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Welcome! I’m Mike, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the Graduate School of North American Studies of the Freie Universität Berlin. My research interests include political parties, intra-party factions, and candidate nomination systems. My thesis examines intra-party factions in recent congressional primary competitions and considers their contribution to trends of partisan polarization in Congress.


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

Dissertation in Political Science

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

Cowburn, Mike and Rebecca Kerr. 2022. “Inclusivity and Decentralisation of Candidate Selectorates: Factional Consequences for Centre-Left Parties in England, Germany, and the United States”. Political Research Quarterly.

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]

Blum, Rachel M. and Mike Cowburn. “How Local Factions Pressure Parties: Activist Groups & Primary Contests in the Tea Party Era” [Revise & Resubmit]

Mike Cowburn and Curd B. Knüpfer. “The Emerging Fault Line of Alternative News: Intra-Party Division in Republican Representatives’ Media Engagement” [Under Review]

Other Publications

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

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


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


2019-presentPh.D. Political Science
Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin
2017-2019MA North American Studies
John-F-Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin – 1.0
Master Thesis: Mediators of Faction: Ideological Competition in Congressional Primaries
2005-2008BA Politics
University of Exeter – 2:1 Hons


Download CV as pdf ↓