Organizations and the Democratic Representation of Interests: What Does It Mean when Those Organizations Have No Members?

Forthcoming, Perspectives on Politics. [With Kay Schlozman, Hye Young You, Traci Burch, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady]

This article documents the prevalence in interest group politics of institutions -- for example, corporations, think tanks, universities, or hospitals -- and analyzes the consequences of that dominance for the democratic representation of citizen interests. The paper uses data from the Washington Representatives Study, a longitudinal data base containing more than 33,000 organizations active in national politics in 1991, 2001, 2006, and 2011. The share of membership associations active in Washington has eroded over time until, in 2011, barely a quarter of the more than 14,000 organizations active in Washington in 2011 were membership associations, and less than half of those were membership association with individuals as members. In contrast, a majority of the politically involved organizations were institutions, of which nearly two-thirds, were corporations. That institutions, not “interest groups” or “pressure groups” or any kind of group at all, are the predominant organizational advocate in Washington has consequences for democratic representation. All the dilemmas that arise when membership associations advocate in politics -- such matters as whose interests are represented and whether leaders of organizations are accountable to members and stakeholders -- become even more intractable when representation is by institutions.

The Effects of Traditional News, Partisan Talk, and Political Satire Programs on Perceptions of Presidential Candidate Viability and Electability

Forthcoming, Atlantic Journal of Communication. [With Paul Brewer and Dannagal Goldthwaite Young]

This study examines how exposure to network news, partisan opinion talk, and political satire programs during the 2012 Iowa presidential caucuses affected viewers’ perceptions of candidate viability (likelihood of capturing the party nomination) and electability (likelihood of winning the general election). Programs representing these genres—ABC World News, Fox News’ Hannity, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—all framed the same candidate as the front-runner for the nomination, though each framed this candidate’s general election prospects in distinctive ways. A randomized field experiment assigned respondents to view one (or none) of the three programs as they aired.  Assessments of the front-runner were significantly shaped by assignment to view television coverage, hence, demonstrating the potential importance of all three media genres for the presidential nomination process.

Interactivity between Candidates and Citizens on a Social Networking Site: Effects on Perceptions and Vote Intentions

Forthcoming, Journal of Experimental Political Science. [With Paul Brewer, Michael Habegger, Ruby Harrington, Lindsay H. Hoffman, and Jennifer L. Lambe]

Voters and political candidates increasingly use social networking sites such as Facebook. This study uses data from an online posttest-only experiment (N = 183) in testing how exposure to supportive or challenging user comments on a fictional candidate’s Facebook page influenced participants’ perceptions of and willingness to vote for the candidate, as well as whether candidate replies to each type of user comments affected these outcomes.  Participants who viewed a page with supportive comments and likes reported more favorable perceptions of and greater support for the candidate, relative to participants who viewed a page with challenging comments. Thus, the appearance of interactivity between a candidate and other users on that candidate’s Facebook page can shape the responses of those viewing the page. However, exposure to candidate replies to either supportive or challenging comments did not lead to significantly more favorable perceptions or a greater likelihood of voting for the candidate.

Economic Voting Appeals in Congressional Campaigns

Forthcoming, Political Communication.

Although they agree that economics and elections are intertwined, theories of economic voting disagree on the policy focus (on positions taken or outcomes achieved) and time horizon (retrospective or prospective) that guides voters’ decisions. Most research on these debates looks at the considerations voters weigh. Instead, I explore the types of economic voting that candidates encourage through their campaign appeals. Content-coded advertising data from the 2004 congressional elections show that appeals generally tend to focus on policy positions and on the past or present. Consistent with predictions from emphasis allocation theory, strategic incentives and electoral context shape the exact mix of economic appeals campaigns make. When aiming to boost their own candidacy, politicians tend to ask voters to think about more unifying future economic outcomes; when aiming to hinder their opponent’s, they ask voters to think about past policy positions. In districts experiencing worsening economic conditions, voters are exposed to more information about policy outcomes; in districts where the incumbent is ideologically “out of step”, they hear more about policy positions. Studies that seek to evaluate competing theories of economic voting are likely to draw misleading conclusions if they treat the information environment as a homogeneous constant: campaigns in different districts, facing different strategic incentives, encourage significantly different types of economic voting.

Constituents’ Responses to Descriptive and Substantive Representation in Congress

Forthcoming, Social Science Quarterly. Online Appendix available here.

Previous research suggests descriptive representatives may be less accountable for substantive representation, due to voters overestimating policy congruence or downplaying its importance in their evaluations. Using a unique survey sample and experiment that manipulates the race and policy positions of a fictitious legislator, I show that descriptive representation shapes responses to substantive representation in significant but limited ways. Regardless of their actual record, Black voters perceive greater congruence with Black legislators, and White voters approve more strongly of White legislators. This is consistent across policy domains: descriptive representation does not have a particularly pronounced effect on responses to racial issues.

