Research

Publications

“Partisan Appeals to Bipartisanship.” with Emily Cottle Ommundsen. Forthcoming at Political Behavior [Paper] [Replication Materials]

How do members of Congress build public support for legislation? Many argue it is through the framing of the legislative process or carefully curated explanations that appeal to their constituents’ preferences. Some suggest the key to members of Congress building public support for legislation is appealing to bipartisanship — signaling to the public that legislation was crafted through compromise and is liked by members on both sides of the aisle. Given the hyper-partisan era that presently exists, however, these bipartisan appeals are unlikely to occur in a vacuum. The minority party has incentives to engage in counter framing to undermine support for legislation. We demonstrate that the benefits awarded to members by engaging in bipartisan appeals are overstated. By engaging in counter messaging, members in the minority party can undermine the legislative accomplishments of their opponents, as well as approval for the legislature. Minority-party members, however, must be careful in how they counter message: partisan, rather than neutral, messages actually increase support for the legislature’s majority party while decreasing support for the minority party.

“The Selling of Experience in the 2022 Congressional Elections.” with Sarah A. Treul. Forthcoming at The Journal of Political Marketing [Paper]

Past experience in elective office has always been the best predictor of congressional candidate success in elections. These “quality” candidates come into elections with experience fundraising, name recognition, and general knowledge about how to run a successful campaign. Yet, recent congressional elections have seen an increase in the electoral success of inexperienced candidates. As past experience in office may no longer be valued as it once was, how are experienced candidates marketing themselves to voters? Are they still leaning into their past experience in elected office or are they more likely to emphasize other occupations and experiences? We expect candidates brand themselves, emphasizing different experiences, based on the type of election they are in and who they are running against. In order to test these expectations, this paper examines all available biography pages of experienced candidates who ran in congressional primaries in 2022. We find clear partisan differences in what candidates past occupational backgrounds they highlight. We find mixed evidence that decisions about what occupations to emphasize vary based on electoral dynamics.

Working Papers

“Measuring Strategic Positioning in Congressional Elections.” (Under Review) [Working Paper] [PolMeth 2022 Poster]

How do incumbents respond to extreme primary challengers? While theoretical models suggest incumbents should adopt more extreme positions, previous research lacks support for this hypothesis. However, data limitations have forced researchers to focus only on legislative behavior and not consider positioning during the campaign in response to primary challengers. To overcome these data limitations, I introduce Website EmBedding (WEB) Strategic Positioning Scores. WEB Scores employ word embeddings with document-level vectors trained on congressional candidates’ issue statements, as presented on their campaign websites. These estimates have high construct validity and improve upon current measurement limitations, including expanding the number of candidates with estimates and using actual issue-position data to produce these estimates. Consistent with theoretical expectations, I show incumbent candidates become more extreme (moderate) in their issue positioning during the campaign in response to an extreme (moderate) primary challenger whereas previous measures do not.

“Conceptualizing and Measuring Early Campaign Fundraising in U.S. House Elections.” with Rachel Porter. (Invited to Revise and Resubmit at Political Science Research Methods) [Working Paper]

Political professionals and scholars maintain that raising money early in the election season is critical to a successful campaign, having downstream consequences on a candidate’s future fundraising potential, the stiffness of competition she will face, and her likelihood of electoral victory. In spite of early money’s perceived importance, there is no common operationalization for money as “early.” Moreover, existing measures often fail to reflect definitional aspects of early money. In this paper, we first lay out a theoretical framework regarding the utility of early campaign fundraising for candidates. We argue that early fundraising can be expressed as two conceptually-district quantities of interest centered on either a candidate’s own fundraising performance (candidate-centered) or her fundraising performance relative to her electoral competitors (election-centered). We next lay out steps for operationalizing candidate- and election-centered measures of early fundraising. Lastly, we demonstrate that both our proposed measures for early campaign fundraising are predictive of a candidate’s future fundraising and electoral success. By putting forward a set of best practices for early money measurement and, additionally, producing off-the-shelf measures for early fundraising in U.S. House elections, we hope to reinvigorate scholarly discussion on the measurement of money in politics.

“Congressional Campaign Strategies and Bipartisan Tendencies.” with Emily Cottle Ommundsen and Rachel Porter.

What kind of electoral dynamics motivate candidates to campaign on bipartisan solutions? Does this campaign behavior translate into a more cooperative legislative style in Congress? To answer these questions, we develop a new measure of collaborative and conflictual campaign styles. We employ recent advances in word embeddings to calculate both candidate- and issue-level estimates of collaborative and conflictual rhetoric. Using campaign platforms from the websites of candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives between 2018 and 2022, we identify the kinds of electoral contexts and candidate traits that are predictive of collaborative and conflictual campaign styles. We then turn to the U.S. House of Representatives to determine if members fulfill their promises of bipartisanship once elected. We suggest that politicians who use collaborative rhetoric in campaigns are more likely to behave in a bipartisan fashion once in Congress than are those members who use conflictual language in campaigns. We demonstrate that these patterns do hold, as members who use collaborative language on the campaign trail are more likely to seek out bipartisan original cosponsors for their legislation. Further, we show that members who are inclined to collaborate across the aisle are more legislatively effective, as these bills with bipartisan original cosponsors are more likely to progress further in the legislative process. These findings demonstrate how electoral institutions and candidate qualities translate into meaningful legislative cooperation and bipartisan outcomes.

“Purchasing Privilege? How Status Cues Affect Police Suspicion in Routine Traffic Stops.” with Frank R. Baumgartner and Will Spillman. (Invited to Revise and Resubmit at Politics, Groups, and Identities)

A police officer’s decision to search a driver’s car during a routine traffic stop is based on many variables and indicates that the officer views the driver with suspicion. In this paper, we ask whether driving a luxury-brand car reduces police suspicion during a traffic stop. We find significant reductions in rates of search for minority drivers of luxury cars, though these benefits fade away as the car grows older. We further explore the interactions between personal identity and vehicle type and find powerful effects associated with whether the vehicle indicates occupational status. Our study is based on more than 10 million traffic stops conducted by the Texas Highway Patrol. These findings add status cues to the long list of factors that appear to influence how police treat drivers during routine traffic stops.

“Infectious Moderation: Personal Experiences and Political Attitudes during Covid-19.” [Working Paper]

Party elites in the United States sent drastically different messages about government priorities and who was to blame for the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the current era of hyper-partisanship, one would expect public opinion to diverge and follow partisan messaging faithfully. However, the Covid-19 pandemic provided citizens with personal experiences that were potentially powerful enough overcome partisan motivated reasoning and encourage voters to hold politicians accountable. Using a mix of cross sectional and panel data, I find that being personally infected with Covid-19 moderated the effects of partisanship in shaping political attitudes where citizens might otherwise be expected to follow partisan cues. Those same personal experiences carried electoral consequences for the 2020 presidential election. Although the events associated with the 2020 pandemic and presidential election are unlikely to repeat themselves, these results carry broader implications for citizens’ capacity to hold attitudes independent of partisanship. Partisanship is certainly a powerful force, even in the face of a global pandemic, but its influence does have boundaries.

Work in Progress

“Coloring within the Party Lines: Candidate Branding in Primary Elections.” [Polmeth 2023 Poster]

“Measuring Issue Polarization in Congressional Elections.” with Rachel Porter [Polmeth 2023 Poster]