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.


Differential Registration Bias in Voter File Data: A Sensitivity Analysis Approach

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Differential Registration Bias in Voter File Data: A Sensitivity Analysis Approach”:

In recent years, voter files have become an important data source for research in American politics. These lists of registered voters, which are maintained by the states, usually include contextual information such as date of birth, address, and sometimes race. The files also include records of whether each registrant voted in each election, making it possible to conduct studies of voter turnout with extremely large sample sizes.

However, these new data sources also present new challenges. Our new article in AJPS identifies an important concern for studies that use voter files to analyze turnout. Because the voter file contains a comprehensive list of registered voters, researchers often treat registrants as the population of interest. However, the fact that people select into the voter file by registering to vote has the potential to cause inferential problems in many common research designs.

For example, imagine a researcher is studying whether people turn out to vote more frequently when their elected official shares their racial or ethnic background. The researcher might wish to compare a treatment group of people who were redistricted to have a coethnic representative with a control group of those who were not – a design that might seem to make it possible to estimate the causal effect of having a coethnic incumbent on voter turnout.

The potential problem is that the treatment of interest may affect registration as well as turnout. In this example, people who are redistricted to have a coethnic incumbent might be induced to vote more, but they might also register at higher rates. If a treatment causes people to participate more, it may affect registration in that group as well as turnout, leading to what we call differential registration bias.

For instance, consider a case in which 10,000 people are in the treatment group and 10,000 are in the control group. 2,500 people vote in each group, but 5,000 register in the treatment group and only 4,000 register in the control group. If we analyze voter file data and use registered voters as the denominator, it will seem like people in the control group were more likely to turn out to vote (62.5% compared to 50%). We must instead use the voting-eligible population as the denominator (which is often not possible) to correctly recover the true population-level effect of zero (25% versus 25%).

To demonstrate the implications of this problem, we return to an issue that several other scholars have studied previously – whether eligibility to vote in the year someone turns 18 affects future turnout. We first conduct an original analysis of voter file data from Catalist, a leading vendor in this area. We compare people who were born within a one-week window around a voting eligibility cutoff. Some of these people were narrowly eligible to vote in the general election in the year they turned 18, while others were narrowly ineligible.

When we compare turnout rates among registered voters in the voter file, our results are at odds with many other studies in the literature – people who were narrowly ineligible when they were 18 appear to turn out at higher rates in subsequent elections. As we show, however, this finding seems to be the result of higher registration rates in the just-eligible group than in the just-ineligible group. Once we adjust for this difference by using birth counts as the denominator (approximating the voting-eligible population), our results reverse. Consistent with other research, we instead find that people who were narrowly eligible to vote in the year they turned 18 turn out at higher rates in future elections. This finding shows that differential registration bias can affect results in meaningful ways.

Researchers can sometimes circumvent this problem by using a design that avoids conditioning on registration or by approximating the voting-eligible population using U.S. Census data. In many cases, however, these approaches are not feasible. We therefore develop a simple sensitivity analysis that allows researchers to assess how vulnerable their results are to differential registration bias. Using our approach, researchers can calculate the extent of differential registration under which the observed difference in turnout among registrants would result in no difference in true turnout (i.e., among the voting-eligible population).

We hope this research will encourage scholars using voter file data to avoid differential registration bias in their research designs whenever possible and to report the sensitivity of their results to potential bias otherwise.

About the Authors:  Brendan J. Nyhan is a Professor of Government at Dartmouth College, Christopher Skovron is a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan, and Rocío Titiunik is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan. Their article “Differential Registration Bias in Voter File Data: A Sensitivity Analysis Approach” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.


The Majority-Minority Divide in Attitudes toward Internal Migration: Evidence from Mumbai

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “The Majority-Minority Divide in Attitudes toward Internal Migration: Evidence from Mumbai”: 

The freedom to move and settle anywhere within one’s country of citizenship is a right enshrined in numerous constitutions, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By efficiently allocating labor, rural-to-urban migration has served a key economic role historically. Across the world, at least 763 million people are estimated to be internal migrants. Yet migrants often encounter hostility upon entering urban areas. Cities’ long- term residents employ various strategies – including violence and intimidation – to discourage potential migrants from coming, and to withhold opportunities from outsiders on arrival.

Our paper asks: What causes discrimination against internal migrants in fast-urbanizing contexts? Economic arguments suggest that long-term city residents will resist in-migration by individuals who put pressure on public goods and services and who compete for natives’ jobs. Meanwhile, cultural theories imply that natives wanting to safeguard the ethnic status quo will oppose migrants belonging to ethnic “out groups.”

