Before primary voters get input, local party leaders recruit and select candidates to run for office. Their views produce and limit voters’ choices. Even if voters might support candidates from diverse occupations or ethnicities, those candidates might never run if party leaders tap someone else. Michael Miller finds that county party chairs have different preferences than primary voters and party activists. They are very concerned with local ties and fear that their voters won’t support Black or Latino candidates. They are critical to giving voters choices, even in places where partisan competition is weak, but their strategic discrimination constrains the candidate pool.

Guests: Michael Miller, Barnard College

Study: Small Power


Matt Grossmann: How parties recruit and select candidates, this week on The Science of Politics. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann. Commentators often complain that primary voters are diverting American politics, but before they get input, local party leaders recruit and select candidates to run for office. So their preferences and behavior help produce the candidates that we see. Even if voters might support candidates from diverse occupations or ethnicities, many candidates might never run if party leaders tap someone else. This week I talked to Michael Miller of Barnard about his new Oxford book with David Doherty and Connor Dowling, Small Power. They survey and interview county party chairs, finding that they are important in determining local candidacies, but have different preferences than primary voters in party activists. They’re very concerned with local ties and they fear their voters won’t support Black or Latino candidates. Their strategic discrimination means we don’t get to see the full ponopoly of Americans on the ballot. They’re critical to giving voters choices, even in places where partisan competition is weak, but their ideas about voters constrain the candidate pool. Here’s our conversation. So, you’ve just published Small Power. What were the biggest findings and their implications?

Michael Miller: Well, we thought we wanted to write this book because we recognize that these folks are some of the most important actors in the political system, and political scientists have focused on them in the past. But local parties I think are really, really important across all of American politics. But we feel especially their power when it comes to elections. And the guiding theory from this book, it really did start just as a simple narrow paper kind of question, which was if these folks are primarily responsible for recruiting candidates and our work really does establish that they are, they go out into the community and they see that insurance agent in town and they think, “That person would be great. They should run for county board or state legislature or something like that.”

Well, those people once elected rise up through the political system. But if that initial contact is guided by the expectations that local party chair has and those people have particular biases, we might get a kind of self-perpetuating system where the same kind of candidates are running and rising up through the ranks of the political system. That’s what we set out to look for, and we find that there are some attributes where the expectations that chairs have about who can win a race are at odds with what voters say. And so I think that’s really an important finding of this book.

Matt Grossmann: So, tell us about county party chairs. What do they do? Who are they? And you’re taking kind of a view of American politics from their perspective, so what are the strengths of looking at it from their viewpoint and the limitations?

Michael Miller: Well, I think anybody who’s spent any amount of time close to electoral politics recognizes these people as the unsung heroes. They are unpaid. They tend to be kind of lifelong activists, most of them, but not all. Some of them come to this pretty late and rise through the ranks really quickly, but they’re just average people who are partisans, who care quite a lot about carrying their party’s banner and they get involved. And I think a lot of work in our field shows that getting involved is really the first step towards mattering. And so these are just normal folks who are working what approximates a full-time job sometimes, especially in an election year, on top of the full-time job that many of them already have.

And so what they’re doing from the day-to-day is they might be running the party office. Not all parties have offices, especially in smaller, rural counties, but they’re making sure that if the party has a get out the vote effort, they are kind of overseeing that. They’re staffing booths and tables at county fairs and other community gatherings. They’re riding floats in parades and they’re spending a lot of time recruiting and training candidates. They see that as the biggest part of their job, identifying the people who have never been nudged into politics and getting them in the run. They look a lot at the ballot and what they’re trying to do is fill out the … making sure that they have a Democrat or a Republican for every single race in the ballot. And so they are just really active. And again, I stress, the vast majority of them receive no compensation for this work. So, they really are out there for the love of politics and their party.

Matt Grossmann: So, how important are they for candidate success and what’s your evidence that these chairs play primary roles and that the strength of these local parties matters?

