Brandon Marshall

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Current Research

Dissertation Project

Title: Affective Polarization in a Group-Competition Framework

Committee: Stanley Feldman, Leonie Huddy, Matthew Lebo


The current political climate is heavily defined by the existence of affective polarization, which is the extent that Americans have strong, negative affect towards the opposing political party. Theories of affective polarization have relied primarily on social identity theory, which posits that people identify with groups for the basis of maintaining a positive social image. However, social identity theory does not require out-group derogation for such maintenance. Under conditions of competition between groups, however, out-group derogation can occur.

In this project I attempt to integrate the social and political psychology literature on group-competition with the literature on polarization and party competition from Congressional behavior to form a group-competition theory of affective polarization. I theorize that the combination of highly sorted and highly competitive political parties incentivize parties to engage in partisan-competition messaging in order to mobilize supporters for the purpose of gaining and maintaining political power. This messaging, however, has the effect of increasing the perception of the opposing party as a threat that must be defeated, encouraging affective polarization.

I outline a combination of experimental and observational studies to investigate these underlying group-competition processes and provide evidence of the usage of such messages by the political parties in their campaign advertisements. By setting a strong, theoretical foundation for affective polarization as a group-competition phenomenon, this project attempts to set the foundation for future work on potential ways to reduce affective polarization from both a political psychology perspective and an institutional one.

Journal Submissions

Title: Dynamic Estimation of Ideal Points for the U.S. Congress
Co-Author: Michael Peress

Journal: Public Choice
Status: Under Review


Theories of candidate positioning suggest that candidates will respond dynamically to their electoral environment. Due to the difficulty of obtaining “bridge votes”, most existing approaches for estimating the ideal points of members of Congress generate static ideal points or ideal points that move linearly over time. We propose an approach for dynamic ideal point estimation using Project Vote Smart’s National Political Awareness Test to construct bridge votes. We use our dynamic estimates to measure aggregate change, to measure individual-level change, and to study which institutional and structural factors explain the changing positions of House candidates and members of Congress. We demonstrate that while the Republican Party has been selecting increasingly extreme candidates, Democratic incumbents have become increasingly extreme while in office. We also find that the congruence between elected members of Congress and their constituents is mostly due to selection as opposed to responsiveness from the candidate. Nonetheless, we find evidence of dynamic responsiveness of incumbents in specific circumstances. We find that competitiveness, midterm elections, and sharing the President’s party affiliation are associated with increased responsiveness. Conversely, retirement is not associated with a change in responsiveness. We find no evidence of responsiveness of challengers. Finally, we find that close elections draw challengers that are more in line with the district’s ideology.

Paper | Data | Code

Title: Do Voters Know Enough to Punish Out-of-Step Congressional Candidates?
Co-Author: Michael Peress

Journal: American Journal of Political Science
Status: Under Review

SPSA 2017 in New Orleans
Emory Political Economy Conference (2017)


Traditional democratic norms suggest that accountability in democracies requires voters to be able to accurately perceive the position of candidates for office. When asked to place congressional candidates on an ideological spectrum, voters show a surprisingly high level of both inaccuracy and variation in the policy positions of candidates. In this paper we investigate three theories of candidate placement to determine the possible sources for voter inaccuracy of candidate positions: the Assimilation and Contrast theory, the Partisan Cheerleading theory, and the Information theory. We develop an approach for placing candidates, voters, and the voters perceptions of the candidates on the same scale and develop an instrumental variables approach for distinguishing between the competing theories. We find evidence for Assimilation and Contrast among low knowledge voters and Cheerleading among high knowledge voters. We also find evidence that the actual position of the candidate has a detectable but small effect on voter’s perceptions of that candidate, limiting the extent to which House candidates are held individually accountable for the positions they take. Contrarily, we find evidence that voters cue off of the positions of the party’s other candidates, suggesting that candidates for a political party are held collectively accountable.

Paper | Data | Code

Conference Papers

Title:Looking for a Fight? Conflict Avoidance and Responses to Uncivil Politics”

Conference: APSA 2016 in Philadelphia


 How does exposure to uncivil political conflict affect the willingness of individuals to participate in politics? I investigate the effect of an individual’s level of conflict avoidance, which is the willingness to avoid or approach conflict, on this question. Based on the current literature regarding uncivil political conflict and personality, higher levels of this trait are associated with more susceptibility to the negative effects of uncivil politics. I theorize, however, that low levels of this trait may be associated with higher levels of political participation. Observational and experimental data indicate that conflict avoidant individuals become less politically engaged when exposed to uncivil political conflict while those more comfortable with conflict become more politically engaged compared to civil political conflict situations.

Paper | Appendix | Data: ANES ; ExperimentCode

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