Donald M. Gooch Web

Assistant Professor of Political Science
Stephen F. Austin State University

Donald M. Gooch Web

A Resource for SFA students & a source of biographical, professional, and related information for all interested parties


My research is within the general areas of public law and American politics. My research agenda includes assessing political polarization at the mass public and elite levels in the American electorate, studying the Supreme Court from both a behavioral and institutional perspective, the effects of campaign finance regulation on campaign contributions, civic education and civic efficacy, and formal theory and the spatial theory of voting. My research exhibits methodological diversity and sophistication and employs the gamut of social science techniques to answer important questions and contribute to the political science literature. My research includes original data collections on civic education and policy implementation of Supreme Court religious doctrine, analysis of time series data on the American electorate and the institutions of American government using sophisticated multivariate modeling, and theoretical and deep contextual work in my areas of interest. I have employed the more time series cross-sectional statistical modeling in contributing to our understanding of how campaign laws affect contributions in a state-level natural experiment. Furthermore he has employed large N national samples to assess a number of important hypotheses in these two areas, yielding highly generalizable results.

Since my appointment to the SFA faculty in the fall of 2012, I have published one peer-reviewed academic paper and have a second round revise and resubmit on a second article. The published article is “Breaking the Banks: The Effect of State Campaign Finance Regulatory Environments and Regulatory Regimes on State Campaign Contributions and Spending” with Chapman Rackaway of Fort Hays State University. Our article analyzes four election cycles of state-level campaign finance data in order to assess the comparative effects of campaign finance regulatory regimes and environments on campaign finance. We find that differences in the specific regulations and how they interact with one another does affect campaign contributions – marginally decreasing these contributions controlling for other state-level differences. However, these effects are statistically significant but not substantially large, suggesting contributors are somewhat but not substantially restrained by campaign finance regulations. This article was accepted for publication at the Midsouth Political Science Review August 25th, 2014 and is scheduled for publication in the December edition of the journal.

The second article, currently under review with a second round revise and resubmit at American Politics Research, is “Ideological Polarization on the Supreme Court: Trends in the Court’s Institutional Environment and across Regimes, 1937-2008.” Judicial polarization is an important but underexplored aspect of judicial behavior. This analysis employs a gamut of measures to assess polarization on the Supreme Court across chief justice and jurisprudential regimes. I examine how Court polarization is responsive to polarization in coordinate institutions, and I examine individual justice polarization and ideological extremity over full tenures on the Court. I find mixed evidence of greater polarization in the abortion rights regime. I find strong evidence of increasing Court polarization concomitant with congressional and presidential polarization since the 1950s across chief justice regimes. Court polarization is responsive to polarization in coordinate institutions. I do not find that individual justices become more polarized over time. Justices shift ideologically over their careers, and this shift is on average to the Left. These findings are robust across multiple specifications of the models, multiple alternative measurements, and controlling for other factors which might influence polarization.

I have been part of a multi-institution project on civic literacy and civic education since 2007. As part of the Arkansas Civic Education Group, I have testified before the Arkansas legislature’s committee on higher education and penned op-eds promoting civic education in media such as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The bulk of this work has involved a continuing data collection on civic education and civic literacy at Arkansas Tech University, and now at SFA, that has already resulted in a peer-reviewed publication with my co-principal investigator, Michael Rogers of Arkansas Tech University. Since joining SFA, I have added SFA to the institutions where we have implemented our Civic Education project, with SFA IRB approval. This research employs the measures of civic literacy derived from the citizenship exam instrument we have reported previously (Gooch and Rogers, 2012). A version of the citizenship exam has been given in ATU American Government courses since 2007 on a semi-annual basis, and the data collection at SFA began in the fall of 2012. We began collecting political participation, interest and civic efficacy data in the spring 2012 ATU semester posttest and have instituted that collection here at SFA. This survey was implemented utilizing a pretest-posttest quasi-experimental research design at three institutions for this data collection in order to broaden the scope of the assessment and in order to improve on the generalizability of the results. The survey was implemented in a pretest and posttest at all three institutions: Arkansas Tech University, Stephen F. Austin State University, and Sam Houston State University. At ATU and SHSU the instrument was implemented in standard American Government courses. The SFA implementation has primarily been in PSC 142 Introduction to American Government (Structure & Function) courses at SFA, though we have recently added PSC 141 collections as well.

I have working papers in various stages of completion. I have a paper on the mass-elite dynamic of ideological polarization in the American electorate, a paper on group polarization on religiosity, and papers on gay rights and abortion polarization that have all been presented at conferences and, with some further work, will be submissions to academic journals in the near future. I have a project with Dr. Steve Galatas on Texas judicial elections which will be presented at the 2015 SPSA conference in New Orleans. I am implementing Phase Two of the Abel-Gooch project on Supreme Court religious doctrine the fall and spring of the 2014-2015 academic year. Lastly, I am in development of a book proposal on political polarization with Dr. Lee Payne, with potential contributions from Dr. John Petrocik and Dr. Keith Poole, to be submitted to an academic press in the near future.


