Miller Center

Miller Center National Fellowship

Beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year, the National Fellowship Program, a longstanding initiative of the Miller Center, will fall under the leadership of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation at U.Va.. The Jefferson Scholars Foundation, created in 1980, currently offers the premier graduate fellowship and undergraduate scholarship at the University. To learn more about the National Fellows Program, including how to apply, click here.

Meet The Fellows

Emily Baer - Political Science, University of Minnesota

Project: "Party Factions and the Roots of Institutional Change in Congress: The Democratic Study Group and Liberal Democrats' Campaign to Reform the House of Representatives (1959-1994)"

Baer photo

Fellowship year: 2017

Mentor: Sarah Binder, George Washington UniversityBrookings Institute

Emily Baer' project addresses how factions within political parties promote policy and leadership change in the U.S. Congress through institutional reform. Congress is frequently criticized as an institution structured by rules and norms which make policy and leadership changes among its members difficult. Leaders are often slow to respond when policy preferences within parties change, a new group or constituency emerges, or elections reveal policy shifts among the public. The relative impermeability of parties to new ideas and leaders poses a significant problem for democratic representation and responsiveness within parties. This dissertation approaches these issues through a case study of the Democratic Study Group (DSG), the faction of liberal Democrats in the House from 1959-1994 and leader of the 1970s “reform era.” Liberals organized DSG out of their frustration with party leaders’ inability to overcome the power of southern conservative committee chairs, ultimately leading to a series of reforms significantly redistributing power between the Democratic leadership, committee chairs, and individual members. Today, this historic effort has taken on a renewed importance as a new faction – the Republican Freedom Caucus (analyzed as a comparative case) – has emerged to challenge the balance of power between junior members and party leaders.  But while the 1970s reform era is widely recognized for increasing representation and responsiveness in the Democratic Caucus, we know little about how a faction was empowered to lead the reform effort. In Baer' dissertation, she questions and analyzes using original archival research and in-depth interviews with former Members of Congress and their staffers: How do political parties respond to the changing preferences of their members? How does the rise of a new faction shape power in parties? And how can factions overcome the institutional hurdles to reforming rules and procedures, and expanding party leadership pathways and policy agendas?


Boris Heersink - Politics, University of Virginia

Project: 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.

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.


← Return to Fellowship home