Publications & Data

Duck-Mayr JB, Hansford TG, James F. Spriggs II. Agenda Setting and Attention to Precedent in the U.S. Federal Courts. Journal of Law and Courts. 2021;9 (2) :233-260. Publisher's VersionAbstract
To what degree is judicial agenda setting top-down or bottom-up? Existing studies lack evidence of the frequency or magnitude of these two processes. We conceptualize the judicial agenda as the legal questions/rules receiving judicial attention, measure it using citations to Supreme Court opinions, and estimate vector autoregression models to identify how each level of court initiates or responds to variation in attention to precedent at other levels of the judiciary. The Supreme Court exerts some top-down control, but agenda setting is more often bottom-up, revealing lower courts are more integral to setting the federal judicial agenda than previously understood.
Hansford TG, Coe C. Linguistic Complexity, Information Processing, and Public Acceptance of Supreme Court Decisions. Political Psychology. 2019;40 (2) :395-412. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Scholars suggest that judges have an incentive to use complex language to increase support for their decisions. Research on the effects of processing fluency, however, points towards a different set of expectations. Using a survey experiment, we manipulate the complexity of the language conveying two Court decisions and two types of source cue. For the less polarizing of the two decisions, we find that by decreasing processing fluency, complex decision language can both decrease acceptance of the decision and diminish the importance of source cues in arriving at this judgment. Legalistic terminology, however, increases acceptance.
Hansford TG, Depaoli S, Canelo KS. Locating U.S. Solicitors General in the Supreme Court's Policy Space. Presidential Studies Quarterly. 2019;49 (4) :855-869. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The U.S. Solicitor General (SG) is the most direct link between the executive branch and the Supreme Court. Spatial models of the SG's involvement at the Court necessitate locating the SG in the same policy space as the justices. We treat the SG's positions advocated in amicus curiae briefs as equivalent to votes in these cases and employ an item response model that yields facially valid estimates of the locations of the SGs and justices serving during the Eisenhower through Obama administrations. We find that the ideological orientation of the appointing president has a strong effect on the location of the SGs. There is mixed evidence of SGs orienting themselves toward the median justice on the Court, implying that SGs might also serve a second principal in some cases.

Part of the Amici Space ProjectClick here for data.

Canelo KS, Hansford TG, Nicholson SP. The Paradoxical Effect of Speech-Suppressing Appeals to the First Amendment. Journal of Politics. 2018;80 (1) :309-313. Publisher's VersionAbstract

While the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from imposing adverse consequences for speech it dislikes, in popular discourse this part of the Constitution is often referenced in an attempt to suppress nongovernmental criticism of controversial statements. To assess whether inappropriate, speech-suppressing appeals to the First Amendment cause intolerance of criticism or, unintentionally, promote tolerance of adverse responses to controversial statements, we employ a survey experiment and find evidence of the latter effect. Appeals to the Free Speech Clause that seek to suppress speech have the unintended consequence of increasing public tolerance for speech. Invoking freedom of speech is what matters, not the specific direction of the appeal.

Click here for replication data provided at the JOP Dataverse,

Hansford TG, Intawan C, Nicholson SP. Snap Judgment: Implicit Perceptions of a (Political) Court. Political Behavior. 2018;40 (1) :127-147. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Do people fundamentally perceive the Supreme Court as a political institution? Despite the central importance of this question to theories of public evaluations of the Court and its decisions, it remains largely unanswered. To this end, we develop a new, implicit measure of political perceptions of the Court. This new measure relies on a categorization task wherein respondents quickly associate political or non-political attributes with the Supreme Court relative to institutions that are high or low in politicization. We find that the public implicitly perceives the Court as less political than Congress (high politicization) and more political than traffic court (low politicization) and that this measure is distinct from self-reported (explicit) perceptions of politicization. Finally, we find that implicit perceptions have a distinct effect on predicting diffuse support for the court and specific support for one of two Court decisions.
Hansford TG. Vertical Stare Decisis. In: The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior. Oxford University Press ; 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This chapter critically assesses the current state of the literature on vertical stare decisis. It begins with a consideration of how stare decisis does, or does not, fit with the principal–agent framework that is often used as a starting point for theories of the relationship between high and low courts. Various approaches to testing the existence of vertical stare decisis and the factors that might condition the strength of this constraint are then addressed. While there is a good deal of evidence that is consistent with the claim that High Court precedent constrains lower court decision-making, this evidence is not as conclusive as it might first appear. There is also ambiguity regarding the precise causal mechanism at work. This chapter then considers recent scholarship focused on the potential for bottom-up influences on the operation of precedent in a judicial hierarchy.

