AJPS Author Summary: Front-Door Difference-in-Differences Estimators

The forthcoming AJPS article, “Front-Door Difference-in-Differences Estimators”, by Adam N. Glynn and Konstantin Kashin is now available for Early View and is summarized here by its authors: 

AJPS Author Summary: Front-Door Difference-in-Differences EstimatorsHow can we assess the effects of a treatment/program if we have no suitable control units? An absence of suitable controls can occur when a) treatment cannot be withheld due to ethical/political/business reasons, b) treatment is administered at the population level, c) the outcome variable can only be measured for the treated units, or d) the available controls are clearly not comparable to the treated units (not comparable might mean a lack of overlap in some cases or a clear violation of the parallel trends assumption in others).

In this paper we develop a method, front-door difference-in-differences estimators, for estimating (or bounding) treatment effects when comparable control units are not available. The basic idea is that when some treated individuals do not comply with their treatment, we can use these “noncompliers” as proxies for control units. Although such an approach will often lead to biased estimates, we demonstrate that by using the approach twice, we can sometimes correct this bias. In other cases, we demonstrate that we can put bounds on the effect.

As proof of concept, we first demonstrate that we can recover the experimental benchmark from a randomized evaluation of a job-training program. Specifically, we show that using only the treated units from the experiment, we can tightly bracket the experimental estimate using our technique. Note that because the experimental treated units are exchangeable with the experimental control units, this exercise demonstrates that if the treatment had been given to all individuals (instead of randomly assigned), we would have been able to provide tight bounds on the effect.

In a second application, we use Florida voter history files to estimate the effects of a statewide early voting program. Because the estimate does not rely on data from other states (that did not have an early voting program), we don’t have to assume comparability across states (although we do have to make different assumptions that are detailed in the paper). Our results suggest that the program had small positive effects on turnout for at least part of the population. This provides some counter evidence to a recent AJPS paper that found early voting programs to have some negative effects on turnout.

More broadly, the technique developed in this paper should provide a means of evaluating treatments and programs that could previously not be evaluated. It should also provide a means of robustness checking when control units may not be comparable.

Front-Door Difference-in-Differences Estimators is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.



A Bottom-Up Theory of Public Opinion about Foreign Policy

The forthcoming AJPS article, “A Bottom-Up Theory of Public Opinion about Foreign Policy”, by Joshua Kertzer and Thomas Zeitzoff is now available for Early View and is summarized here by its authors: A Bottom-Up Theory of Public Opinion about Foreign Policy

In July 2014, a wave of violence erupted in the Middle East, as Israel responded to a barrage of rockets from Gaza by launching airstrikes, and eventually, a ground incursion intent on degrading Hamas’s military capabilities. In Washington, both Democrats and Republicans firmly sided with Israel: the Senate passed a unanimous resolution blaming Hamas for the conflict, and both prominent Democrats and Republicans gave staunch defenses of Israel’s right to defend itself.

Although both Democrats and Republicans in Washington were united in their support for Israel, a series of polls found that Democrats and Republicans in the public were divided: in a Pew poll from July 24-27, for example, 60% of Republicans blamed Hamas for the violence, while Democrats were split, with 29% blaming Hamas, and 26% blaming Israel. A Gallup poll from July 22-23 detected a similar pattern: 65% of Republicans thought Israel’s actions were justified, but Democrats were divided, as 31% backed the Israeli response, and 47% called it unjustified.

This pattern—where political elites are united but the public is not—is particularly interesting for political scientists because it raises questions about a widely held set of assumptions in the social sciences about public opinion, which holds that the public knows relatively little about politics (especially foreign affairs), and thus structures its beliefs by taking cues from trusted, partisan elites. But if the mass public knows so little, and can only regurgitate carefully pureed talking points, why does it often disagree with what elites have to say?

