The system is down

Kevin Lewis

November 22, 2019

The Democratic Crisis and the Knowledge Problem
François Facchini & Mickael Melki
Politics & Policy, forthcoming


This article provides a new explanation for the current democratic crisis by focusing on the growing opposition of citizens to political elites. Modern democracies are basically representative democracies in the sense that citizens are represented by a governing political elite. We argue that democracies are in crisis because this political elite cannot possess the knowledge necessary to manage the complexity of the social order and implement rational choices. They fail in dealing with knowledge and thus cast doubt among citizens on the very legitimacy of democracy. This produces generalized distrust toward elites, who were thought to be able to deal with social complexity. As a result, democracy is considered to be responsible for societal problems while they actually stem from elites' overestimation of their ability to deal with societal complexity.

Noisy Retrospection: The Effect of Party Control on Policy Outcomes
Adam Dynes & John Holbein
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


Retrospective voting is vital for democracy. But, are the objective performance metrics widely thought to be relevant for retrospection — such as the performance of the economy, criminal justice system, and schools, to name a few — valid criteria for evaluating government performance? That is, do political coalitions actually have the power to influence the performance metrics used for retrospection on the timeline introduced by elections? Using difference-in-difference and regression discontinuity techniques, we find that US states governed by Democrats and those by Republicans perform equally well on economic, education, crime, family, social, environmental, and health outcomes on the timeline introduced by elections (2–4 years downstream). Our results suggest that voters may struggle to truly hold government coalitions accountable, as objective performance metrics appear to be largely out of the immediate control of political coalitions.

Campaign finance legislation and the supply-side of the revolving door
Simon Weschle
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


Existing research on the revolving door examines why employers hire former politicians. I complement this demand-side approach by demonstrating the importance of the supply-side. In particular, I argue that one important institutional factor that shapes politicians' willingness to leave office for a private sector job is campaign finance legislation. Less restrictive rules increase campaign spending for incumbents, which makes revolving door employment less attractive. Empirically, I use novel data from the US states and a difference-in-differences design to show that the exogenous removal of campaign finance legislation through Citizens United reduced the probability that incumbents left office to work as lobbyists. The supply-side approach provides insights into comparative differences in the prevalence of the revolving door.

Citizens United vs. FEC and corporate political activism
Rui Albuquerque et al.
Journal of Corporate Finance, forthcoming


This paper analyzes the effect that the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision on Citizens United vs. FEC had on corporate political activism. The decision opened the door for corporate treasuries to engage in independent political spending. Politically connected firms have lower announcement returns at the ruling than non-connected firms. The estimates suggest that the value of a political connection decreases by $6.9 million. To evaluate the effect of Citizens United on corporate political activism, we explore the fact that Citizens United also lifts bans on independent political spending in states where such bans existed. After the ruling, firms headquartered in states where bans are lifted have fewer state-level connections relative to firms in other states. Overall, our evidence supports the hypothesis that independent political spending crowds out political connections. We do not find any significant crowding-out effects of independent political expenditures on lobbying activity, executive contributions, and political action committees (PAC) contributions.

US capitals’ location and ability sorting of legislators
Giuseppe Rossitti
London School of Economics Working Paper, November 2019


I exploit a novel and rich data-set with biographical information of US state legislators to investigate their sorting based on remoteness and attractiveness of the state capital. The main finding of the paper is that in more remote US state capitals the legislators are on average less educated and experienced. The results are robust to using different measures of remoteness, based on the spatial distribution of the population, and controlling for other characteristics of the legislatures. To identify the causal effect of capitals’ remoteness, I use instrumental variables relying on proximity of capitals to the state centroids. Finally, I also find that legislators’ education affects public good provision and corruption.

The Declining Value of Revolving‐Door Lobbyists: Evidence from the American States
James Strickland
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


‘‘Revolving‐door” lobbyists are individuals who transition from governmental positions into lobbying for private entities. Such lobbyists thrive on the insider connections and political knowledge that they developed while in government. These assets afford former lawmakers more access to and influence over incumbent lawmakers. The value of their connections and knowledge, however, is contingent on former colleagues remaining within the legislature. As new legislators enter the assembly, the connections and knowledge of former members expire and lose value. Whereas increases in turnover or assembly size generate more former lawmakers who might lobby, such increases negatively affect former members’ value as lobbyists. Interest groups accordingly hire fewer former legislators to lobby. Other factors, such as longer cooling‐off periods or increased legislative staff resources, produce slight or no substantive effects on rates of revolving. Legislative characteristics mostly determine rates of revolving for former lawmakers.

What is Regular Order Worth? Partisan Lawmaking and Congressional Processes
James Curry & Frances Lee
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


Scholars and other congressional observers argue that the erosion of so-called “regular order” legislative processes exacerbates partisan conflict in Congress. In this paper, we investigate whether laws passed via more unorthodox and leadership-led legislative processes garner less bipartisan support than those passed under regular order processes. Drawing on an original dataset of important laws passed by Congress from 1987-2016 (the 100th-114th Congresses), we find little connection between violations of regular order and the amount of partisanship observed on either initial or final passage votes. In-depth interviews with long-time members of Congress and high-level congressional staffers reveal that centralized and unorthodox processes are frequently used not to pass partisan bills but because these methods are efficient in resolving legislative impasses. The flexibility and secrecy permitted by unorthodox processes can assist in negotiating agreements to enact even highly bipartisan legislation.

