Political Science: The Cure for Election Anxiety

Reporters are discovering a new phenomenon this year: election anxiety.  This year’s contests, particularly the one for President, have Americans worried and minds racing.

The cure is right here: political science. It is the key to calming mental chatter, reducing stress, re-centering energy, and living in the now.

According to advocates of mediation and mindfulness, just sitting still and breathing deeply can bring everything from feeling slightly more peaceful to pure joy. As mindfulness advocate Eckhart Tolle would say, there is only the present moment. It’s always now.

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”

In this particularly bizarre election year, it can be hard to breathe.  Political news (or “news”) can be a major source of angst. Just think of the worries cascading through politically-informed Americans’ heads right now — Tolle could easily use them as examples in his next book. When we’re worried about politics, we’re not living in the present moment.

Did you see the latest polls?  What if the candidate I don’t favor wins the election? Why are voters so angry? What about the latest scandals/revelations/stories/rumors and how will they affect the outcome? How about all those undecided voters? I read some really bad things on the Internet about some of the people supporting my candidate’s opponent. I don’t like any of the candidates–what do I do?

And on, and on, and on.

Tolle writes, “Most people are still completely identified with the incessant stream of mind, of compulsive thinking, most of it repetitive and pointless.” (Tolle, 2005)

Sound familiar, political junkies?

One of political scientists’ favorite pastimes is debunking these racing thoughts. Larry Bartels’ famous takedown of Thomas Frank (of What’s the Matter with Kansas? fame), is a case in point. In 2016, political science offers a reminder that fundamentals generally drive voting behavior, and that is just as true in a year when a politically untested, anger-spewing real-estate developer faces a former First Lady with an e-mail problem, as it would be in a more normal election cycle.

Consider the following insights: calming thoughts offered by political science to calm the endless, often pointless stream of thoughts cascading through our heads as Election Day, 2016 approaches.

1. There are hardly any undecided voters.

If the news media has a favorite theme, it is all the drama, worry, and suspense about undecided voters. Even the normally-sober Economist got into the act at one point, joining the usual suspects in fretting that vast legions of Americans have absolutely no idea whether they will vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton this November, and the election is in their indecisive hands. So much to worry about!

Relax: it’s mostly nonsense. As John Sides points out, there are hardly any true undecideds. Those appearing in polls as undecideds are generally partisans or “independent leaners” who are waiting for the candidate whom they will probably support to close the deal. The Nation’s Jon Wiener notes that the vast majority of Donald Trump’s supporters voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, and the vast majority of Hillary Clinton’s supporters backed Barack Obama that year. Little wonder that Nate Silver’s famously accurate state-by-state predictions now look nearly identical to the 2012 red-and-blue map. For the most part, the same voters are voting the same way in the same places.

Oh — and about those “independent” voters: they’re not really so independent. The vast majority of independents are independent leaners, who vote nearly as partisan as do strong partisans.

The bottom line? There are no vast legions of indecisive, uncommitted voters waiting to sway the election.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in…

2. This is not the year of the angry white male.

If there’s any truism (besides the undecided voters) that obsesses reporters these days, it’s the angry white males backing Donald Trump. This idea is intuitive. And, for the most part, it is wrong.

On the surface, some voters’ resolve to stick with Trump despite his impulsive statements and raucous supporters seems to support this meme. Easier to forget, is that we have been down this road before. There have been numerous years of the angry Caucasian man before now, going back at least to 1968. A case in point is the first term of the George W. Bush Administration, when journalist David Brooks informed his readers of a major, sociological split between Republican-voting “red” and Democratic “blue” states, regions, and counties — fundamentally different cultural values cleaving the nation. (This year’s angry white male would be analogous to the red-state values identified by Brooks.)

Brooks’ analysis gave his politically-curious readers a treasure trove of speculations — grist for the mill, material to mull. Not all of it stands up to strict scrutiny. Morris Fiorina rebutted many of Brooks’ claims, showing through rigorous data analysis that most Americans are not politically polarized, only political elites are. Most Americans are political centrists even on divisive issues like abortion rights, on which they favor certain restrictions but not a complete ban. Of course, most Americans also hate politics.

