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The Effect of Partisanship and Political Advertising on Close Family Ties” (Published in Science)

  • Research on growing American political polarization and antipathy primarily studies public institutions and political processes, ignoring private effects including strained family ties. Using anonymized smartphone-location data and precinct-level voting, we show that Thanksgiving dinners attended by opposing-party precinct residents were 30-50 minutes shorter than same-party dinners. This decline from a mean of 257 minutes survives extensive spatial and demographic controls. Dinner reductions in 2016 tripled for travelers from media markets with heavy political advertising—an effect not observed in 2015—implying a relationship to election-related behavior. Effects appear asymmetric: while fewer Democratic-precinct residents traveled in 2016 than 2015, political differences shortened Thanksgiving dinners more among Republican-precinct residents. Nationwide, 34 million person-hours of cross-partisan Thanksgiving discourse were lost in 2016 to partisan effects.


Political Storms: Tracking Hurricane Evacuation Behavior using Smartphone Data” (Under Review)

  • The 2017 hurricane season devastated much of the U.S. gulf coastline, with two of the worst hurricanes in history: Harvey (107 deaths, $125B in damages) and Irma (134 deaths, $50B in damages). Despite extensive warnings and some mandatory evacuations, the majority of affected residents did not evacuate their homes before the storms hit, complicating rescue efforts and recovery. We empirically examine predictors of hurricane evacuations using a large GPS dataset for 2.7 million smartphone users in Florida and Texas. Combined with data at the census-block and voting-precinct level, we find that demographics such as income, education, and race/ethnicity, among others, significantly predict the propensity and speed of evacuation. Interestingly, one of the strongest predictors of willingness to evacuate was the 2016 Democrat/Republican Presidential vote share, but only after the emergence in 2017 of conservative-media dismissals of hurricane warnings, fueled by climate-change skepticism. Using a spatial regression-discontinuity design, we confirm the causal impact of hurricane advisories by comparing evacuation rates for residents just on opposite sides of county boundaries who received differential hurricane alerts. Our results could help the National Hurricane Center better design and target hurricane warning systems, and assist state and local governments with deploying evacuation assistance to vulnerable populations.


“A Tale of Three Elections: Determinants and Applications of Precinct-Level Voting in the 2008-2016 American Presidential Elections”

  • This paper documents the first national, multi-election, geocoded precinct-level result dataset for American presidential contests. Linear and non-linear regressions establish stylized facts concerning the 2008, 2012, and 2016 elections including widening outcome variance driven by polarization along racial, education, and density lines, and diminishing importance of local economic conditions as electoral predictors in favor of identity-related measures. The paper’s second half investigates direct causal impacts of geography-specific policies and exogenous shocks on election-to-election support changes. Key results from instrumental variable, difference-in-difference, and matching designs include: (1) new shale oil production from “fracking” wells polarized precincts to the net gain of the Republicans, (2) areas adjacent to Hurricane Sandy inundation swung more toward Obama than those directly damaged, (3) public and high-victim mass shootings close to an election induced a more pro-Democratic swing compared to local or family-related murders, and (4) Medicaid expansion generated a swing toward Trump and increased polarization while Medicaid coverage increases impacted voting differentially with local income. Proximity to negative shocks may induce more conservative responses while their observation may produce more liberal reactions, while positive shocks seem to be evaluated more rationally.


“The Partisan Tithe: Revealed Preferences for Homogeneity in Church Selection and Attendance”

  • Recent studies link growing political polarization with effects on personal and economic life. Using 270,000 geocoded church addresses, national precinct election results, and anonymized smartphone location tracking data for 5 million Americans, this study analyzes three ways in which partisanship impacts church selection and time allocation. First, using a mixed effects random coefficients logit, the additional distance an individual chooses to travel to attend a politically like-minded church is calculated. Estimated distances vary by denomination, with the lowest estimates residing with polities which practice church assignment—Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Non-Christians and non-denominational evangelicals exhibit strongest willingness to travel to close political distance. Second, a panel of daily church attendance durations in the months before and after the 2016 presidential election is constructed. Difference-in-difference estimates demonstrate a widening gap between those with high and low political agreement likelihoods in time spent at church as the election approaches. Third, an examination of individuals who changed churches after the election suggests individuals with initial higher political disagreement levels were more likely to change churches and the strength of the subsequent partisan sorting increased with higher initial disagreement likelihoods.


“Do Privately Owned Prisons Increase Incarceration Rates?” (R&R at Labour Economics)

“How Private Prisons Affect Incarceration Likelihood”

  • Abstract: This paper analyzes how private prisons affect the likelihood an individual receives a prison sentence over probation. I test two plausible mechanisms by which private prisons may influence a judge’s decision: through corruption-induced “over-incarceration” or by lifting public prison capacity constraints. These mechanisms are modeled through a four-stage, three-agent, incomplete information game with a lobbying-susceptible judicial authority. Using data on 600,000 federal trials and an instrumental variables control function approach, this paper finds evidence consistent with the over-incarceration mechanism, but not the capacity mechanism. In states with high corruption levels, an additional private prison increases incarceration likelihood by 0.4%. This effect varies by crime type and demographic subgroup, expanding to 2.3% for public order crimes, 1.3% for women, and 1.2% for college graduates. Groups with lower initial levels of incarceration tend to see larger increases. Effects also depend on private prison size and cannot be explained by crime type compositional changes.




  • EconS 102: Fundamentals of Macroeconomics — Fall 2018, Spring 2019
  • EconS 302: Intermediate Macroeconomic Theory (Developed for online) — Spring 2017
  • EconS 320: Money and Banking (online) — Fall 2014, Spring 2015