I work at the intersection of several different subfields: representation and elite behavior, political communication and psychology, gender, race, and identity politics, and quantitative and experimental methods. Most of my recent and ongoing research uses experiments to understand how people view political representatives. See below for descriptions of select projects in progress and my published research.
Book manuscript (under review):
How Politicians Polarize: Political Representation in an Age of Negative Partisanship
What does representation look like when focused on "othering" the opposing party? How do constituents react to such representation? Is policy responsiveness still the cornerstone of American representative democracy when negative partisan identities motivate political attitudes? How Politicians introduces a theory of representation to fit a context of polarization and negative partisanship. Political behavior is often driven by out-group affect and hostility rather than in-group attachment or loyalty, especially when it comes to partisanship. An opportunity therefore exists for representatives to serve the interests of constituents based on who they are not, rather than who they are. Using a series of survey experiments on elected officials, candidates, and individuals in the mass public, as well as large-scale text data of congressional newsletters and tweets, I examine how and why politicians make partisan, out-group appeals and assess the consequences for the quality of political representation.
Ultimately, How Politicians Polarize shows that even though Americans do not favor expressions of partisan animosity by politicians, and politicians do not think voters reward such expressions, the broader context of affective polarization nonetheless makes such behavior a powerful tool in representation. The findings challenge the popular notion that Americans are motivated more by their partisan identities than by policy congruence, but also illuminate how negative forms of representation are indeed still rewarded by the political ecosystem. This does not mean that politicians no longer talk about policy, but there is significant variation depending on the medium and audience of such communication. Importantly, partisan attacks receive significantly more attention in the media compared to other things that politicians talk about. While this provides an instrumental incentive to engage in negative forms of representation, there are more internal, expressive motivations to attack the other side as well; I find that public officials have just as high, if not higher, levels of negative partisanship than voters in the mass public.
This has adverse effects for representative democracy. Politicians who talk a lot about the other party, often in negative terms, are the same ones who are less effective at their more central representative duties. The more politicians focus on negative partisanship, the less actual legislation they sponsor and pass in Congress. Strikingly, voters are critical of partisan warfare and want politicians to focus on policy instead, but the penalty is often not large enough to vote representatives out of office. Thus, even though it is not what voters want, representatives have leeway to follow both instrumental and expressive motivations to denigrate the other side, which comes at the expense of actual policy representation. This feeds into a vicious cycle of affective polarization and continued perceptions of the other side as engaging in bad faith.
Russell Sage Foundation Presidential Grant:
Race, Representation, and Issue Areas
Despite renewed attention to racial justice in the United States, African Americans experience relatively lower levels of political representation when compared to white voters. In explaining this persistent inequality, scholars have argued that issues of unique importance to African Americans remain off the political agenda given persistent levels of racism among the electorate and the concomitant perception that politicians who seek to address these policy concerns will face electoral backlash. While much of this work focuses on legislative activities, we investigate this dynamic in the context of service responsiveness and explore the possibility that elected officials find leeway to represent African Americans on these issues via constituency service.
Our project seeks to answer two interrelated questions that are crucial to understanding systemic racial inequality in the United States. First, borrowing from the literature on party ownership, which policy issue areas are perceived to be uniquely connected to African Americans? Assessing racial bias in political representation of African Americans critically hinges on what policies are “owned” by African Americans and thus widely perceived to concern them as a group. We use an innovative survey design to examine how a diverse set of policy issues are linked to racial minority groups in the minds of voters, and in doing so, provide necessary theoretical and construct validity for measuring racial inequalities in representation. Second, how does this racialization of issue areas influence inequalities in the political representation of African Americans? Are elected officials more or less likely to respond to African American constituent inquiries when the topic of the policy request in question is “owned” by African Americans? For this, we will use an audit study to examine how racial inequalities in legislative responsiveness are shaped by specific issue contexts. The findings offer new insights into both 1) how the mass public views the representational implications of various policy agendas for minority groups and 2) what factors may reduce inequalities in elite responsiveness for African Americans.
