United States

  • August 18, 2015
    We argue that politicians systematically discount the opinions of constituents with whom they disagree and that this “disagreement discounting” is a contributing factor to ideological incongruence. A pair of survey experiments where state and local politicians are the subjects of interest show that public officials rationalize this behavior by assuming that constituents with opposing views are less informed about the issue. This finding applies both to well-established issues that divide the parties as well as to nonpartisan ones. Further, it cannot be explained by politicians’ desires to favor the opinions of either copartisans or likely voters. A third survey experiment using a sample of voters shows that the bias is exacerbated by an activity central to representative governance—taking and explaining one's policy positions. This suggests that the job of being a representative exacerbates this bias.
  • June 29, 2015
    Medicare was born of interest group politics. The hostility of the American Medical Association (AMA)—the fiercest lobby in Washington from the 1930s to the 1960s—convinced advocates of public health insurance to start with the most vulnerable and difficult-to-insure segment of the population, the elderly. It also convinced Medicare’s advocates and early administrators to foreswear serious instruments for cost control that were in use in other rich democracies, such as fee schedules and restrictions on capital expenditures.
  • July 29, 2015
    We introduce experimental research design to the study of policy diffusion in order to better understand how political ideology affects policymakers’ willingness to learn from one another's experiences. Our two experiments–embedded in national surveys of U.S. municipal officials–expose local policymakers to vignettes describing the zoning and home foreclosure policies of other cities, offering opportunities to learn more. We find that: (1) policymakers who are ideologically predisposed against the described policy are relatively unwilling to learn from others, but (2) such ideological biases can be overcome with an emphasis on the policy's success or on its adoption by co-partisans in other communities. We also find a similar partisan-based bias among traditional ideological supporters, who are less willing to learn from those in the opposing party. The experimental approach offered here provides numerous new opportunities for scholars of policy diffusion.
  • July 23, 2015
    We leverage the institutional features of American courts to evaluate the importance of whistleblowers in hierarchical oversight. Drawing on a formal theory of signaling in the judicial hierarchy, we examine the role of whistleblowing dissents in triggering en banc review of three-judge panels by full circuits of the Courts of Appeals. The theory generates predictions about how dissent interacts with judicial preferences to influence circuits' review and reversal decisions, which we test using original and existing data. First, we show that judges who dissent counter to their preferences are more likely to see their dissents lead to review and reversal. Second, we show that dissents are most influential when the likelihood of non-compliance by a three-judge panel is highest. Our results underscore the importance of dissent in the judicial hierarchy and illustrate how judicial whistleblowers can help appellate courts target the most important cases for review.
  • June 22, 2015
    How can we assess relative bargaining power within the Supreme Court? Justices cast two votes in every case, one during the initial conference and one on the final merits of the case. Between these two votes, a justice is assigned to draft the majority opinion. We argue that vote switching can be used to detect the power of opinion authors over opinion content. Bargaining models make different predictions for opinion content and therefore for when other justices in the initial majority should be more or less likely to defect from initial positions. We derive hypotheses for how opinion authorship should affect vote switching and find that authorship has striking effects on switching. Authors thus have disproportionate influence and by extension so do chief justices, who make most assignments. This evidence is compatible with only the “author influence” class of bargaining models, with particular support for one model within this class.
  • April 22, 2015
    Excerpt: "According to the news media, 2014 was the year that the GOP “Establishment” finally pulled Republicans back from the right-wing brink. Pragmatism, it seemed, had finally triumphed over extremism in primary and general election contests that The New York Times called “proxy wars for the overall direction of the Republican Party.” There’s just one problem with this dominant narrative. It’s wrong. The GOP isn’t moving back to the center.
  • March 30, 2015
    Excerpt: Over the past decade, a data collection procedure called the group or gang audit has been developed for use in focused deterrence policing and violence prevention initiatives. Group audits extract this type of experiential, ―on the ground intelligence through focus-group style working sessions with law enforcement and other gang ―experts, such as case workers or members of community organizations. The information obtained through the audit lends itself to use in social network analysis, which is itself particularly useful for linking individual stores of knowledge in order to examine patterns of the whole… This chapter describes the audit process, how it relates to focused-deterrence strategies and social network analysis, and in what ways the group audit, in conjunction with social network analysis, can support and strengthen violence reduction initiatives. We begin by briefly reviewing the audit process, paying particular attention to systematic methods of relational data gathering and analysis. We then summarize the findings from audits in New Haven and demonstrate how the analysis of the networks among violent groups can address some definitional problems surrounding groups and gangs, as well as provide unique insight into groups and their relationships.
