Recent Publications

News Media Use, Talk Networks, and Anti-Elitism across Geographic Location: Evidence from Wisconsin
by Lewis Friedland, Ceri Hughes, Dhavan Shah, Jiyoun Suk, and Michael Wagner with Chris Wells

A certain social-political geography recurs across European and North American societies: As post-industrialization and mechanization of agriculture have disrupted economies, rural and nonmetropolitan areas are aging and declining in population, leading to widening political and cultural gaps between metropolitan and rural communities. Yet political communication research tends to focus on national or cross-national levels, often emphasizing networked digital media and an implicitly global information order. We contend that geographic place still provides a powerful grounding for individuals’ lifeworld experiences, identities, and orientations to political communications and politics. Focusing on the U.S. state of Wisconsin, and presenting data gathered in 2018, this study demonstrates significant, though often small, differences between geographic locations in terms of their patterns of media consumption, political talk, and anti-elite attitudes. Importantly, television news continues to play a major role in citizens’ repertoires across locations, suggesting we must continue to pay attention to this broadcast medium. Residents of more metropolitan communities consume significantly more national and international news from prestige sources such as the New York Times, and their talk networks are more cleanly sorted by partisanship. Running against common stereotypes of news media use, residents of small towns and rural areas consume no more conservative media than other citizens, even without controlling for partisanship. Our theoretical model and empirical results call for further attention to the intersections of place and politics in understanding news consumption behaviors and the meanings citizens draw from media content.

Wells, C., Friedland, L., Hughes, C., Shah, D., Suk, J., & Wagner, M. (2011) News Media Use, Talk Networks, and Anti-Elitism across Geographic Location: Evidence from WisconsinThe International Journal of Press/Politics.

Eternal Bandwagon: The Politics of Presidential Selection
by Byron Shafer and Elizabeth Sawyer

Orthodox reporting and conventional scholarship focuses on the factors that distinguish each presidential contest and then attempts to explain them. This book rather, demonstrates that the politics of presidential nomination has been remarkably stable in the United States since the 1830s and right through to 2020. A common bandwagon dynamic, rolling once through party organizations and now through presidential primaries, permits a simple measure that has predicted nominations well before the decisive threshold was reached, while allowing precise comparisons across the years. So it becomes possible to separate the handful of things that matter for winnowing a large and diverse society into two individual presidential nominees. This funnel of causality moves through the occupational and careers seedbeds of a field of presidential aspirants, squeezing these fields by way of a small set of structural shapers, until party factions and factional struggles—not rules of the game, not candidate characteristics, not nominating strategies, nor all the other ephemera so beloved of commentators and observers—actually choose a given nominee.

Byron, S. & Sawyer, E. (2021) Eternal Bandwagon: The Politics of Presidential Selection. Palgrave Macmillan.

Mediated Democracy: Politics, the News, and Citizenship in the 21st Century
by Michael Wagner with Mallory Perryman

Mediated Democracy: Politics, the News, and Citizenship in the 21st Century takes a contemporary, communications-oriented perspective on the central questions pertaining to the health of democracies and relationships between citizens, journalists, and political elites. The approach marries clear syntheses of cutting-edge research with practical advice explaining why the insights of scholarship affects students’ lives. With active, engaging writing, the text will thoroughly explain why things are the way they are, how they got that way, and how students can use the insights of political communication research to do something about it as citizens.


Wagner, M.  & Perryman, R. (2020) Mediated Democracy: Politics, the News, and Citizenship in the 21st Century. CQ Press.

Political Advertising, Digital Platforms, and the Democratic Deficiencies of Self-Regulation
by Robert Yablon

Amid ongoing concerns about foreign electoral interference and fake news, digital platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been rolling out new political advertising policies for the 2020 election cycle. These emergent policies address what sort of ads are permissible, who can run them, how particular audiences can be targeted, and what disclosures and disclaimers must be made. Collectively, the policies highlight the extent to which platforms have become active regulators and powerful gatekeepers of modern political discourse. They also raise a host of questions about the relationship between digital governance and the law of democracy.

