Papers and Projects

My research agenda investigates the foundations of policy change and gridlock, with a particular interest in how institutional features and unelected elites influence the policymaking process. More specifically, I examine how legislative parties, electoral competition, legislative resources, and interest group activity determine how, when, and why public policy changes. Understanding when and how policies change is essential for assessing a political system’s quality of governance, and it is central to other core concerns such as representation and economic growth. My research examines the incidence and content of policy change at both the federal and state levels and explores a wide variety of its causes and consequences.

Please use the following links to learn more about individual aspects of my research agenda, click here to access my ResearchGate page.

Parties, Electoral Competition, and Policy Change
Interest Groups, Polarization, and the Policymaking Process
Legislative Resources and Productivity
Other Projects

Parties, Electoral Competition, and Policy Change

“Waiting to Win, Choosing to Lose: Essays on Agenda Control, Party Competition, and Policy Change in the U.S.” (dissertation project)

Overview

My dissertation is organized into three papers, in which I underscore the important consequences of party agenda-control power in American legislatures. The first paper demonstrates how empowering legislative parties with gatekeeping agenda control depresses policy change, beyond what polarization alone might suggest. The second and third papers underscore the vital but understudied role that elections play in encouraging policy change or gridlock. In these papers, I illustrate how macro-level electoral competition influences both micro-level proposal behavior and macro-level institutional outputs in Congress. I provide further summaries of these papers below.

Funding

  • National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant
  • University of Michigan Rackham Pre-Doctoral Fellowship
  • Gerald R. Ford Foundation Fellowship and Grant
  • Center for Effective Lawmaking Research Grant

Paper 1: Stalemate in the States

“Stalemate in the States: Negative Agenda Control, Veto Players, and Legislative Gridlock in the American States,” 2019. Legislative Studies Quarterly.

Abstract

This article examines how the power of majority‐party leaders to set the legislative voting calendar influences policy change in American state legislatures. By generating an opportunity for party leaders to exercise gatekeeping or negative agenda control, such rules introduce an additional partisan veto player into a system of governance. This addition typically increases the size of the core or gridlock interval, which drives policy change downward. Using both traditional data on bill passage counts and new data on Affordable Care Act compliance, I find strong support for these claims. More specifically, when I calculate core sizes that are sensitive to agenda rules, I find that agenda‐control‐adjusted core size is negatively correlated with policy change, as expected. Moreover, even when I match states on their overall preference dispersion or polarization, the ability of party leaders to exercise negative agenda control is strongly negatively associated with policy change.

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Paper 2: Mandate to Message

“Mandate to Message: Bill Introduction and Position-Taking among Members of Congress” 

Abstract

This paper demonstrates how partisan competition over majority control of Congress influences the viability of legislators’ lawmaking activities. More specifically, I develop a dynamic pivotal politics model of policy change, delineating the conditions under which partisan agenda-setters will respond to competition over majority control by slowing policy change, discouraging members from expending effort to draft viable, compromise legislation. I then test the predictions of this model using an original set of spatial point estimates for status quo and bill proposal locations, based on co-sponsorship and interest-group position-taking data. Using these data, I find strong support for my model’s predictions. In particular, I find that members of Congress are far more likely to offer messaging bills when the theory suggests party leaders will block otherwise viable legislation, for partisan competitive reasons. The findings speak to a growing literature tying the insecurity of legislative majorities to a wide variety of legislative outcomes.

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Paper 3: Elections and (In)action

“Elections and (In)action: Partisan Competition and the Timing of Major Legislative Reauthorizations in Congress”

Summary

      • Applies dynamic theory of policy change (introduced in Paper 2) to predict when reauthorizations should pass late or on time, and where those reauthorizations should move ideologically.
      • Uses Bayesian IRT approach and original dataset of 1,100 reauthorization bill introductions throughout the 20th and 21st centuries to track status quo movements within 262 major reauthorization streams.


