My dissertation examines how voters make electoral decisions in presidential primary elections. Given the recent increase in polarization and the rising correlation between partisan identification and vote choice in general elections, I use presidential primary elections to analyze how voters make decisions when party identification is held constant. Using existing survey data, I test the idea that voters in these intra-party contests rely on ideological placement and issues to make decisions. I also examine the role of demographics and social groups on vote choice, as well as abstract candidate qualities, such as honesty, leadership, and electability. This analysis spans the entirety of the post-reform era of presidential nominations.

Further, I perform an in-depth analysis of the concept of electability, or the perceived ability of a candidate to defeat the opposing party's nominee in the general election. My work examines what types of voters value electability, under what conditions electability is important to voters, and I show that the concept of electability is strongly related to voter preferences and personal opinions about the candidates. I also evaluate the importance of political elites, particularly candidates, in setting the agenda for primary voters, using text analysis of primary debate transcripts and candidate websites.

In future research, I plan to expand this research to congressional primaries. For more information about my dissertation and research agenda, view my research statement here.


For more information, you can also read our blog post on the Political Behavior website and listen to an interview with co-author Sarah Treul on the Niskanen Center’s The Science of Politics podcast. Our article was also mentioned in this article on FiveThirtyEight.

Abstract: For years, Republicans in Congress promised to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. The results of the 2016 elections put them in position to take action on the seminal domestic policy achievement of outgoing President Barack Obama. Repeal efforts faced many obstacles, including angry constituents crowding town hall style meetings with Republican members. Many members faced a stark choice between voting with their constituents or voting with their party. We use data on the number of town halls held by members to analyze whether members who heard from upset constituents were more likely to oppose the repeal effort. Next, we utilize data on House primaries and the 2018 general election to test whether the member’s position on repeal had any effects on the member’s electoral success. We find clear evidence that member’s voting behavior on the health care repeal had electoral effects in the 2018 general election.


Currently, I am working on a number of papers, both solo and coauthored. Caitlin Jewitt and I are working on a project that aims to identify whether or not the timing of congressional primaries and their concurrence with presidential primaries has an impact on voter turnout and the representativeness of the electorate. I am also working on a paper that examines the impact of  a voter's preferred candidate's success in presidential primaries and caucuses on the voter's perceived fairness of the nomination cycle as a whole. I have also completed a paper that examines how Democratic voters changed their decision-making processes from the 2016 presidential primary cycle to the 2020 cycle. For more information about my research, view my research statement here.