The Room Where it Happened

Kevin Lewis

May 07, 2021

Social Lobbying
Christian Grose et al.
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


We theorize that direct social lobbying -- the meeting of a lobbyist and public official outside of a formal office -- persuades officials to publicly support policies favored by interest groups. Social lobbying influences public officials because the social environment allows for greater receptivity to interest group messages. A randomized field experiment was conducted by a lobbying firm in a U.S. state legislature. Legislators randomly assigned to be socially lobbied more frequently expressed public support for the interest group’s preferred policy than did legislators lobbied in their offices or not contacted by the lobbyist. In addition, an original survey of registered lobbyists was conducted in 10 U.S. states demonstrating that social lobbying regularly occurs. Political elites are influenced by the social environment; and interest group direct lobbying is influential when conducted in places not easily observed by the public.

Ideology and Performance in Public Organizations
Jorg Spenkuch, Edoardo Teso & Guo Xu
NBER Working Paper, April 2021


We combine personnel records of the United States federal bureaucracy from 1997-2019 with administrative voter registration data to study how ideological alignment between politicians and bureaucrats affects the personnel policies and performance of public organizations. We present four results. (i) Consistent with the use of the spoils system to align ideology at the highest levels of government, we document significant partisan cycles and substantial turnover among political appointees. (ii) By contrast, we find virtually no political cycles in the civil service. The lower levels of the federal government resemble a "Weberian" bureaucracy that appears to be largely protected from political interference. (iii) Democrats make up the plurality of civil servants. Overrepresentation of Democrats increases with seniority, with the difference in career progression being largely explained by positive selection on observables. (iv) Political misalignment carries a sizeable performance penalty. Exploiting presidential transitions as a source of "within-bureaucrat" variation in the political alignment of procurement officers over time, we find that contracts overseen by a misaligned officer exhibit cost overruns that are, on average, 8% higher than the mean overrun. We provide evidence that is consistent with a general "morale effect," whereby misaligned bureaucrats are less motivated.

"How the Sausage Gets Made": Voter ID and Deliberative Democracy
Joshua Douglas
Nebraska Law Review, forthcoming


I was in “the room where it happens” when Kentucky enacted a new photo ID law for voting. And I lived to tell the tale. This Article recounts the evolution of Kentucky’s voter ID law, which could have been one of the strictest ID laws in the country but ultimately became one of the mildest. The inside story of how that occurred is itself interesting, but the Article also relates it to a theory of deliberative democracy, or a legislative process that benefits from debate, negotiation, and compromise from various voices, making the final enactment more legitimate. The Article traces the history of the voter ID law, explaining the significant substantive changes that occurred during the legislative process. Next, the Article analyzes the litigation over the bill, which was focused on its implementation during the pandemic and not about the substance of the new law -- showing that even opponents accepted its main substantive components. Finally, the Article relates the Kentucky story to a legislative theory of deliberative democracy. The Kentucky process mostly worked because, even though Republicans had the votes to pass the most stringent law possible, they instead moderated in response to opposition from Democrats and advocacy organizations. That moderation made the process more legitimate and created a better substantive outcome. The Article suggests that, to encourage a stronger legislative process, courts could give slightly more deference to a state that passes an election law with indicia of deliberative democracy. Voter ID laws are unnecessary: they do not root out any fraud that exists and can disenfranchise voters. But the Kentucky experience shows that not all voter ID laws are created equal. If the political reality meant that a new voter ID law was inevitable, the Kentucky version -- with its various exceptions and fail-safe protections -- is about as good as one can expect. Further, its passage opened the door to other pro-voter reforms. Perhaps the Kentucky model -- and the deliberative democracy process it exhibits -- can lower the temperature in other states.

Political Connections, Allocation of Stimulus Spending, and the Jobs Multiplier
Joonkyu Choi, Veronika Penciakova & Felipe Saffie
Federal Reserve Working Paper, January 2021


Using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) data, we show that firms lever their political connections to win stimulus grants and public expenditure channeled through politically connected firms hinders job creation. We build a unique database that links campaign contributions and state legislative election outcomes to ARRA grant allocation. Using exogenous variation in political connections based on ex-post close elections held before ARRA, we causally show that politically connected firms are 64 percent more likely to secure a grant. Based on an instrumental variable approach, we also establish that state-level employment creation associated with grants channeled through politically connected firms is nil. Therefore, the impact of fiscal stimulus is not only determined by how much is spent, but also by how the expenditure is allocated across recipients.

The Effect of Presidential Particularism on Income: A County Level Analysis
Jamie Bologna Pavlik & Maria Tackett
Texas Tech University Working Paper, March 2021


Does it pay to be a locale of political importance? Political business cycle theory predicts that the executive has an incentive to manipulate policy to increase the chances of their party remaining in office. In particular, core counties (those that vote for the current administration) have been shown to enjoy disproportionately higher federal spending. In this paper, we explore how this funding affects the well-being of an area by estimating the effect of presidential particularism on governmental transfers and (productive) income per-capita using county-level data from 1993 – 2012. We find that transfer payments tend to be higher and income lower in counties that vote for the current administration. These findings are robust across a wide number of specifications including fixed effects, first differences, a first differenced model with county specific time trends, and a matching analysis. Moreover, results hold when examining the subset of counties that only voted for a single party throughout the entire sample where the treatment (whether the county voted for the current administration) is largely exogenous to the county in question.

