My current work examines how electoral rules and norms (1) influence political discussion, and (2) impact who is successful at winning a seat in Congress. To answer these complex questions, I pair new data on congressional primaries with cutting-edge methodological techniques like text analysis, matching, regression discontinuity, and machine learning.


“Running as a Woman?: Candidate Presentation in the 2018 Midterms” with Maura McDonald and Sarah Treul. Political Research Quarterly. Online First. [Paper] [Supplemental Information]

The record high number of women who ran for the U.S. Congress during the midterm elections led many journalists proclaim 2018 as another “Year of the Woman.” Although not every female candidate was successful, this large number of women running for of- fice provides the opportunity to advance our understanding of the ways in which women present themselves to their voters. Using the “Biography” pages of over 1,500 2018 con- gressional campaign websites, we utilize a structural topic model to examine how these candidates present themselves to their constituencies. In doing this, we find great vari- ance in the presentation styles of women running for Congress in 2018. We also find that prior political experience, more so than gender, is the primary driver in influencing how candidates (both men and women) present themselves. Experienced candidates utilize similar styles that highlight their past political work while amateur candidates are more likely to use “values-driven” language.

Book Chapters

“The Nationalization of Congressional Elections” with Jamie L. Carson and Jason M. Roberts in New Directions in Congressional Politics, 2nd Edition: Routledge.

“Irregular Order: Examining the Changing Congressional Amending Process” with Michael S. Lynch and Anthony J. Madonna in Party and Procedure in the United States Congress, 2nd Edition: Rowland and Little.

Working Papers

“Estimating the Ideological Extremity of Primary Electorates.” Under Review. [Working Paper], [Supplemental Information]

Contemporary accounts of elections characterize voters who participate in primaries as the extreme subset of their party. However, previous methodological limitations have impeded efforts to directly measure the ideological extremity of primary voters at the congressional district level. Using multilevel regression with synthetic poststratification (MrsP), I create a direct measure of primary constituency ideology for both parties in each congressional district. My analysis demonstrates that there is significant variation in constituency extremity across districts and that this variation is dependent on district characteristics. Examining the effect of primary constituency extremity on polarization, I show that (1) ideological candidates are more likely to emerge in districts with extreme primary electorates, and (2) incumbents are less representative of primary voters when the general election is competitive for both parties. The estimates developed here offer numerous opportunities for future work to explore patterns in candidate emergence and success at the primary election level.

“Reevaluating Experience in Congressional Primary Elections” with Sarah A. Treul. Under Review. [Working Paper], [Supplemental Information]

The dynamics of congressional primaries have changed dramatically in recent years. Today, political amateur are more likely to defeat incumbents and experienced ``quality” candidates than ever before. These trends lead us to question whether traditional theories of candidate success translate to today’s primary electoral landscape. Utilizing new data on candidate political experience for all primary candidates from 1980 to 2018, we show that past political experience is no longer the overriding predictor for primary election success. We test three potential explanations for this change: 1) voters’ preferences for inexperienced candidates; 2) the ideology of the candidates; and 3) the role of PAC money. We demonstrate PAC contributions to amateurs have skyrocketed in tandem with inexperienced candidate success. Finally, we evaluate whether nominating a politically inexperienced candidate puts parties at a disadvantage in the general election.

“No Experience Required: Early Donations and Amateur Candidate Success in Primary Elections.” with Tyler Steelman. Presented at the Southern Political Science Association Annual Conference, San Juan, Puerto Rico, January 2020. [Working Paper], [Supplemental Information]

The electoral dominance of “quality candidates”—political insiders with past electoral experience—is well-established. However, research on the recent rise in successful political neophytes is less studied. Despite longstanding trends in the predominance of experienced candidates in primary elections, nearly half of all quality candidates who ran in non-incumbent races lost to a candidate without prior electoral experience in 2018. In this article, we investigate the success of political newcomers by examining a topic often overlooked in the growing literature on primaries: campaign finance. We show that political newcomers are most successful when they collect early money from outside their congressional district. Further, we find evidence that out-of-district donors look to amateurs as “surrogate representatives”” for their values and interests in Congress. We demonstrate that forces outside a candidate’s own district play a much greater role in explaining the dynamics of congressional primary elections than previously thought.

“Changing the Dialogue: Candidate Position-Taking in Primary Elections” with Maura McDonald and Sarah Treul. Manuscript Under Development.

The record-high number of women who ran for the U.S. Congress during the midterm elections led many journalists to proclaim 2018 as another “Year of the Woman.” Although not every female candidate was successful, this large number of women running for office provides the opportunity to advance our understanding of how candidate gender influences elections. Pairing an original dataset of text from over 1,500 congressional campaign websites with a structural topic model, we demonstrate that prior political experience, more so than gender, is the primary driver influencing how female candidates present themselves. We further show that when a female Democratic candidate runs in a primary election, male candidates in that same race are 30% more likely to take up women’s issues in their own campaigns. Using a machine-learning model, we demonstrate that this issue uptake isn’t simply “cheap talk” – when men talk about women’s issues their language is indistinguishable from that of female candidates. To tease out the causal mechanism between female candidate emergence and men’s issue uptake, we implement a difference-in-difference approach.