Stephen presenting in front of a window and projection screen at a conference.

Stephen's conducts research in the field of American political development. His research agenda is motivated by an interest in institutional and ideational development, pressure groups, legislative behavior, and political strategy. Stephen focuses on qualitative research, with inquiries heavily influenced by constitutional law, history, philosophy, and political science.

His dissertation extends the concept of political opportunities in order to help explain how policy enterpeneurs overcome long-term periods of political stalemate. Through process-tracing and detailed case studies,  Stephen finds that manipulating political opportunities is a key variable in achieving policy objectives, especially for underrepresented or disadvantaged groups.

Articles in Refereed Journals 

Philadelphia reconsidered: participant curation, the Gerry Committee, and US constitutional design

Stephen C. Phillips, Alex P. Smith, and Peter R. Licari   |   2022 (Vol. 190, 3: 40726)   |   Public Choice

Legislative design was a critical question at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The peculiar compromise that was struck—featuring proportional and republican elements—defies the logic of the Convention’s majority rule. We investigate how in establishing the new national legislature, small state delegates were able to prevail over the large state majority and secure the Connecticut Compromise. We argue that the small state coalition’s victory owes to their strategy at a critical juncture: the Gerry Committee. The Gerry Committee amplified the contours of the debate over legislative design and the careful curation of its participants precipitated a shift of structural and creative freedom allowing for the consideration of alternative solutions. The Committee produced an environment favorable to a compromise on legislative structure and power by manipulating the policy dimensions connecting representation, taxation, and slavery. Participant curation was essential in allowing political opponents—the small states—to overcome unfavorable conditions, maximize utility, and craft a proposal capable of approval by delegates and eventual constitutional ratification.

Ways and Means: Teaching Political Strategy and Heresthetic by Simulating the Budget Process

Alex P. Smith and Stephen C. Phillips   |   2021 (Vol. 17, S1: 93–103)   |   Journal of Political Science Education

Simulations offer opportunities for students to receive instruction in political strategies and practice developing political skills without the real-world consequences faced by policymakers. Budget simulations introduce students to collective action problems prevalent at all levels of American government and can be used in a variety of courses. While developing and passing a budget provides students with practice, carefully constructing the simulation introduces the heresthetic tactics of agenda setting, strategic voting, and dimension manipulation. Students must navigate conflicting interests—maximize personal gains and risk not adopting a budget or cooperate and approve a budget that may not align with personal preferences. Following the simulation, instructors help students identify examples of the various strategies utilized. When used in American government and political institution courses, the budget simulation helps students discern choices policymakers encounter and recognize the strategies political actors use when facing collective action problems.

Book Project

One of the greatest questions in American public policy is how groups seize political opportunities for their benefit. Applying McAdam’s political process model, I examine the political processes surrounding consideration of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Equal Rights Amendment. Utilizing process-tracing and causal modeling, I analyze how state and non-state actors utilize varying strategies, organizational structures and endogenous resources, and other political mechanisms to pursue reconstitutions of civil rights policy. Findings illustrate that explanations of social movement activity and outcomes can be partially grounded in their ability to manipulate political opportunities.

Working Papers

The Logic of Political Opportunities

Stephen C. Phillips   |   Under review

One of the greatest questions in American public policy is how groups utilize political opportunities for their benefit. Through examining social movement activity surrounding consideration of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, I analyze how civil rights leaders pursued their policy goals. Results indicate the success of social movements can be partially grounded in their ability to manipulate  political opportunities. Moreover, political opportunities provide entrepreneurs the ability to evaluate and utilize appropriate strategies that increase their probability of winning the policy debate.

Partisanship at Water’s Edge

Stephen C. Phillips

Literature demonstrates procedural motions are increasingly salient and public for elites and the general public. Yet, previous research on presidential action in the legislative arena focuses largely on final passage roll call votes. For presidents and legislators, taking a stand on many procedural votes is characterized by low cost and high potential benefit. While political capital may be expended, procedural votes provide an opportunity for presidents to influence the agenda, change issue framing, and build a legislative coalition. Through an analysis of cloture motions in the post-war period, I examine presidential success on procedural votes. Specifically, I analyze patterns of success in regard to the distinction between foreign and domestic policy as well as on executive nominations, accounting for presidential popularity and party control.