Gomez BT, Hansford TG. Economic Retrospection and the Calculus of Voting. Political Behavior. 2015;37 (2) :309-329. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Despite the plethora of studies demonstrating that economic perceptions affect how a person votes, relatively little is known about how economic perceptions affect whether individuals will vote. Using the calculus of voting as our starting point, we develop a simple, but novel, hypothesis regarding the influence of sociotropic evaluations on voter turnout. We argue that this relationship will be curvilinear, with particularly negative and particularly positive evaluations of the economy increasing the likelihood of voting. Using an instrumental variables approach with individual-level data from eight recent U.S. presidential elections, we find that economic evaluations affect the decision to vote in the curvilinear manner hypothesized, but—counter to existing theory—only when there is not an incumbent president seeking reelection.
Hansford TG, Gomez BT. Reevaluating the Sociotropic Economic Voting Hypothesis. Electoral Studies. 2015;39 :15-25. Publisher's VersionAbstract
One of the canonical causal claims in political science links individuals' evaluations of the national economy with their votes. Yet there are reasons to expect that these economic perceptions are endogenous to vote choice, meaning that existing cross-sectional models cannot provide a valid test of the causal retrospective voting claim. Using an instrumental variables approach, we assess the effect of sociotropic evaluations on the decision to vote for the incumbent president or his party's candidate in eight recent U.S. presidential elections. In contrast with prior work, our results reveal that while there is a correlation between sociotropic evaluations and vote choice, individuals' subjective evaluations only exert a causal effect on votes when there is not an incumbent president on the ballot. These results suggest that, when incumbents are on the ballot, individuals' economic perceptions are particularly clouded by appraisals of the incumbent and thus do not operate as an exogenous influence on votes.
Uribe A, James F. Spriggs II, Hansford TG. The Influence of Congressional Preferences on Legislative Overrides of Supreme Court Decisions. Law & Society Review. 2014;48 (4) :921-945. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Studies of Court–Congress relations assume that Congress overrides Court decisions based on legislative preferences, but no empirical evidence supports this claim. Our first goal is to show that Congress is more likely to pass override legislation the further ideologically removed a decision is from pivotal legislative actors. Second, we seek to determine whether Congress rationally anticipates Court rejection of override legislation, avoiding legislation when the current Court is likely to strike it down. Third, most studies argue that Congress only overrides statutory decisions. We contend that Congress has an incentive to override all Court decisions with which it disagrees, regardless of their legal basis. Using data on congressional overrides of Supreme Court decisions between 1946 and 1990, we show that Congress overrides Court decisions with which it ideologically disagrees, is not less likely to override when it anticipates that the Court will reject override legislation, and acts on preferences regardless of the legal basis of a decision. We therefore empirically substantiate a core part of separation‐of‐powers models of Court–Congress relations, as well as speak to the relative power of Congress and the Court on the ultimate content of policy.
Hansford TG, Johnson K. The Supply of Amicus Curiae Briefs in the Market for Information at the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice System Journal. 2014;35 (4) :362-382. Publisher's VersionAbstract
We argue that the Supreme Court's expressed and latent demand for information on the availability and implications of legal policy alternatives will affect the supply of information provided to the Court by organized interests. An analysis of the annual growth in amicus filings at the Court during the 1949 through 2008 terms largely supports our specific hypotheses. The rate at which the Court cites amicus briefs and shifts in the Court's ideological location or agenda exert a positive effect on the growth of amicus filings, while the evidence for the effect of dissensus is mixed. We further show that the supply of briefs does not affect the Court's expressed or latent demand for information.
Nicholson SP, Hansford TG. Partisans in Robes: Party Cues and Public Acceptance of Supreme Court Decisions. American Journal of Political Science. 2014;58 (3) :620-636. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The public perceives the Supreme Court to be a legal institution. This perception enables the Court's legitimacy‐conferring function, which serves to increase public acceptance of its decisions. Yet, the public acknowledges a political aspect to the Court as well. To evaluate how the public responds to the different images of the Supreme Court, we investigate whether and how depictions of specifically partisan (e.g., Republican) Court rulings shape public acceptance of its decisions while varying institutional, legal, and issue characteristics. Using survey experiments, we find that party cues and partisanship, more so than the imprimatur of the Court, affect public acceptance. We also find that polarization diminishes the effect of party cues. Attributing a decision to the Court does little to increase baseline acceptance or attenuate partisan cue effects. The Court's uniqueness, at least in terms of its legitimacy‐conferring function, is perhaps overstated.
partisans_in_robes_replication.csv code_book.csv
Hansford TG, James F. Spriggs II, Stenger A. The Information Dynamics of Vertical Stare Decisis. Journal of Politics. 2013;75 (4) :894-906. Publisher's VersionAbstract
We propose a dynamic model of precedent in a judicial hierarchy which incorporates a “bottom-up” informational component. When a high court establishes precedents, it has uncertainty regarding how they will play out when applied to future legal disputes. Lower court implementation of these precedents can inform the high court about the contemporary policy implications—i.e., the ideological location—of the precedents. If lower court usage of a precedent is informative, the high court will consider the revealed location of the precedent when contemplating reducing the precedent’s authority and applicability to future cases. Using data on U.S. Supreme Court precedents and U.S. Courts of Appeals citations to these precedents, we estimate a model of the Court’s negative treatment of precedent. We find lower court usage of precedent can provide new, useful information on the policy content of a precedent, helping the Court shape law in a way consistent with its preferences.
Hansford TG. The Dynamics of Interest Representation at the U.S. Supreme Court. Political Research Quarterly. 2011;64 (4) :749-764. Publisher's VersionAbstract