"Do Elite Appeals to Negative Partisanship Stimulate Citizen Engagement?" 2022. The Forum. (with students in my Experiments in Politics course)
Scholars have extensively studied whether campaign attack advertisements –messages that attack individual candidates– mobilize or demobilize voters with mixed results. We argue that group-oriented partisan affect in campaigns –messages about the parties in general– is just as important given increasing trends of affective polarization. We use two survey experiments, one right before the 2020 presidential election and the other before the subsequent Georgia Senate runoff election, to examine the effects of partisan rhetoric on several measures of civic engagement. In the presidential election, neither positive partisan, negative partisan, nor personal apartisan appeals had a statistically significant effect on voters’ enthusiasm, likelihood to volunteer, or likelihood to seek out more information about engaging in the election. In the second study, negative partisan appeals led registered voters in Georgia to report much higher levels of enthusiasm about their preferred candidate, but this result was driven by Republicans only. The findings contribute new insights about electoral context and asymmetric affective polarization to the literature documenting the mobilizing effects of negativity in campaigns.
"More Women Candidates: The Effects of Increased Women’s Presence on Political Ambition, Efficacy, and Vote Choice." 2021. American Politics Research (with Isabel Wallace, Dartmouth '21)
The effect of women in politics is vitally important for the study of representation, yet evidence is mixed on the extent to which women’s presence influences individuals’ symbolic attitudes and behaviors. We use a priming survey experiment to examine how information about increased women candidates in the U.S. affects political ambition, efficacy, and future support for women candidates. We present several different patterns across gender and partisanship. Republicans report higher political ambition after hearing about more women candidates, even when those women are running for the opposite party. Men had higher political efficacy in response to more same-party women running, but not opposite-party women. Importantly, our evidence does not support the widespread notion that women’s presence positively influences women’s political efficacy or likelihood to vote for female candidates. The findings highlight the importance of considering the effects of women’s presence not only for the group that is assumed to benefit.
"Ideology, Not Affect: What Americans Want From Political Representation." 2021. American Journal of Political Science.
How do citizens want to be represented by elected officials in an era of affective polarization? Contemporary narratives about American politics argue that people embrace elite expressions of negative partisanship, above and beyond representation on policy. Using three conjoint experiments, I examine how individuals weigh the relative value of substantive representation on issues, constituency service, and partisan affect. The findings challenge the notion that Americans are primarily motivated by their affective, partisan identities and demonstrate the value of policy congruence and service responsiveness in terms of perceptions of political representation. The implication is that people evaluate elected officials in ways that we would expect them to in a healthy, functioning representative democracy, rather than one characterized by partisan animus. Even if polarization is driven by "affect, not ideology," citizens prioritize representational styles centered around the issues that matter to them.
"Citizen Evaluations of Legislator-Constituent Communication." 2021. British Journal of Political Science.
Legislator-constituent communication is a cornerstone of most representative democracies; it is the most direct way citizens can access their elected officials, and legislators devote a significant amount of time and resources toward constituency service. A substantial body of research has therefore examined inequalities in elite responsiveness to constituent communication. However, we know very little about how citizens experience and evaluate this communication. I conduct three tests to examine how individuals evaluate legislative responsiveness to constituency service requests. Across the three tests, I find that simply using a friendly tone –e.g. greeting the constituent by name– significantly improves citizen evaluations, whereas there are mixed results regarding the substantive content of the communication, such as whether legislators actually answer constituents' requests. Overall, the findings help the field advance towards an "industry standard" measure of legislative responsiveness to constituent communication.
"He Said, She Said: The Gender Double Bind in Legislator-Constituent Communication." 2021. Politics & Gender.
Citizens hold gender-specific stereotypes about women in political office, yet scholars disagree on whether these stereotypes lead to a "double bind" in which female legislators are held to higher standards than male legislators. Two survey experiments reveal how citizen evaluations of elite responsiveness to constituent mail are conditioned by gender and sexist attitudes. The findings suggest that a double bind does exist in legislator–constituent communication, even among people who have positive views of women. For instance, although the least sexist respondents favor communication from female legislators regardless of the quality of communication, they also punish women, but not men, for taking longer to respond to constituent mail. Male legislators are also more likely to be rewarded for being friendly as respondents' sexism increases, but female legislators do not enjoy the same advantage, likely due to gender stereotypes and expectations regarding women's behavior.
