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Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies

American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies (CCPS) serves scholars, students, policymakers and the public by propelling actionable research, providing public education and promoting a more reasonable democratic square.

New Perspectives in American Governance

Award Winners of 2024 NP Research Grants!

April 2024

The Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies (CCPS), in collaboration with AU’s Washington College of Law (WCL) and Purdue University’s Center for Research on Diversity and Inclusion (CRDI), is proud to announce the winners of our 2024 New Perspectives in Studies of American Governance research grants. With support from Hewlett Foundation’s U.S. Democracy program, we are supporting seven new projects that stand to transform political scientists’ collective understanding of American governance and representation. This marks the second time we are awarding these grants, reaffirming our commitment to fostering innovative research that sheds new light on the intricacies of American governance.

1. How Legislative Institutions Evolve: Member Identity, Experience, & Democratic Norms in U.S. Congressional Reforms

Prof. Emily Baer, University of New Hampshire

Abstract: This project examines how Congress evolves – or fails to evolve – to meet the needs and interests of new generations of lawmakers and leaders. Research suggests that members draw on a more limited set of influences in the contemporary era than in earlier historical periods, including partisanship and ideology. How does the increasing diversity of lawmaker identities and backgrounds shape institutional reform debates – and the power and role of leaders – in the U.S. Congress? This project leverages archival documents and interviews to identify influences on lawmakers’ beliefs about the structure of institutions, how such influences have changed over time in response to broader political, cultural, social, and economic shifts, and how lawmakers’ increasingly diverse backgrounds and experiences shape the structure of the legislative branch. It contributes to vital debates on the linkage between lawmaker identities and representation in Congress and will improve our understanding of how legislative institutions evolve in Congress.

2. Representation in the U.S. Senate in the Digital Age: An Analysis of Rhetorical Representation

Prof. Stephanie Davis, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Abstract: Changes in the electorate, technology, communication styles and methods affect the way representatives build the electoral connection with their constituents. In particular, the introduction of Twitter/X has provided a low-cost way for representatives to bypass traditional media intermediaries to communicate directly with constituencies. This study expands on a comprehensive analysis of U.S. Senators' Twitter communication strategies, exploring the evolution of digital home styles and their impact on constituent relationships. Leveraging a novel dataset of 1,682,025 tweets from 165 senators (January 2008 to February 2023), the project’s initial findings reveal that senators strategically deploy digital messaging that focuses on localized reputation-building and national policy advocacy to enhance electoral prospects. To continue studying the relationship between senators and their home constituency, we will conduct a systematic analysis of the tweet text, examining how senators’ use localized language to build on their electoral connection with their constituents on a global digital platform. 

3. How Disparities in Candidate Wealth Matter for Diversity in Congress

Prof. Ryan Mundy, Prof. Savannah Plaskon, and Prof. Danielle Thomsen, University of California, Irvine

Abstract: Congressional candidates are increasingly defined by their ability to raise vast sums of money. Yet far less attention has been given to the financial resources of candidates themselves. We examine how wealth disparities influence who runs, who wins, and how candidates pave their paths to Congress. We focus on two components of candidate warchests that are expected to be intricately tied to wealth: self-funding patterns and access to high-dollar, “max-out” donors. One paper explores whether wealthy candidates receive more max-out contributions and how max-outs are related to electoral success. Another paper analyzes racial and gender disparities in self-finance and their connection to the personal assets of candidates. We draw on new data on candidate race, gender, and wealth as well as FEC data on the amount and timing of individual contributions and candidate loans. Our project sheds new light on self-finance and a small but critical segment of rich donors. The dramatic resource disparities across candidates have important implications for diversity and representation in Congress.

4. The Federal Government’s Role in High Rates of Felon Disenfranchisement Among Native Americans

Prof. Melissa Rogers, Claremont Graduate University, Prof. Joseph Dietrich, Towson University, and Prof. Jean Schroedel, Claremont Graduate University

Abstract: Influential research argues that felon disenfranchisement laws had the intent and effect of denying the vote to African-Americans. This research, however, cannot explain the adoption and expansion of these laws in Western states with small Black populations. We document the increasing stringency of felon disenfranchisement laws in these states following the extension of Native American suffrage. While most research focuses on state actions in felon disenfranchisement, we argue that federal policies also substantially impact Native Americans. When Native Americans are arrested for felonies on most reservations, they are under federal jurisdiction. Federal courts impose longer sentences than most states for equivalent crimes, and felons are not eligible for parole, a key point when voting rights are restored in many states. Jurisdictional challenges, legal ambiguities, and concerns with voting violations strongly discourage Native felons from voting after completing their (longer) sentences. We use mixed methods to highlight the role of federal policies. Using McGirt v. Oklahoma as a “natural experiment” in federal versus state jurisdiction, we show that federal felons are more often disenfranchised and for longer periods. We also conduct interviews in South Dakota and Nebraska to identify differences in voting outcomes between federal and state jurisdiction for Native Americans.

