I am currently involved in the following large-scale research projects:
My dissertation, “The Prioritizer-In-Chief: The Role of the President in the Policy Process from Reagan to Obama,” focuses on the U.S. presidential policy agenda. Previous attempts to map the president’s agenda have ignored the fact that the president has many channels through which to make policy and communicate his policy preferences. My dissertation separates out the agendas embedded in individual policy instruments (e.g. addresses to a joint session of Congress, executive orders, presidential memoranda) and considers how policy area and political context shape the strategies and incentives for presidential participation in the policy process.
“The Prioritizer-In-Chief” presents an original theory of how the ability to process information drives presidential decision-making. Central to this theory is the idea that the immediate considerations and daily demands overwhelm grand policy strategy. By examining Presidents Reagan through Obama (ending in 2014), I capture how the policy agendas of the presidents have shifted over time and policy areas, in response to changing political environments, and reflect the limited time that the president has to get involved in order to understand the tremendous impacts the president has as an agenda setting agent for the political system.
The substantive chapters test this theory using original data on presidential activity and policy agendas from 1981 to 2014. These data provide insight into seven types of presidential activity that have never before been analyzed for their policy content, budget messages, presidential press conference opening statements, proclamations, signing statements, addresses to a joint session of Congress, memoranda, and televised speeches, resulting in 13,140 new observations. This is the major empirical contribution that my dissertation makes to the literature. Using a variety of quantitative methods, I examine how presidential attention to policy shifts over time in different policy areas, in the choice to unilaterally act or communicate, and in response to different political forces. Consistent with my theory, I find that presidents routinely pay attention to a small number of policy areas, with attention spiking at times of crisis or policy change. Additionally, presidents vary widely in the decision to act or communicate and attention is largely resistant to external political forces. As such, the project opens new pathways for understanding the potential effects the presidency has on other political actors.
Minority Representation and Minority Health
Eric L. McDaniel (UT-Austin), Annelise Russell (UT-Austin), and I are studying the links between minority representation in state legislatures and racial health disparities in the general population. Disparities in health outcomes between the races is a major barrier to the overall improvement of health quality in the United States. Public health scholars have argued that these disparities are linked to minority groups lacking the power to prevent harmful products entering their communities (e.g. garbage dumps being placed in primarily African American communities) and those same minority groups lacking the ability to increase resources for health promotion. Social scientist who have studied descriptive representation propose the idea that the election and participation minority members in state legislatures has the potential to reduced racial disparities. While we find that the presence of Black legislators has no effect on Black health outcomes outside the South, we find support for the idea that Black legislators decrease Black mortality in the South.
Danish Parliamentary Questioning Behavior
Christoffer Green-Pedersen (Aarhus University), Peter Mortensen (Aarhus University), Annelise Russell (UT-Austin), and I are studying the characteristics that influence the behavior of Members of Parliament when they ask questions to the minister. By examining individual questions, we can see how the characteristics of individual MPs, party characteristics, policy area, and constituency all interact to shape the parliamentary questioning behavior.
Policy Agendas Project
I am the former manager of the U.S.- based Policy Agendas Project (Fall 2015 to Summer 2017). The Project provides 13 original datasets and provides access to 5 more on the national policy agenda, which include over 300,000 observations categorized by issue area. In collaboration with UT-Austin’s LAITS, the Project has recently launched a new, interactive website for the Comparative Agendas Project, which allows for the on-the-fly comparison of U.S. data with comparable data from over a dozen U.S. states and countries around the world.