Emory Zachary Peskowitz

Zac Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science, Emory University

Curriculum Vitae

Contact Information

Department of Political Science
327 Tarbutton Hall
1555 Dickey Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322
Email: zachary.f.peskowitz "at" emory "dot" edu


  • Peskowitz, Zachary. Forthcoming. Ideological Signaling and Incumbency Advantage. British Journal of Political Science.
  • I develop a novel explanation for the incumbency advantage based on the ability of incumbents to signal ideologically distinct positions from their parties. Using voter-level data from the CCES and controlling for unobserved district heterogeneity, I find that voters in House elections primarily use information about the ideology of candidates' parties to infer the location of challengers while they instead rely on information about the individual candidates' ideologies to place incumbents. In higher-profile Senate elections, the difference between challengers and incumbents is trivial. Decomposing the incumbency advantage into valence and signaling components, I estimate that 14 percent of incumbency advantage in House elections is from the signaling mechanism while it explains only 5 percent of the advantage in Senate contests. I also find that the incumbency advantage is larger in ideologically moderate districts and that a 50 percent increase in party polarization would increase incumbency advantage by 3 percentage points.

  • Kogan, Vladimir, Stéphane Lavertu, and Zachary Peskowitz. 2017. Direct Democracy and Administrative Disruption. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. 27(3): 381-399.
  • Direct democracy is often touted as a means of reining in the administrative state, but it could also hinder the performance of public organizations. In particular, we argue that bargaining dynamics between voters and government officials can lead to costly administrative disruptions. We explore this issue by estimating the impact of Ohio tax referenda on school district administration using a regression discontinuity approach. The results suggest that administrators in districts where referenda failed sought to insulate core functions from revenue declines. Nonetheless, referendum failure (as opposed to passage) led to lower instructional spending, teacher attrition, and lower student achievement growth. Spending and performance generally rebounded within a few years, however, as districts eventually secured approval for a subsequent tax proposal. These results illustrate how involving citizens in decision-making can entail short-term transaction costs in the form of decreased administrative performance, which in this case may have had lasting achievement effects for students attending school in the wake of a referendum failure.

  • Chaudoin, Stephen, Zachary Peskowitz, and Christopher Stanton. 2017. Beyond Zeroes and Ones: The Intensity and Dynamics of Civil Conflict. Journal of Conflict Resolution. 61(1): 56-83.
  • We assess risk factors affecting the severity and dynamics of civil wars, departing from analyses focused primarily on static models of the effect of income on the extensive margin of conflict. Civil conflicts are shown to be persistent, but rarely do they become more severe in response to past fighting. Substantial heterogeneity in the speed of mean reversion is documented: severe fighting lasts longest in poor countries and ethnically fractionalized countries.

  • Kogan, Vladimir, Stéphane Lavertu, and Zachary Peskowitz. 2016. Do School Report Cards Produce Accountability Through the Ballot Box?. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 35(3): 639-661.
  • Public education has been transformed by the widespread adoption of accountability systems that involve the dissemination of school district performance information. Using data from Ohio, we examine if elections serve as one channel through which these accountability systems might lead to improvements in educational quality. We find little evidence that poor performance on widely disseminated state and federal indicators has an impact on school board turnover, the vote share of sitting school board members, or superintendent tenure, suggesting that the dissemination of district performance information puts little (if any) electoral pressure on elected officials to improve student achievement.

  • Kogan, Vladimir, Stéphane Lavertu, and Zachary Peskowitz. 2016. Performance Federalism and Local Democracy: Theory and Evidence from School Tax Referenda. American Journal of Political Science. 60(2): 418-435.
  • Federal governments are increasingly employing empirical measures of lower-level government performance to ensure that provincial and local jurisdictions pursue national policy goals. We call this burgeoning phenomenon performance federalism and argue that it can distort democratic accountability in lower-level elections. We estimate the impact of a widely publicized federal indicator of local school district performance -- one that we show does not allow voters to draw valid inferences about the quality of local educational institutions -- on voter support for school tax levies in a U.S. state uniquely appropriate for this analysis. The results indicate that a signal of poor district performance increases the probability of levy failure -- a substantively large and robust effect that disproportionately affects impoverished communities. The analysis employs a number of identification strategies and tests for multiple behavioral mechanisms to support the causal interpretation of these findings.

  • Krehbiel, Keith and Zachary Peskowitz. 2015. Legislative Organization and Ideal-Point Bias. Journal of Theoretical Politics. 27(4): 673-703.
  • Four pure types of legislative organization are characterized as data generating processes for commonly used measures of preferences or, in the spatial vernacular, ideal points. The types of legislative organization are differentiated by their partisan versus nonpartisan nature of agenda formation, and by whether the amendment process is open or closed. For each organization, roll call voting data are Monte-Carlo generated and used as input for four different ideal point measures: standard percent-correct interest group ratings (IGRs), linear factor analysis scores (LFAs), W-NOMINATE ratings (NOMs), and Markov chain Monte Carlo measures (MCMCs). Three questions motivate and are addressed the analysis. Do estimated ideal points differ significantly across forms of legislative organization? Are some ideal point estimates consistently more accurate than others? Are there patterns of substantively relevant, persistent bias in ideal point estimates? The answers are all affirmative.

  • Martin, Gregory J. and Zachary Peskowitz. 2015. Parties and Electoral Performance in the Market for Political Consultants. Legislative Studies Quarterly. 40(3): 441-470.

    We investigate whether the hiring relationships of candidates and political consulting firms better resembles the predictions of the "adversarial" or "allied" models of consultant-party interaction. We find that the highest-quality consultants are not allocated to the most competitive races, consultant-candidate relationships persist even as candidates' electoral prospects change, and firms who work for challengers face a higher risk of market exit than firms working for incumbents. The market focuses entirely on win-loss records and ignores the information on consultant performance available in candidates' vote shares. These findings depict a market driven by individual candidate, rather than aggregate party, goals.

    Media coverage: New York Times' The Upshot, National Public Radio's Marketplace, Campaigns & Elections

  • Dropp, Kyle and Zachary Peskowitz. 2012. Electoral Security and the Provision of Constituency Service. Journal of Politics. 74(1):220-234.
  • We examine the relationship between legislators' electoral environment and the provision of constituency service in the Texas State Legislature. Using fictitious constituent requests soliciting information on voter registration and a government program, we analyze the relationship between legislators' previous vote share and the probability of legislator response. To account for possible simultaneity bias of constituency service and election results, we employ an instrumental variables approach. In contrast with previous empirical studies, we find that legislators' response rates to constituent requests decreases in their electoral security across a wide range of model specifications that control for legislator-specific characteristics. We also investigate how electoral security affects legislators' provision of legislative public goods and find some suggestive evidence that electoral security increases the number of bills legislators author, but has little effect on other measures of legislative production.

Working Papers