Kevin Lewis

June 05, 2020

Quitting in Protest: Presidential Policymaking and Civil Service Response
Charles Cameron & John de Figueiredo
NBER Working Paper, April 2020


We formally model the impact of presidential policymaking on the willingness of bureaucrats to exert effort and stay in the government. In the model, centralized policy initiative by the president demotivates policy-oriented bureaucrats and can impel them to quit rather than implicate themselves in presidentially imposed policies they dislike. Those most likely to quit are a range of moderate bureaucrats. More extreme bureaucrats may be willing to wait out an incumbent president in the hope of shaping future policy. As control of the White House alternates between ideologically opposed extreme presidents, policy-minded moderates depart from bureaucratic agencies leaving only policy extremists or poorly performing "slackers." The consequences for policy making are substantial. Despite these adverse consequences, presidents have strong incentives to engage in centralized policymaking.

Do More Professionalized Legislatures Discriminate Less? The Role of Staffers in Constituency Service
Michelangelo Landgrave & Nicholas Weller
American Politics Research, forthcoming


Research suggests that organizational structure can influence the ability of actors to discriminate. In this research note, we examine whether the structure of state legislatures affects observed discrimination in correspondent audit studies. We find that increased legislative professionalization is associated with reduced discrimination against racial minorities. By analyzing thousands of emails collected in a prior study, we find that legislative professionalization is related to a higher likelihood that staffers respond to email contacts and staffers are less likely to discriminate against racial minorities across multiple measures of discrimination. Our findings emphasize the importance of substantively relevant heterogeneity in audit studies and identify a potential mitigator of discrimination - legislative professionalism. Our results also highlight the importance of staffers in representation and the legislative process.

Private Contracting and Citizen Attitudes Toward Local Government
Ryan Dawkins
Urban Affairs Review, forthcoming


Lawmakers use privatized service delivery to simultaneously maintain low taxes while also satisfying citizen demands for high-quality public goods and services. However, what effect does private contracting have on people’s attitudes toward local government? I design a survey experiment that tests how public-private collaborations alter how people attribute responsibility to government for the successes and failures of the delivery of goods and services. I show that private contracting makes it less likely that people will connect public services to government, which erodes their evaluations of government performance and the feeling that local government represents their interests. Moreover, I show that citizens are also more likely to blame local government for private service delivery failures than they are to praise it for private service delivery successes. This asymmetry in responsibility attribution makes it difficult for local governments to build support among its citizens when it relies on private contracting.

Effectiveness of Connected Legislators
Marco Battaglini, Valerio Leone Sciabolazza & Eleonora Patacchini
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


Important work has been done to measure legislative effectiveness in the U.S. Congress and to explain the individual characteristics that drive it. Much less attention, however, has been devoted to study the extent to which legislative effectiveness depends on the legislators' social connections. We address this issue with a new model of legislative effectiveness that formalizes the role of social connections, and we test its predictions using the network of cosponsorship links in the 109th-113th Congresses. We propose a new empirical strategy that addresses network endogeneity by implementing a two‐step Heckman correction based on an original instrument: the legislators' alumni connections. We find that social connections are a significant determinant of legislative effectiveness. We also study the influence of legislators' characteristics in shaping the network effects. In doing so, we provide new insights into how social connectedness interacts with factors such as seniority, partisanship, and legislative leadership in determining legislators' effectiveness.

Relief Rally: Senators As Feckless As the Rest of Us at Stock Picking
William Belmont, Bruce Sacerdote & Ian Van Hoek
NBER Working Paper, April 2020


We examine the stock trading behavior and returns of U.S. Senators from 2012-March 2020. Stocks purchased by senators on average slightly underperform stocks in the same industry and size (market cap) categories by 11 basis points, 28 basis points and 17 basis points at the 1, 3, and 6-month time horizons. Stocks sold by senators underperform slightly for the first three months and then outperform slightly (a statistically insignificant 14 basis points) by the one year mark. We find no evidence that Senators have industry specific stock picking ability related to their committee assignments. Neither Republican nor Democratic senators are skilled at picking stocks to buy, while stocks sold by Republican senators underperform by 50 basis points over three months. Stocks sold following the January 24th COVID-19 briefing do underperform the market by a statistically significant 9 percent while stocks purchased during this period underperform by 3 percent. Our findings contrast somewhat with recent news reports and studies of pre-STOCK Act (2012) data.

We Fly Congress: Market Actions as Corporate Political Strategy in the U.S. Airline Industry
Min-Seok Pang, Russell Funk & Daniel Hirschman
Temple University Working Paper, April 2020


The literature on corporate political activity (CPA) generally views nonmarket actions aimed at influencing political actors (e.g., lobbying or campaign contributions) as related but separate activities from market actions. This study demonstrates how firms’ core market actions (e.g., market entry or geographic expansion) can function as CPA. We theorize two mechanisms through which firms leverage market actions as CPA - “pork” and “perk.” We document these mechanisms through an empirical analysis of data from the U.S. airline industry over 30 years (1990-2019). Specifically, we find that airlines increase the supply of flights from airports in the home district of the Chair of the Transportation Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives (pork). Moreover, this increase in flight supplies is negatively associated with formal policy changes in Congress. We also find that the airlines increase the supply of flights to Washington, D.C. from the home district of the Speaker of the House and the home state of the Senate Majority Leader (perk). We contribute to the literature on CPA by demonstrating a blurred boundary between market and nonmarket actions, which may help explain firms’ competitive actions that cannot be explained by market considerations alone.

