Referred Publications:

Huber, Gregory A. and Celia Paris. 2013. “Assessing the Programmatic Equivalence Assumption in Question Wording Experiments: Understanding Why Americans Like Assistance to the Poor More Than Welfare.” Public Opinion Quarterly 77(1): 385-397.  

In trying to understand why Americans display relatively high levels of opposition to welfare, scholars have frequently turned to the analysis of a canonical experiment reported in this journal (Smith 1987; Rasinski 1989) in which subjects were asked about their support for either “welfare” or “assistance to the poor.” This experiment consistently shows that Americans are substantially less supportive of welfare than of assistance to the poor. This difference has been interpreted as evidence that simply describing the same core programs as welfare rather than assistance to the poor depresses support. The key assumption in these analyses is one of programmatic equivalence: relative to the words “assistance to the poor,” the word “welfare” describes the same programs, but differs in which considerations it brings to mind. This research note examines the validity of this key assumption. Analyses of novel experimental data show that there appear to be basic differences in which programs Americans consider to be welfare and which they consider to be assistance to the poor. We discuss the implications of our research for interpreting prior studies that rely upon this experiment to test theories of framing, and we suggest broader implications for survey experimental designs.

Green, Donald P., Peter M. Aronow, Daniel E. Bergan, Pamela Greene, Celia Paris, and Beth I. Weinberger. 2011. “Does Knowledge of Constitutional Principles Increase Support for Civil Liberties? Results from a Randomized Field Experiment.” Journal of Politics 73(2): 463-476.

For decades, scholars have argued that education causes greater support for civil liberties by increasing students’ exposure to political knowledge and constitutional norms, such as due process and freedom of expression. Support for this claim comes exclusively from observational evidence, principally from cross-sectional surveys. This paper presents the first large-scale experimental test of this proposition. More than 1000 students in 59 high school classrooms were randomly assigned to an enhanced civics curriculum designed to promote awareness and understanding of constitutional rights and civil liberties. The results show that students in the enhanced curriculum classes displayed significantly more knowledge in this domain than students in conventional civics classes. However, we find no corresponding change in the treatment group’s support for civil liberties, a finding that calls into question the hypothesis that knowledge and attitudes are causally connected.

Under Review and Working Papers

Ongoing Projects
  • Book project. Working title: All They Do Is Fight: Interpreting Interactions in Congress.
  • “Reputation Depreciation and Intertemporal Electoral Accountability.” With George Krause.

Dissertation: Can’t They All Just Get Along?  Representative Democracy and Managing Political Disagreement in America

Dissertation Abstract (May 2014):

This project investigates how citizens interpret partisan conflict in Congress. While pundits and scholars warn that partisanship, incivility, and gridlock are undermining the relationship between citizens and government, such warnings raise more questions than they answer. Why should partisanship, incivility, and a lack of legislative accomplishment be taken to indicate that representatives are doing a bad job? Do citizens actually react negatively to these features of the political process? What kind of incentives do such reactions create for elected officials? If we wish to increase citizens’ political trust and confidence in Congress, which aspects of the process ought to be changed?

Three impediments have prevented political science from providing answers to these questions. First, previous work typically conflates the effects of partisanship, incivility, and gridlock, making it difficult to determine when, how, and why citizens might react negatively to these features of the legislative process. Secondly, we have not yet articulated a clear set of norms for how representatives ought to interact with each other. Finally, existing studies on the relationship between partisan disagreement and representation tend to focus narrowly on policy concerns, rather than investigating how citizens react to the process of disagreement among elected officials.

To fill these gaps in our knowledge, I first draw on several prominent theories of representative government (including work by Madison, Mill, Burke, Mansbridge, Urbinati, and Manin) to identify five distinct visions of the role of the representative: minimalist, advocate, teacher/learner, expert legislator, and deliberator. I explore what each of these visions entails regarding the activities representatives should prioritize and the orientation representatives should have towards their colleagues. Additionally, I highlight what might constitute a “crisis of representation” according to each vision, and derive implications about when and why citizens might be bothered by partisan conflict among representatives. 

I then gather empirical data on citizens’ reactions to partisan conflict through a new nationally representative survey experiment, in which I independently manipulate bipartisanship/partisanship, civility/incivility, and bill passage/bill failure in a fictionalized news story about a Congressional debate.

My results show that bipartisanship significantly increases confidence in Congress. However, partisan respondents only react positively to an individual representative who engages in bipartisan behavior when that representative is from the opposite party. Although independents say they prefer bipartisanship to partisanship, they do not adjust their evaluations of Congress and individual representatives accordingly. These findings help explain why partisan conflict in Congress persists: a representative’s decision to act in a bipartisan or partisan way does not affect how he is perceived by citizens from his own party or independents, the two groups most likely to vote for him.

Independents’ lack of reaction to bipartisanship challenges the conventional wisdom that independents value cooperation between the parties. What do independents actually care about when it comes to the legislative process? I find that pure independents evaluate a representative more positively when he is able to get his bill passed, without regard to their own assessment of the policies contained in the bill—a pattern also seen, somewhat surprisingly, in the reactions of partisans. This suggests that partisans and pure independents share a certain pragmatism about the process, even while partisans apply strikingly different standards for bipartisanship and civility to same-party and opposite-party representatives.

Independents who lean towards a party stand out in three respects. First, they express significantly greater trust in politicians only after reading about a civil debate—presenting a contrast with partisans, who only become more trusting when they read about an opposite-party representative engaging in bipartisan cooperation. Secondly, leaners’ attitudes towards the policies in the bill are highly correlated with their evaluations of the representative sponsoring the bill (which is not the case for partisans or pure independents). Finally, leaners are significantly more dissatisfied with Congress and politicians in general than partisans are. This paints a picture of leaners as something like political idealists: focused on policy issues, yearning for civil discourse, and dismayed by the current state of affairs.

All in all, these findings show that citizens’ reactions to the lawmaking process vary significantly by their own location in the political system. Partisans want to see members of the opposite party do more to cooperate with their side, while leaners become more trusting only when debate is respectful and polite. Pure independents just wish legislators could “get stuff done.” Improving citizens’ relationship to government requires first recognizing these competing priorities and then identifying reforms that can successfully respond to multiple alternative visions of a better lawmaking process.