Profile picture for user Robert Parks Van Houweling

Robert Van Houweling

Associate Professor
510 643-6678
764 Social Sciences Building
Office Hours
On Leave 2022-2023
Personal Statement

Professor Van Houweling studies how voters, politicians, electoral institutions, and legislative institutions interact to shape representation in the United States. His research is driven by an interest in better understanding the representational linkages between electorates and officeholders. He received his B.A. in political science from the University of Michigan in 1993 and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2003. He worked as a Legislative Assistant to Senator Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota from 1993 to 1995. He has published articles in a variety of political science journals, including the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and Studies in American Political Development.

Professor Van Houweling is engaged in two ongoing projects. The first project, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, examines how citizens respond to various aspects of candidates' policy positions, including their degree of ambiguity and consistency over time.  The current focus of this project is a book with Michael Tomz entitled Political Repositioning that is under contract with Princeton University Press.  This book includes a series of experiments embedded in public opinion surveys that test a theory of candidate positioning and repositioning.  It also employs an original and comprehensive collection of U.S. presidential primary and general election debates to explore the roles of the consistency and ambiguity of candidates' positions in campaigns over the past 70 years.  Drawing from this it develops further experiments that focus on how officeholders handled and voters reacted to interesting instances of repositioning in the last decade, including those surrounding the implementation and lifting of Covid restrictions and the timing of Supreme Court nominations.  One conclusion of the book is that the tendency of voters to punish candidates who reposition has the potentially salutary effect of holding politicians to their campaign promises.  However, it also locks officeholders into already polarized positions and prevents them from changing course and compromising even in the face of new facts and overwhelming public opinion.  Aside from the book, Van Houweling and Tomz have also conducted large-scale survey experiments on repositioning in a variety of countries including the UK, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and Japan to understand how its implications vary in different cultural and institutional settings.

The second project examines how modern congressional majority parties employ legislative tactics to weaken representational constraints on their members. One unique aspect of this Congress-focused work is that it uses surveys and survey experiments to better understand how the electorate provides incentives for, and constraints upon, the procedural strategies legislators adopt. The most recent work in this project is an article manuscript co-authored with David Foster entitled "Majoritarian Agenda Control."  It offers a formal model that explores how keeping issues off of the legislative agenda can provide cover for incumbent officeholders who need to satisfy both a primary and general electorate to remain in office.  It shows how these legislators can, in equilibrium, find it in their interest to limit the agenda even in circumstances where doing so prevents passage of a policy that they or a pivotal element of their constituency would favor.  This offers a new perspective on a variety of legislative institutions, including majority party gatekeeping in the House and the filibuster in the Senate, that prevent the passage of policies with broad public support.

Research Interests
Political Parties
Voting Behavior
Spatial Models of Candidate Competition
Experimental Methods
B.A., Political Science, University of Michigan
Ph.D., Harvard University

Under Contract


Working papers




University of Califorina, Berkeley, Political Science Department, 2006 -  Present

  • American Field Seminar (Ph.D. Seminar)
  • Legislative Institutions (Ph.D. Seminar)
  • Introduction to Political Psychology (Ph.D Seminar)
  • Introduction to American Politics (Undergraduate Lecture)
  • Congress (Undergraduate Lecture)

University of Michigan, Political Science Department and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, 2002 - 2004

  • Legislative Institutions (Ph.D. Seminar)
  • Poltical Environment of Policy Analysis (MPP Lecture)
  • Legislative Policy Process (MPP Seminar)

Stanford University, Political Science Department, 2001 - 2002

  • Congress (Undergraduate Lecture)
  • Political Parties (Undergraduate Lecture)