Research - Matt W. Loftis


Peer-Reviewed Research


Deliberate Indiscretion? How political corruption encourages discretionary policy making, Comparative Political Studies

This paper reports the first empirical evidence that politicians delegate to trusted bureaucrats to diminish political responsibility for policy. Political science has been perennially concerned with why political leaders delegate authority to bureaucrats, but this work's focus on advanced democracies has overlooked how corruption and political influence over bureaucrats can turn delegation into a means of obfuscating responsibility. Using a measure that differentiates political corruption from corruption at lower levels of government and a new data set of policy making on more than 600 European Commission directives in the ten former communist EU member states, I show that political-level corruption is associated with increased delegation to bureaucrats. This relationship between political corruption and bureaucratic discretion is conditional upon the political independence of the bureaucracy, such that politicians engaged in corruption delegate more to reduce clarity of responsibility only when they possess informal means to influence bureaucrats.



Lobbying from inside the system: Why local governments pay for representation (with Jaclyn Kettler), Political Research Quarterly

Why do cities spend scarce resources lobbying the federal government? The hierarchy of U.S. government provides various pathways for local representation. Nevertheless, cities regularly invest in paid representation. This presents a puzzle for American democracy. Why do cities lobby, and do they lobby strategically? We quantify for the first time the extent of this phenomenon and examine its determinants using new data on 498 cities across 45 states from 1998 to 2008. We find economic distress pushes cities to lobby, but does not impact expenditures. Cities in competitive Congressional districts, and therefore crucial to national politics, spend more on lobbying.

A New Approach to the Study of Partisan Effects on Social Policy (with Peter B. Mortensen), Journal of European Public Policy

Much research has analyzed the influence of government partisanship on social policies. This paper addresses three challenges in that literature. First, it advocates a dynamic linear modeling (DLM) approach well suited to address time-varying partisan effects. Second, the DLM makes it possible to examine partisan effects country-by-country thereby avoiding the cross-national pooling approach dominating this literature. Third, it offers a new approach to the challenge of choosing the right control variables. Empirically, we demonstrate the approach using data from 1972 to 2011 from 14 Western European countries. The main conclusion is that the relationship between government partisanship and welfare generosity does not appear to vary over time according to any pattern predicted by existing theories. More generally, findings indicate that in the countries and years covered by this study government partisanship has very little or no association with the five different social policy measures included in the analyses.



Democracy Aid and Electoral Accountability (with Tobias Heinrich), Journal of Conflict Resolution

Although foreign policies often fail to successfully promote democracy, over a decade of empirical research indicates that foreign aid specifically for democracy promotion is remarkably successful at improving the survival and institutional strength of fragile democracies. However, these measures cannot tell us how well democracy aid supports the central promise of democracy: accountable government. Since institutions can be subverted in various ways that undermine accountability, it is vital to know whether democracy aid supports accountability to assess its overall success. We provide evidence for this by analyzing incumbent turnover in elections following poor economic performance -- the economic vote -- as a measure of voting to achieve performance accountability. In our analysis of over 1,100 elections in 114 developing countries between 1975 and 2010, we find distinct evidence that increasing receipt of democracy aid is associated with more economic voting. Results are robust to numerous alternative empirical specifications.

A Dynamic Linear Modeling Approach to Public Policy Change (with Peter B. Mortensen), Journal of Public Policy

Theories of public policy change, despite their differences, converge on one point of strong agreement. The relationship between policy and its causes can and does change over time. This consensus yields numerous empirical implications, but our standard analytical tools are inadequate for testing them. As a result, the dynamic and transformative relationships predicted by policy theories have been left largely unexplored in time-series analysis of public policy. This paper introduces dynamic linear modeling (DLM) as a useful statistical tool for exploring time-varying relationships in public policy. The paper offers a detailed exposition of the DLM approach and illustrates its usefulness with a time series analysis of U.S. defense policy from 1957-2010. The results point the way for a new attention to dynamics in the policy process and the paper concludes with a discussion of how this research program can profit from applying DLMs.



