Working Papers

If you are interested in reading any of the following papers and providing feedback on them, please feel free to contact Travis to request a current draft.

Elected (In)Justice? The Effect of Judicial Elections on Racial Disparity in State Incarceration Rates

ABSTRACT: Racial minorities in the U.S. experience the criminal justice system differently than Whites. Blacks receive longer sentences than Whites and represent a disproportionate share of prison populations, compared to their share of the general population. Does the mechanism by which states select trial judges play a role in creating these inequities? Judges who stand for election must behave in a way that they think will win them favor with punitive and racially biased state electorates, potentially leading to greater racial disparities in states with elected trial judges. Using an original dataset and time-series linear regression, this paper explores the relationship between judicial elections and racial disparities in incarceration in the states. I find that there is no statistically significant difference in racial disparities in incarceration between states with judicial elections and states without elections. However, I do find that the disparity in liberal states with partisan elections is statistically lower than equally liberal states with non-partisan elections, and that as the ideology of a state becomes more conservative, racial disparity increases until there is no significant difference between states with partisan and non-partisan elections.

“Judicial Selection and Criminal Punishment: Trial Court Elections, Sentencing, and Incarceration in the States”

ABSTRACT: Building on extant research in political science and related disciplines, this paper develops and tests a theory positing that states with elections for judicial retention, whereby citizens have direct input on whether a trial court judge retains his or her seat on the bench, will be more punitive than states where voters do not have such a direct mechanism for judicial accountability. Leveraging a dataset previously unused in political science, I estimate time-series regressions of state sentencing and incarceration rates over a 38-year period while distinguishing between types of elections to establish support for the theory. Results suggest that states where judges are re-elected are more punitive than states without such electoral institutions, indicating that elections serve as an important judicial accountability mechanism for citizens. Moreover, states with non-partisan judicial elections are the most punitive, indicating that judges likely behave on the bench in a way that gives them a ready-to-run campaign message that can replace for the voters the forbidden heuristic of party affiliation.

“Punitive Attitudes Dataset for the States: An Introduction to a Temporally and Spatially Dynamic Measure of State Punitive Mood

ABSTRACT: Criminal justice policy takes place in a political environment, and previous research has shown that legislators, governors, judges, and candidates for these offices are responsive to citizens’ opinions on punishment. A comprehensive understanding of Americans’ attitudes toward crime and criminal punishment is therefore essential to evaluating the criminal justice policy environment. Moreover, attitudes toward criminal punishment are dynamic; they vary both spatially and temporally. In other words, punitive attitudes are not the same in every place at all times. However, previous data on the punitive opinions of Americans has been limited in its measurement of punitive opinion. Data that varies spatially is often treated as temporally static, while data that is temporally dynamic is measured in the aggregate and not permitted to vary spatially. This paper introduces a new dataset, the Punitive Attitudes Dataset for the State (PADS) that is both spatially and temporally dynamic in that it contains measures of punitiveness for each state plus the District of Columbia that vary by year within the state. The paper provides a description of the data-collection process, the two methods of estimating public opinion—recursive analysis and multi-level regression and post-stratification (MRP)—and discusses a research program that could benefit from use of the PADS.

“The Effect of Campaign Expenditures on Trial Court Election Competition: Evidence from Louisiana”

ABSTRACT: Money drives American politics. Campaigns spend an increasing amount of money every year conveying their messages to voters in an effort to push the candidate past the finish line on Election Day. Previous research shows that campaign spending is positively related to electoral competition, i.e., how close of an outcome is produced on Election Day, and the evidence is conclusive: increased spending translates to increased competition. This relationship exists also in campaigns for state supreme courts, but research has not extended the investigation to the trial court level. This paper investigates the relationship between campaign expenditures and vote share in trial court elections. Using an original dataset of trial court elections in Louisiana for the years 2010-2018, linear regression analyses, and an instrumental variable approach, I find that increased spending also increases competition, but its effects on competition are limited. These findings suggest that previous reports of the positive relationship apply to trial court elections and provide further evidence that voters use judicial elections as an accountability mechanism.

“Testing the Functionality of Functional Theory: An Analysis of Gubernatorial Debate Rhetoric, with Austin Trantham, Jacksonville University

ABSTRACT: William L. Benoit’s Functional Theory contends that candidates for elected office strategically use different themes and forms in their campaign communication to serve the function of persuading voters and winning elections. The theory has held the test of time in explaining the messaging strategies of candidates in political campaigns. However, the theory has never been evaluated for its efficacy. We simply do not know whether the elements of the theory are associated with vote share or victory. In this paper, we replicate Benoit’s previous work with an original dataset of debates held during off-year gubernatorial campaigns in three states: Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Preliminary results support Functional Theory’s prediction that candidates will rely more on acclaiming rather than attacking or defending, but, contrary to Functional Theory’s prediction, we find no evidence that policy talk is more common than discussions of character. Additionally, there is little preliminary evidence to support the functionality of functional theory. In preliminary analyses, no one function or form is a better predictor of electoral success—measured as both vote share and victory—than any other function or form. While Functional Theory may work well to explain patterns in campaign discourse, it is apparently of limited value in explaining election outcomes—the function its assumption portends to predict.

“How State Legislative Candidates Choose Their Political Consultants and Why It Matters”

ABSTRACT: The political consulting industry has transformed American democracy and redefined electioneering for the foreseeable future. More campaigns than ever before are using consultants, and more money is spent to pay retainers, commissions, and win bonuses than at any time in our history. Political consultants enjoy unfettered access to their clients, and because consultants enjoy such an intimate relationship with their clients, it is conceivable that political consultants can influence their clients-turned-elected-officials on matters of public policy. Thus, the consultancy and the process by which consultants are chosen by candidates should be subjected to close academic scrutiny. Through the use of qualitative and inductive research, this paper begins to provide that scrutiny. Semi-structured elite interviews begin to reveal themes that will help scholars understand the decision-making processes of candidates when hiring political consultants.

“Self-Deception and Voter Behavior in the 2015 Louisiana Gubernatorial Primary Election”

ABSTRACT: This article introduces the psychological concept of self-deception—i.e., simultaneously holding two contradictory beliefs, being unaware of holding one of those beliefs, and suppressing the belief through a motivated act—to explain electoral behavior using a survey of Louisiana voters during the 2015 gubernatorial primary. I begin by examining the individual-level characteristics that predict self-deception among citizens. I then examine how self-deception influences likely voter turnout at the individual level. Finally, I evaluate how self-deception shapes individuals’ beliefs about the election. Although I find no significant relationship between self-deception and turnout, results indicate that individuals’ self-deception shapes their beliefs about the election. I conclude with a discussion of the implications of my research.