Published Research


Craven, Jamie S., Jordan Ragusa, and John-Anthony G. Thevos. Forthcoming. "Palmetto State Primaries: An Examination of South Carolina’s Nomination Contests." Journal of Political Science

Compared to research on general elections, the body of work on presidential primaries is limited. At the same time, research on South Carolina’s nomination contests pales in comparison to the volume of research on the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary. We seek to reconcile these imbalances by building a statistical model that predicts a candidate’s vote share in the South Carolina primary and thus helps explain who wins and losses. We find that the key predictors of a candidate’s vote share include: their volume of statewide endorsements, their share of media attention, their race (Democratic contests only), whether they are from a neighboring state, their vote share in New Hampshire, and their vote share in Iowa (Republican contests only). In the end, our model explains 78% of the variation in South Carolina primary outcomes from 1988 to 2016. Because this paper was motivated by the 2016 contests, at the end we discuss the implications of the model for our understanding of the 2016 results.


Cooper, Christopher, H. Gibbs Knotts, and Jordan Ragusa. 2016. "The Constrained Governor: Exploring Gubernatorial Decision Making on Senate Appointments." Political Research Quarterly 69(3): 482-494.

In the vast majority of American states, governors have unrestricted authority to fill Senate vacancies, and in an average decade, one-third of all Americans have been represented by an appointed senator. Despite the importance of Senate appointments both theoretically and substantively, no published study has investigated the dynamics of gubernatorial selection. In this paper, we compile an original data set of Senate appointees as well as the list of the candidates the governor considered but did not select. We model the governor's selection and discover that despite having no formal constraints on their appointment power, governors behave as constrained actors. In particular, we find that governors eschew the potential appointees who are closest to their policy views and instead appoint the candidate who is closest to the ideological position of the voters in their state. This effect is particularly pronounced when the governor is eligible for reelection within two years. These findings have both theoretical and normative implications for understanding Senate appointments, gubernatorial decision making, and the implicit power of the electorate. Perhaps most notably, pundits and political commentators frequently lament the fact that the 17th amendment gives governors "unrestricted" power over the composition of the U.S. Senate. Our results suggest that this provision of the 17th amendment is not as deleterious to the democratic process as many fear.


Ragusa, Jordan M, and Anthony Gaspar. 2016. "Where’s the Tea Party? An Examination of the Tea Party’s Voting Behavior in the House of Representatives." Political Research Quarterly 69(2): 361-372.

Is the Tea Party a party? Political scientists in both the congressional and behavioral literatures are divided on this question. At issue is whether the Tea Party is simply the "extreme wing" of the Republican Party or a "faction" that operates independent of the GOP. In this paper we address this question by examining whether the Tea Party affects how lawmakers vote in the House of Representatives. Given the possible spurious effect of a representative’s ideology, we leverage natural variation in the Tea Party’s existence and examine this question through the lens of party switching. Like when lawmakers change parties, we find that representatives who (1) joined Tea Party Caucus and (2) had a large volume of Tea Party activists in their district underwent a significant shift to the right in the 112th Congress. Notably, these results hold even when accounting for selection bias and rival causes of ideological change. We believe these findings support both legislative-centered and extended network partisan theorists. An additional analysis reveals that, unlike Democrats and non-Tea Party aligned Republicans who also shifted to the extremes in the 112th Congress, Tea Party Republicans did not “bounce back” in the 113th Congress. Lastly, we find no equivalent rightward shift in comparable conservative caucuses or among Republicans with similar ideologies and districts. In the end, although the Tea Party is not a “party” in the classic sense of the word, we claim that it is having “party like” effects in Congress. We label the Tea Party’s effect “party like” because we theorize it stems from the coordinated institutional actions of a bloc of lawmakers, and this coordinated behavior is not simply a by-product of ideological agreement. Of course, in the current Congress, the Tea Party Caucus has been supplanted by a newer—and seemingly more conservative—group of insurgents: the Freedom Caucus. Based on our observations of the Freedom Caucus in 2015, it seems that they are causing the same “party like” effects that we document in this paper. In the conclusion section of the paper, we discuss the implications of these results for the stability of the current two-party system. Given our findings, a major realignment or split within the Republican Party would not be surprising.

[Replication Data] [Stata do-file]


Ragusa, Jordan M. 2016. "Partisan Cohorts, Polarization, and the Gingrich Senators." American Politics Research 44(2): 296-325.

