My research seeks to understand the role political parties play in an increasingly polarized political system. Like many recent scholars, I view parties expansively -- as formal organizations and politicians with informal connections to interest groups, think tanks, media outlets, and political activists. For this reason, my research to date examines:

1) The role of campaign financiers in party nominations and broader trends of polarization

2) The influence of social and political organizations on party policy positions and the policy process

3) The impact of parties and partisanship in presidential elections

4) The effect of issue polarization on citizen participation

Further information and links to my research can be found below.

"The Transformation of Partisan Rhetoric in American Presidential Campaigns, 1952-2012." 2015. Party Politics (with Jesse H. Rhodes). [View/Download]

Abstract: What are the dynamics of partisan rhetoric in presidential campaigns? (How) has presidential candidate partisanship changed over time? Analyzing a comprehensive dataset of party-related statements in presidential campaign speeches over the 1952–2012 period, we show that Democratic and Republican candidates have taken distinctive approaches to partisanship. Overall, Democratic candidates have been partisans, while Republicans have largely refrained from partisan rhetoric on the campaign trail. However, this difference has narrowed substantially over time, due to a dramatic decline in the partisanship of Democratic presidential candidates. We argue that Democratic and Republican candidates have adopted different campaign strategies that reflect both enduring party differences and changing political contexts. Though naturally inclined to partisanship, Democratic candidates have adopted more conciliatory strategies primarily in response to growing public antipathy toward partisan rancor. In contrast, Republicans’ tendency toward more conciliatory rhetoric has been reinforced by political 
developments discouraging partisan campaigning.

Donor Networks in Congressional Primaries (with Bruce Desmarais and Raymond La Raja) (Under Review) [View/Download]

Abstract: We study primary elections from 1980 to 2014 to assess whether networks of political donors have contributed to polarization in the U.S. House. Using network community detection methods, we identify densely interconnected clusters of donors who are active in helping to select candidates. We consistently find that a majority of PACs constitute a fairly bipartisan contribution community, while individuals are much more partisan in their giving and tend to be integrated into smaller, more fragmented communities. The proportion of candidates in PAC-dominated communities has declined substantially since the 1980s. More critically, the proportion of early contributions by individuals has grown significantly relative to PAC contributions, which has increased fragmentation among partisan donors. The results suggest that early giving has contributed to polarization due to the growth of individual-based support for primary campaigns and the concurrent breaking up of centrist PAC coalitions that were at one time dominant in financing primary campaigns.

The Demobilizing Effect of Multidimensional Preferences in a Polarized Political Landscape (Under Review) [View/Download]

Abstract: Many assume that increased partisan polarization has allowed citizens to better sort into the ideologically appropriate party, increasing overall participation. For those with multidimensional and ideologically incongruent preferences, however, increased polarization of political issues makes party identification and vote choice more difficult. Utilizing an inductive approach called Relational Class Analysis (RCA), I map distinct belief systems for 2012 ANES respondents and identify two types of ‘party non-conformers’ (PNCs), or individuals with liberal preferences in some areas and conservative preferences in others. These respondents should be less likely to align with a particular party and, in turn, to vote on Election Day. Indeed, both types of PNCs are less likely than ideologically consistent respondents to strongly identify with a party and turn out to vote. While some PNCs ignore inconsistent preferences and vote at relatively high rates, most PNCs seem to have been demobilized by increasingly polarized party options. The findings point to the diversity of belief systems in the American public and have important implications for political science and American democratic performance.

The Party Reacts: The Strategic Nature of Endorsements of Donald Trump (with David Barney) (Working Paper) [View/Download]
Abstract: Recent accounts of presidential nominations have emphasized the influence of elite party insiders in selecting nominees. These actors have been shown to screen potential candidates and settle behind a nominee who is both electable and willing to pursue an agenda that the supporting coalition finds acceptable. The nomination of Donald Trump—viewed by most Republican insiders as both unelectable and unacceptable— suggests that this theory either overestimates the influence of party insiders, or fails to understand the myriad of ways in which they influence candidates. In this paper, we explore the latter possibility using a content analysis of (non-)endorsements of Trump before and after his nomination,identifying endorsements and coding the reasons behind them. We then construct an endorsement network that maps the shifting partisan coalition behind Trump’s candidacy. In doing so, we uncover a pattern of “outsiders” that supported Trump while the institutional party remained inactive. As Trump established electoral viability, he gathered support from elites by way of his personal characteristics. Party “insiders” were then left to support Trump for pragmatic reasons.

Policy Ideas in the Extended Party Network: The Case of Cap and Trade Regulations (Working Paper) [View/Download]
Abstract: Why has the policy process become increasingly defined by polarized, partisan dynamics? In this paper, I argue that answering this question requires focusing attention on the distinct policy ideas that the two parties draw on in policy debate and design. Understanding the origin of these ideas, in turn, requires an investigation of the outside groups that supply formal party members with policy ideas, research, and justifications. As both a cause and consequence of partisan polarization, it seems likely that groups' demonstrated partisan and ideological commitments have become an important indicator of the credibility and acceptability of policy ideas. After outlining a theory that incorporates both partisan and group dynamics into the policy process, I undertake an initial test of this theory by examining policy ideas surrounding the topic of cap-and-trade. I find that distinct coalitions of ideological/partisan groups draw on very different ideas and language when discussing cap-and-trade. Importantly, these ideas and discourses seem to reveal the broad ideological commitments of these groups as well as some degree of coordination in the policy process. Furthermore, applying a novel approach to study the diffusion of ideas across groups, I find that ideational influence is more likely to occur across groups with common partisan commitments, providing initial evidence that "extended party network'' dynamics help structure the policy process.

Chapters in Edited Volumes: [Available upon request]

Albert, Zachary and Raymond J. La Raja. 2017. “Campaign Spending” in
Sage Handbook of Electoral Behavior, eds. Kai Arzheimer, Jocelyn Evans and
Michael LewisBeck (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage).

Albert, Zachary and Raymond J. La Raja. 2018. “Political Parties and Policy
Analysis” in Policy Analysis in the US, eds. John Hird (Bristol, UK: Policy Press).


Report on "Trends in Campaign Financing, 1980-2016". Prepared for the Campaign Finance Task Force, October 2017. [View/Download]

Report on “Campaign Finance and Primary Elections” with Bruce Desmarais and Raymond La Raja, presented at the Campaign Finance Task Force Meeting, April 21st, 2017 in Washington, D.C. [View/Download]

Dissertation Project:

"Policy Ideas and Advocacy in the Extended Party Network" (Expected completion date of January 2019)