Research

The following is a sample of my research projects.  Please feel free to contact me for further details.  

Does It Still Count as a Win?  Public reactions to the passage of ideologically divisive bills in the US Congress

This paper takes as its starting point the often-asserted and theoretically important claim that Americans are more approving of the president and the majority party when they succeed in passing their bills in Congress than when they fail to do so. I test this assertion using a series of original survey experiments that varied the outcome of ideologically divisive bills—the type of legislation that, I argue, citizens are most likely to hear about. I find that, on average, participants do indeed reward successful political actors. Nevertheless, I show that this reward is typically concentrated among individuals already predisposed to favour the bill. In addition, I find no evidence that participants who are hostile to the bill punish its passage—contrary to recent scholarship on this question. My findings suggest that the president and the congressional majority party can reap the electoral credit for legislative success from policy supporters without incurring the wrath of policy opponents.

Losing in Congress:  How voters judge the legislative performance of the president and the majority party in light of bill failure

This paper takes up questions about the sophistication of citizens’ judgments of legislative performance and outcomes. Research in psychology and political science offers reasons to suspect that common biases may interfere with such judgments and, by extension, distort lawmakers’ incentives. I investigate these concerns using original survey experiments that hold constant the bill outcome (as failure) but vary the additional information about proponents’ performance. Contrary to widely held expectations, I find that participants make sensible use of this information when it is provided. Specifically, participants rate unsuccessful bill proponents much more favourably in the presence of information suggesting good legislative performance than in the presence of information suggesting poor performance; in effect, participants acknowledge the qualitative difference in proponents’ performance despite their failure in Congress. Moreover, I show that in the absence of such diagnostic information, individuals’ judgments of unsuccessful bill proponents still reflect realistic basic beliefs about legislative performance and the obstacles to congressional action. In particular, I find that citizens’ judgments largely fit with expectations derived from rational Bayesian updating of beliefs about legislative performance given news of congressional failure.

Why Say Anything? Explaining MPs' Participation in Government Bill Debates in the Canadian House of Commons

While legislative debate has traditionally been seen as a means of articulating public grievances, the combination of single-party majority governments and tight party discipline would seem to undermine the opportunity for floor debate to influence policy decisions—casting doubt on the intended purpose of participating in such debate. Drawing on the available literature, I elaborate three possible explanations of why some MPs would still want to participate under these circumstances: namely, the development of a personal vote, the persuasion of other parties, and the obstruction of decision making. I test these propositions using an original dataset of all speeches and remarks made by all MPs in the initial debates on all government bills in the first session of the 37th Parliament. To this dataset, I add data on MPs’ past electoral results and party roles, as well as original measures of the initial positions of the parties on each bill. Contrary to recent evidence that local electoral pressure drives other aspects of MPs’ behaviour (such as participation in Question Period), I find no indication that participation in bill debates is a function of electoral vulnerability. Instead, I show that, in certain circumstances, bill proponents debate more when their parliamentary audience is ambivalent—a finding consistent with the idea that debate is occasionally used to try to persuade other parties. I also presented novel evidence demonstrating how bill opponents use speech making strategically to obstruct the passage of government bills.

 How Citizens Judge Extreme Legislative Dissent: Experimental Evidence on Party Switching, with Feodor Snagovsky and Paul E.J. Thomas

Recent research suggests that voters prefer legislators who dissent from their party by speaking out or rebelling in legislative votes.  In this paper, we explore the limits of this phenomenon by examining whether this preference extends to extremely contentious instances of dissent in which a legislator quits their party altogether.  Moreover, we bring a gender perspective to bear on the question: research in psychology has found that assertive women are often evaluated more negatively than comparably assertive men—a type of cultural stereotyping that leads us to predict that female party switchers will be judged more harshly than male party switchers.

We test these hypotheses using what we believe to be the first survey experiment to examine party switching. We show that, overall, Canadian voters do not prefer this form of extreme dissent to more loyal behaviour.  Instead, approval for party switching—and beliefs about what motivated the MPs to switch parties—depend in predictable ways on individuals’ prior policy and partisan predispositions and, to a lesser extent, their gender and perceptions of legislator responsiveness.  This calls into question the claim that voters interpret dissent as a valence quality.  Moreover, contrary to our expectations, we find no evidence that female MPs who switched parties faced a more hostile response than male MPs who did the same.

The Deliberative Performance of Canadian Parliamentary Committees, 2001-2017

The scrutiny of bills is a key function of Parliament.  But how well does Parliament do this job? On the one hand, scholars often point to committees as the legislative venue most likely to fulfill this mandate.  In fact, political parties regularly advocate enhancing the role of committees with this purpose in mind.  On the other hand, several recent media reports have highlighted notable failures of committee scrutiny.  In light of these competing perspectives, I am currently undertaking the first large-scale investigation of the deliberative performance of House of Commons and Senate committees. 

For the purposes of this project, I define deliberative performance as the consideration of relevant policy knowledge.  While this conception focuses on only some dimensions of deliberation, it is especially relevant for policy making institutions.   With this definition in mind, the project seeks to answer three main questions: (1) when needed, do committees collect relevant policy information; (2) what political conditions, institutional arrangements, and legislator characteristics promote or impede rigorous committee deliberation; and (3) does committee deliberation improve final decision making?