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My dissertation analyzes the varying ways candidates may seek to modify voter perceptions of their character and positions. I argue that the considerations which shape tactical campaign communications extend beyond relaying owned issues and include stereotype management and district connection. Thus, this project includes analysis of all variants of campaign communication, using computational methods to identify them, and experimental designs to assess their efficacy.

In my first project on candidate identity & strategic campaign messages using candidate website texts. This project, presented at MPSA and New Faces in Political Methodology 2017, addressed the ways candidates may alter the messages they deliver to voters, and how this varies given candidate demographic identity and party affiliation. My second project tests the marginal effect of these candidate messages on improving vote choice and voter perceptions. Preliminary findings show that the demographic identity and party affiliation of a given candidate influences voter perceptions. In my final project, presented at APSA 2017, I seek to understand how candidates determine both what messages to deliver, and whether to target in-groups and out-groups with differing messages.


Cryer, J. (2018). "Navigating Identity in Campaign Messaging: The Influence of Race & Gender on Strategy in U.S. Congressional Elections." (pdf) (under review)

AbstractResearch finds that voters prefer male leadership traits and view racial minorities as incompetent. However, there is limited evidence that underrepresented candidates experience diminished electoral outcomes. I argue that while voters may hold negative attitudes about demographic groups, underrepresented candidates are aware of voter perceptions and leverage messaging to attenuate them. To test for this strategic behavior, I analyze variation in messages by race and gender on over 6,000 campaign websites from 2008—2016 using a Structural Topic Model and split-sample design. Findings show that underrepresented candidates’ websites are associated with more messages regarding competency, work-ethic, and qualifications. These messages correlate with increased vote share and voter sentiment, accounting for the seeming discrepancy between voter bias and election outcomes in the literature. By revealing how identity shapes communication and how messaging corresponds to outcomes, these results have broad implications for studies of political communication, representation, and U.S. Congressional elections.

Cryer, J. (2017). "Confronting the 'Electability Trap': Effects of Campaign Messages, Information, and Perceived Competence on Voter Evaluations of Underrepresented Candidates" (pdf)

AbstractWhile voters may form negative impressions of candidates that do not immediately fit traditional expectations, equal electoral success rates demonstrate that voters are not biased against women and racial minority candidates. I argue that candidates address voter perceptions through their campaign strategy and messages. Thus, a key dimension of campaign strategy is the extent to which perceptions of candidate gender and racial identity may encourage, or even necessitate, the use of differing campaign message strategies. This paper seeks to determine whether candidate profile characteristics might account for the seeming discrepancy between voter bias and electoral outcomes. I use large-scale observational and experimental messages to show how candidate identity, communication---particularly image-managing messages that express individualistic work-ethic and perseverance---and signals of competency affect voter perceptions. In a preliminary forced-choice paired-conjoint and a menu-based choice experiment (n=500), I find that constituents make judgments regarding vote choice, candidate issue competencies, and character using identity. Nevertheless, respondents positively respond to other dimensions of candidate profiles, specifically messages of work-ethic and previous political experience. In particular, Image-Management is consistently shown to be associated with a significant positive increase in these evaluations. In the menu-based survey experiment, I find that when respondents craft the candidates they would consider ideal and worthy of their vote, women and racial minorities are often recommended to pursue messages of Image-Management and higher educational attainment. Taken together, these findings suggest that candidate messaging may provide an account for why women and racial minority candidates are able to obtain electoral success despite evidence of voter biases. This work provides cutting-edge analysis of strategic campaign messaging and puts to the test its effectiveness in attenuating voter biases.

Cryer, J. (2018). "Indelible Red: The Path Dependent Political and Economic Effects of the Home Owner's Loan Corporation."

AbstractAfter the Great Depression, the Federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC)—which ended in 1951 after refinancing over one million mortgages—surveyed experts nationwide for the creation of color-coded risk level and assessment maps. These maps reflected perceptions of neighborhoods by financial stakeholders and may have impacted the handling of individual mortgages. I argue that because the institutions and historical contexts of neighborhoods have long-lasting effects on future economic and political dynamics, differences in the HOLC City Survey Program risk designations may have had enduring effects. HOLC amplified neighborhood differences in investment opportunities and housing values, perpetuating the trends of poverty. This paper explores path dependence, by showing how historical institutional decisions and perceptions alter neighborhood effect trajectories. Using spatial regression models and geographically weighted regression, I show that neighborhoods that received one of the two lowest HOLC designations, Red (D) or Yellow (C), are on average likely to have lower income-to-poverty ratios. Moreover, using a geographic regression discontinuity design, I find that the negative HOLC valuations influenced voter engagement and turnout.

Cryer, J. (2017). "Targeted Messages and Constituent Demographics: How Strategic Candidate Communication Leverages District Constituencies."

Abstract Micro-targeting of messages occurs often in strategic campaigns, as candidates actively recruit constituencies through their claims, promises, and appeals. Targeted campaign communication may come in the form of either particularistic or collective and broad-principled, messages. Targeted campaign communication occurs primarily through the use of issue communications and representative claims. And yet, which policy and representative claims do candidates use to increase support among voters? How do these targeted claims affect district satisfaction and electoral outcomes? The small, but growing, literature on targeted campaign communication, would benefit from further study about to whom, and under what conditions, targeted messages are effectively delivered. I argue that the policy topics and representative claims communicated by candidates are influenced by the demographic and political groups in the district. To test this I draw upon the Candidate Campaign Website dataset (2018) which contains archived websites spanning the 2008-2016 federal elections. Using a structural topic modeling and lexical analysis, I find evidence of strategic topic selection influenced by district demographics. In accordance with the literature, district political alignment and constituency sub-groupings influence the topics, claims, and polarization used by a candidate. Moreover, these topics, claims, and partisan language correlate with voter turnout in districts, suggesting that targeted messages do have campaign effects.