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Audit studies typically involve researchers sending a message to or making a request of some sample in order to unobtrusively measure subjects’ behaviors. These studies are often conducted as a way of measuring bias or discrimination. We introduce readers to audit studies, describe their basic design features, and then provide advice on effectively implementing these studies. In particular, we provide several suggestions aimed at improving the internal, ecological, and external validity of audit study findings.
Chapter 4 explores which voters – general election voters, primary voters, or campaign donors – legislators fear will punish them for compromise. In-person surveys of state legislators confirm that legislators mostly fear punishment from primary voters. Legislators believe that primary voters would prefer that legislators vote to kill compromise bills, worry that these primary voters would punish them if they supported such legislation, and act in response to this concern. Beyond the patterns in surveys of state legislators, congressional roll call votes from 2011 to 2015 show that greater Tea Party support in a district predicted an increased likelihood that Republican House members voted against compromise bills. Together, these results highlight how legislators’ concerns about how primary voters respond to compromise can dissuade legislators from compromising.
Chapter 5 tests whether legislators are accurate in their belief that primary voters are likely to punish them for compromising. Results from a survey experiment suggest that most voters, even most primary voters, reward legislators for making compromises. However, co-partisan primary voters who oppose compromise on a specific issue are willing to punish legislators who vote for the compromise. Although legislators may benefit electorally from supporting compromise, especially in the general election, they have reason to be cautious on compromise bills to avoid voter backlash from subsets of the politically active primary electorate. Just because the subset of voters who punish legislators for compromising is small does not mean it cannot be consequential – a small subset can mobilize a strong challenger, paint a legislators’ behavior as problematic in the eyes of less informed voters, or vote on the basis of a single important vote. Moreover, across many compromise votes a legislator may face, the small groups of voters who oppose each compromise might, when added together, represent a decisive portion of the primary electorate.
Why do legislators sometimes reject compromises that seem within reach and are closer to their preferred policy? Chapter 3 tests various explanations for legislators’ rejection of compromise and presents evidence that the belief that voters are very likely to punish state legislators for compromising reduces legislators’ likelihood of voting for a given compromise proposal by 21 percent. We find a similar effect among local elected officials. This demonstrates the importance of legislators’ views of their constituents and the role that fear of voter punishment plays in the rejection of compromises.
Chapter 7 discusses how to balance representation and accountability with processes that might better insulate legislators from their electoral fear as they seek to negotiate compromises. Ensuring that the public is knowledgeable about elected officials’ decisions is an important facet of democratic accountability. Yet the watchful eye of primary voters may also deter legislators from considering reasonable compromises. Chapter 7 discusses how to balance these two considerations and discusses whether communication with constituents can facilitate compromise. Our findings, as well as the comments from state legislators at the 2017 NCSL Summit, emphasize the importance of communication between legislators and their constituents – explaining the legislative process, justifying choices, and developing a home style that cultivates trust. With greater communication and building of trust, legislators may have leeway to insulate portions of the legislative process from public scrutiny, helping them reach compromises and overcome gridlock to solve pressing problems.
Chapter 6 explores reforms that might improve the likelihood of achieving compromise solutions. It tests two different approaches to negotiation with in-person survey experiments at the National Conference of State Legislatures annual Legislative Summits in 2016 and 2017. In one of those experiments, legislators indicate that they are more likely to achieve compromise by negotiating in private (even as they express some trepidation about meeting in private). This suggests that private negotiations might make compromise easier to achieve.
Do a large fraction of legislators reject compromises, even when the compromise moves policy toward their preferred outcome? This chapter uses surveys of state legislators and elected city officials to assess what fraction of officials reject half-loaf compromises that give them some, but not all of what they seek on policy. Nearly a quarter of state legislators say they would reject a proposal that moves the gas tax toward their preferred outcome. Legislators’ rejection of half-loaf compromises exacerbates the difficulties of solving problems in a political environment polarized along ideological lines.
This chapter illustrates how legislators sometimes reject compromise proposals with an example of legislation on public lands management in Utah. Despite broad support for the bill, which was viewed as a compromise solution to increase protection for the San Rafael Swell area, it had detractors who felt it did not go far enough. The failure of the San Rafael Swell National Conservation Area legislation shows that legislators sometimes reject half-loaf compromises in pursuit of getting everything they want. This book takes a problem-oriented approach by examining why legislators reject half-loaf compromises and what can be done about it. This chapter summarizes the varied methods we used to understand the rejection of compromise, our findings that legislators fear punishment for compromise from subsets of the primary election who oppose particular compromises, and our contributions to solving this problem
Legislative solutions to pressing problems like balancing the budget, climate change, and poverty usually require compromise. Yet national, state, and local legislators often reject compromise proposals that would move policy in their preferred direction. Why do legislators reject such agreements? This engaging and relevant investigation into how politicians think reveals that legislators refuse compromise - and exacerbate gridlock - because they fear punishment from voters in primary elections. Prioritizing these electoral interests can lead lawmakers to act in ways that hurt their policy interests and also overlook the broader electorate's preferences by representing only a subset of voters with rigid positions. With their solution-oriented approach, Anderson, Butler, and Harbridge-Yong demonstrate that improving the likelihood of legislative compromise may require moving negotiations outside of the public spotlight. Highlighting key electoral motives underlying polarization, this book is an excellent resource for scholars and students studying Congress, American politics, public policy, and political behavior.
We test whether politicians’ communications shape their supporters’ policy priorities by conducting a field experiment in collaboration with several local elected officials. In the experiment, the officials sent out email messages to the constituents on their distribution lists. Half the constituents received messages where the official advocated for the priority of a given issue, while the other half received a placebo email. We surveyed the constituents one to two months before the message went out and again the week after the official sent the message. The experiment shows that politicians did not change citizens’ priorities in the desired direction. Moreover, citizens who received a message where the official indicated the issue was a priority were not more likely to act when invited to sign a petition on the issue. Elected officials’ ability to shape the priorities of the politically active citizens with whom they regularly communicate is limited and can even be self-defeating.
Incentivized experiments are frequently used to learn about individuals’ social, political, and economic behavior. However, public officials and other individuals are sometimes barred from accepting payment for anything related to their position, so money cannot be used in experiments (e.g., Butler and Kousser 2015). We assess whether donations to charity can be used to incentivize public officials, as an alternative to traditional monetary inducements.
This paper discusses how audit studies can be adapted to test the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing discrimination. We conducted an adapted audit experiment to test whether making officials aware of bias could reduce levels of racial bias. While the limitations of our design make it difficult to assess where information alone can reduce bias, our study makes two important contributions. First, we replicate prior studies by showing that white, local elected officials are less responsive to black constituents. That local officials exhibit biased behavior is particularly worrisome, as local government is often the level that most directly affects citizens’ daily lives. Second, we provide several suggestions for future audit studies that draw from the strengths and weaknesses of our own design. We hope that they will help improve future work on identifying and reducing discrimination.