Thank you for visiting my website. I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Florida State University, and an Associate Professor of Law at the Florida State University College of Law (by Courtesy).
My research and teaching interests center on comparative democratic institutions of modern Latin America, with particular regard for courts, the separation of powers, and the rule of law. My research has been published in outlets such as the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, The Journal of Law and Courts, World Development, Political Research Quarterly, and has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Humane Studies, among others.
I received my Ph.D. from the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis. As a Ph.D student at Washington University in St. Louis, I was a Graduate Research Associate in the Center for Empirical Research in the Law and a member of the Democratic Institutions Research Team. Prior to attending graduate school, I received my B.A. in Spanish and Latin American Studies at Gonzaga University.
THE COSTS OF COURT CURBING: EVIDENCE FROM THE UNITED STATES (WITH MICHAEL J. NELSON.) THE JOURNAL OF POLITICS. FORTHCOMING. DOI.
Winner of the 2021 APSA Law & Courts Section Best Conference Paper Award and the 2022 Neal Tate Award for Best Conference Paper in Judicial Politics at the SPSA
Canonical models of interbranch relations assume that incumbents undermine well-respected courts at their own peril. Although court curbing proposals are frequent in diverse political and institutional contexts, there have been few efforts to examine the electoral cost of interbranch aggression. Drawing upon vignette and conjoint experiments, we find some evidence that the public will punish incumbents for attacks on courts. However, the size of the effect varies: it is largest among individuals who hold the court in high esteem and can be mitigated by copartisanship with the proposer. Moreover, once information about partisanship and issue positions is available to respondents, the effect of supporting court curbing is smaller than those other considerations. These results have implications for the public's willingness to safeguard the institutional separation of powers via the electoral connection and suggest that politicians may engage in activities that erode democracy without a broad loss of public support.
ACCOUNTABILITY FOR COURT PACKING (WITH MICHAEL J. NELSON.) THE JOURNAL OF LAW & COURTS. (2023):1-22. DOI.
How does the public respond to court packing attempts? Longstanding accounts of public support for courts suggest voters retaliate against incumbents who seek to manipulate well-respected courts. Yet incumbents might strategically frame their efforts in bureaucratic terms to minimize the public's outcry or use court packing proposals to activate a partisan base of support. Drawing on a series of survey experiments, we demonstrate that strategic politicians can minimize electoral backlash by couching court reform proposals in apolitical language, and institutional legitimacy's shielding effect dissolves in the face of shared partisanship. These results shed new light on how ambitious politicians might avoid electoral consequences for efforts to bend the judiciary to their will.
ARE COURTS DIFFERENT? EXPERIMENTAL EVIDENCE FROM THE UNITED STATES (WITH MICHAEL J. NELSON), 2023. RESEARCH & POLITICS. 10(3). DOI.
U.S. courts have long been thought to be held in special regard by the American public, and public support is theorized to protect institutions from interbranch aggression. At the same time, recent research underscores that institutional fealty and public reaction to court curbing is shaped by partisan concerns. Drawing on a survey experiment fielded in the U.S., we evaluate whether (1) the public is uniquely punitive toward incumbents who seek to undermine a court rather than an agency and (2) the extent to which these penalties are dependent upon shared partisanship with the proposer. We demonstrate that the public is less supportive of efforts to strip judicial power than analogous efforts to strip power from an executive agency, but that this penalty for court curbing dissipates in the face of copartisanship. This substantiates previous claims regarding the role of partisanship on shaping public attitudes about high courts but underscores that the American public may still hold the courts in unique regard.
EVALUATING EXCUSES: HOW THE PUBLIC JUDGES NONCOMPLIANCE (WITH JAY N. KREHBIEL, MICHAEL J. NELSON, AND TARAN SAMARTH), 2023. JOURNAL OF BEHAVIORAL PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION. FORTHCOMING.
Public officials often make policy but delegate its implementation. Yet, for reasons ranging from intransigence to incompetence, those tasked with implementation may not faithfully implement policies. If implementors can frame noncompliance in a way that engenders sympathy, they may be able to disrupt the policymaking process with limited public backlash. We examine if the public's willingness to excuse noncompliance varies with the implementing actor's stated rationale for its failing to carry out the policy. Drawing on a survey experiment fielded in Germany, we find that the public is more sympathetic to resource-based, rather than principled, justifications for noncompliance, though the size of the effect is small. Further, contrary to fears that the pandemic would decay democratic functioning by leading citizens to be more forgiving of emergency-based inaction, we find no evidence that the public is more accepting of noncompliance justified on the base of the pandemic.
