Assistant Professor
Department of Government
University of Texas at Austin

My research interests are centered on one central (and arguably, fundamental) issue in political science: how groups do and should choose collective outcomes. When chosen alternatives affect all members of a group collectively (e.g. public policy, armed conflict, elected representatives) the logical, normative, and descriptive aspects of collective choice becomes an involved matter relevant not only within the discipline of political science, but also in the larger domain of designing effective collective decision-making environments and institutions. Thematically, I research both the structural aspects of collective decision-making (voting theory) as well as informal aspects of collective decision-making (heresthetic manipulation – the strategic manipulation of issue dimensions). While my research questions are largely formal and abstract in nature, there are very concrete applications of this work which can be seen in the substantive area of institutional change in the UK House of Commons over the 19th century, for example by applying theoretical social choice insights to the enactment of the Second Reform Act.

My research outputs are concentrated into three tracks: theoretical, empirical, and methodological work. Theoretically, I focus on applied social choice, comparing collective decision-making procedures using analytic tools such as social choice theory, game theory and computational models. Empirically, I focus on the process of collective choice using textual data in the form of legislative debates and campaign communications Methodologically, I develop new tools for use in empirical investigation, specifically developing novel models of measurement and inference for textual data.

I have contributed articles both on the theoretical consequences of real-world choice mechanisms as well as abstract generalizations of collective choice. In “Voting by Adaptive Agents in Multicandidate Elections”, I develop a computational (agent-based) model of voters learning and use it to compare different voting rules used to aggregate individual preferences to group choices on the basis of (1) the incentives each provides voters to vote truthfully (i.e. to vote their true preferences) and (2) the social utility each affords. In “Informational Consequences of Agenda Procedures”, I investigate the incentives different amending procedures used in legislative bodies provide members of parliament (MPs) to acquire and reveal information relevant for group choice. Taken together, this work helps clarify the role of formal structures – voting procedures – in collective choice. Recently, I have characterized the limits of modeling collective choice as the process of negotiation and re-negotiation “A Note on Contestation-Based Tournament Solutions” and “Limits of Dominance-based Choice” (with Daniel Allcock). Extensions and applications of these works are culminating in a book manuscript (Reconsidered Collective Choice).

The endogenous construction of the choice environment (e.g. versions of a bill MPs vote on are themselves the product of MPs actions, namely introducing amendments, etc.) and the manipulation of issue dimension (what William Riker famously termed “heresthetics”) fascinates me as a scholar. Two papers addressing the endogenous construction of choice environments include “Communication and Coordination” (with John Miller) and “Coordination in an Changing Environment” (with Alexander Matros). In addition to initial studies of coordination in endogenous choice environments, I have studied the potential for strategic manipulation of the choice environment and the properties thereof in “The Structure of Heresthetical Power” (with John Patty and Maggie Penn) and “Heresthetics and Choice from Tournaments” (with Molly Fenn, Ran Ji, Michelle Maiden and Melanie Panosian). Taken together, this work points to the importance of how endogenous construction of the structural aspects of choice environments (the “game” that is played) contributes to the complexities of group choice.

Empirically, I study the endogenous construction of choice environments by political actors. For example, in “Taking the Leap: Voting, Rhetoric, and the Determinants of Electoral Reform”(with Andrew Reeves), we study an important episode in democratization in 19th century United Kingdom (the Second Reform Act, 1867) by analyzing the structure of legislative debate around the topic of reform. In “Is Campaigning Local?” (with Shinya Wakao 2012), we examine candidate’s campaign strategy (i.e. voter’s eventual choices at the ballot box) in the 2010 midterm US House of Representatives election. This work studies the endogenous construction of informal aspects of choice environments, (i.e. “what is it that the group is choosing from?”).

Lastly, a non-trivial portion of my research activities might be termed methodological, in that they develop and present novel methods of measurement and hypothesis testing. In “'Modeling preferences using legislative voting in the presence of missing data” (with Abel Rodriguez), we develop a statistical model for use in testing theories of legislator abstention in roll-call voting. We apply the model to voting on electoral reform in the UK House of Commons 1866-1867 and evidence for strategic abstention by Conservatives on technically ambiguous issues of the reform debate. In “ ‘Party-talk’: a Negative Binomial Factor Model for Political Text” (with James Scott and Liang Sun ), we develop a new statistical model of word counts for analyzing large corpora of texts. In “ 'Looking for What You Can't See': a Non-parametric Bayesian Specification Test for Heterogeneity” I introduce a model capable of estimating unobserved sub-populations from observational data and apply it to studies of legislative behavior. In “Towards Fair Tests of Set-Valued Predictions” I discuss various challenges to empirically testing social choice-theoretic predictions directly and present several alternate tests. Collectively, my methodological research is an ongoing effort to create innovative and useful tools for political scientists facing the challenges and opportunities “big data” provides in the 21rst century.