"Disasters and Elections: Estimating the Net Effect of Damage and Relief in Historical Perspective," Political Analysis (forthcoming).

with Brenton D. Peterson and Jeffery A. Jenkins

Article / Appendix / Data set, Do-file, R-code (Dataverse).

Do natural disasters help or hurt politicians’ electoral fortunes? Research on this question has produced conflicting results. Achen and Bartels (2002, 2016) find that voters punish incumbent politicians indiscriminately after such disasters. Other studies find that voters incorporate the quality of relief efforts by elected officials. We argue that results in this literature may be driven, in part, by a focus on contemporary cases of disaster and relief. In contrast, we study a case of catastrophic flooding in the American South in 1927, in which disaster aid was broadly and fairly distributed and Herbert Hoover (the 1928 Republican presidential candidate) was personally responsible for overseeing the relief efforts. Despite the distribution of unprecedented levels of disaster aid, we find that voters punished Hoover at the polls: in affected counties, Hoover’s vote share decreased by more than 10 percentage points. Our results are robust to the use of synthetic control methods and suggest that—even if voters distinguish between low- and high-quality responses—the aggregate effect of this disaster remains broadly negative. Our findings provide some support for Achen and Bartels’ idea of blind retrospection, but also generate questions about the precise mechanisms by which damage and relief affect vote choice.

"Measuring the Vice-Presidential Home State Advantage with Synthetic Controls," American Politics Research vol. 44, no. 4 (July, 2016) 734-763.

with Brenton D. Peterson

Article / Appendix / Data set, Do-file, R-code (ZIP-file).

Measuring the effect strategic choices have on electoral outcomes is problematic, since this requires an assessment of the outcome under a counterfactual that is not observed. To overcome this problem we extend the synthetic control approach for causal inference to circumstances with multiple treated cases, and use it to estimate the effect of vice-presidential candidates on their home states' vote. Existing research has concluded that vice-presidential candidates have little effect on the outcome of elections in their home states. However, our results from elections spanning 1884-2012 suggest that vice-presidential candidates increase their tickets' performance in their home states by 2.67 percentage points on average - considerably higher than previous studies have found. Additionally, our results suggest that the vice-presidential HSA could have swung four presidential elections since 1960, if presidential candidates had chosen running mates from strategically optimal states.

"Southern Delegates and Republican National Convention Politics," Studies in American Political Development vol. 29, no. 1 (April, 2015) 68-88.

with Jeffery A. Jenkins


Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Republican Party dominated American elections in all geographical areas except the former Confederacy, which remained solidly Democratic. Despite this, Southern states were consistently provided with a sizable delegation to the Republican National Convention (as much as 26 percent of the total). This raises the question: Why would a region that delivered no votes on Election Day be given a substantial say in the selection of the party's presidential candidate? Previous research on the role Southern delegates played in Republican conventions has been limited to individual cases or to studies only tangentially related to this question. We explore the continuous and sizable presence of Southern delegates at Republican conventions by conducting a historical overview of the 1880–1928 period. We find that Republican Party leaders—and particularly presidents—adopted a “Southern strategy” by investing heavily in maintaining a minor party organization in the South, as a way to create a reliable voting base at conventions. We also show that as the Republican Party's strength across the country grew under the “System of 1896,” challenges to the delegate apportionment method—and thereby efforts to minimize Southern influence at Republican conventions—increased substantially