Activists’ voluntary donations of time and money represent the lifeblood of American electoral campaigns. Activists and the political movements they populate have shaped the course of the parties and American politics over the decades. These processes are only becoming more important as social and technological changes have lowered barriers to political activism, enabling the emergence of the so-called small donor revolution and the Tea Party movement, among other recent developments. Despite the importance of these behaviors, their influences are relatively poorly understood. What motivates people to participate in politics when that participation entails substantial personal costs? How do people decide whom to support with their activism? How can campaigns, parties, and political movement organizations mobilize, sustain, and direct the efforts of activists? Under what conditions can such activism influence electoral and legislative outcomes?
These are the questions that drive my broad research agenda, which examines the causes and consequences of activist political behavior, which I broadly define as participation in the political process beyond voting or discussing politics. While voting behavior is relatively well studied, political science knows much less about activist political behavior, in part because these relatively rare behaviors are difficult to measure in traditionally-sized survey research. My research works to narrow these gaps in our understanding of activist behavior, using a mix of methods to measure these types of participation, including geocoded campaign finance records and surveys with very large samples. These highly granular data allow me to match campaign donations and other activist behaviors to campaign advertising, political movement activity, and other mobilizing influences. Additionally, my research employs a variety of strategies to estimate causal effects, including field experiments, natural experiments, and time-series cross-section analyses.
My dissertation, advised by Markus Prior, Marty Gilens, and Larry Bartels, asks how the messages contained within campaign advertising affects political activism, focusing particularly on campaign contributions. An overview of the dissertation is available here. Working papers representing the research from two of my dissertation’s chapters can be found below: