Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste: Agenda Setting and Legislative Voting in Response to the EU Crisis

with Benjamin E Lauderdale, Forthcoming – Journal of Politics (2017)

When exogenous shocks make status quo policies less attractive, legislators become more tolerant to proposed alternatives that are further from their ideal in general political dimensions. This increases the discretion of legislative agenda-setters, and allows them to pass policy that would have been impossible in the absence of a crisis. We argue that this dynamic explains changes in voting patterns of the European Parliament during the period of the financial crisis, given control of the agenda-setting process by pro-integration actors. We observe voting coalitions increasingly dividing legislators along the pro-anti integration dimension of disagreement, but only in policy areas related to the crisis. In line with more qualitative assessments of the content of passed legislation, the implication is that pro-integration actors were able to shift policy further towards integration than they could have without the crisis.

Open/Closed List and Party Choice: Experimental Evidence from the UK

with Andrew C. Eggers, Dominik Hangartner & Simon Hix, British Journal of Political Science (2016)

Which parties benefit from open-list (as opposed to closed-list) proportional representation elections? This article shows that a move from closed-list to open-list competition is likely to be more favorable to parties with more internal disagreement on salient issues; this is because voters who might have voted for a unified party under closed lists may be drawn to specific candidates within internally divided parties under open lists. The study provides experimental evidence of this phenomenon in a hypothetical European Parliament election in the UK, in which using an open-list ballot would shift support from UKIP (the Eurosceptic party) to Eurosceptic candidates of the Conservative Party. The findings suggest that open-list ballots could restrict support for parties that primarily mobilize on a single issue.

Intra-Party Politics, Cohesion, and Legislative Gridlock

Working Paper (2016)

Where the preferences of party members are more diffuse, it becomes more difficult for legislative party leaders to discipline their members, making agenda control a more attractive means of maintaining party cohesion on the legislative floor. Thus, when disciplinary resources are limited, increases in intra-party polarisation will increase the range of proposals blocked by party leaders. Using roll-call data and a new dataset of blocked legislative proposals, I show that these relationships hold in the European Parliament, where agenda control and carrot and stick disciplinary powers are held by different sets of parliamentary actors. These findings have implications for our understanding of European Parliament politics specifically, and for the relationship between intra-party dynamics and legislative gridlock more generally.

Legislative Role Models: Female Ministers, Participation, and Influence in the UK House of Commons

Under Review (2017)

When women are promoted to high political office, do they serve as role models to other women in politics? In this paper, I evaluate a female role-model hypothesis in a legislative setting by examining patterns of participation and influence in parliamentary debates in the UK House of Commons. In the context of a difference-in-differences design which exploits variation in the gender of cabinet ministers over an 18 year period, I demonstrate that appointing a female minister increases the proportion of words spoken by other female MPs in relevant debates by approximately one third, compared to the average proportion of words when the minister is male. Further, by analysing the centrality of legislative speeches, I show that the appointment of a female cabinet minister also increases the influence of female backbenchers. To explore the mechanisms that drive these results, I introduce a new quantitative measure of ministerial `responsiveness’, and show that female cabinet ministers are significantly more responsive to questions posed by female backbenchers than are male ministers.

Are E-Petitions Pointless? Evidence from the House of Commons

Working Paper (2017)

Are legislators responsive to the issue priorities of their constituents? Does learning about constituents’ issue priorities affect parliamentary behaviour? Voters in the UK are able to sign government e-petitions which provide information regarding the salience of a variety of issues across different parliamentary constituencies. E-petitions constitute an explicit mechanism to try to gauge public interest but we know little about the effects that these petitions have on the parliamentary behaviour of MPs. In this paper, I study whether MPs representing constituencies where a given petition receives many signatures are more likely to speak in parliamentary debates relating to that petition than MPs from constituencies where only few people signed the relevant petition. In the observational analysis, I combine statistical topic-modelling with a Bayesian mixed-effects model to examine the relationship between petition signatures and debate participation while controlling for an MP’s underlying propensity to speak on issues of the type raised in the petition. I then present results from a randomised field experiment in which I publicise petition signature information to a randomly selected set of MPs in the House of Commons and measure the effect of this exposure on the probability that legislators will participate in parliamentary debates that are linked to the petitions.