It has been said that members of Congress have three decisions to make: how to vote, how active to be, and what issues to prioritize (Hall 1996). I argue that another key decision is how to communicate what they are doing. As Fenno (1978) noted, political scientists must pay attention not just to members' activities but also how they explain their activities. The papers in my dissertation do just that, with a particular eye towards how these patterns of communication affect the quality of representation citizens receive.
My first paper explores the idea that quality representation requires members to change as their districts' change. Scholars have long thought members prioritize the goal re-election by accommodating district preferences. But other goals--such as achieving congressional power and seniority or crafting good public policy--may also drive members. Few have investigated how the tension between these goals plays out in actual legislative behavior. I capitalize on exogenous changes in the composition of districts to empirically evaluate how members respond when their district changes. Specifically, do members’ engagement with military issues change when their district gains or loses a base?
After collecting data on base personnel as well as the history of base closures by the Department of Defense over the last forty years, I find clear evidence that behavior within the chamber does not change as a consequence of the rise or fall of military presence in a district. These results are consistent across a range of behavioral measures, such as committee service, bill sponsorship, and roll call votes. However, members’ communication with their constituents--measured by e-mail communications with supporters--does change. I evaluate this using data from more than 9,000 emails sent to constituents before and after the 2010 redistricting. Members who gain bases are more likely to emphasize military issues in their emails than they were prior to the redistricting, while those who lose bases reduce their mentions of military-related subjects. This final result highlights a disconnect in the relationship between members and their constituents, with members possibly concealing how they allocate their efforts in Congress.
My second paper evaluates Fenno's HomeStyle observation that members of Congress bond with their districts by criticizing Congress. If true, this would represent an understudied valence issue that distracts voters from focusing on selecting qualified candidates who will most closely represent their interests in Congress. Additionally, Fenno and others--including several members of Congress--claim that congressional criticism has a major influence on how the public views the legislature. I evaluate these claims using both observational data on political advertisements and an original survey experiment. Contrary to Fenno's observations, I find members are quite unlikely to criticize Congress and that doing so has virtually no impact on people's attitudes toward the candidate critiquing Congress nor toward Congress itself. I do find, though, that making statements in support of Congress is detrimental to members' re-election prospects.
My final paper evaluates the use of what I have termed “reverse endorsements,” and the extent to which such endorsements may obscure members’ records. While political candidates can benefit from explicit endorsements from partisan or statewide leaders, it may be difficult to secure these endorsements. As an alternative, a member interested in emphasizing his partisan connections can tell his constituents about events attended or bills cosponsored with well-known party leaders. This is an important and as yet unstudied means for members of Congress to emphasize particular positions and values their constituents might prize. I am fielding a survey experiment to show whether reverse endorsements are effective at changing respondents’ opinions about members who use them. Then, with a database of nearly 40,000 email messages sent by members to their supporters between 2008 and 2012, I will determine how the frequency and type of reverse endorsements change over time, particularly in the lead-up to elections.
“Representing Their Former District: Do Members Do It and Do They Admit It?”
"Talking about Congress: The Limited Effect of Congressional Advertising on Congressional Approval." (Under review)
"Racial Threat in School Districts? Impact of Hispanic Population on Approval of School Tax Measure." (Under review)
"Achieving Efficiency without Losing Accuracy: Strategies for Scale Reduction." With Adam Berinsky, Yue Hou, and Cindy Kam. (Under review)
“Voter Partisanship and the Incumbency Advantage in the U.S. Senate.” With Christopher Warshaw.
"Explaining Unequal Participation: The Differential Effects of Winter Temperatures on Voter Turnout." With David Hyun-Saeng Jae.
“Holes in the Screen: Experimental Evidence That Party ID Does Not Bias Perceptions of New Information.” With Adam Berinsky, Gabriel Lenz, Michele Margolis, and Mike Sances.
- Superfund: Litigation Has Decreased and EPA Needs Better Information on Site Cleanup and Cost Issues to Estimate Future Program Funding Requirements, GAO-09-656 (Washington, DC: July 15, 2009).
- Superfund: Funding and Reported Costs of Enforcement and Administration Activities, GAO-08-841R (Washington, DC: July 18, 2008).
- Clean Water: Further Implementation and Better Cost Data Needed to Determine Impact of EPA’s Storm Water Program on Communities, GAO-07-479 (Washington, DC: May 31, 2007).
- 2010 Census: Census Bureau Should Refine Recruiting and Hiring Efforts and Enhance Training of Temporary Field Staff, GAO-07-361 (Washington, DC: April 27, 2007).
- No Child Left Behind Act: Education Assistance Could Help States Better Measure Progress of Students with Limited English Proficiency, GAO-07-646T (Washington, DC: March 23, 2007).
- 2010 Census: Redesigned Approach Holds Promise, but Census Bureau Needs to Annually Develop and Provide a Comprehensive Project Plan to Monitor Costs, GAO-06-1009T (Washington, DC: July 27, 2006).
- No Child Left Behind Act: Assistance from Education Could Help States Better Measure Progress of Students with Limited English Proficiency, GAO-06-815 (Washington, DC: July 26, 2006).
- 2010 Census: Costs and Risks Must be Closely Monitored and Evaluated with Mitigation Plans in Place, GAO-06-822T (Washington, DC: June 6, 2006).
- Clean Water Act: Improved Resource Planning Would Help EPA Better Respond to Changing Needs and Fiscal Constraints, GAO-05-721 (Washington, DC: July 22, 2005).
“Attitudes of Young People Toward Diversity.” With Michael Olander and Emily Hoban Kirby. Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. College Park, MD: February 2005.
"The Bridge to Excellence Act: Creating a Thorough & Efficient Educational System for Maryland's Children,” Maryland Department of Education. Baltimore, MD: December 2003.