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Emotional Arousal Predicts Voting on the U.S. Supreme Court

Bryce J. Dietrich, Ryan D. Enos and Maya Sen

Political Analysis, 2019, vol. 27, issue 2, 237-243

Abstract: Do judges telegraph their preferences during oral arguments? Using the U.S. Supreme Court as our example, we demonstrate that Justices implicitly reveal their leanings during oral arguments, even before arguments and deliberations have concluded. Specifically, we extract the emotional content of over 3,000 hours of audio recordings spanning 30 years of oral arguments before the Court. We then use the level of emotional arousal, as measured by vocal pitch, in each of the Justices’ voices during these arguments to accurately predict many of their eventual votes on these cases. Our approach yields predictions that are statistically and practically significant and robust to including a range of controls; in turn, this suggests that subconscious vocal inflections carry information that legal, political, and textual information do not.

Date: 2019
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