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.

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Replication: .zip

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: Party Elites, Think Tanks and Polarization in Congress

My dissertation, “Information Wars: Party Elites, Think Tanks and Polarization in Congress,” examines the privileged role given to party-aligned think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and Center for American Progress in Congress. I argue that although they are privately-funded, think tanks have become deeply integrated into extended party networks, and thus became pseudo-party institutions. They produce ideologically-biased policy information for their co-partisan allies. I examine their increased influence in Congress over time and across issues using several new large-n datasets. I find that these think tanks, particularly Republican-aligned ones, produce ideologically-biased information, and are both a cause and consequence of polarization.

The project contributes to the intersection of several different areas within the American political institutions and policy subfields. I contribute to the literature on extended political parties by examining how party elites influence policymaking across all issues. I also provide a new perspective on party polarization in Congress by integrating the literature on interest groups, ideologically-biased information, and the policy process. I expect to defend in the Spring and submit the manuscript to a university press book soon thereafter.

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.