Why People Hate Congress but Love Their Own Congressperson: An Information Processing Explanation
Joris Lammers et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Citizens in Western democracies often have negative attitudes toward political bodies, yet consistently re-elect their own representatives to these same political bodies. They hate Congress, but love their own congressperson. In contrast to resource-based explanations, we propose that this Paradox of Congressional Support is partly due to the wide availability of negative information about politicians in open societies combined with basic processes of information processing. Five studies found that unrelated negative political information decreases attitudes toward political categories such as U.S. governors but has no effect on attitudes of familiar, individual politicians (e.g., one’s own governor); additional studies further identify familiarity as the critical process. Importantly, we demonstrate that this effect generalizes to all U.S. regions and remains when controlling for and is not moderated by political ideology. These results place a presumed macrolevel political paradox within the domain of cognitive mechanisms of basic information processing.

The lure of the private sector: Career prospects affect selection out of Congress
Benjamin Egerod
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


Does the potential for a successful private sector career induce legislators to leave office? How does this affect the representation voters receive? I show that when former US senators — who now work as lobbyists — become more successful, currently serving senators with similar characteristics are more likely to take private sector employment. I replicate all results on data from the House. A number of tests suggest that senators react to the opportunity costs of holding office. Investigating selection effects, I find that legislative specialists are attracted the most in the Senate. Preliminary evidence suggests that the least wealthy respond most strongly in the House. This suggests that the revolving door shapes the skill set of legislators and the representation voters receive.

Information and Policy Innovation in U.S. States
Scott LaCombe, Caroline Tolbert & Karen Mossberger
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


Information is a critically important, yet hard to measure, component on policy innovation across state governments. Widespread use of broadband has made it easier for governments to observe other actors, increasing the amount of policy information, while also diversifying the sources of information available to policymakers. This should translate into making governments more innovative over time and quicker to adapt to challenges. At the same time, the Internet may disrupt previous existing flows of information by decreasing the importance of geographic proximity and creating more nationalized or global information networks. We argue that the growth of broadband has made states more innovative over time, while also reducing the reliance on neighboring state adoptions for policy solutions as the information environment becomes both richer and more nationalized. We estimate a pooled event history analysis on hundreds of policies comparing the treatment period (2000–2016) with a control condition (last two decades of the 20th century) and find that states with higher broadband subscriptions are more innovative overall and less reliant on geographic contiguity for policy solutions. The growth of information flows due to digital communications has led to states becoming more innovative while also operating in a more nationalized network.

Profiting from Real Estate: So Easy a Congressman Can Do It
Markus Baldauf et al.
University of British Columbia Working Paper, March 2021


We use financial disclosures to construct the returns on real estate transactions by U.S. Congress members. Active Congress members outperform non-Congress members by 3.25% per year. They outperform financial professionals, doctors, and former Congress members by similar amounts. About 1/3 of the total outperformance is due to national-level market timing. Consistent with this, a Buy-Sell index of transactions of active Congress members forecasts the returns on the aggregate U.S. housing index, but a similar index of transactions of inactive Congress members does not. Another 1/2 of the total outperformance is due to city- or neighborhood-level timing, with the remainder being either hyper-local or specific to the actual house purchased. In regards to the latter, an analysis of transactions prior to, or subsequent to the Congress member's fails to find broad based evidence of bribery.

Polls, Politics and Disaster Relief: Evidence from Federal SBA Loan Programs
Abraham Ravid et al.
Temple University Working Paper, March 2021


We study how the popularity of an incumbent president can influence the generosity of the relief effort in response to a natural disaster as reflected in the federal SBA loan program. We document that the loan amounts relative to reported damages are higher when popularity of the incumbent president is lower. This result is consistent with the catering view of disaster relief where the president approves higher amounts when his popularity is at a low point but may hold his ground when his popularity is high. We find that this catering behavior is amplified when public sentiment regarding the disaster is high (as measured by a metric designed from Google search volume). When the public sentiment is very high even a popular president may approve high disaster aid, further supporting our catering view. We also examine the effect of other factors that increase the political importance of the disaster (e.g., swing county, campaign donations, first term, and number of presidential visits) and find evidence of increased catering. Finally, there is some evidence of interaction of catering with credit scoring rules, suggesting discrimination in loan provision in favor of richer counties and against counties with a high percentage of African Americans. Our findings point to a new venue for politics in climate change in the area of disaster relief.

Civil Service Reform and Organizational Practices: Evidence from the Pendleton Act
Diana Moreira & Santiago Pérez
NBER Working Paper, April 2021


Competitive exams are a standard method for selecting civil servants. Yet, evidence on the effectiveness of such approach is mixed, and lack of personnel data limits our understanding of the mechanisms underlying this varying success. We digitize personnel and financial data to study the impacts of the 1883 Pendleton Act, which mandated exams for some employees in the largest US customs-collection districts. The reform improved targeted employees' professional background and reduced turnover. However, it did not increase cost-effectiveness in revenue collection. An unintended consequence of the reform was to induce hiring in exempted positions, provoking distortions in districts' personnel structure. Our results illustrate the importance of considering the incentives of all involved parties when designing reforms.

Testing the Participation Hypothesis: Evidence from Participatory Budgeting
Carolina Johnson, Jacob Carlson & Sonya Reynolds
Political Behavior, forthcoming


This paper examines the impact of local participatory democracy initiatives on individual voter turnout in ordinary elections, using the example of participatory budgeting (PB). Such initiatives often aspire to create more activated citizens, but there is still limited empirical research validating these claims. We link participants in New York City’s participatory budgeting process to their state voter file records to test whether PB increases participants’ likelihood of voting in regular elections. We use coarsened exact matching to identify similar voters from council districts where PB was not implemented. Comparing PB voters to similar individuals who were not exposed to PB, we find that engaging with participatory budgeting increased individuals’ probability of voting by an average of 8.4 percentage points. In addition, we find that these effects are greater for those who often have lower probabilities of voting -- young people, lower educated and lower income voters, black voters, and people who are the minority race of their neighborhood.


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