Trappings of power

Kevin Lewis

July 06, 2018

Making a President: Performance, Public Opinion, and the Transmutation of Donald J. Trump
William Howell, Ethan Porter & Thomas Wood
University of Chicago Working Paper, April 2018

Presidents routinely issue appeals to the American public. Such appeals, however, are not isolated pleadings. Rather, they are embedded in public performances that are laden with symbolism and ritual. We show that such performances can alter public perceptions of the president, at least temporarily. Members of the public randomly encouraged to watch Trump’s Inaugural Address and his first appearance before Congress were more likely to subsequently say that he fulfills the obligations, expectations, and norms of his office. Effects were particularly pronounced for people who initially reported lower thermometer ratings of Trump. We also find that the visual elements of political performances, not the content of speeches, leave the largest impressions. We find no evidence that these performances changed people’s policy views. These findings point toward new ways of assessing the character and significance of the plebiscitary presidency.

Accountability, Framing Effects, and Risk-Seeking by Elected Representatives: An Experimental Study with American Local Politicians
Lior Sheffer & Peter John Loewen
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming

Risk management underlies almost every aspect of elite politics. However, due to the difficulty of administering assessment tasks to elites, direct evidence on the risk preferences of elected politicians scarcely exists. As a result, we do not know how consistent are politicians’ risk preferences, and under what conditions they can be changed. In this paper, we conduct a survey experiment with 440 incumbent local politicians from across the United States. Using a modified version of the Asian Disease framing experiment, we show that gain/loss frames alter the stated risk preferences of elected officials. We further show that priming democratic accountability increases the tendency to engage in risky behavior, but that this shift in preference only occurs in those politicians who are interested in seeking reelection. These results inform several political science theories that assume stable risk preferences by political elites, or that make no risk assumptions whatsoever. They also provide insights into the role of political ambition and accountability in structuring the behavior of political elites.

Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance
Pengjie Gao, Chang Lee & Dermot Murphy
University of Notre Dame Working Paper, May 2018

Local newspapers hold their governments accountable. We examine the effect of local newspaper closures on public finance for local governments. Following a newspaper closure, we find municipal borrowing costs increase by 5 to 11 basis points in the long run. Identification tests illustrate that these results are not being driven by deteriorating local economic conditions. The loss of monitoring that results from newspaper closures is associated with increased government inefficiencies, including higher likelihoods of costly advance refundings and negotiated issues, and higher government wages, employees, and tax revenues.

Friends in High Places: An Examination of Politically Connected Governments
Christine Cuny, Jungbae Kim & Mihir Mehta
NYU Working Paper, May 2018

We use variation in the power of U.S. local governments’ representation in Congress to provide evidence about the link between political connections and local governments' stewardship over public resources. We find that local governments located in the constituencies of powerful politicians maintain weaker internal controls and issue less reliable and less timely public financial disclosures than other local governments. Moreover, following the unexpected termination of a powerful political connection, local governments receive fewer federal resources and improve their stewardship. The effects are attenuated in states with historically low levels of corruption and in the presence of monitoring by bondholders, voters, and high quality auditors. Our evidence suggests that powerful political representation weakens local governmental incentives to act in the public interest.

How Attribution Inhibits Accountability: Evidence from Train Delays
Justin de Benedictis-Kessner
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Do people hold politicians accountable for the performance of government? I test this question using individual-level experiences with the performance of one major public service: transportation. I compile records of transit performance, tracked via individuals’ fare transactions and train delays, and link these data to opinion surveys. I show that people perceive different levels of performance but fail to connect performance with judgments of government. I build on this by testing the importance of responsibility attribution on people’s ability to hold government accountable. I find that when people are experimentally provided with information on government responsibilities, they are able to connect their experiences of performance with their opinions of government. These results demonstrate that confusion about government responsibilities can frustrate accountability.

Measuring and Manipulating Constitutional Evaluations in the States: Legitimacy Versus Veneration
Adam Brown & Jeremy Pope
American Politics Research, forthcoming

American civil religion places the U.S. Constitution on a pedestal. Although this veneration is well-documented, it is unclear where it originates and why other constitutions do not attract the same reverence. We develop a measure of constitutional respect and conduct a randomized survey experiment testing whether new information can change respondents’ evaluations of their state or national constitutions. We find that people do respond to new information about state constitutions, but not to information about the national document, suggesting that Americans view the U.S. Constitution with the sort of veneration and reverence James Madison advocated, while viewing their state constitutions through a more Jeffersonian lens of legitimacy, one that favors continually revising these constitutions to meet the living generation’s needs.

