System Thinking

Kevin Lewis

July 01, 2022

Bottlenecks for Evidence Adoption
Stefano DellaVigna, Woojin Kim & Elizabeth Linos
NBER Working Paper, June 2022

Governments increasingly use RCTs to test innovations before scale up. Yet, we know little about whether and how they incorporate the results of the experiments into policy-making. We follow up with 67 U.S. city departments which collectively ran 73 RCTs in collaboration with a national Nudge Unit. Compared to most contexts, the barriers to adoption are low. Yet, city departments adopt a nudge treatment in follow-on communication in 27% of cases. As potential determinants of adoption we consider (i) the strength of the evidence, as determined by the RCT itself, (ii) features of the organization, such as “organizational capacity” of the city and whether the city staff member working on the RCT has been retained, and (iii) the experimental design, such as whether the RCT was implemented as part of pre-existing communication. We find (i) a limited impact of strength of the evidence and (ii) some impact of city features, especially the retention of the original staff member. By far, the largest predictor of adoption is (iii) whether the communication was pre-existing, as opposed to a new communication. We consider two main interpretations of this finding: organizational inertia, in that changes to pre-existing communications are more naturally folded into year-to-year city processes, and costs, since new communications may require additional funding. We find the same pattern for electronic communications, with zero marginal costs, supporting the organizational inertia explanation. The pattern of results differs from the predictions of both experts and practitioners, who over-estimate the extent of evidence-based adoption. Our results underline the importance of considering the barriers to evidence adoption, beginning at the stage of experimental design and continuing after the RCT completion. 

The Malapportionment of the US House of Representatives: 1940–2020
Ruoxi Li
PS: Political Science & Politics, forthcoming

In the latest round of the apportionment of the US House of Representatives following the 2020 Census, the State of New York lost a seat by an extremely small margin: if a mere 89 people were added to the state’s population of 20 million, the state would have kept the seat. Political observers pointed to the tendency of the US Census to undercount minority and immigrant populations as the primary culprit. However, New York’s seat loss is as much an issue of apportionment as it is of counting. The current apportionment method used by the federal government, Huntington-Hill’s method, is biased against more populous states such as New York. If an alternative apportionment method were used, such as Webster’s method, New York would have kept the seat. This article discusses four historical apportionment methods: Hamilton’s method, Huntington-Hill’s method, Jefferson’s method, and Webster’s method. These methods are evaluated against the three criteria of within-quota, consistency, and unbiasedness. The article shows that Huntington-Hill’s method has produced biased apportionment results in eight of nine apportionments since its official adoption in 1941. The article concludes with a recommendation for replacing the current apportionment method with the only unbiased divisor method: Webster’s method.

The Manchin Paradox
Keith Krehbiel & Sara Krehbiel
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

We identify and analyze an enigma of U.S. Senate procedure. Why does its pivotal voter under simple-majority voting prefer that the body makes law using super-majority cloture (e.g., the filibuster, or threat thereof, within the strictures of Rule XXII)? Using a two-stage game of procedural choice and policy choice, we reveal and rationalize the Manchin Paradox and explore its implications for super-majoritarianism and legislative organization.


Two-party competition in the United States: Reversed growth trends
Graham Straus
Party Politics, forthcoming

Does two-party competition in the United States lead to improved human welfare spending? The debate over the merits of competition has gained traction yet again in the study of American politics. Gerald Gamm and Thad Kousser suggest that from 1880 to 1980 two-party competition led to desirable outcomes like increased education, transportation, and health spending. The modern panel data presented here suggest the spending effects do not persist beyond 1980 up through 2020, and also, there is a negative effect on economic growth stemming from state-level partisan competition. The reversal of the historical trend is justified by predictions from existing formal models: at particularly high levels of baseline political competition, the effect of additional competition on growth is ambiguous.