Michael Miller: Well, I think it depends on what you mean by success, right? I think in terms of filling out the ballot and making sure that their party has a presence, these organizations are really important. A dynamic chair, somebody who really is trying to motivate people around them to create this energy, can have a huge positive impact. We heard particularly from Democrats in rural counties, one of them said, “We just want to make sure that people in our town know that Democrats don’t have horns, right? That we’re average people and that there are Democrats and that it’s safe to be a Democrat publicly out here.” And they see that as a big part of their job, but that probably doesn’t win them elections.

And that was actually one of the things that we looked at is does an active local party actually matter in say an up ballot like a presidential or a senatorial race? And some of our findings, they were a little counterintuitive because we found that these parties are actually most consequential in areas where they haven’t done well in the past. And that to us implies that there’s a lot of space for immediate success, somebody to step in, engage local parties and create an energy that may not have existed before. And so do they matter? I think our book shows that they matter sometimes, and that the times when they matter are most likely to be where they have struggled in the past.

Matt Grossmann: And from a research perspective, how do you think about saying X percent of county party chairs think blank when obviously counties are very different sizes and we have increasing geographic polarization around density. So, the average Democratic county party chair is probably going to be in a Republican area. So how do you think about that?

Michael Miller: Well, that was absolutely something that we were running up against again and again. From a research standpoint, really one of the only ways you can address that is by trying to look at your findings in a conditional sense. So, does urbanity affect the way that Democrats are approaching their job? Sometimes, but not usually. And we also found that Republicans are pretty immune to the conditions of their county, so they were especially rigid. But I think rather than just relying on fielding a survey, our approach was to deploy an experiment inside of the survey which allowed us to harvest these sometimes implicit biases that the chairs had with a conjoint experiment. And I think that’s really the engine that underpins a lot of this work. So, there is conditionality here and we can look at the experimental results conditional on urbanity or the racial dynamics of a county, but we do believe that the experiment is a really nice way to look at the cognition of these chairs.

The other thing that I think that is important about this book from a research standpoint is it’s not just a survey and an experiment. We went through a lot of the country. We would just fly into a part of the country, rent a car and drive across and talk to as many of these chairs as we could. We were in dozens of these party offices and we got to ask them these questions. We had already done the survey at this point in time, and so we just asked them, “Do you think that people from your party and other places would answer these questions differently or why do you think we found what we found?” And that allowed us to really get a lot of context on the quantitative results in the book.

Matt Grossmann: So you also have comparison data from members of the public in each party and primary voters in each party. So is there a simple way to summarize what you found there? Can you align their opinions ideologically or socially? What were the biggest differences between the public in each party and the chairs?

Michael Miller: Yeah, returning to the original kind of theoretical expectation, we wanted to know if the party chairs are out there recruiting candidates that they think are going to be successful in a primary. Are they right? If there are gaps between what the chairs think and what voters will actually tolerate or even what they actually want, that could fuel problems in American politics where they don’t necessarily need to be. And so there were a few avenues that we looked at, and one of them was descriptive traits of the candidates themselves. It’s really where this work started. We wanted to know if chairs were less likely to recruit women as candidates and then candidates of color. And so the way that we did this is we asked them who they thought would be viable in a primary election in their party. And then we asked voters as well, and we were able to use CES data and validate primary voters.

And so, we used the same experiment on voters as we did on chairs. And so we’re able to look at the results among the chairs saying who’s going to win a primary election, and then the people who actually vote in primary elections. And so on candidate attributes, we find that women are actually not disadvantaged at all. Both chairs and voters actually favor women. And I can talk more about that’s a pretty interesting dynamics there. But we do see a discrepancy on race. The voters of both parties are really sort of ambivalent about candidate race, but the chairs are less likely to see them to see candidates of color. This is both Black candidates and Latinx candidates. They’re less likely to see them as viable. And this is really not dependent on party. In fact, the point estimates for Democrats are lower.

Where we do see some partisan difference is Democrats are less likely to downgrade candidates of color as the area that they represent becomes less white, whereas this feeling among Republicans is pretty flat and immune to the demo demography of their county. So this implies to us that chairs might not be recruiting candidates of color out of a belief that they can’t win, which is a belief that we do not see among the electorate, which has obvious implications then for diversity of the candidate pool as well as legislatures and the like. We see some differences in terms of policy and compromise as well. For the most part, chairs of both parties are pretty good at understanding what their voters want in the economic policy realm, but we do see some gaps when it comes to some of the social issues. And one of them, the most glaring one in this work is guns., So chairs of both parties really underestimate the tolerance of their electorate for gun restrictions. The difference is starkest among Republicans, but even among Democrats, they could be fielding, according to our work, candidates who are more gun regulation than what they’re actually recruiting.

