"Trump and the Party-In-Organization: Presidential Control of National Party Organizations," The Journal of Politics vol. 80, no. 4 (October 2018) 1474-1482. 

Article / Data set and do-file

Media Coverage: Monkey Cage.

The election of Donald Trump not only placed a political outsider in the center of power in America’s federal government, it also put him in a dominant position within the Republican Party as a national organization. While political scientists have traditionally described the parties national committees as inconsequential but impartial service providers, scholars have also long argued that incumbent presidents have considerable control over their party’s national committee. In this paper, I explore the nature of presidential power over the party-in-organization, and whether Trump can take advantage of his control over the Republican National Committee. I show that presidential domination over the party-in-organization is based on the president’s ability to nominate and replace the national committee’s chair, and that presidents have used this power to push their committees to promote both their preferred policy positions and themselves. I argue this means Trump has the ability to use the RNC to promote the GOP as ‘his’ party – including during a potential primary challenge for his re-nomination in 2020.

"Party Brands and the Democratic and Republican National Committees, 1952-1976," Studies in American Political Development, vol. 32, no. 1 (2018) 79-102.


Media Coverage: Monkey Cage.

Political scientists have traditionally dismissed the Democratic and Republican National committees as ‘service providers’ – organizations that provide assistance to candidates in the form of campaign funding and expertise but otherwise lack political power. I argue this perspective has missed a crucial role national committees play in American politics, namely that national party organizations publicize their party’s policy positions and, in doing so, attempt to create national party brands. These brands are important to party leaders – especially when the party is in the national minority – since they are fundamental to mobilizing voters in elections. In case studies covering the DNC and RNC in the period 1952-1976, I show that minority party committees prioritize their branding role and invest considerably in their publicity divisions, inaugurate new publicity programs, and create new communication tools to reach out to voting groups. Additionally, I show that in cases where the party is out of the White House, the national committees have considerable leeway in deciding what party image to publicize. Rather than being mere powerless service providers, I show that party committees have played crucial roles in debates concerning questions of ideology and issue positioning in both parties.

"Party Leaders and Electoral Realignment: Democratic and Republican Southern Strategies, 1948-1968," The Forum vol. 15, no. 4 (2017) 631-653.


Political scientists who have studied electoral realignments in the American party system increasingly focus on explaining such changes as the result of major historical developments outside of the control of party leaders. Using both national parties’ approaches to the South in the period 1948-1968, I argue that while party leaders may be unable to cause or prevent a realignment, they do attempt to affect the way in which that process plays out. That is, while the shift of Southern white voters from the Democratic to the Republican Party itself was a largely inevitable process, the timing and context in which it played out was affected by competing strategies from both parties. Specifically, I show that between 1948 and 1964, Democratic leaders hedged their bets between attempting to keep white Southern voters in the party, or expel them in favor of black voters in the Northeast based on their assessments of the party’s electoral position. At the same time, between 1948 and 1968, Republican leaders struggled to balance an appeal to segregationist Southerners and voters in other regions before finding a winning formula in Richard Nixon’s 1968 ‘Southern strategy.’

"Truman Defeats Dewey: The Effect of Campaign Visits in Election Outcomes," Electoral Studies vol. 49 (October 2017) 49-64.

with Brenton D. Peterson

Article / Appendix / Data set, Do-file

Political science research suggests that campaign visits by presidential candidates produce small and short-lived effects, consistent with mixed findings of their influence on election returns. We argue that existing studies are constrained by two issues: most studies rely on state-level data, rather than more localized data, and do not incorporate differentiation in the quality of campaign appearances in their assessment of visit effects. To incorporate these concerns in a study of campaign visit effects on election outcomes, we study the 1948 presidential election, during which Harry Truman engaged in a major whistle-stop train tour and won a surprise victory over his opponent, Thomas Dewey. Using data on campaign stops gathered from archival sources, we estimate the effect of campaign appearances on candidate vote share at the county level. We find that Truman, on average, gained 3.06 percentage points of the overall vote share in counties that he visited. Consistent with contemporary judgments of the “quality” of the two candidates’ campaign stops, we find no effect of Dewey’s appearances on his performance. Our results provide strong evidence that candidate visits can influence electoral returns, rather than merely affect short-term public opinion. In counterfactual simulations, we show that Truman’s extensive campaign tour likely won him the state of Ohio, highlighting the importance of strategic campaign decisions and campaign effects in close elections.

