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.


Resist to Commit: Concrete Campaign Statements and the Need to Clarify a Partisan Reputation (with Nick Lin)

Abstract: In this project we explore the strategic incentives for political parties to generate concrete or vague statements before elections. Using an English-language dictionary of vague and concrete words, we scale electoral statements in party programmes from all English-speaking industrialized nations and we generate a new measure of statement concreteness of campaign commitments. Concrete statements can generate electoral risks from future unfulfilled promises. Therefore, political parties use concrete statements when they have a strong incentive to clarify reputation uncertainty that is related to unclear informational cues. Political context shapes these incentives. Incumbent parties tend to generate concrete statements to balance misattributed responsibility for policy outcomes and signal that they are competent managers. Strong government performance, however, reduces the incentive to be concrete as favorable outcomes reveal competent management. Parties that are more competitive in elections employ more concrete language to generate distinct brands, whereas unreliable support for parties undercuts the strategic benefits that are associated with concrete statements.

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

Abstract: This research explores the political factors that foment compromise in multiparty presidential regimes despite an absence of institutional design that facilitate power sharing (like those in parliamentary democracies). A source of tension exists between the interests of the president’s party—which has agenda-setting authority—and the interests of the coalition of parties required to achieve majority support as parties face a dilemma: coalition partners must cooperate in order to get things done, but they must also distinguish themselves when they compete apart. We focus on the varied partisan strategies to win votes—by developing a partisan reputation—and the effects it has on generating stable legislative compromise that contribute to responsive policy. We suggest that an environment conducive to stable legislative policymaking relies on parties to make credible commitments to the long-term development of policy, to forego the initiation of ideal policy for position-taking purposes, and to adopt programmatic policy as a way to reduce the transaction costs of negotiations. These factors are observed in the way that parties build inter-party coalitions to achieve majority voting support (ad hoc, government, and electoral), the need to reinforce a distinct ideological position through policy, and win votes from reliable (and consistent) supporters. We evaluate our expectations using the passage rate of executive-initiated policy for individual legislative terms from fourteen Latin American countries and find empirical support that electoral incentives to build a partisan reputation structure the way parties compromise to pass policy. Specifically, the success rate of executive-initiated policy is higher when associated with electoral coalitions and those parties with reliable electoral support.

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).


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.