We also see, and this was actually guided by your work quite a bit, we see an asymmetric kind of polarization with respect to compromise. Both Democratic chairs and voters see candidates who are willing to work across the aisle for policy goals as a net benefit. And so they’re pretty much in line on that dimension, but Republican chairs see a compromising candidate as a liability that is not the case for their voters. Republican voters actually, according to our data, favor a candidate who wants to compromise with Democrats and work towards policy, but the chairs see a person like that as a detriment. And so the implication there is they may be recruiting candidates who are more ideologically rigid than is necessary, which I think might fuel some of the patterns that your work previous work has uncovered.

Matt Grossmann: So how do party chairs assess and evaluate candidates? You start with these kind of commitments and their local ties. So, what are the first things that kind of come up in these open-ended interviews and how do they evaluate someone locally?

Michael Miller: I think the two things that really come through from the interviews, and these are really backed by the experimental data, but what’s really clear in the interviews is that these chairs are most comfortable with somebody that they know. And that really works on two dimensions. The first is how tied are you to the community? If you are brand new to town, the chair is going to look very skeptically upon your viability as a candidate. Contrast that with somebody who’s a third generation resident of the town. They’re really looking for those community ties. And that goes deeper than just residents, right? It’s family ties, do you have a business in town? All of that kind of social … Those social capital variables are really, really important.

The other thing, and we heard this more from Republicans I think, is they want to know that you’re actually a partisan. So they want to have seen a prospective candidate either at party meetings or they will review letters to the editor that a person has written or social media activity, and they want to make sure that they’re not being bamboozled. This is particularly a salient point among Republicans in rural areas according to our interviews, where the concern is that because they can’t get elected as Democrats, Democratic citizens will pretend to be Republicans in order to win office. And so these chairs did describe quite a lot of vetting that they will do to verify the bonafides of people that they’re less familiar with. But we did hear a few interesting stories of, shall we say, bad candidates who escaped this vetting procedure. So I think community ties and party bonafides are really, really important for these folks.

Matt Grossmann: And what about money in politics? Do candidates have to demonstrate ties to donors beforehand? Do they have to already be rich people who can ask other rich people for money, or do the county chairs think that they can find the donors for the right candidates?

Michael Miller: I think the answer to that, and when we started this work, we definitely would have expected that fundraising ability would’ve been a really important variable that these chairs were looking for. But we found a really wide variation with the approach that chairs took. And I think it depends a little bit on urbanity. If you’re in a city where you’re having to campaign on these major media markets, I think chairs there definitely see money as a more important thing for a candidate to have, but they’re also better networked, those urban parties, and are better able to assist candidates when it comes to raising money. But some chairs thought that it was the first, second and third thing that they wanted to see among a prospective candidate, and others felt like as long as you are articulate, if you’re charismatic, if you’re not afraid to go knock on 40 doors a night, the fundraising is less important and will come as you get this buzz from being a good candidate.

One of the things that we assessed in the experiment was occupation. So do party chairs look more favorably upon, say, a doctor or a lawyer? And we didn’t really find any signal, any uniform signal anyway about fundraising propensity from those occupations. But we did find social workers, for instance, did a little worse among Republicans, probably because of assumptions about their politics. And so occupation is sending a signal, but we don’t think that fundraising capability is the major one. So I think on average, while many chairs do believe that fundraising is important to have, it was a lot weaker relationship than we would’ve expected.

Matt Grossmann: So you did find some interesting occupational differences between the parties. You found that the Democrats like lawyers, Republicans like doctors, Democrats disliked I guess the finance occupations category that you had, and you mentioned the social workers. What do you think is going on there? Is that just kind of self-reinforcing? We’re not going to put candidates out who don’t match people’s preferred or people’s presumed partisanship, or are there actually just different things that candidates bring to each political party?

