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.

"I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions... But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

Thomas Jefferson (1816)

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


Stephen's dissertation examines the link between American constitutional development and equality under the law. A well-established body of interdisciplinary research focuses on the relationship between periodicity and civil rights, and a largely separate literature expounds the effects of constitutions on political development. Despite their connection, few attempts have been made in political science to link these topics and investigate how American constitutional development shapes our shared understanding of equality under the law and vice versa. Using process-tracing and causal modeling, I examine the policy processes surrounding the consideration of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Equal Rights Amendment, with a focus on the efforts of social movements and interest organizations. Specifically, I analyze how public and private actors, through the lens of policy entrepreneurs, utilize political strategies to pursue reconstitutions of equality politics.

Journal Articles

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

Alex P. Smith and Stephen C. Phillips | Forthcoming in Journal of Political Science Education | View or Download APSA Preprint

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 polarization.