In our new paper in the American Journal of Political Science, we argue that these partisan “elite cue” models are unnecessarily restrictive. The public may often lack information, but it doesn’t lack principles, and because cues are the most persuasive when they come from cue-givers you trust, information need not only cascade from the top down. In an era when more Americans are turning away from traditional party politics, trust in government is abysmally low, and many of the major political events of the past year—Brexit, Donald Trump steamrolling his way to the Presidency over the objections of elites in both parties, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour party leader in Great Britain, and so on — consist of political movements disconnected from and disenchanted with the political establishment (“I think people in this country have had enough of experts”, as Brexiteer Michael Gove put it), it seems plausible that people might take cues from actors other than partisan political elites.

Drawing on five survey experiments fielded between 2014-2016, we test and find evidence for a “bottom-up” theory of public opinion, in which ordinary citizens anchor on their core belief systems, and look not just to politicians in Washington, but also to each other to help determine their opinions on foreign policy. People aren’t blank slates; the public has minds of its own. Political scientists thus need to take into account what the authors call the “meso-foundations” of public opinion: the social context and broader network in which citizens are embedded.

In suggesting that public opinion can be shaped by social forces from below, rather than just cues from above, the results suggest a number of broader implications. The extent to which people care about what other members of the public think (even about relatively technical policy issues) raises interesting questions about the effects of the growing media coverage of public opinion polls in lieu of substantive policy discussion. Horserace political coverage may have more problematic consequences for democracy than many might think. It is also especially interesting in the age of new media, where both search engines like Google and social networks like Facebook rely on complex algorithms to show users what they think they want to see, producing alternative and often self-segregating information environments whose implications for public opinion in foreign affairs are not yet fully appreciated. In the current balkanized information environment, replete with the rise of “fake news” and disinformation campaigns led by state-sponsored “troll armies” with fake online identities, the results imply that concerns about opinion manipulation shouldn’t just focus on propaganda from above, but also on disinformation from below.

A Bottom-Up Theory of Public Opinion about Foreign Policy is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

The Fulfillment of Parties’ Election Pledges: A Comparative Study on the Impact of Power Sharing

The forthcoming AJPS article, The Fulfillment of Parties’ Election Pledges: A Comparative Study on the Impact of Power Sharing, by Robert Thomson, Terry Royed, Elin Naurin, Joaquín Artés, Rory Costello, Laurenz Ennser-Jedenastik, Mark Ferguson, Petia Kostadinova, Catherine Moury, François Pétry and Katrin Praprotnik is now available for Early View and is summarized here by its authors:

To what extent do parties keep their campaign promises or election pledges if they enter government and hold executive power after elections? This understudied question is of great importance to the theory and practice of democracy. The idea of promissory representation is that parties should make clear policy commitments to voters during election campaigns and take action on those commitments if they hold government office after elections. In this article, which is the first major publication of our comparative project, we ask whether parties are more likely to fulfill their pledges if they hold executive office alone rather than in coalitions, if they control legislative majorities rather than minorities, and if they are unconstrained by a range of other institutions. Our research systematically compares what parties promised during election campaigns with what governments did after elections. In a series of carefully coordinated case studies using common definitions of pledges and fulfillment, we study the fulfillment of over 20,000 pledges made by parties in 12 countries during 57 election campaigns.

Our main findings challenge the common view of parties as promise-breakers. We find that a clear majority of pledges made by parties that hold executive office after elections were at least partially fulfilled, and in some cases well above 80 percent of pledges were redeemed. We find significant variation in pledge fulfillment by government type, with parties that govern alone rather than in coalitions being most likely to fulfill their pledges. The highest rates of pledge fulfillment are found in Canada, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK, where single-party governments are common, and lower rates in Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands, where coalitions are the norm. In the United States, on average over 60 percent of the pledges made by the party of the president were fulfilled at least partially, which is comparable to levels found for some governing parties in coalitions. While the evidence shows that parties generally take their pledges seriously, whether they are able to follow through on their promises depends to a large extent on whether they share power with other parties.

