Miller Center

Boris Heersink

Politics, University of Virginia

Beyond Service: National Party Organizations and Party Brands in American Politics

Heersink photo

Boris Heersink’s dissertation focuses on the historical development of the Democratic and Republican National committees (respectively the DNC and RNC) during the 19th and 20th century.The (limited) existing literature on these institutions has argued that party organizations have developed from powerful 19th century local institutions (dominated by party bosses) which controlled candidate selection, into national institutions which hold no such powers and function as mere 'service providers' to party members. Additionally, political scientists have noted that this historical development in national committee activities has not been linear and that, while majority parties in the 20th century frequently ignored their national party organizations, minority parties invested heavily in theirs. He argues that we can best explain both phenomena by viewing the national committees as tools political actors use to promote or define their party's brand. From this perspective, we can explain both why the national committees dramatically expanded their activities in the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as explain why, in subsequent decades, minority parties have had more active national committees than majority parties. Additionally, he argues that this perspective forces us to reconsider the image of the national committees as largely irrelevant ‘service providers’: he argues that the services the committees provide serve a specific (and important) role to members of the party, and that, in executing this task of brand-building, the national committees have played a crucial role in the creation of parties that share a truly national set of policy preferences.

Fellowship year: 2016

Mentor: Richard Valelly, Swarthmore College

Selected Recent Publications

"Measuring the Vice-Presidential Home State Advantage With Synthetic Controls." American Politics Research 44, no. 4 (July 2016)

"GOP voters picked Trump. Party leaders aren’t falling in line. Here’s why that’s surprising." (with Jeffery A. Jenkins) The Monkey Cage, The Washington Post, May 10, 2016.

"This research shows that vice presidential candidates actually do win votes in their home states." (with Brenton Peterson) The Monkey Cage, The Washington Post, April 26, 2016.

"The Republicans' Rules Dilemma." The New West, April 24, 2016.

"Bernie Sanders thinks the Democratic primary process ‘distorts reality.’ Does history back this up?" (with Jeffery A. Jenkins) The Monkey Cage, The Washington Post, April 17, 2016.

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