Here are summaries of my in-progress research projects.

Effects on Opinion Clarity when State Supreme Courts Change From Partisan to Nonpartisan Selection Methods under review

This paper looks at six state supreme courts and considers whether the change from partisan to nonpartisan selection methods influences the clarity of judicial opinions. Previous research has shown that partisan and nonpartisan justices act differently. Partisan justices rely on their party affiliation to attract voters while nonpartisan justices must resort to other tactics, such as obtaining endorsements from ideological groups and politicians. Given how selection methods change how justices act in the electoral context, I use opinion clarity as a proxy to measure the weight of importance courts and justices put on their partisan label when they are conducting judicial work. I find that courts are more likely to produce less clear opinions when they change their selection method from partisan to nonpartisan, and that the specific justices that were part of both the partisan and nonpartisan regimes become more likely to write clearer opinions.

Effects of Public Financing on North Carolina Supreme Court Media Coverage data collection in-progress

In this paper, I look at how public financing of elections and opinion clarity influence the amount of media coverage on the North Carolina Supreme Court. I expect that the public financing option in elections increases media coverage in the North Carolina Supreme Court and this relationship is mediated by the justices’ propensity to write clearer opinions. North Carolina is the ideal case study. From 2004 to 2012, the state changed from no public financing of judicial elections to public financing of judicial elections and back to no public financing of judicial elections. Using data from 1994 to 2019, I want to see whether public financing of elections force justices to communicate more clearly and in turn, allow journalists to be better able to report on their decisions from the bench.

Co-Opting the Court: Partisan Actors Politicizing the Supreme Court with Levi J. Bankston

Paper: Communications Crossroad Conference 2020

We develop a theory of Supreme Court co-optation and test our expectations on a dataset of 50,267 unique Facebook ads linked to Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation. We find that partisan actors within the extended party network co-opt the saliency of the judicial branch for political gain. They send messages intended to mobilize supporters. Their messages go beyond the original issue that sparked public interest – allegations of sexual assault. And their tone is conditional on the partisan implication of the new associate justice. We hope our descriptive findings stimulate discussion about the current and future states of judicial legitimacy. While the Supreme Court has long maintained high legitimacy, its reputation may potentially deteriorate as credible partisan actors politicize it.

Political Mail Formatting and Voter Turnout with Blake Reynolds

Materials: Political Methodology 2020 Poster Presentation

The way images and text are presented to us can have a significant impact on how we are affected by the message contained in an advertisement. Therefore, we ask how does the formatting of campaign mail influence voter turnout? Using campaign mail from the 2018 primary and general elections in Texas, we examine the layout of campaign mailers. To do this, we leverage machine learning techniques to identify specific attributes in each mailer, including the text to image ratio, image brightness, size of logo, style of words, and the physical size of mail piece. We then test whether these attributes of campaign mailers affect the turnout of voters assigned to receive each piece of mail. Finally, we calculate the marginal effect of the attributes by using relative lift over the voters’ a priori turnout probability determined by a habitual turnout model and assign composite variables for each type of mailer aggregated for each voter over all mail pieces received prior to each election.