American politics is often portrayed as the hegemony of two parties. My research tackles this central institutional debate between state political institutions and political parties. I focus on how major parties in the United States at the state level have deterred and prevented new political parties from electorally competing. Specifically, I examine how laws discouraging the formation of parties impact state legislative level electoral competition and ideology. My research probes why major parties, despite their electoral dominance, feel threatened by minor parties instituting laws to reduce their influence. I find that the Democratic and Republican parties continually deter new competition to gain control over their members and manage state policy agendas.
In addition to working on legislative, electoral, and party politics, I leverage the advances in methodological use of time series and panel data to answer critical state and national level questions involving immigration and voter trust.
Abstracts for some of my recently published papers and working papers are provided below.
The Stability of Immigration Attitudes: Evidence and Implications
With Alexander Kustov and Dillon Laaker
The Journal of Politics
Do voters have stable immigration views? While any account of immigration politics must make an assumption about whether underlying attitudes are stable, the literature has been ambiguous regarding the issue. To remedy this omission, we provide the first comprehensive assessment of the stability and change of immigration attitudes. Theoretically, we develop a framework to explicate the temporal assumptions in previous research and find that most studies assume attitudes are flexible. Empirically, we draw on nine panel datasets to test the stability question and use multiple approaches to account for measurement error. We find that immigration attitudes are remarkably stable over time and robust to major economic and political shocks. Overall, these findings provide more support for theories emphasizing socialization and stable pre-dispositions rather than information or environmental factors. Consequently, scholars should exercise caution in using changing context to explain immigration attitudes or in using immigration attitudes to explain political change.
Are Elite Cues Necessary to Drive the “Winner Effect” on Trust in Elections?
With Anthony Anderson and Thad Kousser
A rigorous literature analyzing elections in the United States, in established European democracies, and in the newer democracies of Eastern Europe and Latin America has shown that voters on the losing side of a campaign exhibit less trust in elections and faith in democratic legitimacy. Those who experience the “winner effect,” by contract, report greater system support and belief in the integrity of the election. What drives this effect? Is it the election result itself that leads to a direct change in mass opinion or is it the elite messages – including charges of voter fraud – that often follow a contest? To disentangle the impact of mass mood from leadership cues as the mechanisms behind the winner effect, we use a regression discontinuity in time (RDiT) design in a recent American election in which the leading candidate on the losing side did not claim to have lost because of vote fraud. We gathered parallel survey samples in the two days leading up to the polls closing and then the following two days once the definitive results became clear. Even in the absence of elite claims of vote fraud, we see strong and immediate shifts in mass views. Once the results became clear, those who supported the losing side became significantly less likely to trust that votes were counted correctly or to be satisfied with the election process, while trust and support for the process rose from pre- to post-election for voters on the winning side. We contribute to this literature by demonstrating that elite cues are not a necessary condition to drive the winner effect; it can be generated by mass attitudinal shifts that follow from the revelation of an election result alone.
How Ballot Access Laws Increase Primary
Competition and Decrease Party Unity
How do electoral institutions affect primary competition and legislative behavior? This paper examines the understudied electoral rule known as ballot access laws, advancing the novel theory that denying ballot access to minor candidates forces these outsiders into major parties. I find states that adopt high ballot access thresholds experience higher rates of ideological heterogeneity and primary competition, and those that reduce their thresholds experience a reduction in heterogeneity and competition. Using an original dataset on state level changes to ballot access thresholds from 1990 to 2018, I find that an increase in both the number and type of primary competition leads to an increase in heterogeneity within both party caucuses. This paper adds to the literature on legislative behavior and electoral institutions demonstrating the role institutions have in shaping electoral competition and the ideology that is represented in office.
Why do Third Parties Exist? Major Party Adaptation to Third Party Electoral Threats
Job Market Paper
Do minor parties matter at all in the single-member district system of the United States? While unsuccessful in winning elections, I examine the non-office-seeking motivation of third parties in the American states. I theorize unique non-office-seeking mechanisms that allow third parties to act as agenda setters through their ability to pose electoral threats to major parties. Previous work has found little impact of minor party threats influencing major parties by running candidates or gaining votes. A third party’s ability to spoil or nearly spoil an election for a major party with the same ideological alignment allows them to seek ideological and issue concessions from that party. I demonstrate how the threat of spoilage leads to changes in the roll call, nomination, and aggregate state caucus behavior in both the Democratic and Republican Parties. This paper adds to the literature on why candidates run for office, party organizations, and third parties’ unique role in the American party system.
Learning from Fusing Party Independence, Informative Electoral Signals and Legislative Adaptation
Presented at APSA 2022
In this paper, I examine how elites respond when voters are allowed to signal their policy preferences by being able to vote for a candidate under multiple party labels. I leverage New York’s fusion voting system, which allows candidates to run under multiple political parties with their total vote being “fused” together to determine who won the plurality of the vote in a specific election. The ability to run under multiple party labels creates avenues for legislators to act independently of their party, reducing threats from activists. Legislators only do this when voters signal their disdain for their major party by voting for fusion parties, shifting the legislator’s view from party dependent to personal. Leveraging novel IRT estimates and legislative scorecard data, I show politicians receive and respond to these informative electoral signals. State legislators are highly adaptive to fusion signals, significantly changing their roll call vote behavior depending on whether a signal is pro-major party or anti-party. This paper demonstrates how more informative election systems can lead to more informed and responsive legislators.
How Diverse Candidate Selection Creates Racial Coalitions at the Ballot Box
Poster at APSA 2022
Have parties benefitted electorally by fielding racially diverse candidates in US elections? This paper examines how nominating racially diverse option sets of candidates in an election cycle leads to the formation of motivated racial coalitions on election day. Diversity in nomination ensures that different racial groups feel better represented by the party they are voting for. Descriptive representation in whom a party nominates leads to descriptive motivation from the racial group represented. The paper also examines how salient the nomination must be for a racial group to feel descriptively motivated in that election. Importantly, diverse candidate sets lead to racial coalitions impacting both turnout and the likelihood of winning when multi-racial candidate blocs are nominated by one party. Finally, the unique heterogeneous effects of diversity for both the Democratic and Republican Parties and their implications are explored.