Sorry, no “red America” and “blue America” here… and no legions of angry voters, either. Instead we have Democrats, who tend to be urban, younger, more secular, and less likely to be married or white, and Republicans, who tend to be rural or outer-ring suburban, middle-aged or older, white, married, and religious (particularly Evangelicals). Except for political elites (who can make a lot of noise) the two groups are not as far apart on the issues as Brooks may think they are.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out…

3. Third party candidates are unlikely to swing the election.

Another thing that keeps brains burning all night is the worry that third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will throw the election. In particular, what appears to be lackluster support for Hillary Clinton by former Bernie Sanders supporters has observers wondering. Yet, hard data suggest that the vast majority of voters in both parties’ primaries will support the final nominee, even if they were not that voter’s first choice. Like the vocal elites creating the impression of “red” and “blue” Americas, the handful of angry Bernie supporters walking out of the Democratic National Convention created a lot of heat — but few votes. It does appear that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore Florida and the presidency in 2000, but only due to the absurdly-close margin by which Florida was decided. If the difference between the two candidates is larger than Florida’s 0.009% was in Y2K, third-party candidates are unlikely to throw the election.  As that hyperlinked article above by Herron and Lewis notes, had Nader not been in the race, about 60% of his supporters would have voted for Gore, about 40% for Bush. The difference does produce a number large enough to have tipped the outcome–but not by much.

4. Debates, game changers and gaffes rarely make a difference

Here’s a radical idea: don’t watch the final presidential debate on Wednesday. Presidential debates contain little information and are not true debates.

Political junkies and journalists love to recall the famous “gaffes” of years gone by, particularly those made during Presidential debates. Richard Nixon had a five o’clock shadow. Gerald Ford didn’t think Poland was under Soviet domination. Jimmy Carter let his 13-year-old daughter name the nation’s top foreign policy priority. Michael Dukakis had no emotional reaction to the thought of his own wife being raped and murdered. George H.W. Bush looked at his watch.

It did not matter.

Comprehensive analyses of public opinion data before and after these debates and gaffes shows little long-term shift in public opinion as a result. Gaffes may give the chattering mind something to sink its teeth into, but that’s about all they do. Elections are still determined by fundamentals, particularly deep partisan ties (including those held by independent leaners) and the state of the economy. There aren’t many “game changers.”

So it goes, on and on. We could toss in a few other observations, too, such as noting that vice-presidential nominees have almost nothing to do with election results.

Political science reminds us that this year’s election will be decided by the fundamentals: partisan ties and the economy, just as were previous elections. All the heat and noise that unsettles us, from polls to angry voters to gaffes to vice-presidents, serve primarily to give the chattering class — and chattering minds — something to do instead of living in the now. It is not necessary nor particularly productive to speculate about these things, and we might all be better off just sitting still.

Turn off the TV and the computer.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in…. breathing out, I know I am breathing out…

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.



One PhD Candidate’s Roadmap for Successful Co-Authorship

All of us at one point or another have either considered or have been involved in a co-authored project. With the way academia is evolving, co-authorship is not only encouraged but it is fast becoming the norm especially in Political Science. But we hardly see discussions on how it works and the challenges that one faces while working on a project with others.

And this is what I want to talk about in this post; experiences and lessons of working on co-authored projects. Below I discuss the four major lessons and approaches that I have picked up while working with my co-authors. My intention is to share my experiences in an effort to start a discussion as learning to work with co-authors is beneficial especially to grad students who are just starting out in the field.

Work with People You Get Along With

This advice sounds straightforward enough but a large number of people never end up following this. First, let me clear up what I mean with the phrase – “get along with”. If you do not like someone or have a friendship with the next person at a human level, please do not work with them. This stands true for your professors, fellow grad students or any other academic. Co-authorship is a stressful process as it demands two or more people come together and put in to the work to create a good product. There is a balance that needs to be maintained in order for that product to be created. In academia that product could be the paper or the book you are all working on. With people you actually like at the personal level, you have the rapport to speak your mind and have open discussions because sometimes you need to be blunt about issues such as division of work and admitting mistakes in models or data. That has to be done in a manner where the next person or persons do not feel that they are being blamed or accused.

That relationship at the person level, helps you have those honest discussions without actually breaking the team or adding an air of hostility. I am not saying be best buddies with your co-authors but at least know them enough to know how to have honest conversations with them. For instance, one of the papers I am hoping to present at the upcoming MPSA is a co-authored paper with a close friend and colleague. The discussion on whose name should go first lasted about 15 seconds because I knew she had experiences in the past where people practically brought a project to a halt because of arguments over this. Even something so basic becomes a big deal if you do not have the rapport with the next person.

Start on a Brand New Project

When you are going to work on a co-authored project with someone, please start a brand new project. It can be an iteration of the work you have done in the past but it cannot be literally the work you have done in the past added to someone else’s past work. What I mean to say is, do not try to lump two similar projects together to create a new piece of work. That does not work out well because then there are arguments over who takes credit for what. Instead, build a new project with a new research question where you can each bring enough to the table to qualify as a competent co-author. For example, recently I have been doing field work in Turkey. I have been studying the bureaucracy and how it responded after the failed coup attempt. My colleague and friend has done work on Turkey but from the perspective of party structures and populist parties. Instead of just lumping our work together or tagging on to each other’s work, we decided to work on a whole new question that we could tackle from multiple angles. This way we do not have to fight over who gets more credit or who is going to write what portion. We can take a stab at writing different portions of it while having active discussions on them. And this leads in to the next point I wish to make. Have regular meetings.

Take Out Time, Have Regular Meetings

Even if you work together or hang out regularly, when you are working as co-authors it is a great idea to find specific time to meet. This professionalizes the whole process and it actually helps you to focus on the task at hand. All of us are busy with a number of different projects at most times, so it makes sense to dedicate time to work on a project that you are doing with someone else. Most importantly it signals how serious you are about the work and you respect the next person’s time. Plus, when you dedicate time to work and brainstorm on a project together, you normally end up coming with great new ideas and approaches that you can discuss on the spot and build upon instead of working on them separately. The key here is to remember that this is not two individuals working on the same thing, you are a team that is working together to create something.

I am currently working with a professor of mine on a paper that is out of our comfort zones. The reason we chose to do that was because we wanted to build on something new by bringing together our expertise and understanding. So once a week, we block off a 3-hour slot to just sit and work on our paper. Because there is a rolling deadline every week, it is easier to establish milestones and then follow up on them.

Have Clear Milestones and Deadlines

One of the biggest issues with producing any kind of work is having a timeline and sticking to it. But in co-authored projects timelines become a critical issue and determine either the success or failure of a partnership. Having regular meetings helps you establish dedicated time to work on the project together but it also allows you to set up milestones and establish deadlines based on those milestones. Dividing up work in a manner where those deadlines can be met helps all those involved be on the same page. Additionally, it also sets up a work division where everyone feels they are doing their part of the lifting. This also cuts down on false credit claims and arguments over doing or not doing the required work. Point being, deadlines and milestones need to be established early on as they are fundamental to getting the project off the ground and then eventually finishing it off.

As I mentioned in the beginning, these are some of the lessons and experiences I have understood while working on co-authorships. I strongly believe that doing work in such a setting is a great idea and helps us all work on different things simultaneously but it requires a certain kind of discipline. The ideas I discuss above help establish that discipline and simplify the process that can sometimes be very tricky.

About the author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate, a Graduate Research Assistant and Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures.

7 Keys to a Successful MPSA Proposal Submission

Editor’s Note: Since this blog post has been published, MPSA’s proposal deadline for papers, complete panels, and roundtables has been EXTENDED to Tuesday, October 18, 2016.

Knowing that political science scholars and students are deadline-driven, we anticipate that traffic to the MPSA website will increase as we approach the October 6, 2016 conference proposal deadline. If you intend to submit a proposal for the upcoming conference, this post is for you! The following tips will help you reduce stress as you face the upcoming proposal deadline:

Activate Your MPSA Account. Over the summer, we upgraded our website to integrate with an enhanced conference proposal submission system. The two systems will allow seamless access to your MPSA accounts and an easier conference proposal submission process, though this improvement requires each returning site user to create a new username and password. If you haven’t, we recommend taking a few moments today to activate your MPSA account. (Learn how to activate your existing account.)

Review this year’s Submission Guidelines. The MPSA Submission Guidelines have been revised to account for updates to our proposal management software. Please take a moment to review the new guidelines before submitting your proposal to avoid surprises.

Consider the best format for your research: Session formats for 2017 include (1) Panel, (2) Lightning Talk, (3) Poster, (4) Lecture, (5) Roundtable, (6) Junior Scholar Symposium, and (7) working group. Find more detail on the Session Formats and Role Descriptions page.

Choose (up to) two sections. In most cases, you may submit your proposal in up to two of over 80 sections. First year graduate students are only eligible to present in a poster or Lightning Talk format.

Write it out. We recommend that you write your overview and abstract in your favorite software before you log into the system, then copy and paste it into the text boxes.

Remember to keep it short. Be prepared to encounter these character limits (includes blank spaces and punctuation):

Title = Maximum 250 characters
Brief Overview = Maximum 250 characters
Abstracts = Maximum 1,250 characters

The new proposal system does not have a built-in word counter, so be sure to check in your word processing program or on an online site like Word Counter Tool.

Submit early and stress less. By preparing and submitting your proposal in advance of the deadline, you remove the potential for the self-imposed stress that can surround the hours before a deadline.

Once you receive confirmation of your submission, mark your calendar for important MPSA conference deadlines including the dates when notifications begin, scholarship and registration deadlines. Follow @MPSAnet and #MPSA17 on Twitter for the latest on the 75th annual conference.

