Research

My research interests are in American political institutions, including Congress, the bureaucracy and lobbying. I study how personnel affect politics and policy outcomes and how this is shaped by private interests. I am also interested in data analysis with R, computational social science, and causal inference with observational data. My current projects involve lobbying, the revolving door and congressional staff. My full CV is available here: http://joshuamccrain.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/McCrain_CV_Sept_2017.pdf

Working Papers

The Value of Who You Know: Revolving Door Lobbyists and Congressional Staff Connections (Under review)
Building on previous work on lobbying and relationships in Congress, I propose a theory of staff-to-staff connections as a human capital asset for Capitol Hill staff and revolving door lobbyists. Employing lobbying disclosure data matched to congressional staff employment histories, I find that the connections these lobbyists maintain to their former Hill coworkers primarily drive their higher relative value as lobbyists. Specifically, a one standard deviation increase in the number of connections predicts $360,000 in additional revenue during an ex-staffer’s first year as a lobbyist. I also find that the indirect connections lobbyists maintain to legislators through knowing a staffer in a legislative office are of potential greater value than a direct connection to a Senator given a large enough number of connections. This paper sheds additional light onto the political economy of the lobbying industry, making an important contribution to the literature on lobbying and the revolving door phenomenon.

Bounding Partisan Approval Rates Under Endogenous Partisanship
with B. Pablo Montagnes and Zachary Peskowitz
The presidential approval rate among a president’s co-partisans has received a great deal of attention and is an important quantity for understanding accountability of the executive branch. Observed partisan approval rates may be biased when the composition of the president’s party changes. We show that the composition of the president’s party is endogenous to presidential popularity in Gallup polls, with the party growing and becoming more ideologically moderate as presidential popularity increases. We derive bounds on the compositionally-corrected partisan approval rate under a theoretically-motivated monotonicity condition. We examine how the bounds have evolved during the Obama and Trump presidencies. The proportion of survey respondents who identify with the Republican party has decreased rapidly from the pre-election benchmark during the Trump presidency and, as a result, the lower bound on Trump’s partisan approval rate is much lower than at a comparable point in the Obama presidency

Media coverage:

After the Revolving Door: An Examination of Career Paths of Ex-Congressional Staff Members
with Jeff Lazarus and Amy McKay
While studies of congressional staff who go through the “revolving door” to become interest group lobbyists are growing in number, few scholars have considered which traits of congressional staff predict greater likelihood of become lobbyists, let alone whether “revolvers” lobby for their employer directly or are hired by clients. But normative concerns about the dual interests these revolvers have make necessary the ability to predict which staff members become lobbyists, as well as how such lobbyists use their Capitol Hill-acquired policy expertise and relationships. We advance understanding of the “black box” role of congressional staff and lobbyists in policymaking by identifying which characteristics and job experiences are associated with future employment as lobbyists. We show that experience as legislative staff, majority staff, committee staff and working for the most powerful committees all predict greater likelihood of future lobbying, while women, previous lobbyists, and senior legislative staff are significantly less likely to become lobbyists. Further, traits associated with becoming lobbyists also predict greater odds of working for a lobbying firm rather than as in-house lobbyists.

Popular Media

Work in Progress

  • “The Politicization of Local Broadcast News” with Gregory Martin
  • Congressional staff, legislative effectiveness and legislator behavior
  • Revolving door bureaucrats