The Face of the Problem: How Subordinates Shield Executives from Blame
Sarah Croco, Jared McDonald & Candace Turitto
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming
Though avoiding blame is often a goal of elected officials, there are relatively few empirical examinations of how citizens assign blame during controversies. We are particularly interested in how this process works when an executive has been caught in a lie. Using two survey experiments, we examine whether subordinates can shield executives when they act as the face of a crisis. We first leverage a real-life situation involving the family separation crisis at the US-Mexico border in 2018. Respondents who read that Donald Trump falsely claimed he could not end the practice of family separation disapprove of his dishonesty. Yet this cost disappears when Trump's then-Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, is the primary official discussed in news stories. We then replicate these findings in a fictional scenario involving a city mayor, showing that the mayor is partially shielded from negative appraisals when the city manager lies on his behalf.
Unilateral Inaction: Congressional Gridlock, Interbranch Conflict, and Public Evaluations of Executive Power
Andrew Reeves & Jon Rogowski
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming
Presidents routinely overpromise and underdeliver, especially amid partisan polarization, narrow congressional majorities, and persistent gridlock. As Congress routinely stymies their legislative agendas, presidents consider alternative courses of action. We study public reactions to unilateral power in the context of congressional inaction. While some research suggests that presidents cannot afford to pass up opportunities to act, more recent scholarship indicates that the public holds negative views of unilateral power and disapproves of its use. Survey experiments conducted with a national sample of Americans provide evidence of the costs of unilateral power. Across three policy areas and between- and within-respondent analyses, the public responds negatively when presidents exercise unilateral power rather than accept the status quo, even among individuals who share the president's policy views. Our results suggest that while legislative gridlock may increase the appeal of unilateral power, its use may come at a public cost.
American Politics in Two Dimensions: Partisan and Ideological Identities versus Anti-Establishment Orientations
Joseph Uscinski et al.
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming
Contemporary political ills at the mass behavior level (e.g., outgroup aggression, conspiracy theories) are often attributed to increasing polarization and partisan tribalism. We theorize that many such problems are less the product of left-right orientations than an orthogonal "anti-establishment" dimension of opinion dominated by conspiracy, populist, and Manichean orientations. Using two national surveys from 2019 and 2020, we find that this dimension of opinion is correlated with several antisocial psychological traits, the acceptance of political violence, and time spent on extremist social media platforms. It is also related to support for populist candidates, such as Trump and Sanders, and beliefs in misinformation and conspiracy theories. While many inherently view politics as a conflict between left and right, others see it as a battle between "the people" and a corrupt establishment. Our findings demonstrate an urgent need to expand the traditional conceptualization of mass opinion beyond familiar left-right identities and affective orientations.
Inexperienced or anti-establishment? Voter preferences for outsider congressional candidates
Eric Hansen & Sarah Treul
Research & Politics, July 2021
Do US voters prefer inexperienced candidates? Candidates who have never held elected office before have had greater success in recent presidential and congressional elections. However, it could be that voters prefer the type of anti-establishment rhetoric that such candidates use more than the lack of experience itself. We conduct a 2x2 factorial experiment that manipulates a fictitious congressional candidate's experience and rhetoric toward the political system. Results from a nationally representative Qualtrics sample and two follow-up studies from Mechanical Turk show that respondents evaluate the candidate more positively when he uses anti-establishment rhetoric instead of pro-establishment rhetoric. Though the findings are mixed, we find weak and inconsistent evidence that respondent prefer inexperienced candidates to experienced ones. The results suggest that outsider candidates receive an electoral boost by using anti-establishment messaging, but that candidates' political résumés matter less to potential voters.
A method for measuring investigative journalism in local newspapers
Eray Turkel et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 27 July 2021
Major changes to the operation of local newsrooms - ownership restructuring, layoffs, and a reorientation away from print advertising - have become commonplace in the last few decades. However, there have been few systematic attempts to characterize the impact of these changes on the types of reporting that local newsrooms produce. In this paper, we propose a method to measure the investigative content of news articles based on article text and influence on subsequent articles. We use our method to examine over-time and cross-sectional patterns in news production by local newspapers in the United States over the past decade. We find surprising stability in the quantity of investigative articles produced over most of the time period examined, but a notable decline in the last 2 y of the decade, corresponding to a recent wave of newsroom layoffs.