CONDITIONAL CASH TRANSFER PROGRAMS AND CHILD LABOR (WITH GABRIEL CEPALUNI, TAYLOR KINSLEY CHEWNING & MARCO ANTONIO FAGANELLO.) WORLD DEVELOPMENT, 152:1-15. DOI.
Child labor is a pernicious problem throughout the developing world, but conditional cash transfer programs (CCTs) could reduce the number of working children. We evaluate the effectiveness of CCTs at attenuating child labor based on our analysis of a massive administrative dataset on Brazil’s applicants to social programs between 2001 and 2015. We use Multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) as an instrument for receiving the Bolsa Família stipend. Receiving the stipend does not offset the cost of an exogenous increase in family size, does not reduce child laborers’ participation in the workforce and does not improve educational outcomes for child laborers in households with Multiples births. Instead, contextual and familial factors appear to shape program efficacy in mitigating this troubling practice.
PREJUDICE, STRATEGIC DISCRIMINATION AND THE ELECTORAL CONNECTION: EVIDENCE FROM A PAIR OF FIELD EXPERIMENTS IN BRAZIL.(WITH GABRIEL CEPALUNI, FELICIANO DE SÁ GUIMARÃES AND PAOLO SPADA.) AMERICAN JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, 62(4):781-795. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION.
Can electoral incentives mitigate racial and class prejudices toward underrepresented groups? We use a pair of large-scale field experiments to investigate the responsiveness of Brazilian legislative candidates to information requests from fictitious voters before and after the 2010 legislative elections. Our panel study design allows us to examine how politicians' electoral incentives and prejudices jointly affect their responsiveness to voters with randomly assigned socioeconomic and partisan characteristics. Distinguishing between prejudiced and strategic discrimination in responsiveness, we find that socioeconomically privileged and competitive candidates are equally responsive to underrepresented voters in advance of the election, yet less responsive once in office.
`GOING PUBLIC’ IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE: PRESIDENTS’ PUBLIC APPEALS UNDER PURE PRESIDENTIALISM (WITH ALEXANDRA COCKERHAM AND JOAN V. JOSEPH), 2019. PRESIDENTIAL STUDIES QUARTERLY. DOI.
Though the notion of “going public” has its origins in U.S. presidency, we have little sense of how direct appeals to the public fit into the broader portfolio of presidential powers. We debut a new dataset that includes 24 different presidents from 18 different countries, and show that the frequency of presidents’ public appeals varies with both their partisan support in the legislature, and their status as a newcomer to the political system. In so doing, we situate presidents’ direct public appeals as an under appreciated source of executive influence in the study of comparative presidential systems.
THERE IS NO LEGITIMACY CRISIS: PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR JUDICIAL INSTITUTIONS IN MODERN LATIN AMERICA (WITH MICHAEL J. NELSON), 2018. REVISTA SAAP, 12(2):366-371. DOI
Obdurate conventional wisdom suggests that the public support the U.S. Supreme Court enjoys is unique while widespread pessimism colors extant assessments of high courts' legitimacy throughout the Americas. Using data from
the AmericasBarometer, we show that not only is the U.S. Supreme Court not an anomaly, but the widespread assumption that Latin American courts are lacking in legitimacy is fundamentally wrong.
CHRONICLE OF AN ELECTION FORETOLD: THE 2017 BOLIVIAN JUDICIAL ELECTIONS (WITH MICHAEL J. NELSON), POLÍTICA Y GOBIERNO, 37(2):255-279.
On December 3, 2017, Bolivian voters went to the polls to vote for their national judges. Bolivia is the only country in modern world history to use direct elections to select its judges, and the adoption and implementation of these elections has been highly contentious. We report on this election and contend that though formally compliant with the Bolivian Constitution, the MAS supermajority used its powers to limit the ability of the public to make its voice heard in an electorally meaningful way. Voters registered their discontent by spoiling more ballots than in any election in Bolivian history. Relying on original survey data as well as municipal level election returns, we demonstrate that candidates’ electoral fates in this election were tied more closely to their position on the ballot than their ascriptive characteristics or professional qualifications, while voters’ choices to cast spoiled votes seemed to be a way for them to voice their dissatisfaction with the broader MAS political project.
