I study political representation and partisanship, examining how legislators represent their constituents and how signals from legislators change both constituent and legislator behavior. In my work I develop novel experimental designs to show the causal effects of legislator action and partisanship on behavior. I contextualize these results with large-scale computational text analyses of legislator communication.
My work has appeared in the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science and Communication Research.
Areas of interest: Congress, Political Behavior, Computational Social Science
When Bipartisanship is Partisan: The Strategic Use of Bipartisanship in Congress
Job Talk Paper+ Abstract
Abstract: Partisan hostility and the avoidance of compromise characterize the behavior of recent congresses. Using a massive collection of floor speeches I show that despite increasing polarization, discussion of bipartisanship is both common and uniform across the ideological spectrum. This behavior, however, does not reflect a genuine desire for bipartisanship--there is no relationship between discussing bipartisanship and actual bipartisan votes--but it does make strategic sense. Representatives use bipartisanship to gather support and to pressure opposition concessions. Using a series of experiments I show that this behavior aligns with the preferences and behaviors of constituents. Framing legislation--even partisan legislation--as bipartisan successfully causes the public to view the legislation as moderate. Most constituents endorse bipartisanship, but do so because they want the other side to capitulate during negotiations and not because they endorse middle-ground solutions or compromise. I show that citizen support for bipartisanship is more about support for concessions from the opposition than actual compromise.
How Words and Money Cultivate a Personal Vote: The Effect of Legislator Credit Claiming on Constituent Credit Allocation
American Political Science Review (November 2012)+ Abstract and paper
Abstract: Particularistic spending, a large literature argues, builds support for incumbents. This literature equates the amount spent with the credit constituents allocate to legislators. Yet, constituents lack the necessary information, expertise, and motivation to allocate credit based on the amount spent in the district. Rather, we show how legislators' credit claiming efforts--and not just money spent in the district--systematically affect how constituents allocate credit. We use a massive new collection of House press releases to characterize what legislators claim credit for, use innovative experimental designs to isolate the effect of those messages, and then a robust observational design to demonstrate the far-reaching effects of those statements. Together our results have broad implications for political representation and the empirical and theoretical study of particularistic spending and its effect on U.S. Congressional elections.
Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization
American Journal of Political Science (Forthcoming)
With Shanto Iyengar+ Abstract and paper
Abstract: When defined in terms of social identity and affect toward copartisans and opposing partisans, the polarization of the American electorate has dramatically increased. We document the scope and consequences of affective polarization of partisans using implicit, explicit and behavioral indicators. Our evidence demonstrates that hostile feelings for the opposing party are ingrained or automatic in voters’ minds, and that affective polarization based on party is just as strong as polarization based on race. We further show that party cues exert powerful effects on non-political judgments and behaviors. Partisans discriminate against opposing partisans, and do so to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race. We note that the willingness of partisans to display open animus for opposing partisans can be attributed to the absence of norms governing the expression of negative sentiment and that increased partisan affect provides an incentive for elites to engage in confrontation rather than cooperation.
Abstract: Partisanship increasingly factors into the behavior of Americans in both political and non-political situations. At the same time, concerns about inter-party prejudice and its effects are also increasing. We systematically evaluate the nature and limits of partisan prejudice using a series of experiments. While we find that partisan prejudice predicts promotion of hostile rhetoric and avoidance of members of the opposition, it is not related to discriminatory behavior. Even the most affectively polarized--those with the strongest disdain for the opposition--are no more likely to materially withhold from or hurt the opposition than those with minimal levels of affective polarization. Partisan disdain does not outweigh basic democratic norms, but it is, however, consistently related to in-group favoritism. While hostility is growing in the electorate, for now, it is largely avoidance and bluster.
Selective Exposure in the Age of Social Media: Endorsements Trump Partisan
Source Affiliation when Selecting Online News Media
Communication Research (Forthcoming)
With Solomon Messing+ Abstract and paper
Abstract: Much of the literature on polarization and selective exposure presumes that the internet exacerbates the fragmentation of the media and the citizenry. Yet, this ignores how the widespread use of social media changes news consumption. Social media provide readers a choice of stories from different sources that come recommended from politically heterogeneous individuals, in a context that emphasizes social value over partisan affiliation. Building on existing models of news selectivity to emphasize information utility, we hypothesize that social media’s distinctive feature, social endorsements, trigger several decision heuristics that suggest utility. In two experiments, we demonstrate that stronger social endorsements increase the probability that people select information, and that their presence reduces partisan selective exposure to levels indistinguishable from chance.
The Role of Persuasion in Deliberative Opinion Change
Political Communication (Revise and Resubmit)+ Abstract and paper
Abstract: How does discussion lead to opinion change during deliberation? I formulate and test hypotheses based on theories of persuasion, and examine them against traditionally accepted sources of deliberative opinion change (knowledge gain and extremity from group attitudes). Through detailed analysis of a nationally representative deliberative event I create a full discussion network for each small group that deliberated by recording who said what, the argument quality for what was said and to whom it was directed. I find that well-justified arguments made in the context of direct engagement between peers are a consistent predictor of opinion change. Individual-level persuasion, not knowledge-driven refinement or extremity, drives most opinion change. These results show that further deliberative research needs to account for persuasion when explaining deliberative opinion change.
Estimating Heterogeneous Treatment Effects and the Effects of Heterogeneous Treatments with Ensemble Methods+ Abstract and paper
Abstract: Randomized experiments are increasingly used to study political phenomena because they can credibly estimate the average effect of a treatment on a population of interest. But political scientists are often interested in how effects vary across sub-populations- heterogeneous treatment effects-and how differences in the content of the treatment affects responses-the response to heterogeneous treatments. Several new methods have been introduced to estimate heterogeneous effects, but it is difficult to know if a method will perform well for a particular data set. Rather than use only one method, we show how an ensemble of methods---weighted averages of estimates from individual models-accurately measure heterogeneous effects. Building on a large literature on ensemble methods, we show the close relationship between out of sample prediction and accurate estimation of heterogeneous treatment effects and demonstrate how pooling models leads to superior performance to individual methods across diverse problems. We apply the ensemble method to two experiments, illuminating how constituents reward and punish legislators for particularistic spending.
Racing to the Polls: How Local Pre-Election Polls Increase Turnout
With David Vannette+ Abstract and paper
Abstract: News coverage of elections focuses on the horserace to a greater degree than any other subject. While this trend is lamented on normative grounds by scholars due to the resulting decline in substantive issue coverage, very little empirical research addresses the potential effects of the proliferation and increasing geographic specificity of polls on voting behavior. We use a field experiment to examine the effects of poll information on the decision to vote. Our results show that voter turnout decisions are influenced by the closeness of the election. Presenting potential voters with experimentally manipulated information about the status of the presidential horserace in their local area increased their propensity to vote on Election Day. These effects were particularly strong when the polls indicated either a very close race or a result discordant with the prevailing national trend.