More Research…

Locally Rich, Nationally Poor: Income, Place, and White Voters in the 2016 Presidential Election. (With Spencer Piston and Luisa Godinez Puig)

Social scientists routinely examine relationships between income and political preferences as a window into class divisions in American politics. But existing measures implicitly compare people to others in the national economic distribution, even though a given absolute income level (e.g., $54,000 per year, the 2016 national median) might mean something very different in Clay County, Georgia, where the median income is about $22,000, than in Greenwich, Connecticut, where the median income is $203,000.

We build on existing scholarship by incorporating, in addition to the standard measure of income, a measure of one’s place in their local income distribution. We apply this approach to the question of whites’ voting decisions in presidential elections since 2000, focusing in particular on 2016.  The results show that Trump’s support was concentrated among nationally poor but locally affluent whites. The pattern holds for Republican candidate support in most recent presidential elections. These results suggest that social scientists interested in class and politics would do well to conceive of income not just in absolute terms but also in relative terms: relative to one’s neighbors. Link to article here and ungated here. Link to Washington Post Monkey Cage blog post here.

In the Streets and on the Hill: Conceptions of Pluralism Between Cities and Congress over National Civil Rights Legislation (in Dilworth and Weaver, eds 2020)

This chapter contrasts the positioning of big-city leaders on civil rights and racial justice issues at the local and national levels during the Long New Deal. The national anti-racist pro-civil rights coalition included some of the same persons who upheld and exacerbated racial hierarchies in local politics. This seeming contradiction suggests that it is more useful to think of the fight for minority rights in a democracy as a coalitional politics of uneasy alliances, rather than a Manichean ideological struggle between members of transformative egalitarian and white supremacist racial orders. Link to preliminary printed version here.

Chicagoland Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Study (With Traci Burch, Matthew Nelsen, Kumar Ramanathan, and Reuel Rogers)

This survey project investigates the opinions and behaviors of Chicagoland residents. We are seeking to learn more about how people feel about their neighborhoods, what their policy priorities are, and how that connects to politics. We’re cleaning and running analyses on the data for the project right now. Here’s one brief example.

The pilot study for the project was generously supported by a Weinberg College “W” Seed Grant and the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics.

Pride or Prejudice? Racial Prejudice, Southern Heritage, and White Support for the Confederate Battle Flag (With Spencer Piston and Logan Strother)

Rep. John Rankin (D-MS/CSA), who wore a Confederate flag necktie when he argued against racial integration.

Debates about the meaning of Southern symbols such as the Confederate battle emblem are sweeping the nation. These debates typically revolve around the question of whether such symbols represent “heritage or hatred:” racially innocuous Southern pride or White prejudice against Blacks. In order to assess these competing claims, we first examine the historical reintroduction of the Confederate flag in the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s; next, we analyze three survey datasets, including one nationally representative dataset and two probability samples of White Georgians and White South Carolinians, in order to build and assess a stronger theoretical account of the racial motivations underlying such symbols than currently exists. While our findings yield strong support for the hypothesis that prejudice against Blacks bolsters White support for Southern symbols, support for the Southern heritage hypothesis is decidedly mixed. Despite widespread denials that Southern symbols reflect racism, racial prejudice is strongly associated with support for such symbols.

Link to article here and ungated here. Related LSE Blog post here. Related Washington Post Monkey Cage post here.


Experiences in Place: Citizen Responses to Targeted Policies (With Sally Nuamah)

Areas near closed schools saw bigger drops in support for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

How do citizens respond to geographically targeted policy changes? Most research on the effects of public policies focus on indiviuals directly affected by national issues (e.g. senior citizens, welfare recipients, veterans). This analysis investigates the political effects of targeted local policies on the communities in which these policies occur. Focusing on the case of Chicago, where the school district closed over 50 schools in 2013 (the most in a single year by any city in U.S. history), we use election results, the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, and original data on public school closures to evaluate how large scale, geographically targeted public school closures shape the broader political attitudes and behavior of the communities affected.Our analysis reveals that proximity to a school closure is positively associated with decreased support for school policy, decreased electoral support for the elected official responsible for the policy, and increased political participation. These findings bridge literature on policy feedback, public opinion, and urban politics to support a model of place-based policy learning and opinion formation consistent with collective interest.

You can read the paper here. An MPSA presentation based on the paper is here and a Washington Post editorial version is here.