Crosson, Jesse. “Extreme Districts, Moderate Winners: Same-Party Competition in California and Washington’s Top-Two Primaries.” Forthcoming, Political Science Research and Methods.

Abstract

In an effort to break the link between districts’ lack of competitiveness and the election of ideologues, Washington and California recently adopted the “top-two” primary election system. Among other features, the top-two primary allows members of the same party to run against one another in the general election. Although proponents argue that this system encourages the election of more moderate candidates in highly partisan districts, early reports have uncovered mixed evidence of this effect—despite the fact that reformers insist the system is working. This study addresses this puzzle by first disentangling the conditions under which one should expect such primaries to encourage the election of more moderate candidates. Using election returns data from the 2008-2014 elections, I find that districts facing same-party general-election competition do elect more moderate legislators than similar districts not subject to same-party competition. However, using an application of a common regression discontinuity diagnostic test, I also find that elite actors appear able to strategically avoid this kind of competition—partially explaining why broader effects of the top-two have not been uncovered. The findings contribute not only to ongoing debates about the effectiveness of the top-two primary, but also to our understanding of how political elites may maneuver institutional changes to their own benefit.

Online appendix available here.

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Funding

 Rackham Pre-Candidate Research Grant 

Tsebelis, George and Jesse Crosson. “Multiple Vote System: Moving Parties to the Center in Multidimensional Spaces.” Working paper.

Abstract

We examine the mechanical effect of a multiple-vote, proportional representation electoral system on party vote share in n dimensions. In one dimension, Cox (1990) has proven that such a system is centripetal: it drives parties to the center of the political spectrum. However, as populism has swept across Western Europe and the United States, the importance of multiple policy dimensions has grown considerably. We use simulations to examine how a multiple-vote PR system could alter electoral outcomes in four different European democracies: Germany, Romania, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Using this approach, we find that the system acts centripetally only when a centrist party actually exists. If a political system is sorted into ideological clusters at opposite corners of the ideological space, such a system rewards centrality among extremist clusters, not centrality more broadly. These findings suggest that the existing configuration of parties in a country can alter or even subvert the aims of electoral reforms.

Interest Groups, Polarization, and the Policymaking Process

Crosson, Jesse, Zander Furnas, and Geoffrey Lorenz. “Polarized Pluralism: Organizational Preferences and Biases in the American Pressure System.” Invited to Revise and Resubmit.

Abstract

For decades, critics of pluralism have argued that the American interest group system exhibits a significantly biased distribution of policy preferences. We evaluate this argument by measuring groups’ revealed preferences directly, developing a set of ideal point estimates, IGscores, for over 2,600 interest groups and 950 members of Congress on a common scale. We generate the scores by jointly scaling a large dataset of interest groups’ positions on congressional bills with roll-call votes on those same bills. Analyses of the scores uncover significant heterogeneity in the interest group system, with little conservative skew and notable inter-party differences in preference correspondence between legislators and ideologically similar groups. Conservative bias and homogeneity reappear, however, when weighting IGscores by groups’ campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures. These findings suggest that bias among interest groups depends on the extent to which activities like contributions and lobbying influence policymakers’ perceptions about the preferences of organized interests.

Online appendix available here.

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Crosson, Jesse M., and Michael T. Heaney. “Working Together in Washington: Assessing Collaboration within Interest Group Coalitions.” Ongoing Book Project. 

Summary

This project leverages an original interview data collection effort, for which the authors completed 226 in-person interviews of interest group coalitions leaders in Washington, D.C., during the summers of 2014 and 2015. The interviews are drawn from the first-ever compilation of a representative sample of interest group coalitions in Washington, generated by over 300 phone interviews with registered lobbyists over the same time period. Unlike previous studies, which generally view coalition lobbying as a kind of strategy or lobbying tactic, this project takes the coalition itself as the unit analysis, focusing data collection on individual coalitions, their leaders, and their collaborative attributes. Consequently, interviews with coalitions captured a wide variety of coalition-specific information, including coalition design and leadership structure, venue selection, lobbying tactical decisions, new member target strategies, and more. To these interview data, we have since added observational data about the coalitions and their 11,000+ members, including information about members’ organization types, ideology (Crosson, Furnas, and Lorenz 2019), public presentation, and other features. This membership data has also allowed us to develop network data for our sample of coalitions, enabling the study of cross-issue variation in coalition participation and connectedness.

