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

Informed Preferences: the Impact of Unions on Worker’s Policy Views

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

What is the impact of labor unions in shaping the political preferences of workers? More specifically, to what extent can we trace the anti-trade sentiment we are now seeing among many U.S. workers to the influence of their unions? Due to their shrinking memberships, unions are often dismissed as a spent force in contemporary politics. Yet such a view overlooks an important point: Even after years of membership decline, unions still represent a sizable share of many electorates: a quarter of all workers in Britain, a third in Italy, and over half the workforce in countries such as Norway or Belgium. Even in the U.S., union members still account for about 11 percent of the workforce—a conservative figure that excludes non-members working under union agreements and family members whose livelihoods often depend on a unionized wage earner. A key question is whether and how unions’ access to a large swath of the electorate translates into political influence.

To understand the role that unions play in shaping the political views of their members is, however, a challenging empirical task.  Even in instances where union members are found to hold systematically distinct views from non-members, the cause is not an obvious one: Is it the result of a union’s direct influence on workers’ policy views, or is it that workers who choose to join a union differ from non-members to begin with?

Our article seeks to provide answers to these questions by utilizing an original survey of more than 4,000 American workers that was administered across 12 industries selected to provide the full range of exposure to various aspects of globalization. The dataset provides sizable samples of both union members and non-members within each industry, allowing for comparisons with a meaningful control group. Another key advantage is the availability of detailed information on pertinent aspects that are often missing from standard surveys: the exact union to which the worker belongs, the intensity of communication initiated by their unions on a range of policy issues, and the degree to which a worker is aware of her union’s policy positions. To assess how accurately workers know their union’s position, we devise a new measure of a union’s position on trade policy (what we call the “protectionism score”). This measure is based on a union’s ‘revealed preference’, namely through their lobbying activity and official statements given on a wide range of trade bills.

Using this data, we begin to explore whether unions indeed serve as information providers for their members. The evidence decidedly shows that they are. (See Figure 1;  unions are sorted along the vertical axis by their protectionism score.) As the left-panel indicates, unions indeed discuss the issue of trade with their members, and, not surprisingly, the more protectionist the union, the more likely it is to impart such information to their members. We can also see that the intensity of the communication is associated with how familiar members are with their union’s position (center panel). Members of protectionist unions not only tend to express greater familiarity with their union’s stance on trade, but also to correctly describe their union as protectionist (right panel).


Figure 1


In short, unions clearly operate as information providers. Moreover, workers also seem to ‘get’ their union’s message. Yet to what extent do members tend to be influenced by this message and adopt their union’s position? As an initial step, we examine the association between members’ own attitudes on trade and the protectionism score of their unions. We find a clear alignment between the two. Notably, such positive association is not found among non-unionized workers who are employed in the same industry (see Figure 2). Still, the key empirical task here is to assess the possibility of a self-selection process: If workers decide to join a union because of the union’s policy position, the findings could simply be an outcome of a reverse causal process. We address this possibility by exploiting two sources of variation, as detailed below.

Figure 2


First, we leverage the fact that there are state-level differences in laws with respect to union membership, or so-called the “Right-to-Work” (RTW) laws. In states that adopt the RTW provision, labor unions cannot legally require workers to pay union dues as a condition for employment. Union membership in RTW states therefore depends much more on individual workers’ own discretion, and is less a function of an institutional requirement to become members. This difference allows us to test the self-selection question: If self-selection accounts for members’ preferences, we should expect to see unions have much more of an influence on members in states in which membership is entirely voluntary.

Our analysis provides very little support for the self-selection account. We find that union membership itself is associated with a clear effect on the trade policy views of workers, and that this effect is conditional on how strong the union’s position is with respect to trade. Significantly, we find no systematic difference between members in RTW and non-RTW states. This is clearly inconsistent with the selection mechanism being the prominent factor.

Second, we wanted to assess what happens to the views of members when their union takes a different stance on a given policy: do workers follow suit? If so, that would be a strong indication of the unions’ influence. To do so, we exploit the case of a sudden and dramatic shift in the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) position toward a major trade liberalization deal. For many years, the UAW had been strongly opposed to the signing of a trade agreement with Korea, which, according to its statement, would be “worsening our lopsided auto trade deficit and threatening jobs of tens of thousands of American workers.” Yet after a set of changes had been incorporated into the agreement, the UAW announced a reversal of its position. “We believe an agreement was achieved that will protect current American auto jobs, [and] that will grow more American auto jobs,” its statement now read.