Cabinet Durability and Fiscal Discipline (with David Fortunato), American Political Science Review

 

Government durability is critically important, yet the supply of research devoted to its causes far exceeds the supply of research devoted to its consequences.  We argue that short government durations in parliamentary democracies increase public spending by driving a political budget cycle. We present a revision of the standard political budget cycle model that relaxes the common (often implicit) assumption that election timing is fixed and known in advance. Instead, we allow cabinets to form expectations about their durability and use these expectations to inform their spending choices. The model predicts that 1) cabinets should spend more as their expected term in office draws to a close and 2) cabinets that outlive their expected duration should run higher deficits. Using data from 15 European democracies over several decades, we show that governments increase spending as their expected duration withers and run higher deficits as they surpass their forecasted life expectancy.

Collaborating with the Machines: A hybrid method for coding policy agendas (with Peter B. Mortensen), Policy Studies Journal

Burgeoning government activity has enabled an important and growing research program into the content and determinants of policy agendas around the world. However, tightening research budgets and the vast scale of available information force political science to aspire to do more with less. Meeting this challenge requires innovation in managing and preparing data. This paper makes two contributions to the practice of data coding to measure the content of political agendas. First, we propose a method of combining human content coding of political agendas and automated computer classification to classify large data sets. Second, we present software and supporting tools to apply a well-known algorithm for automated text classification, the Naive Bayes classifier. We demonstrate its usefulness for coding large sets of highly unbalanced multiclass data of the sort used to study the political agenda and demonstrate how our hybrid approach can maximize the returns on research budgets.



Under review



Making Democracy Work Well: Political competition and local development in a new democracy

This manuscript revisits democracy's effect on citizens' daily lives and wellbeing. We addresses conflicting findings of the previous literature on this issue with two contributions: the paper focuses 1) on a possible causal pathway linking democracy and human development - the robustness of electoral competition and 2) on this impact at the local (rather than national) level. Accordingly, we test whether local electoral competition, operationalized as vote concentration, impacts local development, measured with average wage growth. Our analysis utilizes data from a large sample of Polish localities from 2004-2013 that received European Union structural and cohesion funds meant to speed up local development. Results indicate that this beneficial impact of EU funds on local development are greater in regions with more competitive elections.This manuscript revisits democracy's effect on citizens' daily lives and wellbeing. We addresses conflicting findings of the previous literature on this issue with two contributions: the paper focuses 1) on a possible causal pathway linking democracy and human development - the robustness of electoral competition and 2) on this impact at the local (rather than national) level. Accordingly, we test whether local electoral competition, operationalized as vote concentration, impacts local development, measured with average wage growth. Our analysis utilizes data from a large sample of Polish localities from 2004-2013 that received European Union structural and cohesion funds meant to speed up local development. Results indicate that this beneficial impact of EU funds on local development are greater in regions with more competitive elections.

Strategic Obfuscation: When delegation to bureaucrats subverts accountability

Can incumbents avoid responsibility for unfavorable policy outcomes by delegating power? Existing theoretical models suggest ways this might happen, but it is difficult to test hypotheses from them. This paper introduces a model that grounds its assumptions in recent experimental work showing delegation can redirect blame by making it less clear who is responsible for decisions. Incumbents in the model choose between delegating and legislating depending on how voters assign blame for outcomes. The model provides testable hypotheses and predicts blame-shifting delegation can work even if voters know incumbents may not share their preferences and may perform worse than electoral challengers. Standard predictions about bureaucratic delegation also appear as equilibrium outcomes. Additional simulation experiments show that stricter voting rules, which prevent blame shifting delegation, cause less favorable policy outcomes. Finally, an extension shows that blame-shifting still occurs when politicians decide both whether to delegate and how much discretion to grant.