 263-300.

 “Non-voted Ballots, The Cost of Voting, and Race,” Public Choice, Vol. 138, no. 1, (January 2009): 171-197.

“Is Newspaper Coverage of Economic Events Politically Biased?” co-authored with Kevin Hassett, Public Choice, (July 2014): 65-108.

Role as an expert:

— Served as a Statistical expert for USA Today in evaluating the precinct level data that they had put together after the Florida Presidential Election in 2000.

— Wrote the Statistical Report for the Minority members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the “Probe of Election Practices in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election.”

— U.S. Senate, Rules and Administration Committee, Public Hearing to examine a report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights regarding the November 2000 election and election reform in general, Wednesday, June 27, 2001.

— Certified as an expert in eight court cases involving campaign finance regulations and in a deposition only for a redistricting case involving the state of Virginia.  Also served as the statistical expert for the challenge by Senator Mitch McConnell against McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulations.

2) Is it true that Lott’s research is not widely accepted by criminologists?

A survey by Professor Gary Mauser and John Lott of criminologists views on these issues is available here.  By a slim margin, most criminologists actually agree with Lott on most issues.

3) Has Lott’s research been paid for by the NRA?

As to Everytown’s claim that Lott has done research for the NRA, that is completely false.  Lott has never been hired or paid in any way by the NRA to do research.  Nor does the Crime Prevention Research Center receive any such funding.


1 Comment

  1. Sherwin Cogan

    Now, of course, they will argue that, however qualified he may be as an economist and statistician, Dr. Lott lacks criminological authority. after all, as the old trope says, if you can’t beat your dog for barking too much, you can beat him for not barking enough.


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