"How the Identity of Substance Users Shapes Public Opinion on Opioid Policy," (with Michael Hankinson). Political Behavior, forthcoming.
How do media portrayals of potential policy beneficiaries' identities sway public support for these policies in a public health setting? Using a pre-registered vignette experiment, we show that the racial identity of substance users depicted in news media shapes public opinion on policies to address the opioid crisis. People display biases in favor of their own racial identity group that manifest in their support for both treatment-based policies and punitive policies. We show that these biases may be moderated by the type of initial drug used by a substance user and associated levels of perceived blame. Extending theories of group politics, we also assess favoritism based on gender and residential context identities, but find no such biases. These results highlight the continued centrality of race in the formation of policy preferences.
"Driving Turnout: The Effect of Car Ownership on Electoral Participation," (with Maxwell Palmer). Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming.
Inequalities in voter participation between groups of the population pose a problem for democratic representation. We use administrative data on 6.7 million registered voters to show that a previously-ignored characteristic of voters -- access to a personal automobile -- creates large disparities in in-person voting rates. Lack of access to a car depresses election day voter turnout by substantively large amounts across a variety of fixed-effects models that account for other environmental and voter characteristics. Car access creates the largest hindrance to voting for those people who live farther from the polls, for young voters, and for non-white voters. These effects do not appear for absentee voting, suggesting a simple policy solution to solve large disparities in political participation. This study contribute to the theoretic understanding of political participation as well as the impact of potential policy reforms to solve participatory gaps.
"Men and Women Candidates Are Similarly Persistent After Losing Elections," (with Rachel Bernhard). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118(26). June 2021.
Are women more likely to quit politics after losing their first race than men? In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the number of women running for office for the first time has skyrocketed. Nonetheless, commentators suggested this phenomenon might in fact be bad news for women: inexperienced candidates are more likely to lose, and women might be especially discouraged by a loss. Using a regression discontinuity design and data that feature 211,123 candidates across 22,009 jurisdictions between 1950 and 2018, we find that women who narrowly lose these elections are no more likely to quit politics than men who narrowly lose. Drawing on scholarship on women's lower political ambition, we interpret these findings to mean that women’s decision-making differs from men's at the point of entry into politics---not at the point of re-entry.
"Strategic Government Communication About Performance." Political Science Research and Methods 10(3): 601-616. March 2021.
A great deal of research presents the correspondence between economic conditions and incumbent electoral fortunes as evidence of democratic accountability. A central theoretical mechanism for this phenomenon is that voters have information about performance. Using communications data consisting of more than 110,000 government press releases from cities in the U.S. combined with fine-grained economic and crime data, I leverage the breadth of local variation in conditions to assess the inputs to this mechanism behind accountability. I provide causal evidence that strategic government communication distorts reality: local politicians are more likely to communicate about both economic conditions and crime when performance is improving --- better wages and less crime --- than when performance is worse. These findings add direct evidence from the underutilized area of local politics that politicians strategically communicate in a way that threatens accountability.
"Strategic Partisans: Electoral Motivations and Partisanship in Local Government Communication." Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy 2(2): 227-248. June 2021.
Politicians use their communication to present a strategic version of themselves to voters. One component of this is the ideological element of communication, which leaders can employ strategically when it is most electorally advantageous and depending on the qualities of their electorate. Using press releases from cities in the U.S., I show that these patterns of strategic communication extend to local politicians. While local politicians use communication that is distinguishable by their partisan identities, politicians engage in more or less partisan communication styles according to the electoral environment. When politicians' partisanship is well-matched to the ideological leanings of their population, their communication is easily distinguished from that of the opposite party, but when they are misaligned with their constituents' ideology, they communicate in a way that is more similar to the opposite party. These findings provide evidence that the electoral connection influences politicians strategic communication in a way that threatens accountability.
"Accountability for the Economy at All Levels of Government in United States Elections," (with Christopher Warshaw). American Political Science Review 114(3): 660-676. August 2020.
