Welcome to my website!

I am a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Columbia University specializing in formal theory and experimental methods.

My research uses game theory to study the internal organization of political parties. With incentivized experiments, I study how information affects voters’ behavior.

You can reach me at giovanna [dot] invernizzi [at] columbia [dot] edu.

Research

publications

“Tra i Leoni: Revealing the Preferences Behind a Superstition”. First author, with J.B. Miller, T. Coen, M. Dufwenberg and L. Oliveira. Forthcoming, Journal of Economic Psychology. [paper]

We investigate a superstition for which adherence is nearly universal. Using a combination of field interventions and a lab-style value elicitation, we investigate the strength of peoples’ underlying preferences, and to what extent their behavior is driven by social conformity rather than the superstition itself. Our findings indicate that both mechanisms influence behavior. While a substantial number of people are willing to incur a relatively high individual cost in order to adhere to the superstition, for many, adherence is contingent on the the behavior of others. Our findings suggest that it is the conforming nature of the majority that sustains the false beliefs of the minority.

“Public Information: Relevance or Salience?”. Games 2020, 11, 4. [paper]

How does salient public information affect voters’ behavior? In a majoritarian voting game with common preferences, rational voters could use public information as an information device (depending on accuracy) or as a coordination device (regardless of accuracy). A simple lab experiment contradicts both hypotheses: subjects tend to follow public information when it is salient, regardless of the information’s accuracy, but fail to use it as a source of coordination. In particular, it matters whether the information is recent: subjects are more likely to follow public information when it is provided closer to the voting decision. These findings are important because the salience of public information is easily manipulable by political actors.

working papers

“Electoral Competition and Factional Sabotage”. [job market paper][slides]

Across electoral settings, intra-party sabotage is a widespread phenomenon, undermining the strength of political parties and thwarting democratic practice. What brings opposing factions to engage in sabotage that is detrimental to their parties rather than working to enhance the party image, and what strategies can parties adopt to contain it? I study a model of elections between two parties in which intra-party factions can devote resources to campaign for the party or to undermine each other and obtain more power. The party redistributes electoral spoils among factions to motivate their investment in campaigning activities. The model shows that sabotage increases when the stakes of the election are low — e.g. in consensus democracies that grant power to the losing party — because the incentives to focus on the fight for internal power increase. It also suggests that the optimal party strategy for winning the election in the face of intra-party competition is to reward factions with high powered incentives when campaigning effort can be easily monitored, but treat factions equally otherwise. By identifying the conditions that facilitate intra-party sabotage, the model explicates when factions can hurt parties’ chances of winning, thereby affecting final policy outcomes.

“Power Sharing, Mobilization and Party Organization”. With Carlo Prato. [paper]

We study the internal organization of political parties as the solution of a moral hazard problem between a party principal (or selectorate) and two factions. Factional mobilization effort bolster a party’s electoral chances but can only be imperfectly monitored—via an internal contest. We model a party’s internal organization as a system of “prizes”, an allocation of resources between winner and loser of the internal contest. We show that when (i) a party’s baseline electoral strength is low and (ii) electoral outcomes are not too responsive to mobilization efforts (e.g., when the electorate is polarized), there is an inverse relationship between inter-party power sharing and intra-party power sharing: when election winners keep most of the power, parties should allocate power across factions in a more egalitarian matter. Otherwise, party organization resembles a winner-take-all competition between factions. Our results help organize the empirically documented dispersion in party organizational structures (leadership autonomy, centralization of candidate selection, and the formal recognition of factions in the party statute).

“Political Norms”. With Michael Ting. [paper]

Recent political developments around the world have focused attention on the fraying of political norms, often understood as informal restraints on opportunistic behavior. This paper presents a theory of political norms that incorporates seemingly norm-breaking behavior as part of politicians’ equilibrium strategies. In the model, an election determines which party holds office in each period over an infinite horizon. Each period presents the party in office with an opportunity to modify a pre-existing status quo. Parties are constrained from modifying the status quo by both norms and other institutional actors. We show how much opportunism is needed to maintain at least partial cooperation under political conditions such as high polarization or electoral imbalance. The model also examines norm-breaking as a function of institutional factors such as party strength and the separation of powers.

