My work focuses broadly on political representation and political party organization and employs the processing of political text (legislative speech and partisan campaign statements) to uncover new strategies that capture how legislators and parties shape a political reputation. I explore these topics cross-nationally in industrialized and less-industrialized democracies, with a regional focus on Latin America.


Electoral Commitment and Coalition Policymaking in Latin American Legislatures (with John Polga-Hecimovich)

Abstract: Presidentialism features an institutional design that impedes formal power sharing in a multiparty setting. However, parties and politicians have found creative solutions to this problem by forging different types of legislative coalitions in order to pass legislation. In this paper, we argue that there are qualitative differences in types of legislative coalitions under presidentialism that reflect different levels of partisan commitments. These types reflect different balances of the tension between parties’ needs to develop individual reputations to compete for votes and their wish to act collectively in order to pass legislation. An increase in the level of each party’s credible commitment to the coalition should result in an improvement in policymaking efficiency and government stability, from (1) electoral coalitions to (2) cabinet coalitions to (3) ad hoc floor voting coalitions. Using legislative success rate of executive-initiated bills and an original panel database of different government coalitions from 13 Latin American presidential democracies, we show that incentives to build a partisan versus collective reputation structure the way parties compromise to pass policy. Specifically, the success rate of executive-initiated policy is higher when associated with electoral coalitions, followed by the success of cabinet coalition governments, then floor voting coalitions. Further, the empirical precision of this model improves when controlling for democratic quality in model heterogeneity, a finding that is robust across a variety of democracy indicators.  This suggests that as the institutional checks of democracy grow, policy outcomes also become more predictable.

Institutional Obstacles to Viable Competition: Distinct Informational Cues in Bolivian Legislative Speech.

Abstract: Uncovering how political parties manage negotiated outcomes in multiparty democracy reveals the development of informative party brands in representative democracy. One consequence of this problem is that voters may lack clear, informational cues that are useful for associating outcomes with the policy expectations of an individual party or with the collective identity of the government. Approximating the nature of unclear information cues is the objective of this research. I develop a measure using automated content analysis of legislative debates; it captures the coherence of legislative speeches among government party members and determines if speeches are consistently different from legislators of the opposing parties. I apply this measure to Bolivia since the transition to democracy, where varying compositions of the governments is unique to its regime structure. Preliminary evidence reveals that the nature of informational cues is conditional on the number of parties in government—plenary speech is more distinct in single party government (e.g., 2005-2010 legislative sessions) and less distinct for every additional party in government (e.g., pre-2005).


Resist to Commit: Concrete Campaign Statements and the Need to Clarify a Partisan Reputation with Nick Lin. Accepted. Journal of Politics.

Abstract: Democratic accountability relies on citizens to anticipate future governing behavior. We explore the strategic incentives for parties to shape voter expectations by generating vague or concrete campaign statements. Using an English-language dictionary we scale electoral statements from all industrialized English-speaking nations to develop a measure of concreteness. Concrete statements can create electoral risks from unfulfilled expectations. Therefore, political parties have incentives to use concrete statements to clarify reputation uncertainty associated with unclear informational cues. Political context shapes these incentives. Incumbent parties tend to dictate concrete statements to balance attributed responsibility for government outcomes and signal that they are competent managers. Strong government performance, however, reduces the incentive for incumbents to be concrete as favorable outcomes reveal competent management. Opposition parties are unconstrained from these demands. The research reveals how political parties actively manage and balance the information that voters use in order to adjust the informative value of party reputation.

TopFish: Topic-Based Analysis of Political Position in US Electoral Campaigns. Federico Nanni, Caecilia Zirn, Goran Glavas, Jason Eichorst & Simone Paolo Ponzetto. 2016. Proceedings of the International Conference on the Advances in Computational Analysis of Political Text, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 14-16 July 2016, pp. 61-67.

Abstract: In this paper we present TopFish, a multilevel computational method that integrates topic detection and political scaling and shows its applicability for a temporal aspect analysis of political campaigns (preprimary elections, primary elections, and general elections). It enables researchers to perform a range of multidimensional empirical analyses, ultimately allowing them to better understand how candidates position themselves during elections, with respect to a specific topic. The approach has been employed and tested on speeches from the 2008, 2012, and the (ongoing) 2016 US presidential campaigns.

