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Major crises can threaten political regimes by empowering demagogues and promoting authoritarian rule. While existing research argues that national emergencies weaken formal checks on executive authority and increase public appetites for strong leadership, no research evaluates whether crises increase mass support for the president’s institutional authority. We study this question in the context of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic with an experiment embedded in a national survey of more than 8,000 U.S. adults. We find no evidence that the public evaluated policies differently if they were implemented via unilateral power rather than through the legislative process, nor did the severity of the pandemic at either the state, local, or individual levels moderate evaluations of executive power. Instead, individuals’ partisan and ideological views were consistently strong predictors of policy attitudes. Perhaps paradoxically, our results suggest that elite and mass polarization limit the opportunity for crises to promote public acceptance of strengthened executive authority.
Contemporary US Supreme Court nominations are unavoidably and inevitably political. Although observers worry that political contestation over nominations undermines support for qualified nominees and threatens the Court's legitimacy, there is little empirical evidence to support these claims. The authors argue that political contestation over judicial nominations provides cues that shape the public's impressions about nominees and the Court and polarizes public opinion across partisan lines. Data from a conjoint experiment administered in the first days of the Trump presidency support this argument. Political rhetoric attributed to President Trump and Senate Democrats substantially polarized partisans’ views of nominees and evaluations of the Court's legitimacy, with Republicans (Democrats) expressing significantly more (less) favorable attitudes. Additional analyses suggest that contestation generates divergent partisan responses by affecting views about the nominee's impartiality. These findings challenge existing perspectives that depict attitudes toward the judiciary as resistant to partisan considerations and have important implications for the Court's legitimacy in a polarized era.
Though the demographic characteristics of judicial nominees in the United States have gained increased political attention in recent years, relatively little is known about how they affect public opinion toward judicial nominees and courts. We evaluate these relationships in the context of race and gender using a conjoint experiment conducted during a recent vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. We find consistent evidence that Americans are more supportive of coracial nominees, particularly among white Republicans and Black Democrats, but no evidence of a similar effect on the basis of gender. Our results have important implications for theories of descriptive representation and suggest limits to its use as a means for generating political support for judicial nominees.
When and to what extent do crises and significant events induce changes in political attitudes? Theories of public opinion and policymaking predict that major events restructure public opinion and pry open new political opportunities. We examine the effect of major events on support for public policies in the context of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in December 2012 using a nationally representative panel survey of US adults. Across both cross-sectional and within-subject analyses, we find no evidence that Americans granted greater support for gun control after the Sandy Hook shooting. Our null findings persist across a range of political and demographic groups. We also find no evidence of attitude polarization as a result of Sandy Hook. Our results suggest that elite polarization in a particular issue area leads citizens to employ motivated reasoning when interpreting critical events, thereby reducing the capacity for attitude change. Our findings have important implications for identifying the conditions under which major events affect support for public policies and create political opportunities for policy change.
A large class of theoretical models posits that voters choose candidates on the basis of issue congruence, but convincing empirical tests of this key claim remain elusive. The most persistent difficulty is obtaining comparable spatial estimates for winning and losing candidates, as well as voters. We address these issues using candidate surveys to characterize the electoral platforms for winners and losers, and large issue batteries in 2008 and 2010 to estimate voter preferences. Questions that were answered by both candidates and citizens allow us to jointly scale these estimates. We find robust evidence that vote choice in congressional elections is both strongly associated with spatial proximity and that individual-level and contextual variables commonly associated with congressional voting behavior condition the magnitude of its importance. Our results have important implications for theories of voter decision-making and electoral institutions.
Research on presidential power focuses almost exclusively on the modern era, while earlier presidents are said to have held office while congressional dominance was at its peak. In this article, I argue that nineteenth-century presidents wielded greater influence than commonly recognized due to their position as head of the executive branch. Using an original dataset on the county-level distribution of U.S. post offices from 1876 to 1896, I find consistent evidence that counties represented by a president’s copartisans in the U.S. House received substantially more post offices than other counties, and that these advantages were especially large under divided government and in electorally important states. These results are robust across model specifications and when examining the Senate. The findings challenge key components of the congressional dominance and modern presidency theses, and have important implications for scholarship on interbranch relations, bureaucratic politics, and American political development.
In 1950, members of the American Political Science Association’s Committee on Political Parties argued that voters could exercise greater control over government if the two major political parties adopted clear and ideologically distinct policy platforms. In 2015, partisan polarization is a defining feature of American politics and extreme parties have maintained support elsewhere. This article investigates voter decision-making with ideologically divergent electoral choices and argues that ideological conflict reduces citizens’ responsiveness to candidates’ ideological locations by increasing the role of motivated reasoning in political decision-making. Results from two observational studies and a survey experiment support this account, and the findings are robust across a range of models. These results have important implications for accountability and democratic decision-making in an age of partisan polarization.
Presidential systems around the world vary in the proportion of legislators required to override an executive veto. We argue that the nature of the override provision affects executive influence in policymaking; as the proportion needed to override a veto increases, so should executive influence. We leverage varying override requirements across the US states to conduct a comparative study of executive influence over budgetary outcomes. Using governors’ budget requests and enacted appropriations for fiscal years 1987–2011, we provide evidence that state legislatures better accommodate budgetary requests in states with higher override requirements. Further, governors whose preferences are extreme relative to the legislature are more likely to have their budgetary goals met in states with a higher veto threshold.
This paper examines the effects of survey mode on patterns of survey response, paying special attention to the conditions under which mode effects are more or less consequential. We use the Youth Participatory Politics survey, a study administered either online or over the phone to 2920 young people. Our results provide consistent evidence of mode effects. The internet sample exhibits higher rates of item non-response and “no opinion” responses, and considerably lower levels of differentiation in the use of rating scales. These differences remain even after accounting for how respondents selected into the mode of survey administration. We demonstrate the substantive implications of mode effects in the context of items measuring political knowledge and racial attitudes. We conclude by discussing the implications of our results for comparing data obtained from surveys conducted with different modes, and for the design and analysis of multi-mode surveys.
A large class of spatial models of elections converges upon a single
prediction: a candidate’s vote share increases in the congruence between her
platform and the median voter’s preferences. Though considerable empirical
research provides support for this prediction, these studies have not
adequately identified the effects of platform positioning net of other
factors. In this paper, we study the impact of challenger moderation on vote
shares using data from 444 US House elections from 1996 to 2006 in which
successive challengers competed against a common incumbent. Our findings are
largely null. We uncover no evidence that challengers increase their vote
shares by adopting more moderate platform positions. This finding is robust
across a wide range of model specifications and subsets of districts.
Identifying causal effects attributable to network membership is a key challenge in empirical studies of social networks. In this article, we examine the consequences of endogeneity for inferences about the effects of networks on network members' behavior. Using the House office lottery (in which newly elected members select their office spaces in a randomly chosen order) as an instrumental variable to estimate the causal impact of legislative networks on roll call behavior and cosponsorship decisions in the 105th–112th Houses, we find no evidence that office proximity affects patterns of legislative behavior. These results contrast with decades of congressional scholarship and recent empirical studies. Our analysis demonstrates the importance of accounting for selection processes and omitted variables in estimating the causal impact of networks.
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