Currently I am working on several projects in Public Law, American Politics, Rational Choice, and Public Policy. They are as follows:
  1. Political Polarization: This set of projects relate to my dissertation work and involve studying political polarization at the mass and elite levels as well as the linkages between the two. The work focuses on clearing up confusions regarding the concept of political polarization by developing operational definitions and examining polarization as an empirical phenomenon over the last four decades. I currently have working papers on polarization in social issue trends, abortion, gay rights, and polarization between groups such as political parties and religious and secular groups. I have an article on polarization in the U.S. Supreme Court under review at American Politics Research

  2. Campaign Finance Regulatory Frameworks in the States: This is a project conducted along with my colleague, Dr. Chapman Rackaway, where we examine state campaign finance data and assess the extent to which state campaign finance laws affect the number and kind of contributors, the level of campaign spending, partisan advantage, and the electoral results in state elections. A first cut at the data was published in the Midsouth Political Science Review in 2014.

  3. Civic Education & Literacy in Arkansas: This project is based on an IRB-approved student survey conducted every semester at Arkansas Tech University in the American Government courses which attempts to assess the extent of student knowledge of civics, assess the impact of civic education on civic literacy as well as the prospects for civic action among young people. It has since expanded to two other regional universities in Texas: Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin State University. This project is one of several civic education projects coordinated throughout the state of Arkansas in addition to national efforts. This project is coordinated by my co-author, Dr. Michael Rogers. We are currently editing a volume on Civic Education in the 21st Century to be published by Lexington Books in 2015.

  4. Supreme Court Doctrine as Implemented in Schools: In the fall of 2013 I began a project with Dr. Charles Abel on the implementation of precedential directives by the U.S. Supreme Court on religious expression in schools that builds on the research design proposed by Able and Hacker (2006) in their article on local compliance with USSC decisions. Abel and Hacker argued that public school officials are particularly well-situated to limit or open the “theory-space” of religious expression in schools. Our project involves three phases of data collection designed to provide an accounting of institutional compliance with USSC doctrine on religious expression, and an assessment of compliance with those institutional policies by the street-level bureaucrats responsible for translating that policy into action. Phase One was a data collection that employed an online survey of Texas primary and secondary school superintendents. We received permission to survey members of the TASA (Texas Association of School Administrators) and were given access to their membership in the fall of 2013. We implemented the survey from December of 2013 through February of 2014. We presented the survey and its design at the SPSA conference in the spring of 2014, and will present empirical findings from this survey at SPSA in the spring of 2015. Through our survey instrument we explore the diversity of institutional responses to USSC doctrine on religious expression from the perspective of school administrators, the varying degrees of compliance with these policies by school officials, and the factors which determine levels of compliance and knowledge of USSC doctrine. Phase Two of the project involves an online survey of SFA students that focuses on their experiences in their primary and secondary schools in Texas and their perspectives on school policies on religious expression. We received IRB approval to implement this survey in the summer of 2014. Phase Three of the project will involve a survey of Texas primary and secondary school principals. .

  5. Assumptions of Rational Choice: The purpose of this project is to test the fundamental assumptions of rational choice theory using a valid and reliable survey instrument in the classroom setting to assess the ability of students to rate candidates and issues, order their preferences across the available alternatives and issues, and use that ordering to make transitive-consistent and rational choices The objective of the project is to produce valid and reliable data across a sufficiently large cross-section of sample participants that helps answer these significant and important questions. I use an IRB-approved survey instrument administered to students in political science courses to test the RC assumptions.

  6. Party Crashers - the Tea Party in Congress: The Tea Party movement swept a number of freshman representatives into the House for the 112th Congress concomitant with the Republican ascension to majority party status. Tea Partiers tend to self-identify as fiscal hawks, and the movement tended to focus on debt and government spending as its key issues. I investigate two aspects of Tea Party behavior in the 112th Congress in order to assess how different Tea Party members of Congress are from the Republican Caucus and if they behave differently than conservative Republicans. 1) I compare Tea Party identifier ideology (both the Tea Party Caucus and Tea Party-affiliated) with other non-identifying Tea Party Republicans to assess whether the Tea Party is ideologically distinct from other Republicans and other members of Congress. 2) I assess how the Tea Party in Congress influenced legislative action using scored votes for the Family Research Council and the Club for Growth. I hypothesize that the Tea Party movement has contributed to partisan polarization in Congress. I hypothesize that Tea Party members of Congress are ideologically extreme, and are ideologically extreme in both the fiscal and social dimensions..

