Fagan, E.J. 2019. Issue ownership and the priorities of party elites in the United States, 2004–2016. Party Politics.

Paper: PDF Online Appendix
Replication: .dta .do

I examine the relationship between issue ownership and core elite policy priorities. The issue ownership literature observes two related phenomenon in most party systems for particular issues: voters tend to report that they trust one party to handle those issues, and the issues tend to be prioritized by the party in government. Most of the literature assumes that parties in government strategically prioritize these issues because they have an electoral advantage on them. However, I argue that the causal direction runs in the opposite direction: parties have core priorities that they would act on ceteris paribus, voters observe these core priorities by seeing what issues the parties prioritize in government and trust parties to handle them. Previous literature struggled to disentangle this puzzle, as any observations of the choices made by parties in government are inherently endogenous to potential causes. I get around this problem by measuring the issue priorities of extended party elites at privately-financed, party-aligned think tanks in the United States. I find that U.S. extended party elites tend to focus on owned issues, although the process differs for Republicans and Democrats. I conclude that because these elites have no direct electoral incentives yet still follow issue ownership patterns, parties-in-government likely prioritize a set of issues based on their party’s core convictions, which in turn likely causes voters to trust parties to handle those issues.

Fagan, E.J., Zachary McGee and Hershel Thomas. “The Power of the Party: Conflict Expansion and the Agenda Diversity of Interest Groups.” Forthcoming at Political Research Quarterly.

Paper: Forthcoming
Replication: .dta .do

We examine the relationship between political party alignment and the political agenda of interest groups. The extended political networks literature suggests that interest groups organize into coalitions in order to capture and or constrain political parties. We argue that the relationship is more complicated. Political parties successfully draw interest groups who join their extended network into more conflict, expanding their policy agenda. Using new data on position-taking by interest groups from MapLight, we find that groups that are more aligned with political parties tend to take positions on bills across more policy areas.

Fagan, E.J. 2018. "Marching Orders? U.S. Party Platforms and Legislative Agenda Setting 1948-2014" Political Research Quarterly, Volume 71, Issue 4.

Paper: PDF Online Appendix
Replication: .dta .csv .do

I examine if the implied agenda expressed in party platforms can predict the agenda in the subsequent Congresses. Agenda setting theory suggests that parties will struggle to make credible promises to distribute their attention to certain issues in the future, as the problem space is uncertain. I find that parties can indeed make credible promises about their future agenda, with a few interesting wrinkles. The priorities expressed in the President’s platform are emphasized significantly more in the first Congress after the election. However, attention snaps back after the midterms, and these same issues are emphasized significantly less. These findings suggest that over the long term, agenda setting is determined by the problem space, but parties can effect the distribution of attention in the short term.

Fagan, E.J., Bryan D. Jones, and Christopher Wlezien. 2017. "Representative Systems and Policy Punctuations" Journal of European Public Policy, Volume 24 Issue 6, pp.809-831.

Paper: PDF Online Appendix
Replication: .dta .csv .do

We examine the effect of comparative institutions on information processing by governments. We theorize that certain institutions will interfere with the transmission of information from the electorate to governments, resulting in less efficient information processing. We hypothesize that party system fragmentation, marble cake federalism, and executive dominance should all decrease efficiency. We test these hypotheses using a stochastic analysis of public budgets in 24 OECD countries. We find strong evidence to support the federalism hypothesis, weak evidence to support the party system hypothesis, and no evidence to support the executive dominance hypothesis.

Dissertation Project

Information Wars: Think Tanks, Polarization, and the Changing Information Environment in Congress

The information environment in Congress has changed dramatically during the age of polarization. Beginning in 1995, Congress drastically reduced its capacity to process information by drastically cutting the budgets of its committees and analytical bureaucracies like the Congressional Research Service and Congressional Budget Office. One of the most prominent groups to fill this void were privately-financed ideological think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and Center for American Progress. Ideological think tanks became more and more integrated with political parties, despite having internal goals and incentives much more akin to interest groups than parties. These newly influential organizations produced qualitatively different information from their non-partisan predecessors, especially on the conservative side. The result was a shift in the overall information environment on the issues that ideological think tanks emphasized. The dissertation examines the causes and impact of these changes on Congress.

While several scholars have examined the impact of ideological think tanks qualitatively or on individual issues, this project is the first to do so quantitatively across all issues. I introduce new datasets on the activities of the eight largest ideological think tanks from 2001-2016. These include over 15,000 white papers, 1,500 witnesses testifying in Congressional hearings, and 2,000 citations in the Congressional record. All observations are coded by hand for Policy Agendas Project issue topics. I use these data to make valid comparisons in attention across time and issues, as well as comparisons to existing datasets from the U.S. Policy Agendas Project.

I find that the information environment has become much more ideological on some issues, but not others. More polarized issues receive much more attention from ideological think tanks, as well as issues owned by either party. Using case studies of reports on the macroeconomic impact of tax cuts and climate change, I find that the information produced by conservative think tanks tends to be categorically different than that produced by non-partisan sources in order to conform with ideological goals, while information produced by progressive think tanks tends to be very similar to non-partisan sources.

Other Projects

Please contact me at for working papers or data requests.

Fagan, E.J., Sean Theriault and Ryan Whittington. “Greased Wheels: The Politics of Earmarking in the 111th Congress “ Under Review.

Fagan, E.J. and Zachary McGee. “The Demand for Information in Congress: Agenda Setting and the Congressional Research Service.” Working Paper.

Fagan, E.J. and Brooke Shannon. “Using the Comparative Agendas Project to Measure the Policy Content of Interest Group Activity.” Proposal submitted for special issue of Interest Groups and Advocacy.