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, congressional staff, bureaucratic personnel and the politicization of local news. My full CV is available here: http://joshuamccrain.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/CV_1_7_18.pdf

Publications

Revolving Door Lobbyists and the Value of Congressional Staff Connections
Forthcoming, Journal of Politics
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.

Featured in a blog post at LegBranch.com: Cashing In On Connections: For Congressional Staff-Turned-Lobbyists, Who You Know Matters

Working Papers

Bounding Partisan Approval Rates Under Endogenous Partisanship
with B. Pablo Montagnes and Zachary Peskowitz (Invited to Revise and Resubmit at Journal of Politics)
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:

Congressional Staff and Effective Legislating in the House of Representatives
Existing studies of legislative entrepreneurship and effectiveness largely “black box” the role of the thousands of congressional staff working behind the scenes in Congress. Journalistic and qualitative accounts of Congress, however, assign significant importance to staff in the day-to-day functioning of the lawmaking process. Employing a comprehensive dataset of congressional staff employment histories matched to a variety of legislative outcomes, this paper analyzes how staff impact a legislator’s ability to be effective. Using a within-member design that exploits variation in experience levels within a legislator’s staff over time, the results suggest Members with more experienced staff produce more bills and more important legislation, and see their legislation progress further in the policymaking process. These findings contribute to our understanding of policymaking in Congress and have important implications for bolstering congressional capacity.

The Polarization and Politicization of Local TV News
with Gregory Martin
The level of journalistic resources dedicated to coverage of local politics is in a long term decline in the US news media, with readership shifting to national outlets. We investigate whether this trend is demand- or supply-driven, exploiting a recent wave of local television station acquisitions by a conglomerate owner. Using extensive data on local news programming and ratings, we find that the ownership change led to 1) substantial increases in coverage of national politics at the expense of local politics, relative to other news programs airing in the same media market, and 2) moderate decreases in viewership, again relative to other news programs airing in the same market. These results suggest a substantial supply-side role in the trend towards nationalization of politics news, with negative implications for accountability of local elected officials.

Lobbying Access, Congressional Employment, and the Determinants of Revolving Door Lobbying
with Jeff Lazarus and Amy McKay
Few studies of congressional staff who go through the “revolving door” to become lobbyists consider which staff members are most likely to do so, or why. We argue that a large part of the explanation lies in which congressional office a staffer works and the institutional position and power of the member. Given the substantial financial premium associated with Capitol Hill experience in the lobbying industry, there is good reason to believe staff are strategic in leveraging their public experience in the private labor market. Employing a comprehensive dataset of congressional staff employment histories matched to lobbying disclosure filings from 2000-2016, we show evidence that staff become lobbyists at higher rates based on changes in the
Member’s institutional position. This research contributes to existing work on the revolving door phenomenon by adding needed context to who becomes a lobbyist and why, and it speaks to larger questions about institutional power in Congress and congressional capacity.

Popular Media

Work in Progress

  • Revolving Door Bureaucrats with Alex Bolton
  • An Empirical Assessment of Lobbying as a Legislative Subsidy