(with Conor M. Dowling, Anthony Fowler, and Costas Panagopoulos), 2012. Election Law Journal 11 November 3.
Abstract: In 2011, the Supreme Court struck down the matching provisions in Arizona's campaign finance law on the grounds that they violate free speech by chilling private spending. In this article, we explicitly test the effects of Arizona's matching provisions in two ways. First, we find that privately funded state legislative candidates do not strategically cluster their spending below the threshold that would trigger money to their opponents. Second, we exploit a 2010 Court injunction as a natural experiment. When Arizona's matching provisions were removed, private spending did not increase relative to other states. Contrary to the view of the Court, we find no empirical evidence that campaign finance laws chill private political speech. More generally, our analysis demonstrates the value of exploiting court injunctions as natural experiments to assess the causal effects of laws.
(with Matthew Atkinson and Seth J. Hill), 2009. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 4 (3), pp 229-249.
Abstract: We estimate the effect of candidate appearance on vote choice in congressional elections using an original survey instrument. Based on estimates of the facial competence of 972 congressional candidates, we show that in more competitive races the out-party tends to run candidates with higher quality faces. We estimate the direct effect of face on vote choice when controlling for the competitiveness of the contest and for individual partisanship. Combining survey data with our facial quality scores and a measure of contest competitiveness, we find a face quality effect for Senate challengers of about 4 points for independent voters and 1 to 3 points for partisans. While we estimate face effects that could potentially matter in close elections, we find that the challenging candidate's face is never the difference between a challenger and incumbent victory in all 99 Senate elections in our study.
Abstract: How does the context in which a person lives affect their political behavior? This question has been controversial since, at least, the landmark study by Key (1949). Yet, the effects of context remain diffiult to study due to problems of selection and other difficulties. I exploit a natural experiment in which voters' demographic context was exogenously changed. Between 2000 and 2004, the reconstruction of public housing in Chicago caused the displacement of over 25,000 African Americans, many of whom had previously lived in close proximity to white voters. The removal was a largely systematic process, exogenous to the neighborhood of the public housing and even to the city. After the removal of their African American neighbors, the turnout of white voters dropped by over 5 percentage points. The size of the effect decreases as the distance of the voters from the demolished projects increases and also decreases as the size of the demolished project decreases. I also demonstrate that proximity to housing projects was related to increased vote for racially conservative candidates. I develop a psychological theory of racial threat to explain how group spatial structure conditions the effect of context on behavior.
Abstract: The effect of intergroup contact has long been a question central to social scientists. As political and technological changes bring increased interstate immigration, understanding intergroup contact is increasingly important to policy and scientific debates. Unfortunately, limitations in causal inference with observational data and the practical inability to exper- iment on demographic context have constrained scholars’ ability to speak to the effects of intergroup contact. Here I report the results of an experiment testing the causal effects of pro- longed intergroup contact in which Spanish-speaking confederates were randomly assigned to be inserted, for an extended period, into the daily routines of unknowing Anglo-whites living in homogeneous communities in the United States, thus simulating the conditions of demographic change. The result of this controlled experiment is a significant shift to- ward exclusionary attitudes among treated subjects. However there is evidence that the initial aversion diminishes over time. This experiment demonstrates that even very minor demographic change causes strong exclusionary reactions.
Abstract: Whether intergroup competition can motivate individual voting behavior has long been controversial among political scientists. Conflicting theoretical expectations and findings and the difficulty in causal identification have resulted in little clear progress on this question. While laboratory experiments on intergroup competition are common, real-world political behavior motivated by intergroup competition has never been subject to an experimental test. Using a field experiment, I demonstrate that intergroup competition can be causally linked to voter turnout.
I take advantage of the racial geography of Los Angeles County, California, which brings different racial/ethnic groups into close, yet spatially separated, proximity. This geography allows for a randomized, controlled field experiment to directly test the effects of stimulating racial threat on individual voter turnout. I conduct a test of 3,665 African American and Latino voters during the June, 2008 California Primary Election using a direct-mail intervention that was designed to test voters' awareness of and reaction to the presence of a proximate racial outgroup. The portion of this treatment effect on voter turnout that is attributable to racial threat is over three percentage points for African Americans and no effect for Latinos, which suggests that some voters are significantly affected by the presence of an outgroup.
Abstract: The 2008 Presidential Election allows for new tests of the Racial Threat hypothesis (Key 1949). In Los Angeles County, precincts that are overwhelmingly Latino are in close proximity to precincts that are overwhelmingly African American. These are conditions that may prime racial threat. If racial threat exists, then presumably it would have affected the probability that a non-Black voter cast a ballot for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential Primary.
I use Census data and the California voter file to perform a Bayesian analysis of surnames to determine the race/ethnicity of individual voters in Los Angeles County. I also geocode voters and precincts in order to measure the spatial distance between precincts. I argue that an observable implication of racial threat is that proximity to the source of threat should condition its effect. I show that Latino support for Obama was negatively correlated with proximity to African Americans. The unit of analysis is precincts, but hyper-segregated residential patterns in Los Angeles mean there is little concern that an ecological fallacy is driving the results.
Abstract: I experimentally test the effects of spatial segregation on the perception of difference between groups and argue that the experimental phenomenon is related to real-world political behavior. I conduct three original experiments with ten trials and a total of 1439 subjects. In these experiments, subjects are asked to evaluate differences and similarities between objects. I show that when subjects are exposed to objects that are spatially segregated from objects in other groups that subjects tend to judge these objects to be more similar than when the objects are integrated. Additionally, objects that are segregated tend to be more discretely categorized in a perceptual task than integrated objects. I argue that these results demonstrate the cognitive effects of segregation and demonstrate how residential racial segregation directly affects intergroup attitudes and, consequently, voting behavior.
(with Anthony Fowler)
Abstract: Many Americans habitually abstain from the political process, allowing some citizens to achieve better representation than others. Political scientists and pundits assume that greater electoral competition will motivate these under-represented citizens and bring them to the polls. First analyzing observational and survey evidence, we find little support for this claim. Then exploiting the rare opportunity of a tied election for major political office, we conduct a large-scale field experiment. Informing citizens that an upcoming election will be close has little mobilizing effect. To the extent that we do detect an effect of electoral competition on turnout, it is concentrated among frequent voters. Our evidence indicates that increased electoral competition is unlikely to be a solution to inequality in representation.
(with Anthony Fowler and Lynn Vavreck)
Abstract: Numerous get-out-the-vote (GOTV) interventions are successful in raising voter turnout. However, these increases may not be evenly distributed across the electorate and may actually increase the differences between voters and non-voters. This phenomenon is particularly notable given the many GOTV strategies that explicitly aim to reduce inequalities in representation. By analyzing individual level-data, we reassess previous GOTV experiments to determine which interventions mobilize under-represented versus well-represented citizens. We develop a generalized and exportable test which indicates whether a particular intervention reduces or exacerbates disparities in political participation and apply it to 27 previous experimental interventions. Despite raising mean levels of voter turnout, more than two-thirds of the interventions in our sample widened disparities in participation. On average, voter mobilization strategies tend to increase the participation gap, thereby exacerbating representational inequality. We conclude by discussing substantive implications for political representation and methodological implications for experimenters.