Papers

“Constructing Interest Group Coalitions.” Working paper.

Abstract

Coalitions are one of the most important tools available to interest groups as they attempt to influence the policy process, yet relatively little is known about how interest group coalitions are constructed.  Drawing upon an original dataset of 226 interviews with coalition leaders conducted in Washington, DC in 2014 and 2015, this paper examines the preferences of coalition leaders over bringing new members into their coalitions.  It explains variations in leaders’ stated preferences for organizational membership diversity with respect to ideology and issues using a two-stage mixed-process estimator.  It focuses on four features of coalitions’ issues – partisan lean, degree of controversy, distribution of benefits and costs, and venue.  The results show that preferences for ideological membership diversity are associated with majoritarian politics, legislative rather than bureaucratic venues, younger coalitions, and larger coalition sizes.  Preferences for issue membership diversity are associated with highly controversial issues, younger coalitions, and larger coalition sizes.  The results should be interpreted with caution due to possible length bias.  Future work on this project promises to yield better understanding of how interest groups, political parties, and coalitions are alternative but related institutions for strategic actors to advance their public policy interests.

“Working Together Across Ideological Divides: When Do Lobbying Coalitions Effectively Promote their Policy Aims?” — with Richard Price. Work in progress.

Summary

Combines perspectives from organizational psychology and institutional political science to examine how members operate within ideologically diverse coalitions.

Documentation

Funding

  • University of Michigan Department of Political Science
  • University of Michigan Organizational Studies Program
  • University of Michigan School of Literature, Science and the Arts
  • University of Michigan Office of Research

Recognition


Hall, Richard L. and Jesse Crosson. “Lobbyist Access and Gender in Congress.” Work in progress.

Summary

  • Examines whether a gender match between a lobbyist and her targeted legislative staffer increases her chances of gaining access to that congressional office.
  • Leverages detailed data on members’ issue specific legislative staff, and interviews from 160 federal lobbyists over nearly 25 years.

 

Legislative Resources and Productivity

Crosson, Jesse, Geoffrey Lorenz, Craig Volden, and Alan Wiseman. “How Experienced Legislative Staff Contribute to Effective Lawmaking.” In volume, Congressional Capacity (forthcoming).

Abstract

Members of Congress seek to allocate their scarce staff resources carefully, given their multiple, sometimes competing, objectives. Using data on House members’ staff allocations from 1994 to 2013, we demonstrate that legislators advance more (and more significant) legislation when they retain a more experienced legislative staff. This benefit, however, accrues mostly to committee chairs, whose institutional privileges allow them to leverage experienced staff, and to the most junior legislators, whose inexperience can be best supplemented by experienced aides. Finally, we show that legislators do not generally benefit from large legislative staffs, but rather from having individual legislative staffers with high levels of experience.  This finding suggests that a targeted strategy to retain the most experienced legislative staff in Congress may pay the greatest dividends in regards to lawmaking.

Online appendix available here.

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Crosson, Jesse, Alexander C. Furnas, Timothy LaPira, and Casey Burgat. “Ideological Sabotage, Party Competition, and the Decline in Congressional Capacity.” Invited to Revise and Resubmit. 