How do organized interests respond to their opponents’ advocacy activities in a policy venue? Utilizing data on amicus curiae filings at the U.S. Supreme Court, the author estimates vector error correction and vector autoregression models that allow him test whether interests respond, in a dynamic sense, to the efforts of the “other side.” The author capitalizes on the temporal sequencing of variation in advocacy activity to gain leverage on the causal connection between the behaviors of opposing sets of interests and provides a richer portrait of the dynamics of interest representation in a policy venue. The results reveal that organized interests respond positively to the advocacy activities of their opponents by exhibiting both short-term counteraction and long-term countermobilization, implying that over the long run, interest representation at the Court is responsive and perhaps balanced.

Damore DF, Hansford TG, A.J B. Explaining the Decision to Withdraw from a U.S. Presidential Nomination Campaign. Political Behavior. 2010;32 (2) :157-180. Publisher's VersionAbstract

We contend that a candidate’s decision to exit from a U.S. presidential nomination campaign is a function of three sets of considerations: the potential for profile elevation, party-related costs, and updated perceptions of competitiveness. We analyze data from eleven post-reform presidential nomination campaigns and find support for all three considerations. Specifically, our results suggest that in addition to candidates’ competitiveness, the decision to withdraw is a function of candidates’ closeness to their party and ability to raise their profile. At the same time, some of our results contradict the conventional wisdom regarding presidential nomination campaigns, as we find no evidence that media coverage or cash on hand directly affect the duration of a nomination candidacy.

Hansford TG, Savchak EC, Songer DR. Politics, Careerism, and the Voluntary Departures of U.S. District Court Judges. American Politics Research. 2010;38 (6) :986-1014. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Prior studies hypothesize that judges time their retirements to allow a like-minded president to select their replacements. We propose a modification to this argument and theorize that during the earlier part of a district court judge’s career, it is the likelihood of elevation to an appeals court and other career-oriented concerns that affect whether the judge resigns or stays on the bench. It is during the latter stage of a judge’s career when the desire to be replaced with a like-minded judge affects the retirement decision. Our analysis reveals that judges who are not yet pension eligible are influenced by being passed over for appeals court nominations as well as financial incentives to leave for private practice. Only judges who have attained pension eligibility appear to consider their ideological compatibility with the president when deciding to call it quits.

