Michael S. Rocca

Associate Professor

Internship Coordinator

Photo: Michael Rocca
Email:  msrocca@unm.edu
Phone:  (505) 277-0016
Personal Website
Curriculum vitae
Office:  SSCO 2043

Research Area/s:

American Politics


Professor Rocca received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Davis in 2004. He is currently an Associate Professor of political science at the University of New Mexico. Professor Rocca's subfield is American politics and his primary research and teaching interests relate to American national institutions, particularly the US Congress. Most of his work deals with the politics of congressional position taking and campaign contributions, respectively. Professor Rocca's work appears in The Journal of Politics, The Forum, Politics, Groups and IdentitiesPolitical Research Quarterly, Legislative Studies Quarterly, American Politics Research, Social Sciences Quarterly, Congress and the Presidency and PS: Political Science and Politics. Professor Rocca is an award winning instructor who teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on American politics, the US Congress and the American presidency. He is currently the coordinator of the Political Science Internship Program.

Research Interests

Professor Rocca's research can be separated into three separate but related agendas: (1) campaign spending in US elections; (2) the politics of position taking in the U.S. Congress; and (3) minority representation in Congress. They are connected by one common theme: the nature of representation. Money in politics relates to who is represented and why. The topic has taken on added significance as election costs skyrocket following the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United ruling. Position taking—whether it is through roll call voting, speeches or bill sponsorship—is the most important way members of Congress provide representation to their constituents. And few questions are as timely and relevant in American politics as the value of descriptive representation. The demand for and importance of research on descriptive representation in Congress will only increase as America becomes more diverse, and as more minorities and women are elected into political office.

Recent Accomplishments

  1. Professor Rocca recently (2021) published a paper related to Super PAC spending in congressional elections. In “Allocating Unlimited Money: Which Congressional Elections Attract Super PAC Expenditures?” Dr. Jared Clay and Professor Rocca examine whether the allocation patterns of Super PACs differ from those of traditional PACs. Unlike traditional PACs, Super PACs cannot contribute directly to candidates or coordinate with campaigns. This results in a unique, narrow goal and allocation strategy. They argue that whereas most traditional PACs contribute to and spend on behalf of influential incumbents in Congress as a way to build and maintain long-term relationships, Super PACs spend in order to influence electoral outcomes. Utilizing outside spending data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Rocca and Clay analyze four U.S. House elections following the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United ruling (2012-2018). They find that Super PACs act like electoral strike forces; their investment in races is strongly determined by the electoral context, as opposed to the legislative influence of the incumbent member of Congress.

  2. Professor Rocca's most recent publication (2022), co-authored with Professor Gabriel Sanchez (UNM), Professor Lisa Sanchez (University of Arizona), and Dr. Jared Clay (South Dakota State), examines Latino representation in Congress. Forthcoming at Politics, Groups, and Identities, “Re-examining the Relationship Between Latino Population Size and Position Taking on Latino Interests in the US House of Representatives” revisits the relationship between district-level Latino population and substantive representation, measured as roll call voting on Latinos issues through National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) score ratings. In contrast to strong evidence that increases in district level African American population size leads to greater support of African American issues in Congress, forty years of research has been decidedly mixed on whether increases in district level Latino population size translates to greater support of Latino issues. This paper provides an update to this literature by analyzing members’ of Congress (MCs) support of Latino issues through roll call voting, as collected by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) in the 113th (2013-2014) through 115th (2017-2018) House of Representatives. First, they find no relationship between NHLA scores and Latino district-level population size among Democratic MCs. The reason is that Democrats’ NHLA baseline support is already very high, regardless of Latino population size. But Republican MCs’ support for NHLA positions in the 113th through 115th Congresses increases as the size of their Latino constituency increases. Interestingly, they find that this relationship is tied to a district’s Latino noncitizen population as well as their Latino voter-eligible population. So, while Democrats on the whole may provide greater substantive representation to Latinos than Republican MCs, Republican MCs are not entirely unresponsive to Latino interests, particularly if they are given sufficient reason to be responsive.

  3. Professor Rocca recently (2021) co-authored a major policy report funded by the Thornburg Foundation as part of their Good Government Reform grant program. The goal of the 55-page report, “A Report on Legislative Professionalism for the State of New Mexico,” was to, first, compare the New Mexico state legislature’s level of professionalism with states of similar population size and demographics and, second, to present the key findings from work dedicated to the study of legislative professionalization. As one of the least professionalized legislatures in the nation—NM legislators do not receive a salary, have shorter sessions than most of the nation, and much smaller staffs—debates surrounding our state legislature’s capacity has intensified in recent years, particularly during a pandemic that saw Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham use extraordinary powers to protect public health (https://www.abqjournal.com/2370046/nm-legislature.html). In the end, Professor Rocca and Professor Krebs (UNM) provide three recommendations for state policy makers that would improve the legislative capacity of our state legislature and inform future conversations on the subject. 

