Work in Progress

Books in Development

The Causes and Consequences of Threats and Violence against America’s Elected Officials

5.30.20 #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd protest in Grand Rapids, MI

In recent years elected officials in the United States have increasingly been targeted with threats of violence and actual violence by members of the public. The most extreme recent cases include the shootings of U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and Congressman Steve Scalise. The relatively small number of assassination attempts is part of a much broader trend toward frequent threats of harm and actual violence targeting elected officials. Several organizations such as the US Capitol Police (2023), the Secret Service (U.S. Secret Service 2022; CBS News 2017), the National League of Cities (2021), and the U.S. Conference of Mayors (2023) have produced reports that highlight the breadth and overtime rise of this phenomenon.  Many of these events are motivated by partisanship and ideology and are meant to coerce elected officials—especially those from the opposing party—to abandon their preferred political positions or take positions consistent with those of the person issuing the threat/committing the act of violence.

These actions can range from hate-filled calls and emails to threats of violence, property violence, stalking, and even physical violence. A substantial number of these incidents constitute criminal offenses, but our 100 in-depth interviews with elected officials and staff and reports by various organizations suggest that these incidents are underreported to authorities.

This project has four principal goals: 

  1. to systematically investigate the prevalence of threats and violence among local and state elected officials and their staff;
  2. assess the political and attitudinal consequences of exposure to threats and violence among elected officials and staff;
  3. develop recommended legislative interventions to prevent such phenomena and best practices to increase the security of elected officials and staff; and,
  4. test communications interventions among the American public aimed at developing appropriate messaging about this phenomenon that avoids normalizing political violence in the eyes of the public, reduces the likelihood of violent radicalization, and helps re-affirm norms of non-violence.

The project is supported by the Russell Sage Foundation, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, the Electoral Integrity Project at Harvard University, the Center for Effective Lawmaking at the University of Virginia, and Vanderbilt University, the UIC Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, and the Institute for Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

My collaborator on this project is Dr. Laurel Harbridge Yong from Northwestern University

Guns in America: Power, Groups, and Identities

(New York University Press, under contract)

Camo gunThis book project investigates the role that racial resentment and sexism have played in shaping Americans’ desire for guns, and support for gun rights, and opposition to the regulation of firearms. We use data from the American National Election Surveys (2000-2020), the General Election Survey (GSS), several nationally representative surveys fielded by YouGov (2015-223), and a series of priming and framing experiments to show the potency of racial and gender attitudes in shaping White, Black, and Latinx views on guns and gun politics.