Home | People |

Christopher P. Donnelly


  • Ph.D., Political Science, University of California-Davis (June 2017)
  • M.A., Political Science, University of California-Davis (March 2015)
  • B.A., Political Science, Vanderbilt University (May 2008)


Primary Field: American Politics
Secondary Field: Political Methodology
Ph.D. awarded June 2017

Dissertation: "Taking Shortcuts? Assessing Whether and How Citizens Use Heuristics to Evaluate and Elect U.S. Senators and U.S. Senate Candidates"

Dissertation Committee
Erik Engstrom (Chair), Frances Lee (University of Maryland-College Park), Cheryl Boudreau, and Jim Adams

Research Focus

My research agenda centers around American representation, with a particular interest in the means by which elected officials represent their constituents as well as the mechanisms by which citizens evaluate and respond to those who represent them.

Focused on the relationship between elected officials and their constituents, my dissertation consists of three substantive chapters, each of which examines a particiular way in which citizens might engage employ cognitive shortcuts or heuristics to evaluate their current U.S. Senators or to adjudicate between the candidates for U.S. Senate with which they are presented, respectively.

The first chapter, which was published in the June 2015 issue of Electoral Studies, seeks to explain the emergence of split-party U.S. Senate delegations--the phenomenon by which a state's voters elect one Democrat and one Republican to represent them in the Senate. Specifically, the article assesses whether split-party U.S. Senate delegations arise from strategic "balancing," whereby voters cue off of the ideological location of the senator whose seat is not currently up for election to inform their vote choice in the election for the Senate seat that is currently being contested, with the intent of choosing the senate candidate who will bring the overall ideological location of their state's senate delegatIon closer to the voter's own ideological preferences, even if this entails voting for the U.S. Senate contender to whom they are less ideologically proximate.

The second chapter, which is currently under review at Legislative Studies Quarterly after having received a "Revise & Resubmit," employs survey data regarding individuals' perceptions of their senators' voting behavior on various issues to assess the degree to which citizens use party cues to infer their senators' roll call behavior. More importantly, I examine the degree to which use of such cues might lead citizens astray, as party cues will lead to the wrong inference when a senator votes against her party.

The third and final chapter is motivated by the fact that while a great deal of research has examined whether female candidates for office have a more difficult time being elected than their male counterparts, little has been done to examine how the interaction between a voter's own sex and partisanship might condition the ultimate answer to this question, especially with respect to recent elections.  Moreover, most of the individual-level analysis that has been done to probe this question has relied upon survey data in which the number of respondents per electoral constituency is relatively sparse, making it difficult to offer robust estimates of how candidate gender affects vote choice, especially if one wants to the explore the conditional relationship in which I am interested.  With these concerns in mind, I employ exit polling data from general elections taken across a total of 315 U.S. Senate contests held between 1990 and 2012, which when combined into a single dataset contains over 420,000 respondents, and am thus readily able subset voters by gender and partisanship.  I find that the relationship between candidate gender and vote choice is indeed conditioned by the gender and partisanship of voters rather than uniform across all members of the electorate.  

Each of these chapters, then, contribute to our understanding of how voters use cues to assess and make decisions about those that represent them, or seek to represent them, and in turn lends new insight into the linkages between political elites and the mass public. 

Filed under: ,