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Stakeholder Participation in Policymaking: Evidence from Medicare Fee Schedule Revisions (with Steven D. Rashin). Journal of Politics (forthcoming)
To what extent do the material stakes of specific policies motivate political participation by affected interests? We address this question by examining physician participation in the annual process governing revisions to Medicare fee schedules. This setting permits us to identify the relevant universe of affected actors, and to construct a novel measure of the annual financial consequences of proposed policy changes that varies idiosyncratically at the individual level. Employing text analysis to identify who participates in the notice and comment process between proposed and final rules, we find that while few providers comment, the odds of participation vary dramatically as a function of a rule’s impact, with anticipated losses motivating comments dramatically more than gains. This relationship persists in both individually tailored and mass comments, and is largely independent of the behavior of physician specialty societies. Evidence of the effect of these stakes on campaign contribution behavior is more modest.
Causes, Theories, and the Past in Political Science (with Hannah K. Simpson). Public Choice (forthcoming)
A theoretically grounded approach to causal questions illuminates both the utility and limitations of the potential outcomes (PO) framework as a model for historically-focused, quantitative empirical research. While some causal questions are immediately reconcilable with the PO framework, for others, theoretical guidance is valuable in ascertaining relevant comparisons or characterizing the generalizability of findings to different contexts. A third category of important causal relationships feature strategic or information-based interactions, or multiple or unobservable mechanisms, many of which cannot be directly tested using the PO framework. Here, theory is critical in elucidating additional, observable implications that may be tested empirically. In all three categories, historical research promises special benefits: it expands the set of cases on which to test causal claims, may provide counterfactuals not available in contemporary contexts, and can feature institutional transformations that function as plausibly exogenous modifier variables. We clarify this classification of causal questions using examples from our own historical research..
Cross-Ideological Coordination by Private Interests: Evidence from Mortgage Market Regulation under Dodd Frank (with Howard Rosenthal.). Business and Politics (2019)
Rulemaking pursuant to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act provides a useful setting to assess theories of interest group influence. In the wake of the financial crisis, Congress delegated new rulemaking authority to federal agencies to regulate mortgage markets. A critical aspect of this new regulatory regime engendered significant controversy from affected interests: “credit risk retention” would require sponsors of asset-backed securities to retain a stake in the risk of securitized assets. Contrary to unrefined industry capture-based accounts stressing the disproportionate role of larger, well-established regulated entities in setting policy, we find little evidence of sustained effort by large lenders to dilute regulatory standards via political investments. Rather, a diverse coalition of housing sector, community, and civil rights groups, backed by an ideologically diverse swath of legislators, forced substantial regulatory retrenchment. Our analysis suggests a more nuanced view of private influence, in which coordination plays a more substantial role than political investments alone.
Association Between Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Overdose Mortality Has Reversed Over Time (with Chelsea S. Shover, Corey S. Davis, and Keith Humphreys). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2019)
Medical cannabis has been touted as a solution to the US opioid overdose crisis since Bachhuber et al. [M. A. Bachhuber, B. Saloner, C. O. Cunningham, C. L. Barry, JAMA Intern. Med. 174, 1668–1673] found that from 1999 to 2010 states with medical cannabis laws experienced slower increases in opioid analgesic overdose mortality. That research received substantial attention in the scientific literature and popular press and served as a talking point for the cannabis industry and its advocates, despite caveats from the authors and others to exercise caution when using ecological correlations to draw causal, individual-level conclusions. In this study, we used the same methods to extend Bachhuber et al.’s analysis through 2017. Not only did findings from the original analysis not hold over the longer period, but the association between state medical cannabis laws and opioid overdose mortality reversed direction from −21% to +23% and remained positive after accounting for recreational cannabis laws. We also uncovered no evidence that either broader (recreational) or more restrictive (low-tetrahydrocannabinol) cannabis laws were associated with changes in opioid overdose mortality. We find it unlikely that medical cannabis—used by about 2.5% of the US population—has exerted large conflicting effects on opioid overdose mortality. A more plausible interpretation is that this association is spurious. Moreover, if such relationships do exist, they cannot be rigorously discerned with aggregate data. Research into therapeutic potential of cannabis should continue, but the claim that enacting medical cannabis laws will reduce opioid overdose death should be met with skepticism.
