Research

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Going into Government: How Hiring from Special Interests Reduces Their Influence” with Ryan Hubert and Janna King Rezaee. American Journal of Political Science, 2022.

Under Review

Running Towards Rankings: Ranked Choice Voting’s Impact on Candidate Entry and Descriptive Representation
*Conditionally Accepted at the American Journal of Political Science
  • Does the implementation of a Ranked Choice Voting System increase the number, diversity, and quality of candidates competing in local elections? Using original data from 273 cities across three decades and employing a pre-registered difference-in-differences design with matching, I find that the size of the candidate pool increases following implementation. However, this effect dissipates in later election cycles, indicating that RCV has no long-term effect on candidate entry. Indeed, the short-term increase in the candidate pool mostly reflects increased entry by low-quality candidates with little chance of winning. Additionally, I find that RCV has no effect on the proportion of female and non-white candidates running for office. These results call into question several purported benefits of RCV, and suggest that RCV, by itself, might not be sufficient to influence candidate entry at the local level.

Working Papers

Ward Against Ward: Particularism in District-Based City Councils
*Received 2023 Best APSA Paper Award (Urban and Local Politics Section/Urban Affairs Review)
  • How does the adoption of district elections affect the legislative attentions of city councilmembers? Using an original method for extracting and categorizing agenda items from city council meeting records and a regression discontinuity design, I find that councilmembers elected from city districts spend less time on particularistic issues compared to those elected at-large. Furthermore, this shift in attention occurs whenever a city converts at-large seats to district seats. I find that productivity is largely unaffected, indicating that the decrease in attention to particularistic issues is due to councilmembers turning their attention to citywide issues. Finally, I find that this shift is likely due to a change in candidate entry dynamics, with fewer business leaders and lawyers and more activist candidates running in council elections following the switch. These findings push back on the prevailing wisdom regarding particularism in district elections, and demonstrate that our understanding of city legislative dynamics remains underdeveloped. While the adoption of district elections has typically been treated as a tradeoff between descriptive representation and particularism, I find that this may not be the case.
Detecting Formatted Text: Data Collection Using Computer Vision
  • Research in political science has begun to explore how to use large language and object detection models to analyze text and visual data in new ways. However, there has been little work on how to use these tools to extract specific textual data from old and poorly formatted sources. Instead, researchers’ only options have been to use optical character recognition paired with regular expressions or to extract each item by hand. In this letter, I demonstrate a workflow process for structured text extraction using free and easily accessible models and software. To implement this method, document pages are treated as images and a training sample is hand annotated with boxes drawn around the text of interest. Then, an object detection model is fine-tuned to accurately extract similarly formatted text on other pages. I discuss the type of data best suited to this extraction process, its potential usefulness within political science, and the steps required to convert the text into a usable dataset. Finally, I demonstrate a use case of the method by extracting agenda items from city council meeting minutes. I find that this method can yield highly accurate results and requires only a few hand labeled documents to adequately train. Researchers interested in specific textual data trapped on poorly formatted or old documents should find this method useful.

Start Spreading the Views: Endorsements, Political Expression and Representation in Local Elections Using Ranked-Choice Voting

co-authoring with Cheryl Boudreau and Scott MacKenzie

*Presented at MPSA 2024
  • This study examines how the information environment affects political expression and spatial voting in RCV elections as well as how endorsement information interacts with different information environments to affect political expression and spatial voting. In a survey experiment conducted in the lead up to New York City’s 2021 Democratic Primary, my coauthors and I test how endorsement information affects respondent rankings for mayoral, comptroller, and city council races. We find that respondents utilize more rankings and vote more spatially in higher prestige offices, but that the endorsement information provided is most effective in lower prestige offices. Furthermore, we find that while ideological group endorsements encourage more spatial voting, union endorsements have a effect on political expression. Finally, we find that these effects are not specific to certain demographic groups, and are instead caused by a change in an individual-level characteristic, internal efficacy. Across the three chapters of my dissertation, I find that institutional arrangements have direct effects on political actors at the municipal level that are either unexpected or counter to what was previously believed. These findings demonstrate that our understanding of local political institutions is lacking, and additional comparative research is needed to better understand how the political institutions municipal governments select shape their political environment.
Local Birds or a National Flock: Measuring Ideology at the Local Level Using Twitter
*Presented at MPSA 2022
  • In this study I explore whether Twitter following patterns can accurately estimate the ideological positions of local politicians in San Francisco and New York City.
Ranked Choice Voting and Political Expression: How Voting Aids Influence Informed and Uninformed Citizens’ Decision-making,

co-authoring with Cheryl Boudreau and Scott MacKenzie

*Presented at MPSA 2022
  • While RCV systems offer more opportunities for citizens to express their political preferences, they also require more knowledge about the candidates and utilize more complex ballots. Which voters will take advantage of this opportunity and how they will choose to use it are both open questions that will determine the wisdom of the continuing spread of RCV implementation. We take one of the most systematic steps towards answering these questions by implementing survey experiments in three cities that have adopted RCV systems: New York City, San Francisco, and Oakland.

Policy Reports

Colner, Jonathan, The Short-Term Impact of Ranked-Choice Voting on Candidate Entry and Descriptive Representation (February, 2023). Available at New America.

Colner, J. P, & D’Agostino, M. (2022). Lessons from Cities Considering Congestion Pricing. UC Office of the President: University of California Institute of Transportation Studies.

Boudreau, Cheryl and Colner, Jonathan and MacKenzie, Scott A., Ranked-Choice Voting and Political Expression: How Voting Aids Narrow the Gap between Informed and Uninformed Citizens (December 2020). Available at New America.