We explore the determinants of anti-migrant hostility in Mumbai: a magnet for migrants, and home to 20 million people – more than the combined populations of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The city has been a hotbed of nativist agitation instigated by political parties like the Shiv Sena.

We carried out a survey on a representative sample of the city’s long-term residents. It included a vignette experiment in which each respondent was presented with a fictitious migrant wanting to come to the city to live and work. We randomly varied the migrant’s skill level and religion. By seeing how favorable respondents felt on average toward migrants of different religions and skill types, we are able to put our theoretical expectations to the test.

What do we find? Overall, there is a strong preference for highly-skilled migrants. But this preference is concentrated entirely among lower-income respondents. It seems that low-income respondents worry that low-skilled migrants will generate competition both over jobs and over scarce public resources. High-income natives may worry about the fiscal threat, but they also anticipate benefiting from abundant cheap labor, without any attendant labor-market threats.

Our findings on religion are striking. Hindu respondents – those who belong to Mumbai’s majority ethnic group – are indifferent toward the religious background of the hypothetical migrant. Minority Muslim natives, on the other hand, strongly prefer co-ethnic migrants. In fact, Muslim respondents only discriminate on the basis of skills when migrants are Hindu; Muslim migrants get a free pass, regardless of their skill attributes. Testing a variety of possible explanations for this divergence in minority and majority attitudes, we show that politics are key. As a disadvantaged minority group, Muslims see in-migration by co-ethnics as a way to boost their electoral and social standing in the city, thereby achieving “safety in numbers.”

Mumbai is representative of a large set of cases in the global south – from São Paulo to Cape Town to Kuala Lumpur – where faced-paced urbanization is occurring within charged political and social environments. When it comes to native preferences, we show that economic concerns are crucial, but these are conditioned by ethnic-group dynamics, specifically, majority/minority group status. In a larger sense, our insights can help guide states endeavoring to mitigate social dislocation in the wake of rapid urban growth, and may help protect the rights and well-being of migrants, who count among the world’s most marginalized population groups.

About the Authors: This author summary was written by Nikhar Gaikwad of Columbia University and Gareth Nellis of Yale University. Their article “The Majority-Minority Divide in Attitudes toward Internal Migration: Evidence from Mumbai” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

Does this really cause that?

How do you learn about cause and effect without randomized experiments? We provide a dramatically improved method of inferring causality even when randomization is impossible. We also invented a computational approach that makes our technique approximately one million times faster than previous approaches, meaning it will usually take only a few minutes to run for most commonly sized data sets, and opening up new ways of conducting empirical analyses. The result is an easy-to-understand statistical technique, along with free and easy-to-use open source software, that researchers can use to learn about cause and effect without experiments. Correlation is still not causation, but we show how observational correlations, when used appropriately, can teach us a great deal about causation.

Although randomization is obviously impossible for numerous crucial questions in political science, the social sciences, the sciences, medicine, education, government, public policy, and business, we often have no choice but to draw some type of causal conclusion in these areas. For example, no one has ever conducted a randomized experiment on tobacco consumption in humans, but we know that smoking kills half a million people a year in the US alone. Similarly, on one has ever randomized incumbency status to members of congress, and yet we have learned that voters are more likely to cast their ballots for incumbents than challengers. Much hard work has gone into solving these problems; our article offers a way to make such generalizations easier, faster, and more reliably.

Our approach builds on a highly intuitive technique called matching. The idea is sophisticated, but the basics are simple. Suppose we want to know whether renovating school buildings improves educational outcomes. As generous as NSF grants are, no researcher will be able to randomly assign new buildings to school districts. So instead, we can compare school districts which choose to build new buildings with those that do not, but we will have to avoid the bias that would occur if those districts differ in other ways. For example, districts with new buildings might also be areas with lots of wealth and parental involvement in their children’s education. So a simple version of matching in this case would be to find a sample of school districts which recently built new buildings. Then for each one, find a very similar (“matched”) district that chose not to renovate its buildings. We can define “very similar” according to wealth, parental involvement, the conditions of the school buildings, teaching styles, and many other factors. If we can find these matched pairs, then we might be able to approximate a randomized experiment from purely observational data.

In practice, no two school districts are exactly the same, and so a large number of matching methods have been developed, each which works best in different circumstances at making the treated group (the one with the new schools) as similar as possible to the control group (those without the new schools). In contrast, our American Journal of Political Science articlenow available here for early view, introduces new methods for matching that result in the optimal matched sample, without having to choose a matching method.

