I am interested in the following topics: inequality, participation, elections, representation, political psychology, Congress, public policy, and research methodology.
Abstract: Scholarship in the U.S. provides mounting evidence of a linkage between economic inequality and inequality in representation and policymaking. In response, this article addresses a research question striking at the very heart of the resilience of the democratic capitalist design: Do voters punish elected officials for inequality? We advance the argument that voter punishment of incumbents for inequality will occur when inequality is locally salient and for officeholders that support inequality-enhancing legislation. Relying upon secondary analysis of large-N national survey data, we find that voters residing in high inequality contexts voted against incumbents who supported regressive tax policies and opposed minimum wage increases. Interestingly, for inequality-attenuating incumbents, we find increased support among voters in high inequality contexts. Importantly, robustness checks reveal that observed punishment effects hold for Democratic and Republican incumbents. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for American democracy in an era of rising inequality.
Abstract: This article examines the relationship between income concentration and policy outputs that determine the generosity of two major state-level safety net programs: unemployment insurance and cash social assistance. Using a difference in differences framework, it tests the degree to which the top 1 percent share is associated with benefit replacement rates for these programs during the period 1978–2010. The results suggest that higher state income inequality lowers those states’ welfare benefits significantly in ways consistent with a “plutocracy” hypothesis that has been suggested in work by scholars such as Bartels, Bonica, Gilens, and Page. The results are robust to controls for several alternative explanations for benefit generosity, including citizen ideology, party control of government, fiscal pressure on programs, state racial heterogeneity, and public opinion liberalism. The results thus support the notion that growing income concentration at the very top undermines social protection policies.
Abstract: This paper tests the degree to which PAC contributions can influence voting outcomes on legislation that disproportionately influences the poor. Using passage of the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 in the House of Representatives, the results show an association between PAC campaign contributions from the financial industry and support for final passage of bankruptcy reform. The findings suggest that one source of underrepresentation of the poor may be donations made by interest groups during campaigns.
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“The Effect of Political Parties on the Distribution of Income in the American States: 1917-2011.” With Amy Widestrom (Arcadia) and Christopher Dennis (CSULB). Forthcoming at Social Science Quarterly.
Abstract: Objectives. This article examines the effects of partisan control of government on income distribution within the United States. Methods. Using newly available data, we estimate the effects of unified Democratic and Republican Party control at the state and national levels on the share of income going to the top 1% of income earners, by state, between 1917 and 2011. Results. We find that unified party control at the state level has minimal impact on income going to the top 1% of income earners within the states, but that unified party control at the federal level does have an effect. Moreover, we find that over the long-term, unified Democratic control at the federal level leads to less income going to the top 1%, while unified Republican control increases income going to top earners. Conclusions. Despite the increased focus on federalism and state policy in studies of income inequality, our findings suggest that federal level political factors are important for understanding the share of income going to the top income earners in the United States, particularly in the contemporary era.
“Opinion Backlash and Public Attitudes: Are Political Advances in Gay Rights Counterproductive?” with Benjamin G. Bishin, Matthew Incantalupo, and Charles Anthony Smith. 2016. American Journal of Political Science 60: 625-648.
One long recognized consequence of the tension between popular sovereignty and democratic values like liberty and equality is public opinion backlash, which occurs when individuals recoil in response to some salient event. For decades, scholars have suggested that opinion backlash impedes policy gains by marginalized groups. Public opinion research, however, suggests that widespread attitude change that backlash proponents theorize is likely to be rare. Examining backlash against gays and lesbians using a series of on-line and natural experiments about marriage equality, and large sample survey data, we find no evidence of opinion backlash among the general public, by members of groups predisposed to dislike gays and lesbians, or those with psychological traits that may pre-dispose them to lash back. The important implication is that groups pursuing rights should not be dissuaded by threats of backlash that will set their movement back in the court of public opinion.
- Winner of the 2014 APSA Bailey Award for Best Paper in LGBT Politics.
- Co-Winner of the 2015 Best Conference Paper Award from the APSA Law and Courts section.
