From on High

Kevin Lewis

March 01, 2024

The people think what I think: False consensus and unelected elite misperception of public opinion
Alexander Furnas & Timothy LaPira
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming 


Political elites must know and rely faithfully on the public will to be democratically responsive. Recent work on elite perceptions of public opinion shows that reelection-motivated politicians systematically misperceive the opinions of their constituents to be more conservative than they are. We extend this work to a larger and broader set of unelected political elites such as lobbyists, civil servants, journalists, and the like, and report alternative empirical findings. These unelected elites hold similarly inaccurate perceptions about public opinion, though not in a single ideological direction. We find this elite population exhibits egocentrism bias, rather than partisan confirmation bias, as their perceptions about others' opinions systematically correspond to their own policy preferences. Thus, we document a remarkably consistent false consensus effect among unelected political elites, which holds across subsamples by party, occupation, professional relevance of party affiliation, and trust in party-aligned information sources.

The Rise and Fall of Congressional Oversight of the Bureaucracy: The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, 1969-2018 
Jason MacDonald
Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy, August 2023, Pages 287-309 


I describe oversight by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce from 1969 to 2018, employing data from transcripts of oversight hearings. This approach reveals a substantial decrease in oversight by the Committee, beginning in the late 1980’s. I document that, over time, the Committee has paid less attention to the activities of bureaucrats and more attention to examination of polices under its jurisdiction. The Committee’s agenda in non-legislative hearings has been transformed -- and less and less of it focuses on oversight of the bureaucracy. This account raises the question of whether oversight has declined similarly for other committees. Additionally, the documentation of a secular decline in oversight may encourage scholars to focus on theorizing about the basis for this decline.

Using Social Media to Identify the Effects of Congressional Viewpoints on Asset Prices
Francesco Bianchi, Roberto Gómez-Cram & Howard Kung
Review of Financial Studies, forthcoming 


We use a high-frequency identification approach to document that individual politicians affect asset prices. We exploit the regular flow of viewpoints contained in Congress members’ tweets. Supportive (critical) tweets increase (decrease) the stock prices of the targeted firm and the corresponding industry in minutes around the tweet. The bulk of the stock price effects is concentrated in the tweets revealing news about future legislative action. The effects are amplified around committee meeting days, especially when the tweet originates from committee members and influential politicians. Overall, we show that Congress members’ social media accounts are an important source of political news.

Are Political and Charitable Giving Substitutes? Evidence from the United States
Pinar Yildirim et al.
Management Science, forthcoming 


Using microdata from the American Red Cross (ARC) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in two natural experiments, we provide evidence that political giving and charitable giving are substitutes. In the first natural experiment, we estimate the effects of a positive shock to charitable donations to the ARC: foreign natural disaster events. We find that although charitable donations to ARC increase by 34.9% in the six weeks following a disaster, political donations decline by 18.8% in the same period. Put differently, each 1% increase in the charitable giving to ARC is accompanied by a 0.53% drop in political donations. At the average county-week–level donations, the implied effect of a $1 increase in charitable giving is a $0.42 decline in political donations. In the second natural experiment, we estimate the effects of a positive shock to political giving: advertisements for political campaigns. Exploiting geographic discontinuities in advertising markets, we find that political advertisements increase political giving, whereas they decrease charitable donations to ARC. Our estimates imply that each 1% increase in the political giving is accompanied by a 0.59% drop in charitable donations to ARC. At the average county-week–level donations, the implied effect of a $1 increase in political giving is a $0.33 decline in charitable donations. The crowding-out elasticities suggest that political giving and charitable giving are relatively close substitutes. We provide a number of robustness checks, and we discuss potential causal mechanisms.

US Political Corruption and Quarterly Conference Calls
Lamia Chourou, Ashrafee Hossain & Anand Jha
Journal of Banking & Finance, April 2024 


We find that managers obfuscate during conference calls when their firm's headquarters is in a politically corrupt state, and they do so to shield assets from corrupt officials. The positive association between corruption and obfuscation by managers is much stronger when the expropriation risks are higher, such as when the firm (a) does not pay dividends, (b) is making a profit, (c) has more cash, (d) has fewer subsidiaries, and (e) is not making any political contributions. We do not find evidence that managers obfuscate during conference calls to hide their self-dealing.

Countering capture in local politics: Evidence from eight field experiments
Trevor Incerti
Journal of Politics, forthcoming 


In the first field experiments to encourage participation in local civic bodies, I examine if outreach can reduce inequalities in who participates in city council meetings. Renter participation in local politics lags that of homeowners, who often participate to oppose housing growth. 19,951 renter households received randomly assigned emails encouraging them to comment at their city council meetings and support housing growth. Opening a message highlighting potential costs of abstention from local politics increased public comments by 1.4 percentage points versus placebo. These effects are substantively large: treatment-induced comments represented 8% of total comments and 46% of pro-housing comments across all targeted meetings. The results suggest that even low-cost outreach strategies can meaningfully increase participation in lesser-known settings like city councils and make these bodies more reflective of the general public. Further, increasing the perception that abstention is costly appears to be an effective motivator of collective action.

“100,000 Unarmed Men in Washington”: Public Opinion and the 1876 Election Compromise
Michael Korzi
Studies in American Political Development, forthcoming 


This article examines how public opinion -- notably political activism and protest, as well as threats of violence, and violence itself -- shaped the eventual resolution of the 1876 election. While not discounting the bargaining or machinations of party elites in forging an ultimate compromise, the standard explanation in the scholarly literature, the emphasis here adds important texture and nuance to the conversation, and strongly suggests that public opinion (broadly construed) played a significant, if not exclusive, role in pressuring party leaders to compromise on the eventual Electoral Commission Act that resolved the crisis. In particular, a series of January 1877 demonstrations held across several key states, coupled with the threat of “menace” at the heart of the Southern rifle clubs that were prominent in the campaign and its aftermath, provided strong incentives to partisan leaders and especially members of Congress to seek compromise to resolve the electoral crisis. The article also addresses the contested nature of mass meetings and protests in this era -- and in general -- and how partisans seek to define terms and behaviors to suit their political positions.

Views on the hill: Disagreement and effectiveness in U.S. Senate agenda setting
Jonathan Lewallen
Politics & Policy, forthcoming


Setting the decision agenda requires restricting information and focusing attention on specific issue dimensions. Agenda setting also carries opportunity costs: focusing on some issues and proposals means others go unaddressed. Agenda setting thus generates conflict about the choice of issues and selection of alternatives and proposals. Using data on “views” attached to U.S. Senate committee reports and Volden and Wiseman's legislative effectiveness scores, I show that more effective legislators are more likely to express disagreement with agenda-setting choices. And rather than harm senators' future prospects at advancing legislation, expressing disagreement is associated with more subsequent legislative success relative to what other individual and institutional characteristics would predict, particularly in the middle stages of the legislative process. This article's findings illuminate potential short-term benefits to expressing disagreement in agenda setting. I also find these activities have declined over time, which suggests changes in the institutional environment about venues for expressing disagreement.


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