Checking the System

Kevin Lewis

April 12, 2024

Uncommon and nonpartisan: Antidemocratic attitudes in the American public
Derek Holliday et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 26 March 2024

Democratic regimes flourish only when there is broad acceptance of an extensive set of norms and values. In the United States, fundamental democratic norms have recently come under threat from prominent Republican officials. We investigate whether this antidemocratic posture has spread from the elite level to rank-and-file partisans. Exploiting data from a massive repeated cross-sectional and panel survey (n = 45,095 and 5,231 respectively), we find that overwhelming majorities of the public oppose violations of democratic norms, and virtually nobody supports partisan violence. This bipartisan consensus remains unchanged over time despite high levels of affective polarization and exposure to divisive elite rhetoric during the 2022 political campaign. Additionally, we find no evidence that elected officials’ practice of election denialism encourages their constituents to express antidemocratic attitudes. Overall, these results suggest that the clear and present threat to American democracy comes from unilateral actions by political elites that stand in contrast to the views of their constituents. In closing, we consider the implications of the stark disconnect between the behavior of Republican elites and the attitudes of Republican voters.

Do presidents favor co-partisan mayors in the allocation of federal grants?
Heonuk Ha & Jeffery Jenkins
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming

With the increasing nationalization of politics, federal politicians have interacted more and more with subnational actors. In particular, the president and governing party have provided selective policy and spending benefits to same-party jurisdictions in order to increase their influence in subnational politics. As a significant amount of federal grants is allocated directly to city governments, we analyze the effects of the federal-city relationship in the federal grant process. Specifically, we examine the effects of the president–mayor party alignment on the allocation of federal block and project grants to 568 medium and large cities from 2005 to 2020 using a two-way (city and year) fixed-effects model. We find that the president favors co-partisan mayors in the distribution of federal grants, specifically co-partisan mayors from (a) secure party cities, (b) cities in states where the governor is also a co-partisan, and (c) secure party cities in states where the governor is also a co-partisan. Digging deeper, we find this form of presidential particularism is almost exclusively a Democratic pursuit.

The Distributive Politics of Grants-in-Aid
Leah Rosenstiel
American Political Science Review, forthcoming

How does politics affect, and possibly distort, how resources are allocated? I show that where the federal government provides public goods and financial assistance depends not only on who has power within Congress but also on the characteristics of their constituents. In a federal system like the United States, the central government provides resources by allocating grants to subnational governments based on demographic characteristics. Thus, to maximize funding for their states, members of Congress must also distribute funding to states with similar characteristics. Using panel data on education spending and a difference-in-differences design, I demonstrate that grants disproportionately benefit states represented by Senate committee chairs, but this benefit spills over to similar states. However, I find no evidence of committee influence over grants in the House. These findings contribute to our understanding of distributive politics and shed light on the consequences of allocating resources within a federal system.

Expertise acquisition in Congress
Christian Fong, Kenneth Lowande & Adam Rauh
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

According to many, the US Congress desperately needs reform because its capacity to govern has declined. Congressional capacity cannot be understood without examining how the expertise available to members is fostered or discouraged. We present a theory of expertise acquisition and apply it to the problem of overseeing the Executive. We use this theory to organize a dataset of congressional staff employment merged with new records of invitations, applications, and attendance at training sessions produced by three nonprofit organizations in Washington, DC. We find that staffers are more likely to acquire expertise when their jobs are more secure and there are more opportunities to use their expertise in careers outside of Congress -- most notably, when their party takes control of the presidency. Our analysis suggests that oversight expertise is generally not sufficiently valuable outside of Congress to entice many staffers to acquire it without subsidies.

Rulemakers’ Professional Experience and Rulemaking Efficiency in U.S. Federal Agencies
Huchen Liu
American Politics Research, May 2024, Pages 320–337

I explore the potential impact of rulemakers’ professional experience on the efficiency of rulemaking by U.S. federal agencies. I highlight two types of professional experience rulemakers may have -- inside experience gathered by working in the federal government, if not the same agency, and outside experience gained before entering the civil service or between stints in government. I discuss several plausible mechanisms through which inside and outside experience may affect rulemaking efficiency. Using data combining rulemakers’ career backgrounds with rulemaking life-cycles from 1999 to 2023, I show that outside experience, and not inside experience, is associated with two measures of rulemaking efficiency: a higher likelihood for proposed rules to be promulgated as final and a lower likelihood of unanticipated events -- extensions of public comment periods, other delays to the rulemaking timetable, and the withdrawal of rules already issued.

