Class, Inequality, and Labor Politics
Elections, Election Administration, and Voting Behavior
I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Director of the Marquette Democracy Lab. My research explores the intersections between politics and inequality, including class biases in turnout, money in electoral campaigns, and how public policy affects societal inequalities.
With the foreclosure crisis continuing to impact individuals and communities across the country, understanding the extent of its effect on political life is tantamount. In this paper, we ask how political behaviors are influenced by the economic adversities created by this crisis: loss of home, loss of resources, and perhaps loss of political efficacy. Previous research on economic adversity focuses almost exclusively on unemployment. Here we explore the demobilizing effects of foreclosures at the individual level, community levels, and the intersection of individuals nested in communities. With a unique dataset that matches voter file data to a database on individual foreclosures, we show that the foreclosure crisis was associated with a decline in voter turnout, both individually and for those in neighborhoods hit harder by the foreclosure crisis. We find that homeowners facing the loss of their homes were less likely to go to the polls. Consistent with previous research, we also show that turnout was suppressed in neighborhoods with higher rates of foreclosure. Taken together, our results suggest that political elites were less likely to hear from constituents most directly impacted by the foreclosure crisis.
Social capital is presumed to help individuals who lack financial or human capital achieve collective action through their social ties and networks of relationships. But does it help individuals overcome their socioeconomic disadvantages relative to their wealthier neighbors, or does the accumulation of social capital merely reproduce socioeconomic disparities, particularly in economically segregated places? Leveraging data from the Current Population Survey, I test whether residential income segregation is associated with larger income differences in social capital investments and collective action. I find that in more economically segregated places, wealthier residents are more likely to be members of neighborhood organizations and report working with other community members to address local issues. These results are robust to the inclusion of other potential confounders, including income inequality, racial context, and racial residential segregation. This research has implications for policy makers and stakeholders interested in building a more inclusive civic arena.
Across states, there is substantial variation in the degree to which immigrants and their children are offered public assistance. We present a theoretical framework for analyzing the effects of policy decisions about immigrant inclusion. We apply the framework to investigate the effect of the state safety net on educational attainment. We focus on the years following welfare reform in 1996, when states gained considerable autonomy over welfare policy, including decisions about the eligibility of immigrant residents. Leveraging state-level data from before and after reform, we estimate a difference-in-difference model to identify the effect of variation in immigrant inclusivity on educational attainment. We find that when states broaden the inclusivity of the social safety net to immigrants, young Latinos are more likely to graduate from high school. This effect is present beyond the group of Latino residents who receive additional benefits, suggesting that policy decisions about immigrants spill over to broader communities and communicate broader messages about social inclusion to racial and ethnic groups. We find similar patterns among Asian youth, but not among black and non-Hispanic white youth. We conclude that immigrant inclusion has consequences for the life prospects of the growing population of youth in high-immigrant ethnic groups.
Prior work finds that voters punish candidates for sponsoring attack ads. What remains unknown is the extent to which a negative ad is more effective if it is sponsored by a party or an independent group instead. We conducted three experiments in which we randomly assigned participants to view a negative ad that was identical except for its sponsor. We find that candidates can benefit from having a party or group "do their dirty work, "but particularly if a group does, and that the most likely explanation for why this is the case is that many voters simply do not connect candidates to the ads sponsored by parties and groups. We also find that in some circumstances, a group-sponsored attack ad produces less polarization than one sponsored by a party. We conclude by discussing the implications our research has for current debates about the proper role of independent groups in electoral politics.
Published scholarship argues that a poor economy depresses voter participation in the United States. This troubling result suggests that incumbents are “underpenalized” for bad economic performance. We challenge this conclusion theoretically and empirically. Theoretically, we argue that a worsening economy has a disruptive effect that prods worried citizens to voice concern and seek remedies. Empirically, we analyze county-level data and find that, contrary to earlier studies, higher unemployment rates in fact stimulate more people to vote. We show that the effect is not the result of heightened electoral competition when unemployment is high. The relationship displays a partisan asymmetry in which Republican candidates are especially harmed by higher unemployment. The results also indicate that studies of economic voting need to consider the role of turnout in connecting economic performance to the incumbent’s vote share.
Despite the Supreme Court’s acceptance of disclosure requirements, some donors have been able to remain anonymous through a combination of regulatory gaps, complicated financing schemes, and lags in when information is made public. As a first examination of the potential consequences of increased anonymity in political advertising we designed an experiment that varied the amount and format of information about the interests behind an attack ad sponsored by an “unknown” group. We find that participants were more supportive of the attacked candidate after viewing information disclosing donors, suggesting that voters may discount a group-sponsored ad when they have more information about the financial interests behind the message. We also find some evidence that the effect of disclosure depends on how campaign finance information is presented. Our study has implications for how (to this point, failed) congressional efforts to require greater disclosure of campaign finance donors may affect electoral politics.
The conventional wisdom is that turnout is higher in competitive contests and that electorates are more representative when more people vote. But whether more competition produces a more representative electorate remains unclear. Using measures of income bias that improve measurement equivalence across states, I show that income biases in voting participation tend to shrink as the state’s party system becomes more competitive and as the Democratic Party does more to mobilize voters. Close elections, however, do little to explain the income composition of the electorate. Rather, competition reflects a political struggle that varies in the extent to which it increases turnout among less advantaged citizens.
Incumbents tend to win with higher margins in less ideologically constrained districts. I argue that incumbents are advantaged by this electoral landscape in part because they work harder to cultivate a personal vote. Utilizing data on earmarks, I find that despite winning with a larger margin of victory, these incumbents act much like their colleagues who narrowly escaped electoral defeat. By more accurately measuring perceptions of electoral vulnerability, we also see stronger evidence linking district marginality to distributive politics. Such incentives appear to stem not from the risks of position taking, but from the weaker party attachments among constituents.
The 2008 presidential election offers a unique opportunity to revisit the hypothesis that a divisive primary exacts a tolls on the party’s general election performance—neither party had a sitting president or vice president seeking the nomination, the Democratic nomination was contested all the way to the end, and advertising data provide a way to gauge both the intensity and tenor of the campaigns. In this article, we take advantage of these circumstances to distinguish between primaries that were competitive and those that were negative and find, contrary to the assumptions in the divisive primary literature, that a close contest does not imply a divisive one. Moreover, we find that Obama was helped by his tight battle with Clinton for the nomination and that the tone of the primaries bore no relationship to his general election performance.