The Politician's Province
William Howell & Stephane Wolton
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, May 2018, Pages 119-146

Politicians, especially executives, regularly seek to project their influence into new policy domains. In some instances, they do so only after having secured the requisite statutory authority; in others, they intervene without prior authorization, hoping that their actions henceforth serve as precedent for future policy involvement. To investigate the conditions under which politicians pursue one strategy versus another, we study a stylized model of authority acquisition that recognizes the electoral pressures under which executives operate. We show that politicians seek authority that is both more secure and broader in scope as the public support for their policy position increases even if — indeed, precisely because — their opponent stands to benefit from this authority if elected to office. Far from tying their opponents' hands, as a number of literatures suggests, incumbents have electoral incentives to liberate them.

Do Elections Delay Regulatory Action?
Tyler Leverty & Martin Grace
Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming

This paper investigates whether elections delay regulatory action against failing financial institutions by exploiting the cross-sectional and time-series heterogeneity in the exogenous electoral cycles of US insurance regulators and governors. We find causal evidence that regulators delay interventions before elections. The extent of the delay is larger for elected regulators than regulators appointed by the governor. Interventions by appointed regulators are less likely before competitive gubernatorial elections. Regulatory governance mechanisms that constrain the discretion of regulators reduce the delays of appointed regulators but not elected. Finally, we find evidence that suggests electoral delays increase the ultimate costs of failure.

All Their Eggs in One Basket? Ideological Congruence in Congress and the Bicameral Origins of Concentrated Delegation to the Bureaucracy
Jordan Carr Peterson
Laws, June 2018

What drives congressional choices to concentrate implementation authority for legislative enactments among relatively few bureaucratic institutions? And are increased levels of concentration in implementation power associated with intercameral ideological proximity in Congress? I theorize that greater ideological congruity between the House and Senate drives increased levels of concentration in delegated implementation authority to federal agencies. By examining every significant legislative enactment from 1947 to 2012 that delegates implementation responsibility to at least one federal agency, I consider the legislative dynamics of decisions regarding the range of institutions charged with policy implementation in the American administrative state. I find that increased concentration of implementation authority is associated with greater ideological congruence between pivotal members of the House and the Senate. These results suggest that the preferences of key officials in Congress contribute to defining the breadth of bureaucratic implementation authority in the federal policy process.

Does corruption slow down innovation? Evidence from a cointegrated panel of U.S. states
Oguzhan Dincer
European Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming

I investigate the long-run relationship between corruption and innovative activity using annual data from 48 contiguous U.S. states between 1977 and 2006. Using U.S. data allows me to work with a panel long enough to exploit time series properties of the data. I use two different measures of innovative activity: one measuring the quantity and the other measuring the quality of the patents granted. I also use two different measures of corruption: one based on the number of corruption convictions, the other based on number of corruption stories covered in Associated Press news wires. Following Pedroni (1999, 2000), I estimate the cointegrating relationship between corruption and innovative activity with Fully Modified Ordinary Least Squares (FMOLS). The results indicate that corruption indeed slows down innovation in the long-run.

Corruption as the Only Option: The Limits to Electoral Accountability
Nara Pavão
Journal of Politics, July 2018, Pages 996-1010

This article offers an additional explanation for why corrupt politicians survive democratic elections. I argue that, unlike other electoral issues, corruption possesses some specificities that make it an issue that voters tend to believe politicians are particularly incompetent to deal with. When voters believe corruption to be a constant among candidate options, they are likely to overlook this aspect of government performance, basing their vote on other concerns. This attitude is particularly prevalent when corruption is more pervasive, which leads to the prediction that accountability for corruption will be weaker when it is needed the most. This study relies on a multimethod approach that brings together data from Brazil and a broader set of countries. This article helps one to understand why corrupt governments go unpunished and informs efforts to curb this problem.

Copy and Paste Lawmaking: Legislative Professionalism and Policy Reinvention in the States
Joshua Jansa, Eric Hansen & Virginia Gray
American Politics Research, forthcoming

Research on policy reinvention tends to focus on whether policies become more or less comprehensive over time while neglecting to explain copying policy language verbatim. We argue that the extent to which lawmakers reinvent policy depends on the resources available to them. Lawmakers serving in more professional state legislatures have greater capacity to reinvent policies. In contrast, lawmakers serving in less professional settings are more likely to copy policy language. As evidence, we gather bill texts of 12 policies that diffused across the 50 states between 1982 and 2014. Using cosine similarity scores to measure language copying, we find that less professional legislatures copy more text from previous adopters, and that the likeliest culprit is a lack of funding for staff assistance. The findings have implications for states’ ability to amend policies to suit their own citizens’ needs.

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