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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

  • “Reversals of State Capacity: Norms and Political Disruption”

Abstract: State capacity research generally focuses on improvements to a government’s ability to deliver on its policy-goals. Yet, in recent years, leaders in a number of nations have undermined high-functioning public sectors. To understand reversals of state capacity, it is necessary to examine the formal and informal dynamics at play within a nation’s bureaucracy. A formal model highlights the three trajectories a bureaucratic agency may follow in response to disruption by a political leader: temporary capture, erosion, and resistance. By prioritizing policy that is captured by special interests rather than one aligning with an agency’s legally-codified mission, leaders may undermine state capacity. Bureaucrats who care deeply about an agency’s mission can be driven to leave the public sector, thereby eroding underlying bureaucratic capacity and durably reversing high-levels of state capacity. However, agency culture may coalesce to form a norm that bolsters mission-compliance, facilitating resistance to extreme shifts and stabilizing long-term capacity.

  • “The Social Foundations of Democratic Norms”

Abstract: Recent instances of democratic backsliding across consolidated democracies have led leading scholars to decry the harm to democratic norms. But what exactly is a democratic norm? Despite their central role in the trend of backsliding, democratic norms remain vague and under-theorized phenomena. This study aims to provide theoretical and empirical foundations for democratic norms. It also serves to evaluate how norms may impact the willingness of citizens to electorally punish politicians who advocate for undemocratic policies. I first present a formal model of political competition that integrates social norms. The model demonstrates the conditions when norms lead citizens who otherwise care little about democratic values to punish undemocratic candidates for office. I then present an online experiment that allows me to test the model’s empirical predictions. I first elicit two types of norms from respondents regarding a politician supporting an undemocratic policy stance. Respondents are then randomly exposed to information on previously elicited norms, which is intended to shift perceptions over democratic norms. Following this manipulation, respondents take part in a candidate-choice conjoint experiment to examine how norms shift support for undemocratic politicians. Finally, respondents take part in an augmented dictator game to examine how norms are enforced among citizens. Overall, the study outlines the mechanisms by which democratic norms operate and underscores their importance for the long-term stability of democratic systems.

  • “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)
  • “Discretion, Efficiency, and Trust in European Public Procurement” (with Johannes Wiedemann)
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