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. Using CCES data and qualitative evidence from North Carolina, we find that young voters in states with higher DORI scores had more problems registering and lower likelihood of voting. 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


“Descriptive Representation 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. The study provides insights into how the presence of historically underrepresented populations 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.


“Copy, Paste, Legislate, Succeed? The Effect of Policy Plagiarism on Policy Success in the American States” (with Robert M. Dorrell, Jr.)

Previous research finds that legislators with few staff resources are more likely to borrow bill text from other sources. 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, and anti-bullying legislation in state legislatures. The results provide insights to how bill text borrowing can shape the effectiveness of laws and lawmakers.

Key Words: text analysis, policy success, state politics, legislative and bureaucratic 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, face-to-face, or in hybrid format; it can feature active participation or traditional lecture. 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, modality of instruction, civic education, political efficacy, political knowledge


Additional working papers

“What Starts in West Virginia Doesn’t Stay in West Virginia: The Spread and Effectiveness of Teachers’ Strikes and Job Actions, 2018-19.” (with Michele Hoyman)

“Friendly Competition: The Rapid Diffusion of Fair Pay to Play Laws and Why It Matters.” (with RoShaun Colvin)

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