Polarized Preferences versus Polarizing Policies (with Dimitri Landa). Public Choice (2018)
Much of contemporary political debate in the United States focuses on the issue of polarization: specifically, its causal antecedents and its consequences for policymaking and political conflict. In this article, we argue that partisan preference polarization—conventionally defined as the difference in the favored policy positions of legislators from the two major parties—is not a sufficient statistic for potential political conflict in national politics . Rather, a well-defined measure of potential conflict must take into account (1) the locations of status quo policies and proposed alternatives; and (2) the shape of underlying utility functions. We propose measures of the likely contentiousness of a given status quo policy and of a proposal to move that policy. We then demonstrate the usefulness of these measures using estimates of utility function and final passage vote parameters on enacted legislation from the 111th US Senate (2009–2011).
The Birth of Pork: Local Appropriations in America’s First Century (with Hannah K. Simpson). American Political Science Review (2018)
After describing a newly assembled dataset consisting of almost 9,000 local appropriations made by the U.S. Congress between 1789 and 1882, we test competing accounts of the politics surrounding them before offering a more nuanced, historically contingent view of the emergence of the pork barrel. We demonstrate that for most of this historical period—despite contemporary accusations of crass electoral motives—the pattern of appropriations is largely inconsistent with accounts of distributive politics grounded in a logic of legislative credit-claiming. Instead, support for appropriations in the House mapped cleanly onto the partisan/ideological structure of Congress for most of this period, and only in the 1870s produced the universalistic coalitions commonly associated with pork-barrel spending. We trace this shift to two historical factors: the emergence of a solid Democratic South, and growth in the fraction of appropriations funding recurrent expenditures on extant projects rather than new starts.
Common Problems (or, What’s Missing from the Conventional Wisdom on Polarization and Gridlock) (with Dimitri Landa). Journal of Politics (2017)
We examine the intuition that in supermajoritarian settings, polarization and policy-making gridlock are fundamentally linked but that a pressing common problem can reduce both. When actors’ individual costs from a policy addressing such a problem differ, their preferences over the appropriate policy respond asymmetrically to increases in the magnitude of the problem. In a broad range of circumstances such increases can give rise to increased polarization but may also simultaneously yield net welfare-enhancing policy adjustments rather than entrenchment of gridlock. The association of polarization and gridlock is contingent on how the problem responds to the policy solution, institutional structure, and the location of the status quo policy when the extent of the problem changes. We illustrate the model’s logic by comparing US national policy making in the Progressive Era and the present.
Institutional Sources of Legitimate Authority (with Eric Dickson and Gregory Huber). American Journal of Political Science (2015)
Unelected officials with coercive powers (e.g., police, prosecutors, bureaucrats) vary markedly in the extent to which citizens view their actions as legitimate. We explore the institutional determinants of legitimate authority in the context of a public goods laboratory experiment. In the experiment, an “authority” can target one “citizen” for punishment following citizen contribution choices. Untargeted citizens can then choose to help or hinder the authority. This latter choice may be interpreted as a behavioral measure of the authority’s legitimacy. We find that legitimacy is affected by how authorities are compensated, the transparency with which their decisions are observed, and an interaction between these. When transparency is high, citizens are more willing to assist authorities who receive fixed salaries than those who personally benefit from collected penalties, even when citizens’ material incentives are controlled for. Lower transparency reduces support, but only for salaried enforcers.
Conditional Forbearance as an Alternative to Capture: Evidence from Coal Mine Safety Regulation (with Catherine Hafer). In Carpenter, Daniel P., Steven P. Croley, and David A. Moss, eds., Preventing Regulatory Capture: Special Interest Group Influence in Regulation, and How to Limit It (2013). Click here for the Preventing Capture website.
