Selected Publications

I analyze a model of information transmission in collective choice environments. An Expert possesses private information about the consequences of passing an exogenous proposal and engages in cheap talk to persuade voters to pass or reject the proposal. The Expert may successfully persuade the voters to take her preferred action even when all or most voters would receive a better ex ante payoff with no information transmission. I consider several remedies that an institutional designer may consider in order to avoid this problem while allowing information transmission that benefits the voters. I evaluate the effects of (1) limiting Expert communication to binary endorsements, (2) encouraging competition between Experts, and (3) restricting the agenda in order to consider only one dimension at a time. None of these proposals completely eliminate negative persuasion outcomes, but limiting the Expert to binary endorsements avoids the worst manipulation while preserving beneficial information transmission.
In Public Choice

We present a model of executive-legislative bargaining over appointments to independent central banks in the face of an uncertain economy with strategic economic actors. The model highlights the contrast between two idealized views of Federal Reserve appointments. In one view, all politicians prefer to appoint conservatively biased central bankers to overcome credible commitment problems that arise in monetary policy. In the other, politicians prefer to appoint allies, and appointments are well described by the spatial model used to describe appointments to other agencies. Both ideals are limiting cases of our model, which depend on the level of economic uncertainty. When economic uncertainty is extremely low, politicians prefer very conservative appointments. When economic uncertainty increases, politicians' prefer central bank appointees closer to their own ideal points. In the typical case, the results are somewhere in between: equilibrium appointments move in the direction of politician's preferences but with a moderate conservative bias.
In E&P

In this article I analyze a model of interest group influence on legislative voting through information transmission. The model shows how interest groups may manipulate voting coalitions to their advantage by crafting different messages to target different winning coalitions. Furthermore, if access to legislators is costly, the interest groups prefer to coordinate with allied legislators by providing them with information that helps them to persuade less sympathetic legislators. The model reconciles informational theories of lobbying with empirical evidence suggesting that interest groups predominantly lobby those who already agree with them. The model also makes new predictions about the welfare effects of interest group influence: from an ex ante perspective, informational lobbying negatively effects the welfare of legislators. The results highlight the need for more theories of persuasion that take collective choice institutions into account.

Can campaign communications credibly transmit information about candidates' policy intentions? To answer this question, I develop and analyze a game-theoretic model of campaign communication in a two-candidate majority rule election with multidimensional policies. Candidate and voter preferences are private information and campaigns consist of both candidates sending cheap talk messages in order to communicate information about their preferences. The game possesses equilibria involving informative campaign messages which reveal information about the directions of the candidates' ideal points from the center of the policy space but leave the voters uncertain about which candidate is more extreme. The results challenge standard arguments about communication in elections, which suggest that meaningful information transmission is not possible when talk is cheap. The formal model also makes predictions about issue packaging and selection in multidimensional campaigns. For instance, candidates choose to speak in terms of orthogonal ideological dimensions that cut across multiple policy issues.

I provide a theory of information transmission in collective choice settings. In the model, an expert has private information on the effect of a policy proposal and communicates to a set of voters prior to a vote over whether or not to implement the proposal. In contrast to previous game-theoretic models of political communication, the results apply to situations involving multiple voters, multidimensional policy spaces and a broad class of voting rules. The results highlight how experts can use information to manipulate collective choices in a way that reduces the ex ante expected utilities of all voters. Opportunities for expert manipulation are the result of collective choice instability: all voting rules that allow collective preference cycles also allow welfare-reducing manipulative persuasion by an expert. The results challenge prevailing theories of institutions in which procedures are designed to maximize information transmission.

This article presents a new model for scoring alternatives from “contest” outcomes. The model is a generalization of the method of paired comparison to accommodate comparisons between arbitrarily sized sets of alternatives in which outcomes are any division of a fixed prize. Our approach is also applicable to contests between varying quantities of alternatives. We prove that under a reasonable condition on the comparability of alternatives, there exists a unique collection of scores that produces accurate estimates of the overall performance of each alternative and satisfies a well-known axiom regarding choice probabilities. We apply the method to several problems in which varying choice sets and continuous outcomes may create problems for standard scoring methods. These problems include measuring centrality in network data and the scoring of political candidates via a “feeling thermometer.” In the latter case, we also use the method to uncover and solve a potential difficulty with common methods of rescaling thermometer data to account for issues of interpersonal comparability.

Political expression often revolves around ethnic, religious, or cultural group identities. I develop a game-theoretic model explaining how group identities interact with citizens' social environments to induce political behavior designed to express group identity. Citizens make political choices before engaging in social interactions which may involve members of the individual's ingroup or outgroup. The strength of an individual's group identity is private information and affects payoffs from political behavior and from cooperative behavior in social interactions. Therefore, symbolic political behavior informs social interactions by revealing information about the group identity of the participant. Furthermore, cross-cutting pressures from ingroup and outgroup interactions govern the intensity with which individuals pursue symbolic political behavior. Symbolic political behavior is more common in segregated communities and among members of large majority groups. I illustrate the importance of the theory through an applications to anti-immigrant activism.


Washington University

-Game theory

-Public Policy Analysis (coming soon)

Martin School of Public Policy and Administration

-Program Evaluation

-Applied Regression


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