Welcome! I’m Mike, a postdoctoral researcher at the European New School of Digital Studies in the chair of digital democracy.

My research interests include intra-party factions, candidate nomination systems, and political communication. My recent Ph.D. thesis examines U.S. intra-party factions in congressional primary elections in the twenty-first century and considers their contribution to trends of partisan polarization in Congress.

I also serve as the co-PI of the Digital Campaigns & Elections (DiCE) Lab: www.dicelab.eu


Ph.D. Thesis

Partisan Polarization in Congressional Nominations:
How Ideological & Factional Primaries Influence Candidate Positions

Dissertation in Political Science, summa cum laude
Awarded December 2022

Committee: Christian Lammert (Chair), Sean M. Theriault, Rachel M. Blum, Curd B. Knüpfer, Thorsten Faas, and David Bosold

The thesis first documents the changing dynamics of U.S. congressional primary competition between 2006 and 2020, namely, the proliferation of ideological and factional contests. I then analyze the impact of ideological and factional primaries on candidate positions in terms of the selective (voter) effect, between-election adaptative effect, and within-election adaptative effect. I demonstrate that voters do not systematically reward non-centrist positioning even in primaries about ideological and factional differences, but that candidates often behave as if they do, adapting their positions both between and within election cycles.

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Blum, Rachel M. and Mike Cowburn. Forthcoming. “How Local Factions Pressure Parties: Activist Groups & Primary Contests in the Tea Party Era”. British Journal of Political Science.

Cowburn, Mike and Curd B. Knüpfer. 2023. “The Emerging Fault Line of Alternative News: Intra-Party Division in Republican Representatives’ Media Engagement”. Party Politics. 0(0):1-15.

Cowburn, Mike and Rebecca Kerr. 2023. “Inclusivity and Decentralisation of Candidate Selectorates: Factional Consequences for Centre-Left Parties in England, Germany, and the United States”. Political Research Quarterly. 72(1): 292-307.

Cowburn, Mike and Michael T. Oswald. 2020. “Legislator Adoption of the Fake News Label: Ideological Differences in Republican Representative Use on Twitter”. The Forum 18(3): 389–413.

Book Chapters

Cowburn, Mike. 2022. “Experience Narratives and Populist Rhetoric in U.S. House Primaries” in Michael T. Oswald (ed.) The Palgrave Handbook of Populism. Palgrave Macmillan.

Cowburn, Mike. 2020. “The Transformation of the Congressional Primary” in Michael T. Oswald (ed.) Mobilization, Representation and Responsiveness in The American Democracy. Palgrave Macmillan.

In Progress

Cowburn, Mike and Marius Sältzer. “Partisan Communication in Two-Stage Elections: The Effect of Primaries on Intra-Campaign Positional Shifts in Congressional Elections” [Revise & Resubmit].

Gomez, Gabriel and Mike Cowburn. “Hispanic Support for Donald Trump in 2020: The Centrality of Race & White Identity” [Under Review].

Cowburn, Mike. Party Transformation in Congressional Primaries [Book Manuscript, Under Review].

Cowburn, Mike and Meredith Conroy. “Where do Women Win Primaries? Candidate Gender, District Partisanship, and Congressional Nomination” [Working Paper].

Blum, Rachel M., Seth Masket, and Mike Cowburn. “Who Decides? Media, Maga, Money, and Mentions in the 2022 Republican Primaries” [Working Paper].

Cowburn, Mike and Sean M. Theriault. “Preventative Polarization: Republican Senators’ Adaptation in the Tea Party Era” [Working Paper].

Knüpfer, Curd, Yunkang Yang, and Mike Cowburn. “Tracing Information Flows Between Right-Wing Alternative News Sites and Republican Members of Congress” [Working Paper].

Commentary & Analysis

Cowburn, Mike. 2022. “The 2022 Midterms: A Turning Point for the Democratic and Republican Parties in Congress.” LSE United States Politics & Policy Blog.

Cowburn, Mike. 2020. “Not Just the Presidency: Congressional Primaries 2020.” Atlantische Akademie

Cowburn, Mike. 2020. “Fostering Engagement in Primaries and Caucuses.” PolticalScienceNow


2023Media & Democracy (MA Seminar)
2023Political Parties in the Digital Era (MA Seminar)
2021U.S. Political Parties in a Partisan Era (MA Seminar)
2019Polarization in US Politics (BA Seminar)
2018 & 2019 Teaching Assistant – Understanding North America (Political Science)


2019-2022Ph.D. Political Science
Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin – summa cum laude
2017-2019MA North American Studies
John-F-Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin – 1.0
2005-2008 BA Politics
University of Exeter – 2:1 Hons


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