Although the “Gingrich Senators” thesis solves a vexing issue in the congressional literature, a broader theoretical question remains: Why does the House have a polarizing effect on its members that seems to persist even after a representative wins election to the Senate? In the first section, I propose that lawmakers learn partisan norms in the House and simply continue those extreme behavioral routines after switching chambers. And in the second part, I test possible sources of this effect. Results show that senators who came from the House display greater ideological extremism if they (a) served in the House within an extreme partisan cohort and (b) won election to the Senate after representing a partisan district. In contrast, serving within a polarized chamber and during periods of divided party control have no long-term effects on a senator’s ideological extremism. Robustness checks reveal that the effect of a senator’s House partisan cohort persists even when we control for his/her ideological extremism before winning election to the House as well as selection effects caused by electoral dynamics. Additional analyses show that the partisan cohort effect is the largest determinant of partisan learning, exists throughout most of congressional history, is strongest when the parties are homogeneous, and persists for much of a senator’s career. As a whole, the results show that the House’s effect on Senate polarization is not due to a single person or a function of chamber polarization. Rather, the “Housification of the Senate” is a consequence of cohort socializing effects and is observable throughout congressional history.


Knotts, Gibbs, and Jordan M. Ragusa. 2016. "The Nationalization of Special Elections for the U.S. House of Representatives." Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties 26(1): 22-39.

Special elections to the U.S. House of Representatives serve and important purpose, generate considerable media attention, and take place relatively often. Scholars and political commentators have argued that special elections are national contests, serving as a referendum on the president’s party and a predictor of future election outcomes (Sigelman 1981; Smith and Burnnell 2010). But the empirical record is mixed, with one leading study demonstrating that candidate and district characteristics alone explain special election outcomes (Gaddie, Bullock, and Buchanan 1999). We investigate this disagreement by comparing special election and open seat results using new data for the period 1995 and 2014. We find that while candidate characteristics affect special election outcomes, presidential approval is predictive of special election outcomes as well. Furthermore, we find that the effect of presidential approval on special election outcomes has increased in magnitude from 1995 to 2014, with the 2002 midterm representing an important juncture in the nationalization of special elections (see figure to the right). We conclude that special elections have developed into national contests since the 1970s and situate this development within broader electoral trends. In particular, the evidence suggests that special elections followed the shift from candidate-centered elections to party-centered elections that began in the 1980s (Herrnson 1988) and continued through the 1990s and 2000s (Jacobson 2013; Stonecash 2013). In sum, these findings help reconcile disagreements in the literature on special elections and substantiate recent scholarship about the increasing connection between congressional and presidential elections in the United States.


Ragusa, Jordan M., and Matt Tarpey. 2016. "The Geographies of Economic Voting in Presidential and Congressional Elections." Political Science Quarterly 131(1): 101-132.

“Sociotropic voting” posits that individuals are instrumental when casting their ballot, rewarding and punishing incumbent politicians as a consequence of broadly defined economic expectations. In this paper we explore an important gap in our understanding of this process, investigating the so-called geographies of economic voting. As we explain, recent scholarship finds that voters’ sociotropic judgments stem—in part—from variation in local forces. In addition, there are plausible theoretical reasons why economic voting would manifest at the local level. With restricted data from the American National Elections Studies (ANES), we are able to measure economic conditions at the county, media-market, state, and national levels. While claims about the power of local economic conditions are indeed intuitive, the results of this study show that economic voting is principally a national phenomenon, with variation in the national unemployment rate having robust effects in both presidential and congressional elections. In the end we uncover only limited evidence of economic voting at the county or media-market level. We discuss the theoretical justification for why the effects of national conditions seem to trump the effects of local conditions.


Ragusa, Jordan M, and Nate Birkhead. 2015. "Parties, Preferences, and Congressional Organization: Explaining Repeals in Congress from 1877 to 2012." Political Research Quarterly 68(4): 22-39.

When does Congress repeal laws enacted by prior generations? While the substantial body of research on policy creation provides tentative explanations, we believe repeals represent an alternative way of examining the effects of congressional organization and legislative behavior. We fill this gap with an original dataset of all major repeals from 1877 to 2012. In particular, our dataset catalogues major repeals following Mayhew (1991, 2005), Howell et al. (2000), Clinton and Lapinski (2006) and others who compile lists of landmark enactments. Like proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the repeals we identify are some of the most contentious and long-running efforts to shape national policy. In seeking to explain when and why repeals happen, we develop hypotheses based on both the conditional nature of party power and the location of pivot points. We find that the largest effects on Congress’s capacity to repeal legislation are variation in the majority’s positive agenda control and shifts in the gridlock interval. We also find that when the majority claims control of both chambers after a long stretch in the minority, there is an increased likelihood of repeal beyond what is predicted by conditional party government alone (see figure to the right). Because the partisan factors in our model have the largest substantive effects, and because repeals do not occur automatically in productive congresses, we characterize repeals as long-term contests between two great “teams” over the location of the status quo. Beyond offering new insight into when Congress will “undo” enactments, this work informs the study of agenda control while broadening the focus beyond rule making.


