Senators at Home: Local Attentiveness and Policy Representation in Congress
American Political Science Review, forthcoming
Is local attention a substitute for policy representation? Fenno (1978) famously described how legislators develop personal ties with their constituents through periodic visits to their districts and carefully crafted communications. Existing work suggests that such interactions insulate incumbents electorally, creating less need to represent constituents’ policy preferences. Surprisingly, this important argument has never been tested systematically. In this paper, I use data on senator travel and staffing behavior along with survey data from the 2011–2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study to investigate this claim. In addition to showing that areas with important campaign donors are significantly more likely to receive resources, I find that local visits may decrease approval among ideologically opposed constituents. Furthermore, I find inconsistent evidence regarding the effectiveness of local staff. These results suggest that local attention does not always cultivate goodwill in the district. Under polarized politics, home style does not effectively substitute for policy representation.
Strategic and Sequential Links between Campaign Donations and Lobbying
In Song Kim, Jan Stuckatz & Lukas Wolters
MIT Working Paper, November 2021
We offer the first large-scale analysis of the direct link between campaign donations and lobbying — two distinct political activities that have been mostly studied separately. Using over 75 million U.S. federal lobbying reports and campaign contribution filings since 1999, we show that interest group donations are directly related to their subsequent lobbying efforts and the legislative activities of the targeted politicians. To analyze this sequential link, we use difference-in-differences estimation combined with matching, comparing firms that donate to a politician against a set of comparable firms with no donation history to the same politician. We find that donations result in an 8 to 11 percentage point increase in the probability that the targeted politician engages in legislative activities related to the bills lobbied by the donating firm. The estimated effects are large, increase over time, and are particularly pronounced for committee-related activities. Our findings question the common perception of donations as driven either by ideology or electoral competition.
Interest Group Responses to Reform Efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives: The Case of Big Sugar
Kevin Grier, Robin Grier & Gor Mkrtchian
Texas Tech University Working Paper, October 2021
The US sugar program has long delivered significant subsidies to a concentrated group of sugar growers at the expense of American consumers. In 2013, however, an amendment in the House of Representatives attempted to seriously reduce those subsidies. The amendment narrowly lost. A similar amendment was proposed in 2018. It was voted down as well, but much more handily. In this paper, we show that “Big Sugar” increased real contributions to House incumbents in the interim by more than 50%. Using a district fixed effects logit model, we also show that these contributions significantly raised the probability that the targeted representative would vote against reforming the sugar subsidies. While many argue that money does not directly affect roll-call voting, we believe that in cases where the economic interest is clear and sizeable, and the researcher can use repeat votes to account for district level unobservables, the evidence shows a significant influence of money on votes.
Cosponsoring and Cashing In: US House Members’ Support for Punitive Immigration Policy and Financial Payoffs from the Private Prison Industry
Jason Morín, Rachel Torres & Loren Collingwood
Business and Politics, December 2021, Pages 492-509
The private prison industry is a multi-million-dollar industry that has increasingly profited from the detention of undocumented immigrants. As a government contractor, therefore, the industry has a natural interest in government decision making, including legislation that can affect its expansion into immigrant detention. In this article, we examine the relationship between campaign donations made on behalf of the private prison industry and an untested form of position taking — bill cosponsorship — in the US House of Representatives. We hypothesize the private prison industry will reward House members for taking positions that benefit the industry. We also hypothesize the private prison industry will also reward House members who incur greater political risk by taking positions out of sync with the party. To test our hypotheses, we focus on punitive immigration legislation that has the potential to increase the supply of immigrant detainees over the course of eight years. We find support for our second hypothesis, that private prison companies are more likely to reward House Democrats who cosponsor punitive immigration policies even after accounting for possible endogeneity. The findings have important implications regarding the relationship between House members and private interests.
