Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Chrystie Burr

Second Advisor

Martin Boileau

Third Advisor

E. Christian Kopff


This thesis examines the relationship between contested judicial elections and the value of total damages in product liability trials. For years, legal scholars have argued that judicial elections pose a direct threat to a judge's impartiality, but this thesis is one of only a few studies to observe judicial elections' quantitative effects on the application of law. Narrowing the focus of this thesis to a set of particularly competitive California Superior Court elections in 1982, this thesis evaluates judicial behavior through difference-in-differences (diff-in-diff) analysis. The major findings of this study are as follows: 1) Controlling for relevant variables, contested judicial elections are associated with a statistically significant increase in product liability awards stemming from Californian jury trials. 2) I conclude that legal economists must tailor empirical analysis to the practical as well as institutional incentive structures facing elected judges. 3) Finally, I suggest a theoretical model of judicial vote-maximization to inform future research.