Working Papers

“Difficulty of Voter Registration in the U.S. and Its Impact on Young Voters.” (with Matthew Motta and Rebekah Herrick)

We create a new Difficulty of Registration Index (DORI) extracted via an item response theory (IRT) model of key dimensions of voter registration laws across the states and over time. We find that most states made registration easier over time. North Carolina, though, imposed a host of new voter registration restrictions. Using a mixed-methods approach, we find that increased DORI is associated with more problems registering and lower likelihood of voting among young North Carolinians. This study clarifies how new registration restrictions can change the electorate and impact political equality.

Keywords: voter registration, youth turnout, election laws, state politics, item response theory


“Diversity and the Diffusion of Innovations in the American States.” (with Jack Nickelson)

We argue that diverse legislatures, drawing on the various experiences, skills, and perspectives of their members, will be more innovative as long as legislators are given the resources and opportunities to leverage their diversity. We measure innovation as 1) the tendency to adopt new policies and 2) the use of unique legislative language. We measure diversity on gender, class, and racial/ethnic dimensions. The study provides insights into how the presence of women, blue-collar workers, and racial and ethnic minorities in state legislatures can shape the policies that spread nationwide.

Keywords: diversity, legislative politics, state politics, policy diffusion, text analysis


“Business Backgrounds and Cultural Capture.”

Shared identity and status among bureaucrats and industry leaders can result in regulatory capture. This cultural capture has yet to be fully tested empirically. I leverage a newly public 50-year, 50-state survey of state-level administrators to test whether those with business backgrounds seek a more central role for industry in regulatory decisions.  The results will allow scholars to better understand the mechanisms of capture with new empirical results.

Key words: cultural capture, regulatory capture, state politics, bureaucracy, interest groups.


“Does Copying and Paste Lawmaking Lead to Policy Success or Failure?” (with Bobby Dorrell)

Previous research finds that legislators with few staff resources are more likely to borrow bill text from other sources. Copying may be perceived as lazy legislating that can result in drafting errors and stem from undue interest group influence. Yet, we do not know if the tendency to plagiarize policies actually affects the success of the policy. Copying may result in the passage of flawed and narrow policy solutions likely to fail. Or, copying could facilitate success because it is the result of legislators learning from successes in other states. These hypotheses are tested by measuring policy plagiarism and policy success for organ donation, e-cigarette, Safe Haven, and anti-bullying legislation in state legislatures. The results provide insights to how legislative staff and bill text borrowing can shape the effectiveness of laws and lawmakers.

Key Words: text analysis, policy success, state politics, legislative professionalism


“The Impact of Course Structure on Students’ Political Efficacy and Knowledge in Introduction to American Government Courses.” (with Eve M. Ringsmuth)

Introduction to American Government is a foundational general education course meant to promote understanding of democracy and students’ ability to participate in it. But, there is substantial variation in how the course is structured: it can enroll anywhere from a dozen students to hundreds; it can be delivered synchronously or asynchronously online; it can be face-to-face. Does course structure affect students’ learning about democracy? We conduct a panel survey of students enrolled in American government at a large university. We leverage variation in structure at the university to assess its impact on growth in students’ political efficacy and knowledge over the semester. The results shed light on how best to achieve course goals, a timely contribution given the proliferation of course structures due to the pandemic and the importance of renewing democratic values in America.

Key Words: course structure, civic education, political efficacy, scholarship of teaching and learning


“Is Income Inequality Contagious? Evidence from the American States.”

Since the 1980s, inequality has skyrocketed across industrial democracies and across the fifty U.S. states. I argue that states exist in an economic competition network that facilitates the spread of inequality. Structurally equivalent states have similar market players and similar economic policies that create the conditions for the spread of inequality. To evaluate this claim, I analyze data on a number of policy, politics, and economic indicators from 1997-2017 in a spatial lag regression analysis.

Key words: income inequality, policy diffusion, economic competition, state politics


“The Bernie Effect: How Political Elites Moralize Economic Policies and Reduce Willingness to Compromise” (with Kristin Garrett)

Political elites attempt to frame issues in ways that advance their policy and electoral goals. One strategy that some elites have increasingly leveraged is to define a range of issues, even economic ones, in moral terms. How do these moral frames affect citizens’ attitudes on economic issues? We argue that campaign messages framing economic issues in moral terms lead people to moralize the issues and the candidates espousing the frames. This process of moralization can increase support for the candidates, but decrease willingness to compromise on the issues. We test this theory using survey experiments that expose respondents to different moral or economic frames on the issue of the minimum wage and free trade agreements. The results raise normative questions about efforts to moralize issues for electoral gain.

Keywords: framing, economic policy, moral conviction, moral foundations, political psychology