My research agenda is broad within the American politics and public policy subfields of political science. My main interests center on the U.S. Congress and political parties. Below are links to published works of mine as well as replication materials (where appropriate). My Google Scholar page may also serve as a useful reference for the impact of my work. Requests for drafts of working papers are welcome. Please feel free to email me your request.


My dissertation addresses the role of intraparty factions in Congress. The central concern I seek to confront is the extent to which intraparty factions set the congressional agenda. I collect an original data set of over 15,000 policy agenda items of intraparty factions and argue that intraparty factions provide a vital avenue for rank-and-file members to extract policy concessions from party leaders in a highly centralized power structure by utilizing direct negotiations with leadership, position taking, and threat making. The results demonstrate influence from intraparty factions and are consistent with an asymmetric view of U.S. political parties. Republican intraparty factions battle over a small set of ideologically charged issues. Democratic factions have more diverse agendas and represent the many different constituencies within the Democratic Party’s “big tent” coalition.

While my dissertation present this question, and my approach to it, in great detail it is only a subset of my broader theory and goal for this project. I am currently working to reshape this project into a booklength argument linking the functions of intraparty factions to the goals of members of Congress (i.e., reelection, influence in their chamber, and good public policy). These linkages provide an opportunity to more precisely define and understand the many roles these factions play in aiding rank-and-file members of Congress who serve in an institution that is dominated by party leaders. It will seek to build on the leading scholarship in this area and address more broadly the effects that joining an intraparty faction can have on both its members and the institution.

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Christine C. Bird and Zachary A. McGee. 2023. “Looking Forward: Interest Group Legal Strategy and Federalist Society Affiliation in the United States Circuit Courts of Appeal.” Polity. 55(2):389-399. DOI: 10.1086/724189

In this article, focusing exclusively on the federal circuit courts of appeal, we consider the reasons for a potential strategic shift and the influence of a particular conservative interest group—The Federalist Society—progressive litigants need to consider. Groups mobilizing against the conservative legal movement need to carefully consider how the advocacy environment has changed and should strongly consider including in their strategic plans the previous success and continued influence of the Federalist Society in the American judiciary. To be successful advocates at the circuit court level, interest groups supporting either side of the ideological spectrum need a thorough understanding of the ideological and philosophical predispositions of individuals on the bench at each circuit and knowledge about the chances of drawing a favorable panel of judges. Recently, the personnel on the federal circuit court benches saw a moderate amount of turnover and previous impressions about the ideological predispositions of each circuit are likely outdated. In this article, we give a brief overview of the Federalist Society’s role in the conservative legal movement, provide a descriptive account of FedSoc’s presence at the circuit court level, and calculate the probability a case would draw one or two FedSoc affiliated judges for a three-judge panel at each of the circuit courts.

Christine C. Bird and Zachary A. McGee. 2022. “Going Nuclear: Federalist Society Affiliated Judicial Nominees’ Prospects and a New Era of Confirmation Politics.” American Politics Research. 51(1):37-56. DOI: 10.1177/1532673X221109534

Significant changes to the federal judicial confirmation process have manifested over the past decade, including multiple procedural reforms in the United States Senate. We argue the “nuclear option,” the reduction of the vote-threshold required to proceed to a final confirmation vote on judicial nominees (i.e., to invoke cloture) from three-fifths to a simple majority, contributed to a renewed escalation of partisan confirmation battles on which the Federalist Society capitalized. Pundits and politicians alike show growing concern about the role of interest groups, especially those associated with the conservative legal movement, in judicial nominations. The intersection of these two sets of changes raises questions about the contemporary judicial nominations process. Utilizing a novel dataset of Federalist Society (FedSoc) affiliates drawn from event listings (1993–2020), we analyze the interactive role of FedSoc affiliation with Senate procedural changes to the judicial confirmation process. We find affiliation with the Federalist Society, after the initial nuclear option was implemented, increases the probability of a circuit court nominee’s confirmation by approximately 20%.

McGee, Zachary A. and Sean M. Theriault. 2021. “Partisanship in Congressional Travels Abroad.” International Politics. 59(5):925-954. DOI: 10.1057/s41311-021-00366-5

Members of Congress frequently cite official travels abroad as one of the best opportunities to develop friendships across the aisle. Yet since 1977, representatives spent roughly one of every eight days with members of only their political party. Some members have spent more than a month’s worth of time in a single congress traveling and never doing so with a member from the other party. This paper examines the causes and consequences of the members who are willing to travel overseas so long as it is not with a member of the other party. We find that liberal Democrats are more likely than moderate Democrats to travel with their copartisans, and moderate Democrats are more likely than liberals to travel abroad in cross-party delegations. For Republicans, the former relationship holds, though we uncover no relationship for the latter. Taken together, these results suggest that ideological extremism and partisan warfare is tearing at the norms surrounding congressional travel abroad, which is perhaps the last and best opportunity for members to form relationships across the aisle.

McGee, Zachary A. and Philip R. Moniz. 2021. “Gift Travel in the U.S. House of Representatives.” Political Research Quarterly. DOI: 10.1177/10659129211020830 Replication. Click here to read a copy.