This article is part of a larger research project in which we examine pledge making, breaking and fulfillment from a comparative perspective. At the time of writing, we are completing a book project, which is under contract with the University of Michigan Press. The book has extensive analyses of the conditions under which parties make and keep election pledges, including a series of country-focused chapters and integrated comparative analyses. In the years to come we intend to develop our project further with both new theories and evidence, including a broader range of countries. We are also expanding the project to include the study of how citizens perceive the fulfillment of pledges. The results show that while most citizens are skeptical about whether parties fulfill their election pledges, people are often able to assess accurately whether specific promises were broken or kept. We have also found considerable interest from the media and general public in our main research findings.

The Fulfillment of Parties’ Election Pledges: A Comparative Study on the Impact of Power Sharing is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


AJPS Early View: Coercive Leadership

By Dimitri Landa and Scott A. Tyson

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Coercive Leadership”: AJPS Early View: Coercive Leadership

How does a leader’s coercive capacity – her ability to impose costs on followers – affect her style of leadership and how she influences her followers/agents? We develop a theory of leadership in contexts in which (1) agents value the information that, inter alia, allows them to coordinate better with each other, (2) the leader’s choice shapes the actions of individual agents, and (3) the leader values how agents coordinate.

The substantive implications of our theory are applicable across many different set- tings. One such setting is authoritarian regimes. Our theory provides a novel account of policy-making in such settings and suggests a distinctive perspective on the rationale for, and relationship between, repression and censorship. Another setting is organizational politics within democracies, for which our theory provides an account of what may be called the autocratic mode of leadership. A stark example is the “boss” style of governance of “party machines”: by Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall in late nineteenth century New York, or by Mayor Daley of the Chicago machine in 1950s-70s, or in present-day major parties in India, Argentina, Russia, among others. When adopting policies with implicit or explicit punishments for dissent and rewards for compliance, machine bosses provide information and coordinate party members – two channels of influence at the heart of our theory.

In the game-theoretic model we present, coordination among agents is frustrated by two factors: heterogeneous preferences and dispersed information. We isolate two channels by which the leader influences the effects of these factors. The first, the information channel, operates because the leader’s policy choice can be informative to agents by partially revealing what the leader knows about the state of the world. The second, the coercion channel, manifests the leader’s non-informational influence: her coercive power counters the obstacles to coordination among agents, regardless of the source of the co- ordination friction. In the presence of coercive policy enforcement, an agent weights her idiosyncratic aspects less, making her action easier to anticipate for other agents. Agents are thus pulled toward the leader’s policy, common to them all, as a “focal point” regard- less of whether that policy is actually informative about the state of the world.

While the information and the coercion channels are distinct, they interact in important ways. We show that the leader’s policy choice communicates more information about the state of the world (i.e., becomes a better signal of the state), the greater the leader’s coercive enforcement power. We also show that even with a minimal level of coercion, leaders’ policy choices (via coercive and informational effects) allow them to manipulate agents’ actions so as to achieve their own preferred average action. In so doing, leaders neutralize welfare distortions (highlighted, for example, by Morris and Shin 2002) resulting from previous public information in the presence of coordination incentives. Yet, even when ignoring the direct disutility to agents from the leaders coercion, leadership as an institution may not be a welfare-enhancing for agents if the policy bias of the leader is sufficiently hard to predict. Finally, we show that the leader strictly prefers increasing her coercive capacity/repression (because she prefers that agents coordinate on her preferred outcome), but does not want to censor previous public information (because she is able to control its effects through policy choice).

About the Authors: Dimitri Landa is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics at New York University and Scott A. Tyson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at The University of Michigan. Their paper “Coercive Leadership” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


Did Disagreement over Trump Drive People Out of Churches?

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Reconsidering the Role of Politics in Leaving Religion: The Importance of Affiliation” which is now available for Early View. The post was first published on the Religion in Public blog and is shared here with permission.

By Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Anand E. Sokhey

Another version of this post just appeared at The Monkey Cage blog.

