Nathan Morse

Political Science Ph.D. Student Pennsylvania State University


I am a graduate student at Penn State specializing in political methodology and American politics. I study democracy and inequality. In particular, my research centers around the effects of institutional design on democracy, the political causes of economic inequality, and the dynamics of police violence. My methodological focus is survival analysis and time series modeling.

Aside from my research, I have served as the Website Editor for the Society for Political Methodology, managing the Polmeth Paper Archive and the Society's Twitter account. I have also been a TA for Quantitative Political Analysis (PLSC309H), an undergraduate methods course at Penn State.


Current Projects

Untangling Ideology and Inequality in the United States: How Polarization Deepens Economic Inequality July 2021 Master's thesis

For most of US history, income inequality and congressional polarization have risen and fallen almost in unison. Although causality runs both ways, most scholarship in American political economy puts greater emphasis on inequality as the cause and polarization as the consequence. However, partisanship in the Senate has consistently preceded parallel trends in income inequality and House partisanship by around a decade. I theorize that the inequitable representation and supermajoritarian nature of the Senate simultaneously deepen polarization and income inequality by facilitating gridlock on economic policy. Using vector autoregression and error correction models, I show that Senate polarization, the Senate’s filibuster bias, and House polarization systematically predict income inequality. Specifically, the results indicate that congressional polarization takes around 10 years to affect the income distribution. Income inequality also predicts congressional polarization, but in the opposite direction than scholars have suggested: polarization decreases in response to shocks in income inequality.

“People Like Me Are Falling Behind:” Measuring Perceptions of Inequality Using Novel Survey Questions with Suzanna Linn, Jonathan Nagler, and Jan Zilinksy 2021 Working paper available upon request

We measure perceptions of economic inequality through a novel set of survey questions asked across original national surveys over an eight-year period. In addition to asking respondents how the national economy was doing, and about their own finances, we also asked how they thought people like them were doing financially. By examining respondents on the “off-diagonals” (i.e., people who offered different evaluations of national economic performance versus group economic performance) we identify people who perceive inequality in economic performance. We test whether, in addition to evaluations of the national economy, group-economic evaluations also predict vote choice.

Police, Violence, and Public Opinion: Linking Polling Practices to Current Events with Ray Block Jr. 2020 Working paper available upon request

Recent media coverage of lethal confrontations between White police officers and unarmed African Americans inspires heated conversations about the state of race relations and criminal justice in the United States, and these conversations often influence the content of polling items. Unlike conventional public opinion research on racial differences in law enforcement practices, we are concerned not only with people’s perceptions but also with the processes by which investigators design surveys. Our fascination with polling practices and current events motivates the following research question: do the ways in which pollsters ask questions reflect public discourse? Drawing upon the research on newsworthiness and the allocation of media coverage, we address these questions by employing computer-assisted content analyses of survey “toplines” (summary documents of polling results). This novel source of data allows us to examine dynamics in the link between violent encounters between officers and civilians, media coverage of such events, and the inclusion of items about this violence in public opinion surveys.

Was Jefferson Right? A Machine Learning Approach to Charting Constitutional Life Cycles and Democratic Backsliding May 2021 Working paper available upon request

In this article, I synthesize Thomas Jefferson's argument for 19-year term limits on constitutions with modern theories of constitutional endurance and democracy. I argue that periodic constitutional revision lowers a country's risk for democratic backsliding. However, the culture of a constitution matters more than its content; routine maintenance keeps the public engaged in politics, normalizes institutional upkeep when necessary, and signals higher costs to elites for exploiting loopholes. This, in turn, helps constitutions adapt enough to satisfy Jefferson's concerns. My theory predicts that democracy is likely to recess when a constitution remains unchanged longer than we would expect given its design, environment, and history. Taking these into account, I train a random survival forest algorithm to compute optimized revision intervals tailored to each country, which I offer as a state-of-the-art version of Jefferson's 19-year figure. I then test whether countries are at a greater risk of democratic backsliding when their constitutions remain unchanged longer than expected or when constitutions are revised more proactively.

Curriculum Vitae

Download CV Feb. 19, 2021


M.A., Political Science Pennsylvania State University Expected: 2021

Fields: American politics, political methodology, comparative politics
Advisor: Chris Zorn

B.A., Statistics & Political Science University of Florida 2019

Focuses: election data science, applied statistical methods, political theory
Final project: "Voter Registration Rates: Identifying Where People Are Not Registered and Why"