TitleField of Forces: Interdependence in Legislative Behavior

Committee: Frederick J. Boehmke, Tracy L. Osborn, Douglas Dion, Rene Rocha, and Margaret Carrell (Geography)

My dissertation seeks to address the gap in the literature on legislative decision making between theories that emphasize how each legislator’s decisions depend on those made by their colleagues and the empirical methods that are not able to capture this interdependence. This disconnect constitutes a major failure of the literature to properly evaluate and test theories of legislative behavior such as the role of parties in binding members’ fates together or whether legislators that share common interests based on their race, gender, or other characteristics achieve better outcomes when they work in concert than when they merely act independently. My research seeks to elucidate the influence of these relationships through the use of spatial econometrics. Spatial econometrics allows me to break the restrictive assumption that actors’ choices emerge independently of one another. I explore this interdependence through a variety of applications. First, I examine a series of individual roll call votes, varying the issue area and the technicality of the bills being considered in order to explain the conditions where we expect to experience the different forms of interdependence. Secondly, I look at a single issue area over time. For this I look at the farm bill, the primary agriculture and food policy bill for the federal government, which has been reauthorized eleven times since it was initially passed in 1933. Finally, I incorporate spatial analysis into the study of position taking announcements.

Find a draft of the first empirical chapter here.


Accounting for Right Censoring in Interdependent Duration Analysis (with Jude C. Hays and Frederick J. Boehmke) (At Political Analysis)

Duration data are often subject to various forms of censoring that require adaptations of the likelihood function to properly capture the data generating process, but existing spatial duration models do not yet account for these potential issues. Here we develop a method to estimate spatial duration models when the outcome suffers from right censoring, the most common form of censoring in this area. In order to address this issue, we adapt Wei and Tanner’s (1991) imputation algorithm for censored (nonspatial) regression data to models of spatially interdependent durations. The algorithm treats the unobserved duration outcomes as censored data and iterates between multiple imputation of the incomplete, i.e., right censored, values and estimation of the spatial duration model using these imputed values. We explore performance of an estimator for log-normal durations in the face of varying degrees of right censoring via Monte Carlo and provide empirical examples of its estimation by analyzing spatial dependence in states’ entry dates into World War I.


Pivotal Politics and Initiative Use in the American States (with Frederick J. Boehmke and Tracy L. Osborn) (forthcoming at Political Research Quarterly)

The direct initiative process is often referred to as a “gun behind the door,” providing an incentive for legislators to pass legislation that moves policy towards voters.  The issue is that legislative procedures (i.e. the filibuster and executive veto) often restrict the ability of the legislature to pass these responsive policies. We incorporate the role of pivotal players in the legislature into a spatial model of direct initiative process to study the interplay between these two policymaking institutions and address these opposing expectations.  Using formal modeling, we find that initiative process can break the gridlock that occurs as a result of the restrictive legislative procedures; however, conditions exist in which the legislature cannot prevent a ballot measure.  Pivotal players in the legislature can utilize the initiative to their benefit, pushing policy changes that make them better off through the legislature or the popular vote.  This manipulation is dependent on the distance between pivotal actor and the median voter; as this distance increases, so does the use of the initiative.  We find support for this prediction using an empirical analysis of initiatives in the American states.

 Under Review

Mechanisms of Diffusion: Modeling Instantaneous Geographic Interdependence with Abortion Policy (with Rebecca J. Kreitzer)

One of the most frequent expectations of state politics scholars is that a state is more likely to adopt a policy when it’s neighbors have already done so (Walker 1969, Berry and Berry 1990, and others). In our reading of the literature, approximately 80\% of policy diffusion papers that use event history analysis find significant regional diffusion. The dominant approach to modeling this diffusion is to include a lagged measure of the percent of a state’s neighbors that have adopted a given policy. But the use of this measure does not account for the simultaneity bias that exists if the policy diffuses instantaneously. Spatial econometrics may be appropriate when policies diffuse quickly, without prolonged observation of neighboring adopting states. Using spatial regression, we test the effects of geographic contiguity on abortion policy diffusion. Abortion policy is an appropriate case, especially when looking at the diffusion of anti-abortion policies, because of the competition that states have with one another over who adopts these policies first. The preliminary evidence of this project indicates that the policies are not necessarily diffusing according to geographic contiguity and that there may be other factors driving this spatial relationship.

Find a summary of research here.