Ragusa, Jordan M. 2015. "Socioeconomic Stereotypes: Explaining Variation in Preferences for Taxing the Rich." American Politics Research 43(2): 327-359.

Motivated by research showing that policy preferences are driven by social-interests rather than strict self-interests, this paper examines if stereotypes of "the rich" shape Americans' tax policy preferences. For this project, an original free-response survey was designed asking respondents to describe "the rich." Respondents offered 1,570 unique descriptions, ranging from "hard working" and "job producer" to "selfish" and "inheritance." In the analysis, the raw stereotype data were modeled in three ways: (a) as affective stereotypes, (b) as discrete categories, and (c) as deservingness stereotypes. The paper reports three main findings. First, political ideology and affective stereotypes have large and statistically indistinguishable effects on tax policy preferences. Second, deservingness stereotypes-in particular, whether the rich exhibit dispositional and prosocial characteristics-have particularly large effects on preferences for taxing the wealthy. And third, both affective and deservingness stereotypes have an interactive effect with personal ideology. For self-described liberals, preferences for taxing the wealthy are largely a function of ideological considerations. For conservatives, however, tax policy preferences are determined by a mix of ideology and stereotypes. In sum, the findings suggest that stereotypes of "the rich" are very strong predictors of Americans' tax policy preferences. In a more general sense, this paper shows that sterotyping has strong effects on policy preferences even when the target belongs to an advantaged group and the policy domain is nonracial.


Huder,Joshua, Jordan M. Ragusa, and Daniel A. Smith. 2011. "The initiative to Shirk?  The Effects of Statewide Ballot Measures on Congressional Roll-Call Behavior." American Politics Research 39(3): 582-610.

In this paper we ask whether statewide ballot measures affect the behavior of members of Congress. We examine ballot measures in three issue areas-gay marriage, campaign finance, and minimum wage. Using roll call votes that lie in the same issue space, we hypothesized that the signal provided by the passage or failure of ballot measures induce lawmakers to vote in line with their constituents. That is, we hypothesize that the precise information provided by a ballot measure reduces policy "shirking" by members of Congress (where public opinion polls and a lawmaker's "intuition" are less precise measures of public sentiment). We find statistical evidence that this hypothesis holds, but only for members of the House (we find no evidence in the Senate). Senators are, after all, constitutionally insulated from public opinion to a greater degree than members of the House. One of the additional findings we report in this paper is that representatives respond to the signal provided by their median constituent. In other words, the statistical results reveal that it matters little if the ballot measure passed with 70% of the vote or 51% of the vote. Both reveal to a member of Congress where at least half of their constituency stands.


Ragusa, Jordan M. 2010. "The Lifecycle of Public Policy: An Event History Analysis of Repeals to Landmark Legislative Enactments, 1951-2006." American Politics Research 38(6): 1015-1051.

Policy creation has garnered significant attention from congressional researchers while the topic of policy repeal has received scarcely any. But despite this lack of attention, we know that Congress regularly voids legislative agreements adopted by prior generations. To help reconcile this imbalance I developed an extensive dataset recording repeals to landmark laws enacted from 1951 to 2006. Event history analysis yielded three significant results. First, the incidence of repeal exhibits a regular pattern characterized by an increasing hazard immediately after enactment followed by policy institutionalization and a monotonically declining hazard. The shape of this hazard is nearly the same as Berry, Burden and Howell's (2010) estimate of federal program enactment and death as well as Corder's (2004) estimate of federal credit program termination. This common shape suggests that policy reversal exhibits a regular pattern. Second, I find that divided government at the time of enactment increases the likelihood of repeal in the immediate post-enactment period (see also Maltzman and Shipan 2008). But, over the long term, legislation passed during divided government is less likely to be repealed compared to legislation enacted during unified government (see figure to the right). Specifically, the event history results reveal that legislation crafted during divided government is 42% less likely to experience any repeal more than ten years after enactment and 56% less likely to experience any major repeal. Taken as a whole, these results help reconcile conflicting findings regarding the effects of divided government on the supply of public policy and have important implications for the normative debate about the virtues of single party control. Finally, I find that polarization has a curvilinear effect on the risk of repeal (see Dodd and Schraufnagel 2009). Moderate polarization facilitates coalition formation when enacting repeals while polarized and depolarized periods have an attenuating effect.