Working Papers

“Giving to the Extreme? Experimental Evidence on Donor Response to Candidate and District Characteristics.” With Joshua Clinton and Gregory Huber. Current draft available by request.

How does candidate ideology affect donors’ contribution decisions? Extant studies of donor motivations have struggled with the confounding of candidate, donor, and district characteristics in observational data and the difficulty of assessing trade-offs in surveys. To investigate the effects of these factors on donation decisions, we administer a series of multi-factorial experimental vignettes to 7,000 verified midterm donors. While ideology affects the likelihood of contributing to a candidate, the competitiveness of the district and extremity of the opponent are equally important. Moreover, donors penalize candidates who are more moderate than themselves four times as heavily as candidates who are more extreme. This asymmetric response to ideology is greatest among the most extreme donors, who prefer candidates even more extreme than themselves. Our findings suggest that donors incentivize candidate extremism even more than previously thought; however, their decisions are also influenced by other strategic electoral considerations.

“Everything in Moderation, Including Moderation: The Effect of Extremist Nominations on Campaign Fundraising.” Current draft available by request.

Are donors responsible for the election of extreme legislators? Fierce partisan polarization is one of the defining features of the contemporary U.S. Congress, and determining whether campaign contributions are the culprit is a first step in finding solutions for mitigation. Scholars have convincingly documented the relationship between candidates’ positions and their fundraising – with extreme candidates receiving greater contributions from individuals and moderates receiving more support from PACs – leading many to conclude that donors are to blame for the rise of polarization. However, this evidence is correlational due to the endogeneity of candidate positioning to metrics of success such as fundraising, so the observed relationship may not be driven by candidate positioning per se. Given donors’ and PACs’ stake in electoral outcomes, strategic considerations may weigh more heavily on their donation decisions than ideology. Using a regression discontinuity design, I estimate the effect of “as-if randomly” nominating an extremist over a moderate on general election fundraising success. Contrary to the expectations of existing research, I find no increase in individual contributions nor decrease in PAC contributions when the extremist is the nominee. A subgroup analysis by seat type similarly fails to detect any effect of nominating an extremist on campaign receipts even in races where it should be most apparent. These null results cast doubt on the causality of the relationship between candidates’ positions and their fundraising success, and call into question the stylized fact of ideology-motivated political donors.

Work in progress

“Competition and Free-Riding in Electoral Campaigns with Outside Spending.” With Brenton Kenkel.

“Campaign Positioning and Majority-Minority Differences in Legislative Representation.”