Enfranchisement and Incarceration After the 1965 Voting Rights Act
with Nick Eubank
Accepted at the American Political Science Review
The 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) fundamentally changed the distribution of electoral power in the US South. We examine the consequences of this mass enfranchisement of Blacks for the use of the carceral state---police, the courts, and the prison system. We study the extent to which White Southern elites turned to the carceral state as a tool of Black political suppression when the VRA rendered Jim Crow policies unusable. To systematically test this, use new historical data on state and county prison intake data by race (~1940-1985) in a series of difference-in-differences designs. We find that states covered by Section 5 of the VRA experienced a differential increase in Black prison admissions relative to those that were not covered, and that incarceration varied systematically in proportion to the electoral threat posed by Black voters. Our findings indicate the potentially perverse consequences of enfranchisement when establishment power seeks---and finds---other outlets of social and political control.
Polling Place Changes and Political Participation: Evidence from North Carolina Presidential Elections, 2008-2016
Political Science Research and Methods (2020)
How do changes in Election Day polling place locations affect voter turnout? We study the behavior of more than 2 million eligible voters across three closely-contested presidential elections (2008-2016) in the swing state of North Carolina. Leveraging within-voter variation in polling place location change over time, we demonstrate that polling place changes reduce Election Day voting on average statewide. However, this effect is almost completely offset by substitution into early voting, suggesting that voters, on average, respond to a change in their polling place by choosing to vote early. While there is heterogeneity in these effects by the distance of the polling place change and the race of the affected voter, the fully offsetting substitution into early voting still obtains. We theorize this is because voters whose polling places change location receive notification mailers, offsetting search costs and priming them to think about the election before election day, driving early voting.
The Politics of Locating Polling Places: Race and Partisanship in North Carolina Election Administration, 2008-2016
Election Law Journal (2020)
Do local election administrators change precincts and Election Day polling place locations to target voters based on their partisanship or race? We systematically evaluate whether decisions consistent with targeting occur using the near universe of eligible voters, polling place locations, and precinct boundaries across three presidential elections in the closely contested state of North Carolina. We find no evidence that local administrators allocate precincts and polling places in a manner consistent with partisan manipulation for electoral gain. Some counties appear to differentially target opposition party voters with these changes, but the county-level variation we document is likely due to random variation rather than deliberate manipulation. There is also little evidence that the removal of minority voter protections in Shelby County v. Holder impacted polling place placement. If partisan-motivated precinct or polling place decisions occur in North Carolina, they are seemingly more idiosyncratic than pervasive.
The Effect of Section 5 on Enfranchisement: Evidence From North Carolina
Journal of Politics, Vol.80, No.2 (2018)
Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act required covered jurisdictions—those deemed perniciously politically discriminatory to minorities—to preclear changes to their voting practices with the Department of Justice. By exploiting the use of a federally imposed threshold for how Section 5 coverage was applied in North Carolina, this article estimates the effect of coverage using a difference-in-differences design. This article finds that Section 5 coverage increased black voter registration by 14–19 percentage points, white registration by 10–13 percentage points, and overall voter turnout by 10–19 percentage points. Additional results for Democratic vote share suggest that some of this overall increase in turnout may have come from reactionary whites. This article finds that Section 5 coverage had a statistically and substantively meaningful effect on enfranchisement, although an effect consistent with the more modest of extant estimates in the literature.
Population and Political Change in Industrial Britain
This paper considers the contribution of population growth and urbanization---key processes of modernization---for political development in Britain, largely considered the first nation to undergo a modern demographic transformation. Where the modernization literature has typically considered the consequences of urbanization for national-level political institutions, I consider the deeply-related, but distinct question of how variation in population and its geographic distribution within Britain affected electoral contestation and the characteristics of political representatives. I ask whether these core modernization processes fundamentally disrupted the extant powerful and facilitated greater turnover in the political elite. To do so, I use an original dataset of Member of Parliament (MP) biographical information to measure political contestation, the presence of political dynasties, and the circulation of new economic interests through political power. Leveraging sub-national variation in population growth and urbanization over ~150 years, I find that modernization diversified the economic interests of MPs, increased electoral contests and reduced the presence of political dynasties and other traditional elites. I demonstrate that new political representatives were not simply the old elite in a new economic guise. I interpret this as evidence in support of modernization theory---economic modernization in the British Isles broke entrenched elites' direct hold on political power.
