Within American Politics, my work straddles public policy and political behavior. Overall, this work falls into three broad research streams: representation and public opinion; voting behavior; and public policy with a focus on environmental and energy politics. In environmental policy, I research renewable energy, climate change, water and chemicals policy. For more information about my ongoing research on environmental policy, visit the Energy and Environmental Transitions Lab (ENVENT) website.
Representation and public opinion
I have several ongoing and completed projects that examine representation and public opinion. In a paper at the American Political Science Review (APSR), my co-authors and I examine how the representation process works in practice. Using an original survey of senior staffers in Congress—Chiefs of Staff and Legislative Directors—we examine how well this elected branch understands the public’s preferences. We find that staff systematically mis-estimate constituent opinions. We then evaluate the sources of these misperceptions, using observational analyses and two survey experiments. Staffers who rely more heavily on conservative and business interest groups for policy information have more skewed perceptions of constituent opinion.
This paper has resulted in several additional research projects. In 2017, we fielded a larger survey at the state-level with state legislators and staffers across the country. This research replicated our federal results at the state-level, and provided new data to evaluate the effect of interest group contact on elite perceptions of public opinion. We aim to similarly publish these state-level research findings at a top journal. In a third related paper, we added to our survey data by conducting interviews with senior Congressional staff. This paper unpacks how staff use public opinion and citizen contact in the legislative process. Building on Fenno’s research, we find that staffers pay particular attention to certain constituents’ opinions and interest groups. The paper will be under review at a top political science journal this fall.
In addition, I have several published papers that look substantively at public opinion related to energy and environmental issues. In a paper at Nature Energy (impact factor: 46.870), Chris Warshaw and I used a survey experiment to examine how different policy designs and frames would influence public support for renewable energy laws. In a paper at PLOS ONE, my co-authors and I estimated public opinion on climate change at electoral districts across North America, finding much higher support in most of Canada compared to the United States.
Several of my past and ongoing research projects examine voting behavior. In a solo-authored paper published at the American Journal of Political Science (AJPS), I relied on a natural experiment and an instrumental variable approach to examine how local resistance to divisive facilities—with broad public benefits and local costs—affected a general election. In this paper, I was able to estimate the electoral effects of the Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) effect and its geographic scale. I found electoral losses for the incumbent party ranging from 4 to 10%, showing the effect persisted for 3 km from the divisive facilities. I also demonstrated that voters were informed, only punishing the government responsible for the policy. I concluded that the spatial distribution of citizens’ policy preferences can affect democratic accountability through ‘spatially distorted signaling.’
In a paper published at British Journal of Political Science (BJPS), I used an original panel data of five waves of elections to examine the impact of internet voting on elections. My co-author and I found that in Ontario, Canada local elections, internet voting can increase turnout by 3.5 p.p. We found even larger increases when vote by mail was not yet adopted and greater use when registration was not required. Our estimates suggested that internet voting is unlikely to solve the low turnout crisis; they imply that cost-of-voting arguments do not fully account for recent turnout declines. This research is relevant to the United States, since internet voting is used for some forms of absentee ballots in 22 states. This research has had an impact in Canada—I presented findings to a Canadian minister as part of the federal government’s electoral reform process and wrote up the findings for municipal electoral clerks in The Municipal Monitor.
I also have several ongoing projects on voting behavior. In May 2017, I ran a large-scale field experiment on deep canvassing with environmental activists. This work sought to replicate experimental findings by Broockman and Kalla in the transgendered rights domain to environmental issues. We did not find an effect of intensive issue-based conversations on voter turnout or policy preferences, but did find that GOTV efforts with high-propensity voters in Canada can drive more significant changes in voter turnout than efforts targeted at lower propensity voters. More broadly, this field experiment laid the foundation for an experimental research agenda on strategic voting that I am currently developing. I am partnered with the same groups to run several field experiments related to electoral reform this fall.
Public policy with a focus on energy and environmental politics
I conduct research on environmental policy and politics. Substantively, my work focuses on renewable energy policy and politics, climate change policy and politics, water policy and chemicals policy.
Over the past several years, I have been writing a book, Short Circuiting Policy: Organized Interests and the Erosion of State Renewable Energy Laws, which is currently under contract at Oxford. University Press. In this project, I take an historical institutionalist approach, examining energy policies and politics over several decades to understand why US states are not on track to meet the climate challenge. I argue organized combat between advocate and opponent interest groups is central to explaining why US states have stopped expanding—and even started weakening—their renewable energy policies. Contributing to policy feedback theory, I show how policies can first shift politics and, then, how political actors respond by reshaping policy. I argue that different political dynamics unfold over policymaking and after the reform. During enactment, ambiguity and complexity can enable reforms to be passed that vested opponent interest groups would otherwise resist. Overtime, working through networks—including associations and federations—interest groups can learn about policies’ likely consequences and increase their resistance. In addition, I show how policy feedback pathways can flow both directly and indirectly from politics back to policy. Partisan polarization and public opinion are both important indirect levers that interest groups can use to reshape policy after a reform. I aim to publish this book in a top university press focused on American Politics. While the project looks and energy policy, it also aims to generalize to other policy domains.
In addition, I have several ongoing and completed projects on energy policy, with a particular focus on renewable energy. In a paper at Business and Politics, I argue that economists and engineers need to incorporate policy and politics into their understanding of innovation in low-carbon technology sources. In a paper at Energy Policy, I trace a political history of renewable energy laws in the United States. My coauthor and I examined the historical trajectory of policies supporting solar, wind, biofuels and electric vehicles at both the state and federal level. For each technology, we undertook two policy case studies. Examining this wide range of policies over the past several decades, we found a number of important political dynamics: immature technology is underestimated or misunderstood; large energy bills provide windows of opportunity for enactment; once enacted, policies are extended incrementally; there is increasing politicization as mature technology threatens incumbents. Given its far-reaching coverage of public policy including different technologies and policies, I expect that this article will be widely read and cited.
I have also spent the past three years mapping political resistance and wind energy across the United States. This project involves web-scrapping and coding newspaper data on anti-wind actions and tying these events to specific wind energy projects. It is an ambitious data collection effort that I hope will result in prediction of where anti-wind actions are likely to occur and how to mitigate them. I plan to publish this research in a top broad interest journal.
Through several grants, I have also been working to understand public policy effectiveness related to the drought in California. Over the past three years, I have been gathering an original monthly dataset of all urban water districts in California. To date, my research has shown that increasing water prices does not drive conservation. Instead, other strategies, including relying on social norms, are more effective. I am also fielding a related public opinion survey to understand how individuals have responded to water policy in their districts. Together, I aim to publish this research in a top broad interest journal and disseminate the findings in Sacramento to improve water management in the state, particularly given climate change’s present and future impacts on water scarcity.