The 2016 presidential contest highlighted just how deeply divided the United States is over politics as well as religion. The vast majority of white evangelicals (81%) voted for Trump and a strong majority of religious “nones”—the 20-25% of the population who do not identify with any religious tradition—voted for Clinton (68%). And the divide does not stop at the vote, of course. For example, from May 2016 to February 2017, every religious group has become less supportive of temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country except for white evangelical Protestants; the gap between evangelicals and nones on this issue grew from 28 to 41 percentage points.

How did we get here? As the story is most often written, the close connections between the Christian Right and the Republican Party that became prominent with the Republican Revolution of 1994 pushed political liberals to conclude that religion simply wasn’t for them. From this perspective, American religion has been polarizing, as those who decline to identify with any faith tradition increasingly hold liberal political views and religious identifiers remain conservative.

On its face, this tale makes a great deal of sense, and it isn’t hard to find existence proofs – people who no longer identify as religious and who decry a noxious, ultra-conservative form of political religion. According to one variant of this process, it is in particular the anti-gay advocacy of the Christian Right that has driven out Millenials, at least a third of whom identified as a religious “none” (in 2014) – a figure three times that of their elders.

In new research forthcoming in the American Journal of Political Science [1], we challenge some aspects of this broad narrative. To us, it makes little sense that political liberals would leave religiously liberal churches – where a large portion of “nones” come from – because of a conservative political movement. This would be like breaking up with your boyfriend because Casey Affleck is behaving badly. Instead, like relationships, people leave houses of worship when they disagree with other members. Liberals leave churches that are too conservative and conservatives leave churches that are too liberal. This is important because it allows us to recognize this process as plural and local – it is not something owned by the left or right, but is a regular and expected social process in organizations.

Put another way, the Christian Right did not cause people across the religious and political spectrum to leave their churches. Instead, their politics was inspiration to leave for evangelicals who disagreed with the Christian Right. We find evidence for this among Republicans in Ohio in 2006, when the GOP candidate for governor was closely identified with the Christian Right. We find evidence for this in national samples, too, where evangelicals who disagreed with the Christian Right were more likely to leave their churches. More generally, the rise of political engagement in houses of worship gave members another important dimension on which to evaluate their fit within the congregation.

We were back in the field in 2016 around the presidential election [2] and gathered data to replicate many of the notions explored in our paper. Of those who indicated attending a house of worship in September, 14 percent reported leaving by the post-election period – a number right in line with several of our previous estimates from surveys in the 2000s. ‘Leavers’ were distributed across the religious population, including 10 percent of evangelicals, 18 percent of mainline Protestants, and 11 percent of Catholics. This represents an enormous amount of churn in the religious economy.

We gauge whether politics is influential in the decision to leave by assessing how people react to politics in their house of worship when they do not desire it to be there. We asked if their clergy addressed any of eight political topics [3]; we also asked if seeing evidence of politics reminded them of how divisive politics has become. The figure below shows that those who believe politics is divisive were more likely to leave political churches (black bars).  In non-political churches, leaving hovers around the sample mean as it depends on a host of other considerations.


While for some the presence of politics in any form may be divisive, for others specific political disagreements are likely to be more important. In the past, the Christian Right was a visible reference point for political religion that was salient in evangelical churches; 2016 was different. The Christian Right seemed to take a back seat to the genre-bending politics of Donald Trump. As arguably the most divisive candidate in at least recent – and perhaps all of – American history, one might expect that conflicting sentiment about Trump would drive some out of their churches. This might be especially true among evangelical Protestants, who were experiencing a great deal of cultural threat that helped to spawn the #NeverTrump movement composed of a select group of evangelical elites.

