Papers and Projects

My research investigates how party competition has transformed nearly every major facet of American political institutions, with a specific focus on legislatures and parties. In particular, my research makes use of advances in computational social science and causal inference econometrics, generally performed on large datasets compiled with the help of talented teams of undergraduate researchers, to examine how such competition has influenced legislative agenda-setting and policy change, the relationship between organized interests and political parties, and resource allocations by individual members of Congress and state legislatures.

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 and the Policymaking Process
Legislative Capacity and Productivity
Other Projects

Parties, Electoral Competition, and Policy Change

“Progress or Principle? Partisan Competition, Bill Sponsorship, and Position-Taking in 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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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

Crosson, Jesse. “Extreme Districts, Moderate Winners: Same-Party Competition in California and Washington’s Top-Two Primaries.” 2020, 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 

Crosson, Jesse M. and Michael Olson. “Divided, But By What? Parties, Preferences, and Policy Stasis.” Working paper.

Abstract

Prominent accounts of American politics posit both partisan and preference-based conflict as sources of policymaking dysfunction, but empirical tests rarely adjudicate between these accounts. In this paper, we examine the relative importance of these sources in the context of divided government and policymaking in the U.S. states. Using a new dataset of state-level gridlock intervals, we compare the role of preference-based gridlock to other, non-preference-based sources of policy stasis. Re-examining a variety of outcomes explored in existing studies of divided government, we find that, apart from a few exceptions, preference-based gridlock appears not to be the primary mechanism through which divided government affects the policymaking outcomes we examine. This study highlights the importance of understanding the mechanisms through which partisan differences operate when positing solutions to policy stasis in the United States.

Online appendix available here.

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Recognition

Winner: 2019 Award for Best State Politics Paper Presented at Any Conference

Gibbs, Daniel, Jesse M. Crosson and Charles M. Cameron. “Message Legislation and the Politics of Virtue Signaling.” Working paper.

Abstract

Message bills are hopeless legislation constructed not to change public policy but instead to signal desirable attributes of incumbents to constituents-virtue signaling. Well-known examples are the repeated hopeless attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act during the 113th and 114th Congresses. To explore the logic of message legislation, we create a formal principal-agent model of electoral accountability. The theory makes explicit predictions about who signals, on what kind of issues, and when. Then, using novel and extensive data on bill locations and status quo locations, we test the predictions. The data suggest that most introduced bills are not viable. Who messages and on what topics appear consistent with the theory; the evidence is less supportive on when members message. We further show that the patterns predicted for non-viable message bills do not hold in viable bills. We briefly discuss the normative implications. Message legislation helps voters select zealous representatives , but perhaps at the cost of lower quality policy-making.

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Crosson, Jesse M. and George Tsebelis. “Multiple Vote Electoral Systems: A Remedy for Political Polarization.” 2021, Journal of European Public Policy.

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 system could alter electoral outcomes in all possible parliamentary systems. We find that multiple vote systems act centripetally in multiple dimensions too, though weakly in extreme cases where parties are sorted into ideological clusters at opposite corners of the ideological space. Even in these cases, though, we find that a slight disturbance of the conditions (by introducing an additional party- even if it is very small) strengthens the centripetal properties of the multiple vote system.

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“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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“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.[/expandsub1]

Interest Groups, Polarization, and the Policymaking Process

Crosson, Jesse M., Alexander C. Furnas, and Geoffrey M. Lorenz. Polarizing Pluralism: Party Competition, Interest Group Strategy, and the Resurgent Mischiefs of Faction. Book project.

Summary

Given their usual depiction as parochial and pragmatic policy-seekers, our findings in “Polarized Pluralism” regarding the polarization of modern-day interest groups are puzzling. Particularly in an era wherein predicting party control of government is especially difficult, why would policy-motivated interests seemingly align themselves with just one political party? In this book, we seek to answer this question. To do so, we draw on large-scale data collection of interest group position-taking over time and analyze these data using cutting-edge computational methods. Through a series of empirical tests, we test a new theory of interest group partisanship, wherein we argue that the rise of insecure partisan majorities in Congress has led members of Congress to look for signals of allegiance to party, above and beyond the usual signals of alignment of (issue-specific) preferences.

Content

Funding

  • New America Foundation
  • Dirksen Congressional Center
  • Carl Albert Center

Strickland, James and Jesse Crosson. “K Street on Main: How Legislative Institutionalization Cultivates a Professional Lobbying Elite.” 2022. Political Science Research & Methods.

