Recent Research: Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy


Public Opinion, Political Deliberation, and Political Communication

Elite Partisan Polarization and Opinion

Over the last 25 years in U.S. politics, the nature of elite party competition has changed, as political parties have become increasingly polarized. Scholars and pundits actively debate how these elite patterns influence citizens’ polarization, for example, whether citizens have also become more ideologically polarized. Yet few have addressed a more fundamental question: Has elite polarization altered the way citizens arrive at their policy opinions in the first place—and if so, in what ways? IPR political scientist James Druckman, Erik Peterson of Stanford University, and Rune Slothuus of Denmark’s Aarhus University address these questions with a theory and two survey experiments on the issues of drilling and immigration. They uncover stark evidence that polarized environments fundamentally change how citizens make their political decisions and, in their estimation, such environments lead to lower-quality opinions. Specifically, polarization intensifies how much impact party endorsements hold over fundamental information, perhaps ironically leading citizens to place greater confidence in opinions that are less rooted in substantiated information. The authors end by reviewing how intense democratic competition can alter public views. First appearing in an IPR working paper, the results were published in the American Political Science Review and won two awards from the American Political Science Association in 2013. Druckman is Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and associate director of IPR.

Partisan Motivated Reasoning

Does party identification make us support policies we would otherwise reject, or oppose ones we would otherwise support? In Political Behavior, Druckman, IPR social policy expert Fay Lomax Cook, and Toby Bolsen of Georgia State University authored another ISEN-supported experiment to test this question, in which they used the bipartisan example of the 2007 Energy Act. Participants were assigned to one of three motivational conditions: no motivation, accuracy motivation (where participants were told they would have to explain their reasons for opinions about the policy), and directional motivation (where participants were told they would be asked about their party affiliation after the policy questions). They were also either given no endorsement information, told one party had endorsed it, told there was consensus bipartisan support, or told some, but not all, members of either party supported it. When individuals were primed to defend their partisan identity, they shifted their evaluations of the Energy Act toward their party’s position if those positions were provided—and away from positions endorsed by the other party if those positions were provided. The three researchers also found that both telling the participants they would have to explain their attitudes and being told of bipartisan support eliminates partisan motivated reasoning. Support for the Act increased across the board when both parties were shown to support it. The working paper also received an American Political Science Association award.

Public Opinion and Democratic Representation

The research literature on democratic representation and on public opinion formation has largely ignored one another as the fields have developed over the last 50 years. A fundamental tension between these two literatures emerges, according to Druckman, when considering the reality of the political communication environment. In an IPR working paper forthcoming in Political Communication, he reviews work on each, highlighting problems with how “quality opinion” is often defined and how representation is typically studied, and then offers a way forward. Druckman wants to redefine both how we assess opinion formation and study responsiveness. To this end, he advocates for a stronger focus on motivation and a more compelling exploration of responsiveness given the institutional, social, and media environment in which we live.

Elite and Mass Opinion About Social Security

Often called “the third rail of American politics,” Social Security was once seen as untouchable. In an IPR working paper, Cook and IPR graduate research assistant Rachel Moskowitz show that this political wisdom has changed, however, and use the theoretical framework of competitive counterframing to describe the breakdown in consensus among elites during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. They then ask whether this breakdown in consensus at the elite level has weakened the long-standing support of the public. Overall, they show that it has not, but the widening gaps between the views of affluent and low-income Americans bear careful watching.

Studying Decisions to Vote

How can researchers effectively study voting decisions given the lack of a unifying theory and the limitations of current large-scale surveys and real-time data? Charles F. Manski, an IPR economist, and Adeline Delavande of the University of Essex continue their work on election preferences, releasing an IPR working paper demonstrating the feasibility and usefulness of survey research for studying decisions to vote. By asking respondents to report the probability that they would vote in different hypothetical presidential elections, researchers are able to pose more scenarios than a person will actually face, and are able to vary the characteristics of the elections more than the voters are likely to see in real life elections. Using responses from participants in the American Life Panel, Manski and Delavande find that elicited choice probabilities were effective and “substantially enriched the data available for studies of voting decisions.” They also found that voting time and election closeness were notable determinants of decisions to vote, but candidate preference was not. Most of their results using the hypothetical election scenario data aligned with those using the respondents’ actual 2012 election data. Manski is Board of Trustees Professor of Economics.

