Research

My research addresses the intersection of social change and political institutions, often using public opinion data to study the effectiveness of political institutions in various contexts. You can also visit my Google Scholar page for links to articles and citation information. Datasets and replication materials can be found on my Dataverse.

Legislatures, Representation, and Political Geography

Boundaries, Redistricting Criteria and Representation in the U.S. House of Representatives  2014. American Politics Research 42(5): 856895 (preprint version here). Abstract: Many U.S. states require redistricting authorities to follow traditional districting principles (TDPs) like the creation of compact districts and respecting the integrity of county and town boundaries. Reformers, academics, and other redistricting experts have long suggested that following such districting principles may enhance representation. Yet, very few academic studies have empirically examined these expectations. Using two measures of geographical compactness and a new measure of respect for political subdivisions (referred to as coterminosity) created with a geographic information system (GIS), the connection between district boundaries and representation is tested. The results show strong evidence that the use of geographic districting principles can enhance dyadic representation, as more compact and more coterminous districts are associated with more positive evaluations of legislative responsiveness and greater citizen-representative communication. Violating TDPs to advance other goals in redistricting like strict population equality between districts thus comes with a clear representational cost.

 

Revisiting Descriptive Representation in Congress: Assessing the Effect of Race on the Constituent–Legislator Relationship. 2014. Political Research Quarterly 67(3):695-707.

The 113th Congress has a record number of racial and ethnic minorities serving on Capitol Hill. Using the 2008 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), we examine what this increased descriptive representation of racial minorities means for legislative responsiveness and citizen–representative communication in the U.S. House. We argue that descriptive representation will improve the constituent–legislator relationship across racial groups, but that shared race should matter more for blacks and Latinos as racial minorities unaccustomed to legislative responsiveness. Our findings follow these expectations and suggest that the presence or lack of descriptive representation is an integral part of how citizens experience representation in the U.S. House.

Should We Measure Professionalism with an Index? A Note on Theory and Practice in State Legislative Professionalism Research. 2014. State Politics & Policy Quarterly 14(3):277-296. With Zachary Greene.

Legislative professionalism has played a prominent role in state politics research for decades. Despite the attention paid to its causes and consequences, recent research has largely set aside questions about professionalism’s conceptualization and operationalization. Usually measuring it as an aggregate index, scholars theoretically and empirically treat professionalism as a unidimensional concept. In this article, we argue that exclusive use of aggregate indices can limit state politics research. Using a new dataset with almost 40 years of data on state legislative resources, salary, and session length, we reconsider the validity of using an index to study professionalism across the states. We evaluate the internal consistency of professionalism components over time, the relationship between components and the Squire Index, and the degree to which professionalism components are unidimensional using classical multidimensional scaling. We find enough commonality and enough variation between professionalism components to support a range of measurement strategies like the use of unidimensional indices (such as the Squire Index), disaggregating the components and analyzing their effects individually, or formulating multidimensional measures. Scholars should take care to choose the appropriate measure of the concept that best fits the causal relationships under examination.

Direct Democracy

Direct Democracy and Individual Interest Group Membership. 2010. Journal of Politics 72(3):659-671. With Frederick J. Boehmke.

Direct democracy has been shown to increase the number and diversity of interest groups in American states, but no research has extended this finding to the individual level. Direct democracy may influence individual joining behavior through three distinct processes: first, by affecting the interest group population in a state, direct democracy should increase opportunity for joining. Second, direct democracy opens new policy areas for representation, which may increase the scope and level of political conflict and draw in new participants. Third, by providing more opportunities for involvement in policymaking, direct democracy may create a more engaged citizenry, spurring the joining of groups. We utilize data from the pooled General Social Survey merged with statelevel measures of the presence and use of the initiative process. Using multilevel modeling to test the initiative’s effect on individual joining behavior, we find that the initiative does indeed foster greater levels of group membership.

Initiative Campaigns: Direct Democracy and Voter Mobilization. 2009. American Politics Research 37(1):155-192.  With Caroline J. Tolbert and Todd Donovan.

Previous research has found that the campaigns of candidates running for office provide information to voters and can increase turnout. Scholarly research has also found that states with initiatives and referendums appearing on the ballot have higher voter turnout, especially in midterm elections. However, actual initiative campaigns are rarely measured. Drawing on national survey data and state contextual factors, we use a multilevel modeling strategy to test whether Americans are more likely to vote in recent midterm and presidential elections when there is increased spending in initiative and candidate campaigns, as well as more frequent use of direct democracy. The research includes a number of methodological advancements from earlier work on turnout and direct democracy (including a control for endogeneity) by restricting the analysis to initiative states only. The analysis suggests initiative campaigns not only increase individual level turnout but also especially benefit the lower educated.

Voting Behavior and Elections

Race and Turnout: Does Descriptive Representation in State Legislatures Increase Minority Voting? 2010. Political Research Quarterly 72(3):659-671. With Rene R. Rocha, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Christopher J. Clark.

The 2008 election marked an end to the longstanding gap in the level of black and white voter turnout, offering further evidence that minority empowerment affects voter turnout. In this article, the authors move beyond a dyadic conceptualization of empowerment and argue that the level of descriptive representation within the legislative body as a whole is crucial to understanding how context affects voter turnout. They find African Americans and Latinos are more likely to vote when residing in states with increased descriptive representation in the state legislature measured by the percentage of black or Latino lawmakers.

Reforming Presidential Nominations: Rotating State Primaries or a National Primary? 2009. PS: Political Science and Politics 42(1):71-79. With David P. Redlawsk and Caroline J. Tolbert.

Comparing Caucus and Registered Voter Support for the 2008 Presidential Candidates in Iowa. 2008. PS: Political Science & Politics 41(1):129-138. With David P. Redlawsk and Caroline J. Tolbert.

As the 2008 presidential nominating process got underway, Iowa’s coveted status as first-in-the-nation appeared increasingly in jeopardy, as states engaged in aggressive frontloading throughout 2006 and 2007. In the past, late March primaries in large states like Florida, New York, and California were irrelevant to the electoral outcome. To avoid a repeat in 2008, Florida moved its primary to January 29 and California moved to what is now being called “super duper Tuesday” on February 5 when nearly two dozen states will hold primaries. Under pressure from extra-early voting in Florida and other front-loading states, as we write this the Iowa caucuses are to be held on January 3, two days after New Year’s. It seems possible that as a result of the nominating season becoming more condensed, there may be an increase in the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire, the opposite of what the states moving earlier wanted. If the first nominating events are now the starter’s gun in a 50-meter dash rather than a mile run, who gets off the starting blocks first may well matter even more. As Hull (2007, 66) argues, Iowa’s impact on New Hampshire and the national nomination process is a “wild, wired one.” In this rapid sea of a changing nomination process we take a close look at the Iowa electorate, both statewide registered voters and a subset of likely caucus attendees, to shed light on the underpinnings of support for the presidential candidates in the early stages of the 2008 campaign, using unique rolling cross-sectional data to track opinion change over time.