"How Partisanship and Sexism Influences Voters' Reactions to #MeToo Scandals." 2020. Research and Politics. (with students in my Experiments in Politics course)
Influential theories of motivated reasoning, as well as real-world anecdotal examples, would suggest that voters do not always penalize legislators from their own party for alleged immoral behavior, such as sexual harassment. But very little empirical evidence exists on how voters react to sexual misconduct allegations, especially since the start of the #MeToo movement. We examine how partisanship and sexist attitudes shape individuals' reactions to sexual harassment allegations about a politician. Using a pretest–posttest online experiment, we randomize both the party affiliation of the accused legislator as well as the severity of the allegations. Overall, we find some evidence of partisan bias, but that there may be a limit. Subjects were more forgiving of an accused co-partisan legislator than a legislator of the opposing party in their overall evaluation and their perceptions of punitive repercussions, but their levels of electoral support decreased just as much for co-partisans as they did for opposing partisans. Importantly, these reactions are strongly conditioned by sexism; as subjects' levels of sexism increase, the otherwise large and negative effect of allegations on evaluations of favorability and electoral support disappears.
"Family Ties? The Impact of Fathering Daughters on Congressional Behavior." 2019. American Politics Research. (with Jill Greenlee, Tatishe Nteta, Jesse Rhodes, Elizabeth Sharrow)
Scholars have long suggested that familial life can affect political behavior and, more recently, have found that fathering daughters leads men to adopt more liberal positions on gender equality policies. However, few have focused on the impact of fathering a daughter on congressional behavior, particularly in an era of heightened partisan polarization. Using an original data set of familial information, we examine whether fathering a daughter influences male legislators' (a) roll call and cosponsorship support for women's issues in the 110th to 114th Congresses and (b) cosponsorship of bills introduced by female legislators in the 110th Congress. We find that once party affiliation is taken into account, having a daughter neither predicts support for women's issues nor cosponsorship of bills sponsored by women. Our findings suggest there are limits to the direct effects of parenting daughters on men's political behavior, and that scholars should remain attentive to institutional and partisan contexts.
"Public Comments' Influence on Science Use in U.S. Rulemaking: The Case of EPA's National Emission Standards." 2019. American Review of Public Administration. (with Bruce Desmarais and John Hird)
Scholarship on bureaucratic policymaking has long focused on both the use of expertise and public accountability. However, few have considered the degree to which public input affects the use of research in U.S. regulatory impact analyses (RIAs). We examine changes in the research that is cited in RIAs in response to public comments to assess the influence of participation on the use of information for rulemaking. We conduct an in-depth analysis of comments on a major proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule to determine whether regulators alter the evidence used based on public input and whether some types of commenters have more influence than others. We analyze the text similarity of comments to scientific research utilized in the RIAs to determine whether regulators iteratively update their rule justification based on scientific information referenced in comments. We find support for seminal subgovernment theories about the relationship between business interests, Congress, and the bureaucracy; in relation to all kinds of commenters, members of Congress and industry groups had the strongest effect on changes in the research used in the RIAs. The article provides one of the first statistical analyses of science exchange between the public and a bureaucratic agency.
"Walking the Walk? The Effect of Pledging to Vote on Youth Turnout." 2018. PLoS ONE. (with Brian Schaffner and Alicia Prevost)
Psychological theories of political behavior suggest that commitments to perform a certain action can significantly increase the likelihood of such action, but this has rarely been tested in an experimental context. Does pledging to vote increase turnout? In cooperation with the Environmental Defense Fund during the 2016 election, we conduct the first randomized controlled trials testing whether young people who pledge to vote are more likely to turn out than those who are contacted using standard Get-Out-the-Vote materials. Overall, pledging to vote increased voter turnout by 3.7 points among all subjects and 5.6 points for people who had never voted before. These findings lend support for theories of commitment and have practical implications for mobilization efforts aimed at expanding the electorate.
