Institutional Constraint

Kevin Lewis

November 11, 2022

Trump Tweets and Democratic Attitudes: Evidence from a Survey Experiment
Shaun Bowler, Miguel Carreras & Jennifer Merolla
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


During his tenure in office, President Trump made repeated attacks on democratic norms and practices in his public statements, in particular via Twitter. Does this type of anti-democratic rhetoric lead to an erosion of citizens' democratic attitudes? We argue that reactions to Trump's rhetoric are not likely to be uniform given the highly polarized political climate in the United States. In order to test this theoretical proposition, we fielded a survey experiment on a module of the 2019 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. Treated respondents were exposed to a range of tweets sent by President Trump attacking three critical institutions of a liberal democracy (the media, Congress, and the Courts). We find limited evidence that Trump's rhetoric leads to an erosion of democratic attitudes. On the contrary, the results suggest there is significant pushback against anti-democratic messages, especially among Democrats.

Do Violent Protests Affect Expressions of Party Identity? Evidence from the Capitol Insurrection
Gregory Eady, Frederik Hjorth & Peter Thisted Dinesen
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


The insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, was the most dramatic contemporary manifestation of deep political polarization in the United States. Recent research shows that violent protests shape political behavior and attachments, but several questions remain unanswered. Using day-level panel data from a large sample of US social media users to track changes in the identities expressed in their Twitter biographies, we show that the Capitol insurrection caused a large-scale decrease in outward expressions of identification with the Republican Party and Donald Trump, with no indication of reidentification in the weeks that followed. This finding suggests that there are limits to party loyalty: a violent attack on democratic institutions sets boundaries on partisanship, even among avowed partisans. Furthermore, the finding that political violence can deflect copartisans carries the potential positive democratic implication that those who encourage or associate themselves with such violence pay a political cost.

Is There a Tradeoff Between Policy Responsiveness and Government Effectiveness? Evidence From the American States
Patrick Flavin
American Politics Research, forthcoming 


Citizens in a democracy expect elected officials will be responsive to their political opinions and govern in an effective way that improves their quality of life. However, a government that is too responsive to public sentiments may, in practice, be unable to govern effectively and promote societal well-being. This study is the first attempt to date to empirically evaluate this important potential tradeoff. Using newly developed measures of public opinion and public policy liberalism in the American states over time and a diverse battery of societal outcomes as well as multiple estimation strategies and timeframes, I find a weak and directionally inconsistent statistical relationship between policy responsiveness and government effectiveness. These findings have significant normative and theoretical implications because they suggest there is not a tradeoff between a government responding to its citizens' opinions and it governing effectively by promoting citizens' well-being.

Electoral Accountability and Control in US Cities 
Holger Sieg & Chamna Yoon
Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming


We consider a dynamic game of electoral competition with adverse selection, moral hazard, and imperfect monitoring. We show that this dynamic game can be estimated using a flexible maximum likelihood estimator. We implement the estimator using data from recent mayoral elections in large US cities with binding two-term limits. Our empirical findings suggest that there are large differences in performance among different types of mayors. We find an economically important degree of policy responsiveness, with effort accounting for a larger fraction of the total effect than selection. Finally, we evaluate several institutional reforms that promise to increase policy responsiveness.

The Institution's Knowledge: Congressional Staff Experience and Committee Productivity
Emily Cottle Ommundsen
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Congressional staff have often been called the "invisible force" behind members of Congress, earning themselves the title of "unelected lawmakers." In this paper, I explore the link between United States Senate committees' level of productivity and the experience of their staff. Utilizing publicly reported data on Senate staff experience and a new measure of committee productivity I find that a committee's average years of staff experience is a significant predictor of committee legislative effectiveness. I find, however, that greater levels of staff experience only increase committee effectiveness when assessing the experience of senior or high-ranking staff. As non-senior staff experience increases, however, committees become less effective. These findings suggest that when making hiring decisions, Senate chairs and ranking members should prioritize years of experience in their senior staff while foregoing experienced general and administrative staff in order to achieve greater levels of committee productivity.

