Dissertation Project:
“Building States and Parties: The Causes and Consequences of Local Electoral Reforms”

How do formal political institutions impact the quality of representation and citizen welfare? What role do they play in state-building and democratization? My dissertation turns to early-twentieth-century Europe, and Scandinavia in particular, to answer these questions. There, national politicians reformed the electoral systems used at the local level but rolled out those reforms unevenly across local governments. I posit that national-level politicians chose reforms that would preserve competency and decision-making power at the local level, while also empowering local actors connected to national-level parties. The conclusion is that national parties were able to extend their reach into the periphery, with profound consequences for mobilization and redistribution. I draw on a wealth of historical data collected from archives, as well as quasi-experimental techniques for causal inference, to test this theory. My project highlights the importance of local governance institutions in creating national polities and explains how reforms to one level of politics can have dramatic spillover effects on another. It also highlights the usefulness of historical political economy to contemporary comparative politics.

  • Chapter 1: Predicting National Actors' Preferences for Local Electoral Reform

When do national politicians' preferences for local electoral institutions differ from their preferences for national-level institutions? In this chapter, I argue that national politicians who face opposition from a party with a strong local branch are less willing to introduce a party-centered local election system such as PR in the short run. This is because they care more about preserving electoral power at the national level than ensuring partisan control at the local level. To test this theory, I use voting records and biographical information of Norwegian parliamentarians around a local reform in 1896, a failed local reform in 1916, and a successful local reform in 1919.

  • Chapter 2: Mass Party Advantage under Party-Centered Local Governance Institutions

    Abstract: Who benefit from the party politicization of local governance? This paper argues that mass parties uniquely benefit from introducing party-centered electoral institutions at the local level. To test this hypothesis, I take advantage of a local governance reform in early 20th century Sweden. The reform resulted in the local governance type being decided by a population threshold. I find that municipalities that used a traditional type of local governance, community meetings, had higher support for the conservatives in national elections. In contrast, municipalities that used elections and representatives for local governance had higher support for the communists and social democrats. A crucial difference between these parties was the way that they were organized: the conservatives were a typical elite party, while the social democrats and communists were organized as mass parties.

  • Chapter 3: Does Proportional Representation Increase Redistribution? Evidence from Early 20th Century Norwegian Municipalities. Revise and Resubmit, Electoral Studies.

    Abstract: Countries that use proportional representation (PR) tend to have higher levels of redistribution. However, persuasive research on electoral system choice has demonstrated that countries only adopt PR under particular circumstances, such as the presence of a strong left-wing opposition or a need for coordination between opposing economic actors. We therefore ask if the strong relationship between the use of PR and redistribution is due to PR electoral rules or to these background factors. Taking advantage of an electoral reform to early 20th-century Norwegian local elections, we find that municipalities that were mandated to use PR increased tax rates and resources spent on the poor but also redistributed less in the first place. We further show that the reform did not increase left-wing party seat shares but did increase political mobilization. This evidence is consistent with moderate parties increasing redistribution in order to preempt left-wing party gains.

Other Work

Under Review

Abstract: Democratic theorists have long argued that states can create more resilient democracies through education. Educational investments are thought to produce more economic equality and instill in citizens greater capacity and responsibility to participate in politics. Using a geographic regression discontinuity design and township level data from Antebellum New York State, we examine whether state funding for common schools led to positive economic and political outcomes. Our estimates support the view that a democratic culture emerged not only because of initial favorable endowments, but also because of subsequent government decisions to fund education. New York townships that received more school funding later had higher median earnings, lower earnings inequality, and higher levels of voter turnout. Our findings support the view that maintaining democracy requires active investments by the state, something that has important implications for other places and other times—including today.

Abstract: Many large survey courses rely on multiple professors or teaching assistants to judge student responses to open-ended questions. While the adoption of, and training on, a grading rubric can help alleviate some of the most extreme versions of bias, there remains the opportunity for students with similar levels of conceptual understanding to receive widely varying assessments. We detail how this can occur, and argue that it is an example of differential item functioning (or interpersonal incomparability), where graders interpret the same possible grading range differently. Using both actual assessment data from a large survey course in Comparative Politics and simulation methods, we show that the bias can be corrected for by a small number of “bridging” observations across graders. We conclude by offering best practices for fair assessment in large survey courses.

Working Papers

As the Covid-19 pandemic has led to renewed focus on scientific misinformation, we take advantage of two pilot studies administered by the American National Election Studies (ANES) to analyze the US population’s misinformation across a range of scientific topics. We find that people who are misinformed about scientific issues are confident in their beliefs, often as confident as those who are correctly informed. The misinformed also are less likely to trust experts and less likely to favor using scientific evidence in policy making. These findings highlight the challenges of educating the public about Covid-19, particularly those who already are misinformed about the disease.