In particular, every matching method begins with a data set and prunes non-matches in order to try to improve the similarity between the remaining data in the treated and control groups. For any number of pruned observations, there exists a subsample of the original data that has highest level of similarity, but the number of possible subsets that need to be checked to find the optimal one is gargantuan (usually larger than the number of elementary particles in the universe) and so previous matching methods try to approximate this optimum. Our algorithm quickly identifies the best possible subset, without running any matching algorithm. Given these criteria, we have proven mathematically that no matching method in existence, or which could be invented, can produce higher levels of similarity between the treated and control groups than our algorithm. The algorithm is so fast that we are able to recommend computing it for all possible numbers of observations pruned and presenting the full results for the analyst to choose, without tradeoffs or compromises. Please see our software at

Written by Gary King of Harvard University, Christopher Lucas of Harvard University, and Richard Nielsen of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their article “The Balance-Sample Size Frontier in Matching Methods for Causal Inference” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

Gone with the Wind: Federalism and the Strategic Location of Air Polluters

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Gone with the Wind: Federalism and the Strategic Location of Air Polluters”:AJPS - Gone with the Wind: Federalism and the Strategic Location of Air Polluters

States have strong incentives to encourage major air polluters to locate near their downwind borders. This allows them to reap the benefits of economic development while making their neighbors shoulder the resulting environmental and health costs. Although there are provisions in the U.S. Clean Air Act designed to mitigate interstate air pollution, they have historically been ineffective. And, there is some evidence that air pollution levels are heightened near downwind state borders. However, prior research has produced little evidence that this is the result of government behavior, such as weaker enforcement of environmental laws.

The solution to this paradox may lie in industrial location itself.  We argue that both state governments and firms have incentives to strategically locate polluting facilities near a state’s downwind borders.  We test this idea with a method that is novel to political science—point pattern analysis. This technique is common in fields like epidemiology, which models where disease cases emerge relative to the broader population at risk. We use the method to analyze where major air polluters emerge in latitude and longitude in the continental 48 states. We compare air polluters to a control group of other industrial facilities: large quantity generators of hazardous waste. Hazardous waste polluters are a good comparison group because they have similar locational needs as air polluters, but the wind cannot carry away the pollution they produce. Hence, a key reason we might observe any difference in the location of these sites is because of attempts to export air pollution to downwind neighbors. As an illustration of our data, the above figure shows air polluters and hazardous waste polluters in the state of Georgia.

We find that major air polluters are significantly more likely to be located near a state’s downwind border than hazardous waste generators.  Our baseline model suggests that moving from a site on a state’s downwind border to the site that is farthest upwind diminishes the odds of a major air polluter relative to a hazardous waste generator by a substantial 22.4%.  This effect is even stronger for facilities that produce highly toxic air emissions.

Our results also indicate that the pattern of industrial location varies systematically across states.  States with stronger environmental programs, for instance, evidence weaker propensity to have air polluting firms locate near downwind borders, while states that make greater use of “smokestack chasing” economic development incentives show the opposite configuration.  This suggests that air polluter location is responsive to public policy.

About the Authors: This author summary was written by Jamie Monogan of University of Georgia, David Konisky of Indiana University, and Neal Woods of University of South Carolina. Their article “Gone with the Wind: Federalism and the Strategic Location of Air Polluters” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

Informed Preferences? The Impact of Unions on Workers’ Policy Views

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Informed Preferences? The Impact of Unions on Workers’ Policy Views“. This post originally appeared on the MPSA blog and is reposted here with permission. 

What is the impact of labor unions in shaping the political preferences of workers? More specifically, to what extent can we trace the anti-trade sentiment we are now seeing among many U.S. workers to the influence of their unions? Due to their shrinking memberships, unions are often dismissed as a spent force in contemporary politics. Yet such a view overlooks an important point: Even after years of membership decline, unions still represent a sizable share of many electorates: a quarter of all workers in Britain, a third in Italy, and over half the workforce in countries such as Norway or Belgium. Even in the U.S., union members still account for about 11 percent of the workforce—a conservative figure that excludes non-members working under union agreements and family members whose livelihoods often depend on a unionized wage earner. A key question is whether and how unions’ access to a large swath of the electorate translates into political influence.

To understand the role that unions play in shaping the political views of their members is, however, a challenging empirical task.  Even in instances where union members are found to hold systematically distinct views from non-members, the cause is not an obvious one: Is it the result of a union’s direct influence on workers’ policy views, or is it that workers who choose to join a union differ from non-members to begin with?

