ACADEMIC PAPERS

"More Accurate Yet More Polarized? Comparing the Factual Beliefs of Government Officials and the Public" by D.J. Flynn, Nathan Lee, Brendan Nyhan, and Jason Reifler 

Political elites in the United States have become increasingly polarized on matters of opinion, but are they similarly polarized on matters of fact? To date, scholars have not systematically examined factual beliefs among political elites, whom we expect to be even more polarized by party than the public despite their greater expertise. Employing a paired-survey approach, we conduct the first systematic comparison of politicized factual beliefs between the public and a national sample of government officials. Our results indicate that government officials have somewhat more polarized factual beliefs than the public on controversial political issues despite having more accurate beliefs overall. Interestingly, this difference is the result of elites being more likely than the public to hold accurate party-congenial beliefs rather than being less likely to hold party-congenial misperceptions.

"Why Not Run? Assessing Disincentives to Office-Seeking" by William Marble and Nathan Lee 

Scholars have examined a range of factors that may shape the pool of candidates who choose to run for office. Yet it is difficult to assess the importance of these factors on individual-level entry decisions with observational data. To overcome this challenge, we embed a conjoint experiment into a survey of local elected officials — a common pool from which candidates for higher office tend to emerge. We provide randomized vignettes describing election scenarios, then assess respondents’ interest in running in the given election. Our core finding is that politicians are more sensitive to variation in the potential fundraising burden than any other factor considered — including legislative salary. We also find evidence that politicians are deterred by the presence of an incumbent and by negative advertising. We find little evidence that they are directly responsive to their opponent’s ideology.

"How Does Corporate Environmentalism Affect Political Activity? An Experimental Investigation" by Neil Malhotra, Benoît Monin, and Michael Tomz 

Previous research has emphasized corporate lobbying as a pathway through which businesses influence government policy. This article examines a less-studied mode of influence: private regulation, defined as voluntary efforts by firms to restrain their own behavior. We argue that firms can use modest private regulations as a political strategy to preempt more stringent public regulations. To test this hypothesis, we administered experiments to three groups that demand environmental regulations: voters, activists, and government officials. Our experiments revealed how each group responded to voluntary environmental programs (VEPs) by firms. Relatively modest VEPs dissuaded all three groups from seeking more draconian government regulations, a finding with important implications for social welfare. We observed these effects most strongly when all companies within an industry joined the voluntary effort. Our study documents an understudied source of corporate power, while also exposing the limits of private regulation as a strategy for influencing government policy.

"How Policymakers Evaluate Online versus Offline Constituent Messages" by Kaiping Chen, Nathan Lee, and William Marble 

The internet has made it easier than ever for citizens to voice their opinion to their elected representatives. However, theories of costly signaling suggest officials may infer that constituents who write to them via lower-effort online mediums care less about the issues than those who communicate in person. To examine this possibility, we fielded a national survey of local U.S. policymakers to examine responsiveness to different types of constituent messages. We find that policymakers rate social media messages as substantially less informative and less influential than identical messages delivered in person. However, this discount factor can be overcome through increased participation: our conjoint estimates imply that a message received online from 47 constituents is as influential as the same message received from a single constituent in person. Taken together, these findings illustrate the double-edged nature of low-cost communication technologies for representation in the digital era.

"Peer Perception by Politicians: Evidence from Ultimatum Games Experiments with Incumbent Legislators" by Lior Sheffer and Peter John Loewen 

Elected politicians constantly engage their peers, and must make judgments about their interests and predicted behaviours. How representatives judge their colleagues bears directly on their electoral fortunes, their legislative success, and a host of other politically- critical outcomes. Yet we have almost no valid evidence on the nature of those judgments. Do politicians think of their peers as more or less trustworthy, sophisticated and fair? Do they make different assumptions when bargaining with colleagues relative to interactions with non-politicians? In this study, we report results from a first of its kind experiment with close to a thousand incumbent politicians who participated in a modified ultimatum game, in which they were randomly paired with co-partisan and out-partisan politicians and ‘regular’ individuals. We find that politicians make substantially and significantly less generous offers to peers relative to non-elites, but that at the same time, they also make significantly higher demands when faced with offers made by fellow politicians. Politicians also strongly disfavour out-partisan colleagues, and, to a lesser extent, out-partisan non-elites. We discuss these findings and their implications in light of existing theories on legislative behaviour and elite negotiations.

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