My research seeks to understand the role of political parties -- and partisanship more generally -- 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.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

"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.

Under Review

"The Party Reacts: The Strategic Nature of Endorsements of Donald Trump." (with David Barney) (Revised and Resubmitted) [View/Download]
Abstract: Many scholarly accounts emphasize the role of elite party insiders in selecting nominees. These actors screen candidates and settle behind a nominee who is both electable and willing to pursue an agenda acceptable to the supporting coalition. By most accounts, the nomination of Donald Trump does not fit these expectations, leaving the role of the Republican Party unclear in the 2016 election. Did most party insiders view Trump as unelectable and unacceptable? And, if so, how did the Republican Party coalition react to his unlikely nomination? To address these questions, we present a content analysis of endorsements and criticisms of Trump before and after his nomination, identifying endorsers and their stated justifications for support. We construct an endorsement network mapping the shifting coalition behind Trump’s candidacy and find little evidence of a partisan support coalition prior to his nomination. Furthermore, we show that policy considerations were relatively unimportant to Trump supporters throughout the election. Faced with an undesirable nominee, we find, party insiders reacted by supporting Trump for pragmatic reasons, namely partisan competition. The findings speak to Trump’s unexpected political ascent and coalitional party politics more generally. In particular, the results suggest that party insiders are not immutable arbiters in presidential primaries and that most will prioritize partisan ambitions over policy goals.

"Partisan Policy Debates in the Extended Party Network: The Case of Cap and Trade." (Under Review) [View/Download]
Abstract: What has sustained the increasing polarization of the American policy process? This article points to the influence of informal partisan allies – namely interest groups and think tanks – in structuring policy debates along party lines. Members of Congress must turn to outside groups for assistance when drafting policy. Given increased polarization, the demonstrated partisan loyalty of these groups should grant them a privileged position in this process. Thus, ideas and discourse are likely developed in relatively distinct partisan communities, contributing to divisive, polarized policy debates. To test this theory I focus on cap-and-trade regulations, constructing a diffusion network that traces the flow of language across actors. I find that partisan homophily helps explain influence and feedback effects. Qualitative analysis shows that the Democratic and Republican networks employed competing but internally consistent narratives about the regulations. The results highlight the influence of extended party groups and add to existing theories of partisan polarization.

"The Diffusion of Candidates in Campaign Finance Networks." (with Fridolin Linder, Bruce Desmarais, and Raymond La Raja) (Under Review) [Available upon request]
Abstract: Given the abundance of choices faced by campaign donors, it remains unclear how candidates gain momentum and attract substantial financial support. We study the pathways according to which candidates diffuse through donors in congressional races. We theorize that donor ideology generates pathways between donors. We evaluate two ideological models of inter-donor pathway formation—spatial, according to which paths form between ideologically similar donors; and directional, according to which pathways form from ideologues to others on their side of the aisle. Merging data on donors and contributions in 2016 and 2018 US House elections, we infer and statistically model latent networks of diffusion pathways between donors. In the 2016 data, we find that diffusion pathway formation is better explained by the directional model. We plan a robustness check with the 2018 data as a pre-registered analysis. Our findings have implications for both partisan polarization and pluralism in the electoral process.

Working Papers

"The Demobilizing Effect of Multidimensional Preferences in a Polarized Political Landscape." [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.

"Donor Networks in Congressional Primaries." (with Bruce Desmarais and Raymond La Raja)  [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.

"Paying for the Party: Tea Party Donors across Five Elections." [View/Download]
Abstract: The Tea Party Movement (TPM) seemed to emerge quite suddenly in 2009, and within a year had strongly influenced electoral politics in the US. The ability to translate protest politics into electoral victories was predicated on financial support, and for this reason this paper examines campaign finance dynamics among Tea Party PACs and individual donors. After constructing “Tea Party finance networks” from campaign finance data, I find that the TPM was never fully autonomous from the Republican establishment it sought to challenge. In fact, elite funders played a key role in supporting the movement financially. This support limited the ability of the TPM to disrupt Republican Party politics past 2010, as elite money – which was always more bipartisan – faded quite rapidly from the Tea Party network. What remains is a small but dedicated core of newly mobilized Tea Party supporters. Importantly, these new donor-activists – unlike preexisting Tea Party PACs and donors – appear to be driven by ideological concerns rather than party politics. This fact is reflected in their ambivalence towards Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

"The Challenges of Researching Foundations: Methods and Approaches." (with Brenda Bushouse) [Available upon request]

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] [Full Project Here]

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][Full Project Here]

Dissertation Project:

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