Stephen standing in front of lectern at a conference with a co-author.

Stephen's conducts research in the field of American political development. His research agenda is motivated by an interest in institutional and ideational development, parties in government, 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 periods of policy stasis. 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.


One of the greatest questions in American public policy is how groups seize political opportunities for their benefit. Applying McAdam’s political process model and Kingdon’s theory of policy entrepreneurship, 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.

Journal Articles

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

Alex P. Smith and Stephen C. Phillips | 2021 | 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.

Working Papers

Philadelphia Reconsidered: Political Strategy, Heresthetic, and Legislative Design

Stephen C. Phillips, Alex P. Smith, and Peter R. Licari

William Riker began the study of heresthetic by studying the Constitutional Convention but did not explore what he identifies as the Convention's most significant debate: representation in Congress. We expand Riker’s heresthetical framework by examining debate at two critical junctures: the New Jersey Plan and Gerry Committee. After the failure of the New Jersey Plan, we identify an instance of agenda stenting—preventing the foreclosure in dimensionality of a decision-making space, keeping the proposal for equal representation alive. We assert the appointment of the Gerry Committee precipitated an eremic shift of structural and creative liberty. The Committee bypassed institutional gatekeepers and veto players and served as a signaling game provoking concession. Heresthetic tactics were essential in allowing state federalists to overcome unfavorable conditions and craft a proposal capable of approval by delegates and ratification.

Partisanship at Water’s Edge: Procedural Votes, Two-Presidency Thesis, and Presidential Deference

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.