"Disasters and Elections: Estimating the Net Effect of Damage and Relief in Historical Perspective," Political Analysis vol. 25, no. 2 (2017) 260-268.

with Brenton D. Peterson and Jeffery A. Jenkins

Article / Appendix / Data set, Do-file, R-code (Dataverse).

Media Coverage: Monkey Cage.

Do natural disasters help or hurt politicians’ electoral fortunes? Research on this question has produced conflicting results. Achen and Bartels (2002, 2016) find that voters punish incumbent politicians indiscriminately after such disasters. Other studies find that voters incorporate the quality of relief efforts by elected officials. We argue that results in this literature may be driven, in part, by a focus on contemporary cases of disaster and relief. In contrast, we study a case of catastrophic flooding in the American South in 1927, in which disaster aid was broadly and fairly distributed and Herbert Hoover (the 1928 Republican presidential candidate) was personally responsible for overseeing the relief efforts. Despite the distribution of unprecedented levels of disaster aid, we find that voters punished Hoover at the polls: in affected counties, Hoover’s vote share decreased by more than 10 percentage points. Our results are robust to the use of synthetic control methods and suggest that—even if voters distinguish between low- and high-quality responses—the aggregate effect of this disaster remains broadly negative. Our findings provide some support for Achen and Bartels’ idea of blind retrospection, but also generate questions about the precise mechanisms by which damage and relief affect vote choice.

"Measuring the Vice-Presidential Home State Advantage with Synthetic Controls," American Politics Research vol. 44, no. 4 (July, 2016) 734-763.

with Brenton D. Peterson

Article / Appendix / Data set, Do-file, R-code (ZIP-file).

Media Coverage: BloombergChicago TribuneChristian Science MonitorFiveThirtyEightMonkey CageThe New York TimesNewsweekNPRUS News and World Report

Measuring the effect strategic choices have on electoral outcomes is problematic, since this requires an assessment of the outcome under a counterfactual that is not observed. To overcome this problem we extend the synthetic control approach for causal inference to circumstances with multiple treated cases, and use it to estimate the effect of vice-presidential candidates on their home states' vote. Existing research has concluded that vice-presidential candidates have little effect on the outcome of elections in their home states. However, our results from elections spanning 1884-2012 suggest that vice-presidential candidates increase their tickets' performance in their home states by 2.67 percentage points on average - considerably higher than previous studies have found. Additionally, our results suggest that the vice-presidential HSA could have swung four presidential elections since 1960, if presidential candidates had chosen running mates from strategically optimal states.

"Southern Delegates and Republican National Convention Politics," Studies in American Political Development vol. 29, no. 1 (April, 2015) 68-88.

with Jeffery A. Jenkins


Media Coverage: Monkey Cage.

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Republican Party dominated American elections in all geographical areas except the former Confederacy, which remained solidly Democratic. Despite this, Southern states were consistently provided with a sizable delegation to the Republican National Convention (as much as 26 percent of the total). This raises the question: Why would a region that delivered no votes on Election Day be given a substantial say in the selection of the party's presidential candidate? Previous research on the role Southern delegates played in Republican conventions has been limited to individual cases or to studies only tangentially related to this question. We explore the continuous and sizable presence of Southern delegates at Republican conventions by conducting a historical overview of the 1880–1928 period. We find that Republican Party leaders—and particularly presidents—adopted a “Southern strategy” by investing heavily in maintaining a minor party organization in the South, as a way to create a reliable voting base at conventions. We also show that as the Republican Party's strength across the country grew under the “System of 1896,” challenges to the delegate apportionment method—and thereby efforts to minimize Southern influence at Republican conventions—increased substantially