Can the Government Deter Discrimination? Evidence from a Randomized Intervention in New York City with Andrew M. Guess and Macartan Humphreys. Forthcoming, The Journal of Politics.

Local PDFOnline AppendixReplication ArchiveAbstract

Racial discrimination persists despite established anti-discrimination laws. A common government strategy to deter discrimination is to publicize the law and communicate potential penalties for violations. We study this strategy by coupling an audit experiment with a randomized intervention involving nearly 700 landlords in New York City and report the first causal estimates of the effect on rental discrimination against Blacks and Hispanics of a targeted government messaging campaign. We uncover discrimination levels higher than prior estimates indicate, especially against Hispanics, who are approximately six percentage points less likely to receive callbacks and offers than whites. We find suggestive evidence that government messaging can reduce discrimination against Hispanics, but not against Blacks. The findings confirm discrimination’s persistence and suggest that government messaging can address it in some settings, but more work is needed to understand the contexts under which such appeals are most effective.


The Comparative Effectiveness on Turnout of Positively versus Negatively Framed Descriptive Norms in Mobilization Campaigns with Alan S. Gerber, Gregory A. Huber, and Catlan E. Reardon. Forthcoming, American Politics Research.

Journal PDFLocal PDFOnline AppendixAbstract

Are mobilization appeals that include information about descriptive voting norms more effective at increasing turnout when the descriptive norm is framed positively (by highlighting a referent’s desirable behavior and encouraging consistent behavior) instead of negatively (by highlighting a referent’s lack of desirable behavior as problematic but also encouraging that behavior)? Few published studies have experimentally assessed this question and yield mixed results. We address the need for additional replication by designing and analyzing data from two field experiments conducted across four states in the 2014 primary and general elections. We find no differential effects on turnout of framing descriptive voting norms positively or negatively. The results are not sensitive to election context, the mode of treatment delivery, or whether the descriptive norm appeals involve a group or self referent. Additional research is needed to understand the conditions under which positive versus negative descriptive norm framing has distinguishable effects on turnout.


Do Subtle Linguistic Interventions Priming a Social Identity as a Voter Have Outsized Effects on Voter Turnout? Evidence from a New Replication Experiment. with Alan S. Gerber and Gregory A. Huber. 2018. Political Psychology. 39(4): 925-938

Journal PDFLocal PDFOnline AppendixAbstract

An ongoing debate in political psychology is about whether small wording differences have outsized behavioral effects. A leading example is whether subtle linguistic cues embedded in voter mobilization messages dramatically increase turnout. An initial study analyzing two small-scale field experiments argued that describing someone as a voter (noun) instead of one who votes (verb) increases turnout rates 11 to 14 points because the noun activates a person’s social identity as a voter. A subsequent study analyzing a large-scale field experiment challenged this claim and found no effect. But questions about the initial claim’s domain of applicability persist. The subsequent study may not have reproduced the conditions necessary for the psychological phenomenon to occur, specifically the electoral contexts were not competitive or important enough for the social identity to matter. To address the first of these critiques, as well as other potential explanations for different results between the first two studies, we conduct a large-scale replication field experiment. We find no evidence that this minor wording change increases turnout levels. This research provides new evidence that the strategy of invoking the self does not appear to consistently increase turnout and calls into question whether subtle linguistic cues have outsized behavioral effects.


Nongovernmental Campaign Communication Providing Ballot Secrecy Assurances Increases Turnout: Results from Two Large-Scale Experiments. with Alan S. Gerber, Gregory A. Huber, and Andrew Gooch. 2018. Political Science Research and Methods. 6(3): 613-624

Journal PDFLocal PDFOnline AppendixReplication ArchiveAbstract

Doubts about the integrity of ballot secrecy persist and depress political participation among the American public. Prior experiments have shown that official communications directly addressing these doubts increase turnout among registered voters who had not previously voted, but evaluations of similar messages sent by non-governmental campaigns have yielded only suggestive effects. We build on past research and analyze two large-scale field experiments where a private non-partisan non-profit group sought to increase turnout by communicating ballot secrecy assurances in a direct mail voter mobilization campaign during the 2014 midterm election. Our main finding is that a private group’s mailing increases turnout by about 1 percentage point among registered nonvoters. This finding is precisely estimated and robust across state political contexts.


The Effect on Turnout of Campaign Mobilization Messages Addressing Ballot Secrecy Concerns: A Replication Experiment. with Alan S. Gerber, Gregory A. Huber, and Catlan E. Reardon. 2017. PLOS ONE. 12(8): e0182199.

Journal PDFLocal PDFOnline AppendixReplication ArchiveAbstract

Given the persistence of public doubts about the integrity of ballot secrecy, which depress turnout, two prior experiments have shown precise evidence that both official governmental and unofficial mobilization campaigns providing assurances about ballot secrecy increase turnout among recently registered nonvoters. To assess whether these findings replicate in other political settings, we describe a replication experiment where a non-governmental, non-partisan mobilization campaign sent similar treatment mailings containing assurances about ballot secrecy protections to recently registered nonvoters during the 2014 general election in Mississippi. We find that sending this mailer has no effect on turnout rates in this setting, which is characterized by an unusually low baseline turnout rate. These results are consistent with past research concluding that nonpartisan Get Out The Vote (GOTV) mail has very weak effects among very low turnout propensity registrants, and suggest that there are heterogeneous effects of ballot secrecy treatments associated with subjects’ characteristics and the electoral context.


The Generalizability of Social Pressure Effects on Turnout Across High-Salience Electoral Contexts: Field Experimental Evidence from 1.96 Million Citizens in 17 States. with Alan S. Gerber, Gregory A. Huber, and Andrew Gooch. 2017. American Politics Research. 45(4): 533-559.