Members of Congress take more than 2,000 trips sponsored by private organizations and interest groups every congress. Using a new data set of gift travel from 2007 to 2019 and interviews with former members of Congress, current and former congressional staffers, and staffers from interest groups that fund trips, we attempt to answer two core questions about this increasingly frequent behavior. Why do members take privately sponsored trips and what types of groups are driving this behavior? We argue that members of Congress take trips because they believe it makes them more effective legislators by exposing them to real-world consequences of their policy decisions and forcing them to build relationships with their fellow members. Trip sponsors, alternatively, seek to persuade and build relationships with members of Congress that ultimately shape their legislative coalitions. We find that trip-taking is associated with greater legislative effectiveness, in particular for Democrats, and that the provision of policy-specific information is a valuable benefit from taking these trips.

Fagan, E.J. and Zachary A. McGee. 2020. “Problem Solving and the Demand for Expert Information in Congress.” Legislative Studies Quarterly. DOI: 10.1111/lsq.12323 Replication. Click here to read a copy.

This article examines the relationship between demand for expert information from members of the US Congress and increased issue salience in the public. As problems become salient, policymakers should seek out expert information to define problems and identify effective policy solutions to address those problems. Previous work on elite mass public representation and government problem solving has relied on public actions by elected officials to evaluate this relationship. We rely instead on new data on the policy content of privately requested reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) from 1997 to 2017. We find strong evidence that members consult experts when issues become salient, even when controlling for legislative agendas.

Fagan, E.J., Zachary A. McGee, and Herschel F. Thomas III. 2019. “The Power of the Party: Conflict Expansion and the Agenda Diversity of Interest Groups.” Political Research Quarterly. DOI: 10.1177/1065912919867142 Replication. Click here to read a copy.

To what extent do political parties have an effect on the policy-related activity of interest groups? Drawing from ideas of conflict expansion and the structure of extended party networks, we argue that political parties are able to pull interest groups into more policy conflicts than they otherwise would be involved in. We posit that parties are able to draw interest groups to be active outside of established issue niches. We suggest that several mechanisms—shared partisan electoral incentives, reciprocity, identification with the means, and cue-taking behavior—lead groups to participate in more diverse political conflicts. By linking data on interest group bill positions and the policy content of legislation, we generate a novel measure of 158 interest groups’ alignment with political parties. We find that the more an interest group is ideologically aligned with a political party, the more diverse their issue agenda becomes.

McGee, Zachary A. and Bryan D. Jones. 2019. “Reconceptualizing the Policy Subsystem: Integration with Complexity Theory and Social Network Analysis.” Policy Studies Journal. 7(S1): S138–58. DOI: 10.1111/psj.12319 Click here to read a copy.

The concept of the policy subsystem is an essential building block for several of the basic frameworks of policy process studies. Over time issues have become more complex, crossing subsystem boundaries, and so subsystems have escalated in their complexity as well. It is increasingly insufficient to study just one policy subsystem and so scholars have turned to studying boundary‐spanning regimes or policy networks. In this essay, we review the major contributions to developing the concept of a policy subsystem and trace its evolution into broader conceptualizations like issue and policy networks. We argue that the future for theories of the policy process is in more explicit integration of complexity theory and more effective modeling of subsystems with the utilization of social network analysis. In closing, we discuss the enduring nature of the concept of policy subsystems and highlight studies that continue using it in innovative ways.

Chapters in Edited Volumes

Each of these chapters takes a different view of how conceptualizing individual decision-making as a boundedly rational, instead of comprehensively rational, process impacts our understanding of political agenda setting. Each chapter builds on the robust literature in public policy that is established explicitly on this approach. These chapters represent my approach to agenda setting in other research I have conducted and will continue to address.

McGee, Zachary A., Brooke N. Shannon, and Bryan D. Jones. 2021. “Bounded Rationality in Political Science.” In Routledge Handbook on Bounded Rationality, eds. Riccardo Viale and Konstantinos Katzikopoulos. New York: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781315658353

Shannon, Brooke N., Zachary A. McGee, and Bryan D. Jones. 2019. “Bounded Rationality and Cognitive Limits in Political Decision Making.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. New York: Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.961

Jones, Bryan D. and Zachary A. McGee. 2018. “Agenda Setting and Bounded Rationality.” In The Oxford Handbook of Behavioral Political Science. eds. Alex Mintz and Lesley Terris. Oxford: Oxford University Press.DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190634131.013.19

Working Papers

The Voting Behavior of the Federalist Society Senators in Federal Judicial Nominations (with Christine C. Bird and Jonathan M. King) (Under Review)
Using Prediction Markets as a Tool for Classroom and Civic Engagement (with Precious D. Hall) (Under Review)
Predicting Intraparty Faction Membership Decisions in the U.S. House of Representatives (In Progress)
Congressional Distribution of Power and the Reach of the Federal Government, 1865-1946 (with Derek A. Epp and Sean M. Theriault) (In Progress)