Politicizing Agency Spending Authority: Lessons from a Bush Era Scandal. American Political Science Review (2011)
When can presidents direct bureaucrats to allocate government expenditures for electoral purposes? To address this question, I exploit a scandal concerning the General Services Administration (GSA), an agency that contracts with private vendors to provide supplies and real estate to other agencies. Shortly after Republican losses in 2006, a White House deputy gave a presentation to GSA political appointees identifying potentially vulnerable congressional districts. I find that vendors in prioritized Republican districts experienced unusually large new contract actions from the GSA’s Public Buildings Service following the presentation relative to unmentioned districts, a discrepancy that disappeared once the Washington Post broke the story. Contracts supervised by the agency’s Federal Acquisition Service, by contrast, were largely unresponsive to the briefing and media scrutiny. My findings suggest that the extent to which executives succeed in politicizing discretionary allocation decisions depends upon key features of the implementing agency’s tasks and its informational environment.
Disparities in Emptying Velocity within the Left Atrial Appendage, with Ythan Goldberg, Daniel Spevack, and Garet M. Gordon. European Journal of Echocardiography (2010)
Aims: Pulsed Doppler measurement of left atrial appendage (LAA) emptying velocity, a marker of left atrium contractile function, has been shown to predict success of cardioversion, thrombo-embolic risk, and maintenance of sinus rhythm after cardioversion and pulmonary vein isolation. However, in the published literature, emptying velocity measurement location is not uniform, and no standard currently exists. We assessed the hypothesis that emptying velocity when acquired near the LAA orifice differs from that at the LAA apex. Methods and results: The study group comprised 44 patients (32 in sinus rhythm and 12 in atrial fibrillation) who were able to complete a non-emergent transoesophageal echocardiography. Pulsed Doppler recordings were obtained with the sample volume first positioned 1 cm from the LAA orifice, and then positioned within 1 cm of the LAA apex. At each location, we calculated the average of the peak end-diastolic LAA emptying velocity from five consecutive cardiac cycles. LAA orifice emptying velocity was higher than the apex emptying velocity in all patients. The median velocity at the orifice was 72 cm/s, which was 45% higher than the median velocity at the apex (43 cm/s, P < 0.001). Lower LAA emptying velocity at the orifice was associated with a larger discrepancy between orifice and apex velocities. The ratio of orifice to apex velocity did not vary with orifice velocity. Multivariate analysis demonstrated that clinical patient characteristics were not significant predictors of the discrepancy between orifice and apex velocities. Conclusion LAA emptying velocity is greater at the LAA orifice compared with the LAA apex. Higher, more easily measured velocity and greater variability observed with orifice measurements make it the location of choice for research and clinical applications.
Disclosure of the Genetic Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. New England Journal of Medicine, January 14, 2010.
Our rejoinder to the reply by Green et. al.
Here is the original article by Green et. al., which appeared in the July 16, 2009 issue of the New England Journal
Assessing Partisan Bias in Federal Public Corruption Prosecutions. American Political Science Review (2009)
The 2007 U.S. Attorney firing scandal raised the specter of political bias in the prosecution of officials under federal corruption laws. Has prosecutorial discretion been employed to persecute enemies or shield allies? To answer this question, I develop a model of the interaction between officials contemplating corruption and a prosecutor deciding whether to pursue cases against them. Biased prosecutors will be willing to file weaker cases against political opponents than against allies. Consequently, the model anticipates that in the presence of partisan bias, sentences of prosecuted opponents will tend to be lower than those of co-partisans. Employing newly collected data on public corruption prosecutions, I find evidence of partisan bias under both Bush (II) and Clinton Justice Departments. However, additional evidence suggests that these results may understate the extent of bias under Bush, while overstating it under Clinton.
