Leah Christiani, Ph.D.

christiani@utk.edu


Assistant Professor

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Year of PhD: 2020

Country: United States (Tennessee)

About Me:

I earned my Ph.D. (2020) and M.A. (2017) in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, focusing on American politics and political methodology. Now, I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, and a Faculty Affiliate with the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Program. My research uses quantitative methods to study the politics of race, ethnicity, and gender in the U.S. context.

Research Interests

Race, Ethnicity and Politics

Whiteness

Racism

Public Opinion

Inequality

Policing, Surveillance, Vigilance

Countries of Interest

United States

Publications:

Journal Articles:

(2021) When are Explicit Racial Appeals Accepted? Examining the Role of Racial Status Threat, Political Behavior

Evidence has emerged demonstrating that whites no longer reject negative, explicit racial appeals as they had in the past. This seeming reversal of the traditional logic of the powerlessness of explicit appeals raises the question: Why are explicit racial appeals accepted sometimes but rejected at other times? Here, I test whether the relative acceptance of negative, explicit racial appeals depends on whites’ feelings of threat using a two-wave survey experiment that manipulates participants’ feelings of threat, and then examines their responses to an overtly racist political appeal. I find that when whites feel threatened, they are more willing to approve of and agree with a negative, explicit racial appeal disparaging African Americans—and express willingness to vote for the candidate who made the explicit racial appeal.

(2021) Better for everyone: Black descriptive representation and police traffic stops, Politics Groups and Identities

Racial disparities in citizen interactions with police are ubiquitous concerns in American communities. What difference does electoral representation make? We demonstrate that black descriptive representation in local government affects police activity and scrutiny in a given community. We use a new dataset comprised of over 79 municipal police departments spanning 6 states, based on tens of millions of individual-level traffic stops. In cities and towns with majority-black city councils, traffic stops are less likely to result in a search. This decline in search rates affects both white and black drivers, though the decline is larger for black drivers. Even after controlling for socioeconomic factors, segregation, and crime rates, descriptive representation still matters. A city council composed of a majority of black members is associated with important differences in policing, affecting both white and black residents.

(2020) At the intersection: Race, gender, and discretion in police traffic stop outcomes, Journal of Race Ethnicity and Politics

Racial disparities in traffic stop outcomes are widespread and well documented. Less well understood is how racial disparities may be amplified or muted in different contexts. Here we focus on one such situational factor: whether the initial traffic stop was related to a traffic safety violation or a (broadly defined) investigatory purpose. This is a salient contextual characteristic as stop type relates to different levels of assumed discretion and purpose. While all traffic stops involve some officer discretion, investigatory stops are more easily used as justifications to conduct a search based on an officer's diffuse suspicion; traffic safety stops are more often just what they seem. Using millions of traffic stops from several states, we show that black male drivers are more likely to be searched and less likely to be found with contraband and that this relationship is amplified where the initial stop purpose is investigatory. One implication of this is that one path to alleviating disparities in traffic stops for agencies is emphasizing traffic safety, rather than using stops as a supplemental investigatory tool.

(2020) Race, Place, and Context: The Persistence of Race Effects in Traffic Stop Outcomes in the Face of Situational, Demographic, and Political Controls, Journal of Race Ethnicity and Politics

Evidence that racial minorities are targeted for searches during police traffic stops is widespread, but observed differences in outcomes following a traffic stop between white drivers and people of color could potentially be due to factors correlated with driver race. Using a unique dataset recording over 5 million traffic stops from 90 municipal police departments, we control for and evaluate alternative explanations for why a driver may be searched. These include: (1) the context of the stop itself, (2) the characteristics of the police department including the race of the police chief, and (3) demographic and racial composition of the municipality within which the stop occurs. We find that the driver's race remains a robust predictor: black male drivers are consistently subjected to more intensive police scrutiny than white drivers. Additionally, we find that all drivers are less likely to be subject to highly discretionary searches if the police chief is black. Together, these findings indicate that race matters in multiple and varied ways for policing outcomes.

(2020) Fines, Fees, Forfeitures, and Disparities: A Link Between Municipal Reliance on Fines and Racial Disparities in Policing, Policy Studies Journal

We investigate a possible linkage between municipal reliance on fines, fees, and forfeitures as a revenue source and policing behavior. With a dataset of four million traffic stops made by North Carolina municipalities, we demonstrate that a regular reliance on fines, fees, and forfeitures has powerful, predictable, and racially distinct impacts on black and white drivers, and that fiscal stress exacerbates these differences. A greater regular reliance on fines, fees, and forfeitures is linked to a decrease in the probability of white, but not black, drivers being searched; and increased odds of finding contraband among those white drivers who are searched, but no such change for black drivers. We validate the North Carolina tests with aggregate analyses of municipalities across four states.

(2020) Intersectional stereotyping in policing: an analysis of traffic stop outcomes, Politics Groups and Identities

Identity-based stereotyping often operates on perceptions about the intersection of multiple identities. Intersectional stereotyping predicts that certain combinations of attributes lend themselves more readily to perceived suspicion than others. In this paper, I test the way that suspicion-evoking stereotypes affect police-citizen interactions. Through the use of traffic stop data from Illinois spanning ten years and amounting to more than 20 million observations, I am able to produce accurate estimates for the relative degree of targeting that individual drivers face based on their racial, gender, age, and class-based perceived identities. Overall, I find both theoretical and methodological support for the necessity of intersectional analyses of identity-based profiling.