Plugging the Pipe? Evaluating the (Null) Effects of Leaks on Supreme Court Legitimacy|
Nathan Carrington & Logan Strother
Purdue University Working Paper, May 2022

Occasionally, information about the inner workings of the Supreme Court is leaked to the press by insiders -- clerks, or even justices themselves. These leaks reliably stoke controversy among commentators and academics alike who pontificate on the negative effect leaks have on the Court's institutional legitimacy. However, it is not immediately clear from existing theories whether populating the media environment with leaked information will affect public perceptions of the Court, let alone the direction of such effects. Indeed, some theories predict leaks should result in an increase in legitimacy while others suggest a decrease. In this paper, we use an original survey combined with an original survey experiment to test the extent to which, if any, leaks influence legitimacy ascribed to the Supreme Court. Analysis shows a tightly-estimated null effect of leaks on public views on the Court.

Going Nuclear: Federalist Society Affiliated Judicial Nominees’ Prospects and a New Era of Confirmation Politics
Christine Bird & Zachary McGee
American Politics Research, forthcoming

Significant changes to the federal judicial confirmation process have manifested over the past decade, including multiple procedural reforms in the United States Senate. We argue the “nuclear option,” the reduction of the vote-threshold required to proceed to a final confirmation vote on judicial nominees (i.e., to invoke cloture) from three-fifths to a simple majority, contributed to a renewed escalation of partisan confirmation battles on which the Federalist Society capitalized. Pundits and politicians alike show growing concern about the role of interest groups, especially those associated with the conservative legal movement, in judicial nominations. The intersection of these two sets of changes raises questions about the contemporary judicial nominations process. Utilizing a novel dataset of Federalist Society (FedSoc) affiliates drawn from event listings (1993–2020), we analyze the interactive role of FedSoc affiliation with Senate procedural changes to the judicial confirmation process. We find affiliation with the Federalist Society, after the initial nuclear option was implemented, increases the probability of a circuit court nominee’s confirmation by approximately 20%. 

Still the Same? Revealed Preferences and Ideological Self-Perception Among Former Members of Congress
Adam Ramey, Jonathan Klingler & Gary Hollibaugh
American Politics Research, forthcoming 

For years, countless scholars have posited the role of constituency and party pressure on legislators’ roll call voting records. Indeed, though popular estimates of legislators’ preferences often come from roll call data (e.g., DW-NOMINATE scores), most scholars are careful to note that these are not necessarily measures of ideology per se but rather of legislators’ revealed preferences—that is, they reflect both legislators’ ideological commitments as well as the influence of party and constituency. In this paper, we offer fairly robust evidence that existing measures of legislator behavior may be closer to their preferences than once thought. Using a novel survey of former members of the House of Representatives, we leverage the severing of the electoral connection and lack of institutional party pressure to show that legislators’ preferences as measured by existing methods closely mirror their own perceptions of themselves. 

Measuring Contract Patronage in U. S. Federal Government Contract Markets -- An Exploratory Analysis
William Resh & Eli Keunyoung Lee
University of Southern California Working Paper, May 2022

Combining data on federal contract awards by agency and location, agency attributes, and the political dynamics at play over the course of a twenty-year panel, we model the relative change in contract awards within and across states as a function of the three-dimensional relationship among Senators, presidents, and agencies through partisan and ideological alignment. We seek evidence of the potential mechanisms of contracts-as-patronage. We define “contract patronage” as the extent to which a contract agent is selected on a basis beyond the operational exigencies of the principal. We find evidence that contract patronage takes place contingent upon the ideological alignment among presidents, Senators, and awarding agencies. Federal contract markets tend to see overall change based on Senatorial representation except when the president is in the representing Senator’s party. Also, changes in state contract markets are contingent on the ideological orientation of the agency. Those markets represented by Republican (Democrat) Senators see a relative increase (decrease) in contract change for liberal (conservative) agencies under conditions of a copartisan presidency. In terms of a president’s managerial influence, we find that the layering of unilateral appointees through the managerial and executive ranks of an organization (i.e., “politicization”) has an impact on contract decision-making within state markets when the president is copartisan to the representative Senator. These effects are also contingent upon the relative ideological orientation of the agency vis-à-vis the focal Senator and the president.


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