5. A Crisis of Communication: Reporting on the Realities of Covering a Digital Congress

Prof. Annelise Russell, University of Kentucky

Abstract: Social media tells the day-to-day story of Congress, but this research goes behind the digital curtain to understand the media relationships at the core of that communication. The rapid-response media environment tests the capacity of journalists to cover Congress, demanding real time updates in a digital-first environment. Journalists in Congress build relationships over social media or text message, a trend further reinforced by the global pandemic. Congressional reporters are asked to do more to meet the information exchange, not only producing content, but developing a digital brand for themselves. Journalists fuel and react to the narratives coming out of Congress, while adapting to a world where their power also comes from followers in addition to proximity. This project overs a multi-disciplinary approach, bridging communication, journalism, and political science, to consider the dynamics of the digital information exchange in Congress. This research offers an important and new perspective about how journalists influence the daily dialogue in Congress and what that means for how information is shared in a political, hybrid media system.

6. Electability Politics: How and Why Black Americans Vote in Primary Elections

Prof. Jasmine Smith, George Washington University

Abstract: How do Black Americans make political decisions in primary elections? How is this decision making unique compared to other groups? To answer this question, I test competing theories about descriptive representation, substantive representation, and strategic voting. I draw from literature in race, ethnicity, and politics that details Black Americans’ party affiliation and preference for same race candidates. I also draw from literature that analyzes the role of voters in primary elections that concludes that voters use candidate ideology in primary elections, and that voters support candidates that can win the general election. 

I argue that for Black Americans the most important factor in electoral decision-making is how likely the candidate is to win the general election. I argue that due to Black Americans’ unique historical political experience, Black Americans weigh electability as the most important criteria for vote choice in primary elections. Relying on their electability strategy, Black Americans forego their preferences for same race and same policy candidates and instead vote for candidates able to win the general election. I also argue that Black Americans exhibit unique behavior compared to other racial and ethnic groups in primary elections. I test these claims using a survey experiment.

7. We Know You: The Political Implications of Black Stereotypes of White Politicians                      

Prof. Julian Wamble, George Washington University

Abstract: Though there has been extensive research done on how Whites’ stereotypic beliefs about Black people inform their perceptions and assessments of Black politicians. This focus, while informative, speaks to a less common occurrence in American politics, particularly at the state and national levels. However, the inverse, wherein the Black electorate votes for White politicians is extremely prevalent, if not ubiquitous, yet little to no research has been done on this topic. To that end, this project asks the following questions- What are Black individuals’ stereotypes about White people? How do they use those stereotypes to inform their assessments and evaluations of White politicians? This research’s chief contention is that, like White individuals, Black people use their stereotypes of White people to inform their assessments and evaluations of White politicians, but the usage of these stereotypes is less to subjugate the outgroup and more for the purposes of optimizing their political position. Using an original survey and experimental test, I will show the strategic nature of Black voters’ usage of their stereotypes of White people when evaluating and selecting White politicians. This work has far-reaching implications for understanding how marginalized groups’ navigation of dominant ones informs their political decision-making.

Headshot of Dakota Strode

AU PhD Student Dakota Strode Awarded 2024 Gill Family Foundation Scholarship

March 2024

CCPS is pleased to congratulate Ph.D. candidate Dakota Strode as this year’s winner of the Gill Family Foundation scholarship!

The Gill Scholarship supports dissertation work using quantitative methods in the areas of American Politics, Comparative Politics, Public Administration, or Policy Analysis at American University.

Dakota is a Ph.D. candidate at American University. His current research focuses on LGBTQ politics, political behavior, campaigns and elections, and political communication. His research has been featured in journals such as Public Opinion Quarterly and the Journal of Politics.

The Gill Family Foundation was established in 1997 in Houston, Texas, to further the Gill family’s interest in support of educational philanthropy.  As a statement of philosophy, the Gill family has noted that “Education plays the critical role in providing opportunities for growth, development, success, lasting relationships and satisfaction in life.  We are committed to giving back to the system which provided us so much opportunity for success and financial independence.

The Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies would like to thank AU Professors Ryan T. Moore and Tongtong Zhang for serving on the selection committee for the Gill Scholarship.

New Perspectives in Studies of American Governance Program awarded $150,000 grant!

August 2023

Exciting news for the New Perspectives in Studies of American Governance Program at CCPS! The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has awarded CCPS a new $150,000 grant, which will extend the NP Program for two more years. The NP program, in partnership with Purdue University, incentivizes emerging scholars to broaden the range of perspectives brought to studying American governance at the federal level. 

The Principal Investigators of this program include David Barker, Professor of Government and Director of CCPS, Bettina Poirier, Director of the Program on Legislative Negotiation and Senior Affiliate for WCL, and Valeria Sinclair- Chapman, Professor of Political Science, African American Studies, and Gender & Sexuality Studies at Purdue University. She is also Director of Purdue’s Center for Research on Diversity and Inclusion as well as its Legislative Internship Program.

Seeking submissions for Congress & the Presidency Journal Entries!

December 2023

The Congress & the Presidency Journal is actively seeking new journal entries that aim to broaden perspectives on the executive and legislative branches. We're committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in studying American governance and want your input to help shape a more inclusive future of research. 

For more information and to submit journal entries, please visit the Congress & the Presidency site here.

Senators Klobuchar and Portman

Announcement ·

U.S. Senator Klobuchar and Former U.S. Senator Portman Receive American University’s Prize for Legislative Compromise

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and former Senator Robert Portman (R-OH) have been awarded the 2023 Madison Prize for Constitutional Excellence by the American University School of Public Affairs.
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Thurber Dialogues on Democracy

The Center for Congressional Presidential Studies is proud to announce, and very grateful to receive, a generous gift from Distinguished University Emeritus Professor Jim Thurber and his wife Claudia Thurber. Their gift will fund the Center’s Dialogues on Democracy (now the Thurber Dialogues on Democracy), an ongoing series of conversations with prominent thought leaders about how to strengthen democracy in the US and abroad. In 2021, their inaugural year, the Dialogues drew nearly 500 attendees per event, featuring Senator Cory Booker, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, author/journalist Anne Applebaum, and social scientists Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett. Thanks to the Thurbers’ benevolence, vision, and public-spiritedness, the Dialogues will now continue.

The inaugural Thurber Dialogue on Democracy of 2022 featured Rep. Adam Schiff for a conversation with Professor Jim Thurber on Thursday, March 31, 2022. This event, co-hosted by CCPS and KPU, was held via Zoom and the link to the recording of the event is available here.

The second Thurber Dialogue on Democracy featured Rep. Hakeem Jeffries for a conversation with Professor Liz Suhay on Tuesday, April 19th at 7:00pm. This event, co-hosted by CCPS and KPU, was held via Zoom and the recording of the event is available here.

The third and final Thurber Dialogue of Democracy took place on Thursday, May 5th at 6:00pm via Zoom and featured Harvard University political scientists Professor Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They discussed their 2018 New York Times Best Seller, How Democracies Die, and broader themes of their work in recent events. This event was moderated by American University Professor Laura Paler.

Senators Klobuchar and Portman

Announcement ·

U.S. Senator Klobuchar and Former U.S. Senator Portman Receive American University’s Prize for Legislative Compromise

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Contact Us

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Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies
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4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016

Rivals for Power book cover

Research ·

Rivals for Power: Biden’s Agenda in a Dysfunctional Congress

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Robert Putnam, Shaylyn Romney Garrett, Jim Thurber

Government & Politics ·

Can Today’s Polarized America Come Together Again?

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David Barker

Government & Politics ·

SPA Professor David Barker Tracks Support for Political Protests

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EPAAI 2023 Cohort at Brussels Center

European Public Affairs & Advocacy Institute

This unique course introduces students to the art and craft of lobbying in the European Union.

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political signs

American University Magazine American

My Favorites: Rising Political Stars

Top 10 up-and-coming politicians

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Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute

Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute

The Institute features a two-week intensive course in major aspects of lobbying and political influence.

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CMI 2023 Cohort

Campaign Management Institute

The Campaign Management Institute is an internationally recognized curriculum in the art and science of campaigning.


CCPS Video & Audio Clips

  • Setting Limits on Presidential Power Under the Trump Administration

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  • The Transition and the First 100 Days of the Trump Presidency

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Thurber Scholarship Endowment students

Thurber Scholarship Endowment

The James and Claudia Thurber Scholarship Endowment, established by former AU students and colleagues.

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