Elite perceptions of public opinion and representation
Bias In Perceptions of Public Opinion Among Political Elites. (with David Broockman). American Political Science Review, 2018. Replication material. A previous paper from this project was "What Politicians Believe About Their Constituents: Asymmetric Misperceptions and Prospects for Constituency Control."
Abstract: The conservative asymmetry of elite polarization represents a significant puzzle. We argue that politicians can maintain systematic misperceptions of constituency opinion that may contribute to breakdowns in dyadic representation. We demonstrate this argument with original surveys of 3,765 politicians’ perceptions of constituency opinion on nine issues. In 2012 and 2014, state legislative politicians from both parties dramatically overestimated their constituents’ support for conservative policies on these issues, a pattern consistent across methods, districts, and states. Republicans drive much of this overestimation. Exploiting responses from politicians in the same district, we confirm these partisan differences within individual districts. Further evidence suggests that this overestimation may arise due to biases in who contacts politicians, as in recent years Republican citizens have been especially likely to contact legislators, especially fellow Republicans. Our findings suggest that a novel force can operate in elections and in legislatures: Politicians can systematically misperceive what their constituents want.What Politicians Believe About Electoral Accountability. Working paper.
Abstract: Despite legislators’ incentives to respond to their constituents’ opinions on salient issues, they often take positions at odds with public opinion in their districts. These gaps in dyadic representation can arise because of politicians’ perceptions of which constituents will hold them accountable for their actions in office and of their potential future electoral opponents. Using original survey data from more the 3,000 candidates running for state legislative office in 2014 and 2016, I document American politicians’ beliefs about important factors influencing electoral accountability. To test to whom politicians believe they must be responsive, I survey their perceptions of which citizens are most likely to vote and pay attention to their actions in office. I find asymmetries in politicians’ beliefs about to whom they must be accountable. Politicians perceive the partisan makeup of their districts fairly accurately but overestimate the Republican share of the district’s residents. Candidates from both parties underestimated Democratic turnout in 2014. In a conjoint experiment, candidates from both parties believed that Republicans and citizens with conservative issue positions were more likely to turn out and to pay attention to what they do in office. Republican candidates are also more likely to fear losing in future primary elections than Democrats are. Candidates’ perceptions suggest that they would strategically respond more to conservative constituents, possibly exacerbating asymmetric polarization.
Why Local Party Leaders Don’t Support Nominating Centrists. (with David Broockman, Nicholas Carnes and Melody Crowder-Meyer). British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming. A previous version of this paper was: "Who's a Good Candidate? How Party Gatekeepers Evaluate Potential Nominees."
Abstract: Would giving party leaders more influence in primary elections in the U.S. decrease elite polarization? Some scholars have recently argued that political party leaders tend to support centrist candidates (in the hopes of winning general elections). In contrast, we argue that many local party leaders—especially Republicans—may not believe that centrists perform better in elections and therefore may not support nominating them. We test this argument with an original survey of 1,118 county-level party leaders. In experiments, we find that local party leaders most prefer nominating candidates who are similar to typical co-partisans, not centrists. Moreover, given the choice between a more centrist and more extreme candidate, they strongly prefer extremists, with Democrats doing so by about 2 to 1 and Republicans by 10 to 1. Like- wise, in open-ended questions, Democratic party leaders are twice as likely to say they look for extreme candidates relative to centrists. Republican party leaders are five times as likely. Potentially driving these partisan differences, Republican leaders are especially likely to believe that extremists can win general elections and overestimate the electorate’s conservatism by double digits.
Methods for using voter file data
Differential registration bias in voter file data: A sensitivity analysis approach. (with Brendan Nyhan and Rocío Titiunik). American Journal of Political Science, 2017.
Abstract: The widespread availability of voter files has improved the study of participation in American politics, but the lack of comprehensive data on nonregistrants creates difficult inferential issues. Most notably, observational studies that examine turnout rates among registrants often implicitly condition on registration, a posttreatment variable that can induce bias if the treatment of interest also affects the likelihood of registration. We introduce a sensitivity analysis to assess the potential bias induced by this problem, which we call differential registration bias. Our approach is most helpful for studies that estimate turnout among registrants using posttreatment registration data, but it is also valuable for studies that estimate turnout among the voting-eligible population using secondary sources. We illustrate our approach with two studies of voting eligibility effects on subsequent turnout among young voters. In both cases, eligibility appears to decrease turnout, but these effects are found to be highly sensitive to differential registration bias.
Using Nationwide Voter Files to Study the Effects of Election Laws. (with Bernard Fraga and John Holbein). Working paper.
Abstract: Voter file-derived datasets have become a common source of information used by researchers studying voting behavior. Despite the various advantages offered by such data, however, survey-based analyses continue to dominate the study of election laws. While concerns about cost and availability are paramount for researchers considering the use of voter file data, less attention has been paid to the methodological advantages and challenges of using voter lists for elections research. In this paper, we outline the various methodological considerations en- countered when using voter file data to estimate the causal effect of state-level election laws on voter turnout. We do this while describing the features of a national, comprehensive voter file compiled by the Data Trust, a data vendor. We provide information about the quality of the dataset and its accompanied measures, both modeled and from administrative sources, through accessing the individual-level data on over 200 million registered voters.