If you have questions, just ask!  Please contact MPSA membership staff at mpsainfo@mpsanet.org with questions about account activation and MPSA conference staff at conf@mpsanet.org with your questions about the conference. 

3 Questions for MPSA Member Emil Ordukhanyan


Emil Ordukhanyan is Senior Lecturer at UNESCO Chair on Human Rights, Democracy and European Studies at Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences-Armenia. Ordukhanyan is also the founder of the Armenian Political Science website. Here we ask him a few questions about his experiences:

  • What projects are you currently working on? 
    Currently I work with my research group on the following project: Consociational Democracy: Political Morphology and Potential of Realization in Post-Soviet South Caucasus Countries. In our research we found out consociational democracy is one of the most actual theories of democratization for post-soviet societies, especially for those in South Caucasus region. My research group is convinced the model of consociational democracy is a real tool to face the challenges to democracy in post-soviet South Caucasus societies. I really believe our research will be the rebirth of this concept for post-soviet South Caucasus changing societies, because otherwise the variations of democracy which are built in these countries are a direct way to pseudo democracy or even ethnocracy.
  • What is the one thing that you wish everyone knew about your research?
    I am convinced the concept of Consociational Democracy, being always actual for political science, is especially vital for South Caucasus plural societies which are aiming democratic values as priority. This is the only way to build democracy, rule of law and peace in this region.
  • Who has had the greatest influence on your research and/or career?
    In my very first research I was deeply influenced by the following work of Samuel Phillips Huntington “Political Order in Changing Societies” because this work helped me to understand and to analyze political order with its peculiarities in post-soviet Armenia as changing society. I’m sure this work of the eminent professor is always actual and irreplaceable for the world political science.For my current research the works of the honorable professor Arend Lijphart on democracy and democratization are very useful. His concept of Consociational Democracy is the keystone for my research.As for my career, I’m very grateful to my PhD supervisor, Academician Dr. Gevorg A. Poghosyan and I’m also thankful to Dr. Levon Gh. Shirinyan to help me in my current research.

This post is part of a series of interviews with our members. Read more MPSA Member profiles.

In the Shadow of Tragedies: Our Responsibility to Protect

MPSA Blog - In the Shadow of Tragedies: Our Responsibility to Protect

“State sovereignty, in its most basic sense, is being redefined-not least by the forces of globalisation and international co-operation. States are now widely understood to be instruments at the service of their peoples, and not vice versa.”
     – Kofi Annan (1999), Former Secretary General of the United Nations

In the shadow of the tragedies in Cambodia, Rwanda, Somalia and Kosovo, the world is witnessing the horror of the ongoing and complicated intrastate war in Syria and the smoldering conflicts in Burundi and Ukraine (to name only a few). Calls for intervention to stop flagrant human rights violations have not yielded real results. It begs the question of the responsibilities of the state for the welfare of its citizens and what responsibilities other states have to those impacted by intrastate wars.

The modern state is generally recognized as having emerged in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Year War (1618-1648). The state is a pillar of the international community where the sovereign state as the primary and most powerful actor in international relations (Mearsheimer 2001). Keck and Sikkink (1998) argue, however, that the state has lost some of its potency as a political variable and have elevated the role of non-state actors. Further, the authority of the state “is, increasingly, being either shared with, sustained by, or constrained by these proliferating authorities” (Strange 1995, 67). The growth and thickening of international law, therefore, is an important issue as the role the state plays in global politics evolves.

The effects of these changes indicates a reappraisal of the concept of sovereignty and internationalizes the protection of human rights. This may be opening the door for more internationally sanctioned humanitarian intervention particularly when the state is experiencing intrastate conflict. Humanitarian intervention can be defined as the threat or use of force by a state, group of states, or international organization to protect people in the target state (Murphy 1996). Humanitarian intervention also includes those state interventions whose declared goal is to stop or prevent human suffering though the intervening state(s) may have unrelated and/or underlying motives for intervening (Voon 2002). The debate around the issue of protecting of human rights, therefore, juxtaposes the support of universal human rights against the premium of national sovereignty (Booth, 2001). Further, the idea of international human rights law departs from the concept of state sovereignty and the state-centric approach to international law (Brown 1999). Finnemore’s (2003) assertion that post-cold war intervention in states are legitimized when based on humanitarian grounds, not only changes the purpose for which interventions are used but possibly rearranges the concept of sovereignty (see also Ling 2013; Hopwood 2013).