Michael Miller: I think on that one, it’s really hard to know. When we tried to ask about this in the interview, most chairs weren’t really all that interested in talking about occupation and they would just return back to the discussion of community ties. But I think if anything, this is really a ripe area for further research. And I know Nick Carnes has been talking for a long time in a couple of the books that he’s written about the difficulties that blue collar workers have. I don’t think there’s anything in our work that suggests that blue collar workers do not have a hard time. And I think they do experience all of the headwinds that other work has previously identified, but I don’t know that we can definitively say anything about why a lawyer might be favored by a Democrat or a doctor by a Republican.

Matt Grossmann: So, you mentioned at least one instance in which Republican chairs might be moving their candidates rightward or towards more purist views. What can you say more generally about this polarization debate? Because it does seem like some people really are blaming party officials and activists as being a big part of what’s moving parties to the left and the right, but other people say this is just primary voters and that the candidates are just appearing to match their voters. So what does this analysis add to that [inaudible 00:21:34]?

Michael Miller: I think it’s really hard to suss that out. So, party chairs are a difficult kind of elite to study because they are primarily … They’re not office holders, they’re not elected and they’re not really accountable to the broad electorate. So in many ways, they look kind of like a slightly more elite member of the mass public, but they’re not a member of the mass public either. And so it’s hard to really pull apart what their particular influence over a candidate would be. And it’s also difficult to know, are they driving views among their local party committees or are they sort of along for the ride? I think it’s probably more of the latter. Rather than unilaterally shaping the dynamics of an election, I think the decisions that these chairs make are probably contributing to a broader environment, but they are making assessments about primary voters anytime they recruit candidates and they can’t control what those people think.

We did hear particularly from Democrats quite a lot, and this work was done in the wake of the 2016 election. Most of our interviews were before the 2018 midterm, and there were still all kinds of divisions from the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton camps. And so they’re trying to navigate these and put candidates up that they think are going to be palatable to often a factional base. And so it’s really difficult to pull all this apart. I think for the most part, the primary voters and the party chairs are sort of all in it together. And the party chairs are making these judgements even though not all of them are correct all of the time as best they can with limited information. We should remember that most of these party organizations have no money. They can’t even have an office that’s open year round. Some of them can’t even open an office during the election, so there’s definitely not money for polling. So a lot of these decisions are made on gut, and I would hesitate to make any kind of causal claims about the role that any of these chairs are having on forces in American politics.

Matt Grossmann: We also have these debates about whether primary elections remove candidates to the extremes and that general election voters might prefer candidates that aren’t at the extremes. It seems like party chairs would be well-positioned to evaluate a candidate that might be good in a local primary but might not be good in a local general election. And I know most of these folks are in places where a lot of elections aren’t going to be very close, so how do they think about, if they think about that trade-off between a general election and primary election?

Michael Miller: I think that they’re happy for the most part to let market dynamics sort this out. A lot of the time, Democrats especially in a lot of rural areas, are happy if they can just get a candidate on the ballot. Once they get a contested primary, there are a few things that they may do. If someone comes out of nowhere to challenge an incumbent or somebody that’s been working for the party for a long time, they may work to encourage that person to run for something else. But most of the chairs told us that they really do take care not to stick their nose into these primary fights. If a candidate is really committed to running, then they’re just going to let the dynamics of that primary play out, but they are very concerned about trying to fill that ballot up and down. As you said, I think we really … Even political scientists overestimate the number of general elections that are actually contested enough for these kinds of calculations to matter. And a lot of places, the vast majority of places, actually, the party chairs once a candidate has declared are really banned from favoring one candidate or the other. And they take that pretty seriously, I think.

Matt Grossmann: So you mentioned your findings on candidate race, which I cite all the time for local officials in particular because we have a lot of these newly drawn districts that are not a majority minority, and I really see this dynamic playing out that you find that both parties really fear the viability of Black and Latino candidates, even though there’s really not much sign from voters that they would disfavor these candidates in primaries or general elections. So how do you see these findings and what implications do they have for the candidate pool, and why do elites not believe that these candidates can be successful?