BOLIVIA’S DEMOCRACY IN TRANSITION: MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS IN 2016, 2017. REVISTA DE CIENCIA POLÍTICA, 37(2): 255-279. DOI
On February 21, 2016, an absolute majority of Bolivians (51.3%) voted against a constitutional revision that would clear the way for President Morales’ to assume a fourth term in office. Evaluating the municipal level change in pro-MAS vote share over previous elections, I find that the pro-government vote share declined most dramatically in traditional MAS electoral strongholds—in particular those with high concentration of mine workers or indigenous voters. This, along with numerous other challenges to the MAS institutional hegemony, begs larger questions about the future of the MAS as a political coalition, and about Bolivia’s “democracy in transition.”
JUDICIAL SELECTION AND THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF JUSTICE: LESSONS FROM THE BOLIVIAN JUDICIAL ELECTIONS, (WITH MICHAEL J. NELSON), 2015. JOURNAL OF LAW AND COURTS, 3(1):115-148. DOI
In 2011, Bolivia became the first modern country to directly elect national judges. Reformers heralded the adoption of judicial elections as a “democratization of justice,” by which institutional independence would be assured, public confidence in the judiciary might be expanded, and various maladies of the judicial system would find resolution. We evaluate the elections in light of these objectives. We show candidates were advantaged when voters shared their partisan and demographic traits, resulting in unprecedented diversity on the national courts. Also, public confidence in the judiciary increased among government supporters but declined overall. We offer preliminary reflections for would-be reformers.
IGNORANCE OR OPPOSITION? BLANK AND NULL VOTING IN LOW-INFORMATION, HIGHLY POLITICIZED ENVIRONMENTS (WITH MICHAEL J. NELSON), 2014. POLITICAL RESEARCH QUARTERLY, 67(3):547-561. DOI
In democracies around the world, voters often make the effort to go to the polls but then---by leaving their ballot blank or by spoiling it---effectively throw their vote away. Typically construed as anomalous or errant, we argue that blank and spoiled ballots are empirically differentiable and politically informative, gauging both political ignorance and opposition. We consider self-reported vote choice from a nationally representative survey following the 2011 Bolivian elections, in which 60% of votes cast were blank or deliberately spoiled. We estimate a multinomial logit to differentiate between these two phenomena, finding that both blank and null voting in this election were driven by political concerns, though null voting was more common among politically sophisticated individuals.
THE POLITICAL ORIGINS OF JUDICIAL ELECTIONS: EVIDENCE FROM THE UNITED STATES AND BOLIVIA, (WITH MICHAEL J. NELSON), 2013. JUDICATURE, 96(4):1-13. WEB APPENDIX. DOI
Judicial elections have been described as a “uniquely American” institution: by 1860, 21 of the 30 American states elected their judges and today the vast majority of judges in the United States must stand for election. With the adoption of its new constitution in 2009, Bolivia became the first country in the modern world to use judicial elections to select judges to courts with national jurisdiction. In this article, we compare the political circumstances under which judicial elections were adopted in the the United States and in Bolivia. In spite of vast differences in terms of time, institutional arrangements, political history and geographic location, we identify four similarities between the political circumstances and normative debates surrounding their adoption. Our comparative research design provides a contrast by which the general applicability of causal explanations advanced by U.S. scholars might be assessed in cases outside of the context in which they were developed. We argue that not only are judicial elections no longer a “uniquely American” institution, but the political circumstances that explain the adoption of judicial elections are also not unique.
ADJUDICATORY OVERSIGHT AND JUDICIAL DECISION MAKING IN EXECUTIVE BRANCH AGENCIES (WITH CHRISTINA L. BOYD), 2013. AMERICAN POLITICS RESEARCH, 41(4):569-598 DOI
Adjudications are an important, but understudied, means through which administrative agencies create policies that have a lasting impact. We argue that executive branch agency heads utilize their oversight of agency adjudications to
advance agency goals. Relying on an original dataset of adjudications appealed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's agency head's adjudication delegee, our empirical results indicate a substantial increase in the probability that the agency
head will reverse an administrative law judge (ALJ) when he receives the appeal of an anti-agency ALJ decision. However, the agency's adjudication oversight is conditional on political constraints, including partisanship differences between an agency and the litigated law and whether the case is being heard during a time of presidential transition. These results have clear implications for the use and effectiveness of agency adjudications as a political tool.