Public Responses to Unilateral Policymaking
Benjamin Goehring & Kenneth Lowande
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming

Presidents possess vast authority over policies and outcomes. Recent studies suggest the public checks this unilateralism through expressive opinions and political participation. We reevaluate this accountability link with a preregistered panel survey that incorporates a number of design and conceptual improvements over existing experimental studies. Our findings reveal a more complex relationship between presidential actions and public opinion. We find no evidence that the public reacts negatively to unilateralism -- and some evidence they react positively. Respondents, however, may punish an incumbent for failing to implement the proposed policy change. While such a result suggests that the public can hold presidents accountable, we close by discussing how a lack of information likely renders this check moot.

How Political Dynasties Concentrate Advantage within Cities: Evidence from Crime and City Services in Chicago
Stephanie Ternullo, Ángela Zorro-Medina & Robert Vargas
Social Forces, forthcoming

Classic models of urban inequality acknowledge the importance of politics for resource distribution and service provision. Yet, contemporary studies of spatial inequality rarely measure politics directly. In this paper, we introduce political dynasties as a way of integrating political economy approaches with ecological theory to better understand the political construction of urban spatial inequality. To do so, we examine the case of political dynasties within the Chicago city council. We show that, from 2011 to 2018, blocks in dynastic wards saw fewer homicides, assaults, robberies, and thefts relative to those in non-dynastic wards. We then leverage the 2015 ward redistricting to provide evidence that dynastic effects play some role in producing these outcomes: blocks annexed into dynastic wards experienced a decline in assaults and robberies and an increase in pothole coverings. While dynastic politicians improve outcomes for blocks they annex, they also withdraw power from those they displace; and displaced blocks had relatively higher levels of crime than annexed blocks in 2015. Taken together, our findings provide evidence that dynastic politicians are contributing to spatial inequalities within Chicago.

Legislative redistricting and the partisan distribution of transportation expenditure
Walter Melnik
Economics of Governance, March 2024, Pages 1–29

I show that a state representative’s political party determines transportation expenditure in the area she represents. Previous studies of this topic consider party changes through election outcomes, which may be correlated with unobservable determinants of expenditure. To overcome this issue, I identify my estimates using Ohio’s 2012 state legislative redistricting, which moved many geographic areas into districts with opposite party incumbents. The Republican party controlled the state legislature and governorship over the period I study. I find that areas moving from governing party Republican to minority party Democratic districts received $3.4M (0.18 standard deviations) less annual highway construction funding than areas remaining in Republican districts. Areas moving from a Democratic to a Republican district, on the other hand, experienced no increase in expenditure -- the negative effect of moving to a different representative’s district appears to outweigh the positive effect of a majority party representative. Descriptive evidence suggests that changing representative’s party through redistricting had a different effect on construction funding than changing through an election, underlining the importance of my identification strategy.

The political consequences of corporate donations for public service provision
Sean McCarty & Jane Sumner
Business and Politics, March 2024, Pages 27-46

Companies often donate to support public service delivery in US cities. Although this can help alleviate budgetary struggles for those governments, it is unclear what effect it may have on the individual residents receiving the services. In this paper, we argue that people who receive services funded in part by corporate donations are less likely to hold their local governments accountable if the services are of poor quality, because they no longer conceive of themselves as being the sole set of interests the government is catering to. We test our theory using a survey experiment with a realistic fictional government email and find evidence that, when compared with people receiving strictly taxpayer-funded services, people who are told services are provided in part by companies are less likely to take the quality of services into account when they vote.

Do White House Chiefs of Staff “manage up”?
Matthew Beckmann
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming

The White House Chief of Staff (COS) has become the modern presidency's organizational lynchpin, the position tasked with helping presidents “faithfully execute the Office of President.” Extending a rich literature about how chiefs manage White House staffers, we consider the other side of the coin: can a COS manage the president? We begin theoretically, sketching three mechanisms -- offloading, streamlining, and steering—by which a COS could shape presidents' basic workways. We test resulting hypotheses against original data on presidents' daily work behaviors from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush -- a total spanning 48 years, nine presidencies, and 21 Chiefs of Staff (plus one sustained vacancy). Surprisingly, we find little evidence that Chiefs of Staff affected the duration, density, or composition of their president's workday. When it comes to the basic contours of presidential workways, it appears Chiefs of Staff do less “managing up” and more “managing around.”

Strategic avoidance and rulemaking procedures
Peter Bils, Robert Carroll & Lawrence Rothenberg
Journal of Theoretical Politics, April 2024, Pages 156–185

Informal, ‘notice-and-comment’, rulemaking is the prototypical mechanism employed by US regulators. However, agencies frequently claim their actions exempt from the process, and courts typically agree. Agencies thus face an important strategic choice between informal rulemaking and avoidance. To study this choice, we analyze a model of rulemaking with exemption and empirically analyze agency avoidance. Our model implies that more biased agencies engage in less avoidance, as they face more skepticism from the courts and, thus, require support from group comments to have their rules upheld. Empirically, we find support for this prediction. As for policy implications, we show it is more beneficial to allow exemptions when the agency is more biased.


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