This Essay aims to draw attention to the rise of platform self-regulation of political advertising and to encourage inquiry into its implications. In future work, scholars can and should debate the merits of particular measures, scrutinize platforms’ implementation and enforcement efforts, and consider the systemic consequences of these self-regulatory activities. As a first step, the Essay zooms out and identifies an overarching process-based concern. Platforms often invoke democratic values to justify their political advertising policies. Yet their ostensible efforts to promote and safeguard democracy lack any real democratic imprimatur. Platforms have not adopted their policies through open, participatory processes, and in at least some instances, their choices appear to prioritize the interests of political professionals over the preferences and autonomy of platform users. The Essay concludes with some tentative suggestions for addressing these democratic deficiencies.

Yablon, R. (2020) Political Advertising, Digital Platforms, and the Democratic Deficiencies of Self-RegulationMinnesota Law Review.

Understanding the Role of Racism in Contemporary US Public Opinion
by Katherine Cramer

In the contemporary context, it is inescapable that racism is a factor in US public opinion. When scholars take stock of the way we typically measure and conceptualize racism, we find reason to reconceptualize the racial resentment scale as a measure of perceptions of the reasons for political inequality. We also see reason to move beyond thinking of racism as an attitude, toward conceptualizing it as a perspective. In addition, we see reason to pay closer attention to the role of elites in creating and perpetuating a role for racism in the way people think about public affairs. The study of racism is evolving in parallel with the broader public discussion: toward a recognition of the complex and fundamental ways it is woven into US culture and political life.

Cramer, K. (2020) Understanding the Role of Racism in Contemporary US Public OpinionAnnual Review of Political Science

Do Improving Conditions Harden Partisan Preferences? Lived Experiences, Imagined Communities, and Polarized Evaluations
by Jiyoun Suk, Dhavan Shah, Michael Wagner, Lewis Friedland, Katherine Cramer, and Ceri Hughes with Chris Wells and Charles Franklin

Despite growing attention to an increasing partisan divide and populist voting, little attention has been directed at how social contexts might encourage greater or lesser political polarization. We address this gap by studying how county-level conditions—economic resilience, population change, and community health—intersect with individuals’ political orientations and communication patterns to shape partisan evaluations. Our context is Wisconsin around the 2012 election, with our focus on two prominent political figures: Governor Scott Walker and President Barack Obama. Multilevel modeling reveals that partisans living in counties with more affluent, less precarious conditions during 2009–2012 exhibited more polarized partisan attitudes toward Walker and Obama. Our analysis also finds a significant role for interpersonal communication and digital media in shaping polarized attitudes.


Suk, J., Shah, D., Wells, C., Wagner, M. W., Friedland, L. A., Cramer, K. J., Hughes, & C., Franklin C. (2020) Do Improving Conditions Harden Partisan Preferences? Lived Experiences, Imagined Communities, and Polarized EvaluationsInternational Journal of Public Opinion Research.

Performing populism: Trump’s transgressive debate style and the dynamics of Twitter response
by Dhavan Shah and Jordan Foley with Erik Bucy, Josephine Lukito, Larissa Doroshenko, Jon Pevehouse, and Chris Wells

Populism, as many have observed, is a communication phenomenon as much as a coherent ideology whose mass appeal stems from the fiery articulation of core positions, notably hostility toward “others,” bias against elites in favor of “the people,” and the transgressive delivery of those messages. Yet much of what we know about populist communication is based on analysis of candidate pronouncements, the verbal message conveyed at political events and over social media, rather than transgressive performances—the visual and tonal markers of outrage—that give populism its distinctive flair. The present study addresses this gap in the literature by using detailed verbal, tonal, and nonverbal coding of the first US presidential debate of 2016 between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to show how Trump’s transgressive style—his violation of normative boundaries, particularly those related to protocol and politeness, and open displays of frustration and anger—can be operationalized from a communication standpoint and used in statistical modeling to predict the volume of Twitter response to both candidates during the debate. Our findings support the view that Trump’s norm-violating transgressive style, a type of political performance, resonated with viewers significantly more than Clinton’s more controlled approach and garnered Trump substantial second-screen attention.