How did this shift in the UAW’s position influence the views of the autoworkers on trade? Figure 3 below provides a striking answer: While union members working in the auto industry had been significantly more protectionist than non-members before the shift, the level of support for trade restrictions significantly decreased after the UAW endorsed the free trade agreement. Notably, this change in attitudes toward trade liberalization had not been observed among non-members working in the same auto industry. This finding remains intact even when we control for potential confounding factors.


Figure 3

Taken together, our findings provide compelling evidence that unions exert influence on their members in a clear and systematic manner. The analysis points to the important role of unions as information providers. While previous studies have highlighted the role of unions as the “voice of workers,” via campaign contributions or lobbying, we have demonstrated an underexplored yet important source of union influence: communication with, and dissemination of information to members. This influence can be significant, given unions’ breadth and reach. In other words, unions should be thought of not only as institutions that channel the political preferences of their members. Instead, they should also be understood as institutions that shape and influence the views of many workers.


MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: Sung Eun Kim is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore.  Prof. Yotam Margalit is an Associate Professor at the Political Science Department in Tel-Aviv University. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. Their paper “Informed Preferences: the Impact of Unions on Worker’s Policy Views” was awarded the Best Paper by an Emerging Scholar at the 2016 MPSA Conference.


[Im]Polite Conversation: Understanding the Mechanisms for Disengagement from Contentious Political Interactions

This post is one of a series of by MPSA members about their Federally-funded research.  Here, Jaime Settle and Taylor Carlson summarize their NSF-funded research “Understanding the Mechanisms for Disengagement from Contentious Political Interaction.” 

A family friend relayed to me a recent incident at her children’s elementary school. According to her daughter, in the days preceding the state’s primary election, the entire fifth grade was abuzz talking about which candidates they (or, perhaps more accurately, their parents) preferred. The exchanges between the students supporting different candidates became so mean-spirited that the school administration sent a letter to all fifth grade parents asking their children to refrain from provoking or engaging in contentious political conversations on the playground or in the lunchroom.

On first pass, this anecdote may induce a chuckle, but on deeper evaluation, it reflects a disturbing trend in American political culture. Not only are our politicians more polarized, but we are, too. We think our political opponents are physically unattractive, we don’t want to live near them, and we discriminate against them when given the chance.

Much like the school administrators, many Americans consider stopping the conversation to be their preferred solution to avoid engaging in potentially uncomfortable conversations with people with whom they disagree. Since September 2014, our research seeking to understand the dynamics of these interactions has been funded by the NSF in a grant titled “Understanding the Mechanisms for Disengagement from Contentious Political Interaction.” In it, we proposed to use survey and laboratory experiments to study which facets of social interaction about politics are most stress inducing, for which kinds of people, and in which contexts. Our multi-method approach bridges the methodological gap between political science and psychology by relying heavily on a social psychological explanation for political behavior.

What have we learned so far? The topline results from a vignette experiment conducted on a nationally representative sample suggest that fewer than half of respondents expected a hypothetical character to express his or her true political opinions when given the opportunity to do so in an informal conversation among friends and acquaintances who supported a political candidate the character opposes. A sizeable proportion—approximately 10%–expected that the character would publically conform to the opinions of the majority without actually changing his or her true beliefs. This is a behavior we have observed within our experiments, as well. In a study forthcoming in Political Behavior, we find that individuals both expect a hypothetical character to conform to a group’s political opinion and actually do so themselves when given the opportunity. Furthermore, our participants thought that hypothetical characters who discussed politics only with coworkers who disagreed with them were significantly more likely to look for a new job than hypothetical characters who discussed politics with coworkers with a variety of political views.

MPSAblog_Contention and Political Disengagment
Figure 1 from “Political Chameleons: An Exploration of Conformity in Political Discussions,” forthcoming in Political Behavior

We have conducted a series of survey experiments to further explore the conditions under which people are most susceptible to pressures to silence themselves or conform to the opinions of others, and our results suggest that people are sensitive to the knowledge level of the people in the conversation, in addition to the composition of the preferences in the group. It appears that a variety of factors motivate these behaviors, including both concern about being judged negatively by others but also concern about damaging social relationships and making others uncomfortable.

One of the goals of our grant was to deeply understand the mechanisms of engagement and disengagement in political discussion, which we theorized were likely to be self-reinforcing. We are in the middle of analyzing the results from a series of psychophysiological studies in which we measured participants’ heart rates and electrodermal activity when they expected to have, or actually engaged in, political discussions. Our results suggest that some people actually have a stronger physiological response—their heart rate increases and their hands sweat more—at the mere thought of having a political conversation. For these people, political interactions are physically–not just psychologically–uncomfortable, perhaps contributing to their decision to try to avoid them at all costs.