Public Perceptions Regarding the Authenticity of the 2012 Presidential Candidates

2014. Presidential Studies Quarterly 44(4): 742-757. [With Paul Brewer, Lindsay Hoffman, Ruby Harrington, and Jennifer Lambe]

Public perceptions of candidates’ personality traits play important roles in shaping vote choice. Previous accounts point to authenticity as one key trait, but little research has systematically investigated perceptions regarding candidate authenticity. This study uses data from a telephone survey to show that political predispositions (trust, external efficacy, interest, partisanship, and ideology), and television news use (broadcast and cable) predicted perceptions of candidate authenticity in the context of the 2012 presidential campaign. A question-wording experiment also showed that perceptions regarding the authenticity of political messages varied across source (Obama or Romney), substance (working for “the middle class” or “job creators”), and the receiver’s partisanship.

Does the Descriptive Representation of Gender Influence Accountability for Substantive Representation?

2014. Politics & Gender 10(2): 175-199. Online Appendix available here.

Does the descriptive representation of gender affect how constituents respond to their legislators’ substantive policy records? Previous work offers two distinctly opposing theories: the first, that descriptive representation may weaken accountability for substantive representation, if it leads female constituents to mis-perceive the incumbent’s positions or give them a “free pass” on policy congruence; the second, that it may strengthen accountability, if it leads female constituents to pay greater attention to the incumbent and their record. Using survey data from three electoral cycles, I show that women are more likely to correctly identify their U.S. senators’ policy records, and weigh that record more heavily in their evaluations, when they are represented by women. The descriptive representation of gender thus strengthens the links between the policy positions legislators take in office and how they are evaluated by their constituents.

Revisiting Stereotypes of Non-White Politicians’ Ideological and Partisan Orientations

2014. American Politics Research 42(2): 283--310.

This research revisits when and how voters use race as a cue for politicians’ ideological and partisan orientations. Using an embedded survey experiment that manipulates the race and policy positions of a (fictitious) Member of Congress, I provide a more comprehensive view of the role of ideological and partisan stereotypes in impression formation. Voters perceive non-White politicians as more liberal and more likely to be Democrats than otherwise-identical White politicians. This stereotyping persists even when the politician takes counter-stereotypical positions (e.g. a Black or Hispanic politician with a conservative record), and shapes non-White legislators’ approval ratings in significant ways.

Campaign News Genres, Audience Characteristics, and Media Perceptions: A Field Experiment

2013. Electronic News 7(4): 189-203. [With Paul R. Brewer and Dannagal Goldthwaite Young]

This study builds on theories of “relative hostile media perceptions” to assess how audience characteristics and the ideological content of programming interact to shape media perceptions across different news genres. It uses a field experiment in which participants were randomly assigned to watch coverage of the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses on broadcast network evening news (ABC World News), a conservative-oriented political talk show (Fox News Channel’s Hannity), or a political satire show (Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart). Partisanship and age shaped evaluations of coverage across these different genres: partisans held more favorable views of news aligned with their own views, older participants favored network news, and younger participants favored political comedy. Additionally, viewing network news or political satire – but not conservative opinion talk – fostered more positive evaluations of the news media in general. The results illuminate how viewers form media perceptions in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.

Does My Comment Count? Perceptions of Political Participation in an Online Environment

2013. Computers in Human Behavior 29(6): 2248-2256. [With Lindsay H. Hoffman and Dannagal Goldthwaite Young]

Since the infancy of the Internet, scholars have posited that the medium would mobilize and engage citizens, yet the reality has proven it to be more nuanced and complex. This project examines citizens’ motivations to engage in politics online, assessing how people are driven by both a desire to influence government as well as to communicate political ideas to others. We explore the ways these two behaviors are perceived by citizens in online versus offline contexts. We also examine how such perceptions can predict certain behaviors, such as ‘‘friending’’ a candidate and messaging with friends about politics. We find that these behaviors are indeed perceived differently among citizens, and that perceptions predict the likelihood of participating in online political forums.

The Effect of Political Competition on Democratic Accountability

2013. Political Behavior 35(3) 481-515. Online Appendix available here.

Representing uncompetitive, homogeneous constituencies is increasingly the norm for American legislators. Extensive research has investigated how competition affects the way representatives respond to their constituents’ policy preferences. This paper explores competition’s effect on the other side of representation, how constituents  respond to their legislators’ policy record. Combining multiple measures of state competitiveness with large-N survey data, I demonstrate that competition enhances democratic accountability. Voters in competitive states are more interested in politics, more aware of the policy positions their U.S. senators have taken, and more likely to hold them accountable for those positions at election time. Robustness checks show that these effects are not due to the intensity of campaigning in a state: general competition, not particular campaign activities, drives citizens’ response. The recent increase in uncompetitive constituencies has likely lessened the degree to which legislators are held accountable for their actions in office.