When the Second Dimension Comes First: Culture-First Forces and the Politics of Social Provision (with Quinn Mulroy)

Xenophobic political forces have recently been unusually successful in several western democracies. These groups are often characterized as populist in contemporary scholarship. In this paper, we approach from a different angle by focusing on the political priorities of these groups rather than their political style.  We introduce the alternative concept of culture-first forces: political groups that prioritize their “second-dimension” (cultural) preferences over the “first dimension”  (economic) concerns around which 20th century party systems were typically organized. What types of policy and governance positions are we to expect from such forces? The answer, we suggest, is complex, and contingent on the timing and sequencing of key factors in the diminished state model. We illustrate this model with a comparative historical analysis of two cases of culture-first forces in leading western democracies: white southern Democrats in the U.S. and the Front National in France. These groups dramatically shifted their first-dimension positions while defending their second-dimension priorities, and in the process, both shaped and were shaped by the distinct political systems in which they operate. While culture-first forces eventually championed in a diminished state model in the U.S., the Front National shifted in the opposite direction and eventually embraced a generous (though nationalist and exclusive) welfare state in France. Relying on parallel contemporary sources from the two cases, this paper identifies the sequence of welfare statebuilding, diversity, and culture-first force emergence as important to explaining the different trajectories of culture-first forces operating in different political systems. See latest version here.

Going Viral and Making Waves: Social Media Use Among Aldermen in Chicago, 2015-2018. (With Kumar Ramanathan)

This paper, part of a larger project on place-based Facebook groups in Chicago, tests theories of “professional” and “amateur” politicians’ communication patterns on social media. We find that ideologically outspoken posts about non-local issues garner more community engagement, especially after the 2016 national election, but that such dramatic position-taking on high-profile issues carries risks as well as rewards, generating both polarized debate and potentially short-circuiting career advancement. You can read the paper here. An MPSA presentation based on the paper is here.

Filibuster Vigilantly: The Liminal State and 19th Century U.S. Expansion
Nineteenth-century American territorial expansion was accomplished in a variety of ways:
war, purchase, treaty, and annexation are the most famous. This manuscript examines
another phenomenon that contributed to American expansion, the filibuster. Filibusters’ privately organized and executed invasions of other countries, launched from American
soil were banned under Neutrality Laws from 1794 on, but throughout the antebellum era
they often received tacit (or, in some cases, material) support from important state actors.
By differentially enforcing anti-filibuster laws, the American state manipulated the behavior of these private actors and the outcomes of their adventures, effectively using filibusters as a tool for foreign policy implementation. Through the example of the filibuster, I theorize the contexts in which American state actors have fostered private violence by proxies and argue that liminal institutions like the filibuster are a hallmark of
policy implementation in the liberal state. This paper chronicles the ebb and flow of privatized, semi-authorized force in the U.S., with large sections on police, prisons, and private armies. Like actors in other realms of policy, these private providers of a core state interest blur the line between public and private and force us to directly reconsider our concepts of “state actor” and “state capacity.” Finding such liminal actors recurrently engaged in a core, definitional function of the state the legitimate use of force within the territory or on behalf of the nation sheds light on the flexible nature of state power and the techniques used to leverage private power and enhance state capacity for action in the American state. Link to recent version.


Most Racial, Not Post-racial: The 2008 U.S. Presidential Election in Historical and Comparative Perspective
This paper manuscript provides new frames of comparison for evaluating Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, which was lauded in some circles as a sign of a diminished importance of race in American politics and the potential dawn of a “post-racial” era. While it is well-known that social inequalities persist across ethnoracial groups and racialized discourse has been resilient, an underlying premise of the notion of post-racial politics–that the election of a minority-race candidate was a marker that the U.S. had transcended racial electoral politics–has not been directly considered. Using Group Voting Fractionalization, a measure useful in comparing the extent to which electorates are organized along racial lines, this paper identifies an increase in racial voting over the past four decades, and finds that 2008 was a particularly racial election, even when we account for the high level of diversity in the contemporary U.S. Recent electoral politics in the United States have been notably divided along ethnic lines in both historical and cross-national comparative terms. Far from post-racial, the 2008 election must be included in any list of “most-racial” elections. A subsequent subnational analysis identifies drivers of and exceptions to this reality.  Link to recent version.