How Much Can the U.S. Congress Resist Political Money? A Quantitative Assessment
Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen & Jie Chen
University of Massachusetts Working Paper, January 2020


The extent to which governments can resist pressures from organized interest groups, and especially from finance, is a perennial source of controversy. This paper tackles this classic question by analyzing votes in the U.S. House of Representatives on measures to weaken the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in the years following its passage. To control as many factors as possible that could influence floor voting by individual legislators, the analysis focuses on representatives who originally cast votes in favor of the bill but then subsequently voted to dismantle key provisions of it. This design rules out from the start most factors normally advanced by skeptics to explain vote shifts, since these are the same representatives, belonging to the same political party, representing substantially the same districts. Our panel analysis, which also controls for spatial influences, highlights the importance of time-varying factors, especially political money, in moving representatives to shift their positions on amendments such as the “swaps push out” provision. Our results suggest that the links between campaign contributions from the financial sector and switches to a pro-bank vote were direct and substantial: For every $100,000 that Democratic representatives received from finance, the odds they would break with their party’s majority support for the Dodd-Frank legislation increased by 13.9 percent. Democratic representatives who voted in favor of finance often received $200,000-$300,000 from that sector, which raised the odds of switching by 25-40 percent.

Expert-Captured Democracies
Archishman Chakraborty, Parikshit Ghosh & Jaideep Roy
American Economic Review, June 2020, Pages 1713-1751


Does public cheap talk by a biased expert benefit voters? The answer depends on the nature of democratic institutions and the extent of communication possibilities. Expert endorsements induce office-seeking parties to serve the expert's interests, hurting voters. Expert advocacy makes policies respond to information, helping voters. Together, policy advocacy and partisan endorsements are often better than either alone. Their interaction creates a delegation benefit that makes indirect democracy superior to direct democracy and office-seeking parties better than those motivated by public interest. But voter welfare is highest when an expert captured technocratic party competes against an uninformed populist one.

Pink‐Collar Representation and Budgetary Outcomes in US States
Tiffany Barnes, Victoria Beall & Mirya Holman
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Legislatures worldwide are dominated by wealthy elites, who are often out of touch with the needs and problems of citizens. Research shows that the underrepresentation of the working class matters in terms of policy processes and outcomes. Yet the research on class has largely focused on blue‐collar representatives, who are primarily men. Working‐class women are more likely to hold pink‐collar jobs, or low‐status occupations dominated by women. We argue that pink‐collar legislators are uniquely positioned to legislate over education and social service policy. To test our argument, we combine a new coding of working‐class backgrounds that accounts for pink‐collar representation with state spending data on education and social services from US states over time. Modeling compositional budget data, we find that class and gender intersect to shape policy outcomes via state budget allocations, with women's pink‐collar representation associated with increased spending on both education and social services.

Explaining State Preemption of Local Laws: Political, Institutional, and Demographic Factors
Patrick Flavin & Gregory Shufeldt
Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Spring 2020, Pages 280-309


Despite increasing popular and media attention to the preemption of local policymaking by state governments, the empirical political science literature on preemption remains relatively scarce. After first identifying and discussing state preemption laws across twenty-one diverse public policies, we investigate how political, institutional, and demographic factors predict the implementation of these laws. Our empirical analysis reveals that states where Republicans control both legislative chambers and the governorship, with more politically conservative citizens, a higher percentage of African Americans, and a stronger conservative interest group presence passes more laws that preempt local policymaking. Our results demonstrate that state preemption efforts are more closely associated with political and demographic factors and less associated with institutional forces.

Do Autocratic Political Leaders Always Hamper Economic Growth? Evidence from Australia
Thomas Emery et al.
George Mason University Working Paper, March 2020


We discuss the contribution of autocratic tendencies in democratically elected political leaders to the economic growth of developed economies. To this end, we exploit the unique election of Sir Charles Court as state premier of Western Australia in 1975 to estimate the contribution of autocratic state premiers to economic growth within a federal system of checks and balances based on a mixed Presidential and Westminster parliamentary institutional design. We hypothesize that some autocratic tendencies may help economic growth provided that discretion is used to address government failures which act as a brake on the economic development and could lead to institutional sclerosis, but which do not translate into corrupt practices and abuse of power for personal gain. Using the Synthetic Control Method, we match Western Australia with two large control samples of countries and regions to construct a counterfactual scenario in response to the administration of Court. Our estimates indicate a large positive per capita income gap that tends to increase over time and which provides evidence in support of the presence of structural break. Down to the present day, per capita income of Western Australia is 27 percent higher compared to its synthetic control group as a result of Court’s premiership. The estimated growth impact of Court’s administration is robust to a variety of placebo checks, it appears to be statistically significant at conventional levels, and does not seem to be confounded by the heterogeneity of the control samples.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.