  7. Texas Judicial Elections Competitiveness:This project examines the competitiveness of judicialelections in Texas. My co-author on the project is Dr. Steve Galatas, SFA. We use the competitiveness index developed by Endersby, Galatas,and Rackaway to assess the relative competitivness of Texas judicial elections and model determinants of competitiveness in those elections. A preliminary analysis will be presented at the 2015 Southern Political Science Association Annual Conference

  8. Issue Placements and the Spatial Theory of Voting Spatial models of politics assume that voters choose candidates (or parties) that closer to them on salient issue scales. Yet empirical tests of spatial models often include voter self-placement on issue scales only. The correct spatial assumption is that voters support candidates who they perceive to be closer on issuescales, so empirical tests should also include voter perception of candidate location. Survey data demonstrate that many voters cannot make assessments of candidate location, or even self-placement onissues. Empirical models should incorporate these non-responses, as non-response to either candidate location or self-placement may reveal relative salience about issues. Listwise deletion or other procedures to deal with missing datalose valuable information for spatial models. Respondent inabilityto estimate candidate or self-placement may be accounted for by individual weights of issue scales. Datafrom American National Election Studies for several presidential elections are used to demonstrate thatimproved techniques for analyzing opinion data improve the performance of the spatial model of politics.Results show that many voters engage in issue voting. Moreover, incorporating perceptions improves the spatial theory of voting both theoretically and empirically.

  9. Neutrality in Political Science TAcademics have a privileged position in society as arbiters, developers, and creators of theoretical and empirical knowledge. To the degree that political scientists are relied upon as arbiters of, developers of, and creators of theoretical and empirical knowledge on politics and public policy, that authority is dependent upon a perception of political scientists as dedicated to an objective, if imperfect, inquiry into politics and thus a neutral disposition on the political controversies and puzzles they elucidate. Epistemic authority is derived from expertise and specialized knowledge, and thus a prerequisite of the capacity of political scientists to inform the public policy conversation is that they be reliable and neutral truth-tellers. Activism necessarily entails abandoning neutrality and truth-telling in favor of the pursuit of social justice. It requires of the political scientist an obligation to choose sides in ideological debates, make value choices, and work to shape society such that in conforms to those value choices. Such a mission undermines the epistemic authority of political scientists. It hijacks the authoritative license of academics on behalf of an effort that is fundamentally at odds with the informational role from which that authority is derived. In this article I will detail and justify the above neutrality thesis, expand upon and discuss examples of activism and how they fundamentally undermine the credibility of political scientists as truth tellers, and advance an argument that political scientists should eschew activism and relegate themselves, in their roles as academic experts and public intellectuals, to the role of neutral information providers. Much as a physician, a counselor, a teacher, and a mechanic must separate and distinguish their professional advice from that of their personal views and opinions, so too must the political scientist. Activism should be a strictly off-duty endeavor for the political scientist, with neutrality and objectivity, however unattainable these ideals may be in real world practice, their watchwords and mottos. Ironically, a political science which observes such restrictions is likely to have a greater capacity to shape politics and policy than one which abandons neutrality in favor of activism.

  10. The Use and Abuse of Discretion by Administrative Agencies: Partisan Politics by Alternative Means: I explore the constitutional crisis of administrative law in the 21st century – specifically the ways in which executive agencies use their broad discretion to pursue politics in seemingly neutral administrative contexts. Polarization has paralyzed the democratic branches where partisan battles were traditionally waged. With an effective stalemate in the normal channels of partisan politics, this gridlock has incented political actors to seek alternative venues for pursuing political ends. For example, I outline illustrations of this phenomenon such as the revoking of the “Redskins” trademark by the U.S. patent office, the taking up of the issue of whether “Redskins” should be a forbidden pejorative by the FCC, and the IRS targeting of conservative groups for scrutiny under campaign finance. I outline and delineate these controversial uses of discretion, why they present political, democratic theory, constitutional and separation of powers problems, how the Court has, in its administrative law decisions, paved the way for administrative institutions to engage in politics using their discretion, and assess whether the problem is likely to become better or worse, and what potential ways that this “problem” might be hemmed in with a more robust enforcement of separation of powers doctrine by the Court.

  11. Presidential Signing Statements: In this study of presidential signing statements, I examine several hypotheses and rival alternative hypotheses on the impact signing statements have on public policy and legislative outupt at the federal level. My primary hypotheses is that ideological and partisan differences between the President and Congress lead to more signing statements, longer signing statements, and more “critical” signing statements where president’s 1) declare part of the law to be unconstitutional 2) declare a presidential interpretation of the law contrary to Congress’s interpretation. This project is currently in the data collection stage

SCHOLARSHIP TO DATE (Under Construction)


Review of Mann's Unsafe at Any Margin
Review of Cameron's Veto Bargaining
Review of Krehbiel's Information and Legislative Organization

CONFERENCE PAPERS (see Vitae for specifics)

WPSA Conference 2002: "Whither the Attitudinal Model?"
MWPSA Conference 2003: "Campaign Contribution Limits in the States"


American Politics
"Dimensions of Candidate Evaluation in the 1996 Presidential Election"
"Replication of Krehbiel's 'Gridlock' Analysis in Pivotal Politics "
Krehbiel Replication Project Data

Public Policy
Responsiveness, Values, and Political Control in EPA Enforcement Activities, 1980-2000

Political Theory
The Normative vs Empirical in Aristotle's Politics
Notions of Social Justice and the Inherent Problems in Pursuit
Rational Choice & Hobbsian Logic
Formal and Spatial Modeling


H&PS Brownbag Presentation Fall 2009




WIA Activity Codes
Toolbox Codebook
Toolbox Request