Benjamin S. Noble, Andrew Reeves, and Steven W. Webster. 2022. “Crime and Presidential Accountability: A Case of Racially Conditioned Issue Ownership.” Political Opinion Quarterly.

Abstract Americans are anxious about crime regardless of their actual exposure or risk. Given this pervasive concern, US presidents frequently talk about crime, take actions to address it, and list crime prevention efforts among their top accomplishments. We argue that presidents act this way, in part, because fear of crime translates into lowered presidential approval. However, this penalty is not applied evenly. Given the parties' stances toward crime and the criminal justice system, White Americans punish Democratic presidents (i.e., Clinton and Obama) more severely when they are anxious about crime, while Black Americans are more punitive toward Republican presidents (i.e., Bush and Trump). We examine twenty years of survey data and find evidence consistent with our theory. Our results suggest that the relationship between fear of crime and presidential accountability is conditioned by an individual’s race and the president’s party.

[publisher site/ungated] [twitter version]

Noble, Benjamin S. 2021. “Energy versus Safety: Unilateral Action, Voter Welfare, and Executive Accountability.” Political Science Research and Methods.

Abstract Does increasing executive power necessarily decrease accountability? To answer this question, I develop a two-period signaling model comparing voter welfare in two separation-of-powers settings. In one, the executive works with a median legislator to change policy; in the other, the executive chooses between legislation or unilateral action. Both politicians may have preferences that diverge from the voter's, yet I find that increasing executive power may increase accountability and welfare, even in some cases when the legislator is more likely to share the voter's preferences. Unilateral power allows a congruent executive to overcome gridlock, implement the voter's preferred policy, and reveal information about the politicians' types—which can outweigh the risks of a divergent executive wielding power for partisan ends.

[publisher site] [ungated version] [appendix] [blog post summary] [twitter version]

Working Papers

Benjamin S. Noble. “The Power to Polarize: The President as a Cue in Congressional Rhetoric”

Abstract The president occupies a unique position as the head of the executive branch and the de-facto leader of one of the congressional parties. He is both powerful and partisan, serving as a potent cue lawmakers can strategically reference to polarize opinion. Given the polarizing power of out-party cues relative to the persuasive power of in-party cues and rising negative partisanship, I theorize that out-partisans will more frequently invoke the president in public statements than in-partisans. However, this pattern will be conditioned by constituency partisanship and time. I provide evidence for this theory leveraging a within-legislator panel and text data from over 2 million floor speeches given by 3,000 lawmakers between 1953–2016. I further support the behavioral micro-foundations of the theory through a survey experiment. This research has implications for our understanding of blame-game politics and the separation of powers, especially under polarization and nationalization.

[working paper]

Benjamin S. Noble and Taylor N. Carlson. “CueAnon: The (not so) Strategic Endorsement of Political Conspiracy Theories.”

Abstract Why do politicians endorse conspiracy theories? Where existing research has focused on conspiracy theory belief among the mass public, there is little research into the costs and benefits to candidates who support them. We test two theories: that candidate conspiracy endorsement could provoke negative media coverage and support among voters with low trust in media or that such behavior is counterproductive to candidates’ electoral prospects. Our observational and experimental studies, which focus on candidate support for QAnon, find no positive effects of endorsement. This holds for several subpopulations of interest such as Republicans, conservatives, those with low trust in media, and those with anti-establishment beliefs. Ultimately, we find that if voters support candidates who endorse QAnon, they do so despite the endorsement. Our research complicates popular narratives about conspiracy theories and candidate choice and indicates the importance of causally testing theories about public support for conspiracy theories.

[working paper]

Other Selected Work

Zoe Ang, Benjamin S. Noble, and Andrew Reeves. “Public Opinion and Public Support in Crisis Management.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, 2021.

Abstract In times of crisis, citizens look to their leaders for aid and assistance. In the democratic context, the focal figure is likely the chief executive, accountable to the whole of the nation. Focusing specifically on the American president and the incidences of natural hazards, we analyze public opinion and governmental response to these crises. While one might expect such a universal actor to aid each according to their need, new scholarship concerning voter behavior and electoral incentives has found that the president is incentivized to support only a small slice of the electorate. Empowered by federal disaster relief legislation in the 1950s, the president targets electorally profitable voters when disbursing aid or allocating resources to control disaster damage. Voters in those areas respond myopically and tend to vote for the incumbent, whether because they have been economically or emotionally supported. Thus, elites anticipate voter reactions and strategically respond to disasters to mitigate blame or punishment for the event and capitalize on an opportunity for electoral gains.

[publisher site]