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To what extent can state governments influence economic inequality? How do state fiscal policies of redistribution affect families in different economic situations? Using a large database of state fiscal policymaking tools (taxing and spending) between 1976 and 2006 we examine the effect of these tools on state level inequality as well as the average incomes of families in different economic groups. We find that state taxing and spending efforts can influence these indicators of economic inequality, though these fiscal policy tools can have differential effects. Spending on unemployment compensation and cash assistance as well as revenue from taxes on corporations are found to reduce state level inequality. We also find unemployment compensation to positively benefit the bottom 10th percentile of income earners, while the inheritance tax helps all income groups. Corporate tax revenue is associated with higher middle class incomes, while income tax revenue benefits both middle and upper incomes. Sales tax revenue positively benefits wealthy earners. Higher property tax revenue is associated with decreased income for all groups. These results suggest that state governments can affect redistribution through fiscal policies, by affecting both state level inequality as well as the economic fortunes of different income groups.
Objective: This paper investigates the extent to which people link policy preferences with unequal outcomes. As the American public is both aware and supportive of reducing income inequality, it is an open question whether this concern is translated into support for policies that might help alleviate the rise in economic inequality. Methods: Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression and Ordered Logit Regression are used with data from the 1996 General Social Survey (GSS). Results: People do in fact match views on income inequality with spending preferences, signifying that people who are concerned about inequality also favor government programs that could help alleviate these disparities. Moreover, the least well off are more attuned than the upper or middle class at linking attitudes about inequality with government spending preferences. Conclusion: The main findings suggest that because citizens are able to link attitudes about inequality with spending preferences, popular sovereignty could be under duress as wealth inequality expands.
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To what extent are citizens able to control their elected ofﬁcials? Does representation improve when issues become visible? Conﬂicting results in studies of legislative representation are frequently attributed to issue salience or subconstituency politics. However, most conclusions about the effect of issue salience rely on studies of responsiveness on issues held to be either important or visible. Consequently, we have little idea of how changes in salience serve to alter the representational relationship. To examine this question, we employ a natural experiment to exploit the sudden increase in issue visibility surrounding the consideration of the Armenian Genocide Resolution. We are unable to detect any evidence that salience (as measured by visibility) enhances responsiveness to majority preferences. Instead, salience appears to alter legislators’ sensitivity to different intense subconstituency groups in their districts.
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- “How increasing wealth concentration and inequality leads to less generous state welfare policies” April 7th, 2017. USApp-American Politics and Policy blog (LSE)
- “Granting Gay Rights does not lead to public opinion backlash, even among Evangelicals.” October 13th, 2016. USApp-American Politics and Policy blog (LSE)
- “Economic inequality: still on the presidential agenda, still much more to be done.” June 1st, 2016. USApp-American Politics and Policy blog (LSE)
- “Obama’s highlighting of economic inequality poses a dilemma for the Republican Party in the lead up to 2016.” January 26th, 2015. USApp-American Politics and Policy blog (LSE)
- “How States can influence inequality with taxing and spending tools.” June 6, 2015. USApp-American Politics and Policy blog (LSE)
- “Some Supreme Court Justices worry that a gay marriage ruling will provoke public backlash. They Shouldn’t be concerned.” with Benjamin Bishin, Matthew Incantalupo, and Anthony Smith. April 30th, 2015. The Monkey Cage
- “Obama’s Highlighting of Economic Inequality Poses Dilemma for Republican Party in the Lead up to 2016.” January 26th, 2015. USApp-American Politics and Policy blog (LSE)
- “States With a Higher Concentration of Income Going to the Top 1% Are More Likely to Adopt an Income Tax.” July 17th, 2014. USApp-American Politics and Policy blog (LSE)
- Guest on Scholars Circle radio program, November 17th, 2013.
- “Senators of Both Parties Respond to Preferences of Wealthy, Ignore the Poorest.” October 1st, 2013. USApp- American Politics and Policy blog (LSE)
- “Should We Fear Opinion Backlash on Gay Marriage?” with Benjamin Bishin, Matthew Incantalupo, and Anthony Smith. June 18th 2013. The Monkey Cage