My research explores long-term partisan change in the United States – and in particular, how partisan realignment and polarization have changed how citizens reason about politics. My work has a common theme: party systems have distinct implications for mass behavior, requiring flexible assumptions about how citizens process information and make political judgments. At Indiana University, my research has been supported by multiple grants from the Center on American Politics, and a College of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Research Fellowship (2019-2020).
At present, my primary project is a book manuscript based on my dissertation: Voting in Groups, Thinking Like Ideologues: The Paradox of Partisan Conflict in the United States. In the project, I document that Americans’ perceptions of parties have shifted to emphasize ideological and policy differences – factors traditionally regarded as dull, esoteric, and far removed from group models of mass politics. This trend makes little sense if the parties’ ideological differences continue to be too complicated for citizens to understand — and even less sense if partisan conflict simply reflects humans’ tendency to form and defend groups. Instead, I argue that unlike prior eras, ideological differences offer citizens the most information about parties, with the fewest intellectual demands.
In the manuscript, I marshal a variety of empirical approaches. As primary data, I designed original survey experiments, launched on the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). Just as importantly, I derive a theoretical model to explain why citizens might find it easiest to understand parties as proponents of distinct ideologies, even though appeals to intergroup differences have become more obnoxious among elites. Indeed, I demonstrate that in competitive two-party systems, citizens’ perceptions of parties need not reflect the social forces that explain why parties win. Thus, for citizens seeking low-effort, high-quality information about parties, ideology has indeed usurped group differences. However, this has occurred at precisely the moment when elections turn most dramatically on parties’ ability to mobilize groups in their coalitions. Far from accidental, these cross-cutting trends follow logically from the current party system.
In other work, I assess additional consequences of long-term partisan change in the United States. For example, my 2018 Political Behavior article (blog post here) suggested that polarized politics offers citizens alternative venues for acquiring — and acting on — political knowledge. The article showed that when evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics both attend church frequently and know their churches’ positions on cultural issues, they are likelier to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage.
With IU faculty and PhD students, I am engaged in a variety of collaborative research projects. Most recently, in a forthcoming piece in the Journal of Political Institutions & Political Economy, William T. Bianco and I document that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of the CARES Act, Republican senators broke from their decade-long avoidance of “credit-claiming” for redistributive benefits — indicating that legislators’ home styles are more malleable and responsive to local context than prevailing wisdom suggests.
Elsewhere, in a forthcoming book chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Populism, Edward G. Carmines, Matthew Fowler and I document that populist ideology — both right-wing and left-wing — has reshaped how Americans from both parties think and reason about politics. And in our recent article in P.S.: Political Science & Politics, Carmines and I document partisan asymmetries in citizens’ reluctance to support presidential candidates from specific, under-represented groups.