Online Emotional Appeals and Political Participation: The Effect of Candidate Affect on Mass Behavior

2013. New Media & Society 15(7): 1132-1150. [With Lindsay H. Hoffman and Dannagal Goldthwaite Young]

The role that emotions play in shaping mass political behavior is increasingly well researched. This study refocuses the debate to explore the effect that the emotions expressed by candidates (target affect) through new media have on participation, rather than the effect of emotions felt by voters (observer affect). A unique experiment embedded in a nationally representative online survey demonstrates that appeals invoking target affect can strongly increase citizens’ political participation both online and off. Contrary to fears that the use of emotions by political elites will agitate the least knowledgeable citizens, however, the results demonstrate that it is the most politically engaged citizens who are mobilized by such appeals. These findings have significant implications for our understanding of the participatory consequences of emotional political messages on the Internet.

Which Buck Stops Here? Accountability for Policy Positions and Policy Outcomes in Congress

2011. Journal of Politics 73(3) 764-782. Online appendix available here.

What do constituents hold their representatives accountable for? Previous work outlines two distinct but often conflated theories of accountability: democratic theory suggests that voters respond to the policy positions representatives take; retrospective voting theories suggest that they respond to the outcomes of these policies. Using new survey data, this paper demonstrates that perceived congruence with their senators' policy positions influences voters' decisions much more than do perceptions of peace and prosperity. This finding holds when correcting for endogeneity using instrumental variables analysis, when considering members of the majority and minority parties separately, and when looking at specific policy areas. Replicating previous studies of retrospective voting suggests that they over-stated the importance of policy outcomes for congressional elections due to omitted variable bias. The buck that stops with Members of Congress is for the positions they take, not for the policy outcomes they preside over.

Constituents’ Responses to Congressional Roll-Call Voting

2010. American Journal of Political Science 54(3): 583-597. [With Stephen Ansolabehere]

Do citizens hold their representatives accountable for policy decisions, as commonly assumed in theories of legislative politics? Previous research has failed to yield clear evidence on this question for two reasons: measurement error arising from non- comparable indicators of legislators’ and constituents’ preferences; and potential simultaneity between constituents’ beliefs about and approval of their representatives. Two new national surveys address the measurement problem directly by asking respondents how they would vote and how they think their representatives voted on key roll call votes. Using the actual votes, we can, in turn, construct instrumental variables that correct for simultaneity. We find that the American electorate responds strongly to substantive representation. (1) Nearly all respondents have preferences over important bills before Congress. (2) Most constituents hold beliefs about their legislators’ roll call votes that reflect both the legislators’ actual behavior and the parties’ policy reputations. (3) Constituents use those beliefs to hold their legislators accountable.


How Membership Associations Change the Balance of Representation in Washington (And How They Don’t)

2013. In New Directions in Interest Groups, edited by Matt Grossmann. Routledge. [With Kay Lehman Schlozman]

Who Sings in the Heavenly Chorus? The Shape of the Organized Interest System  and  Political Voice through Organized Interest Activity

2012. In The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy, by Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady. Princeton: Princeton University Press. [With Traci Burch, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady]

Dyadic Representation

2011. In The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress, edited by Eric Schickler and Frances E. Lee. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [With Stephen Ansolabehere]

Strategic Voting in the United States

2009. In Duverger’s Law of Plurality Voting: The Logic of Party Competition in Canada, India, the United Kingdom and the United States, Bernard Grofman, Andre Blais, and Shaun Bowler. [With Barry C. Burden]


Louder Chorus–Same Accent: The Representation of Interests in Pressure Politics, 1991-2011

2014. Brookings Institution, Issues in Governance Studies Number 65. [With Kay Lehman Schlozman, Hye Young You, Traci Burch, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady]

Drawing upon the Washington Representatives Study, an extensive database covering the period from 1991 to 2011, we ascertain how the Washington pressure system has grown and assess any changes in the balance among the kinds of interests represented and the resources they devote to influencing policy. We find more of the same: more organizations and more dollars invested in lobbying but little change in the kinds of interests represented. For all the diversity among the thousands of organizations active in Washington, policymakers hear much more from advocates for narrow interests than from supporters of broad public interests and much more from those with deep pockets than from the less affluent. A half century ago, E.E. Schattschneider observed famously that “the flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with an upper-class accent.” The chorus now has more members, and they sing more loudly, but the accent is unchanged.


The Foundations of U.S. Public Opinion about Campaign Finance in the Post-Citizens United Era

2015. Under review. [With Paul R. Brewer and Jennifer L. Lambe]

The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United and subsequent developments substantially altered the financing of U.S. political campaigns. This study analyzes the predictors of public opinion about campaign finance issues emerging in the wake of the Citizens United ruling. Political predispositions—including party identification, political ideology, external political efficacy, trust in corporations, and political engagement—predicted individuals’ opinions, as did use of the Fox News cable channel and political satire television programs. Political predispositions were also related to opinion through their relationships with media use. The results suggest the potential for ideologically-driven cable television news and satirical television programming to shape policy opinions, as well as for political predispositions to influence opinion indirectly by shaping media use.