Michael Miller: Yeah, this question was why we started this research. This was the one that we really wanted to answer, and it’s really normatively disappointing to get this result where you have voters saying, “Really, I don’t care. In some cases, I would actually prefer to have a candidate of color running.” And then you see these negative effects for the chairs. And I think it’s really important here to stress that the way that we collected this result was in a conjoint experiment that was designed to recover a latent preference. We didn’t describe the candidate as Black. We signaled the candidate’s race with name, which we thought was a subtle and more realistic signal of … and what they had to do was choose between a pair of candidates whose name was randomly assigned by the computer. And it’s really, really disappointing to see this result. And so one of the techniques that we use, we did the survey first and then we went into the field with interviews and we actually showed the chairs this result and asked them what they thought about it.

And what we heard was from both parties, they’re telling us, “I would really love to diversify my candidate pool.” Republicans especially said, “It would be great if we could field more Black candidates, but where are they?” Right? And they point to the dynamics of their communities, in many cases pretty overwhelmingly white populations, and they say, “Where do I draw these candidates from?” That could have affected their assessment, but should not have in theory. And so we’re kind of left with a gap between what they tell us, which is, “I want to recruit candidates of color,” and what this experiment that uncovers their implicit bias is showing us. And I think what we have here is a pretty significant challenge for the long-term diversification of American elections, but I think arguably more importantly, legislatures as well, because you can’t be elected into a legislature unless you are identified and encouraged to run as a candidate. And so one of the takeaways is that the implicit biases that these party chairs harbor may be impeding candidate recruitment. And in my opinion, I think almost certainly is for candidates of color.

Matt Grossmann: Well, let’s stay on this for a second because I hear this more explicitly. So, the context that I hear it in is these newly drawn districts which combine Detroit with their external areas, and people say very explicitly, “Black candidates can’t win in these districts because there’s more white voters outside of them.” And I think their response to your graph would be much more like, “I don’t believe the voters.” So I guess how would you assess that alternative?

Michael Miller: I think the dynamics of what we’re seeing in places like Detroit, we see this in Miami recently as well, and frankly a lot of other smaller towns where there’s not media around to report on this, I don’t know if that’s a judgment about candidate viability so much as a fairly overt attempt to control elections. Right? And we’re seeing these things pick up more and more since the Shelby County decision particularly in the south where you have all of these formerly covered jurisdictions that would’ve had to pre-clear all of this now free to do whatever they want. And I see this, and the Supreme Court has wrestled with this. All federal courts have wrestled with this. Is that racial disenfranchisement or is it a party or a community making judgements about the partisanship of voters? I think we should bring that forward and ask whether it’s party gerrymandering or race, which is a difficult question to answer when party and race overlie to the extent that they do.

Now, the retort to that would be it doesn’t matter, right? Because if the effect is to dilute racial representation for minority voters, then we should be concerned not only about the presence or absence of minority candidates, but also about the rules of the game. I think that for the most part, these chairs that we interviewed, they’re partisans and they’ll take a little edge wherever they can get it. And if that means redrawing district lines in a way that lines up with their party, even though they tell us about the importance of racial diversification of the candidate pool, if they can win a few more seats in the county council or the city council, I think they’re going to be happy to take it. And that I think is the reality that we’re up against. The partisan stakes feel so high to both sides right now that they’re willing to do just about anything to get an edge.

Matt Grossmann: So as you said, you don’t find similar effects for women. Party chairs don’t fear women candidates, and some voters prefer women candidates. So why is it different for gender than race? And I guess if that’s not the problem, why is it still the case that women are so underrepresented in the candidate pool?

Michael Miller: This part of the work was a lot of fun because when we went out in the field and talked to candidates, or excuse me, chairs, they backed up what political science researchers have been saying for the last 20 years. And that is that women, when they run, because they have less ambition and confidence in their own candidacy, what happens is they wait longer to run because they don’t feel ready. So by the time they emerge, they come out with a broader social network. They have more work experience, they know more people, they’re more mature, they’ve polished their biography and everything else. And also because of this ambition gap, they tend to be very hardworking candidates. And the chairs recognize that. We heard again and again when they’re assessing the key players throughout their party, they tell us it’s always women who are staying later at the party meetings and making sure that everything’s ready for the next day.