The Political Economy of Prosecution (with Gregory Huber). Annual Review of Law and Social Sciences (2009)
Contemporary advances in the field of political economy, particularly those concerning the subject of delegated authority, can provide a unifying framework for analyzing the behavior and political context of criminal prosecutors in the United States. This perspective, which focuses on the extent of conflict between an official’s motives and those of other actors, and the degree to which information is unevenly distributed among those actors, is well suited for studying prosecutors—the vast majority of whom are elected but whose accountability is frequently called into question. We apply this perspective to three areas in the existing literature on prosecutors: plea bargaining, courtroom communities, and public corruption prosecution.
Enforcement and Compliance in an Uncertain World: An Experimental Investigation(With Eric Dickson and Gregory Huber). Journal of Politics (2009)
Governments are charged with monitoring citizens’ compliance with prescribed behavioral standards and punishing noncompliance. Flaws in information available to enforcing agents, however, may lead to subsequent enforcement errors, eroding government authority and undermining incentives for compliance. We explore these concepts in a laboratory experiment. A “monitor” player makes punishment decisions after receiving noisy signals about other players’ choices to contribute to a public good. We find that the possibility of wrongly accusatory signals has a more deleterious effect on contribution levels than the possibility of wrongly exculpatory signals. We trace this across-treatment difference to a “false positives trap”: when members of a largely compliant population are sometimes incorrectly accused, some will be unjustly punished if enforcement power is employed, but non-compliant individuals will escape punishment if that power is abdicated. Either kind of error discourages compliance. An additional treatment demonstrates that the functioning of a given enforcement institution may vary, depending on its origins. We consider implications of our findings for theories of deterrence, fairness, and institutional legitimacy.
Do the Advantages of Incumbency Advantage Incumbents? (With Dimitri Landa). Journal of Politics (2009)
We develop a model that calls into question some longstanding presumptions about incumbency advantage. Our results show that increases in some of the ostensible benefits of incumbency frequently cited in the empirical and theoretical literature make it difficult for voters to differentiate incumbents of higher and lower quality. While this leads to an improvement in the electoral prospects of lower-quality incumbents, it is harmful to those of higher quality. Whether the net electoral consequence for high-quality incumbents is positive or negative depends on whether the source of incumbency advantage affects candidate entry and exit decisions directly or indirectly, as mediated through voters’ choices. Our findings suggest, further, that fundamental tensions may exist between different sources of incumbency advantage, and point to obstacles to disaggregating the sources of incumbency advantage empirically.
Voter Responses to Challenger Opportunity Costs (With Gregory Huber and Dimitri Landa). Electoral Studies (2009)
How do voters evaluate candidates in competitive elections? Gordon et al. [Gordon, S.C., Huber, G.A., Landa, D., 2007. Challenger entry and voter learning. American Political Science Review 101 (May), pp. 303–320.] present a model in which the fact of a serious electoral challenge conveys information about the relative competence of the candidates, over and above that conveyed by observable measures of candidate quality. The model predicts differences in voters’ responses to candidates depending on challenger opportunity costs. Taken together, these predictions diverge from those associated with an alternative theoretical account. We take advantage of the variation in challenger opportunity costs afforded by state legislative term limits to evaluate the model’s predictions. State legislators frequently challenge sitting members of the U.S. House. Those who are term-limited have less to lose from running, whereas those who are not must often risk their current position in pursuit of higher office. Using data on voter attitudes and knowledge about House elections involving state legislators, we find compelling evidence that voters respond to variation in challenger opportunity costs in a manner consistent with the model’s predictions.
Consumption or Investment? On Motivations for Political Giving (With Catherine Hafer and Dimitri Landa). Journal of Politics (2007)
We propose a strategy to distinguish investment and consumption motives for political contributions by examining the behavior of individual corporate executives. If executives expect contributions to yield policies beneficial to company interests, those whose compensation varies directly with corporate earnings should contribute more than those whose compensation comes largely from salary alone. We find a robust relationship between giving and the sensitivity of pay to company performance and show that the intensity of this relationship varies across groups of executives in ways that are consistent with instrumental giving but not with alternative, taste‐based, accounts. Together with earlier findings, our results suggest that contributions are often best understood as purchases of “good will” whose returns, while positive in expectation, are contingent and rare.
