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Research in Political Science - Gregory Robinson, Binghamton University


Amendment Politics and Agenda Setting: A Theory with Evidence from the US House of Representatives Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 34(1):108-131. (with Daniel Magleby and Nathan Monroe)

Much recent work on legislative policy making has focused on the implications of agenda power. Yet, a critical step of the legislative process—floor amendments—has been almost entirely ignored in the most prominent theories of legislative decision making. In this paper, we fill this gap by developing a theoretical treatment of agenda setting at the amendment stage. Specifically, our theoretical approach defines the relationship between agenda setting at the amendment stage and outcomes at final passage. We test several implications using data from the US House of Representatives, and show that amendments do mitigate some of the majority party’s agenda setting advantage by moderating initial proposals away from the majority party position. However, amendments do not systematically undermine the majority party’s negative agenda control, as we find that amendment rolls do not increase the incidence of final passage rolls for the majority party.

Creating a Racially Polarized Electorate: The Political Fallout of Immigration Politics in Arizona and California Politics , Group, and Identities 4(4): 579-597. (with Jonathan Krasno, Joshua Zingher, and Michael Allen).

We explore the potential political impact of Arizona's controversial immigration statute, SB 1070, using a parallel event: the 1994 passage of Proposition 187 in California. Both statutes were efforts to respond to the flow of illegal immigrants mainly from Mexico and were widely seen as anti-Latino, and both became the central theme of their proponents' reelection campaigns. We reexamine and extend the academic literature on the political impact of Proposition 187, applying the effect estimates to Arizona via a Monte Carlo simulation to project its vote in future presidential elections. These projections show that the potential changes in voting behavior brought on by SB 1070, coupled with population trends, give Democrats a discernable and growing advantage in presidential elections as early as 2016. The results of 2012 make clear that the GOP's best hope to hold the state rests on a strong and enduring move by its white voters toward the Republicans, leaving Arizona with a racially polarized electorate more reminiscent of the American South than its Southwest. We speculate about the potential to create such an electorate where an unusually large percentage of white voters immigrated there as adults from other states.

Competing Agendas in Theories of Congress: Assessing Agenda Control Using Counterfactual Data Journal of Politics 77(3)749-761.

In legislative studies, a “roll rate” refers to the proportion of votes where a member or group of members is “rolled”—voting no on a measure that passes. Roll rates analysis is a potentially useful tool for evaluating arguments that the majority party in the House exercises influence by controlling what does and does not make it onto the agenda. Despite its promise, so far the use of roll rates to test these arguments has faced the problem of observational equivalence—that the predictions of partisan theories of agenda control are indistinguishable from those of arguments that have no place for parties. I address this problem by calculating party-less and partisan counterfactual roll rates data to “pin down” the predictions of these theories. This offers a powerful research design to evaluate observed roll rates from a sample Congresses. The results provide intriguing evidence for partisan theories of the House agenda.

Freedom of Foreign Movement, Economic Opportunities Abroad, and Protest in Non-Democratic Regimes. Journal of Peace Research 51(5): 574-588. (with Colin M. Barry, K. Chad Clay, and Michael E. Flynn).

Allowing or restricting foreign movement is a crucial policy choice for leaders. We argue that freedom of foreign movement reduces the level of civil unrest under non-democratic regimes, but only in some circumstances. Our argument relies on the trade-offs inherent in exit and voice as distinct strategies for dealing with a corrupt and oppressive state. By permitting exit and thereby lowering its relative costs, authoritarians can make protest and other modes of expressing dissatisfaction less attractive for potential troublemakers. Liberalizing foreign movement can thus function as a safety valve for releasing domestic pressure. But the degree to which allowing emigration is an effective regime strategy is shaped by the economic opportunities offered by countries receiving immigrants. We find that freedom of foreign movement and the existence of economic opportunities abroad reduce civil unrest in non-democratic states. However, at high levels of unemployment in the developed world, greater freedom of foreign movement actually increases protest.