Turnover, Loyalty and Competence in the West Wing: The Trump White House in Historical Context
Matthew Dickinson & Kate Reinmuth
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming
Pundits and scholars alike point to the high rates of administrative chaos and staff turnover in the Trump White House, but prior research has not been able to pin down the cause(s) empirically. In this paper, we develop a survival model and conduct a Bayesian latent trait analysis to examine the tenure rates of White House aides serving presidents Nixon through Trump. We find that, compared to his presidential predecessors, Trump′s White House stands out for its lack of personally loyal aides. This is not surprising given that his pre-presidential career would not have allowed him to develop the cadre of political loyalists that typically accompanied his predecessors into the West Wing. Nonetheless, we show that it was this lack of personal loyalty among his staff, and not any shortcoming in competence, that led to high rates of turnover.
Constituency Size and Evaluations of Government
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming
This article examines the relationship between legislative constituency size and opinions about the US state government. I show that over the course of US history, the states have disconnected the size of their legislatures from population change, resulting in a growing constituency size in nearly every state. I argue that because district size structures the nature of constituent–legislator interaction and levels of district heterogeneity, size influences the effectiveness of legislator efforts to build trust and support, resulting in more negative evaluations of representative government. Using a unique data set of nine Pew Research Center public opinion polls on favorable opinions of US state governments from 1997 to 2012, I find that constituency size is indeed associated with more negative evaluations. This relationship cannot be explained by other probable causes like legislative professionalism, partisanship, opinions about the federal government, or population size alone. Legislative institutions appear to moderate how residents experience and evaluate state government.
Is “Constitutional Veneration” an Obstacle to Constitutional Amendment?
Christopher Dawes & James Zink
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming
Some constitutional scholars suggest that the US Constitution stands as one of the oldest yet least changed national constitutions in part because Americans’ tendency to “revere” the Constitution has left them unwilling to consider significant changes to the document. Several recent studies support aspects of this claim, but no study establishes a direct link between individuals’ respect for the Constitution and their reluctance to amend it. To address this, we replicate and extend the research design of Zink and Dawes (2016) across two survey experiments. The key difference in our experiments is we include measures of respondents’ propensity to revere the Constitution, which in turn allows us to more directly test whether constitutional veneration translates into resistance to amendment. Our results build on Zink and Dawes’s findings and show that, in addition to institutional factors, citizens’ veneration of the Constitution can act as a psychological obstacle to constitutional amendment.
Appointees versus Elected Officials: The Implications of Institutional Design on Gender Representation in Political Leadership
Sarina Rhinehart, Matthew Geras & Jessica Hayden
Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, forthcoming
We explore how institutional design, whether a position is elected or appointed, influences women’s representation in state executive leadership positions, including cabinet secretaries and heads of bureaucratic agencies. We expect this relationship is conditional on if the position addresses a stereotypically feminine or masculine policy area. As women are less politically ambitious and perceive electoral disadvantages in running for masculine positions, we expect the pool of women willing to accept an appointed masculine position is greater than those willing to run for elected office. However, for feminine positions, women may perceive their gender as an advantage and are more willing to run. Using original data of state executive leaders, we find women are more likely to serve in elected than appointed feminine positions, but the opposite is true for masculine positions. This article provides insight into how institutional decisions can impact the presence of underrepresented groups in government.
The Influence of Unknown Media on Public Opinion: Evidence from Local and Foreign News Sources
Erik Peterson & Maxwell Allamong
American Political Science Review, forthcoming
In the Internet era, people can encounter a vast array of political news outlets, many with which they are unfamiliar. These unknown media outlets are notable because they represent potential sources of misinformation and coverage with a distinctive slant. We use two large survey experiments to consider how source familiarity influences political communication. Although this demonstrates the public is averse to consuming news from unfamiliar media, we show that — conditional on exposure to them — unknown local and foreign media sources can influence public opinion to an extent similar to established mainstream news outlets on the same issues. This comparable effectiveness stems from the public’s charitable evaluations of the credibility of unfamiliar news sources and their relatively low trust in familiar mainstream media. We find avoidance of unknown news outlets, not resistance to their coverage, is the primary factor limiting their political influence.