Communication and Collective Actions

Government exists in large part to provide collective goods that the market would not otherwise produce—entities such as highways, clean air, water, law and order, and national defense. A critical question is which of these entities citizens would produce on their own, notwithstanding market forces. Again focusing on the domain of energy conservation, Druckman, Cook, and Bolsen examine in an IPR working paper when and why citizens engage in collective actions of their own volition—and by extension what government can do to promote such actions. They surveyed 1,600 respondents about attitudes towards various energy sources and policies, measuring their knowledge and political affiliations. Respondents were then assigned to frames that manipulated both the attribution of responsibility for conservation, as well as the effects of conservation behaviors. They were then asked how willing they were to perform energy-saving tasks, about their interest in receiving more information, and how much they would spend on energy-saving actions, such as weatherizing their homes. The researchers find that telling individuals they were responsible for energy conservation had little effect on their willingness to invest, but telling individuals the government was responsible made them less likely to invest. Rather, individuals were more likely to invest only when responsibility for energy conservation was attributed to them and environmental benefits were highlighted. ISEN supported the study, forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Political Science.

The Partisan “Perceptual Screen”

IPR political scientist Georgia Kernell and IPR graduate research assistant Kevin Mullinix closely examine the scope of what political science researchers call the “perceptual screen”—the idea that party identification causes individuals to process information in a way that is favorable to their political orientation. They explore the effects of partisanship on voters’ attitudes toward election miscounting. Using a nationally representative sample, they find that partisan winners are more likely to think votes are accurately counted than partisan losers. But when told that a nonpartisan body finds no evidence of miscounting, both winners and losers adjust their beliefs about electoral fairness in a similar fashion. They do not discover any evidence of an “anti-party” bias among Independent voters, but they do find that nonpartisans tend to exhibit “anti-system” attitudes—that is, they are skeptical of election counting no matter the outcome. Additionally, they uncover strong partisan differences for explanations of election misconduct, with Republicans identifying voter fraud as the primary reason and Democrats citing voter suppression.

Party Experience and Consistency

Examining political parties’ organizations and records, Kernell proposes that electoral consistency and longevity could be critical factors shaping the ways in which citizens identify with a particular party and make voting decisions. She measures the effects of party consistency and experience on party identification and vote choice by analyzing data from 66 political parties in 20 parliamentary democracies. Her results show that individuals who are farther apart ideologically from a party are more likely to identify with and vote for that party if the party is ideologically inconsistent over time, as well as more ideologically diverse at a given time. She also finds that a person’s experience with a party serves to increase his or her party identification—with the age of an individual, a party, and the party system all having independent, positive effects on the likelihood of adopting party attachments.

Identifying Issue Frames in Text

Research on framing has traditionally relied on controlled experiments and manually annotated document collections. IPR associate Daniel Diermeier, professor of managerial economics and decision sciences, and colleagues introduced a new method in a Public Library of Science article that allows for quantifying the relative strengths of competing linguistic frames that can be efficiently applied to large bodies of text. They tested their method and demonstrated its effectiveness by tracking word co-occurrence patterns in two examples of issue framing in political debates in the U.S. Senate—the framing of terror as a military struggle over time following the events of 9/11, and the different framings of abortion by Democrats and Republicans. They used transcripts from Senate debates between 1989 and 2006 as their data. In the terrorism example, the distance between the words “terror” and “war” shrank from 2001–2006, while distance between “terror” and “crime” grew. In the abortion example, they examined New York Times articles as well as Senate transcripts. They realized Republicans were more likely than Democrats to use the word “mother” in the context of abortion and The New York Times is more likely to use the word “choice” than “life,” “woman,” or “mother.” Such techniques could be useful to researchers looking to confirm existence of issue frames in future work. Diermeier is IBM Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013.