  4. Professor Rocca was recently (2022) awarded a grant from UNM’s Research Allocation Committee to collect data on corporate social responsibility (CSR). As polarization and gridlock continue to grip national politics, corporations have emerged as leading voices on salient issues such as gun control, civil rights and liberties, and climate change. The project seeks to explain this corporate political activity through the lens of CSR. Of interest is the extent to which political factors—such as the partisanship of the state in which companies are headquartered—drives their level of social and political activism. The question of why U.S. corporations engage in social responsibility is ripe for more research, particularly considering CSR’s growing importance to investors and market performance, and corporate America’s apparent increase in their willingness to engage in salient social and political debates. In the end, Professor Rocca's study will contribute to our understanding of corporate political activity as well as provide valuable insight into the rapidly changing market of corporate social responsibility.

  5. In 2021, Professor Rocca was awarded a UNM Digital Literacy Award as recognition of his "innovative contributions to digitalliteracy in the classroom and commitment to teaching excellence at the University of New Mexico." 

Selected Publications

Michael S. Rocca, Lisa Sanchez, Jared Clay, and Gabriel Sanchez. 2022. “Reexamining Latino Substantive Representation in Congress.” Politics, Groups, and Identities. Published online February 3.

Michael S. Rocca and Jared Clay. 2021. “Super PAC Spending in Congressional Elections.” The Forum. 19: 229-252.

Wendy Hansen and Michael S. Rocca. 2019. “The Impact of Citizens United on Large Corporations and Their Employees.” Political Research Quarterly. 72: 403-491.

Wendy L. Hansen, Michael S. Rocca and Brittany Ortiz. 2015. “The Effects of Citizens United on Corporate Spending in the 2012 Presidential Election.” Journal of Politics. 77: 535-545.

Michael S. Rocca and Stacy Gordon. 2013. “Earmarks as a Means and an End: The Link Between Earmarks and Campaign Contributions in the US House of Representatives.” Journal of Politics. 75: 241-253.

Michael S. Rocca, Gabriel Sanchez and Jason Morin. 2011. “The Institutional Mobility of Minorities in Congress.” Political Research Quarterly 64: 897-909.  Received Best Paper Award, Political Research Quarterly, 2011.

Michael S. Rocca and Stacy Gordon. 2010. “The Position-taking Value of Bill Sponsorship in Congress.” Political Research Quarterly 63: 387-397.

Michael S. Rocca. 2009. “9/11 and Presidential Support in the 107th Congress.” Congress and the Presidency 36: 272–295.

Michael S. Rocca, Gabriel Sanchez and Joseph Uscinski. 2009. “Congress and Foreign Policy: Congressional Action on the Darfur Genocide.” PS: Political Science and Politics 42: 489-496.

Michael S. Rocca, Gabriel Sanchez and Rongal Nikora. 2009. “The Role of Personal Attributes in African American Roll-Call Voting Behavior.” Political Research Quarterly 62: 408-414.

Michael S. Rocca and Gabriel Sanchez. 2008. “The Effect of Race and Ethnicity on Bill Sponsorship and Cosponsorship in Congress.” American Politics Research 36: 130-152.

Michael S. Rocca, Gabriel Sanchez and Joseph Uscinski. 2008. “Personal Attributes and Latino Voting Behavior in Congress.” Social Sciences Quarterly 89: 392-405.

Michael S. Rocca. 2007. “Non-Legislative Debate in the House of Representatives.” American Politics Research 35: 489-505.

Michael S. Rocca and Benjamin Highton. 2005. “Beyond the Roll Call Arena: The Determinants of Position Taking in Congress.” Political Research Quarterly 58: 303-316.

Michael S. Rocca. 2003. “Military Base Closures and the 1996 Congressional Elections.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 28: 529-550.

Other Writings

Michael S. Rocca and Timothy Krebs. 2021. A Report on Legislative Professionalism for the State of New Mexico.” Project funded by the Thornburg Foundation. 55 pages.

Wendy Hansen and Michael S. Rocca. 2019. “Worried About The Amount of Money in Politics? Don’t Blame Corporations or their Leaders.” London School of Economics US Centre daily blog on American Politics and Policy. Available at https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2019/05/31/worried-about-the-amount-of-money-in-politics-dont-blame-large-corporations-or-their-leaders/  2019.

Michael S. Rocca, Sharif Amlani, Julia Hellwege and Lisa Sanchez, (with the Committee for Economic Development). 2016. “Crony Capitalism, Corruption and the Economy in the State of New Mexico.” With the Committee for Economic Development. Project funded by the Thornburg Foundation. 66 pages.

Service Interests/Experience

Professor Rocca currently serves as the department of political science internship program coordinator. He have served on the UNM Athletic Council since 2011 and served as its chair from 2017-2021. Professor Rocca served as director of the Political Science Honors Program from 2011-2016 and graduate advisor from 2014-2017. He is a longtime member of the selection committee for the Fred Harris Congressional Internship Program and UNM Truman Scholarship, and served on the UNM Educator Preparation Council. Professor Rocca advises a number of student clubs and organizations, and mentors undergraduate research through programs such as the McNair Scholars Program, Mellon Mays Fellowship, and the POLS Honors Program. He continues to serve on multiple graduate comprehensive exam, thesis, and dissertation committees and review articles for prominent journals including the Journal of Politics, American Political Science Review, and American Journal of Political Science