Working Papers

“Complexity, Resources, and Text Borrowing in State Legislatures” (with Eric Hansen)

Do states copy or reinvent language from complex policies? We argue that states will reinvent complex policies, but that states with high-resource legislatures will reinvent complex policies more than their low-resource counterparts. We test the theory using the bill texts from 18 policies that diffused across the 50 states from 1983-2014, measuring reinvention and complexity using text analysis tools. We find that complex policies are reinvented more than simple policies and that high-resource legislatures reinvent bills more than low-resource legislatures on average. However, we also find that low-resource legislatures reinvent complex policies at about the same rate as high-resource legislatures. The results indicate that even legislatures with limited resources work to adapt complex policies during the diffusion process.

Keywords: reinvention, diffusion, legislative professionalism, text analysis, 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


“Does Copying Legislative Language Lead to Policy Success or Failure?”

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 serious drafting errors, or even evidence of 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 have little effect on policy 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, 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


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

Is inequality contagious? Since the 1980s, inequality has skyrocketed across industrial democracies and across the fifty U.S. states. It seems as though every society is becoming more economically unequal. 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 for each of the fifty states in a spatial lag regression analysis.

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