Decision Making in the Policy Process

Motivated Information Processing

Federal spending is usually thought of in terms of a partisan divide—Democrats want to increase funding and Republicans want to make cuts. But when they do ultimately put together a budget and pass appropriations bills to fund the government, how will these two partisan goals be combined? Will a divided government result in more and larger spending cuts than in years when Democrats alone controlled the budgetary process? A recent analysis of U.S. budgetary changes by IPR political scientist Laurel Harbridge and Sarah Anderson of the University of California, Santa Barbara sheds light on this question. It reveals that Democrats actually make larger spending cuts than Republicans do, and this occurs even when they have unified control of government. This puzzling pattern can be explained by what Harbridge and Anderson refer to as “motivated information processing.” In a forthcoming American Politics Research article, the two use their analysis of U.S. budgetary spending, which uses data from 1955–2002, to explore how and why party control, congressional turnover, and budgetary constraints affect spending, including the start or elimination of programs and year-to-year funding changes. They argue that in an information-rich world, policymakers are bombarded with so much information they cannot process it all. In response, they fall prey to their partisan biases and engage in motivated reasoning. This leads to selectively ignoring information that runs counter to their partisan predispositions.

Public Policy and Uncertainty

In his new book, Public Policy in an Uncertain World: Analysis and Decisions (Harvard University Press, 2013), Manski argues that current policy is based on untrustworthy analysis that relies far too often on flawed assumptions or leaps of logic. He shared insights from the book at a lecture at the British Academy, where he bluntly told an audience of U.K. civil servants and citizens that they should be more discriminating consumers of policy research. By failing to account for uncertainty in an unpredictable world, policy analysis misleads policymakers with expressions of certitude. In the book, Manski presents an alternative approach that takes account of this inherent uncertainty, moving policy analysis away from “incredible certitude” toward one that incorporates an acknowledgement of partial knowledge. He argues analysis would be more credible—and salient—if researchers would acknowledge upfront the limits of their data and results. He argues diversification, like what one does for a financial portfolio, could provide an answer in some contexts. Taking the example of tax policy, Manski suggested that in theory you could subject different groups to different tax rates and policies. Then, depending on the results, the government could adjust the policy every five or 10 years. In response to Manski’s presentation, Lord Gus O’Donnell, former U.K. cabinet secretary and civil service head, praised the book for its readability and its attempt to get policymakers to think about the language to express uncertainty and decision making.

Randomizing Regulatory Approval

When a pharmaceutical company asks the Food and Drug Administration to approve a drug or a mining company asks the Environmental Protection Agency for permission to open a coal mine, the agencies fulfill one of their assigned societal functions—regulatory approval of private activities. Yet how should society evaluate such processes? In an IPR working paper, Manski proposes a broader evaluative process than current reliance on the narrow scope of judicial review. He argues for allowing agencies, which often face uncertainty, to use diversification and deterrence to randomize regulatory approval. Randomization from diversification would serve to limit potential errors—much in the same way an investor diversifies a financial portfolio—and to improve an agency’s decision-making processes over time. In terms of deterrence, randomization would enable an agency to choose an approval rate that could either encourage more socially beneficial, or discourage harmful, applications for regulatory approval.

Congress—Budgets and Bipartisanship

Bipartisanship in Congress

Harbridge is also completing work on her forthcoming book manuscript, “Is Bipartisanship Dead? Policy Agreement in the Face of Partisan Agenda Control in the House of Representatives.” In it, she challenges scholars to reconsider how they view partisan conflict in Congress. Her manuscript includes a systematic empirical analysis of coalitions on House bills and the composition of the House floor agenda, as well as interviews with current and former congressional staff members and former representatives. She starts from the conventional wisdom that Congress has become more polarized since the 1970s, with claims of decreasing room for policy agreement between the two parties and implications of poor governance and representation. Harbridge, however, takes a broader view of bipartisan cooperation, examining both House roll call votes and bill cosponsorship coalitions. Finding roll call votes have become more partisan, she sees that bill co- sponsorship coalitions have not. She reconciles these divergent patterns with how parties control congressional agenda content. In effect, she argues that political parties are contributing to a rise in party polarization by selecting which bills face roll call votes—thus calling the public’s attention to an increased upswing in congressional polarization and declining bipartisanship. Her findings suggest that responsiveness has declined for roll call voting, but increased for cosponsorship coalitions.

