My research is motivated by an interest in understanding (1) which Americans are best represented, (2) what kinds of representation Americans want from government, and (3) whether citizen participation improves representation. My dissertation in particular is a study of how responsive American public officials are to constituent communications, Americans’ attitudes about elite responsiveness, and how race and gender inform this communicative relationship. As a whole, my dissertation develops and tests new approaches to studying long-standing questions on representation in political science. My other work examines the causes and consequences of political participation. Read below for more information on selected projects and links to publications.


How Responsive are Political Elites? A Meta-Analysis of Experiments on Public Officials. 2017. Journal of Experimental Political Science [Link]

In the past decade, the body of research using experimental approaches to investigate the responsiveness of elected officials has grown exponentially. Given this explosion of work, a systematic assessment of these studies is needed not only to take stock of what we have learned so far about democratic responsiveness, but also to in- form the design of future studies. In this article, I conduct the first meta-analysis of all experiments that examine elite responsiveness to constituent communication. I find that racial/ethnic minorities and messages sent to elected officials (as opposed to non-elected) are significantly less likely to receive a response. A qualitative review of the literature further suggests that some of these inequalities in responsiveness are driven by personal biases of public officials, rather than strategic, electoral considerations. The findings of this study provide important qualifications and context to prominent individual studies in the field. 

Rethinking Representation from a Communal Perspective. 2017. Political Behavior (with Kaylee Johnson and Brian Schaffner) [Link]

Most foundational theories of congressional representation were developed during an era of less polarized and less partisan politics. These theories viewed the incumbency advantage as buttressed by the fact that some constituents were willing to support legislators from the opposite party because of their “home styles.” But in an era of policy immoderation in Congress, this perspective leads to an assumption that citizens evaluate their members of Congress based on what those legislators do for them individually, rather than what they do for their districts more broadly. In this paper, we ask whether citizens take the interests of their fellow constituents into account when evaluating their members of Congress. Using both survey data and an experiment, we uncover support for the notion that citizens take a more communal view of representation as at least part of their evaluations of their representatives. This suggests individuals may have a more nuanced understanding of representation than purely self-interested approaches tend to assume.

How Gender Conditions the way Citizens Evaluate and Engage with their Representatives: A Quasi-Experimental Approach. 2017. Political Research Quarterly (with Brian Schaffner)  [Link]

Scholars argue that women’s presence in politics enhances symbolic representation, such as positive evaluations of one’s representative and increased political engagement. However, there is little empirical evidence of these symbolic benefits from descriptive representation. With data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study panel survey, we examine how a change in the gender of a representative affects individuals’ perceptions of that representative and likelihood to contact them. In general, we find that women express more positive evaluations of female representatives than male representatives, yet they are also less likely to contact female representatives. By contrast, the effect of an elected official’s gender does not significantly affect how men evaluate or engage with that official. However, we also show that partisanship conditions these effects, perhaps due to the fact that gender stereotypes operate differently for Democrats than Republicans. For example, women rate female Republican legislators more positively than they do male Republican legislators, but neither women nor men rate Democratic legislators differently based on their gender. The findings provide strong evidence that gender matters when it comes to representation, but contrary to some conventional wisdom, female elected officials may actually enjoy some advantages in terms of their standing among constituents.

Improving Measures of Responsiveness for Elite Audit Experiments
Presented at New Faces in Political Methodology IX

Scholars define elite “responsiveness” to constituent communication in a multitude of ways. Yet there is not much consistency in the literature on measuring the quality of responsiveness to constituent contact, nor do we know how constituents themselves experience and evaluate this contact. In this paper, I conduct three tests to examine how individuals evaluate communication with elected officials to ultimately increase the external validity of measures of elite responsiveness used in audit experiments. Based on the findings, I develop a new weighted measure for responsiveness and demonstrate its use through an application. I conclude by providing concrete suggestions for re- searchers conducting future audit studies on elite responsiveness.

Political Networks

Sharing Constituencies: Polarization and Representation in the Extended Party Network
Winner of the 2016 John Sprague Award for best paper on political networks presented by a graduate student delivered at any political science conference in the previous year. 

Many scholars are concerned about polarization of the political parties and how it affects representation of the American public, but few have examined who the parties actually represent. In this paper, I ask whether ideological factions in the extended party network advocate for the same constituency groups and how this affects polarization on a broad scale. To explore this question, I use social network analysis to construct a network of advocacy organizations in the D.C. area based on shared constituencies and test whether the network structure is driven by ideology (using measures of centrality, community detection, and an exponential random graph model). I find that liberal organizations are much more likely to share constituencies with one another –suggesting a significant degree of homophily among groups of the same ideology– but also high levels of transitivity and the likelihood of shared partners. The findings from this paper indicate that while there is some level of polarization across extended party networks, organizations within the network share many of the same constituencies which can enhance representation overall.

