State level recall elections across the United States

Open Access
Brunner, Anna Kathleen
Area of Honors:
Political Science
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Michael Barth Berkman, Thesis Supervisor
  • Gretchen Casper, Honors Advisor
  • recall
  • recall elections
  • united states
  • political science
In 2011 and 2012, Wisconsin brought recall elections to the political main stage when the electorate attempted to recall fourteen of its state level officials, including its governor, Scott Walker. After witnessing the historic recall attempts of Wisconsin, it may be surprising to some that recalls are extremely uncommon. Due to the rareness of its use, state level recalls have been relatively ignored by the political science community and important questions have gone unanswered. Why are recalls so rare? What factors encourage a recall? Do variations in a state’s barrier requirements affect the ability of a state to force a recall? The existing literature on direct democracy offers two possible explanations: barrier requirements (eligibility, signature threshold, circulation days) and political context (competition within a state legislature, unemployment rates). In this research I apply these explanations to recall elections. While the current literature tends to overlook this direct democracy measure, recalls can drastically alter the political makeup of a state. After evaluating various logit models, I find that barrier requirements are not as important as previous literature has made them out to be, while contextual offer more promising results. The goal of this paper is to further our understanding of what prompts a state level recall, as well as which types of variables contribute to a state attempting a recall.