To find out, we asked evangelicals to tell us their own level of support for Trump and to estimate their clergyperson’s support of Trump. He was not well-loved, with an average feeling thermometer rating of 48 (though their rating of Hillary was only 25); similarly, the average perceived support level of evangelical clergy for Trump was 50 (on a 100 point scale). The two measures are strongly, but not perfectly, correlated. We looked for the patterns of who was most likely to leave their church using a regression model. In the figure below, we find that those who perceived disagreement with their congregation over Trump (in September) were the most likely to report leaving their house of worship by November. Those who felt very warmly toward Trump and perceived very little support for Trump from their clergy (red line on the left) were more likely to leave as were those who felt cool toward Trump and perceived considerable support from Trump from their clergy (blue line on the right). The estimates diverge quickly from their convergence in the middle, which suggests that feelings about Trump were quite salient in evangelical congregations. This finding might help us explain why evangelical clergy appear to have had little to say about Trump in their churches this fall – they were sensitive to these possibilities.


There are arguments on either side about whether this trend, which is not unique to 2016 or Donald Trump, is troubling. People are leaving congregations because of politics, which may be a troubling trend for anyone who is concerned with the role that organized religion plays in civil society. Religious institutions have long been found to promote a number of democratic goods and can serve as practice grounds in which individuals can develop civic skills that can then be turned toward the political arena. Somewhat fewer have access to those training grounds as a result of disagreements in houses of worship. On the other hand, this trend results from congregations being more engaged with politics, helping to connect people’s values with political options. While church engagement may promote partisan polarization, it is also linked to a more engaged citizenry. And the members most affected by political disagreements tend to be marginal, infrequent attenders. In this way, leaving over political disagreements is natural and expected, and churches do better at surviving partisan diversity in their ranks than do typical relationships.

Paul A. Djupe, Denison University Political Science, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of religioninpublic.blog. Further information about his work can be found at his website and on Twitter.

Jacob R. Neiheisel, an assistant professor of political science at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, studies religion and politics, election administration, and political communication. Additional information about his research can be found on his website.

Anand Edward Sokhey, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is the associate director of the American Politics Research Laband the incoming director of the LeRoy Keller Center for the study of the First Amendment. Further information about his work can be found on his website.


Note 1. The article citation is: Djupe, Paul A., Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Anand E. Sokhey. Forthcoming. “The Role of Politics in Leaving Religion – The Importance of Congregational Context.” American Journal of Political Science. < DOI:10.1111/ajps.12308>.

Note 2. After the election, we reinterviewed 957 individuals from a 2,500 person sample first interviewed in late September.

Note 3.  The possible topics included: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Immigration in America, Abortion, The importance of voting/participating in the election, Religious freedom, Poverty, Same-sex marriage / gay rights.

Paths of Recruitment: Rational Social Prospecting in Petition Canvassing

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled Paths of Recruitment: Rational Social Prospecting in Petition Canvassing”:Paths of Recruitment: Rational Social Prospecting in Petition Canvassing

 When U.S. Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) prepared her 2008 reelection bid as Wisconsin’s first black member of Congress (representing Milwaukee’s 4th Congressional District), her campaign faced the task of gathering nominating paper signatures for submission to Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board.  While this might have been an opportunity to travel throughout the largely Democratic district performing campaign outreach and mobilization, the canvassers working on Moore’s behalf took a different approach: they went primarily to her most supportive neighborhoods, which also happened to be the part of the congressional district that Moore had represented in the State Senate until 2004.  Unsurprisingly, canvassers focused their attention on majority-black neighborhoods throughout Northwest Milwaukee.  As time passed, the canvassers relied increasingly on signatures gathered from Moore’s core constituency.

The geographically and socially bounded canvassing carried out by Moore’s campaign is suggestive of a broader trend in how political recruiters search for support, and it holds lessons that expand upon prevailing models of political re
cruitment.  Political recruiters do not only seek out supporters who share common attributes and socioeconomic backgrounds. They also act in response to their geographic milieu, and they update their choices in light of experience.

