Working Papers

Taking Credit for Blocking the Opposition? Evaluating Claims of Obstructive Behavior in Congressional Newsletters

Abstract: Scholars have long understood members of Congress use constituent communications to claim credit for their part in facilitating legislative successes on programs popular with constituents. Incumbents seeking to bolster their chances at reelection are incentivized to contrast their own productivity with Congress as an institution. Do these credit claiming efforts extend to blocking legislation by the opposition? I answer this question by evaluating Senators’ credit claiming for obstructive activities in newsletters to constituents, arguing that members believe their constituents value protection from legislation with which they disagree. Further, a political landscape increasingly polarized along partisan lines may increase incentives for members to claim credit for dilatory or obstructive behavior. On the other hand, members may fear that discussing obstruction could harm their chances at reelection by triggering public discontent about Congressional gridlock and members’ inability to work together across the aisle. My analysis explores how members address this tension and whether it leads them to claim credit for obstruction. I argue members in safe seats are more likely to claim credit for obstructive activities while electorally vulnerable members are less likely to do so when communicating with constituents. My findings have implications for understanding how members navigate conflicting reelection incentives in a polarized political environment.

Football, #BlackLivesMatter, and #ThreeLions: What the 2021 Euro Championship Tells Us about the Politics of Race, Place-based Resentment, and the Representational Styles of English MPs. With David C.W. Parker, Stran Knudson (MSU Undergraduate), and Mesa McKee (MSU Undergraduate).

Abstract: Members of the English football team expressed their support for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement by taking a knee during the Euro championship this summer—and were subjected to expressions of crowd disapproval, negative commentary from government ministers, and racist online abuse after losing to Italy in the finals. We explore in this paper how English MPs addressed the kneeling of the English team and the subsequent racist abuse faced by English players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukaya Saka as a window into the politics of place-based (Cramer, 2016; Goodhart, 2017) and racial resentment in British politics. Many scholars have used social media to gauge the representational styles and position-taking of legislators (e.g. Silva and Proksch, 2021). We gathered data on the twitter feeds of English MPs for six weeks this summer to analyse the positions they took on the controversy. We anticipate that MPs representing less racially diverse and more deprived constituencies were less likely to make note of the controversy on social media. We expect that MPs representing Red Wall constituencies—whether Labour or Conservative—to be particularly unlikely to express support for the targeted players when compared to their colleagues. We conclude by considering how the politics of place, the rise of the culture wars, and identity conflicts (Sobolweska and Ford, 2020) in British politics create representational dilemmas within both the Conservative and Labour Parties in England.

Past Projects:

“To Scrutinise and Protect: Question Time as a Window into Institutional and Electoral Incentives at Holyrood and Westminster”. 2020. Parliamentary Affairs. With David C.W. Parker and Caitlyn M. Richter.

Abstract: Question Time is subject to problems of collective action and coordination. Individual parliamentarians seeking to build a personal vote are not incentivised to participate, despite the fact that the collective party brand affecting re-election is at risk during these highly publicised weekly spectacles. We analyse questions asked at First Minister’s Question Time during the first four sessions of the Scottish Parliament to examine the factors predicting whether and how parliamentarians chose to participate in oversight of the government. Despite the varied incentives provided by the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system, the total number of questions asked and the tone of those questions is largely a function of whether the Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) is serving in the governing party or not.