And so the chairs really recognize that, and they see women all else equal, as probably a harder working candidate. And also that all else is not equal, that the women who do run are probably just more talented and skilled by virtue of having waited. And that lines up with voters. But the overall point estimate for women in our work is that party chairs view them as better than baseline. So they actually exhibit a slight preference for women compared to men. And the reasons that they tell us just align almost perfectly with all of the work that has come out of the women in politics field.

Matt Grossmann: So, this work seems conversant with the old line of political science where we thought there were these important local political elites and they made the candidates, but there has been a lot of recent journalism suggesting that this is somehow changing, that elites are no longer key to recruiting and selecting candidates, that we have small dollar fundraising, we got online activists, we have media led candidates who can be in between, separate from their parties. Did you see any of that, and is there any sign that the role of these chairs is declining?

Michael Miller: I don’t think so because for the most part, these chairs are concerned with small races. That’s what the title of the book is, Small Power. They are powerful people, but they’re projecting this power within the borders of a county. And so they’re concerned with school board elections and county council elections. Now, there is evidence for nationalization. It’s everywhere, right? And I think all of these folks are watching national news. They’re thinking about federal issues, but not as much as the typical voter. They’re deeply immersed in the goings on in their county. They know what the issues are. And so these are some of the most locally focused people that I’ve ever, ever encountered. So that was really refreshing, honestly, to meet people who are still really heavily involved in their community. Now, I don’t want to say these nationalizing trends and kind of outward looking fundraising strategies are unimportant or not real. They absolutely are. But for the most part, we saw in these chairs, people who are really focused on local politics.

Matt Grossmann: How different were they across regions or states? And did you see evidence for geographic polarization as the self-reinforcing process where the parties just get less organization in the places that they’re in decline, and that might make them go further in decline?

Michael Miller: Well, there’s a couple of ways to interpret that. On the last thing you said, the organization aspect, I think for the most part, very, very few local parties receive any help from the state party. And I think that’s something that that’ll people to know. I think there’s an assumption among the average voter that parties are organized top down probably from the federal level, right? And money is flowing from the RNC or wherever all the way down to Wabash County, right? That’s not the case. So the commonality across the board, regardless of party, is that these organizations are really on their own. They receive very little assistance even from their state party, and it’s a constant struggle for them to try to keep the lights on even to have an office, to have a presence. So that was common. This resource struggle was common across regions and across party.

But we did detect some important differences, and one of the things … We didn’t really stress this in the book, but one of the things that we found interesting as we went from the north to the south … I can’t say exactly what … Well, I won’t ref … No, let me break that and I’ll start again. So, we did see some important differences as we went from north to south, and we didn’t stress them in the book, but we did find them interesting. And that was the way that the party chairs talked about race. So, particularly on the Republican side, we found that the chairs were extremely conversant in racial issues. They were very comfortable talking about race and said, “Look, here in Georgia or Mississippi, this has been a problem in the past, and we recognize that and we want to overcome that legacy.” And so they’re sort of wearing that and saying, I am deeply committed to moving beyond that and to building an inclusive Republican party.”

But when we were in northern states talking to Republicans, the dynamics of our conversations about race we’re completely different. The chairs there were on a very defensive footing. We saw them questioning our results and our motivation. And so, you had asked earlier about the implications of our findings about race. Those conversations with chairs, particularly on the Republican side in the north, suggested that might be where these effects on race are most likely to manifest, just based on the reaction that we saw there.

Matt Grossmann: So, you’ve done a lot of work on campaign finance, including a lot of work on these sort of newer entities that allow candidates to raise money independently of parties or allow potential donors to pool resources into another non-party actor that acts like a party. How has understanding the role of local party leaders changed or updated your views or the views of that research?

Michael Miller: Well, I think it’s right that we are in a really new place when it comes to campaign finance. And I think we have to throw out a lot of what we previously thought we knew about donor motivation and funding strategies in this small dollar internet driven era. But I think that at the local level, these parties are still important. It could be that … And we’ve seen it, right? We’ve seen candidates at the federal or some state candidates kind of circumvent their party and make an end run around the party or organization because they’re able to swing these small dollar contributions like a hammer. But I think at the local level, the party is still really important because you’re talking about neophyte candidates, many of whom have never run for anything before, don’t even know what the fundraising laws are. And they need that person and that committee to come in there and tell them. And we heard chairs tell us again and again, like, “I will come in on a Saturday and help you fill out your paperwork if you tell me that you’re going to run for office. I will connect you with the five top people who are donors for our party, and I’m going to personally introduce you to them.”