THE STRATEGIC USE OF LEGISLATIVE VOTING PROCEDURES (WITH BRIAN F. CRISP), 2012. LEGISLATIVE STUDIES QUARTERLY 37(1): 67-97. DOI
Legislative votes can be taken by roll call -- noting the position of each individual member -- or by some form of indication (sitting or standing, shouting yea or nay, etc.) -- noting only an aggregate outcome. Cameral rules define one method of voting as the standard operating procedure and how to invoke any alternative voting methods. We develop a series of hypotheses related to position-taking to explain why, when procedures would typically lead to a vote taken by indication, legislators choose to vote by roll call -- a means that makes it much easier for actors outside the chamber to observe the positions taken by individual legislators and partisan blocs. With data from Argentina and Mexico, we test these hypotheses regarding the strategic choice of vote procedures and their relationship to observed party unity.
Feminism and rational choice theory have both been hailed as approaches with the potential to revolutionize political science. Apart from a few exceptions, however, work utilizing these two perspectives rarely overlaps. This article reviews their main contributions and explores the potential for a combined approach. It argues that a synthesis of feminism and rational choice theory would involve attending to questions of gender, strategy, institutions, power, and change. The contours and benefits of this approach are illustrated with reference to one particular area of research: the adoption of electoral gender quotas. Despite a current lack of engagement across approaches, this example illustrates that the tools of feminist and rational choice analysis may be brought together in productive ways to ask and answer theoretically and substantively important questions in political science.
CAN THERE BE A FEMINIST RATIONAL CHOICE INSTITUTIONALISM? (WITH MONA LENA KROOK), 2009. POLITICS & GENDER 5(2): 238-245.
Gender and politics scholars have long recognized the importance of political institutions (Lovenduski 1998). Most of this work focuses on formal institutions (Chappell 2006; Kenney 1996), but several studies discuss gendered practices and norms in ways that can be seen as consistent with definitions of informal institutions (Duerst-Lahti and Kelly 1995; Kenny 2007). Despite these shared concerns, few feminists frame their research in relation to institutionalism. To the degree that they do, they tend to view the most promising point of intersections to be with historical, sociological, and discursive versions. In contrast, they seem more wary of rational choice, arguing that this brand of institutionalism is unhelpful to, if not fundamentally incompatible with, the objectives of feminist research (cf. Kenny and Paantjens 2006).
Scholars of judicial independence have long suggested that democratically elected incumbents who attack popular courts do so at their own peril: the threat of public mobilization and electoral retribution might buttress high courts from political interference. Our survey experiments fielded in nine presidential systems make evident that although incumbent attacks are rarely popular, incumbents face limited costs to interbranch attacks. The electoral connection is a feeble mechanism to protect judicial independence, a fact which upends longstanding assumptions about institutional legitimacy and its consequences for ambitious politicians who seek to bend the judiciary to their will.
This research is funded by the National Science Foundation, SES-1920977, SES-1920915 & SES-2025927.
Public support for the rule of law is stable both over time, even in the face of democratic recession. We show, however, that the efficacy of this support depends critically on institutions and the political context. Just as constitutions may be mere parchment barriers if they are not backed by public support for democratic norms, we demonstrate that public support for the rule of law as a democratic guardrail is only as strong as the institutions that activate it.
This research is funded by the National Science Foundation, SES-2027653, SES-2027664, SES-2027671.
We debut the Presidential Speeches of the Americas (PSA) dataset and archive, which records the appearances and speeches made by 24 presidents across 18 pure presidential systems of the western hemisphere.
FROM COOPERATION TO CONSENSUS: PUBLIC INTOLERANCE FOR GOVERNMENT NON-COMPLIANCE (WITH AYLIN AYDIN-CAKIR AND SUSANNE SCHORPP.) WORKING PAPER.