Retrospective voting is a crucial component of democratic accountability. A large literature on retrospective voting in the United States finds that the president’s party is rewarded in presidential elections for strong economic performance and punished for weak performance. In contrast, there is no clear consensus about whether politicians are held accountable for the local economy at other levels of government. In this study, we use administrative data on county-level economic conditions from 1969-2018 and election results across multiple levels of government to examine the effect of the local economy on elections for local, state, and national offices in the United States. We find that the president’s party is held accountable for economic performance across nearly all levels of government. In contrast, there is much weaker evidence that the party that controls other levels of government is held accountable for the economy.
"Politics in Forgotten Governments: The Partisan Composition of County Legislatures and County Fiscal Policies," (with Christopher Warshaw). Journal of Politics 82(2): 460-475. April 2020.
“The Effect of Associative Racial Cues in Elections," (with Adam Berinsky, Michele Margolis, and Megan Goldberg). Political Communication 37(4): 512-529. March 2020.
How do racial signals associating a candidate with minority supporters change voters’ perceptions about a candidate and their support for a candidate? Given the absence of information in low-salience campaigns and the presence of competing information in any campaign, voters may rely on heuristics — such as race — to make the process of voting easier. The information communicated by these signals may be so strong that they cause voters to ignore other, perhaps more politically relevant, information. In this paper, we test how associative racial cues sway voters’ perceptions of and support for candidates using two experiments that harness real-world print and audio campaign advertisements. We find that the signals in these ads can sometimes overwhelm cues about policy positions when the two are present together. Moreover, we find that such signals have limited effects on candidate support among black voters but that they risk substantial backlash of up to eight percentage points in reported vote intention among white voters. Our results highlight how voters gather and use information in low-information elections and demonstrate the power of campaign communication strategies that use racial associations.
"Concentrated Burdens: How Self-Interest and Partisanship Shape Opinion on Opioid Treatment Policy," (with Michael Hankinson). American Political Science Review 113(4): 1078-1084. November 2019.
- Our writeup in the LSE's USA Public Policy blog
When does self-interest influence public opinion on contentious public policies? The bulk of theory in political science suggests that self-interest is only a minor force in public opinion. Using nationally-representative survey data, we show how financial and spatial self-interest and partisanship all shape public opinion on opioid treatment policy. We find that a majority of respondents support a redistributive funding model for treatment programs, while treatment funded by taxation based on a community's overdose rate is less popular. Moreover, financial self-interest cross-pressures lower-income Republicans, closing the partisan gap in support by more than half. We also experimentally test how the spatial burden of siting treatment clinics alters policy preferences. People across the political spectrum are less supportive when construction of a clinic is proposed closer to their home. These results highlight how partisanship and self-interest interact in shaping preferences on public policy with concentrated burdens.
“Persuading the Enemy: Estimating the Persuasive Effects of Partisan Media with the Preference-Incorporating Choice and Assignment Design," (with Matthew Baum, Adam Berinsky, and Teppei Yamamoto). American Political Science Review 113(4): 902-916. November 2019.
- Featured in MIT News
Does media choice cause polarization, or merely reflect it? We investigate a critical aspect of this puzzle: how partisan media contribute to attitude polarization among different groups of media consumers. We implement a new experimental design, called the Preference-Incorporating Choice and Assignment (PICA) design, that incorporates both free choice and forced exposure. We estimate jointly the degree of polarization caused by selective exposure and the persuasive effect of partisan media. Our design also enables us to conduct sensitivity analyses accounting for discrepancies between stated preferences and actual choice, a potential source of bias ignored in previous studies using similar designs. We find that partisan media can polarize both its regular consumers and inadvertent audiences who would otherwise not consume it, but ideologically-opposing media potentially also can ameliorate existing polarization between consumers. Taken together, these results deepen our understanding of when and how media polarize individuals.
"How Attribution Inhibits Accountability: Evidence from Train Delays." Journal of Politics 80(4): 1417-1422. October 2018.
