Performing Government

Kevin Lewis

October 23, 2020

Later bedtimes predict President Trump’s performance
Douglas Almond & Xinming Du
Economics Letters, forthcoming


Technology and social media use are increasingly associated with delays in nightly sleep. Here, we consider the timing of President Trump’s official Twitter account posts as a proxy for sleep duration and how it relates to his public performance. The President wakes around 6am, a routine which has not changed since early 2017. In contrast, the frequency of Twitter activity 11pm-2am increased 317% from under one day per week in 2017 to three days a week in 2020. The President’s increased late-night activity is not accounted for by increases in the frequency of his use of social media over time, his travel schedule, or seasonality. On the day following one where he posts late at night, his Twitter followers interact less with his posts, described as “official statements by the President of the United States”.1 He receives 7,400 fewer likes per tweet, 1,300 fewer retweets per tweet, and 1,400 fewer replies per tweet after a late night (drops of 6.5%-8%). Tweets aside, the President’s speeches and interview transcripts have previously been coded for their dominant emotion through text analysis. On the day following a late night, the President’s inferred emotion is less likely to be “happy” and nearly three times more likely to be “angry” in his interviews and speeches. Finally, the 2020 election odds of the President’s chief opponent also increase after a late night, while the President’s are unchanged. The pattern we document is consistent with a progressive shortening of the President’s sleep over his first term and compromised performance from sleep deprivation.

Does Transparency Inhibit Political Compromise?
Jeffrey Harden & Justin Kirkland
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


Governments around the world face an apparent tension when considering whether to allow public access to the governing process. In principle, transparent institutions promote accountability and good governance. However, politicians and scholars contend that such reforms also constrain politicians' capacity to negotiate and compromise, producing inefficiency and gridlock. This argument - that transparency inhibits compromise - is widely accepted, but rarely empirically tested. We develop a theoretical framework around the claim and evaluate it in the context of American state legislatures. We leverage temporal variation in state “sunshine law” adoptions and legislative exemptions to identify the effects of transparency on several observable indicators of compromise: legislative productivity, polarization, partisanship, policy change, and budget delay. Our analyses generally do not support the argument; we mostly report precisely estimated negligible effects. Thus, transparency may not be the hindrance to policy making that conventional wisdom suggests. Effective governance appears possible in state legislatures even under public scrutiny.

Ask Only What Your Country Can Do for You: Group Interests, Constituency Characteristics and Demands for Representation
Dino Christenson, Jennifer Lin & Todd Makse
American Politics Research, forthcoming


Providing representation entails making choices about prioritizing the needs of diverse groups within one’s constituency. While citizens cannot reasonably expect that representatives will cater to their particular interests or priorities all the time, we know little about citizens’ expectations in this regard. In this paper, we present the results of two survey experiments that probe the relationship between citizens’ group identifications, their perceptions of their constituencies, and their demands regarding representation. We find that citizens are generally egocentric, in that they expect a representative to cater to personally relevant interests even when such interests are not an important part of the representative’s constituency. Moreover, we find that this egocentrism is not mitigated through the provision of information about the district’s diversity or composition, indicating that voter ignorance about the nature of constituencies is not the primary cause of these expectations. Regardless of sophistication, we observe expectations that are unrealistically self-centered.

Coronavirus misinformation: Quantifying sources and themes in the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’
Sarah Evanega et al.
Cornell Working Paper, September 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded alongside what the World Health Organization has termed an “infodemic” of misinformation. This study identifies and analyzes the most prominent topics of COVID-related misinformation that emerged in traditional media between January 1 and May 26, 2020 based on a total sample of over 38 million articles published in English-language media around the world. To our knowledge, our analysis is the first comprehensive survey of the traditional and online media landscape on this issue. We found that media mentions of US President Donald Trump within the context of COVID-19 misinformation made up by far the largest share of the infodemic. Trump mentions comprised 37.9% of the overall misinformation conversation, well ahead of any other topics. We conclude that the President of the United States was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation “infodemic”. Only 16.4% of the misinformation conversation was “fact-checking” in nature, suggesting that the majority of COVID misinformation is conveyed by the media without question or correction.

Does partisanship explain spending patterns in congressional bill proposals?
Laura Quaglia, Derek Epp & Katherine Madel
Party Politics, forthcoming


We investigate the motivations driving members of the US Congress to introduce bills that require new federal spending, testing a classic “party matters” hypothesis that spending is motivated by partisanship with Democrats spending more on social programs and Republicans more on defense and social order. To test this hypothesis, we introduce a new dataset that codes Congressional Budget Office reports, allowing us to link cost estimates to over 7,000 congressional bills. Overall, we find very little evidence that partisanship or ideology can reliably predict the cost of bills. Bills introduced by Democrats call for similar levels of new spending as those introduced by Republicans, even on policy topics where partisan divisions are thought to be pronounced. These results raise the possibility that when it comes to spending rank-and-file members are less motivated by abstract partisan commitments than traditionally thought.