Family Ties: The Impact of Fathering Daughters on Congressional Co-sponsorship (with Jill Greenlee, Tatishe Nteta, Jesse Rhodes, Libby Sharrow)

Do fathers of daughters co-sponsor bills regarding women more frequently than Congressmen without daughters, and is that co-sponsorship contingent on the gender of the bill’s sponsor? We examine the role that daughters play in a member’s decision to co-sponsor legislation in the House and Senate. Specifically, we ask if male members with daughters are more likely to (1) co-sponsor bills that are sponsored by women legislators, and (2) co-sponsor bills focused on gender equality or women’s rights, when compared to Congressmen without daughters. we employ a unique set of data. First, using the Congressional Directory, we collect information concerning the familial structure of members of Congress from the 103rd to the 110th Congress, with an eye towards uncovering the number of daughters in each member’s family. Using these data, as well as James Fowler’s co-sponsorship data to construct a network of co-sponsorship activity, we uncover whether male members with daughters are more likely to co-sponsor bills with female sponsors. Additionally, using data from the Congressional Bills Project allows us to investigate whether the topic of the legislation co-sponsored by fathers of daughters affects the gendered dynamics of the network. This study sheds new light on how the experience of parenthood influences male legislative behavior, particularly on issues of gender equality.

Participation and Public Policy

Field Experiments on the Effect of Pledging to Vote on Turnout [Link]
Under review

Psychological theories of political behavior suggest that commitments to perform a certain action can significantly increase the likelihood of such action, but this has rarely been tested in an experimental context. Does pledging to vote increase turnout? In cooperation with the Environmental Defense Fund during the 2016 election, we conduct the first randomized controlled trials testing whether young people who pledge to vote are more likely to turn out than those who are contacted using standard Get- Out-the-Vote materials. Overall, pledging to vote significantly increased voter turnout, especially among those who had never voted before. These findings lend support for theories of commitment and have practical implications for mobilization efforts aimed at expanding the electorate. 
This project was selected from over 120 proposals to be a part of the Pluribus Project's portfolio of "Political Game Changers."

Science Use in Regulatory Impact Analysis: The Effect of Political Attention and Controversy. 2016. Review of Policy Research 33(3): 251-269. (with Bruce Desmarais and John Hird) [Link]

Scholars, policy makers, and research sponsors have long sought to understand the conditions under which scientific research is used in the policy-making process. Recent research has identified a resource that can be used to trace the use of science across time and many policy domains. U.S. federal agencies are mandated by executive order to justify all economically significant regulations by regulatory impact analyses (RIAs), in which they present evidence of the scientific
underpinnings and consequences of the proposed rule. To gain new insight into when and how regulators invoke science in their policy justifications, we ask: does the political attention and controversy surrounding a regulation affect the extent to which science is utilized in RIAs? We examine scientific citation activity in all 101 economically significant RIAs from 2008 to 2012 and evaluate the effects of attention—from the public, policy elites, and the media—on the degree of science use in RIAs. Our main finding is that regulators draw more heavily on scientific research when justifying rules subject to a high degree of attention from outside actors. These findings suggest that scientific research plays an important role in the justification of regulations, especially those that are highly salient to the public and other policy actors.

The Use of Science in U.S. Rulemaking in Agency Response to Public Comments: The Case of EPA’s National Emission Standards (with Bruce Desmarais and John Hird)
Revise and Resubmit

Scholarship on bureaucratic policymaking has long focused on both the use of expertise and public accountability. However, few have considered the degree to which public input affects the use of research in RIAs. We examine changes in the research that is cited in U.S. regulatory impact analyses (RIAs) in response to public comments to assess the influence of participation on the use of information for rulemaking. We conduct an in-depth analysis of comments on a major proposed EPA rule to determine whether regulators alter the evidence used based on public input and whether some types of commenters have more influence than others. We analyze the text similarity of comments to scientific research utilized in the RIAs in order to determine whether regulators iteratively update their rule justification based on scientific information referenced in comments. We find support for seminal subgovernment theories about the relationship between business interests, Congress, and the bureaucracy; in relation to all kinds of commenters, members of Congress and industry groups had the strongest effect on changes in the research used in the RIAs. The article provides one of the first statistical analyses of science exchange between the public and a bureaucratic agency.

The Reformers Dilemma: Trading-off Political Participation for Equality Using Campaign Finance Vouchers (with Meredith Rolfe and Ray La Raja)
Under review

In an era where the role of big money in politics has come under increased scrutiny and voters are concerned about potential corruption in the political system, there is increasing interest in the public financing of political campaigns. Reformers have argued that adoption of public financing systems, particularly voucher systems such as Seattle’s innovative Democracy Vouchers program, can increase citizen participation in election financing, reduce the inequality among donors, reduce corruption, and attract a wider range of competitive candidates. In this paper, we formally model the structural constraints present in all campaign finance systems, such as the fixed relationship between total campaign spending, average contribution size and total number of donors. We find that prior analysis may significantly overstate the ability of public funding programs, such as those in Seattle, to generate significant increases in the number of people who donate to political campaigns. Instead, structural limits on campaign spending and candidate participation may result in an overall decrease in the proportion of citizens donating to municipal elections. Our analysis highlights the inherent trade-offs in any campaign finance policy between the goals of increasing donor participation, limiting campaign spending, and reducing inequality among donors.