- Featured in the Boston Globe
Do people hold politicians accountable for the performance of government? I test this question using individual-level experiences with the performance of one major public service: transportation. I compile records of transit performance, tracked via individuals' fare transactions and train delays, and link these data to opinion surveys. I show that people perceive different levels of performance, but fail to connect performance with judgments of government. I build on this by testing the importance of responsibility attribution on people's ability to hold government accountable. I find that when people are experimentally provided with information on government responsibilities, they are able to connect their experiences of performance with their opinions of government. These results demonstrate that confusion about government responsibilities can frustrate accountability.
"Off-Cycle and Out of Office: Election Timing and the Incumbency Advantage." Journal of Politics 80(1): 119-132. January 2018.
Democratic accountability relies on the ability of citizens to reward and punish politicians in elections. Electoral institutions, such as the timing of elections, may play a powerful role in this process. In this paper, I assess how on-cycle (concurrent) and off-cycle elections affect one facet of accountability --- the incumbency advantage --- using data on nearly 10,000 mayoral elections in cities over the past 60 years. Using a regression discontinuity design, I find that incumbency carries a substantial advantage for individual candidates. Moreover, I find that on-cycle elections provide incumbents with a far larger advantage than off-cycle elections do. These results show that election timing has important implications for electoral politics, and demonstrate one possible mechanism for the prevalence of the incumbency advantage.
"Mayoral Partisanship and Municipal Fiscal Policy," (with Christopher Warshaw). Journal of Politics 78(4): 1124-1138. October 2016.
Does it matter for municipal policy which party controls the mayorship in municipal government? The bulk of the existing evidence says no. But there are a variety of theoretical reasons to believe that mayoral partisanship should affect municipal policy. We examine the impact of mayoral partisanship in nearly 1,000 elections in medium and large cities over the past 60 years. In contrast to previous work, we find that mayoral partisanship has a significant impact on the size of municipal government. Democratic mayors spend substantially more than Republican mayors. In order to pay for this spending, Democratic mayors issue substantially more debt than Republican mayors and pay more in interest. Our findings show that mayoral partisanship matters for city policy. Our findings add to a growing literature indicating that the constraints imposed on city policy making do not prevent public opinion and elections from having a meaningful impact on municipal policy.
“Evidence in Voting Rights Act Litigation: Producing Accurate Estimates of Racial Voting Patterns." Election Law Journal 14(4): 361-381. December 2015.
Voting Rights Act litigation, even in the wake of Shelby County v. Holder, requires estimates of racial bloc voting, or the extent to which members of different racial groups vote differently. Although there are a variety of methods to make these estimates, direct evaluation and comparison of these methods is lacking. I examine these alternate methods in the way that they might be used in litigation using a large dataset of partisanship and racial information at the precinct level in five states. Additionally, I extend the application of these methods to estimation of racial group preferences in locations with more than one racial minority and assess the contextual determinants of larger and smaller errors in ecological regression estimates. I conclude that the ecological inference method developed by King (1997), which incorporates the deterministic precinct-level bounds on the quantities of interest and is easily implemented using open-source software, provides the best estimates for precinct-specific racial polarization using a binary racial split. When accounting for more than two racial groups, however, a similar but modified Multinomial-Dirichlet Bayesian model performs marginally better.
"Concatenated Files Fixing Errors in the California Elections Data Archive (CEDA)" (with Rachel Bernhard). Raw files, composite file, documentation of error correction, and corrected composite file available on GitHub.
"What the Next Mayor Needs to Do about Boston’s Transportation Crisis" Confronting Boston's Challenges, Boston Area Research Initiative White Paper Series, September 10, 2021 (with Kathryn Carlson). Online
"Got Wheels? How Having Access to a Car Impacts Voting." Democracy Docket, October 16, 2020 (with Maxwell Palmer). Online
"A coronavirus recession would hurt all kinds of Republican candidates — not just Trump." The Washington Post, Monkey Cage, March 18, 2020 (with Christopher Warshaw). Online
"Democrats are more likely to support funding opioid treatment programs compared to Republicans, but both are opposed to building clinics nearby." LSE's USAPP – American Politics and Policy blog (with Michael Hankinson). Online
"Polarization and Media Usage: Disentangling Causality." In Oxford Handbook of Electoral Persuasion, 2019. Liz Suhay, Bernard Grofman, and Alex Treschel, eds. (with Matthew Baum and Adam Berinsky). Online
“Vote-Seeking Third Parties in the Twentieth Century" (with Ron Rapoport) in Guide to U.S. Political Parties, ed. Marjorie Hershey, CQ Press, 2014.