Public Support for Bipartisanship

Public opinion surveys regularly assert that Americans want political leaders to work together and in bipartisan ways. If so, why does Congress seem to regularly eschew “bipartisanship”? Many claim it reflects a breakdown of representation, especially at the collective level of policy outcomes. Harbridge, Stanford’s Neil Malhotra, and Brian Harrison of Wesleyan University, a former IPR graduate RA, offer another explanation in an IPR working paper: Though people profess support for “bipartisanship” in an abstract sense, the policymaking process through which legislation is created activates partisan social identities. Hence, in their roles as spectators of policymaking, citizens might be inclined to root for their team (i.e., their party). To test their theory, the three researchers are currently working on a project to examine the limitations of public support for bipartisanship in Congress. They received funding from the online data collection platform TESS to run a series of experiments. Their results reveal that although citizens can recognize bipartisan processes, preferences for bipartisan legislating do not outweigh partisan desires in the evaluation of public policies. As a result, bipartisan legislative outputs are not favored any more than partisan legislative outputs, providing few incentives for party leaders to compromise or build bipartisan coalitions if a partisan victory is possible. These findings call into question whether the apparent breakdown of bipartisan support on legislation is really driven by how much voters take bipartisanship into account—as some surveys seem to indicate.

Income Inequality and Social Welfare Programs

Political Views of the Wealthiest Americans

Political scientist and IPR associate Benjamin Page and his colleagues, including Northwestern political scientist Jason Seawright, Cook, and Moskowitz, continue to investigate how America’s wealthiest citizens think about issues and engage in politics. Their pilot study of a random sample of 104 Chicagoans with a median income of $7.5 million, as reported in Perspectives on Politics, indicates that the wealthiest Americans are far more active in politics than the average citizen— they are twice as likely to pay attention to politics and volunteer for political organizations. Most contribute money to political causes, and one-fifth have “bundled” contributions by others. Many also initiate contacts with public officials, especially members of Congress. Their views on social welfare policies tend to be much more conservative than the average American’s. Page and Seawright have recently begun using “web-scraping” techniques to extract information from websites in order to learn what U.S. billionaires say they want from government. Many are silent about politics even while spending large sums of money on it. Page is Gordon Scott Fulcher Professor of Decision Making.

The American Way of Welfare

IPR sociologist Monica Prasad is following up on her book The Land of Too Much: American Abundance and the Paradox of Poverty (Harvard University Press, 2012) with a new line of research. In it, she focuses on three central questions: Why are U.S. poverty rates higher than in other developed countries? Why did the U.S. experience an attack on state intervention, the neoliberal revolution, starting in the 1980s? And why did the U.S. recently suffer the greatest economic meltdown in 75 years? Prasad develops a demand-side theory of comparative political economy to show how strong governmental intervention undermined the American welfare state. She starts in the late 19th century when America’s economic growth overwhelmed world markets, causing price declines everywhere. While European countries adopted protectionist policies in response, the U.S. federal government instituted progressive taxation and a series of strict financial regulations. As European countries developed growth models focused on investment and exports, the United States developed one based on consumption. The paper focuses on the high poverty rates that have resulted. Prasad demonstrates that governmental policies—taxes and transfer payments—are actually responsible for increasing income inequality—as opposed to market wages.

Unemployment Insurance and Housing

Following the housing market meltdown during the Great Recession, the federal government launched subsidies for mortgage modifications and other housing programs to buoy the market and head off foreclosures. New research by economist and IPR associate Brian Melzer and his colleagues shows that dramatic expansions of unemployment benefits also acted as a housing stabilizer. Their preliminary findings suggest that unemployment insurance extensions between 2008 and 2012 perhaps averted one million foreclosures. To understand this issue, the researchers exploit variation in unemployment benefits across the 50 states and over time. For example, a worker laid off in 2011 could collect up to $28,000 in benefits in Massachusetts but only $6,000 in Mississippi. Maximum benefits also grew faster in some states, increasing by 20 percent in Florida but by 160 percent in New Mexico between 1992 and 2011. Melzer and his colleagues compare these changes in maximum benefits to trends in loan delinquencies. Their preliminary findings show that for every $1,000 increase in maximum jobless benefits, delinquent mortgages drop by 2 percent, and evictions fall by 10 percent among unemployed homeowners. Focusing on recent differences due to unemployment insurance extensions in the Great Recession, they find similar effects.

