Nathan Morse

Political Science Ph.D. Student Pennsylvania State University

Welcome!

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.

Morse

Current Projects

“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.

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.

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.

The Changing Course of Police Brutality During the COVID-19 Pandemic and BLM Protests 2020 Working paper available upon request

American police forces have long had systemic racial biases, marked by the killings of unarmed Black Americans by police officers. One would presume that these unjust deaths would decrease in frequency during the COVID-19 pandemic as people stay home and come into contact with each other less. However, my exploratory analysis suggests that the frequency of people killed by police increased as the nation shut down in March and April 2020, reached its highest peak on record the week George Floyd was killed in May, then plummeted and returned to the same levels as before. I offer a theory as to why police brutality has followed these patterns: officers feel more stressed, emboldened, and threatened when fewer people are around, leading to more killings. I theorize that the 2020 BLM protests have reduced the proportion of police encounters that turn deadly, but encounters have spiked so much that the number of killings remains at pre-pandemic levels.

Education Policy and Food Inequality with Rhianna Franchini, Alexander Wu, and Christopher Zorn 2020

We know that poverty can lead to lower quality education, but is the opposite true as well? In this project, we are examining how education policy shapes food deserts as a gauge of economic inequality.

Curriculum Vitae

Download CV Feb. 19, 2021



Education

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"