Title: Dynamic Estimation of Ideal Points for the U.S. Congress
Co-Author: Michael Peress
Journal: Public Choice
Theories of candidate positioning suggest that candidates will respond dynamically to their electoral environment. Because of the difficulty of obtaining “bridge votes”, most existing approaches for estimating the ideal points of members of Congress generate static ideal points or ideal points that move linearly over time. We propose an approach for dynamic ideal point estimation using Project Vote Smart’s National Political Awareness Test to construct bridge votes. We use our dynamic estimates to measure aggregate change, to measure individual-level change, and to study the institutional and structural factors that explain the changing positions of House candidates and members of Congress. We demonstrate that while the Republican Party has been selecting increasingly extreme candidates, Democratic incumbents have become more extreme while in office. We also find that the congruence between elected members of Congress and their constituents is mostly explained by the selection as opposed to the responsiveness of the candidate. Nonetheless, we find evidence of dynamic responsiveness of incumbents in specific circumstances. We find that competitiveness, midterm elections, and sharing the president’s party affiliation are associated with greater responsiveness. Conversely, retirement is not associated with a change in responsiveness. We find no evidence of responsiveness of challengers. Finally, we find that close elections draw challengers who are more in line with the district’s ideology.
Title: Do Voters Know Enough to Punish Out-of-Step Congressional Candidates?
Co-Author: Michael Peress
SPSA 2017 in New Orleans
Emory Political Economy Conference (2017)
Traditional democratic norms suggest that accountability in democracies requires voters to be able to accurately perceive the position of candidates for office. When asked to place congressional candidates on an ideological spectrum, voters show a surprisingly high level of both inaccuracy and variation in the policy positions of candidates. In this paper we investigate three theories of candidate placement to determine the possible sources for voter inaccuracy of candidate positions: the Assimilation and Contrast theory, the Partisan Cheerleading theory, and the Information theory. We develop an approach for placing candidates, voters, and the voters perceptions of the candidates on the same scale and develop an instrumental variables approach for distinguishing between the competing theories. We find evidence for Assimilation and Contrast among low knowledge voters and Cheerleading among high knowledge voters. We also find evidence that the actual position of the candidate has a detectable but small effect on voter’s perceptions of that candidate, limiting the extent to which House candidates are held individually accountable for the positions they take. Contrarily, we find evidence that voters cue off of the positions of the party’s other candidates, suggesting that candidates for a political party are held collectively accountable.
Paper | Data | Code
Title: Delenda est Democrats/Republicans: Affective Polarization as Group Competition
Conference: MPSA 2018 in Chicago, IL
Research on affective polarization has primarily been centered on descriptive work or an investigation of the ways in which individuals feel threatened by the outgroup party. This, however, misses a particularly important dynamic of partisan identities, which is that they are set within a context that is inherently competitive in nature. I attempt to set partisan identities within a partisan competition framework by drawing upon insights from group competition and collective action theories. In doing so, I attempt to cross the theoretical gaps between psychological theories of polarization with institutional and party competition literature through the commonalities between collective action movements and parties. I then present an attempt to empirically demonstrate the psychological underpinnings of this framework through an empirical design drawn from a sample of political blog readers. I discuss some of the difficulties of these approach and flaws within the experiment, as well as potential future plans that attempt to rectify these issues.
Title: Explaining Attack Advertisements Using a Group Competition Framework
Conference: SPSA 2018 in New Orleans, LA
Research on polarization in the United States has primarily focused on two parallel tracks. First, electoral and institutional track that explores polarization by elites as the result of electoral competition, the second an affective polarization track that focuses on social identity among voters. Using insights from group-competition and collective action research, I establish a framework to combine these tracks to develop a group-competition framework to explore polarization as a result in variation of in-group power and out-group threat. To demonstrate an empirical application of this framework, I investigate the relationship between usage of negative advertisements and the competitiveness of parties (the in-group power) and the ideological distance between them (the out-group) in gubernatorial races. I find that increased competitiveness and ideological distance between partisans in the state leads candidates to increase the amount of time they dedicate towards airing negative advertisements.
Title: “Looking for a Fight? Conflict Avoidance and Responses to Uncivil Politics”
Conference: APSA 2016 in Philadelphia, PA
How does exposure to uncivil political conflict affect the willingness of individuals to participate in politics? I investigate the effect of an individual’s level of conflict avoidance, which is the willingness to avoid or approach conflict, on this question. Based on the current literature regarding uncivil political conflict and personality, higher levels of this trait are associated with more susceptibility to the negative effects of uncivil politics. I theorize, however, that low levels of this trait may be associated with higher levels of political participation. Observational and experimental data indicate that conflict avoidant individuals become less politically engaged when exposed to uncivil political conflict while those more comfortable with conflict become more politically engaged compared to civil political conflict situations.