Gender in Attitudes and Social Policies

Gender and Leadership

IPR social psychologist Alice Eagly continued her research on gender and leadership, contributing a chapter to The Oxford Handbook of Gender in Organizations. In it, she reviewed current evidence that women have particular advantages and disadvantages as leaders. Eagly finds that women demonstrate a more transformational leadership style than men, and this way of leading has been linked to enhanced leadership and organizational performance. Women’s higher emotional intelligence, ethical standards, and endorsement of benevolent and universalistic values might also confer benefits in some contexts. Women leaders, however, continue to experience prejudice, discrimination in pay and advancement, and difficulty obtaining desirable job opportunities across their careers. Given this blend of advantages and disadvantages, evidence of women’s leadership effectiveness is mixed. Women leaders are more effective than men mainly in less masculine settings. Gender diversity enhances team performance only when teams manage to overcome group conflict, and it improves corporate financial outcomes only in firms that are poorly governed or those that emphasize innovation. Yet increasingly favorable attitudes towards women leaders and the emergence of a more androgynous cultural model of leadership bode well for women leaders in the future. Eagly is James Padilla Chair of Arts and Sciences.

Female Executives in Latin America

Eagly also joined a team of American and Latin American researchers probing the mystery of how women in Latin American countries seem to fare relatively well in their careers despite encountering socioeconomic and cultural factors that could limit their possibilities of achieving higher management positions. They discover women in Latin America held comparable status in organizations to those in more economically advanced countries. In Gender in Management, Eagly and her colleagues reported on surveys and interviews that they conducted with successful Latin American businesswomen to understand their views on their challenges and successes. Interviewees disagreed on issues of discrimination, with many seeing few serious barriers to their professional careers, and regarded the work-life balance as their main challenge. They understood their success mainly in terms of individual factors such as personality characteristics, performance and results, and their own leadership traits. Most were mothers who integrated their family and business lives with the help of paid domestic employees and a support network of relatives. Most admitted that machismo limits women’s access to executive positions. They recognized their ambition to attain positions of power was mainly for their own personal satisfaction, with their main goal being personal development and fulfillment.

News, Technologies, and Online Behavior

Politicization of Science and Technology

Does the politicization of science influence support for scientific innovations? Can it render appeals to evidence inconsequential? In a series of studies, Bolsen, a former IPR graduate research assistant, Druckman, and Cook use experiments and survey data to examine public opinion related to energy policy. In an IPR working paper forthcoming in Public Opinion Quarterly, they take what they believe is the first empirical foray into understanding how the frames that highlight politicization affect public opinion—in particular for new and emerging technologies. Taking the example of nuclear power, they randomly present varying informational conditions, or “frames,” to a nationally representative sample of 1,600 participants. The frames include different information about nuclear energy, some on benefits and others on drawbacks, and various references to the politicization of science. Their results show that politicizing science undermines arguments about the environmental benefits of nuclear energy, regardless of whether the arguments do or do not cite supportive scientific evidence. It even serves to reduce support for using evidence in the first place. A second study shows that references to the potential health risks associated with using nuclear power also decreases support, despite additional frames highlighting the benefits of the technology or the politicization of science. Their findings demonstrate that the politicization of science has created a “status-quo bias,” which future research should focus on overcoming to gain public support for emerging technologies. The Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) provided funding for this work.

Mobilizing Group Membership

How can groups seeking to use e-mail to drive membership make sure they stand out in their recipient’s inbox and avoid the spam folder? Druckman and Donald Green of Columbia University in the journal Sage Open discussed their randomized experiment to assess the effectiveness of three forms of e-mail appeals to prospective members of a newly formed professional group. The three appeals consisted of an impersonal mass e-mail, a personal appeal with a note from the group’s president, and a social pressure appeal with a personal note reminding recipients that they had signed a petition and asking them to make good on their earlier pledge. Druckman and Green find personalization generates strong and statistically significant treatment effects, with social pressure effects proving to be even stronger. The practical implication for groups seeking to gain members might be that it pays for organizations to invest substantial resources in an initial pledge drive. Such a drive provides the target list for a subsequent social pressure intervention that induces people to honor their pledge.

The News Gap

Do news organizations produce the kind of content readers want? Communications and technology researcher and IPR associate Pablo Boczkowski asks this question in his newest book, The News Gap: When the Information Preferences of the Media and the Public Diverge (MIT Press, 2013). With Northwestern graduate student Eugenia Mitchelstein, he examines the gap between the types of news stories major outlets feature—with many prominent spots going to politics, economics, and international relations—and the ones readers prefer—often entertainment, sports, and crime stories. They analyzed 50,000 stories posted on 20 news sites in seven countries in North and South America and Western Europe. Boczkowski and Mitchelstein underscore that the gap in news preferences exists regardless of a person’s ideological orientation or a country’s national media culture. It narrows during election cycles and major events when people feel compelled to inform themselves—and widens during quieter political times. The two point to troubling consequences for communication, technology, and politics resulting from this digital-age gap.