Abstract

This study explores the consequences of legislative turnover for the hiring of lobbyists and influence of interest groups. We argue that lobbyists develop durable relationships with lawmakers in assemblies with low turnover. Such relationships allow lobbyists to attract clients. We use a new, state-level measure of multi-client lobbying to show that legislative turnover and multi-client lobbying are inversely related: decreases in turnover are correlated with more multi-client lobbying. In a second set of analyses, we find that legislative term limits are associated with less multi-client lobbying. Since multi-client lobbying poses risks to the representation of individual interests and magnifies the effects of resource differences between interests, our results suggest that turnover may help more diverse interests to achieve political influence.

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Recognition

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

Crosson, Jesse, Zander Furnas, and Geoffrey Lorenz. “Polarized Pluralism: Organizational Preferences and Biases in the American Pressure System.” 2020, American Political Science Review.

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.

Replication data available here.

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Recognition

Co-winner: 2019 Best Paper Presented in Political Organizations and Parties Section at American Political Science Association Annual Meeting


Crosson, Jesse M. and Srinivas Parinandi. “Essential or Expedient? COVID-19 and Business Closures in the U.S. States.” 2021. Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy.

Abstract

To what extent has political pressure or connectedness influenced governors’ responses to public health recommendations regarding business closures? We investigate whether campaign contributions from particular industries track governors’ designations of those industries as “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Analyzing the initial iteration of states’ lockdown orders, we find preliminary evidence linking receipt of gubernatorial campaign contributions from industry to an increased likelihood of designating that business area as essential. In other words, governors are more likely to designate a business area as essential if they received campaign contributions from that business area. Our result preliminarily suggests that money in politics plays a role in shaping public health responses, and we recommend further research on this matter.

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Coverage


Furnas, Alexander C., Geoffrey M. Lorenz and Jesse M. Crosson. “Pandemic Pluralism: Legislator Championing of Organized Interests in Response to COVID-19.” 2021. Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy.

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has induced a system-wide economic downturn disrupting virtually every conceivable economic interest. Which interests do legislators publicly champion during such crises? Here, we examine mentions of particular industries across thousands of press releases issued by members of Congress during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (January to June 2020). We show that members consistently emphasized interests significant to their constituency and party network, but less so their direct campaign contributors or ideological allies. This suggests that members believe they must be seen as good district representatives and party stewards even when national crises could justifiably induce them to favor any number of interests.

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Crosson, Jesse M., Patricia A Kirkland, and Mary A. Kroeger. “Group Bills and Polarized Policymaking: Evidence from Proposal Locations in the California State Legislature Related Literature Interest Groups in Legislative Politics.”

Abstract

A growing body of literature within the study of state legislatures cites interest groups as a major source of legislation. In spite of these findings, less is known about the actual nature of group-written legislation, including how it differs from traditional, member-driven legislation or how agenda scarcity alters groups’ bill-writing strategies. In this study, we generate an original dataset of bill proposal and status quo location estimates in California in order to investigate how group-sponsored bills differ from traditional member-written legislation. To do so, we jointly scale data on bill-specific interest group position-taking, member cosponsorship and roll call behavior, developing a large set of proposal and status quo location estimates on the same preference scale as ideal points for both interest groups and members of the legislature. Using these scores, we investigate how group-sponsored bills compared to traditional legislation in their ideological extremity and sensitivity.

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Lorenz, Geoffrey, Alexander C. Furnas, and Jesse M. Crosson. Large-N bill positions data from MapLight.org: What can we learn from interest groups’ publicly observable legislative positions? 2020. Interest Groups & Advocacy.

Abstract

The transparency organization MapLight records instances of organizations taking positions for and against legislation in Congress. The dataset comprises some 130,000 such positions taken on thousands of bills between the 109th and 115th Congresses (2005–2018). The depth and breadth of these data potentially give them wide applicability for answering questions about interest group behavior and influence as well as legislative politics more broadly. However, the coverage and content of the data are affected by aspects of MapLight’s research process. This article introduces the MapLight dataset and its potential uses, examines issues related to sampling and other aspects of MapLight’s research process, and explains how scholars can address these to make appropriate use of the data.

Special Issue on Interest Groups and contemporary sources of data.

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Crosson, Jesse M., Alexander C. Furnas, and Geoffrey Lorenz. “Resources and agendas: combining Walker’s insights with new data sources to chart a path ahead.” 2021. Interest Groups & Advocacy. 

Summary

Special-edition retrospective on Jack Walker’s Mobilizing Interest Groups in America, focused on how new data sources and methods have unlocked new opportunities for examining how group mobilization has evolved.

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

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.

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., Jesse Crosson, Ciera Hammond, and Jessica Preece. “Lobbyist Access and Gender in Congress.” Book Project.

Abstract

Advocacy in the legislative process depends upon access to it. Without access, a group has no voice when it matters most — when legislators get down to the business of writing, negotiating, amending, and passing or blocking legislation. A number of studies have shown that access to Congress is highly unequal along economic lines. We argue that access is also gendered, that the effects of gender show up in the on-the-ground practice of lobbying, and that those effects systematically diminish the voice of female advocates and the interests they represent. We examine these claims by analyzing an extensive dataset of lobbyists and their access attempts in Congress, drawn from a combination of original interview data and detailed congressional staff data.

Summary

  • Project examines the role that gender–of lobbyists, legislators, and staff—plays in determining how and whether a lobbyist gains access to a congressional office.
  • Leverages detailed data on members’ issue-specific legislative staff and interviews from 160 federal lobbyists over nearly 25 years, creating .

Legislative Resources and Productivity

Crosson, Jesse, M. and Jaclyn Kaslovsky. “Do Local Roots Impact Washington Behaviors? District Connections and Representation in the U.S. Congress.” Invited to Revise and Resubmit.

Abstract

Although commentators often point to the political value of legislators’ local ties within a constituency, less is known about the influence of such connections once in office. Thus, though research has underscored the value of local roots to reelection, their implications for representational behaviors remain unclear. In this paper, we collect the hometowns of all members of Congress with known birth locations from 1789 to 2020 to analyze how being born near one’s district impacts party influence on voting and cosponsorship attraction. After establishing a pattern of less partisan behavior among local legislators, we join our data to information on staff expenditures to show that, while local legislators enjoy more separation from party, they do so by emphasizing constituency work, rather than policymaking. Taken together, our results point to important representational implications regarding the geographic roots of legislators—and the dramatic decline in the election of such legislators in recent years.

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Crosson, Jesse, Zander Furnas, and Geoffrey Lorenz. “Pivots or Partisans? Proposal-Making Strategy and Status Quo Selection in Congress.”

Abstract

Directly testing important theories of congressional lawmaking has been limited by small samples, costly data requirements, strong theoretical assumptions, or stringent lobbying disclosure requirements at other levels of government. We address these issues by jointly scaling cosponsorship, roll call, and interest group position-taking data to estimate proposal and status quo locations for 1,007 bills from the 110th through the 114th Congresses. Importantly, because interest groups in our data take public positions on bills before they ever receive a roll call vote, our approach generates 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 validating our estimates, we present several applications demonstrating that legislative advancement favors moderate proposals over partisan ones, and that effective lawmakers are those who make proposals closer to the median even at the expense of their preferred policy.

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Crosson, Jesse, Alexander C. Furnas, Timothy LaPira, and Casey Burgat. “Ideological Sabotage, Party Competition, and the Decline in Congressional Capacity.” 2020, Legislative Studies Quarterly

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, Geoffrey Lorenz, Craig Volden, and Alan Wiseman. “How Experienced Legislative Staff Contribute to Effective Lawmaking.” In volume, Congress Overwhelmed: The Decline in Congressional Capacity and Prospects for Reform (2020).

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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Media

Mike Henry, Chief of Staff for Senator Tim Kaine, discusses themes from our paper, in interview with Craig Volden



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

Coverage

Other Research

Dayaratna, Kevin, Jesse Crosson, and Chandler Hubbard. “Bayesian Inferences for Binary Logistic Regression Using Polynomial Expansions.” Working paper. 

Abstract

Understanding the factors that influence voter turnout is a fundamentally important question in public policy and political science research. Bayesian logistic regression models are useful for incorporating individual level heterogeneity to answer these and many other questions. When these questions involve incorporating individual level heterogeneity for large data sets that include many demographic and ethnic subgroups, however, standard Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) sampling methods to estimate such models can be quite slow and impractical to perform in a reasonable amount of time. We present an innovative closed form approach that is significantly faster than MCMC methods, enabling the estimation of voter turnout models that had previously been considered computationally infeasible. Our results shed light on factors impacting voter turnout data in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections. We conclude with a discussion of these factors and the associated policy implications.