Dissertation project

Building a Civil Rights Agenda: The Democratic Party and the Origins of Racial Liberalism

My dissertation project investigates the construction of the mid-20th century civil rights agenda in national U.S. politics, asking why the agenda emphasized particular issues and neglected others. I argue that the content of the agenda was crucially shaped by northern Democratic Party politicians’ response to competing pressures from constituents and interest groups in their party coalition during the period of party realignment (1930s-60s). Through analysis of an original dataset of over 3,500 civil rights bills proposed during 1933-68 and four periods of omnibus bill debates, I trace how certain proposals became central to northern Democrats’ agenda while others were neglected or excluded. I further analyze congressional documents, archival records, and historical public opinion data to explain these agenda-setting choices. By tracing and explaining the construction of the civil rights legislative agenda, the project sheds light on the origins and limits of mid-century “racial liberalism.” The project also contributes to social science debates on realignment and agency in political parties.

Research on inequality and public policy

Civil rights and social welfare policy

In an article published in Studies in American Political Development, I examine the impact of civil rights law on social policy in the United States through a case study of family and medical leave policy. I argue that the distinctive gender-neutral and broad-coverage design of US family and medical leave policy lies in contestation over civil rights law. I wrote summaries of my findings for 3Streams and the Gender Policy Report.

In a related working paper, I systematically examine the impact of civil rights law on social policy across multiple cases.

Policymaking through judicial action and democratic accountability

In a collaborative project with Warren Snead, we examine how the Republican Party has used favorable outcomes in the Supreme Court to avoid taking risky legislative action in Congress. We argue that Republicans are able to invoke conceptions of the Court as apolitical or independent to narrow the scope of partisan conflict. Republicans’ ability to achieve policy change in this way, we argue, poses a serious threat to democratic accountability. A manuscript is under review and available on request.

Research on race and political behavior

Partisanship and racial politics in the Civil War

My co-authored article with Nathan Kalmoe, published in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, examines the distinct motives of the mass public, activists, and elites in the U.S. Civil War. We argue that partisanship better explains white northerners’ war participation than their racial views, and suggest that parties can act as a potent force in mobilizing the mass public even when their preferences do not align with the goals or outcomes of a political conflict.

Immigration policy and politics

My co-authored article with Natalie Masuoka and Jane Junn, published in Political Research Quarterly, argues that rates of political participation among Asian Americans must be interpreted in light of the structural barriers that the large proportion of non-citizens in this group face. We summarized the findings at the LSE US Centre’s American Politics and Policy blog.

In a working paper, I argue that the “waiting period” between immigrants’ arrival in the U.S. and their naturalization is a critical socialization period that affects their participation in electoral politics. In this way, immigration policy structures unequal access to political incorporation and participation for immigrants.

White racial attitudes

My collaborative project with Denzel Avant and Brianna White examines the impact of knowledge about racial disparities on support for criminal justice policies among whites. A working paper is available upon request.

Research on race and urban politics

For the Chicago Democracy Project, I have written several blog posts on recent political events in Chicago (see links here).

I co-conducted the Chicago Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Survey (CMANS), with Tom Ogorzalek, Matt Nelsen, Reuel Rogers, and Traci Burch. The survey included oversamples of rapidly changing neighborhoods and suburbs in the Chicago area. With Tom Ogorzalek and Matt Nelsen, I am working on two papers on political behavior in gentrifying neighborhoods. A manuscript is available upon request.

For a full list of working papers and conference presentations, see my CV.