Unemployment and Attention to News

Do we pay more attention to bad news than good? In continuing research on economic news consumption, Kernell demonstrates that individuals are significantly more likely to seek out information about the economy when business conditions are bad or uncertain. Unemployment is the most significant macroeconomic predictor of attention to the news, but politics and international events also play a role. When a new party takes over the White House or the country experiences an international or environmental crises—like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina—individuals increase economic monitoring. Kernell also finds that while a significant information gap exists across education groups, this gap does not increase in response to worsening conditions. All individuals ramp up consumption during hard times and decrease monitoring when economic conditions are stable. This research has important implications for understanding when individuals consume news, how they form economic assessments, and how they use these evaluations to hold politicians accountable.

Political Engagement and the Internet

Many believe the 2008 presidential election between candidates Barack Obama and John McCain revolutionized the role of the Internet in political campaigns. IPR associates and communications researchers Eszter Hargittai and Aaron Shaw take a deep dive into the relationship between online engagement and political participation among young adults in an article published in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. Using 2009 survey data from about 1,000 college students who were eligible to vote in the 2008 election, they discover no significant association between Internet use and the likelihood of voting. They do, however, see a relationship between participation on social network sites and higher Web-use skills and other forms of political engagement, such as volunteering, signing a petition, donating to a campaign, or contacting elected officials. Their results imply that though Internet usage alone is unlikely to transform existing patterns in political participation radically, it might facilitate the creation of new pathways for political engagement. Hargittai is the Delaney Family Research Professor.

Middle East Media Survey

IPR media scholar Rachel Davis Mersey worked extensively on multiple projects on Middle East media. She served as a research adviser to the Media Use in the Middle East study, an eight-nation survey conducted by Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) and Harris Interactive. The landmark study received international media attention for its comprehensive look at media use and attitudes among residents of Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. Results revealed that fewer than half of those surveyed thought it was safe to express political opinions online, and 46 percent thought people should be able to criticize governments online. Television remains the most popular medium in the region, but the Internet is gaining ground in many countries. Mersey is using the initial data collected by Harris for additional research on mobile media content innovation and strategies. Mersey was an NU-Q Research Fellow in 2013 and continues her work with NU-Q faculty and Al-Jazeera.

Aspects of Government Behavior and Politics 

Presidents as Agents of Change

Presidents are usually seen as operating in a political environment that is highly resistant to change. Though powerful actors, presidents are depicted as having limited capacities to alter the institutional and organizational arrangements that surround them. Building on recent historical-institutional research, IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin challenges this assumption. He shows that under many conditions, presidents can, in fact, alter their structural confines and reshape their political environment in historically significant ways. In an IPR working paper, Galvin develops this conceptual framework and offers methodological suggestions for conducting historically oriented research along these lines. Reconsidering some recent research into the relationship between presidential action and party development, he shows that presidents contributed to several critical party developments in American history: Late 19th-century presidents contributed to the gradual nationalization of the party system, mid-20th-century ones helped build the modern “service” party, and more recent presidents fostered greater partisan polarization among interest group networks. Motivated to bring inherited party structures into closer alignment with their goals, these presidents summoned powerful resources to reshape their parties. Rather than leave their structural environment undisturbed, as leading theories might predict, they reconfigured their parties and altered their trajectories.

Solidarity and the Optimal Fiscal Federal Structure

IPR associate Therese McGuire continues her work on fiscal federalism, incorporating prominent economic theories into her discussion of the optimal fiscal federal structure. With Xavier Calsamiglia and Teresa Garcia-Milà of Spain's Pompeu Fabra University, McGuire explores the optimal degree of fiscal decentralization when people’s preferences for goods and services—which classic treatments of fiscal federalism place under the purview of local governments—exhibit specific egalitarianism or solidarity. They define solidarity as the preference for distributing some goods and services, those that determine life chances like education and healthcare, less unequally than people’s ability to pay for them. They find that a system in which the central government provides a common minimum level of the publicly provided good, and local governments are allowed to use their own resources to provide an even higher local level, performs best from an efficiency perspective. The article was published in International Tax and Public Finance. McGuire is ConAgra Foods Research Professor in Strategic Management.

Embedded Experts on Juries

Continuing her work on juries and jury deliberations, law professor and psychologist Shari Seidman Diamond, an IPR associate, worked with colleagues to examine the behavior of jurors with specialized expertise during deliberations. In the William & Mary Law Review, they investigated how often citizens with specialized knowledge serve as jurors, how they behave when they do, and how legal professionals view the appropriateness of the contributions juror- experts might make. They analyzed surveys from attorneys and judges, as well as the deliberations of the 50 civil trials from the Arizona Jury Project. Ultimately, Diamond and her colleagues concluded that excusing potential jurors with specialized expertise is unwarranted and “inappropriately undermines the increasing heterogeneity on the jury that the elimination of occupational exemptions has worked to promote.” Diamond is Howard J. Trienens Professor of Law.

Political-Legal Mobilization of Organized Business

IPR sociologist Anthony Chen continues to study the involvement of organized business in American politics, policymaking, and the law. He is laying the foundations of a long-term research project that aims to shed new light on whether and how the legal and political mobilization of business has shaped public policy in the United States. He is in the process of identifying cases that are suitable for analysis, and he plans to conduct surveys of public opinion and collect archival evidence. This year he has begun filling in his understanding of selected topics and trends in corporate taxation.

Death Penalty Research

Given the failings of research to date on the death penalty, Manski has also looked at how researchers can move forward to conduct scientifically valid research on the death penalty’s deterrent effect and on deterrence in general. Manski and John Pepper of the University of Virginia examine how researchers using the same data but tweaking one factor in a model could arrive at the estimate that each execution costs 18 lives, flipping the results from the previous estimate of saving 18. In a Journal of Quantitative Criminology article, the economists tackle the selection problem in social policy analysis. They use state data from 1975 and 1977 to show that data alone cannot determine what treatment course one should follow. Instead, data must be combined with assumptions of varying strengths to draw conclusions about counterfactual outcomes. Thus, they explain how studies using the same data can arrive at conflicting assumptions about whether the death penalty increases or decreases homicides. They warn against the recklessness of applying too-strong assumptions, which though leading perhaps to more definite answers, also result in flawed and conflicting ones. Manski also discussed his recent work on a National Research Council committee evaluating research on the death penalty as a deterrent at a January 10 IPR/Law School event. He was joined by Carnegie Mellon criminologist Daniel Nagin, who served as the NRC committee chair, and IPR associate Max Schanzenbach, a law professor and criminal sentencing expert, who spoke about the unexplained component of murder rates.

Resilience in the Rust Belt

Since the 1970s, left-leaning parties around the world have been under pressure to adapt to changing economic and political conditions. With globalization and deindustrialization shrinking organized labor’s membership base and undermining the credibility of traditional social-democratic policy agendas, these parties have faced incentives to develop new policy initiatives and court new electoral constituencies. The U.S. Democratic Party is usually thought to have responded to these incentives slowly, poorly, or not at all, and this is presumed to help explain their electoral difficulties since the Reagan presidency. But is this narrative correct? And if Democrats did have trouble adapting, then why? Galvin turns to the Rust Belt—the region hit hardest by globalization-related trends—to investigate this question in his latest book project. He uncovers surprising variation in the adaptive capacities of Democratic parties in four of the heaviest manufacturing states—Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Drawing upon extensive primary-source research, Galvin finds that these parties’ historical ties to organized labor, urban machines, and liberal interest groups (in different proportions in each state) had important consequences for their downstream activities. This project has already turned up some surprising findings. In an IPR working paper, Galvin shows that the relationship between the Michigan Democratic Party and the United Auto Workers Union remained unusually strong between 1970 and 2010, yet Democratic politicians frequently promoted “third-way” policies that clashed with labor’s longstanding priorities. This odd coincidence—party adaptation despite strong party-union linkages—can be explained by the simple fact that union leaders deliberately supported adaptation by Democratic politicians. Contrary to the expectation that interest groups will always push party politicians to take more extreme positions, UAW leaders adopted a highly strategic approach to party politics as they sought to build a broader Democratic coalition.