This issue of a third party state(s) intervention can be examined through the prism of two questions. First, what is the status of ‘sovereignty’ if a government exercises authority or acquiesces to actions detrimental to the citizens? Second, can a new paradigm of legitimatized humanitarian interventions be reconciled with the asymmetry of power between states? An examination of the U.S. policy developing out of the Kosovo intervention in 1999 may be helpful in understanding the state’s criteria for supporting humanitarian intervention. Following President Clinton’s speech on U.S. involvement, National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, offered three criteria underpinning the policy: (a) there must be genocide or ethnic cleansing; (b) the U.S. must have the capacity to act; and (c) a U.S. national interest must be at stake (Brown 1999). It should be noted, however, that the commitment to act does not reflect any international commitment but primarily reflects U.S. interests.

This combination of state foreign policy doctrine and use of force for humanitarian interventions, concerns some states. Smaller and weaker states are concerned that this trend makes them possible targets under the ruse of a ‘humanitarian intervention’ by stronger states (Hall 2013). This dampens clamors for intervention in other troubled states as leaders wonder if they could be next. Even more powerful states have reservation as was seen with Russian opposition the intervention in Kosovo although that did not preclude their intervention on the Crimean Peninsula. In reality, condemnation of or action in support of human rights are not distributed equitably to suspected and known violators (Schachter 1995).

The literature is not short on suggested ways forward. Despite discussions about prevention and enforcement of international law (Wang 2004; Telhami 1995; Damrosch 1993), the focus continues to be on armed interventions (jus ad bellum) and the nexus between protection and international criminal tribunals (jus post bellum). Former U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan (Annan 2012), calls for the international community to “devote our energies to strengthening and using those measures short of the use of force. These must include more effective and enforced use of targeted financial, travel, and economic sanctions on the leadership” (para 28). I suggest, therefore, that the primary goals should be twofold. First, preventing the crisis in the first place thereby retaining the integrity of the individual, the state, the U.N. and international law system. Second, building the political will to respond to crisis thereby upholding the world community’s commitment to human rights and international law with force as a last resort. Meanwhile, wars rage and smolder in the hotspots around the world as a seemingly paralyzed international community struggles with sporadic attempts at cease fires and humanitarian aid to victims.

About the author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision making. In his previous life he was a health communications project manager, a social worker and an attorney-at-law. He can be reached via email at youngh@apsu.edu.

(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil

The following is part of a series of posts written by 2016 MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences.

(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil
Photos from Cooperman’s fieldwork in Ceará, Brazil. Top left: A fleet of water trucks owned by a wealthy local family are parked outside their home. Bottom left: Local water sources, including this former pond, and even state reservoirs are dry after five years of drought. Right: A donkey carries water jugs from the neighborhood well to nearby homes.

Most international attention on Brazilian politics focuses on the president’s recent impeachment and high-level corruption scandals. However, my fieldwork has shown me that “all politics is local” is more apt. Many Brazilian citizens are especially concerned about the politics of two issues salient for their day-to-day lives: Water and drought.

I argue that natural disasters, especially those that are cyclical and occur over longer periods – such as droughts – can provide electoral and economic opportunities for local politicians. Since disasters are seen as ‘exogenous’ and ‘natural,’ it is much easier for politicians to justify emergency and targeted funding to certain populations over others.

Campaigns for the upcoming municipal elections (to be held October 2, 2016) have begun, and in Northeast Brazil, the country’s poorest region suffers through its fifth year of devastating drought. The phenomena of “water for votes” and “the drought industry” are likely to be in full swing this election season. The overlap of electoral budget cycles and natural disasters can have drastic consequences for the distribution of critical and scarce public resources.

My research evaluates the politicization of disaster relief, focusing on drought and access to water resources. Even within the drought-prone region of Northeast Brazil, I find puzzling variation in the distribution of drought relief across states and municipalities. Some appear to follow programmatic policy based on need, while others receive drought relief even during high rainfall periods. Interviews that I conducted with rural farmers in Northeast Brazil highlight the incredible dependence that poor, subsistence farmers have on local leaders and politicians for sending water trucks and distributing drought-related cash transfers.

This study asks: where and when is politically-targeted (vs. need-based) distribution of basic services most likely, and how do politicians benefit from providing targeted relief?

Research Design

I utilize two sources of exogeneity to isolate the effect of non-climatic factors on declarations of drought: the exogenous timing of rainfall and the fixed electoral cycle. Since rainfall shocks are orthogonal to election year timing or other political factors, I am able to identify the relationship between political drivers and drought relief. By controlling for climate and local agricultural conditions, I test political hypotheses using the remaining variation.

I use a generalized difference-in-difference model with municipal and year fixed effects to tease apart political and temporal factors through administrative data, which provide the opportunity to explore systematic patterns and variation across 991 municipalities from 1999-2012. I explore the mechanisms through interviews of rural farmers, community leaders, and local politicians in the drought-prone Brazilian state of Ceará.

