Peer Reviewed Publications
McLaughlin, Peter. 2023. “Institutional Earmarks: The Earmark Moratorium and Federal Highway Spending” Journal of Public Policy
In 2010, the United States Congress placed a moratorium on earmarks – congressionally mandated spending projects. But did the earmark moratorium actually rid public policy of earmarks? I use earmark data and 2010–2020 state-level highway funding metrics to examine the relationship between previously expired transportation earmarks and federal highway funding during the earmark moratorium. Earmarks in the 2005 surface transportation law (SAFETEA-LU) continued to benefit certain states in 2020, even though the projects technically expired in 2009. This is because the funding “formulas” established by all post-2009 surface transportation laws were fully determined by the highway allocation percentage each state received in the preceding year, inclusive of earmarks. Further, I find the relationship between SAFETEA-LU earmarks and state funding disparities strengthened from 2010 to 2020, meaning the expired earmarks increased in policy significance during the moratorium. Highly earmarked states became even more advantaged after the earmarks were institutionalised into the highway funding formula.
McLaughlin, Peter. 2023. “More Money, Less Credit? Legislator Gender and the Effectiveness of Congressional Credit Claiming ” Politics & Gender
Bringing home federal spending projects to the district is a common reelection strategy for members of the U.S. Congress, and congresswomen tend to outperform congressmen in securing district spending. However, for legislators to turn distributive benefits into higher approval and electoral rewards, constituents must recognize that public spending has taken place in their community and attribute credit to the correct public official. I theorize that congresswomen face a gender bias when claiming credit for federal projects, and I test this theory through an online survey experiment. Contrary to expectations, I find no evidence that legislator gender influences the public’s reaction to congressional credit claims, indicating that congresswomen can effectively use distributive politics to counter gendered vulnerability in the U.S. Congress. This research advances the literature on gender and politics by investigating whether a gender bias in credit claiming prevents congresswomen from turning their representational efforts into electoral capital.
Barron, Nathan and Peter McLaughlin . 2023. “Experimental Evidence of the Benefits and Risks of Credit Claiming and Pork Busting” Legislative Studies Quarterly
As appropriations earmarks return to Congress, every legislator faces a decision: pursue or refuse congressionally mandated federal spending projects. this decision is likely influenced by public messaging concerns. We theorize that both credit claiming for federal projects and position taking against spending projects (“pork busting”) can benefit legislators as they look to improve future electoral returns. We field a nationally representative survey experiment to estimate the effect of credit claiming and pork busting messages on the perceived effectiveness, fiscal responsibility, and overall approval of an unnamed member of Congress. We find that respondents are likely to penalize the representative’s approval assessment when presented with an out-party message strategy. Conversely, respondents are likely to increase the representative’s personal trait assessments when presented with an in-party message strategy. We expand on these results in an additional analysis and find that these trends persist when controlling for other partisan and demographic factors. We discuss our results in light of traditional expectations, potential mechanisms, and future directions for related research.
McLaughlin, Peter, Matthew Geras, and Sarina Rhinehart. 2022. “Supporting Veterans: Source Cues, Issue Ownership, and the Electoral Benefits of Military Service.” Political Behavior
Conventional wisdom has long assumed veteran status to be a beneficial credential for political candidates, but the evidence is mixed on the direct association between military experience and electoral success. Rather than a uniformly advantageous candidate characteristic, we argue veteran status is best understood as an influential source cue and issue ownership factor that can be capitalized on by effective campaign messaging. We outline three potential mechanisms through which veteran candidates unlock electoral gains – solidified issue ownership, enhanced trait ownership, and increased salience of advantageous policy issues. We test these expectations with two online survey experiments, randomizing a fictional candidate’s veteran status and the policy topic discussed in campaign messaging. We find veteran candidates can use a combination of veteran cues and policy messaging to gain an advantage over nonveterans. However, veteran candidates stand to benefit most by talking about crime rather than national defense, as a ceiling effect limits veterans’ ability to enhance their service-related issue and trait ownership ratings by messaging on national defense. By reconceptualizing military service as an effective communication tool rather than a uniformly advantageous biographical line, we clarify the substantial electoral value of veteran status in American politics. More broadly, our findings show that voters respond not just to individual cues derived from partisanship or a candidate’s background, but to the interaction of these cues with campaign messaging.
McLaughlin, Peter and Sarina Rhinehart. 2022. “Paying for Child Care on the Campaign Trail: Attitudes Toward the Use of Campaign Finances for Personal Expenses.” Politics, Groups, and Identities
The US Congress is unrepresentative of the people it serves, and reforming campaign finance law may be a path toward a more representative institution. We examine public opinion toward allowing candidates to use campaign funds for child care, theorizing gender conditions support due to the unequal burden child care places on women. Using an experiment, we find people are more supportive of candidates using campaign funds for child care when the hypothetical candidates are women. Women respondents are especially likely to vary their support for the policy based on candidate gender. This project is the first to explore public support for allowing candidates to use campaign funds for personal expenses, contributing to our understanding of support for reform that could transform the types of candidates willing to run.