“A balancing act: Physical balance, through arousal, influences size perception" (with Michael Geuss, Jeanine Stefanucci, and Nicholas Stevens). Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 72(7): 1890-1902. October 2010.
"Where the Sidewalk Ends: How Participation Contributes to Inequity in Government Service Provision."
Do biases in representation arise at the most basic levels of policy implementation, and can political participation contribute to these inequities? Leveraging over-time data from the City of Boston, I evaluate equity in the provision of a basic government service: the repair of sidewalks. I combine administrative data on the physical conditions of the city’s sidewalks with data on local residents’ use of the city’s 311 service request system to assess who is represented in local policy implementation. I show that the quality of basic city service provision is biased along existing racial and socioeconomic divisions. Sidewalks in more heavily minority and less wealthy neighborhoods improve at a rate below those sidewalks in whiter and wealthier neighborhoods. Moreover, participation can compensate for inequities in the improvement and deterioration of infrastructure. To the extent that residents in minority and low-income areas use 311 services to request repairs, their sidewalks improve at rates on par with those in whiter and wealthier places. Yet in places with low rates of official participation, inequities persist. Basic local government service provision can be subject to biases, and citizen participation may not be a panacea to resolve such inequities.
"How Partisanship in Cities Influences Housing Policy," (with Daniel Jones and Christopher Warshaw).
Housing policy is one of the most important areas of local politics. Yet little is known about how local legislatures and executives make housing policy decisions and how their elections shape policy in this important realm. We leverage survey data, housing policy data, and a new data source of 13,645 city council elections and 2,725 mayoral elections in large cities in the United States and a regression discontinuity design to examine partisan divides in housing policy among the mass public as well as the impact of local leaders' partisanship on housing policy. We provide robust evidence that electing mayors from different political parties shapes cities’ housing stock. Electing a Democrat as mayor leads to increased multi-family housing production. These effects are concentrated in cities where councils do not have power over zoning appeals. Overall, our paper shows that politics influences local housing policy, and it contributes to a larger literature on local political economy.
"Media Measurement Matters: Estimating the Persuasive Effects of Partisan Media with Survey and Behavioral Data," (with Matthew Baum, Adam Berinsky, Chloe Wittenberg, and Teppei Yamamoto).
To what extent do partisan media polarize political attitudes? Although recent methodological advancements have improved scholars' ability to identify the persuasive effects of exposure to partisan media, past studies typically rely on self-reported media preferences, which may not reflect actual news consumption behavior. Using individual-level web-tracking data, we construct two measures of revealed media preferences based on the volume and slant of news that individuals consume. Overall, we observe substantial overlap in the media diets of individuals across stated preference groups, suggesting that self-reported measures of media preferences may overstate the degree of selective exposure to online news. Moreover, our measures of revealed and stated preferences generate differing conclusions regarding heterogeneity in partisan media's persuasive impact. Whereas measures of stated preferences raise the possibility of persuasion by counter-attitudinal sources, measures of revealed preferences instead indicate that individuals with ideologically extreme media diets are primarily influenced by pro-attitudinal outlets.
"Dynamic Persuasion: Decay and Accumulation of the Persuasive Effects of Partisan Media," (with Matthew Baum, Adam Berinsky, Zach Markovich, and Teppei Yamamoto).
The single shot nature of experiments on the effects of partisan media on public opinion may limit the relevance of estimates that such studies produce for politics and policy. For example, there might be cumulative effects from multiple doses of partisan media such that the combined effect of repeated exposures on political attitudes is much greater than that of a single dose. Similarly, the persuasive effect of partisan media might be temporary and decay quickly after a single exposure. We implement a novel multi-wave experiment that allows us to examine these concerns. We find that the persuasive effects demonstrate substantial durability, decaying only mildly over the course of a week following treatment. Additionally, we find no evidence of cumulative effects of repeated exposure to partisan media, and instead slight moderation. Together, these results suggest that partisan media's influence on public opinion is persistent, but the additive effects of "filter bubbles" are limited.
