My research focuses on how individuals’ attitudes and behavior regarding racial politics and interracial relations are shaped by their social identities and political contexts. I explore these relationships in two domains central to modern-day American racial politics and public policy: (1) how descriptive representation distinctly matters, independently from partisan representation, as a strategy to advance racial representation when party and race are correlated, and (2) the conditions under which government and social interventions to reduce racial prejudice and discrimination are effective and why.
How Descriptive Representation Matters for Racial Representation
Party and race are highly correlated in the modern-day American political system where the two major political parties are polarized both ideologically and racially. Scholars have shown that this holds not only for Blacks but increasingly also for Latinos and Asians as well. In this context, there is need to interrogate canonical theories about the political importance of descriptive representation as a strategy to advance racial representation. The first stream of my research program addresses this need by examining the conditions under which descriptive representation uniquely matters – above and beyond partisan representation – to advance the representational goals of underrepresented racial minority groups.
Specifically, this line of research contributes to two ongoing debates in the study of descriptive representation, specifically about its demand and its effects.
First, I study the political demand for descriptive representation and challenge the argument that descriptive representation is paramount to racial minorities, even at the expense of other welfare-improving forms of representation. In my writing sample, I develop and experimentally test theoretical expectations about how voters evaluate aggregate-level trade-offs between descriptive and partisan representation in the context of racial redistricting. Among citizens who want to elect more minorities and more Democrats and therefore face this trade-off, I find that preferences for descriptive representation do not strictly dominate preferences for partisan representation. Moreover, despite expectations in the literature that the demand for descriptive minority representation is stronger for minorities than for whites, minorities and whites who face a trade-off do not differ in their trade-off evaluations after controlling for baseline preferences. Most importantly, I find that among those facing this trade-off, preferences for Democratic legislative control dominate preferences for marginal gains in descriptive representation. These findings demonstrate that mass demand for descriptive representation is conditional and corroborate a burgeoning body of observational research arguing that partisan preferences are central to racial representation in modern-day American politics when the two major parties are racially polarized.
To build on this work, I am currently developing a book project tentatively entitled “The Strategic and Symbolic Politics of Racial Representation,” which examines how minorities form preferences over conflicting symbolic and instrumental strategies to advance racial representation across a range of political contexts—including racial redistricting, candidate selection in party primaries, elite messaging strategies, and policymaking—and the implications of these mass preferences for both racial politics and party politics in the United States.
Second, my research on the policy effects of descriptive representation engages empirical debates about whether descriptive representation matters for substantive representation above and beyond Democratic representation. In a paper extending my dissertation research, I use original data on primary election returns and legislative behavior in state legislative districts from 1998-2012 to compare the legislative behavior of Latino Democrats and counterfactual non-Latino Democrats who take office after winning close primary elections in safe districts. While both groups behave similarly in terms of their roll call voting behavior on Latino-interest bills, I find that Latino Democrats sponsor more pro-Latino policy bills than non-Latino Democrats from otherwise similar districts. These findings suggest that in a context where Democratic representation is generally considered a proxy for racial representation, electing racial minority legislators continues to matter to ensure that minority policy priorities are included on legislative agendas across the U.S. states.
The Politics of Discrimination and Intergroup Relations
My second stream of research studies the conditions under which government and social interventions designed to reduce racial prejudice and discrimination are effective and why, and explores implications for the political economy of race and the development of racial orders.
In an innovative, large-scale field experiment joint with Macartan Humphreys (Columbia) and Andrew Guess (Princeton) that was funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and is conditionally accepted for publication at The Journal of Politics, we conduct the first experimental test in the literature of the effectiveness of government appeals to comply with fair housing law on racial discrimination levels in the New York City rental market. We find strong descriptive evidence of discrimination against Hispanics and suggestive evidence of discrimination against Blacks. Our main experimental findings reveal the limits of a common government strategy to combat discrimination. Government messaging that directly targets landlords and brokers and that communicates the costs of violating the law reduces discrimination against Hispanics, but not against Blacks. In follow-on work, we are exploring opportunities to replicate the design in other political and policy enforcement contexts.
My other current projects in this research stream more broadly investigate the political and economic conditions under which efforts to reduce racial prejudice and discrimination are effective. In an ongoing solo-authored experiment, I explore this question from the vantage of perceived targets of discrimination and study how political and institutional contexts affect the decision of aggrieved individuals to initiate the enforcement of anti-discrimination policies and laws. Additional projects examine how selection into racialized information environments conditions the effect of anti-racist persuasion campaigns on racial political and policy attitudes, as well as the conditions under which normative appeals from political referents are effective at reducing discrimination.
Experimental Methods with Applications to Political Behavior and Public Opinion
Beyond these two research streams anchoring my research agenda, I also have a deep interest in the application of experimental methods and causal inference to answer substantive questions in political behavior and political psychology. This interest has led to a productive line of collaborative side projects (with Alan Gerber and Greg Huber) studying topics such as the heuristics used by the public when forming attitudes about politicized social insurance programs, whether subtle linguistic cues and framing strategies are effective at motivating political participation, and the reproducibility and generalizability of mobilization effects across electoral contexts and populations.
I also conduct research on methodological challenges to inference in experimental and observational studies. These ongoing projects have grown out of challenges that have arisen in my own work, and include assessing the properties of Bayesian estimators of principal causal effects in experiments facing partial compliance, extending the principal stratification framework to estimate heterogeneous treatment effects by subjects’ potential responses to treatment on secondary outcomes, and exploring challenges to inference in observational studies of immigration shocks on destination-side political outcomes.