Research

Publications

“A New Dataset of Delegate Positions on all Substantive Roll Calls at the U.S. Constitutional Convention.” 2012.   Historical Methods 45(3): 135-41. With Keith Dougherty, Jac Heckelman, and Paul Carlsen.

Delegate level analysis of the U.S. Constitutional Convention has been limited because the Convention did not record delegate votes. In this article, we introduce the Constitutional Convention Research Group Dataset, which contains 5,121 inferred delegate votes on 620 substantive roll calls at the Convention. The Constitutional Convention Research Group Dataset represents a significant improvement over previous datasets such as those compiled by McDonald (1958) and Dougherty and Heckelman (2009), and datasets based on votes recorded for state blocs (Jillson 1981, 1988)

Dissertation Project

My dissertation project examines an understudied aspect of legislative behavior: participation in floor speech in deliberative bodies. The first chapter looks at the effect of ideology on delegate participation at the Federal Convention of 1787. Using an original dataset of delegate speeches at the Convention, I show that participation at the Convention was dominated by ideological extremists. Therefore, claims made about the intent of the writers of the Constitution based on Convention records are biased in favor of ideologically extreme Convention delegates, as extreme delegates were more likely to be recorded.

The second and third chapters focus on floor debate in the U.S. House of Representatives. Floor speech makes up the majority of the official daily journals of Congress, yet it is severely understudied compared to other types of legislative behavior. Using a new dataset of all House speeches from 1873 to 2011, Max Goplerud and I conduct the first systematic analysis of member participation in floor debate in the House over time. This is a significant improvement over previous work on congressional floor speech in both scope and breadth. We find that increased ideological distance between members and the chamber median, being committee or party leader, and increased seniority, all significantly increase the number of speeches House members make in a given Congress. We also find that being electorally vulnerable, being a member of a more homogeneous party, and being older when starting congressional service, all decrease the number of floor speeches delivered by members in the House. Finally, we show the importance of de-aggregating speech data to look at how different factors matter more or less over time.

The third chapter examines the effect of institutional rule changes on member participation in floor debates in the U.S. House. I show that changes to procedural rules change the number of speeches members make on the floor. Additionally, I find that members of the minority party, more senior members, and ideological extremists are more likely to have their speech patterns impacted by rule changes than committee leaders and electorally vulnerable members.

 

Working Papers

Ideology and Participation at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (invited to revise and resubmit to Political Research Quarterly)

This paper looks at the effect of ideology on delegate participation at the Federal Convention of 1787.  Making use of an original dataset on delegate verbosity and delegate speeches at the Constitutional Convention, analysis reveals that ideologically extreme Convention delegates were more likely to participate at the Convention.  This leads to two important conclusions.  First, ideology affected delegate participation in a meaningful way.  Second, claims made about the intent of the writers of the Constitution based on Convention records are biased in favor of ideologically extreme Convention delegates as extreme delegates were more likely to be recorded.

Download a copy of the paper here.

Changing Rules, Changing Conversation: Floor Debate in the U.S. House, 1875-1997

I examine the effect of institutional rule changes on member participation in floor debate in the U.S. House.  I contend that changing institutional conditions alters the decision calculus of members and thus alters patterns of participation in floor debates.  I find strong evidence that changes to procedural rules do in fact significantly change the amount of member floor speech.  However, the effect does not appear to be linked to the kind of rules enacted.  Additionally, I find that members of the minority party, more senior members, and ideological extremists are more likely to have their speech patterns impacted by rule changes than committee leaders and electorally vulnerable members.

Download a copy of the paper here.

Maintaining Intra-party Cohesion: Examining Unrecorded Amending Activity.  With Michael Lynch, Tony Madonna, and Mark E. Owens.

The amending process can fundamentally alter the substantive content of congressional legislation.  As such, scholars of political parties argue that the primary way parties control legislative outcomes is by restricting minority party amendments through congressional institutions like the House Rules Committee.  Despite the primary role afforded to amendments, we know surprisingly little about the process independent of the roll call voting record.  This is unfortunate, as most voting in Congress is unrecorded.  This project fills a substantial gap in the literature on congressional policy-making by collecting and analyzing new data on all amendments disposed of during the 45th Congress (1877-1879).  We find that of the over 3,000 amendments offered in both the House and Senate, only 298 received recorded roll call votes.  Further, we theorize that even in the absence of institutions restricting amendments, the amending process should still be biased in favor of majority party members.  Results demonstrate mixed support for this claim.

The Party’s Over: Party Decline in the Era of Good Feelings.  With Robert A. Cooper.

The period of national one party dominance in the U.S. in the early 1800s (often called the Era of Good Feelings) remains an under-explained political phenomenon in American political development .  We assess several possible explanations that might explain the demise of the Federalist party during this time.  These explanations include Aldrich’s great principle theory, the importance of factors like the War of 1812, as well as the possibility that fundamental demographic changes irrevocably shifted the electorate against the Federalists. The analysis here contains lessons on the potential for instability in the American two-party system.

Download a copy of the paper here.

The Beliefs and Behaviors of Appellate Court Judges.  With Douglas Johnson.

In seeking to better explain the behavior of federal judges, we theorize that appellate court judges have strong incentives to behave in a consistently partisan manner.  Empirically, we find that judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals who are in the same party as the president alter their decision making behavior towards ideological consistency during periods of vacancy on the Supreme Court, regardless of their beliefs concerning their own advancement. We also find, contrary to previous research, that during vacancy periods, judges do not alter other observable behaviors such as how often they engage in opinion writing or how often they rule in favor of the US government. In arriving at this conclusion, we incorporate previously untapped temporal information in our research.

Download a copy of the paper here.

Can’t Touch This: Exploring the Linkage Between Public Opinion and Court Packing

This paper reports the results of a survey experiment of public attitudes regarding changing the number of Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.  I find that current explanations of court curbing and judicial independence do not account for possible changes in public attitudes towards the Court.  Specifically I find that increased feelings of legitimacy towards, and knowledge of, the Supreme Court decreases the likelihood that the public would approve of increasing the number of Justices to the Supreme Court.  I also find that different informational prompts can alter how the public views potential court packing plans.  Finally, I find a strong partisan effect in how survey respondents view court packing.