Main Findings and Discussion

I find that relief is more likely during mayoral election years, in both drought and high rainfall conditions. Incumbent mayors who provide drought relief in an election year are more likely to be re-elected, and mayors from the PT party are more likely to receive drought relief. These results are robust to the inclusion of controls for precipitation, agriculture and cattle, and municipal and year fixed effects.

Interviews that I conducted during fieldwork in Northeast Brazil in 2014 and 2016 suggest that drought relief is a political tool, especially water trucks and crop insurance cash transfers that can be targeted by neighborhood and household. Farmers sometimes even “pray for drought,” since the drought relief funds actually increase household stability for the vulnerable population relative to non-drought years.

Many local citizens and researchers also describe the pervasive “drought industry” (indústria da seca). Local elites, who sell water from private sources on their land and also own the water trucks contracted by the government, can profit immensely during periods of drought.

Local politicians have perverse incentives to provide drought relief – with its electoral and economic rewards – instead of maintaining existing water resources and reducing local vulnerability to chronic climate shocks.

Further Research

My broader dissertation further explores the local political economy of water resources and drought.

I study the sub-municipal relationships that affect who gets water access, drought relief, and other essential services:

  • What explains variation in access to water and other public services?
  • What are the electoral and economic incentives to receive and distribute disaster relief vs. to create sustainable, resilient water systems?
  • What is the role of local collective action and community associations in improving citizens’ access to basic services?

I am currently conducting a pre-election household survey in rural Northeast Brazil of 500+ households across 9 municipalities to study micro-relationships between water access, drought relief, participation in civil society and community associations, and electoral politics. I will continue my fieldwork throughout 2017.

About the Author: Alicia Cooperman is a 4th year Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. Her paper “(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil” was awarded the Westview Press Award at the 2016 MPSA Conference for best paper delivered by a graduate student.


MPSA Member Profile: Eric Raile

Eric Raile is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and serves as the Director of the Human Ecology Learning & Problem Solving (HELPS) Lab at Montana State University, Bozeman. Notably, Raile has recently made an investment in the association and his career by recently becoming one of MPSA’s Lifetime members. We asked him a few questions about his involvement with MPSA and his research habits.  MPSA Lifetime member Eric Raile

What do you value most about being a member of MPSA?
The conference organizers make real efforts to improve the experience for everyone and are not afraid to experiment. A conference attendee can readily find high-quality panels that feature cutting-edge research. The organization also clearly cares about improving outcomes for graduate students and early-career faculty, including the provision of information about events and opportunities. In addition, the American Journal of Political Science is an excellent academic publication.

What projects are you currently working on?
The analytical framework for political will and public will that I have developed with collaborators is the focal point of one research line. This research stems in part from my previous work on corruption and public ethics for the US government. Currently, we are investigating political will and public will for climate-smart agriculture in Uganda and Senegal. Another line of research considers coalition management in multiparty presidencies. A recently published piece looks at how presidential decisions influence subsequent costs of governing in Brazil. Additionally, a survey of residents in three states has provided the data for multiple studies examining public views of the loss of whitebark pine trees due to climate change and of corresponding management strategies in the greater Yellowstone area. We presented a piece on public perceptions of the problem of losing whitebark pine at the MPSA conference in April. A similar project beginning soon will try to use carefully constructed narratives to influence preparedness for flooding events along the Yellowstone River in Montana. Nearly all these projects are collaborative in nature. I am fortunate to work with many first-rate researchers.

Do you have a favorite writing resource or process to keep you motivated?
I am trying hard to carve out blocks of time to write on a daily basis. Nothing here is revolutionary, but I find that I am much more efficient if I can set aside chunks of time in a quiet place and can work on a single project (rather than multiple research projects at once) over days or weeks. Consistent contact with a project keeps me more engaged and allows my brain to keep working on the project during other times of the day. This is all easier said than done, however.

What would you tell undergraduate students considering a career in political science? You need not become a politician or a political campaign staffer when you earn your degree in political science. You can certainly do these things if you wish, but political science is a terrific discipline for developing transferable skills that will serve you well as you change jobs throughout your career. Political science prepares you for a variety of ways to make a difference – from working for government agencies to think tanks to nonprofit organizations. Many of our students end up being successful entrepreneurs or private-sector employees, as well.

What is your typical day like during the academic year? During the summer?
During the school year, a typical week involves a mix of teaching, research, administrative, and service activities. The distribution changes from day to day. On the teaching side, a day might include some class preparation, time in the classroom, a bit of grading, and advising of undergraduate and graduate students. I also have multiple research projects at different stages of the research process (i.e., planning and design, data collection, analysis, writing). Further, I am the director of a social science research laboratory and the faculty advisor for the Model United Nations program and devote some time every week to managing these activities. Of course, keeping up with email traffic requires a daily commitment, as well. The summer looks similar, though without the time in classrooms and with the work less tied to specific times and places. In all, the schedule suits me as repetitiveness and boredom are never problems!

