Team Members

Lauren Johnson
Deon McCray

Adversaries or Allies? Donald Trump's Republican Support in Congress

Lauren Johnson and Deon McCray (with Dr. Karyn Amira and Dr. Jordan Ragusa) studied Republican support for Donald Trump’s legislative agenda.  Their paper explores this issue in two ways.  First, it places Trump’s presidency in historical context by forecasting his Republican support with data from 1969 to 2016.  They find that Republicans supported Trump’s legislative positions in 2017 at levels consistent with expectations, contrary to the views of some.  Second, it explores the factors that explain why Republican lawmakers supported or opposed their party’s president.  They find that conservative and establishment Republicans were more likely to support Trump, contrary to some claims, while female Republicans and those representing affluent, non-white districts were more likely to oppose Trump. In March 2019, this paper was accepted for publication in the journal Perspectives in Politics.

#Never Trump: Why Republican Members of Congress Refused to Support Their Party's Nominee in the 2016 Presidential Election

Lauren Johnson and Deon McCray (with Dr. Jordan Ragusa) examined one of the more unusual aspects of the 2016 presidential election: GOP lawmakers refusing to endorse their party’s nominee (Donald Trump) and, in some cases, switching sides and endorsing the other party’s candidate (Hillary Clinton).  In a political era marked by high polarization and intense party discipline, where endorsements are an important aspect of a party’s electoral success, it is odd that so many Republicans decided to distance themselves from Trump.  Yet many political commentators have offered explanations for why this happened: ideological disagreement with the nominee, a lawmaker’s electoral vulnerability, the social and economic characteristics of a member’s district, conflict between the establishment and anti-establishment, a member’s race or gender, etc.  Using original data they collected on each Republican member of Congress’s endorsement in the 2016 general election, Johnson and McCray sought to disentangle these competing explanations and figure out why Republicans abandoned their party’s nominee.

In January 2018, this paper was published in the journal Research and Politics.  Both students graduated in 2018 with degrees in political science; Lauren also has a degree in music.

Katie HillOlivia Rothstein

First in the South

Katie Hill (left) and Olivia Rothstein (right) worked as research assistants for Dr. H. Gibbs Knotts and Dr. Jordan Ragusa as they wrote First in the South: Why the South Carolina Primary Matters, due out in December 2019. Hill and Rothstein researched materials in the Carolina Political Collection at the University of South Carolina, analyzed election returns and helped conduct interviews with the state's political leaders.

Katie Hill is a political science and international studies double major from Myrtle Beach, SC. Olivia Rothstein is an historic preservation & community planning and political science double major from Gainesville, FL. Both students are members of the Honors College.

Nicholas Catherall

From Prophetic to Pathetic: An Examination of the Predictive Ability of Republican Primaries in the Fifty States

Nick Catherall (with Dr. Jordan Ragusa) examines the ability of the fifty states to correctly predict the eventual winner of the GOP primary.  While most pundits believe winning Iowa is crucial to securing the GOP nomination, due to the fact it is the first contest on the calendar, electoral results show that Iowa is a poor predictor of the eventual winner.  South Carolina, by comparison, has an almost perfect record since 1980.  Using data on primary election results and the number of days until the party’s convention, Catherall constructs an index of each state’s predictive ability.  He finds that the swing states of Florida, Virginia, and Ohio have higher than expected predictively abilities, coming in first, fourth, and seventh, respectively.  South Carolina has a high predictive ability as well, coming in ninth on Catherall’s index.  Catherall speculates that South Carolina’s nearly perfect record since 1980 stems from the fact that the state’s “conservative electorate is a microcosm of the national electorate,” with an ideal balance of religious conservative in the Upstate, fiscal conservatives in the Lowcountry, and military veterans in the Midlands. In March of 2016, Catherall presented his research at the College of Charleston’s William V. Moore Student Research Conference. He graduated in 2018 with a degree in political science and a minor in economics.