Bucy, E., Foley, J., Lukito, J., Doroshenko, L., Shah, D., Pevehouse, J. C., & Wells, C. (2020) Performing populism: Trump’s transgressive debate style and the dynamics of Twitter response. New Media & Society.

Trump, Twitter, and News Media Responsiveness: A Media Systems Approach
by Dhavan Shah and Ayellet Pelled with Chris Wells, Josephine Lukito, Jon Pevehouse, and JungHwan Yang

How populists engage with media of various types, and are treated by those media, are questions of international interest. In the United States, Donald Trump stands out for both his populism-inflected campaign style and his success at attracting media attention. This article examines how interactions between candidate communications, social media, partisan media, and news media combined to shape attention to Trump, Clinton, Cruz, and Sanders during the 2015–2016 American presidential primary elections. We identify six major components of the American media system and measure candidates’ efforts to gain attention from them. Our results demonstrate that social media activity, in the form of retweets of candidate posts, provided a significant boost to news media coverage of Trump, but no comparable boost for other candidates. Furthermore, Trump tweeted more at times when he had recently garnered less of a relative advantage in news attention, suggesting he strategically used Twitter to trigger coverage.

Wells, C., Shah, D., Lukito, J., Pelled, A., Pevehouse, J. C., & Yang, J. (2020). Trump, Twitter, and News Media Responsiveness: A Media Systems Approach. New Media & Society.

Waiting to Vote in the 2016 Presidential Election: Evidence from a Multi-county Study
by Barry Burden and Kenneth Mayer with others

This paper is the result of a nationwide study of polling place dynamics in the 2016 presidential election. Research teams, recruited from local colleges and universities and located in twenty-eight election jurisdictions across the United States, observed and timed voters as they entered the queue at their respective polling places and then voted. We report results about four specific polling place operations and practices: the length of the check-in line, the number of voters leaving the check-in line once they have joined it, the time for a voter to check in to vote (i.e., verify voter’s identification and obtain a ballot), and the time to complete a ballot. Long lines, waiting times, and times to vote are closely related to time of day (mornings are busiest for polling places). We found the recent adoption of photographic voter identification (ID) requirements to have a disparate effect on the time to check in among white and nonwhite polling places. In majority-white polling places, scanning a voter’s driver’s license speeds up the check-in process. In majority nonwhite polling locations, the effect of strict voter ID requirements increases time to check in, albeit modestly.

Stein, R., Mann, C., Stewart, C., Birenbaum, Z., Fung, A., Greenberg, J., Kawsar, F., Alberda, G., Alvarez, M., Atkeson, L., Beaulieu, E., Birkhead, N., Boehmke, F., Boston, J., Burden, B., Cantu, F., Cobb, R., Darmofal, D., Ellington, T., Fine, T. S., Finocchiaro, C., Gilbert, M., Haynes, V., Jansen, B., Kimbal, D., Kromkowski, C., Llaudet, E., Mayer, K., Miles, M., Miller, D., Nielson, L., Ouyang, Y., Panagopoulos, C., Reeves, A., Seo, M. H., Simmons, H., Smidt, C., Stone, F. M., VanSickleward R., Victo, J. N., Wood, A., & Wronsi, J. (2019) Waiting to Vote in the 2016 Presidential Election: Evidence from a Multi-county StudyPolitical Research Quarterly.

Voting for Development? Ruling Coalitions and Literacy in India
by Rikhil Bahavnani with Francesca Jensenius

Across the world, governments skew the distribution of state resources for political gain. But does such politicisation of resource allocation affect development trajectories in the long run? We focus on the long-term effects of voting for the ruling coalition on primary education in India. Using a close-election instrumental variable design and drawing on a new socio-economic dataset of India’s state assembly constituencies in 1971 and 2001, we examine whether areas represented by members of ruling coalitions experienced greater increases in literacy over 30 years. We find no evidence of this being the case, in the overall data or in relevant sub-samples. The null results are precisely estimated, and are consistent across OLS and 2SLS specifications and several robustness checks. These findings suggest the politicised distribution of some funds in the short run does not affect long-term development trajectories.