In our paper “Paths of Recruitment: Rational Social Prospecting in Petition Canvassing, we develop these insights while elaborating a new model of political recruitment that draws lessons from the experiences of petition canvassers in multiple geographic and historical contexts. We test our model using original data we gathered in the form of geocoded signatory lists from a 2005-2006 anti-Iraq War initiative in Wisconsin and an 1839 antislavery campaign in New York City.  Examining the sequence of signatures recorded in these petitions, we have been able to reconstruct canvassers’ recruitment methods– whether they walked the petition door-to-door or went to a central location or meeting place to gather signatures – as well as the path they travelled when they did go door-to-door.  We find that canvassers were substantially more likely to go walking in search of signatures in neighborhoods where residents’ demographic characteristics were similar to their own. In the case of middle-class, predominantly white Wisconsin anti-war canvassers, this meant staying in predominantly white and middle class neighborhoods when going door-to-door. Furthermore, the act of canvassing appeared to follow a rational process where canvassers displayed sensitivity to their costs. For example, in areas where canvassers struggled to find signatures, they were more likely to quit searching.

Understanding how political recruiters find supporters for a political candidate or cause is crucial because recruitment determines who participates in politics. If canvasser strategies reach only a limited set of recruits, then swathes of Americans may be less likely to participate.  Our paper sheds new light on the campaign dynamics that feed this inequality.

About the Authors: Clayton Nall is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. Benjamin Schneer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Florida State University. Daniel Carpenter is Allie S. Freed Professor of Government in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Director of Social Sciences at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. Their paper “Paths of Recruitment: Rational Social Prospecting in Petition Canvassing” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


Citizen Suits

In the following blog post, the author summarizes the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled Taking the Law to Court: Citizen Suits and the Legislative Process”:AJPS Blog - Citizen Suits and the Legislative Process

What is at work in this system of distributive decision-making is a conflict over how to appropriate spending: On a controversial public good like climate change mitigation or health care provision, or on particularistic earmarks benefiting one or another legislative district?

My game-theory analysis focused on situations where actors are in conflict over distributive decisions. The outcome of the game is budgetary allocation between a public good and particularistic funding for a legislative district.

I hypothesized that when it comes to this type of legislative conflict, citizen suits influence the legislative bargaining process. My model found that citizen suits lead lawmakers to craft more socially efficient bills in anticipation of the suits’ ensuing restructuring of political conflict. The suits’ effect can be to forge better compromises between majority and minority positions.

The degree to which citizen suits can moderate distributive negotiations, however, rests on nuances in the degree of bargaining conflict that exists between majority and minority policy-makers. Citizen suits succeed best as moderators between extreme positions when a high degree of bargaining conflict exists between negotiating sides.

Passage in the 1970s of new far-reaching environmental laws including the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act reflected the presence of a strong majority of legislators in favor of environmental protection. Ensuing decades saw a weaker legislative majority in favor of the public good.  Let’s call these actors half-measure proponents — a weak majority in favor of public good spending, but not at the expense of their individual district’s particularistic needs.

In this scenario, the citizen suits weaken the bargaining power of those on the greater private-good spending side. They moderate the distributive ratio back toward the middle between private and public good, thus stimulating the provision of the public good.

On the other hand, less bargaining conflict means lesser impact for citizen suits. In particular, the suits’ moderating effects weaken significantly when a very strong legislative majority rises in opposition to the public good. Here citizen suits can buffer but not seriously redesign distributive decision-making.

Those wondering where this leaves environmental or health-care public-good proponents today might look closely at my framework in which the courts and the legislature act as a system. The diverse preferences of citizens and the formal laws of even majority institutions construct room for citizen suits to strike compromises that temper extremes.

About the Author: Marion Dumas is Omidyar Postdoctoral Fellow at Santa Fe Institute. Her paper “Taking the Law to Court: Citizen Suits and the Legislative Process” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


Cities as Lobbyists

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Cities as Lobbyists”:

AJPS - Cities as Lobbyists - (Rebecca Goldstein and Hye Young You)

Although almost all scholarship on lobbying focuses on the lobbying activities of corporations, state and local governments make up over 10% of all of the federal lobbying disclosure reports that have been statutorily mandated since 1998. Why do sub-national governments need to engage professional lobbyists to advocate for their cities and states? Focusing on cities, our paper tackles two main issues: why some cities lobby the federal government, while others do not; and whether city lobbying makes a difference in terms of federal resource allocation.