John ThevosJamie Craven

An Examination of South Carolina Presidential Primaries: 1988-2016

John Thevos and Jamie Craven (with Dr. Jordan Ragusa) studied South Carolina’s presidential primaries.  For the project they built a statistical model that was used to predict the winner of South Carolina in 2016.  It correctly predicted the top 3 finishers (in order) on the GOP side as well as the Democratic results.  For the project Thevos and Craven compiled data on every candidate who ran in the state from 1980-2012 (about 80 in total).  In addition to analyzing the 2016 race, Craven and Thevos sought to understand the fundamental dynamics of presidential nomination contests in South Carolina.  One of their key findings is that New Hampshire’s results are modestly predictive of outcomes in South Carolina on both sides of the aisle while Iowa’s results are strongly predictive of outcomes in South Carolina, but only on the Republican side.  An additional data collection effort included the geographic location of each candidate’s campaign stops from 2000-2012, shedding light on why candidates target some areas in South Carolina during the campaign and not others. In March of 2016 Craven and Thevos presented their work at the Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics.  In May of 2017, the paper by Craven, Ragusa, and Thevos was published in the Journal of Political Science.

Jamie Craven (left) graduated in 2018 with a degree in political science and psychology. John Thevos (right) graduated in 2016 with degrees in political science and computer information systems.

Frank Martin

Nothing After Newtown: Gun Owning Members of Congress and the Gun Control Paradox

Frank Martin (with Dr. Jordan Ragusa) asks the question: why is gun control so difficult to enact in Congress despite being popular with the public?  Researchers have cited a few explanations for this paradox including issue salience, the power of the NRA, party polarization, and the Senate’s malapportionment.  Martin and Ragusa propose a simpler explanation: the large number lawmakers who are gun owners.  What they find is that nearly 60% of members of both the House and Senate claim to own a gun.  Consistent with research on descriptive representation, they also find that gun ownership has an effect on how representatives and senators voted on gun control in the 113th Congress (after the shooting in Newtown, CT).  Notably, this effect exists even when controlling for a lawmaker’s ideology, party affiliation, and the opinions of their constituents on the issue of gun control.  One of the main conclusions of their work is that gun control is difficult to enact, in part, because gun owners cast a disproportionate share of the votes.

In March of 2015, Martin presented the results of this study at the Colonial Academic Alliance Undergraduate Research Conference.  He graduated in 2015 with degrees in political science and English.

Anthony Gaspar

Where’s the Tea Party?  An Examination of the Tea Party’s Voting Behavior in the House of Representatives

Anthony Gaspar (with Dr. Jordan Ragusa) examined whether it is apt to call the Tea Party a “party.”  At issue is whether the Tea Party is simply the "extreme wing" of the Republican Party or a "faction" that operates independently of the GOP.  Gaspar and Ragusa examined this question by studying whether the Tea Party has an effect on how lawmakers vote in the House of Representatives.  Like when lawmakers change parties, they find that representatives who (1) joined Tea Party Caucus and (2) had a large volume of Tea Party activists organize in their district underwent a significant shift to the right after Tea Party’s emergence in 2010. An additional analysis reveals that, unlike Democrats and non-Tea Party aligned Republicans who also shifted to the extremes after the 2010 midterm, Tea Party Republicans did not “bounce back” in subsequent years.  So although the Tea Party is not a “party” in the classic sense of the word, Gaspar and Ragusa claim that it is having “party like” effects in Congress.
In June of 2016, Ragusa and Gaspar’s results were published in the journal Political Research Quarterly.  In February of 2015, Gaspar presented their results at the South Carolina Political Science Association’s annual conference.

Anthony Gaspar graduated in 2016 with degrees in political science and history.  He was admitted into the Ph.D. program in medieval history at the University of Notre Dame with full funding.

Matt TarpeyThe Geographies of Economic Voting in Presidential and Congressional Elections

Matthew Tarpey (with Dr. Jordan Ragusa) studied whether local economic conditions affect voting behavior in the United States.  Hundreds of studies have shown that economic conditions powerfully shape both voting behavior and aggregate elections outcomes.  Yet little work has examined the so-called “geographies” of these effects.  With restricted data from the American National Elections Studies (ANES), Tarpey and Ragusa built a dataset that records economic conditions at the county, media-market, state, and national levels.  Although claims about the power of local economic conditions are intuitive, they find that economic voting is principally a national phenomenon, with variation in the national unemployment rate having robust effects in both presidential and congressional elections. In the end, Tarpey and Ragusa’s study uncovers only limited evidence of economic voting at the county or media-market level.
In March of 2016, Ragusa and Tarpey’s results were published in the journal Political Science Quarterly.  In February of 2014, Tarpey presented their results at the South Carolina Political Science Association’s annual conference.

Matt Tarpey graduated in 2014 with degrees in political science and economics.  He was admitted into the Ph.D. program in political science at the University of Pittsburgh with full funding.