Abstract: Since 1972, two things have happened. First, campaign spending by House incumbents has skyrocketed in districts with marginal support for the incumbent's party. Second, parties in the House have become much more cohesive in the way they vote, producing more precise and informative party brands. We argue that these two phenomena are fundamentally linked. As parties have developed more precise reputations, incumbents in these districts must spend much more to gain "marginal voters" who would be willing to vote for a politician with the incumbent's record, but not the average member of his party. Precise party reputations mean that voters have stronger priors that incumbents are like the rest of their party. Incumbents in marginal districts must spend more to overcome these beliefs. We show this using a simple formal model and test it on campaign spending data from 1972 to 2008.
Abstract: What determines preferences for cooperation through international legal agreements? Why do some decision makers prefer big multilateral agreements while others prefer cooperation in small clubs? Does enforcement encourage or deter cooperation? We use experiments drawn from behavioral economics and cognitive psychology--along with a substantive survey focused on international trade treaties--to illustrate how two behavioral traits (patience and strategic skills) of the individual people asked to play key roles in negotiating and ratifying international treaties could shape their preferences for how treaties are designed and whether they are adopted. Patient subjects were more likely to prefer treaties with larger numbers of countries (and larger long-term benefits), as were subjects with the skill to anticipate how others will respond over multiple iterations of strategic games. The presence of an enforcement mechanism increased subjects' willingness to ratify treaties; however, the effect of strategic skills was 2-times the effect of adding enforcement to a trade agreement: more strategic subjects were particularly likely to favor ratifying the agreement. We report these results for a sample of 509 university students and also show how similar patterns are revealed in a smaller sample of 92 actual U.S. policy elites, suggesting that under some conditions certain types of university student convenience samples can be useful for revealing elite-dominated policy preferences.
Abstract: Both theoretical models and economic experiments show that players in in coordination games frequently use public signals to coordinate their actions. This can cause public events, such as speeches, announcements, and ceremonies to have a profound influence on individuals' actions relative to other informational signals. However, there is some evidence that public events can also exert a disproportionate influence on individuals' beliefs. Yet, when or why this actually occurs remains much less well understood. One reason public signals could disproportionately influence individuals' beliefs in coordination games--even if actors have no intrinsic taste for conformity in beliefs--is that attention is both costly and limited. As a result, actors in coordination games may focus their attention more on public signals because these signals are more likely to determine their actions. Here, I demonstrate this effect using an incentivized game-theoretic experiment where two players receive information in the form of public signals, which are common knowledge to both players, and private signals, which are only seen by one player or the other. Results demonstrate that players in a coordination game bias their actions in the direction of public signals by selectively remembering them. Meanwhile, control subjects, incentivized to accurately match their actions to an unknown state of the world, update their beliefs about the state of the world according to Bayes-rule. The results add to a growing body of evidence that human perceptual biases may be significantly affected by individuals' strategic environment.
Abstract: Many theories of democratic decision making hope that voters will adapt their existing perspectives on governance to reflect new information. However, many empirical studies find that partisan voters actively ignore or resist new information that contradicts their existing perspective on politics. I argue that this may be in part because partisans use their existing ideological perspectives to coordinate political actions. Refining or adapting one's model of the world risks placing voters out of sync with the rest of their political coalition. To test this theory I adapt an experiment on category learning from psychology where subjects often appear to meet the democratic ideal. Subjects in these experiments start out with simple and relatively inaccurate perspectives on how to categorize objects, but move towards categorization structures that are more sophisticated and accurate. Half the subjects in our experiment are placed in a similar learning situation, and paid only for accuracy. The other half are assigned to a world where they are paid both for accuracy and for matching the action of other agents who stick to using simple rules. I find that subjects in the second condition, though exposed to the same information about how accurate they are, and even though they are paid the same for their accuracy, stick to believing simpler and less accurate category schemes.
Abstract: In this paper, we show that majority and minority party incumbents differ systematically in the electoral efficacy of their campaign expenditures. Ceteris paribus, majority party members need to spend a great deal more than their minority party counterparts to gain the same number of votes, however, the former obtain a much larger number of votes without having to spend money. We argue that this is the product of the systematic difference in the abilities between parties to shape their collective reputations through the legislative process before the electorate: the majority, with a greater legislative influence, creates a stronger reputation for itself which can be both an electoral boon that brings free votes in the areas where it is viewed favorably and a burden that can be overcome only by large expenditures of campaign money by its candidates where it is not.
- Partisan Minds Think They Think Alike: How Projection Aids Collective Action in Parties
(Email me for a recent draft of this paper.)
Researchers in political behavior often worry that projection based reasoning will lead to a "false consensus effect" where citizens overestimate the extent to which others in their social group agree with them. This in turn could hinder democratic institutions by inducing spatially biased voting, less deliberation, or more polarized and conflictual politics because voters overestimate the extent to which members of their party agree with them relative to members of the opposition party.
By contrast, I argue that institutions of political competition directly select for people who are willing to reason via projection. This is because projection helps alleviate strategic uncertainty, which can undermine the willingness of individuals to participate in collective action.
I provide experimental evidence that partisan projection mediates participation under strategic uncertainty by studying the decisions of partisans in a series of binary action "stag-hunt" games, where attempting to coordinate with others is risky. I combine the results from these games with results from a separate experiment that measures how much a shared partisan affiliation increases subjects' willingness to use projection when reasoning about the preferences of others. The combination of these results allows me to show that increased partisan projection mediates subjects' willingness to play efficient but strategically risky strategies. The same subjects who are willing to project more when paired with co-partisans are also willing to play more efficient strategies in stag hunt games where they are paired with co-partisans.
Abstract: We investigate the role of international reputation in alliance politics by developing a signaling theory linking past alliance violations with the formation and design of future alliance commitments. In our theory, past violations are useful signals of future alliance reliability conditional on whether they effectively separate reliable from unreliable alliance partners. It follows that states evaluating potential alliance partners will interpret past violations in their context when deciding to enter a new alliance, attaching less weight to violations in "harder- times" and more weight to violations in "easier-times". We test our theory and find that states are empirically more likely to form new alliances and offer better terms to states that violated in harder-times than states that violated in easier-times.
Abstract: States establish a portfolio of alliances to increase their security in the international system. But significant variation exists in the composition and structure of these portfolios across states and over time. This article proposes one explanation for this variation based on a theory of reputation and risk in alliance politics. We treat security alliances as international contracts through which states attempt to finance greater security while balancing the risk that some allies will not honor their commitment in the future.
Because allies have different reputations for alliance reliability and therefore represent different levels of risk, they are likely to produce different securitization structures in alliance portfolios. In particular, we hypothesize that unreliable allies (risky security assets) are more likely to be pooled into multilateral alliance agreements that dilute risk than bilateral alliances agreement. We also expect states that ally with unreliable partners to form a greater number of bilateral alliance commitments in order to hedge against the added risk of default posed by that security asset. We test these expectations quantitatively using data on bilateral alliance violations to estimate the impact of alliance reliability on the number and type of future alliance commitments. The results have important implications for how scholars study the role of reputation in international relations.