Trade Concentration and International Conflict Journal of Politics 74(2):529-540. (with Katja Kleinberg and Stewart French).

Existing studies of the trade-conflict relationship focus primarily on dyadic trade and its implications for the opportunity cost of conflict. Most states maintain economic relations with numerous partners, yet few studies have examined the effects of extradyadic trade on dyadic conflict. In an influential discussion of economic interdependence, Albert Hirschman ([1945] 1980) draws attention to the importance of both direct trade ties and the extent to which a state’s total trade is monopolized by any one trading partner. Building on this notion, we present and test a theoretical argument about the conflict-reducing implications of third-party trade. The findings provide support for our prediction that greater concentration of trade outside the dyad is associated with a reduced risk of interstate hostility and violent disputes.

Special Issue: Natural Experiments in Political Science Political Analysis Volume 17, Issue 4. Gregory Robinson, John E. McNulty and Jonathan S. Krasno, eds.

A search of recent political science literature and conference presentations shows substantial fascination with the concept of the natural experiment. This special issue, guest edited by Gregory Robinson, John E. McNulty and Jonathan S. Krasno, focuses on encouraging applied researchers to look for natural experiments in their own work and to think more systematically about research design.

Admittedly, no natural experiment can claim the internal validity of the ideal laboratory experiment. But natural experiments have the advantage of availability and often enjoy exceptional external validity, as well as internal validity that can, at times, approach the laboratory standard. The guest editors hope to encourage other scholars to look for natural experiments in their own areas of study, to think carefully about to appropriately analyze them, and if nothing else, to use the language of experimental design in explicating their own research designs and in evaluating those of other scholars.


"Observing the Counterfactual? The Search for Political Experiments in Nature." Gregory Robinson, John E. McNulty, and Jonathan S. Krasno

"Apportionment Cycles as Natural Experiments." Roy Elis, Neil Malhotra, and Marc Meredith

"Opium for the Masses: How Foreign Media Can Stabilize Authoritarian Regimes." Holger Lutz Kern and Jens Hainmueller

"Testing the Accuracy of Regression Discontinuity Analysis Using Experimental Benchmarks." Donald P. Green, Terence Y. Leong, Holger L. Kern, Alan S. Gerber, and Christopher W. Larimer

"Do Congressional Candidates Have Reverse Coattails? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design." David E. Broockman

"Driving Saints to Sin: How Increasing the Difficulty of Voting Dissuades Even the Most Motivated Voters." John E. McNulty, Conor M. Dowling, and Margaret H. Ariotti

"Observing the Counterfactual? The Search for Political Experiments in Nature" Political Analysis 17(4):341-357. (with Jon Krasno and John McNulty).

A search of recent political science literature and conference presentations shows substantial fascination with the concept of the natural experiment. However, there seems to be a wide array of definitions and applications employed in research that purports to analyze natural experiments. In this introductory essay to the special issue, we attempt to define natural experiments and discuss related issues of research design. In addition, we briefly explore the basic methodological issues around the appropriate analysis of natural experiments and give an overview of different techniques. The overarching theme of this essay and of this issue is to encourage applied researchers to look for natural experiments in their own work and to think more systematically about research design.

"Unpacking Agenda Control in Congress: Individual Roll Rates and the Republican Revolution" Political Research Quarterly 64(1):17-30. (with Jamie Carson and Nate Monroe).

The twelve years following the Republican revolution provide ideal ground to test existing theories of congressional behavior and organization. We examine the incidence of individual roll rates in the U.S. House to “unpack” the degree to which the 1994 election produced a change in agenda control and examine how it affected roll rates. Then, to understand differences in agenda control, we compare majority and minority party roll rates before and after the election. The results confirm majority party influence over the House agenda and show that the Republican leadership exhibited remarkably similar behavior to the Democrats prior to 1995.

"Do Restrictive Rules Produce Nonmedian Outcomes? A Theory with Evidence from the 101st-108th Congresses" Journal of Politics 70(1):217–231. (with Nate Monroe).