Journal PDFLocal PDFOnline AppendixReplication ArchiveAbstract

Prior experiments show that campaign communications revealing subjects’ past turnout and applying social pressure to vote (the “Self” treatment) increase turnout. However, nearly all existing studies are conducted in low salience elections, raising concerns that published findings are not generalizable and are an artifact of sample selection and publication bias. Addressing the need for further replication in high salience elections, we analyze a field experiment involving 1.96 million subjects where a nonpartisan campaign randomly sent Self treatment mailers, containing a subject’s vote history and a comparison of each subject’s history to their state median registrant’s turnout behavior, in high salience elections across 17 states in 2014. Sending the Self mailer increases turnout by 0.7 points, or 2.2%. This effect is largely consistent across states, with somewhat larger effects observed in states with lower ex ante election salience. Our study provides precise evidence that social pressure effects on turnout are generalizable.

Working Papers and Manuscripts in Preparation

How Racial Minorities Evaluate Trade-offs between Descriptive and Partisan Representation


Despite the alignment between racial minorities and the Democratic Party, racial minorities often confront tensions between their racial and partisan group interests. How do cross-pressured minorities navigate such trade-offs? Examining the case of racial redistricting using original data from a nationally representative survey of over 2,400 Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans, I designed a novel experiment to assess how minorities evaluate trade-offs between their preferences for descriptive racial and Democratic representation that potentially arise when creating majority-minority districts. I find that cross-pressured minorities perceive decreasing returns in the number of costly majority-minority districts and instrumentally view Democratic (Republican) legislative majorities as beneficial (harmful) to their welfare. These results inform broader questions about how individuals with multiple political group identities evaluate trade-offs involving competing group interests, and shed light on how cross-pressured minorities navigate conflicts between their racial and partisan interests to form political preferences in a racially polarized party system.


Electoral Competition and Racial Minorities’ Demand for Accountable Symbolic Representatives


Do racial minorities punish co-racial representatives for bad behavior in office? Analyzing an original experiment conducted with over 1,600 Black, Latinx, and Asian American subjects, I find that racial minorities want their unchallenged descriptive representative to face electoral competition from co-partisan primary challengers when she engages in bad behavior. I also find that when a descriptive representative faces a co-partisan primary challenger, minority voters’ in-group bias for their co-racial representative is effectively erased when she engages in bad behavior. These results challenge conventional accounts of minority voters as blind cheerleaders for co-racial politicians and illuminate the conditions under which minority voters demand accountability from their symbolic representatives.


Perceived Bureaucratic Bias and the Psychology of Civil Rights Mobilization


Do expectations of bureaucratic bias affect whether citizens decide to make claims on the state? Building on the notion of racialized and gendered partisanship, I argue that partisans employ the party controlling the bureaucracy as a key heuristic to infer the degree of group-specific bias in government, and that these inferences affect their likelihood of making claims on the state in raced and gendered policy domains. I test this theory in the context of minority decision-making about civil rights mobilization conditional on experiencing discrimination. Analyzing data from a novel survey experiment fielded on a large sample of over 4,000 subjects, including oversamples of Blacks, Latinxs, Asian Americans, and women, I find that racial minorities and women who are Democrats employ such a heuristic and state they are less likely to file formal racial and sex discrimination complaints, respectively, with a governmental fair employment agency when the agency is controlled by Republicans instead of Democrats. Moreover, white Republicans and Republican men are more likely to claim reverse racism and sexism and state they are more likely to file complaints when the agency is under Republican control. These results shed new light on the channels through which partisan and social identities interact with partisan contexts to affect the politics of enforcing anti-discrimination laws and citizen-state interactions.


Perceptions of Deservingness and the Politicization of Social Insurance: Evidence from Disability Insurance in the United States with Gregory A. Huber. (under review)

Local PDFOnline AppendixAbstract

Concerns about the deservingness of policy beneficiaries appear to explain skepticism about redistributive social assistance programs. Many social insurance programs, despite requiring beneficiaries to pay in ahead of time, require discretionary evaluations of the merits of claims for benefits. Do perceptions of deservingness also affect attitudes toward these discretionary social insurance programs? Examining the politics of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a program whose size and beneficiaries have been increasingly politicized, we investigate these questions by analyzing novel survey data and two experiments conducted on national surveys. We show that people use information about a beneficiary’s eligibility-determining medical impairment as a cue to infer their deservingness. Moreover, support for SSDI is responsive to policy arguments emphasizing the program’s social insurance features and potential abuse. Our findings demonstrate important psychological processes relevant to the contemporary politicization of social insurance programs involving discretionary eligibility rules.


Perceptions of Program Abuse and Support for Social Insurance with Scott E. Bokemper and Gregory A. Huber. (under review)

Local PDFOnline AppendixAbstract

Do perceptions of abuse in public social insurance programs undercut program support? Answering this causal question is difficult because perceptions of program abuse can arise from multiple potential causes including prior opposition to the program. Examining the case of disability insurance, we circumvent these challenges using multiple laboratory experiments involving a novel simulated political economy to study the interplay between labor market shocks, program abuse, perceptions of abuse, and preferences for benefit levels. We find that negative labor market shocks that preclude injured workers from returning to work at their pre-injury wage upon recovery increases the probability of staying on disability instead of working at a lower-wage job despite being healthy. Further, when benefits are costly, learning about program abuse causes workers unaffected by labor market shocks to prefer lower benefit levels. Our results demonstrate an important channel by which shocks to market employment diminish support for government social insurance.


The Effect of Electing Minority Legislators on Substantive Minority Representation: New Evidence from Close U.S. State Legislative Elections

Other Writing

10 Things You Need to Know About Heterogeneous Treatment Effects. 2017. EGAP Methods Guide.