Local News and the Electoral Incentive to Invest in Infrastructure
Megan Mullin & Katy Hansen
American Political Science Review, forthcoming 


Despite broad public support, investment in US infrastructure has not kept pace with growth, population shifts, and rising exposure to climate change risks. One explanation lies in politicians' electoral incentives: because, in the short term, voters see only the costs of investment and not its benefits, politicians have incentive to pander and spend less than what they or their fully informed constituents would prefer. Local newspapers could help reduce this constraint by increasing politicians' confidence that voters will receive information that justifies higher spending. In a survey experiment, we found that informing US city and county elected officials about news coverage of infrastructure failures increased support for a costly investment for those in competitive electoral settings. When motivated by reelection, politicians need the benefits of investment to be visible in order to justify its costs. Our results demonstrate the political importance of the nonpolitical news covered in local newspapers.

Gerrymandering in State Legislatures: Frictions from Axiomatic Bargaining
Hisam Sabouni & Cameron Shelton
American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, November 2022, Pages 519-542 


Theories of partisan redistricting postulate unitary actors maximizing their party's expected seat share. Yet, the partition of a fixed supply of friendly voters necessarily implies a tragedy of the commons. We recast partisan redistricting as a bargaining game among the sitting representatives of the party controlling the map. The status quo is the threat point, explaining why changes are frequently minor. This bargaining framework implies that highly competitive districts will receive more help from redistricting if they are already represented by the party in charge. Employing a regression discontinuity design with precinct-level data, we find support for this prediction.

A Partisan Solution to Partisan Gerrymandering: The Define-Combine Procedure 
Maxwell Palmer, Benjamin Schneer & Kevin DeLuca
Harvard Working Paper, August 2022


Redistricting reformers have proposed many solutions to the problem of partisan gerrymandering but they all require either bipartisan consensus or the agreement of both parties on the legitimacy of a neutral third party to resolve disputes. In this paper we propose a new method for drawing district maps, the Define-Combine Procedure, that substantially reduces partisan gerrymandering without requiring a neutral third party or bipartisan agreement. One party defines a map of 2N equal-population contiguous districts. Then the second party combines pairs of contiguous districts to create the final map of N districts. Using real-world geographic and electoral data, we use simulations and map-drawing algorithms to show that this procedure dramatically reduces the advantage conferred to the party controlling the redistricting process and leads to less biased maps without requiring cooperation or non-partisan actors.

Particularism or Policy? When Distributive Outlays Flow to the President's Core Supporters
Shu Fu
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming 


The literature on distributive politics reveals that presidents regularly influence federal spending and disproportionately direct federal grants toward their core supporters. This paper offers a comprehensive assessment of the interpretation of core-supporter targeting. Empirical evidence shows that the underlying patterns of partisan targeting do not accord with standard accounts of party-building activities nor electoral considerations that are evidence of presidential particularism. Instead, this paper argues that presidential policy priority better explains core-state targeting. Presidents use agencies that are ideologically aligned with them or associated with their policy priorities to enhance the largesse they bestow on core constituencies, and this is the consequence of presidents pursuing ideological and policy goals. Collectively, it indicates a less cynical point of view on the orientation of the American presidency.

Poisoning the Well: How Astroturfing Harms Trust in Advocacy Organizations
Edward Walker & Andrew Le
Social Currents, forthcoming


Sociological research on social movements and politics holds that advocacy organizations are typically trusted to be authentic agents of their constituents. At the same time, however, businesses and other outside interests often engage in covert "astroturfing" strategies in which they ventriloquize claims through apparently independent grassroots associations (but which are entirely funded and staffed to benefit the sponsor). These widespread and deceptive strategies may harm trust in advocacy groups overall, extending beyond those revealed to be involved, through a mechanism of categorical stigmatization. This study is the first to test how revealed covert patronage may "poison the well" for all advocacy groups, with implications for how social movements and other advocacy causes suffer harm from illegitimate political practices by other organizations. The authors carried out two survey-experiments in which a local advocacy organization was revealed to be operating, respectively, as a "front" for either a corporation or think tank; in each experiment, conditions varied depending upon whether the sponsor was presented as highly reputable, low reputation, or with no specified reputation. In both experiments, astroturfing led to significant declines in trust in advocacy groups overall. We highlight implications for theory and research on social movements, organizational theory, and political processes.


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