Classifying Topics and Detecting Topic Shifts in Political Manifestos. Caecilia Zirn, Goran Glavas, Federico Nanni, Jason Eichorst & Heiner Stuckenschmidt. 2016. Proceedings of the International Conference on the Advances in Computational Analysis of Political Text, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 14-16 July 2016, pp. 88-93. 2016.

Abstract: General political topics, such as social security and foreign affairs, recur frequently in electoral manifestos across countries. The Comparative Manifesto Project aims to collect and manually code manifestos of political parties from all around the world, detecting political topics at sentence level. Since manual coding is expensive and time consuming and allows for annotation inconsistencies, in this work we present an automated approach to topical coding of political manifestos. We first independently train three sentence-level classifiers – one for detecting the topic and two for detecting topic shifts – and then combine their predictions in a global optimization setting using a Markov Logic network. Experimental results show that the proposed global model achieves high classification performance and significantly outperforms the local sentence-level topic classifier.

Explaining Variation in Coalition Agreements: The Electoral and Policy Motivations for Drafting Agreements. 2014. European Journal of Political Research. 53(1): 98-115.

Abstract: This article explores the question of why coalition partners negotiate and publish coalition agreements before entering into a cabinet and why the content of these agreements varies so widely. Some scholars suggest that coalition partners draft agreements for electoral purposes, while others suggest that coalition agreements can be used to commit to policy negotiations. Although both sides of the debate have uncovered supportive evidence, the literature remains in disagreement. This article provides new organization of previous work on agreements and develops two alternative theoretical arguments about the crafting of coalition agreements. It is argued here that coalition partners consider both electoral and policy motivations during the drafting of agreements and that the dominance of one of these motivations is conditional on the degree of issue saliency and division between partners. Empirical support is found for the theoretical argument that coalition partners include low saliency issues in the coalition agreement on policy dimensions on which they are less divided, and that coalition partners include high saliency issues in the coalition agreement on policy dimensions on which they are more divided.

The Role of Party: The Legislative Consequences of Partisan Electoral Competition with Royce Carroll. 2013. Legislative Studies Quarterly. 38(1). 83-109.

Abstract: We examine the proposition that incentives for legislative organization can be explained by the nature of electoral competition. We argue that legislators in environments where parties are competitive for majority status are most likely to have delegated power to their leadership to constrain individualistic behavior within their party, which will in turn increase the spatial predictability of individual voting patterns. Using roll call votes and district-level electoral data from the U.S. state legislatures, we show empirically that increased statewide interparty competition corresponds to much more predictable voting behavior overall, while legislators from competitive districts have less predictable behavior.

The 2013 Ecuadorian Legislative and Presidential Elections with John Polga-Hecimovich. forthcoming. Electoral Studies.

Overview: This paper describes patterns of party competition and party development during the 2013 Ecuadorian legislative and presidential elections. The overview also provides a background to major political and economic themes during the prior Correa administration and describes the institutional structure of the presidential and legislative electoral systems. See our blog post on The Monkey Cage (click here) for a more focused evaluation of party nationalization overtime in Ecuador.

Review of From the Mines to the Streets: A Bolivian Activist’s Life by Benjamin Kohl & Linda Farthing. 2013. Bulletin of Latin American Research. 32(3). 367-368.

Overview: Invited book review of From the Mines to the Streets: A Bolivian Activist’s Life.


Conditioning Descriptive Representation: Institutional Moderation of Unique Group Perspectives in Legislative Debates

Abstract: I develop a contextual theory of political representation that isolates when we should—and should not—observe unique patterns of political representation. I argue that ballot type and party affiliation are two distinct factors that shape legislative choices and define to whom legislators are accountable. The theoretical argument synthesizes previous literature on gender and ethnic descriptive representation to develop an integrated theory of political representation. It leverages the uniqueness of group identity and cross-cutting factors to isolate where descriptive representatives should express unique patterns of political representation and the extent to which the political context conditions the legislative behavior of descriptive representatives. I develop a new measure of political representation using automated content analysis of legislative debates in to empirically explore patterns in speech communication across different types of descriptive representatives. This measure makes it possible to empirically determine the strength of the divide that separates types of descriptive representatives. Bolivia provides a unique opportunity to explore patterns of representation. Indigenous and female descriptive representatives have been historically underrepresented in Bolivia and possess interests that are relatively uncrystallized in the legislative assembly. Unique perspectives should be apparent in the way legislators frame the justification and explanation of public policy to those who hold them accountable. This helps us identify the extent to which incorporating legislators from historically underrepresented groups has an influence on a broadly-defined set of issues.