Directing Retribution: On the Political Control of Lower Court Judges (With Gregory A. Huber). Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization (2007)
The sentencing decisions of trial judges are constrained by statutory limits imposed by legislatures. At the same time, judges in many states face periodic review, often by the electorate. We develop a model in which the effects of these features of a judge’s political landscape on judicial behavior interact. The model yields several intriguing results: First, if legislators care about the proportionality of punishment, judicial discretion increases with their punitiveness. Second, voters are limited by two factors in their ability to make inferences about judicial preferences based on observed sentences: the extent to which judges are willing to pander to retain office and the range of judicial discretion mandated by the legislature. Finally, legislators can sometimes manipulate judicial discretion to aid sufficiently like-minded voters in their efforts to replace ideologically dissimilar judges.
Challenger Entry and Voter Learning (With Gregory A. Huber and Dimitri Landa). American Political Science Review (2007)
We develop a model of strategic interaction between voters and potential electoral challengers to sitting incumbents, in which the very fact of a costly challenge conveys relevant information to voters. Given incumbent failure in office, challenger entry is more likely, but the threat of entry by inferior challengers creates an incentive for citizens to become more politically informed. At the same time, challenges to incumbents who perform well can neutralize a voter’s positive assessment of incumbent qualifications. How a voter becomes politically informed can in turn deter challengers of different levels of competence from running, depending on the electoral environment. The model permits us to sharpen our understanding of retrospective voting, the incumbency advantage, and the relationship between electoral competition and voter welfare, while pointing to new interpretations of, and future avenues for, empirical research on elections.
Corporate Influence and the Regulatory Mandate (With Catherine Hafer). Journal of Politics (2007)
Industries face collective action and commitment problems when attempting to influence Congress. At the same time, an individual firm’s political investments can yield reduced bureaucratic scrutiny by indicating that firm’s willingness to contest agency decisions. We develop a model in which the desirability of maintaining a political footprint for this reason enables individual firms to commit to rewarding elected officials who maintain laws benefiting an entire industry. Our “dual forbearance” model anticipates that corporate political investments will be larger on average when statutes are stringent and that even pro‐industry legislative coalitions will benefit politically from the existence of a minimal regulatory state.
The Effect of Electoral Competitiveness on Incumbent Behavior (With Gregory A. Huber). Quarterly Journal of Political Science (May 2007)
What is the marginal effect of competitiveness on the power of electoral incentives? Addressing this question empirically is difficult because challenges to incumbents are endogenous to their behavior in office. To overcome this obstacle, we exploit a unique feature of Kansas courts: 14 districts employ partisan elections to select judges, while 17 employ noncompetitive retention elections. In the latter, therefore, challengers are ruled out.We find judges in partisan systems sentence more severely than those in retention systems. Additional tests attribute this to the incentive effects of potential competition, rather than the selection of more punitive judges in partisan districts.
Flexing Muscle: Corporate Political Expenditures as Signals to the Bureaucracy(With Catherine Hafer). American Political Science Review (2005)
Regulatory agencies impose costs and benefits tailored to individual firms through their discretionary enforcement activities. We propose that corporations use political expenditures in part to “flex their muscles” to regulators and convey their willingness to fight an agency’s specific determinations in the political arena. Because the signaling function of political expenditures is strategically complex, we derive a formal model wherein we demonstrate the existence of an equilibrium in which (1) large political donors are less compliant than smaller ones, but the bureaucracy monitors them less, and (2) firms with publicly observable problems reduce their political expenditures. We test the empirical implications of the model using plant-level data from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the inspection of 63 privately operated nuclear power plants and the political expenditures of their parent companies. We find strong evidence for the first prediction and qualified support for the second.
Qualitative Leverage and the Epistemology of Expert Opinion (With Alastair Smith). Political Analysis (2005)
We discuss the motivation for integrating qualitative information in statistical models of complex, partially observable causal mechanisms and suggest ways to minimize the dangers posed by Braumoeller and Kirpichevsky. We stress the importance of linking our statistical estimators to underlying theories of the data generating process, qualitative or otherwise.