Bureaucratic discretion and contracting outcomes
Matthew Boland & David Godsell
Accounting, Organizations and Society, forthcoming


We find that federal bureaucrats award more, larger, and less risky contracts to politically connected firms when they have greater discretion over contracting outcomes. Using a sample of 4.3 million federal government contract actions obligating $2.47 trillion between 2000 and 2015, we show that this result varies predictably across contract and agency characteristics, over time, and in placebo tests, and is robust to a comprehensive fixed effect structure and seven alternate measures of political connectedness. Our evidence illustrates the overlooked role of the bureaucrat in facilitating political bias in federal contracting outcomes.

Electoral Politics and the Allocation of Government Capital
Ran Duchin & John Hackney
Boston College Working Paper, October 2020


We construct novel measures of political importance that capture swing and base voters using data from Facebook ad spending, independent political expenditures, the Cook Political Report, and campaign contributions. We find that businesses in politically important states, districts, and sectors receive more government stimulus funds following the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, controlling for funding demand and both health and economic conditions. Survey evidence shows that the tilt in government funding weakens the adverse effects of COVID-19 on employment and small business activity. Similarly, difference-in-difference evidence shows that government funding attenuates the decline in employment and business applications. Overall, we provide novel evidence on the allocative distortions and real effects of electoral politics.

Trump tariffs and firm relief: Winners and losers from the steel tariff exclusion request
Wongi Kim & Yeo Joon Yoon
Applied Economics Letters, forthcoming


The Trump administration introduced 25% tariffs on steel imports in March 2018. To minimize the adverse effects of these tariffs on downstream US producers who import steel products, the administration simultaneously introduced exclusion requests for tariff exemptions. In this paper, we investigate whether companies from states where Trump won the 2016 presidential election were more likely to receive tariff exemptions than were firms that applied for exemptions in non-Trump states. Our estimation result suggests that firms located in Trump states were more likely to be granted exemptions. In addition, firms with lower sales-to-employment ratios, a signal of lower efficiency, were more likely to have exclusion requests approved if they were from states where Trump won the election.

In the shadow of the stars and stripes: Testing the malleability of U.S. support for Puerto Rican statehood
Abdiel Santiago, Alexander Kustov & Ali Valenzuela
Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, forthcoming


Do voters update their racialized political preferences in response to new information? To answer this long-standing question, we conduct an original survey examining U.S. mainland attitudes toward towards Puerto Rican statehood, a rare consequential racialized issue of low salience. To test whether public support for statehood can be changed, we embedded an information experiment describing Puerto Rico’s political status and its relationship to the U.S. The treatment was designed to increase the perceived connection between the groups through effortful thinking. Descriptively, our results indicate that Americans are generally ambivalent to the idea of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state. We further find that opposition to statehood is related to anti-immigration attitudes, conservative ideology, and lack of knowledge about the issue. Nonetheless, we also show that highly racialized opposition to statehood can be significantly decreased among all groups of voters by providing simple background information on U.S. and Puerto Rico’s relationship.

Fiscal Slack, Rule Constraints, and Government Corruption
Wenchi Wei
Public Administration Review, forthcoming


This article examines the effect of fiscal slack on government corruption using the U.S. states in the period from 1998 to 2012 as a research sample. Fiscal slack in the U.S. states is commonly referred to as “rainy day funds” (RDFs), which are intended as countercyclical reserve funds for government‐wide purposes. Theoretically, bureaucracy models predict that fiscal slack might catalyze the embezzlement or misuse behaviors of bureaucrats who are considered to be budget maximizers. However, formally established and rules‐bound RDFs may function as a “strongbox” that curbs officials’ discretionary power, reduces uncertainty in fiscal slack management, and ultimately restrains embezzlement and misuse behaviors. Empirically, we use the incidences and durations of natural hazards as instrumental variables for RDF balances to address the potential endogeneity problems. We find that state RDFs help reduce government corruption, especially when they are regulated by relatively looser deposit rules and stricter withdrawal rules.

Party Competition, Personal Votes, and Strategic Disloyalty in the U.S. States
Richard Burke, Justin Kirkland & Jonathan Slapin
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


Legislators will sometimes vote against their party’s position on roll-call votes to differentiate themselves from the party mainstream and to accrue a “personal vote.” Research suggests that the use of rebellion to generate a personal vote is more common (1) among majority party members and (2) among ideological extremists. But these majority party extremists only have a strong incentive to rebel in situations where the accrual of a personal vote is electorally useful. In this manuscript, we evaluate variation in rebellion rates of state legislators in the United States conditional on ideological extremism and majority control. Using donation-based measures of ideology and roll call-based measures of party loyalty over a twenty-year period across more than 30,000 legislators, we find that when legislators have little incentive to differentiate themselves from their parties, this “strategic” party disloyalty among majority party ideological extremists is limited. However, when legislators have strong incentives to craft a personal vote, ideological extremists defect from their party more often than their moderate counterparts. In particular, we find greater evidence for this type of strategic party disloyalty in states with high intra-party competition and low inter-party competition and less evidence in states with high inter-party competition.


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