Our article seeks to provide answers to these questions by utilizing an original survey of more than 4,000 American workers that was administered across 12 industries selected to provide the full range of exposure to various aspects of globalization. The dataset provides sizable samples of both union members and non-members within each industry, allowing for comparisons with a meaningful control group. Another key advantage is the availability of detailed information on pertinent aspects that are often missing from standard surveys: the exact union to which the worker belongs, the intensity of communication initiated by their unions on a range of policy issues, and the degree to which a worker is aware of her union’s policy positions. To assess how accurately workers know their union’s position, we devise a new measure of a union’s position on trade policy (what we call the “protectionism score”). This measure is based on a union’s ‘revealed preference’, namely through their lobbying activity and official statements given on a wide range of trade bills.

Using this data, we begin to explore whether unions indeed serve as information providers for their members. The evidence decidedly shows that they are. (See Figure 1;  unions are sorted along the vertical axis by their protectionism score.) As the left-panel indicates, unions indeed discuss the issue of trade with their members, and, not surprisingly, the more protectionist the union, the more likely it is to impart such information to their members. We can also see that the intensity of the communication is associated with how familiar members are with their union’s position (center panel). Members of protectionist unions not only tend to express greater familiarity with their union’s stance on trade, but also to correctly describe their union as protectionist (right panel).


Figure 1


In short, unions clearly operate as information providers. Moreover, workers also seem to ‘get’ their union’s message. Yet to what extent do members tend to be influenced by this message and adopt their union’s position? As an initial step, we examine the association between members’ own attitudes on trade and the protectionism score of their unions. We find a clear alignment between the two. Notably, such positive association is not found among non-unionized workers who are employed in the same industry (see Figure 2). Still, the key empirical task here is to assess the possibility of a self-selection process: If workers decide to join a union because of the union’s policy position, the findings could simply be an outcome of a reverse causal process. We address this possibility by exploiting two sources of variation, as detailed below.


Figure 2


First, we leverage the fact that there are state-level differences in laws with respect to union membership, or so-called the “Right-to-Work” (RTW) laws. In states that adopt the RTW provision, labor unions cannot legally require workers to pay union dues as a condition for employment. Union membership in RTW states therefore depends much more on individual workers’ own discretion, and is less a function of an institutional requirement to become members. This difference allows us to test the self-selection question: If self-selection accounts for members’ preferences, we should expect to see unions have much more of an influence on members in states in which membership is entirely voluntary.

Our analysis provides very little support for the self-selection account. We find that union membership itself is associated with a clear effect on the trade policy views of workers, and that this effect is conditional on how strong the union’s position is with respect to trade. Significantly, we find no systematic difference between members in RTW and non-RTW states. This is clearly inconsistent with the selection mechanism being the prominent factor.

Second, we wanted to assess what happens to the views of members when their union takes a different stance on a given policy: do workers follow suit? If so, that would be a strong indication of the unions’ influence. To do so, we exploit the case of a sudden and dramatic shift in the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) position toward a major trade liberalization deal. For many years, the UAW had been strongly opposed to the signing of a trade agreement with Korea, which, according to its statement, would be “worsening our lopsided auto trade deficit and threatening jobs of tens of thousands of American workers.” Yet after a set of changes had been incorporated into the agreement, the UAW announced a reversal of its position. “We believe an agreement was achieved that will protect current American auto jobs, [and] that will grow more American auto jobs,” its statement now read.

How did this shift in the UAW’s position influence the views of the autoworkers on trade? Figure 3 below provides a striking answer: While union members working in the auto industry had been significantly more protectionist than non-members before the shift, the level of support for trade restrictions significantly decreased after the UAW endorsed the free trade agreement. Notably, this change in attitudes toward trade liberalization had not been observed among non-members working in the same auto industry. This finding remains intact even when we control for potential confounding factors.



Figure 3


Taken together, our findings provide compelling evidence that unions exert influence on their members in a clear and systematic manner. The analysis points to the important role of unions as information providers. While previous studies have highlighted the role of unions as the “voice of workers,” via campaign contributions or lobbying, we have demonstrated an underexplored yet important source of union influence: communication with, and dissemination of information to members. This influence can be significant, given unions’ breadth and reach. In other words, unions should be thought of not only as institutions that channel the political preferences of their members. Instead, they should also be understood as institutions that shape and influence the views of many workers.

About the Authors: Sung Eun Kim is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore.  Prof. Yotam Margalit is an Associate Professor at the Political Science Department in Tel-Aviv University. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. Their paper “Informed Preferences: the Impact of Unions on Worker’s Policy Views” was awarded the Best Paper by an Emerging Scholar at the 2016 MPSA Conference.


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