A fundamental tenet of partisan theories of legislative organization is that the majority party is able to generate outcomes that deviate in their preferred direction from the chamber median. While these biased outcomes may be achieved through arm twisting on final passage votes, there is a more efficient means for achieving this bias: restrictive rules. While scholars have recognized this tactic as an important leadership tool in the House, its effectiveness has been often assumed but never empirically tested. We develop a theoretical model that demonstrates how the majority party can use restrictive rules to offer successful ‘‘take-it-or-leave-it’’ proposals to the floor median. More significantly, we test this model using DW-NOMINATE’s estimated cut points of final passage roll calls in the House from the 101st to 108th Congress. Our results support the prediction of our model and suggest that majority party leaders achieve biased policy outcomes through the use of restrictive rules.

Review of Agenda Setting in the U.S. Senate: Costly Consideration and Majority Party Advantage by Chris Den Hartog and Nathan Monroe. Political Science Quarterly 127(2): 326-327.

Chris Den Hartog and Nathan W. Monroe note that for a variety of reasons, the study of the U.S. Senate has been stubbornly resistant to scientific, theoretically sound inquiry. For them, previous arguments about the Senate have tended to be as post hoc and inductive as the process and procedure of the chamber are thought to be ad hoc and idiosyncratic. The authors seek to change this with their ambitious attempt to integrate the descriptive understanding of the Senate found in the literature with a deductive theory of Senate politics centered on majority party advantage.

Den Hartog and Monroe admit that the advantages enjoyed by the Senate majority party fall short of what we see in the House. At the same time, they use this divergence in constructing a widely applicable model which posits that in legislatures generally, the advantage of majority over minority or government over opposition boils down to the asymmetric costs faced in getting proposals considered on the plenary agenda. These asymmetries vary from legislature to legislature, but characterizing this variation is useful in conceiving of a continuum of legislatures.

This argument turns contemporary understanding of majority party advantage (at least in the literature on the House) on its head with its emphasis on positive as opposed to negative agenda power. The Senate majority party does not enjoy the extent of negative agenda power that the House majority party does (because of the Senate's lack of a powerful Rules Committee and a germaneness requirement for amendments). But its numerical advantage, its control of committee chairs (a position whose power scholars of the Senate have often denigrated), and its ability to undermine the minority's strategic use of amendments through motions to table, specifically, and party discipline on dispositive votes on amendments, more generally, all make it relatively less costly for the Senate majority party to bring to consideration and pass its policy proposals than is the case for the minority party. This asymmetry represents an easier path to legislating and represents a resource that can be used to the majority party's advantage when bargaining with rank-and-file members and leaders of the minority party for procedural concessions, since they presumably have policy proposals they would like to see considered and passed as well.

A colleague of my mine is fond of saying that as far as political science is concerned, there are two chambers in America's national legislature: the Congress and the Senate. For a variety of reasons, scholars have ignored the Senate in building models of the U.S. Congress. Den Hartog and Monroe offer an important corrective, demonstrating that the sort of sophisticated theoretical and empirical research usually conducted in the context of the House can find traction in the Senate despite the challenges it presents. In so doing, they have also produced a simple yet elegant argument that has important implications for the comparative study of legislatures. This book should be on every legislative scholar's book shelf, and I look forward to seeing it appear increasingly often on graduate and undergraduate syllabi.

Selected Working Papers

"Complexity and Public Health: Politics, Public Policy, and the Joint Inheritance of Wealth and Health." Paper Prepared for Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, January 2009, New Orleans, LA.

"Competing Agendas in Congress: Comparing Observed Roll Rates to a Hypothetical Baseline." Paper Prepared for Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, January 2009, New Orleans, LA.

"There and Back Again: Using State Legislative Term Limits in Oregon and Michigan to Assess the Institutional Consequences of the `Reelection Imperative'." Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 2008, Chicago, IL.

"Toward a Complex Adaptive Congress." Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, January 9-12, 2008, New Orleans, LA. (with Robi Ragan).

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