To answer these questions, we analyze a novel data set of 13,858 lobbying disclosure reports submitted by 1,262 cities with populations over 25,000 from 1999 to 2012. The cities that spent the most dollars on lobbying between 1999 and 2012 are not the large, wealthy cities that might immediately come to mind; the top five spenders were New Orleans, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Houston, and Tucson. Our analysis shows that these cities fit a distinct pattern: the cities that lobby the most are politically liberal cities situated in politically conservative states. We show that these cities have incentive to lobby the federal government because their preference for public goods is much higher than that of their parent states, which leaves them at a shortfall relative to their ideal point. We measure this public goods gap in terms of the difference in per capita expenditure between the city and its state. From both cross-sectional and panel analyses, we find that divergence of preference and its consequences for public goods provision matter: a city’s propensity to lobby the federal government between 1999 and 2012 is increasing in the city-state public goods gap.

After identifying types of cities that engage in federal lobbying, we investigate whether lobbying by local governments makes any difference in terms of federal resource allocation. We collect data on earmarks awarded to cities in fiscal years 2008 and 2009, and grants awarded from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to cities in fiscal years between 2009 and 2012. Using the existence of a direct flight from the city to Washington, D.C. as an instrumental variable, we show that a 10% increase in lobbying spending increases the awarded dollar amount of earmarks and Recovery Act grants by 10.2% and 4.7%, respectively.

This paper provides the most comprehensive information on lobbying activities by local governments yet presented in the literature. It also contributes to the understanding of how and why localities communicate their preferences to the federal government, as well as providing empirical support for the theory that some cities are systematic losers in distributive politics as a result of their geographic political preference incongruence under federalism. Finally, our paper provides empirical evidence for the returns to lobbying and shows that lobbying by local governments is an important factor affecting the allocation of federal resources.

About the Authors: Rebecca Goldstein is a PhD student in the Harvard Department of Government. Hye Young You is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. Their article “Cities as Lobbyists” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

Mobilizing the Public Against the President: Congress and the Political Costs of Unilateral Action

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Mobilizing the Public Against the President: Congress and the Political Costs of Unilateral Action”:

The Trump presidency began with a flurry of unilateral activity, ranging from Muslim bans, to border walls, to an assault on the Environmental Protection Agency.  For many, this burst has reignited fears of an imperial presidency.

Congress and the courts are at a distinct disadvantage when trying to reverse executive actions.  Any legislation overturning a presidential mandate can be vetoed by the president himself.  Courts need not worry about the veto; however, they must rely on the executive branch to enforce its rulings.  As a result, past scholarship has noted that the institutional constraints on the unilateral president are weak.

Perhaps the most important remaining check on presidential abuse is public opinion.  When contemplating executive action, presidents must weigh their near certain success against the political costs it might entail should it arouse popular anger.  We argue that other political actors – most importantly members of Congress – play a critically important role in shaping this popular response.

To explore Congress’ capacity to erode public support for unilateral action, we conducted a series of experiments embedded in nationally representative opinion surveys.  Across a range of issues in foreign and domestic affairs, we found that congressional criticism on both constitutional and policy grounds significantly decreases support for unilateral action.