Accountability and Coercion: Is Justice Blind when It Runs for Office? (With Gregory A. Huber). American Journal of Political Science (2004)
Through their power to sentence, trial judges exercise enormous authority in the criminal justice system. In 39 American states, these judges stand periodically for reelection. Do elections degrade their impartiality? We develop a dynamic theory of sentencing and electoral control. Judges discount the future value of retaining office relative to implementing preferred sentences. Voters are largely uninformed about judicial behavior, so even the outcome of a single publicized case can be decisive in their evaluations. Further, voters are more likely to perceive instances of underpunishment than overpunishment. Our theory predicts that elected judges will consequently become more punitive as standing for reelection approaches. Using sentencing data from 22,095 Pennsylvania criminal cases in the 1990s, we find strong evidence for this effect. Additional tests confirm the validity of our theory over alternatives. For the cases we examine, we attribute at least 1,818 to 2,705 years of incarceration to the electoral dynamic.
Quantitative Leverage through Qualitative Knowledge: Augmenting the Statistical Analysis of Complex Causes (With Alastair Smith). Political Analysis (2004)
Social scientific theories frequently posit that multiple causal mechanisms may produce the same outcome. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to observe which mechanism was responsible. For example, IMF scholars conjecture that nations enter IMF agreements both out of economic need and for discretionary domestic political reasons. Typically, though, all we observe is the fact of agreement, not its cause. Partial observability probit models (Poirier 1980, Journal of Econometrics 12:209–217; Braumoeller 2003, Political Analysis 11:209–233) provide one method for the statistical analysis of such phenomena. Unfortunately, they are often plagued by identification and labeling difficulties. Sometimes, however, qualitative studies of particular cases enlighten us about causes when quantitative studies cannot. We propose exploiting this information to lend additional structure to the partial observability approach. Monte Carlo simulation reveals that by anchoring “discernible” causes for a handful of cases about which we possess qualitative information, we obtain greater efficiency. More important, our method proves reliable at recovering unbiased parameter estimates when the partial observability model fails. The paper concludes with an analysis of the determinants of IMF agreements.
Citizen Oversight and the Electoral Incentives of Criminal Prosecutors (With Gregory A. Huber). American Journal of Political Science (2002)
Popular wisdom suggests that only by securing convictions can elected prosecutors cultivate the perception that they are tough on crime. This article considers why voters might use conviction rates to evaluate pros? ecutors and whether justice is sub? verted as a consequence. Citizens lack information about individual cases and prosecutor behavior. We model voter oversight of prosecutors in light of these difficulties. Voters use the promise of reelection given ob? served outputs to induce prosecutors to reduce uncertainty through investi? gation and subsequently to punish the guilty and free the innocent. The model demonstrates that an optimal voter strategy is always to reelect prosecutors who obtain convictions. Most importantly, even voters who most fear wrongful convictions should reward success at trial. Voter atti? tudes and beliefs instead influence rewards for cases concluded out of court, including plea bargains. Fi? nally, we derive sanctions necessary to prevent prosecutors from sup? pressing evidence when doing so is politically tempti
Stochastic Dependence in Competing Risks. American Journal of Political Science (2002)
The term “Competing Risks” de- scribes duration models m which spells may terminate via multiple outcomes: the term of a cabinet, for example, may end with or without an election; wars persist until the loss or victory of the aggressor. Analysts typically assume stochastic indepen- dence among risks, the duration modeling equivalent of independence of irrelevant alternatives. However, many political examples violate this assumption. I review competing risks as a latent variables approach. After discussing methods for modeling dependence that place restrictions on the nature of association, I introduce a parametric generalized dependent risks model in which inter-risk correla? tion may be estimated and its signifi- cance tested. The method employs risk-specific random effects drawn from a multivariate normal distribu? tion. Estimation is conducted using numerical methods and/or Bayesian simulation. Monte Carlo simulation reveals desirable large sample prop- erties of the estimator. Finally, I exam? ine two applications using data on cabinet survival and legislative position