Working Papers

Judicial Politics

Setting the Supreme Court’s Policy Agenda, with Deborah Beim.

Abstract: We develop a new approach to empirical analysis of certiorari: one that is focused on the Supreme Court’s interest in policy-making through answering legal questions, rather than an interest in review and reversal of individual decisions. Using a dataset of intercircuit splits, we measure the ideology of doctrine. Using this measure, we show that the Supreme Court is more likely to resolve ideologically polarizing legal questions. We then show that Supreme Court Justices’ votes on the merits are more polarized when they are deciding more polarizing questions. We advance the literature on ideological motivation in certiorari decisions by breaking the isomorphism between cases and questions to show which legal questions the Court wishes to address to advance its ideological goals.

Distributive Politics 

The Spending Paradox in Historical Perspective, with Katherine Krimmel.  

Abstract: Our paper, “The Federal Spending Paradox: Economic Self-Interest and Symbolic Racism in Contemporary Fiscal Politics,” documents a positive relationship between state-level opposition to federal spending and net federal outlays to states, a phenomenon we have termed the “spending paradox.” This relationship is interesting, since it is counter-intuitive, and important, since it produces odd mandates for many members of Congress representing poor states, and may help to explain some of the chaos afflicting contemporary fiscal politics. Adding intrigue, we suspect there is a temporal dimension to the paradox—that the puzzling correlation between opposition and outlays we observe in the wake of the Great Recession did not exist following the Great Depression. This epilogue explains why we expect to find a temporal dimension, offers preliminary evidence for its existence, and explores a few temporal comparisons to reveal some of the questions we’ll need to address in our larger project in order to explain the changing dynamics of fiscal politics over the postwar period.

How Should We Estimate State-Level Opinion on Quota-Sampled Data from the 1930s and 1940s? An Evaluation of Multilevel Regression and Poststratification with Katherine Krimmel.

Abstract: This paper addresses the challenges of using historical quota-sampled polling data for state-level opinion estimation using multi-level regression and poststratification (MRP). We evaluate (1) whether MRP can produce accurate estimates of subnational opinion with early surveys; (2) which individual and group-level predictors facilitate the most accurate estimate; and (3) how much data is needed.

Party Effects on the Distribution of Federal Outlays: A Regression Discontinuity Approach with Austin Nichols. 

Abstract: Do parties affect the pattern of distributive spending in the U.S. House of Representatives? Party-cartel theories of legislative organization posit that majority party status accords party members influence over legislative outcomes that they would not otherwise wield. The implication for distributive spending is that a majority party member elected from a given district could extract more distributive benefits for the district than a could minority party member even if elected by the same district for the same Congress. We use a regression discontinuity design that exploits a particular feature of the U.S. majoritarian voting scheme—that the majority party status of the winner is “assigned” discontinuously at fifty percent (plus one vote) of the majority party vote share—to investigate the effect of being represented by majority party member on distributive spending in the district. Using data on federal spending in districts from fiscal years 1983 to 2002, we determine if federal spending as a function of the percent of the electorate that voted for the majority party candidate “jumps” at fifty percent. If there is a significant jump in spending near fifty percent, this would indicate that the majority party does indeed use its power to secure more federal funds than the minority party in marginal districts. Our design also allows to test whether Democrats or Republicans are bigger spenders in marginal districts, by exploiting the fact that the party affiliation of a district’s representative is assigned discontinuously at fifty percent (plus one vote) of the two-party vote for the Democrat. Using RD, we find no evidence of a causal effect of majority party status nor of party affiliation on outlays to the district.

Malapportionment in the U.S House of Representatives: The Effect of Census Reapportionment on the Distribution of Federal Funds to States. 


Quantitative Methods and Other Work

Randomization Tests and Inference with Grouped Data

Abstract: Political scientists often ask questions that require making inferences about the effects of variables measured at the group level on outcomes measured at the individual level. Inference with grouped data presents special challenges because the amount of independent information in the data is often more related to the number of groups than to the number of individual observations. A common parametric solution to this problem is to calculate cluster-robust standard errors and to use those errors in hypothesis tests. However, cluster-robust standard errors perform poorly when the number of groups is fewer than 50. I present Monte Carlo evidence which shows that, in terms of Type I error rates, the non-parametric randomization test outperforms t-tests using cluster-robust standard errors regardless of the number of groups. In terms of power, the loss from using randomization tests is small. Thus, randomization tests are a viable alternative to the cluster-robust approach, particularly when the number of groups is small.

Analyzing Democratic Trade: When Less is More, with Robert Erikson and Pablo Pinto

Abstract: Does being a democracy cause a nation to seek out other democracies as trade partners? Research on this question has a long history, whereby the unit of analysis is the dyad-year (e.g., Canada-Belgium, 1994). However, dyadic analysis yields conventional tests of significance that are over-confident. This paper replaces the dyad with the nation as the unit of analysis. It asks whether nations that undergo democratic (or autocratic) transformations shift their trade toward (against) democracies. With this design, we find strong statistical evidence for the democratic trade hypotheses. We suggest that many research questions where dyadic analysis is the norm can more successfully be conducted with a difference-in-differences design.

Democracy and Wellbeing: A difference-in-difference analysis of the consequences of regime transitions with Robert Erikson and Pablo Pinto.

In earlier work, we analyzed the proposition that democratic transitions result in a change in the proportion of trade with democratic partners. Using a difference-in-differences, estimation we found evidence that when nations transition into democracy they trade more with degree other democracies. In this paper, we use those 38 regime transitions to analyze the impact of democracy on the wellbeing of its citizenry. We fit a difference-in-differences estimation of democratic transition on infant mortality, educational attainment, per capita income, and human capital accumulation. Our starting point is a set of twenty-six clean democratic transitions where at least five years of autocracy were followed by a transition to democracy that lasted at least five years, and a comparable set of twelve clean anti-democratic transitions from five years or more of democracy to five or more years of autocracy. We find no significant before-after differences in social and economic outcomes resulting from regime changes. The null results are not driven by trends in dependent variables before the shock (such as economic collapse precipitating an institutional change) or regression to the mean.

Election Laws and Voter Turnout Among the Registered: What Causes What? with Robert Erikson. 

Abstract: Scholars make causal claims about the vote-boosting power of laws designed to increase turnout, citing evidence from regression analyses that show that generous voting laws are related to high turnout. Yet one must be skeptical of contamination from endogeneity in this relationship. The skeptic’s argument is: states with a culture of participation pass legislation designed to encourage voting. With participatory states being the cause of pro-turnout legislation, the causal direction is reversed from what is normally supposed. We take the skeptic’s argument seriously and use sensitivity tests to evaluate claims that turnout is influenced by pro-turnout legislation (and vise versa). Specifically, we apply a “zero covariance restrictions” assumption and estimate the effect of turnout on legislation via two-stage least squares, with state demographic variables as instruments. Then, assuming that there are no unobserved variables that affect both turnout and legislation, we can back out the reverse effect of legislation on the vote. The 2SLS analysis shows that the turnout-legislation effect fully accounts for the turnout-legislation covariance, leaving no room for legislation to affect turnout.