Bias and Women’s Under-Representation in Politics

Even if Hillary Clinton shatters the “highest” glass ceiling this November, for many years to come women are likely to remain under-represented in elected offices in the United States and throughout most of the world’s democracies. If bias on the part of party leaders or voters explains some of this variation, we can imagine three ways that such bias might operate.

The first type of bias against women would crop up if voters or party officials preferred male candidates to female candidates, even when the candidates are otherwise identical. (Or worse, if less-qualified men were preferred to more-qualified women.)

The second type of bias would arise when voters or party officials “read” a candidate’s characteristics in different ways depending on the candidate’s gender. For example, if voters were confronted an otherwise identical male and female candidates, each of whom had two children and reasoned: “well, he has good experience and, given his family commitments, he is likely to be a responsible leader” while at the same time thinking “she has good experience but, given her family commitments, she is likely to be over-taxed if she is elected”, then they display bias (perhaps unbeknownst to themselves) against women.

The third way that bias might operate is if traits that are historically and statistically more likely to be associated with male candidates are valued by party leaders or voters, while traits that are more likely to be associated with female candidates are de-valued. For example, if female office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in education, while male office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in business, and party leaders preferred candidates with business backgrounds, then their preferences were biased against female office-seekers from the get-go.

The third type of bias is the most subtle, and therefore the most difficult to observe and confront with public policy and hiring best practices. But our study shows that in some contexts, it may be the most pervasive form of bias that female candidates face. In order to understand how each of these types of bias work, we embedded conjoint experiments into surveys of three groups of people: public officials from the United States; national-level legislators from around the globe; and American voters.

Video: Experience, Discrimination, or Skill-sets?: Using Elite and Voter Conjoint Experiments to Understand Women’s Access to Political Power – Presented by Dawn Langan Teele at the annual MPSA conference in Chicago, April 2016.

Conjoint experiments ask survey respondents to determine the winner of an imaginary competition between hypothetical candidates using nothing but simplified resumes to guide their choice. In our study, each candidate’s resume contained information including gender, political experience, marital status, number of children, and previous occupation.

In order to determine which characteristics were worthy of examination, we looked at the background traits that are commonly associated with female politicians and those that are commonly associated with male politicians. For example, the work of Susan Carroll and Kira Sanbonmatsu shows that since 1980, teaching has been the single largest feeder career for women in state legislatures in the U.S., while careers in law were the most common for men. Women who enter politics are also likely to be older, have fewer children, and more likely to be unmarried than men who enter politics. These different patterns are what Carroll and Sanbonmatsu term the “gendered” pathways to political office.


To examine the role of each type of bias, we conducted three tests. First, we looked at whether, all else equal, male candidates were preferred to women. Remarkably, we do not find much evidence that women are discriminated against as women in this way. In nearly all of the surveys (and most sub-groups) women actually get a boost over men. This female preference is strongest for respondents who are themselves women, and it does not exist among Republican leaders and voters in the U.S., or independent voters, though neither group shows a type 1 male bias.

Second, by looking at interaction effects, we can see whether certain attributes become more important depending on the gender of the candidate. We find that men and women are evaluated similarly if they have high versus low levels of political experience, if they are unmarried, and they have particular previous occupations, however some respondents seem to penalize women more harshly for having children than men.

Finally, we examined whether gendered traits, like having fewer children, being un-married, or older, affect the evaluation of a candidate. Overall, we find that candidates fared worse when they have characteristics that are associated with women’s gendered pathways to political office. Older candidates and single candidates are less favored. Candidates with more children fare better than those with fewer—a pattern that damns disproportionately childless female candidates. In some surveys, respondents, and especially male respondents, passed over hypothetical candidates with backgrounds in teaching, choosing candidates with backgrounds in business or law.

In sum we don’t find much evidence of explicit bias against women, as women, and it seems that given the same characteristics, male and female candidates are evaluated similarly for most traits. However, the typical profile of female candidates—their age, marital status, family characteristics, and career backgrounds—are de-valued by leaders and voters, and thus may hinder their careers.

Hillary Clinton exhibits some although not all of the female pathway to politics. If she wins, in spite of having only one child and getting a relatively late start on her elective career, we can only hope that it might change the way voters evaluate candidates, erasing gender bias in the years to come. Until then, there is more work to be done understanding how gendered pathways influence political selection.