So there’s still a lot of networking facilitation that’s going on. They are able, I think because they know. They’ve been in the room before and they know what it takes to run a campaign, they’re able to really serve as a springboard to launch somebody from … I alluded earlier to the insurance salesman on the corner of Main Street, right? You can launch that person from citizen to candidate in a couple of weeks with some intense training. And we saw quite a lot of evidence that that’s hat’s happening. And the dynamics of the small dollar broad internet appeals I think are very real, particularly in federal races. But I’m not sure that we’re at the place where that’s happening in city council races. That being said, given the dynamics just recently in the last couple years with what we’ve seen on some school board elections, I think that’s a really interesting kind of election to watch right now, to see if … you know, our local school board politics becoming nationalized. And so my hypothesis would be that school boards will be the first ones to kind of fall into that model, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

Matt Grossmann: So, you mentioned you do find some differences between Democratic and Republican chairs, but most of the book talks about them serving kind of similar roles, and you did go out and talk to these people. So to what extent are these parties functionally similar versus really quite different entities?

Michael Miller: Well, I think the day-to-day nuts and bolts approach to running a party is pretty much the same no matter where you go. The key variable will be how much money do I have and how many people do I have to activate and touch from a get out the vote standpoint? So that’s all very, very similar. I think, though, that the strategic footing that the parties tend to find themselves on is very different in much of America. When you look at a county map, you’ll see that you can drive from coast to coast and never leave a Republican controlled county if you plan your route the right way. And I think what we saw in our book was that many of the Republican organizations because of this are on sort of an offensive footing. They know they have an advantage, particularly in these rural areas, and they’re pressing that. The Democrats tend to be a little bit more resource challenged in these areas and struggle a little bit more to fill out their ballot. And so we saw just in terms of optimism and energy a little bit of a gap between the parties. But I think that’s just more to do with the political base of the parties right now more than anything else. As far as running and recruiting and supporting their party, I think just about everybody sees their role pretty much the same.

Matt Grossmann: So what’s next for you or your chance to tout what you’re working on now or anything we didn’t get to that you want to include?

Michael Miller: Well, I’m not working on party chairs anymore. I’ve moved on. Now I’ve just published a recent paper looking at the behavior of members of Congress. So it looked at whether women were more likely to be interrupted in Congress, and surprise, we found that they are. And so my co-author, Joe Sutherland and I, have decided to expand that work. We’re working on a book length project right now about un-Democratic behaviors in Congress by members of Congress. And so we’re hard at work and we’re hoping to come up with a manuscript next year.

Matt Grossmann: What are some of those other un-Democratic behaviors besides interruptions?

Michael Miller: Well, we’re looking at … Well, one of the interesting questions that we are able to look is at the general tone of debate when it comes not only to interruptions, but are we adhering to decorum? Things like this. Is this repeating, right? Do we see epochs of repeating kinds of behavior? So we can compare the current moment to the 1930s, the 1880s, the 1850s when people were also pointing at a polarized kind of environment to see whether history is repeating itself or if we’re in something kind of new. But the general idea here is that if you adapt kind of a war footing where you’re cutting people off and advancing an agenda and engaging in indecorous behavior, you might get elected that way. But we’re wondering if it spreads once in Congress, right? Like, you’re kind of the patient zero. And so we’re very early. I don’t have anything to tell you as far as results, but that’s where we’re going to be sticking our noses for the next little while.

Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The Science of Politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center. I’m your host, Matt Grossman. If you like this discussion, here are the episodes you should check out next, all linked on our website. Congressional Primaries, how the parties fight insurgents. How the Tea Party paved the way for Donald Trump. Do the parties prefer white male candidates? Multiracial electoral coalitions for minority candidates. How rich white residents and interest groups rule local politics. Thanks to Michael Miller for joining me. Please check out Small Power, and then listen in here next time.