"How Gender Conditions the way Citizens Evaluate and Engage with their Representatives." 2018. Political Research Quarterly. (with Brian Schaffner)
Scholars argue that women's presence in politics enhances symbolic representation, such as positive evaluations of one's representative and increased political engagement. However, there is little empirical evidence of these symbolic benefits from descriptive representation. With data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study panel survey, we examine how a change in the gender of a representative affects individuals' perceptions of that representative and likelihood to contact them. In general, we find that women express more positive evaluations of female representatives than male representatives, yet they are also less likely to contact female representatives. By contrast, the effect of an elected official's gender does not significantly affect how men evaluate or engage with that official. However, we also show that partisanship conditions these effects, perhaps due to the fact that gender stereotypes operate differently for Democrats than Republicans. For example, women rate female Republican legislators more positively than they do male Republican legislators, but neither women nor men rate Democratic legislators differently based on their gender. The findings provide strong evidence that gender matters when it comes to representation, but contrary to some conventional wisdom, female elected officials may actually enjoy some advantages in terms of their standing among constituents.
"Rethinking Representation from a Communal Perspective." 2018. Political Behavior. (with Kaylee Johnson and Brian Schaffner)
Most foundational theories of congressional representation were developed during an era of less polarized and less partisan politics. These theories viewed the incumbency advantage as buttressed by the fact that some constituents were willing to support legislators from the opposite party because of their "home styles." But in an era of policy immoderation in Congress, this perspective leads to an assumption that citizens evaluate their members of Congress based on what those legislators do for them individually, rather than what they do for their districts more broadly. In this paper, we ask whether citizens take the interests of their fellow constituents into account when evaluating their members of Congress. Using both survey data and an experiment, we uncover support for the notion that citizens take a more communal view of representation as at least part of their evaluations of their representatives. This suggests individuals may have a more nuanced understanding of representation than purely self-interested approaches tend to assume.
"How Responsive are Political Elites? A Meta-Analysis of Experiments on Public Officials." 2017. Journal of Experimental Political Science.
In the past decade, the body of research using experimental approaches to investigate the responsiveness of elected officials has grown exponentially. Given this explosion of work, a systematic assessment of these studies is needed not only to take stock of what we have learned so far about democratic responsiveness, but also to inform the design of future studies. In this article, I conduct the first meta-analysis of all experiments that examine elite responsiveness to constituent communication. I find that racial/ethnic minorities and messages sent to elected officials (as opposed to non-elected) are significantly less likely to receive a response. A qualitative review of the literature further suggests that some of these inequalities in responsiveness are driven by personal biases of public officials, rather than strategic, electoral considerations. The findings of this study provide important qualifications and context to prominent individual studies in the field.
"Science Use in Regulatory Impact Analysis: The Effect of Political Attention and Controversy." 2016. Review of Policy Research. (with Bruce Desmarais and John Hird)
Scholars, policy makers, and research sponsors have long sought to understand the conditions under which scientific research is used in the policy-making process. Recent research has identified a resource that can be used to trace the use of science across time and many policy domains. U.S. federal agencies are mandated by executive order to justify all economically significant regulations by regulatory impact analyses (RIAs), in which they present evidence of the scientific underpinnings and consequences of the proposed rule. To gain new insight into when and how regulators invoke science in their policy justifications, we ask: does the political attention and controversy surrounding a regulation affect the extent to which science is utilized in RIAs? We examine scientific citation activity in all 101 economically significant RIAs from 2008 to 2012 and evaluate the effects of attention—from the public, policy elites, and the media—on the degree of science use in RIAs. Our main finding is that regulators draw more heavily on scientific research when justifying rules subject to a high degree of attention from outside actors. These findings suggest that scientific research plays an important role in the justification of regulations, especially those that are highly salient to the public and other policy actors.
If you have trouble accessing any of the above linked articles, please email me and I will be happy to send you a copy.