About the Authors: Dawn Teele is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at University of Pennsylvania,  Joshua Kalla is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and Frances Rosenbluth is a Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

Making Sure the Light at the end of the Tunnel is not a Train: Securing a Faculty Position

After more than six years as a graduate student, and having survived the rigors of academic life including assignment deadlines, student teaching, qualifying exams, proposal defense and drafting my dissertation, the end was in sight. What followed in quick succession was the realization that I needed a job! Of course, not just any job but a faculty position where I could engage young minds and pursue my other academic interests.  This is a time consuming process and one requiring your attention while in the final throes of completing your dissertation. Neither can be neglected. During a five-month period, I submitted 67 applications. I received four invitations to interview which ultimately led to two job offers. Here are some salient points that will make your job search less stressful and help you land a faculty position.

  1. Start early as possible. Consult your Chair before entering the job market.
  1. Consider the following to determine the scope of your initial search:
  • Research or teaching?
  • Instructor, lecturer, adjunct, non-tenure or tenure track?
  • Size of school, department, classes?
  • Region of country?
  1. Time is precious: Based on #2, do not apply for positions you do not plan to seriously consider if contacted or to an institution in a location where you are not prepared to live. Respect your time, your committee and that of the institution.MPSA-Blog_SearchCriteria
  1. Register for job sites: com is good start and your may want to join APSA for access to ejobs. (Editor’s Note: A list of open positions is also available on the MPSA homepage.) While job alerts can be useful, I found it rewarding to personally review postings as they appeared. I, therefore, checked the job sites daily which brought to my attention other positions within my preferred framework.
  1. Prepare your resume: research an appropriate format. You need a format tailored for a new graduate on the job market. Remember that this is the first “view” the search committee has of you. A well presented resume increases the odds that your application packet is immediately put in the “consider box”.
  1. Cover letter: One crisp and clear page is preferable. Certain applications may ask you to address something specific in the cover letter so an extra half page may be appropriate. Review carefully to avoid unnecessary verbiage.
  1. Letters of References:
  • Identify at least 5 references (sometimes called referees) as early as possible. Discuss with them what your goal is and share your resume.
  • Get accurate names, address, e-mail, phone number, and work titles of each person and create a List of References.
  • Pay close attention to applications that require Letters of References along with application. Some institutions only ask for letters if you are selected for an interview. Do not send documents not requested unless the application has accommodation for “other documents”. Note, however, that some applications will specify what can be submitted in that category.
  • Check with your Chair about whether the Department has a staff member who coordinates those letters that must be sent directly to the institution.
    • Some institutions ask that you submit the letters yourself. If that is the case, then identify the portal and ensure the referees are prepared to give their respective letter to you for submission.
    • Be sure to provide your referees with the appropriate portal when necessary.
  1. Transcripts: Have all transcripts on hand. Be prepared to provide any of the following in specified format:
  • PHD coursework.
  • One version with all other tertiary transcripts.
  • One version containing all transcripts in a single document.
  1. Statement of Teaching Philosophy: Identify specific goal(s) and objectives.
  1. Statement of Research Interest: Identify your current work and topics of future interest.
  1. Teaching Evaluations: teaching evaluations by students are testaments to your skill and knowledge. Nevertheless, do not ‘edit’ out unfavorable comments.  Search Committees keep such evaluations in perspective.
  1. Create a spreadsheet to track applications:
  • Name and address of school
  • Specific point(s) of contact
  • Application due date; date when review process starts as you want to get application in by that date (even if job announcement says reviews continue until filled).
  • Minimum requirements
  • Description of position
  • Prescribed path for delivery of Letters of Reference, if required.
  1. Before submitting every application, carefully review to ensure you have followed all instructions. Many institutions do not allow you to edit the application once submitted. In those cases, if you delete the application, you cannot resubmit for the position.
  1. Keep your cell phone charged. The last thing you want is for a Research Committee Chair (or a representative) to call offering you the opportunity to interview and your cell phone battery dies during the call. Also, be prepared for teleconferenced interviews (Skype or similar platform).
  1. When you get “the call”, prepare for the interview:
  • Review institution’s website and the department’s pages.
  • Prepare to respond to questions based on your application. You should have an “elevator blurb” prepared about your dissertation topic.
  • Prepare questions you want to ask the committee. Don’t ask about money at this point.
  • Do not “wing-it”!
  1. Be patient and flexible.  Try to work with the schedule and constraints of the research committee.

Success in landing an interview that will lead to an offer ultimately may depend on five factors: your resume, application package, presentation, attitude, and, of course, luck. Work as closely as possible with your Chair, put your best foot forward in each application and prepare to shine in interviews!

 About the author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision making. In his previous life he was a health communications project manager, a social worker and an attorney-at-law. He can be reached via email at youngh@apsu.edu.