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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” (Forthcoming in Science Advances)

  • 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.


Racial Disparities in Voting Wait Times: Evidence from Smartphone Data” (Revise and resubmit at Review of Economics and Statistics)

  • Equal access to voting is a core feature of democratic government. Using data from millions of smartphone users, we quantify a racial disparity in voting wait times across a nationwide sample of polling places during the 2016 US presidential election. Relative to entirely-white neighborhoods, residents of entirely-black neighborhoods waited 29% longer to vote and were 74% more likely to spend more than 30 minutes at their polling place. This disparity holds when comparing predominantly white and black polling places within the same states and counties, and survives numerous robustness and placebo tests. Our results document large racial differences in voting wait times and demonstrates that geospatial data can be an effective tool to both measure and monitor these disparities.


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

  • Abstract: This article measures the effect of establishing private prisons on incarceration-related outcomes in the United States. We develop a model to show that enforcement authorities faced with capacity constraints or are more susceptible to bribes set non-optimal sanction levels which may increase total number of incarcerated individuals and each individual’s sentence length. Using instrumental variables regressions at the state and individual levels, we find evidence showing that a rise in private prison beds per capita increases the number of incarcerated individuals per capita and average sentencing lengths. The effect is more likely for crime types where there is more sentencing leeway such as fraud, regulatory, drug or weapons crimes. There is evidence showing that the effect of private prisons is more pronounced in states where prison capacity constraints are met or exceeded and if the state is more corrupt.


“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.



  • 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