Hansford TG, Gomez BT. Estimating the Electoral Effects of Voter Turnout. American Political Science Review. 2010;104 (2) :268-288. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This article examines the electoral consequences of variation in voter turnout in the United States. Existing scholarship focuses on the claim that high turnout benefits Democrats, but evidence supporting this conjecture is variable and controversial. Previous work, however, does not account for endogeneity between turnout and electoral choice, and thus, causal claims are questionable. Using election day rainfall as an instrumental variable for voter turnout, we are able to estimate the effect of variation in turnout due to across-the-board changes in the utility of voting. We re-examine the Partisan Effects and Two-Effects Hypotheses, provide an empirical test of an Anti-Incumbent Hypothesis, and propose a Volatility Hypothesis, which posits that high turnout produces less predictable electoral outcomes. Using county-level data from the 1948–2000 presidential elections, we find support for each hypothesis. Failing to address the endogeneity problem would lead researchers to incorrectly reject all but the Anti-Incumbent Hypothesis. The effect of variation in turnout on electoral outcomes appears quite meaningful. Although election-specific factors other than turnout have the greatest influence on who wins an election, variation in turnout significantly affects vote shares at the county, national, and Electoral College levels.

Hansford TG, Nicholson SP. When t=1 and N=2: Creating a Political Science Program at a New Research University. PS: Political Science & Politics. 2008;41 (2) :371-374. Publisher's VersionAbstract

If you could start a political science program from scratch, how would you do it? Given no institutional history, how would you design graduate and undergraduate programs? How would you grow your faculty? How would you attempt to build a reputation in the absence of a reputation at time t-1? In an interdisciplinary environment, with which disciplines would you work most closely? For most political science professors, these might be interesting hypothetical questions to consider. For the two of us, these questions are very real and have dominated our recent work lives as we have just finished our first year as the founding political science faculty at the brand new University of California campus, UC Merced.

Gomez BT, Hansford TG, Krause GA. The Republicans Should Pray for Rain: Weather, Turnout, and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections. Journal of Politics. 2007;69 (3) :649-663. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The relationship between bad weather and lower levels of voter turnout is widely espoused by media, political practitioners, and, perhaps, even political scientists. Yet, there is virtually no solid empirical evidence linking weather to voter participation. This paper provides an extensive test of the claim. We examine the effect of weather on voter turnout in 14 U.S. presidential elections. Using GIS interpolations, we employ meteorological data drawn from over 22,000 U.S. weather stations to provide election day estimates of rain and snow for each U.S. county. We find that, when compared to normal conditions, rain significantly reduces voter participation by a rate of just less than 1% per inch, while an inch of snowfall decreases turnout by almost .5%. Poor weather is also shown to benefit the Republican party's vote share. Indeed, the weather may have contributed to two Electoral College outcomes, the 1960 and 2000 presidential elections.

Savchak EC, Hansford TG, Songer DR, Manning KL, Carp RA. Taking It to the Next Level: The Elevation of District Court Judges to the U.S. Courts of Appeals. American Journal of Political Science. 2006;50 (2) :478-493. Publisher's VersionAbstract
We address an important aspect of judicial careers: the elevation of judges from the U.S. District Courts to the Courts of Appeals. We argue that the likelihood of a judge being elevated is a function of informational cues and signals regarding the nature of the judge and the judge’s compatibility with presidential preferences. We also expect norms involving the intersection between geography and Senate politics to affect a judge’s elevation chances. Using data on district court judges appointed between 1946 and 1995, we find that the likelihood of a judge being elevated is a function of the judge’s ideological compatibility with the president, the judge’s previous ABA rating, and Senate norms involving state “ownership” of appeals court seats. Blunt indicators of policy preferences trump direct signals when presidents decide whom to elevate, leaving judges little control over their career prospects and thus less incentive to slant their decisions in the direction of the president’s preferences.
Hansford TG, James F. Spriggs II. The Politics of Precedent on the U.S. Supreme Court. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 2006.