My research focuses on how to better understand representation in democratic institutions, primarily in the United States. In particular, I am interested in researching how messaging, whether candidates describing their own positions or the media describing policies, impacts public opinion. I am also interested in understanding how identity impacts representation as well. In particular, how identity acts as a filter through which individuals interpret political messages. A selection of my current and past research projects are listed below, manuscripts are available upon request.

Campaign Promises and Representation

The Strategic Implications of Campaign Promises (Under Review)
Existing theoretical and empirical work tells us that campaign promises are important for voter evaluations, both prospectively and retrospectively. However, there is little work on how promises influence voter opinions of candidates, especially prospectively. This paper investigates the effects of campaign promises by first offering an important conceptual distinction between promises and non-promise position statements: promises require that a candidate attach an explicit statement of action or anticipated outcome to a position statement. This distinction alters perceived commitment that the candidate makes to a position, and subsequently affects voter evaluations of candidates by changing expectations of candidate follow through and character. To test this theory, I use two experiments measuring the prospective and retrospective effects of promises on candidate evaluations. I find that promises polarize voter opinions of candidates both prospectively and retrospectively, and that promises influence voter assessments of both expected follow through and candidate honesty. Importantly this suggests there is more nuance than normative theory currently ascribes to promises.

Vying for Votes: How Ehtnic Appeals Change Voter Opinions (Work in Progress)
Discussions of election strategies in the United States often revolve around which party can attract specific demographic groups, and what the parties can offer those groups. A prominent example of this discourse is the Republican National Committee's report on the 2012 Election, which focused specifically on how the party can better attract African Americans, Latinos, and women in order to win subsequent elections. In this paper, I investigate the efficacy of how parties appeal specifically to Latino voters. I hypothesize that voters require candidates to demonstrate commitment to the needs of their community rather than simply promising that they care about the voter's community. I argue that the commitment comes through a demonstration of action on a policy issue (or issues) that would positively impact the voter's community. I test this hypothesis with two experiments conducted on a nationally representative surveys to Latinos. The experiments control for a candidates' basic demographic information, and manipulate whether the candidates indicate that they will support the respondent's community or describes support for a policy that is widely seen to positively impact the respondent's community. I find that making an appeal simply to support a respondent's community decreases opinions of that candidate. Respondents prefer candidates only when the candidates' appeals indicate a demonstrated commitment to issues affecting that community. Further results indicate that this is most likely because without a demonstrated commitment to policy issues that align with the group's interests, the candidate is viewed as pandering. Interestingly, respondents believe both candidates to be able to represent the Latino community's best interests.

Media Messages and Public Opinion

Elevated Threat-Levels and Decreased Expectations: How Democracy Handles Terrorist Threats (Published in Poetics)
A persistent concern in democracies is that terror threats make the public willing to restrict freedoms for increased safety. But a large literature has struggled to determine how terrorist threats affect the public's policy preferences. To more credibly estimate the effects of terror threats, we exploit elevations of the U.S. government's color coded alert system. Using this design, a statistical model for texts and a new collection of news stories, we show that media outlets allocate substantially more attention to terrorism after an alert. The alerts have, however, only a limited effect on the public. The terror alerts raise the public's perceived likelihood of a terror attack, but opinion about President Bush's job performance, preferences for foreign intervention, or willingness to restrict civil liberties changes little in response to the alerts. Rather, the only consistent result is decreased economic expectations---consistent with the strong economic downturn after the 9/11 attacks and the types of stories published after the terror alerts are elevated. Terror alerts, then, did not exercise direct influence on the public's policy preferences. Instead the alerts changed the topic of conversation.

The Evolution of Human Trafficking Messaging and the Effects on Public Opinion (Under Review)
espite a near unanimous agreement that human trafficking is a morally reprehensible practice, there is confusion around what qualifies as human trafficking. We adopt a mixed-method strategy to examine how human trafficking is defined by the public; how contemporary (mis)under-standing of human trafficking developed in the United States; and the public opinion consequence of this (mis)understanding. We show that the definition of human trafficking has evolved over time to become nearly synonymous with slavery; however, media and anti-trafficking organizations have focused their attention on the sexual exploitation of foreign women. Leveraging a nationally representative survey and a laboratory experiment, we find that general public opinion reflects this skewed attention; the average citizen tends to equate human trafficking with the smuggling of women for sexual slavery. Employing a survey experiment, we find that this narrow conception could affect levels of public support for anti-trafficking policy and programmatic response strategies.

Bridging the Partisan Divide on Immigration Policy Attitudes through a Bipartisan Issue Area: The Case of Human Trafficking (Under Review)
To date, while there is a rich literature describing the determinants of anti-immigrant sentiment, researchers have not identified a mechanism to reduce antipathy towards immigrants. In fact, extant research has shown that efforts to induce positive attitudes toward immigrants often backfire. What if a bridging frame strategy were employed? Can a bipartisan issue area in which there is general support act as a bridging frame to elicit more positive sentiment toward immigration among those who oppose more open immigration policies? We explore this question by conducting two survey experiments in which we manipulate whether immigration is linked with the bipartisan issue area of human trafficking. We find that in forcing individuals to reconcile the fact that a widely accepted issue position of combating trafficking also requires a reassessment in immigration policies, we can positively shift attitudes on immigration.