Central to our understanding of judicial power is the problem of compliance, a negotiation which is ultimately enforced by the threat of public backlash. Yet why would the public---whose interests are likely closer aligned with the incumbents---nevertheless defend a high court against executive non-compliance? Moreover, how does the public come to value independent judicial review as an intrinsic good? We build on prominent theoretical models of the establishment and maintenance of independent courts, and derive expectations regarding citizens' (in)tolerance of incumbent non-compliance. Turning then to the question of value formation, we theorize several possible mechanisms that may foster a broad public consensus regarding incumbent respect for the court. Our empirical analysis underscores the centrality of elite behavior: where elites are more respectful of judicial institutions, citizens' intolerance of non-compliance is only weakly correlated with support for incumbents.
Recognized for Excellence in Teaching by FSU's College of Social Sciences and Public Policy 2020
Founding co-Director of the Applied Politics and Policy Learning Experience (APPLE) in the Department of Political Science at Florida State University.
I teach courses in Comparative Politics and Comparative Political Institutions. Here you fill find the course evaluations from some of my recent courses. Please contact me for working syllabi. If you are a current student seeking information on syllabi or course materials, please see the course homepage on Canvas.
Urban Politics (APPLE) (UG)
Comparative Prosem (G)
Comparative Institutions (G)
Authoritarian Politics (G)
As Director of Undergraduate Studies in my department, I am the Director of Internships and Experiential Learning, and the Honors in the Major Liaison
Co-Conveners Amanda Driscoll and Michael J. Nelson
Our next event will be the CWC: Courts, Public Support and Institutional Legitimacy, organized for the
Southern Political Science Association Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA, January 2024. Details are forthcoming.
PANEL 1: JUDICIAL LEGITIMACY AND STRATEGIC BEHAVIOR
COURTS IN CONTEXT
COURTS IN CONTEXT (CICS)
CWC: Southern Political Science Association Annual Meeting, St. Petersburg, FL, January 2023
Sara Benesh, Maoz Rosenthal, Audrey Baricovich, Morgan Hazelton, Sivaram Cheruvu, Jay N. Krehbiel, Jeffrey K. Staton, Whitney Taylor, David di Micheli, Michella Romo Rivas, Martín Gandur, Michael Romano, David Glick, Chris Krewson, Bill Wilkerson, Steven Livingston, Jake Truscott, Nathan Carrington, Logan Strother, Amanda Driscoll, Michael J. Nelson, Eileen Braman, Matthew Hitt, Rahul Hemrajani, Erin Crandall, Andrea Lawlor, Andrew Stone, Michael Olson, Vanessa Baird, Jean Schroedel, Claremont Graduate, Kevin McMahon, Erico Yu, Casandra Tai, Sara Benesh, Michael Catalano, Taraleigh Davis, Wendy Martinek, Nicholas T. Davis.
COURTS IN CONTEXT (CICS)
CWC: Southern Political Science Association Annual Meeting, San Juan Puerto Rico, January 2020
Lee Walker, Kirk Randazzo, Alyx Mark, Michael Zilis, Logan Strother, Ben Johnson, Lee Epstein, James L. Gibson, Rachael Hinkle, Michael J. Nelson, Amanda Driscoll, Miles T. Armaly, Sveinung Arneson, Vanessa Baird, Christine Bird, Bethany Blackstone, Christina L. Boyd, Adam E. Enders, Meghan Leonard, Pedro Magalhães, Reggie Sheehan, Jon Kare Skiple, Morgan Hazelton, Ian Ostrander,
Ethan D. Boldt, Anna Gunderson
PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS
CWC: Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL, April 2019
James L. Gibson, Brandon L. Bartels, Sara C. Benesh, Sky Ammann, Wendy L. Martinek, Amanda Driscoll, Michael J. Nelson. Yoshikuni Ono, Michael Zilis, Susanne Schorpp, William Mishler, Nuno Garoupa, Pedro Coutinho Magalhães, Ryan Carlin, Mariana Castrellón Pérez, Varun Gauri, Isabel Cristina Jaramillo Sierra, Jeffrey K. Staton, Jay N. Krehbiel, Dino Christenson, Andrew Reeves, Jon Rogowski, Gretchen Helmke, Matthew Graham, Milan Svolik, Marialena Dias, Christian Davenport