One of our experiments explores public support for one of President Obama’s most important and polarizing executive actions: the Clean Power Plan.  All subjects were told that Obama had ordered the EPA to begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions to protect public health and combat climate change.  Subjects assigned to the baseline group received no further information.  Subjects assigned to the first treatment group were told that many congressional Democrats objected that the action threatened to increase energy prices and cost jobs, and that such a major change in energy policy required new legislation from Congress.  Subjects assigned to the second treatment group were told that many congressional Republicans objected to the action on the same policy and constitutional grounds.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Effect of Congressional Opposition on Support for Obama’s EPA Actions to Regulate CO2 Emissions


As shown in Figure 1, congressional criticism significantly eroded support for Obama’s action from its high baseline level.  Moreover, criticism from Democrats and Republicans were equally successful in turning public opinion against the executive action.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Effect of Congressional Opposition on Support for Executive Action in Foreign and Domestic Sphere

Additional experiments show that Congress’ power to erode support for unilateral action extends even to major questions of foreign policy and less polarizing domestic policy initiatives.  Figure 2 presents the results from an additional pair of experiments examining public support for Obama’s unilateral authorization of airstrikes against ISIS and for his executive action to cap student loan payments for many borrowers.  In both cases, congressional opposition significantly reduced support for executive action.

Our findings suggest that Congress may exercise a greater constraint on the unilateral president than previously thought.  Even when it cannot overturn an executive action legislatively, it can mobilize public opinion against the president.

About the Authors:  Dino P. Christenson is an associate professor of political science and the Director of Advanced Programs (Honors and BA/MA) at Boston University and Douglas L. Kriner is is a professor of political science and the Director of Graduate Studies at Boston University. Their article “Mobilizing the Public Against the President: Congress and the Political Costs of Unilateral Action” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.




Language Shapes People’s Time Perspective and Support for Future-Oriented Policies


Can the way we speak affect the way we perceive time and judge politics? Languages oblige speakers to distinguish grammatically between the present and future to varying degrees. A futured tongue like English directs speakers to use different grammatical tenses when talking about the future versus the present, as in “I will write tomorrow” versus “I write today”. But in a futureless language like Finnish, speakers simply say “kirjoitan” (“I write”), irrespective of whether they are talking about the future or the present.

These nuances matter politically, we claim, because they reinforce or blur the differences between today and tomorrow. Having to speak about the future using a present rather than future tense makes tomorrow seem more similar and less distant from today. As a result, speakers of futureless languages should be less likely than speakers of futured languages to discount the future, thereby increasing their support for long-range political initiatives.

We appraise these claims in two ways. First, we conducted a survey experiment in Estonia with bilingual adults (N=1,200) who speak a futureless (Estonian) and futured (Russian) language by randomly assigning their interview language. We find that in comparison to those assigned to interview in Russian, respondents assigned to interview in Estonian are more supportive of a green gas tax. We further show that this arises because speaking a futureless language makes one’s time perspective more future-oriented. For example, respondents assigned to interview in Estonian are less likely to state that “not completing things on time does not worry them” is characteristic of them; while they are more likely to state that to “keep working on uninteresting tasks to get ahead” and  “resist temptation when there is work to do” are more characteristic of them  Finally, we fail to uncover a difference by interview language in support for criminalizing prostitution – a placebo policy proposal with no obvious time referent.

We then gauged language’s impact cross-nationally using the latest wave of the World Values Survey. We analyzed respondents’ support for a future-oriented policy (protecting the environment) and engagement in a future-oriented behavior (saving money in the last year). Net of several political and socio-economic covariates, we find that in comparison to a person who speaks a futured language, a person who speaks a futureless language at home is 8 percent more likely to support environmental protection and 17 percent more likely to have saved money in the previous year.

In short, our results produce a simple punchline: the presence or absence of future tense in a language significantly affects the extent to which speakers discount the future and support future-oriented policies. Even as we write this, mass publics throughout the globe are considering political choices involving short-term costs for long-term gains. These are, without a doubt, complex decisions. Yet our results suggest a basic lesson: some people, some of the time, will find it harder to support such efforts simply because of the language they use to entertain those choices.

About the Authors: Efrén Pérez is associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. Margit Tavits is professor of political science at Washington University in Saint Louis. Their article “Language Shapes People’s Time Perspective and Support for Future-Oriented Policies” is forthcoming at the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.


The Editor of the AJPS is at Michigan State University and the Editorial Office is supported by
the Michigan State University Department of Political Science and the School of Social Sciences.

  Michigan State University