Political Representation in the Era of Britain's Expanding Overseas Trade
This paper considers the consequences of Britain's 17th century dramatic expansion of overseas trade for the persistence and turnover of political elites. I study the extent to which ``new'' commercial economic interests---that is, individuals involved in expanding trade---obtained Parliamentary representation, as well as the extent to which those individuals were connected to members of the incumbent political elite via their family connections or by shared social class. I do so using an original individual-level dataset on the characteristics of British Members of Parliament (MPs) spanning more than two centuries (~1550-1750). I find that while a growing share of MPs in Parliament represented the growing commercial sector, there was limited associated turnover in the social and family backgrounds of representatives. Such turnover was more likely when trade demanded fundamentally new skills and new modes of production, and after institutional changes de-regulated the early British state's tendency towards monopoly protection in trade. Broadly, the economic organization of trade, I contend, was not initially organized in such a way as to allow new groups access to political power, but opened in later periods as trade grew.
Political Survival in Pinochet's Chile
with Jane Esberg
How do democratically-elected politicians survive being removed from power by an authoritarian regime? We investigate the determinants of political survival across Chile’s military dictatorship (1973-1990), which disbanded the national legislature and disrupted sources of political dominance. We collect individual-level biographical data on the universe of deputies and senators in Chile’s National Congress and archival data on the experiences of those politicians under the Pinochet regime —-- including whether pre-1973 politicians were incorporated into the Pinochet government, sent into exile abroad, or employed in the domestic private sector. Among politicians on the ideological left, we show that exiled politicians were just as electorally successful as those leftist politicians who remained in the domestic private sector. Moreover, while we find evidence that politicians who found positions within the Pinochetregime were more likely to win elections after democratization than their counterparts on the right who did not, this relationship is a consequence of which politicians were selected by the regime. Although political dynasties are an important feature of Chilean politics, we do not document an important role of this familial power in moderating the effect of trajectories or providing an alternative method of political survival.
The Political Economy of Suffrage Reform: The Great Reform Act of 1832
Prominent scholars have viewed the Great Reform Act as a concession made by incumbent elites in order to defuse a revolutionary threat. In this paper, we argue that the threat from below did not entail a significant risk of regime overthrow and was addressed by establishing professional police forces in all provincial towns and half the counties. Such forces had been stoutly opposed by the gentry since the Glorious Revolution, on the grounds that they would increase Crown power too much. To make professional police forces palatable to the middle class required reforming both budgets and elections at all levels of governance (national, municipal and county), so as to ensure taxpayers that their representatives would control the finances of the new forces.
The Racial Geography of Public Opinion at the Punitive Turn
The passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts represented an historic advance for Blacks in the United States. But the period also marked a critical punitive turn in American history that many have argued was a response to those Black social and political gains. This paper investigates the effect of ending Jim Crow and the enfranchisement of Blacks in driving changes in punitive attitudes. Using public opinion data from 1953-2016, I show that punitive attitudes diverged between Blacks and Whites after 1965. The punitive attitudes of White Southerners---those most directly impacted by the Voting Rights Act and end of Jim Crow segregation---also grew faster than Whites in the non-South. These results provide evidence in support of the oft-made---but difficult to causally substantiate---claim that the contemporary system of race-based mass incarceration in the US had its roots in White reaction to the gains of the Civil Rights movement.
