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Christopher P. Donnelly


  • Ph.D., Political Science, University of California-Davis (expected 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: Methodology
PhD expected June 2017

Dissertation Committee Composition
Erik Engstrom (Chair), Frances E. Lee (University of Maryland), Cheryl Boudreau, Jim Adams

Research Focus

My research centers around American representation, with a particular interest in the various decision rules and shortcuts that citizens use to evaluate candidates and elected representatives alike. Situated in the particular institutional context of the U.S. Senate, my dissertation consists of three chapters, each of which examines such a unique decision rule or shortcut that citizens might use to evaluate U.S. Senate candidates or U.S. Senators. 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 seek to bring the average preferences of their state's two senators closer to the middle and, as a result, might choose the U.S. Senate contender to whom they are less ideologically proximate. The second chapter, which currently has a "Revise & Resubmit" at Legislative Studies Quarterly, 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. Finally, motivating the third chapter is the fact that while a great deal of research has been done to understand the causes of the "gender gap"--the tendency for women to support Democratic candidates and policies at higher rates than men--little has been done to understand why its size varies across different elections. In this vein, I seek to explain variation in the size of the "gender gap"--the difference between the percentage of the vote that males and females give to the Republican candidate--across different U.S. Senate elections, with a particular eye towards the gender breakdown of the two major-party candidates as a possible heuristic that voters might use in arriving at their candidate choices. Each of these chapters, then, contributes to our understanding of the linkages between political elites and the citizens that they represent, or seek to represent.

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