“Trust Nobody: How Voters React to Conspiracy Theories”. With Ahmed Ezzeldin Mohamed. Under Review. [paper] [pre-analysis plan]

With the advent of social media, conspiracy theories became integrated into salient political debates, yet the scope of their implications on citizens’ political behavior remains unclear. Using an online experiment among US subjects, we show that conspiracy theories decrease voters’ trust in political institutions, such as mainstream parties and courts, as well as information providers. Subjects were exposed to conspiracy theories that are completely unrelated to American domestic politics, which further underscores the danger of such narratives. Results, however, suggest that voters do not weigh unrelated conspiracies in their evaluation of politicians’ performance. Overall, our findings illustrate that an informational environment permeated by conspiracy theories could impede the functioning of democracy by eroding trust in its institutions, but that voters’ capacity to keep politicians accountable is resilient to unrelated information.

“Politics by Denunciation”. First author, with Andrea Ceron. [paper]

Political scandals are a fundamental component of today’s politics. Yet, empirical evidence of the strategic determinants of scandals is intrinsically hard to gather, a problem that has significantly limited the study of this important phenomenon. This paper studies political scandals through their denunciation, using original data on 1125 episodes of misbehavior involving Italian MPs (1983-2019). This new dataset allows us to investigate the political nature of denunciations, comparing various types of scandals spanning from corruption to crimes of opinion. Results provide evidence in favor of a political use of denunciations: when a party weakens, the likelihood that political enemies denounce past misbehavior of members of the weakened party increases, suggesting that the political use of denunciation is elastic to changes in the electoral odds. The timing of past misbehavior is also crucial: members of weakened parties are more likely to be accused of misbehavior that happened a long time before the accusation, which further supports the conjecture that accusations are political. These effects, however, hold only for corruption crimes while denunciations of opinion crimes do not seem driven by electoral motives.

work in progress

“Pre-Electoral Coalitions and Mergers in Multi-Party Electoral Competition”.

One fundamental issue of multi-party systems is the identification of future governments. To address this mandate problem, parties typically form — implicit or explicit — pre-electoral alliances. Despite being pervasive, little is know about the conditions facilitating different configurations of pre-electoral alliances. This paper presents a theory of electoral competition in which parties can form alliances before elections, and decide how binding these alliances should be. Parties face a trade-off between ensuring their programmatic presence, conditional on winning, and reducing electoral uncertainty. More binding alliances such as mergers help with the former, flexible coalitions with the latter. The model shows how equilibrium configurations of alliances change with features of the competitive environment such as the electoral system’s proportionality and party ideological polarization. By understanding the strategic determinants of pre-electoral alliances, the model sheds light on how to facilitate mandate conditions in multi-party systems.

Other Writings

“Political Scandals”. [paper]

This literature review is the first attempt to gather the existing knowledge we have about political scandals. It is motivated by the widespread occurrences and the rising importance of scandals in shaping political events, and the corresponding (surprising) lack of attention by the academic community. While there is little empirical evidence of how scandals affect voters’ behavior, we lack a theoretical systematization of the phenomenon. This review therefore has two main contributions: first, it provides a broad overview of the political science literature that has been treating scandals. Secondly, it imparts a formal framework to think about scandals that might be useful in guiding future empirical and theoretical work.

Teaching

Political Science Math Camp (2019, 2020) – Ph.D. level.
[Evaluations]
A review of basic calculus and linear algebra, as well as an introduction to fundamental notions of real analysis used in graduate courses in quantitative and formal methods.
Role: Instructor.

The Logic of Collective Choice (2019) – Undergraduate level.
[Evaluations]
Undergraduate lecture course on collective choice.
Role: TA for Jeffrey Lax.

Introduction to Comparative Politics (2018) – Undergraduate level.
[Evaluations]
An introduction to comparative politics for undergraduate students.
Role: TA for John Huber.

Research Topics in Game Theory (2016, 2017) – Ph.D. level.
[2017 Evaluations] [2016 Evaluations]
The second course in the PhD formal theory sequence.
Role: TA for Carlo Prato.

Game Theory and Political Theory (2017) – Ph.D. level.
[Evaluations]
The first course in the PhD formal theory sequence.
Role: TA for John Huber.

CV

EDUCATION

Columbia University, New York, NY.
Ph.D. Student in Political Science, 2015 – present.
Master in Political Science, 2016.

Bocconi University, Milan, Italy.
M.S. Summa Cum Laude, Economics and Social Sciences, March 2015.
B.A., Economics and Social Sciences, 2012.