Is Divided Government A Cause of Legislative Delay?, with Patricia Kirkland
Despite the compelling theoretical prediction that divided government decreases legislative performance, the empirical literature has struggled to identify a causal effect. We suspect that a combination of methodological challenges and data limitations are to blame. Here, we revisit this empirical relationship. Rather than relying on traditional measures of legislative productivity, however, we consider whether divided government affects the ability of lawmakers to meet critical deadlines---specifically, the ability of state lawmakers to adopt an on-time budget (as mandated by state law). By focusing on delay instead of productivity we avoid measurement problems, particularly the challenges inherent in measuring the supply of and demand for legislation. To assess the causal effect of divided government, we develop and implement a regression discontinuity design (RDD) that accounts for the multiple elections that produce unified or divided government in separation-of-powers systems. Our RDD approach yields compelling evidence that divided government is a cause of delay. We also evaluate and find support for a new hypothesis that divided government is more likely to lead to lead to delay when the personal and political costs that stalemate imposes on politicians are low.
Who Listens to Whom? Assessing Inequalities in Representation, with Jeffrey Lax and Adam Zelizer
Recent work in political science has demonstrated that policy outcomes at the national level are often more responsive to the preferences of the affluent than to the preferences of middle- or lower-income Americans. We expand upon this research by evaluating hypotheses that representational inequality varies by lawmaker type. In particular, we examine differential responsiveness as a function of lawmaker partisanship. Our empirical analysis focuses on a series of roll-call votes (just under 40) from the past eight legislative sessions. These include some of the most important economic, social, and foreign policy votes cast by members of Congress during this period of time. We estimate constituent preferences by income for each state using national-level survey data and advances in multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP). Our analysis advances the growing literature on the political economy of inequality by developing a more complete understanding of the dimensions, causes, and dynamics---both micro and macro---of differential representation.
Origins of the Culture War: Social Issues in State Party Platforms, 1960-2014, with Matthew Carr and Gerald Gamm
Partisan polarization has become the central story in American party politics over the last generation. Beginning sometime in the late 20th century, social issues that previously had played little role in party division came to separate one party from the other. Republican and Democratic elites staked out opposing positions on a range of issues--including abortion, gay rights, the role of religion in the public sphere, and gun control--and party electorates today are sharply polarized over these issues. But where and when did this divide begin? Our focus in this paper is on the politics of abortion and gay rights. We test the proposition that---by the time national parties and elites took positions on social issues---the parties were already constrained by state-level position-taking, that the origins of social issues in the states came earlier than in national platforms, and that the Democratic party initiated this process. Drawing on a massive new dataset, drawn from over 600 state political party platforms between 1960 and 2014, most of them newly discovered, we argue that the groundwork for this partisan divide was not laid by presidential candidates or national parties. Rather, it was the product of years of fermentation at the state level. It was a bottom-up social revolution.
Using Multilevel Regression and Poststratification to Estimate Dynamic Public Opinion, with Andrew Gelman, Jeffrey Lax, Jonah Gabry, and Robert Trangucci
Multilevel Regression and Poststratification (MRP) has emerged as a widely-used technique for estimating subnational preferences from national polls. This technique, however, has a key limitation---existing MRP technology is best utilized for creating static as opposed to dynamic measures of opinion. In this paper, we develop an approach for implementing a ``dynamic MRP'', doing so in the context of changing public support for same-sex marriage. Using a large dataset of survey respondents, we estimate (in a single model) an annual measure of support for same-sex marriage for each state from 1993 through 2004. To evaluate our estimates we examine their face validity and compare them to estimates produced using the standard MRP approach as well as to the estimates produced by actual state-level polls. We also consider the conditions under which dynamic MRP seems to produce more accurate estimates.
How Should We Estimate Sub-National Opinion Using MRP? Preliminary Findings and Recommendations, with Jeffrey Lax
Over the past few years, multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP) has become an increasingly trusted tool for estimating public opinion in sub-national units from national surveys. Especially given the proliferation of this technique, more evaluation is needed to determine the conditions under which MRP performs best and to establish benchmarks for expectations of performance. Using data from common content of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we evaluate the accuracy of MRP across a wide range of survey questions. In doing so, we consider varying degrees of model complexity and identify the measures of model fit and performance that best correlate to the accuracy of MRP estimates. The totality of our results will enable us to develop a set of guidelines for implementing MRP properly as well as a set of diagnostics for identifying instances where MRP is appropriate and instances where its use may be problematic.