Research

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PUBLICATIONS

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” (Published in Science Advances)

  • Mistrust of scientific evidence and government-issued guidelines is increasingly correlated with political affiliation. Survey evidence has documented skepticism in a diverse set of issues including climate change, vaccine hesitancy, and, most recently, COVID-19 risks. Less well understood is whether these beliefs alter high-stakes behavior. Combining GPS data for 2.7 million smartphone users in Florida and Texas with 2016 U.S. presidential election precinct-level results, we examine how conservative-media dismissals of hurricane advisories in 2017 influenced evacuation decisions. Likely Trump-voting Florida residents were 10 to 11 percentage points less likely to evacuate Hurricane Irma than Clinton voters (34% versus 45%), a gap not present in prior hurricanes. Results are robust to fine-grain geographic controls, which compare likely Clinton and Trump voters living within 150 m of each other. The rapid surge in media-led suspicion of hurricane forecasts—and the resulting divide in self-protective measures—illustrates a large behavioral consequence of science denialism.

 

Racial Disparities in Voting Wait Times: Evidence from Smartphone Data” (Accepted 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. We shed light on the mechanism for these results and discuss how geospatial data can be an effective tool to both measure and monitor these disparities going forward.

 

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

  • 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 who 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 on state and individual data from 1989 to 2008, we find evidence showing a rise in private prison beds per capita increases the number of incarcerated individuals per capita and average sentence lengths. The effect is more likely for crime types with more sentencing leeway such as fraud, regulatory, drug, and weapons crimes. There is evidence showing 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.

 

WORKING PAPERS

“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.

 

TEACHING

  • 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