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Research & Publications

A personal note on replication files
I am happy to share all of the data and code that goes into my research and have done so for a few of these projects already - replicate away! I apologize for not having posted it publicly. Life is busy, my code from early projects isn't pretty (but works fine), and RA's are law students who are brilliant but don't code (so it's on me to pretty it up).  Just email me with inquiries.  Thanks.


Abby K. Wood. 2018 (forthcoming). “Campaign Finance Disclosure”. Annual Review of Law & Social Science. 

Abby K. Wood, Ann M. Ravel, Irina Dykhne. 2018 (forthcoming). “Fool Me Once: Government Regulation of “Fake News” and other Online Political Advertising.” Southern California Law Review

Mann, Christopher B., et al., 2018 (forthcoming) "Pedagogical Value of Polling Place Observation By Students." PS: Political Science & Politics

Wood, Abby K. and David E. Lewis. 2017. “Agency Performance Challenges and Agency PoliticizationJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 27(4): 581–595. 

Michalski, Roger M. and Abby Wood. 2017. “Twombly and Iqbal at the State Level” (with Roger M. Michalski) Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 14(2): 424-469.

Wood, Abby K. and Douglas M. Spencer. 2016. “In The Shadows of Sunlight: An Empirical Study of Campaign Finance Transparency” Election Law Journal 15(4): 302-329.

Jensenius, Francesca and Abby Wood. 2016. “Caught in the Act but not Punished: Why the Rule of Law is Key to Effective DeterrencePenn State Journal of Law & International Affairs. 686(4).

Spencer, Douglas M. and Abby K. Wood. 2014. “Citizens United, States Divided: Evidence of Elasticity in Independent Expenditures” Indiana Law Journal 89(1):315-372.

"Charm and Punishment: How the Philippines' leading man became its most famous prisoner", in Prosecuting Heads of State (Ellen Lutz and Caitlin Reiger, eds., Cambridge University, 2009)

Works Under Review

Elite Political Ignorance: Law, Data, and the Representation of (Mis)Perceived Electorates (with Christopher S. Elmendorf)
It is common to think of political elites—candidates, legislators, party officials, and campaign advisers—as specialists in learning the preferences of voters. But recent studies find that political elites believe public opinion within legislative districts to be more conservative than it actually is, and that extreme candidates are more electable than moderates (despite compelling evidence to the contrary). Campaign staffers overestimate their candidate’s electoral prospects. Moreover, natural and researcher-designed experiments show that informing legislators about constituency preferences changes roll-call votes, as legislators recalibrate to better represent public opinion in their districts.

This Article introduces the problem of elite political ignorance to the legal-academic literature. We make three principal contributions. First, we review political science findings on elite (mis)perceptions of voter preferences. Second, in light of ongoing technological developments that may provide elites with better information, we consider the likely benefits and costs of reducing elite political ignorance. The immediate impacts would probably include better alignment between the roll-call votes of representatives and the policy preferences of their constituents; reduced political polarization; less racial discrimination by campaigns and representatives; and lower-cost enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. However, over time, a reduction in elite ignorance could also engender more severe and enduring partisan gerrymanders; greater political and demographic skew in the population of regular voters; more inequity in the provision of constituent services; and micro-targeted campaigns that slowly erode democracy-sustaining norms and belief structures in the public.

We argue that most of the benefits of reduced political ignorance could be realized without incurring these costs if elites acquired better information about the distribution of voter preferences within districts, without learning the preferences of identifiable individuals. Our third contribution is to suggest public and private tools for realizing the twin objectives of constituency-level transparency and voter-level obscurity. Among other things, we argue that campaign-finance voucher programs have great and heretofore unappreciated potential for reducing elite ignorance, and that a suitably anonymized voucher regime could provide detailed constituency-level information while concealing the preferences of individual voters. Efforts to keep elites in the dark about the preferences of identifiable individuals will also depend on cooperation from social media companies.

Works In Progress

Show Me the Money: "Dark Money" and the Informational Benefit of Campaign Finance Disclosure
Campaign finance disclosure is under threat. While the Court continues to uphold mandatory disclosure, it has also eviscerated much of the legal justification for it. Simultaneously, gaps in the legal framework mean that some campaign activity is subject only to voluntary disclosure – consider “dark money” groups and unregulated Internet campaign advertising. In upholding the parts of the campaign finance regime that mandate disclosure, the Court has assumed that disclosure provides valuable policy information to voters, but it has not considered non-policy information that voters learn about candidates from the choice to disclose more than is legally required. This article provides new survey and experimental evidence that voters value disclosure of campaign finance information and will reward voluntary disclosure while punishing candidates supported by dark money groups. Voluntary disclosure signals transparency and thus trustworthiness. The importance of the second kind of information has not been previously recognized and suggests a role for voluntary as well as mandatory disclosure.

Mind the (Participation) Gap: How Campaign Voucher Disclosure Affects Political Participation (with Christopher S. Elmendorf and Douglas M. Spencer)
This study uses Seattle’s new voucher-based system of campaign finance to shed light on the effect of disclosure on political participation. We measure a new concept, the “participation gap”, which is the difference between contributing (in Seattle, a public act) and one’s probability of voting (a pr ivate ac t). We hypothesize that the gap is larger for people who are political outliers among their neighbors, compared to people who are more ideologically typical among their neighbors. We use matching to test our hypothesis. So far, scholars have not been able to measure the deterrent effect of campaign finance disclosure. This research design provides our best chance to date.

Campaign Finance Transparency Affects Legislators' Election Outcomes and Behavior (with Christian Grose)
Transparency has informational benefits to voters and can affect election results. Through transparency, campaign finance disclosure reveals evaluative information about the traits of each candidate, such as whether candidates are corrupt or in violation of the law. We theorize that greater transparency provides useful information to voters during legislative campaigns about the type of candidate running.  Incumbent legislators who are “dirty” with significant campaign finance violations will perform poorly at the polls. To test these claims, we examine a natural experiment in the United States. In the late 1970s, the Federal Election Commission conducted random audits of 10% of all congressional incumbents. This FEC random audit program is perhaps the only randomized experiment a federal agency has ever conducted on federal legislators and by consequence their districts’ electorates. We find that greater transparency regarding campaign finance violations allowed voters to punish those congressional incumbents who violated the law and changes legislator behavior.

To See or Not To See?  Campaign Finance Disclosure and Voter Competence 
The Supreme Court has shifted again, this time against campaign finance disclosure. The jurisprudence around campaign finance disclosure assumes that the disclosures help to inform voters about underlying policies being supported, but the area is under-studied and existing studies are problematic. One key way they are problematic is in seeking population effects, when a sizable minority of the population will not access any political information, including campaign finance information. Here, I present findings from a survey experiment that suggest that (1) campaign finance information will not be sought by those who are politically disengaged, politically ignorant, or ignorant of the specific policies at issue, and (2) controlling for those people improves our ability to detect an increase in voter competence from pushing campaign finance information to voters.

Bureaucratic Agency Problems and Legislative Oversight
(with Janna Rezaee and Sean Gailmard)
This paper empirically analyzes legislative oversight of bureaucracy in the US as a means to mitigate agency problems that units of Congress face with the bureaucracy. We develop a principal-agent model of oversight, and distill three implications about (i) policy conflict between the principal and agent, (ii) the level of activity of the agent for a given level of policy conflict, and (iii) the internal disagreement among multiple principals. Briefly, each of these variables is predicted to positively affect oversight levels in Congress. We test these implications in a newly constructed panel dataset of oversight activity in on-the-record legislative hearings by committees in the US Senate and House of Representatives. The results are generally supportive of the implications from agency theory.