  • March 30, 2015
    Why does the relationship between income and partisanship vary across U.S. regions? Some answers to this question have focused on economic context (in poorer environments, economics is more salient), whereas others have focused on racial context (in racially diverse areas, richer voters oppose the party favoring redistribution). Using 73 million geocoded registration records and 185,000 geocoded precinct returns, we examine income-based voting across local areas. We show that the political geography of income-based voting is inextricably tied to racial context, and only marginally explained by economic context. Within homogeneously nonblack localities, contextual income has minimal bearing on the income-party relationship. The correlation between income and partisanship is strong in heavily black areas of the Old South and other areas with a history of racialized poverty, but weaker elsewhere, including in urbanized areas of the South. The results demonstrate that the geography of income-based voting is inseparable from racial context.
  • March 30, 2015
    As a key element of their strategy, recent Presidential campaigns have recruited thousands of workers to engage in direct voter contact. We conceive of this strategy as a principal-agent problem. Workers engaged in direct contact are intermediaries between candidates and voters, but they may be ill-suited to convey messages to general-election audiences. By analyzing a survey of workers fielded in partnership with the 2012 Obama campaign, we show that in the context of the campaign widely considered most adept at direct contact, individuals who were interacting with swing voters on the campaign’s behalf were demographically unrepresentative, ideologically extreme, cared about atypical issues, and misunderstood the voters’ priorities. We find little evidence that the campaign was able to use strategies of agent control to mitigate its principal-agent problem. We question whether individuals typically willing to be volunteer surrogates are productive agents for a strategic campaign.
  • March 27, 2015
    A large literature argues that the committee assignment process plays an important role in shaping legislative politics because some committees provide legislators with substantial benefits. However, evaluating the degree to which legislators benefit from winning their preferred assignments has been challenging with existing data. This paper sheds light on the benefits legislators accrue from winning their preferred committee assignments by exploiting rules in Arkansas’ state legislature, where legislators select their own committee assignments in a randomized order. The natural experiment indicates that legislators reap at most limited rewards from winning their preferred assignments. These results potentially raise questions about the robustness of widely held assumptions in literatures on party discipline and legislative organization.
  • March 26, 2015
    Despite the large increases in economic inequality since 1970, American survey respondents exhibit no increase in support for redistribution, in contrast to the predictions from standard theories of redistributive preferences. We replicate these results but further demonstrate substantial heterogeneity by demographic groups. In particular, the two groups who have most moved against income redistribution are the elderly and African-Americans, two groups relatively more reliant on it. We find little evidence that these subgroup trends are explained by relative economic gains or growing cultural conservatism, two common explanations. We further show that the elderly trend is uniquely American, at least relative to other developed countries with comparable survey data. One story consistent with the data on elderly trends is that they worry that redistribution will come at their expense, in particular via cuts to Medicare. We find that the elderly have grown increasingly opposed to government provision of health insurance and that controlling for this tendency explains roughly half of their declining relative support of redistribution. For blacks, controlling for their declining support of race-targeted aid explains a large portion of their differential decline in redistributive preferences (raising the question of why support for race-targeted aid has fallen during a period when black income catch-up to whites has stalled).
  • March 13, 2015
    Previous research finds that House majority members and members in the president's party garner additional federal spending in their districts. Using federal spending data in individual districts, we implement two research designs to distinguish elected officials enacting policies that benefit like-minded voters—the party in the electorate—from those that benefit same-party elected officials—the party in government. We find robust evidence that presidential partisanship is associated with large differences in spending correlated with voter preferences, but little evidence that presidents favor areas represented by their party in the House. By contrast, control of the House is associated with differences in spending by voter preferences and with modest increases in spending in districts held by members of the majority. These findings have important implications for understanding presidential influence, as well as the role of parties in the House and in coordinating between elected branches.
  • February 24, 2015
    Recent elections have witnessed substantial debate regarding the degree to which state governments facilitate access to the polls. Despite this newfound interest, however, many of the major reforms aimed at increasing voting convenience (i.e., early voting and no-excuse absentee voting) were implemented over the past four decades. Although numerous studies examine their consequences (on turnout, the composition of the electorate, and/or electoral outcomes), we know significantly less about the factors leading to the initial adoption of these policies. We attempt to provide insights into such motivations using event history analysis to identify the impact of political and demographic considerations, as well as diffusion mechanisms, on which states opted for easier ballot access. We find that adoption responded to some factors signaling the necessity of greater voting convenience in the state, and that partisanship influenced the enactment of early voting but not no-excuse absentee voting procedures.