Elites Beyond Institutions
Power and Persistence During European Industrialization
Research in Progress
The Modern Origins of Political Contestation
Many theoretical treatments of the selection of political representatives assume the institution of an election in which a contest can occur---that is, a situation in which more than one candidate vie for a seat in a representative institution. Despite the importance of electoral institutions to our theoretical understanding of much of politics---both democracy and electoral authoritarianism---the origin of these institutions is far less understood. In this paper I consider the origin of contests in electoral institutions. I collect new data on the universe of candidate selections from approximately 1400 to 1700 in England and Wales, covering the period in which the first contests are historically recorded. With this data, I evaluate two competing theoretical accounts of contest emergence in this historical context: first, that contests emerged as a response to the changing economic environment brought about by expanding overseas trade in the late 16th and early 17th centuries; and second, that contests emerged due to the expansion of the gentry as former Catholic lands were redistributed following the Reformation. Evaluating these theories speaks directly to the relative economic and social importance of early representative institutions; the latter of which has been far less appreciated in contemporary political economy scholarship. The paper contributes to our understanding of the long-run process of democratic development broadly by evaluating one of the most important of its constituent institutions.
Voter Perceptions of Dynastic Candidates
Political dynasties have generally been seen as puzzle in democratic contexts, antithetical to democratic ideals about the broad opportunity structure of political power. While existing theories note an important institutional component in perpetuating this type of establishment politician, less work has examined the puzzle of democratic dynasties from the perspective of voters. I employ a conjoint survey experiment embedded in a nationally representative survey of US adults to evaluate the causal effect of dynastic political ties independent of other important candidate attributes. I show that respondents are largely unresponsive to the dynastic status of candidates, despite strong preferences for candidates with more political experience of other types. This unresponsiveness occurs despite dynastic candidates being perceived as less competent, yet also less susceptible to outside political influence. My findings suggest that while voters do make inferences about various features of candidate competency and integrity based on dynastic status, those inferences are not sufficient in the contemporary US landscape to affect vote choice, though they may in less polarized contexts.
Booms, Busts and Elite Concentration in the Chilean Nitrate Era
with Jane Esberg
Do natural resources affect the ability of local elites to entrench themselves in power? We study the boom and bust cycle of the nitrate industry in northern Chile during the first part of the 20th century. During that period, Chile had the only commercially viable sources of sodium nitrate; a valuable commodity used as both a fertilizer and explosive. Nitrate exports accounted for two third of Chile's total exports and half of government revenues during the period, but the development of a synthetic alternative in the 1920s led to a collapse of the industry. Using new panel data on mayors, parliamentary representatives, vote shares, and nitrate extraction, we evaluate the extent of differential individual and familial (dynastic) incumbency advantage in nitrate-rich as compared to non-nitrate rich areas over the boom and bust cycle of the industry. By exploiting the exogenous bust of the industry, we're able to evaluate whether patterns of elite entrenchment are related to the presence of the highly valuable resource, or other local time-varying factors. Our preliminary results document lower levels of individual and familial incumbency in nitrate-rich areas during the boom years --- results that run counter to standard resource-curse theory. We also find no differential change in elite concentration when the nitrate industry busted. Our ongoing work is investigating potential causes of these findings in an effort to inform theory that can be tested out-of-sample.
The Evolution of Patronage Institutions Over Five Centuries
Politics in developing states is often characterized by informal personalistic relationships. These ``traditional'' institutions structure political relationships---facilitating the exchange of both standard political and economic goods such as votes and labor, as well as more amorphous goods such as loyalty and deference. This project traces the evolution of one such personalistic political institution in the British Isles---the relationship between political patron and parliamentary client (MP)---from the late 14th century to the Great Reform Act. The project does so using individual-level data on the universe of MPs serving over this ~500 year period, the presence (or absence) of a patronage relationship, the type of patron (e.g. aristocrat, government), the spatial relationship of each patron and client, and the strength of the patronage relationship. These descriptive statistics on the evolution of this institution then give rise to a series of causal questions about the role of formal institutional change and economic development in transforming traditional institutions. In both describing the evolution of patronage and probing the causes of its change, the project looks to contribute to our understanding of institutional evolution and political development simultaneously at a micro (individual-level) and macro (multi-century) scale largely missing from the literature.