Abstract

Since the 1990s, members of the U.S. House have systematically shifted resources from legislative functions to non-legislative functions. We document this trend and test two equally plausible explanations for members’ of Congress decline in legislative capacity: asymmetrical ideological sabotage versus symmetrical party competition. Using an original panel dataset constructed from 236,000 quarterly payroll disbursements for 120,000 unique House staff between the 103rd and 113th Congresses, we show that members’ divestment in legislative capacity that coincidentally began with the Contract with America is in fact symmetrical between parties and is consistent within parties. Additionally, investment in legislative functions declines within incumbent member offices over time, accelerates when newly elected members of either party replace departing ones, and persists when the out-party takes over control of the chamber. We conclude that the intense, perpetual campaign for institutional control, and not conservatives’ expressed preferences for limited government, motivates declining legislative capacity among members.

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Crosson, Jesse. with assistance from Alexander Furnas and Tim LaPira. Congress and Its ExpertsOngoing research project. 

Summary

  • Major data collection effort to gather and categorize information on congressional staffer service in the House of Representatives, from 103rd to 113th Congress.
  • Data includes information on staff responsibilities, salaries, education, race, gender, and experience.
  • Expansion of data to Senate, committee staff coming soon.

Papers

Crosson, Jesse M., Geoffrey Lorenz, Craig Volden, and Alan Wiseman. “How Experienced Legislative Staff Contribute to Effective Lawmaking.

Crosson, Jesse, Alexander C. Furnas, Timothy LaPira, and Casey Burgat. “Ideological Sabotage, Party Competition, and the Decline in Congressional Capacity.”

Documentation

Funding

  • University of Michigan Library Data Grant


Strickland, James and Jesse Crosson. “K Street on Main: How Legislative Institutionalization Cultivates a Professional Lobbying Elite.” Working paper under revision.

Abstract

Across the United States over time, multi-client lobbyists have attracted more clients than ever before. Local “K Streets,” consisting of networked advocates, have emerged in each state capital. The rise of multi-client lobbyists is puzzling, since such advocates have greater ability to shirk than in-house agents, and because they can take advantage of collective action problems that occur between clients. To explain this increase, we propose that group leaders trade agency over their representation for the relationships and expertise that multi-client lobbyists provide. Legislative institutionalization increases the value of relationships by reducing turnover among legislators. It also increases the value of process knowledge by increasing internal complexity. Using panel data spanning multiple decades, we find that legislative institutionalization strongly predicts the incidence of multi-client lobbying. This link is moderated by reforms designed to weaken relationships between lobbyists and legislators, including bans on gifts and campaign donations.

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Recognition

2016-17 Eldersveld Prize (best University of Michigan graduate student paper)

Other Research


Crosson, Jesse, Zander Furnas, and Geoffrey Lorenz. “Estimating Bill Proposal and Status Quo Locations Using Position-Taking Data.” Working paper.

Abstract

Generation of point estimates for bill proposals and status quo locations has long proven a difficult impediment to the study of policymaking. Indeed, while the legislators’ ideal points and a roll call vote’s cutpoint are well-identified using existing methods, identification of proposal and status quo locations is fragile and relies crucially upon the curvature of the legislators’ assumed utility functions. In this study, we develop an original dataset of 1,000 bill proposal and status quo point estimates from the 110th to the 114th Congress, by jointly scaling cosponsorship, roll call, and interest group position-taking data. Importantly, because interest groups in our data take public positions on bills before they ever receive a roll call vote, our data set includes point estimates for a large number of bills that never receive a roll call vote, permitting comparison between bills that do and do not advance through Congress. After introducing our methodology, we demonstrate how these data and the underlying methodology can contribute to study of a wide variety of topics in legislative politics, including partisan agenda-setting and members’ bill sponsorship strategies.

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Dayaratna, Kevin, Benjamin Kedem, and Jesse Crosson. “Bayesian Inferences for Binary Logistic Regression Using Polynomial Expansions.” Working paper under revision. 

Summary

  • Generates an estimation approach, using polynomial expansions, dramatically improves the estimation of heterogeneous Bayesian logistic models, as it substantially reduces the parameter space and improves computational efficiency over traditional MCMC approaches.
  • Applies approach to computationally intensive example predicting voter turnout using multilevel regression with post-stratification.