Social Data Research Fellowship


Over the past several decades, American congressional elections have transformed from campaigns centered around local issues into nationally oriented—or “nationalized”—contests. Today it would seem that parties offer voters the same choices throughout the country, with each candidate in each district running on the same party-driven platform. To remedy our current state of politics, reforms must be made to refocus candidate attention away from national politics and back toward local concerns. To achieve this aim, it is crucial to take stock of our current electoral environment. My dissertation constitutes an important first step toward this endeavor by providing a comprehensive overview of the state of modern campaigns. Further, employing data on issues-of-the-day like the Opioid Epidemic and #MeToo movement, I identify the conditions under which candidates still “go local.” To explore congressional candidate campaigns, I embark on an ambitious data collection effort. I plan to collect the policy platforms from campaign websites for all primary election candidates for the House of Representatives who ran in 2018 or are running in 2020. Once completed, this collection will be the first comprehensive data set of candidate campaign platforms. These text data will provide important insights into how today’s candidates employ social media in their campaigns.

Principal Investigator

Rachel Porter

PhD Candidate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Rachel Porter is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received her MA in political science from the University of North Carolina, and holds a BA from the University of Georgia. Her research interests are in American political institutions, congressional campaigns, primary elections, and quantitative methods. Most recently, her research has focused on how differences in gender and political experience affect candidate self-presentation in primary elections. This work is forthcoming in Political Research Quarterly. In her dissertation, Porter explores the dynamics of modern campaigns for the House of Representatives. She demonstrates that in today’s party-driven, nationalized elections, congressional candidates still run on the local projects and problems important to constituents. To illustrate some of the ways candidates “go local” in modern campaigns, she employs an original data set of text from congressional campaign websites. This collection of over 29,000 policy positions from nearly 4,000 candidate websites constitutes the first comprehensive data set of congressional campaign text on issue positions. Employing these data, Porter investigates if and how candidates discuss important issues-of-the-day like the opioid epidemic and the #MeToo movement in terms of their local constituency.