What Scientific Questions are Worth Answering
Research questions are typically evaluated, in part, on the subjective dimension of whether they are ``worth answering.'' In this article, I contend that the vague and ad-hoc criteria currently employed in this subjective evaluative exercise have serious implications for what research questions are asked, and what scientific knowledge about the world can in turn be generated. In addressing this problem, I propose a Bayesian model of knowledge generation in a setting where knowledge is defined by the relationship between two variables. The model allows for two distinct ways in which we learn about the relationship between those two variables --- (1) the magnitude of that relationship (i.e. posterior/prior), and (2) the confidence we have in the magnitude of that relationship (i.e. the variance of the posterior/prior). I make a normative argument for why each of these two ways of learning about the world are important, and I demonstrate what knowledge becomes unknowable when we ask research questions that we expect to teach us about (1) or (2) alone. I then propose a set of evaluative criteria that, while still fundamentally subjective, make the tradeoffs involved in asking or not asking a particular question clear. Finally, I discuss the institutions involved in structuring incentives for asking some types of research questions versus others, and offer specific suggestions for shifting incentives in the interest of expanding the knowledge that the sciences can potentially generate.
The History of Representation in Congress
The US Congress is one of the most important political institutions in the nation and one of the dominant subjects of research in political science. Yet, despite the more than 200 year history of the institution, we know almost nothing about the voters represented by congresspeople in that institution before the mid-20th century. Our project builds the first dataset on the demographic characteristics of the population in each congressional district in every year since 1789. This comprehensive dataset allows us to answer a set of simple but never-before-answerable questions about the extent to which Congress represents urban and rural populations through its history; the way in which Congress represents immigrant and minority populations through its history; and the extent to which Congressional and Presidential voting is misaligned. In addition to these descriptive questions, our project looks to understand the long-run effect of redistricting in terms of how it privileged some populations at the expense of others, and the way in which that in turn translated into different electoral outcomes in Congress.
Political Representation and Police Accountability
Does enhanced political representation of racial minorities lead to changes in racial disparities in police behavior? Standard theories of representation--and recent scholarship--suggest that minority office-holding should, and does sometimes result in reductions in unwanted disparities in police behavior---particularly when minority officeholders are in the majority (see, e.g., Eckhouse 2016). Yet, despite this, we also know that the police operate with significant bureaucratic discretion independent of elected representatives, and that attempts to reform the police or change their behavior have experienced limited success (see e.g., Eberhardt et. al. 2004). Police, and carceral institutions more generally, are also potential tools of social control for existing elites challenged by a politically powerful minority (Eubank & Fresh 2020). Thus, minority---and even majority minority---representation may struggle to affect police behavior. Empirically evaluating these cross-cutting predictions is made challenging by the fact that those factors that allow minority groups to successfully obtain representation are also likely to affect police behavior via other channels, confounding causal inference. In this paper, we leverage the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) which mandated that approximately 100 municipalities move from at-large elections to single member districts to better estimate the causal effect of political representation on police behavior. Existing work has documented that the CVRA increased minority representation in substantively meaningful ways (Collingwood & Long 2019; Abbott & Magazinnik 2020; Hankinson & Magazinnik 2020). We build on these findings by using data on CVRA coverage, voter turnout by race at the local level, the race of city council members, and police arrests (focusing on the relative rate of minor, or “nuisance” arrests, that are more likely to be subject to discretion). Employing a difference-in-differences design, we evaluate how these representational changes affected police arrest behavior, not only when minority representation increases on the margins but also when city councils become majority-minority. Our work builds on important work in the realm of representation and police behavior by bringing to bear a new design to estimate the counterfactual of how police behave in the absence of minority representation, and improving our understanding of how the specific policy remedy of redistricting might affect policing outcomes.