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Abstract: Non-uniform compliance with public policy by citizens can undermine the effectiveness of government, particularly during crises. Mitigation policies intended to combat the novel coronavirus offer a real-world measure of citizen compliance, allowing us to examine the determinants of asymmetrical responsiveness. Analyzing county-level cellphone data, we leverage staggered roll-out to estimate the causal effect of stay-at-home orders on mobility using a difference-in-differences strategy. We find movement is significantly curtailed, and examination of descriptive heterogeneous effects suggests the key roles that partisanship and trust play in producing irregular compliance. We find that Republican-leaning counties comply less than Democratic-leaning ones, which we argue underlines the importance of trust in science and acceptance of large-scale government policies for compliance. However, this partisan compliance gap shrinks when directives are given by Republican leaders, suggesting citizens are more trusting of co-partisan leaders. Furthermore, we find that higher levels of social trust increase compliance; yet these gains attenuate or intensify depending upon community-level partisan sentiments. Our study provides a real-world, behavioral measure that demonstrates the influence of partisanship, social trust, and their interaction on citizen welfare. Finally, we argue that our results speak to how trust in government may impact successful containment of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Institutional Fault Lines: Crises, Norms, and the Informal Foundations of the State

Abstract: In recent years, leaders in a number of nations have undermined their public sector’s capacity to deliver on its core goals. To understand this interference, it is necessary to examine the formal and informal organizational dynamics at play within bureaucracies. Considering a widely-applicable generalized organization, a formal model outlines how a leader may augment the career incentives of supervisors and lower-level workers, which shifts the alignment of policy with an organization’s central mission. While hierarchy may amplify disruption, organizational culture can coalesce as a norm facilitating resistance to extreme shifts, thereby stabilizing long-term mission-compliance. Yet, should disruption lead to an exodus of mission-driven employees, durable reversals of an organization’s capacity to fulfill its aims may ensue. The model highlights three trajectories disrupted organizations follow: temporary reversal, erosion, and resistance. Implications are considered for public sector institutions and international organizations as well as for the study of bureaucratic and state capacities.

Abstract: Recent instances of democratic backsliding across consolidated democracies have led scholars to decry the harm to democratic norms. However, democratic norms remain largely undertheorized phenomena. This conceptual gap holds implications for one of the primary drivers of backsliding: voters who prioritize supporting co-partisan politicians over candidates who are willing to protect democratic institutions. Do democratic norms hold the capacity to shift this calculus back in favor of democracy? The study addresses this question through two contributions. First, it provides a precise definition of democratic norms as they operate among citizens by considering their ‘descriptive’ and ‘injunctive’ components. It then considers a game theoretic political competition model to demonstrate how democratic norms may pressure citizens, including those who hold a relatively weak commitment to democracy, to overcome partisanship and support politicians who protect democracy. This occurs due to the threat of social sanctions associated with violating democratic norms. Second, the study details a survey experiment that elicits and shifts descriptive and injunctive democratic norms. Additionally, the experiment tests implications of the theoretical model in the context of a candidate-choice conjoint experiment and leverages an augmented dictator game to find behavioral evidence that survey-respondents are willing to sanction those individuals who violate democratic norms. Overall, the study outlines the mechanisms by which democratic norms operate and underscores their importance for the long-term stability of democracy.

  • “Under the Cover of Crisis: Electoral Accountability and Policy License”

Abstract: I present a legislative and electoral model that examines how crises impact the efficacy of democratic institutions. The model demonstrates that crises may undermine legislative checks-and-balances by incentivizing veto-players to support policy that goes against their preferences. As a result, an agenda-setter is provided with greater license to implement their preferred policy. Yet, eased legislative passage may either benefit citizen welfare or come at the cost of decreasing the likelihood that the optimal policy will be enacted in response to a crisis. Despite undermining policy fit, crises may improve the selection of politicians through elections. Crises can reveal a politician’s willingness to compromise and, thus, allow citizens to remove obstinate politicians. Hence, crises produce a trade-off between improved account- ability via better electoral selection and potentially undermining policy fit. Overall, I find that crises hold significant consequences for democratic institutions, and I consider the implications of the model for several recent crises.

Working Papers

Abstract: The physical costs of war – who fights and experiences casualties – are borne unequally in the United States. Yet, little is known regarding how informing individuals of this disparity affects preferences over how to address it. We introduce a framework of `policy corrections,’ which differentially allocates to socioeconomic groups the costs associated with public good provision. A survey experiment demonstrates how informing Americans that low-income communities disproportionately bear the physical costs of U. S. wars impacts their support for specific policy corrections. We find enhanced support for greater military recruitment on the richest half of Americans (a direct correction) but unaltered preferences for increasing taxes on this group (an indirect correction). Effects are consistent regardless of respondents’ income, partisanship, or race. Our results suggest that war casualties transcend socioeconomic in-group calculus and, moreover, even individuals who benefit from present policies support redressing the unequal costs associated with the provision of defense.

Abstract: Observational evidence suggests that social trust, i.e., trust in others, and the closely related concept of social capital play a critical role in compliance with government policy, particularly in regards to public responsiveness to measures intended to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. We use a survey experiment to causally estimate the impact of altering social trust on compliance with a range of policies intended to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Utilizing an instrumental variable approach, we are able to alter reported social trust, but find null effects in regards to compliance with COVID-19 mitigation measures. We speculate on several explanations for this finding.

Works in Progress

(Please contact me if you’re interested in a draft)

  • “An Evolutionary Model of Constitutions and Norms”
  • “Spatial and Valence Candidate Competition: Experimental Evidence from More Than 50,000 Candidate Choices” (with Milan Svolik)
  • “The Weight of Precedent: the Two-Term Tradition and Norm Violations in the United States Presidency” (with Collin Schumock)
  • “Discretion, Efficiency, and Trust in European Public Procurement” (with Johannes Wiedemann)
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