“Local Representation in the United States: A New Comprehensive Dataset of Elections" (with Christopher Warshaw and Yamil Velez).
The study of urban and local politics in the United States has long been hindered by a lack of centralized sources of election data. We introduce a new dataset of nearly 50,000 electoral contests that encompasses races for seven distinct local political offices in most large cities and counties in the U.S. over the last three decades. Our data provide partisan and demographic information about candidates in these races as well as vote outcomes. We demonstrate the utility of these data with three applications: the descriptive representation of women and race/ethnic groups among candidates and office-holders, the partisan nationalization of local contests, and the match between district partisanship and local politicians' voting records in city councils. These applications demonstrate the power of our data for enabling the study of these phenomena across types of political office and over time. Together, our data provide myriad opportunities for future research on subnational politics and remove a significant barrier to the study of representation in local government.
"How Self-Interest and Symbolic Politics Shape the Effectiveness of Compensation for Nearby Housing Development," (with Michael Hankinson).
Policy with concentrated costs often faces intense localized opposition. Both private and governmental actors frequently use financial compensation to attempt to overcome this opposition. Using the policy of new housing production, we measure the effectiveness of financial compensation in winning policy support. We build a novel survey platform that shows respondents images of their self-reported neighborhood with hypothetical renderings of new housing development superimposed on existing structures. Using a sample of nearly 600 Bostonians, we find that compensating nearby residents increases their support for nearby market-rate housing construction. However, compensation does not influence support for affordable housing. We theorize that the inclusion of affordable housing activates symbolic attitudes, decreasing the importance of self-interest and thus the effectiveness of compensation. Our findings suggest greater interaction between self-interest and symbolic politics within policy design than previously asserted. Together, this research points to opportunities for creative coalition building by policy entrepreneurs when facing opposition due to concentrated costs.
"Democratic mayors have no effect on crime, but do reduce the Black share of arrests for petty crimes," (with Matthew Harvey, Daniel Jones, and Christopher Warshaw).
We examine whether mayors' partisan affiliations lead to differences in crime rates, arrest rates, and the racial composition of arrests. We employ a regression discontinuity design centered around close mayoral elections to determine the causal effect of electing a Democratic rather than Republican mayor on policing and crime outcomes in medium and large US cities. Mayoral partisanship does not affect overall crime rates, arrests, or police employment and expenditures. However, it does influence the racial distribution of arrests. The election of a Democratic mayor decreases the Black share of arrests by a modest amount. This effect is driven by decreases in arrests of Black individuals for both "drug crimes" and "other crimes." This may be tied to police staffing choices, as electing a Democratic mayor also affects police officer demographics: electing a Democratic mayor increases the Black share of police officers. These results reaffirm the importance of politics in policing.
"Interest Group Financial Influence in US Local Politics."
"To Ride-Hail or Not to Ride-Hail? Complementarity and Competition Between Public Transit and TNCs Through the Lens of App Data," (with Alex Deng, Edgar Castro, Sage Gibbons, Ryan Qi Wang, and Daniel T. O'Brien).
"Street-Level Participation: Field Experimental Evidence on Smart City Technology and Voter Registration," (with Melissa Sands).
"Reducing Unsafe Driving and Excess Emissions Through Behavioral Nudges," (with Soubhik Barari).
“Realistic Image Primes in Experimental Research," (with Tess Wise).
Use of images as primes in social science experiments is widespread, but a standardized database of realistic diverse primes for this purpose has not been widely available to researchers. We develop an image database of faces of real people, which we call Realistic Image Primes for Experimental Research (RIPER). RIPER contains 249 images of individuals who are diverse along lines of gender, race, and occupational background. We standardize the images in RIPER by collecting ratings of their attractiveness, perceived race, and perceived income level. We make this diverse original database available as a useful tool for experimental social scientists.