Public Perceptions of Women's Inclusion and Feelings of Political Efficacy
American Political Science Review, forthcoming
Theoretical work argues that citizens gain important symbolic benefits when they are represented by gender-inclusive institutions. Despite the centrality of this claim in the literature, empirical evidence is mixed. In this article, I argue that these mixed findings are - in part - because many Americans hold beliefs about women's inclusion that are out of step with reality. Leveraging variation in survey respondents' beliefs about women's representation, I examine how these perceptions influence attitudes toward Congress and state legislatures. In both cases, I find that believing women are included is associated with higher levels of external efficacy among both men and women. Using panel data, I then show that when citizens' underestimations (overestimations) are corrected, their levels of efficacy increase (decrease), shedding further light on this relationship. The findings presented in this research add new theoretical insights into when, and how, Americans consider descriptive representation when evaluating the institutions that represent them.
Conducting the Heavenly Chorus: Constituent Contact and Provoked Petitioning in Congress
Geoffrey Henderson et al.
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming
Congress hears more and more from everyday citizens. How do modern Congressional offices use this information to represent their constituents? Drawing on original interviews and a survey of Congressional staff, we explore how representation works in practice when new data and tools, such as databases and downscaled public opinion polls, are available. In contrast with established theories that focus on responsiveness, we show that representation is a two-way street. Congressional offices both respond to incoming constituent opinion and reach out to elicit opinions from stakeholders. Offices record correspondence into databases, identifying the most salient issues and the balance of opinion among correspondents. They tend not to use polls on policy. To understand the opinions of electorally influential constituencies, staffers also proactively reach out to stakeholders and experts in a practice we call provoked petitioning. If the Washington pressure system is a chorus, Congressional staff often serve as conductors, allowing well-resourced and organized constituents, including interest groups, to sing with the loudest voices. While Congress has some new tools and strategies for representation, its modern practices still reinforce existing biases.
What drives program terminations for the federal government?
Stuart Kasdin & Anthony McCann
Public Budgeting & Finance, forthcoming
Do federal program terminations result from politics or program ineffectiveness? We used mixed methods, starting with a survey of current and former budget officials and staffers in the Office of Management and Budget, Appropriations Committees, and other Congressional committees. We followed this up using OMB budget data and the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). Consistent with the survey results, the President's Budget request did have an impact. Political events, particularly changes in party control of Congress, also had an impact. The influence of performance information was less clear: The PART evaluations did not seem to influence the likelihood of terminations.
Trust in Public Policy Algorithms
Ryan Kennedy, Philip Waggoner & Matthew Ward
Journal of Politics, forthcoming
Algorithms are playing an increasingly important role in many areas of public policy. Yet, we know surprisingly little about the degree of trust individuals are willing to place in these algorithms. This paper reports on a series of experiments on trust in algorithms for forecasting political events and criminal recidivism. Contrary to previous literature on algorithm aversion, we find people show high levels of trust in algorithms relative to other sources of advice, even with minimal information about the algorithm. We also explore evaluation of combined human and algorithm advice. We find that, when experts make decisions in light of algorithm advice, the relative weight given to their judgments increases, but the algorithm's guidance is not disregarded. Finally, using a conjoint experiment, we evaluate the factors that influence people's preferences for algorithms, finding that risk aversion, data size, human-in-the-loop, and developer reputation play an important role in engendering trust.
Organizational Roots of Gender Polarization in the State Legislature
Sociological Inquiry, forthcoming
Political institutions in the United States have become increasingly polarized. This paper asks how gender has been part of party polarization's institutionalization and what consequences gender has on relations of power in increasingly divisive legislative work. Drawing on interviews with 21 New Hampshire state representatives and archival legislative and committee leadership records, I analyze the process and changing meanings of partisanship in the everyday work of the legislature. As this state's moderate conservative caucus disbanded and the Republican Party lost its long-standing control, more divisive Republican alliances masculinized legislative politics as combative. Meanwhile, the newly competitive Democratic Party began to actively showcase women as party and committee leaders. State representatives' accounts demonstrate the gendered meanings and consequences of party polarization in the legislative workplace beyond what is captured by traditional measures of ideological polarization. These findings show how gender polarization produces new forms of institutionalized political inequalities in the hierarchical legislative workplace.
The Virtuous Cycle of Agreement
Philippos Louis, Matías Núñez & Dimitrios Xefteris
Economic Journal, forthcoming
Collective choice mechanisms are used by groups to reach decisions in the presence of diverging preferences. But can the employed mechanism affect the degree of post-decision actual agreement (i.e. preference homogeneity) within a group? And if so, which are the features of the choice mechanisms that matter? Since it is difficult to address these questions in natural settings, we employ a theory-driven experiment where, after the group collectively decides on an issue, individual preferences can be properly elicited. We find that decision mechanisms that promote consensual behaviour generate substantially higher levels of post-decision actual agreement compared to outcome-wise identical procedures that incentivize subjects to exaggerate their differences.