Examining Anger’s Immobilizing Effect on Institutional Insiders’ Action Intentions in Social Movements
Katherine DeCelles, Scott Sonenshein & Brayden King
Administrative Science Quarterly, forthcoming


We theorize that anger incited by a social movement, which has a mobilizing effect among outsider activists, might immobilize collective action intentions for institutional insiders—those sympathetic to the movement and employed by its target. We conducted initial field surveys across a spectrum of social movements, including Occupy Wall Street and #metoo, as well as those related to business sustainability and gun control, which showed that institutional insiders are often just as angry as outsider activists. But the evidence from those surveys did not show that social movement anger translated into collective action intentions among institutional insiders. We tested our theory deductively with an experiment conducted with participants who were supportive of social movement issues in their organizations. Overall, our results show that anger about a social movement issue relates to greater collective action intentions among outsider activists but not among institutional insiders. Instead of anger emboldening institutional insiders to act despite the potential costs, anger triggers fear about the potential negative consequences of collective action in the workplace, which in turn results in withdrawal. While social movements often rely on anger frames to mobilize sympathizers, our work suggests that this practice may paradoxically cause fear that immobilizes those uniquely positioned to be able to influence organizations to change.

Legislative Term Limits and Polarization
Michael Olson & Jon Rogowski
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


How do legislative term limits affect representation? Proponents’ arguments that term limits would reduce partisan conflict and improve the quality of representation have received surprisingly little empirical scrutiny. We argue that term limits increase party polarization by changing legislators’ electoral and career incentives, in turn increasing the role of parties in legislative processes. Using panel data on roll call voting patterns from 1993 to 2016, we show that term limits produced systematically higher levels of polarization in state legislative voting patterns by increasing the ideological gap between Republicans’ and Democrats’ voting records. Consistent with our theoretical account, we further show that term limits had larger effects in more professional legislatures and increased contributions from party committees to legislative candidates. Contrary to the goals of their proponents, terms limits exacerbated the legislative consequences of contemporary partisanship and have implications for understanding how electoral and career incentives affect legislative outcomes.

Financial Solidarity: The Future of Unions in the post-Janus Era
Leslie Finger & Michael Hartney
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming


In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a “right-to-work” (RTW) legal regime for the entire government workforce (Janus v. AFSCME). While many predict lower union membership, few have considered how Janus will challenge the overall cost-sharing strategy that unions use to ensure their affiliates’ organizational maintenance and survival. Using the National Education Association (NEA) as our empirical example, we develop and test a theory we call “financial solidarity,” which posits that union organizational maintenance hinges on the transfer of resources from affiliates in strong labor states to those in weaker labor states. We demonstrate that this system is in effect by showing that most NEA revenue originates from dues and fees paid by teachers in strong labor states and then by examining the causal effect of labor law retrenchment on affiliates’ reliance on their national union between 2005–2018. We find that the NEA transfers an additional $6–10 per member and is significantly more likely to make a political contribution in an affiliate’s state in the aftermath of retrenchment. These findings highlight that unions are maintained on an organizational model that relies on a balance of strong and weak state labor laws. By upending that equilibrium, Janus threatens to undermine the power of labor in American politics.

The Political Strategies and Unity of the American Corporate Inner Circle: Evidence from Political Donations, 1982–2000
Jennifer Heerwig & Joshua Murray
Social Problems, November 2019, Pages 580–608


Recent work has offered competing explanations for the long-term evolution of corporate political action in the United States. In one, scholars have theorized that long-term structural changes in the American political and economic landscape may have radically transformed inter-corporate network structures and changed the political orientation of corporate elites. In another, a small group of corporate elites continues to dominate government policy by advocating for class-wide interests through occupying key positions in government and policy planning groups. We offer new evidence of patterns in and predictors of political strategies among the nation’s elite corporate directors. We utilize an original dataset (the Longitudinal Elite Contributor Database) linked with registries of corporate directors and their board memberships. We ask: (1) has the political activity, unity, or pragmatism of the corporate elite declined since 1982; and (2) are individuals who direct multiple firms more pragmatic in their political action? Evidence suggests that corporate elites are more politically active and unified, and continue to exercise pragmatic political strategies vis-à-vis their campaign donations. Using random- and fixed-effects models, we present evidence to suggest that becoming a member of the inner circle has a significant moderating effect on elite political behavior. We offer an alternative mechanism of elite coordination that may help explain the continued political cohesion of the corporate elite.

Does Process Matter? Direct Democracy and Citizens’ Perceptions of Laws
Christina Ladam
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming


Does the process used to pass a law affect the way citizens evaluate the outcome? In a series of experiments, I manipulate the way in which a law is passed – ballot initiative or the legislative process – to test the effect of process on citizens’ evaluations of policy outcomes. The results show that people view the ballot initiative process as fairer than the legislative process, but that process has a negligible effect on outcome evaluations.

Cities in the Statehouse: How Local Governments Use Lobbyists to Secure State Funding
Julia Payson
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


What happens when local governments hire lobbyists? Although intergovernmental lobbying is common in the U.S. and other federal systems, we know little about its consequences. Using newly compiled data on state-level lobbying across the country, I establish a positive correlation between city lobbying and state funding. I then introduce over a decade of panel data on municipal lobbying in California to estimate the returns to lobbying for cities with a difference-in-differences design. I show that lobbying increases state transfers to cities by around 8%. But the benefits of intergovernmental lobbying are not equally distributed. I find that cities with higher levels of own-source revenue per capita net more state money when they hire lobbyists, despite enjoying a local revenue advantage. These results offer some of the first empirical evidence that city officials can influence state spending by lobbying — but this behavior may also perpetuate local economic inequality.


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