Bhavnani, R. R., & Jensenius, F. R. (2019). Voting for development? Ruling Coalitions and Literacy in India. Electoral Studies.

The Contingent Effects of Candidate Sex on Voter Choice
by Barry Burden with Yoshikuni Ono

A prominent explanation for why women are significantly underrepresented in public office in the U.S. is that stereotypes lead voters to favor male candidates over female candidates. Yet whether voters actually use a candidate’s sex as a voting heuristic in the presence of other common information about candidates remains a surprisingly unsettled question. Using a conjoint experiment that controls for stereotypes, we show that voters are biased against female candidates but in some unexpected ways. The average effect of a candidate’s sex on voter decisions is small in magnitude, is limited to presidential rather than congressional elections, and appears only among male voters. More importantly, independent voters display the greatest negative bias against female candidates. The results suggest that partisanship works as a kind of “insurance” for voters who can be sure that the party affiliation of the candidate will represent their views in office regardless of the sex of the candidate.

Ono, Y., & Burden, B. C. (2019). The Contingent Effects of Candidate Sex on Voter Choice. Political Behavior.

Voter Identification and Nonvoting in Wisconsin—Evidence from the 2016 Election
by Michael DeCrescenzo and Kenneth Mayer

How much did Wisconsin’s voter identification requirement matter in 2016? We conducted a survey of registered nonvoters in the counties surrounding the cities of Milwaukee and Madison to estimate the number of registrants who experienced ID-related voting difficulties in the 2016 presidential election. We estimate that 10 percent of nonvoters in these counties lack a qualifying voter ID or report that voter ID was at least a partial reason why they did not vote in 2016, and six percent of nonvoters lacked a voter ID or cited voter ID as their primary reason for not voting. Theoretically, we argue that voter ID requirements “directly” affect voters who lack qualifying IDs but also “indirectly” affect voters who are confused about their compliance with the law. We find evidence of such confusion, with many respondents mistakenly believing that they did not have the necessary ID to vote when they actually did. Our analysis permits us to calculate bounds on the possible turnout effect in 2016. Most of our credible estimates suggest that the voter ID requirement reduced turnout in these counties by up to one percentage point.

DeCrescenzo, M., & Mayer, K. (2019). Voter Identification and Nonvoting in Wisconsin—Evidence from the 2016 ElectionElection Law Journal. 

The Long War over Party Structure: Democratic Representation and Policy Responsiveness in American Politics
by Byron Shafer with Regina Wagner

A long-standing debate in American politics is about the proper structure for political parties and the relative power that should be afforded to party professionals versus issue activists. In this book, Byron E. Shafer and Regina L. Wagner draw systematically on new data and indexes to evaluate the extent to which party structure changed from the 1950s on, and what the consequences have been for policy responsiveness, democratic representation, and party alignment across different issue domains. They argue that the reputed triumph of volunteer parties since the 1970s has been less comprehensive than the orthodox narrative assumes, but that the balance of power did shift, with unintended and sometimes perverse consequences. In the process of evaluating its central questions, this book gives an account of how partisan alignments evolved with newly empowered issue activists and major post-war developments from the civil rights movement to the culture wars.

Shafer, B. E., & Wagner, R. L. (2019). The Long War over Party Structure. Cambridge University Press.

Social Distraction? Social Media Use and Political Knowledge in Two U.S. Presidential Elections
by Michael Xenos with Sangwon Lee

With increasing numbers of people using social media to get news and political information, whether social media helps users learn about politics has become an important question. Intrigued by the potential of social media to politically educate people, researchers have begun to explore the effects of social media on political knowledge. However, the findings from these studies have been far from conclusive. Drawing on both cross-sectional and panel data from two recent United States presidential elections, this study examines how political social media use and general social media use influence political knowledge. Overall, the results of the cross-sectional and panel analyses lead to the same conclusions. Both show that political social media use does not have a significant effect on political knowledge, while general social media use has a moderately negative effect on political knowledge. Thus, on balance, the overall impact of social media on political knowledge appears to be negative. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Lee, S., & Xenos, M. (2019). Social distraction? Social Media Use and Political Knowledge in Two US Presidential ElectionsComputers in Human Behavior.