Beyond the gains in our substantive understanding, the most important outcome of the NSF funding has been the training provided to more than two dozen students. NSF funding provided the opportunity to bring together a group of graduate student lab directors from political psychophysiology labs across the country for training workshops in 2015 and 2016. Because the Government Department at the College of William & Mary does not have a graduate program, undergraduates have been involved at every step of the project. In addition to the opportunity to attend the psychophysiological workshops, students in my research lab have been integral to the design and execution of the psychophysiological studies. And running lab experiments would be impossible without the time and energy of the proctors involved in administering the Omnibus Project.

Democratic theory hinges on the idea that all citizens have equal opportunity to voice their opinions. We should not overlook subtle and complex barriers to engagement based on people’s orientation toward conflict and disagreement, as people who prefer consensus and compromise may be discouraged from engaging meaningfully with politics in a polarized environment.

About the Authors: Jaime Settle is an assistant professor of government at the College of William & Mary. Her research explores how innate differences between people (genetic, physiological, and psychological) moderate the effects of contextual and interpersonal political interactions.

Taylor Carlson is a graduate student at UC San Diego. Her research explores how political information diffusion (and distortion) through social networks influences political learning and vote choice.

Controlling Agency Choke Points: Presidents and Regulatory Personnel Turnover

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

Presidents desire to see their priority policy goals implemented. To see these policies put into place presidents need control over career executives that occupy critical decision-making positions (i.e., agency choke points) in agencies. This paper considers the extent to which federal executives occupying one type of “choke point” position—i.e., lead regulatory positions—depart with new presidential administrations, either because new presidents purposefully marginalize them or because they depart voluntarily in anticipation of a new administration.

To evaluate presidential control over key regulatory positions we use creative new data on the careers of 866 persons managing major rulemakings. Existing regulations require agencies to provide information regarding all rules with more than a $100 million impact to the Office of Management and Budget. This information is published in the Unified Agenda every six months. Agency submissions must include contact information for individuals “knowledgeable about the rulemaking action.” By tracking all rules listed from 1995 to 2013 we are able to observe key regulatory personnel exiting rules prior to their completion.

Using hazard models we find evidence of both presidential influence and careerist anticipation on decisions to depart major rulemakings. Career executives are estimated to have higher probabilities of departure after a party change in the White House and during an election year if the incumbent president’s party is likely to lose. While we find no evidence that the partisanship of the regulator influences departures, we do find that regulators that donated to the out-party are more likely to depart a major rulemaking. Career executives are also more likely to depart when outside wages increase.

The evidence in the paper suggests that while new presidents do not overwhelmingly remove senior career executives from positions of authority, they still exert considerable authority over the individuals in key positions. The scope of control increases as presidents’ time in office progresses. For example, in the year before President Obama assumed office 10% of the career executives serving as the primary contact on a major rule departed before the rule was complete and another 7% departed during the first year of his administration. Throughout the tenure of a president, presidents or their appointees are able to promote career executives of their choice to a substantial number of the positions on rulemaking teams as bureaucrats either exit their positions voluntarily or are sufficiently marginalized within the agency.

Overall, the results provide important evidence that new presidents may influence the composition of the career service and its policymakers, particularly those in positions central to agency policymaking. To effectively control the machinery of public policy, presidents need to control the rulemaking process inside agencies. For presidents, one of the most direct means of securing control is embedding personnel in key positions who are sympathetic to their agenda. This happens at the top levels when presidents name new appointees to agency positions. This also happens at lower levels when appointees make decisions about which civil servants they can work with and who might be better suited for another position. Presidents can reassign career executives from key positions in order to marginalize them. In addition, career executives may exit their position in anticipation of a new administration that may be hostile to them. Thus, presidential control over key rulemaking positions is the product of both the decisions of presidents to marginalize career executives and the decisions of career executives.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: Kathleen Doherty is an Assistant Professor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.  David E. Lewis is William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. Scott Limbocker is a Graduate Student in the Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. Their paper “Politics or Performance in Regulatory Personnel Turnover” was recognized at the 2016 MPSA Conference with the inaugural Kenneth J. Meier Award for the best paper in bureaucratic politics, public administration, or public policy.


Beyond Diversity: The Salience of Ethnicity and Kenya’s Constituency Development Fund

Following is from a series of blog posts by MPSA members about their research that has received funding by either the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Here, Kirk A. Harris a Ph.D. Candidate at Indiana University summarizes his NSF-funded research onPolitical Science: Ethnicity, Civic Participation, and Public Goods in Kenya.”

It looks like ethnic diversity is harmful to public goods provision. Diverse countries tend to invest less in things like education, infrastructure, and public health that promote economic growth. While explanations for this abound, a common conclusion amongst those who study African countries is that spending on public goods suffers when politicians channel resources towards their cronies and co-ethnic kin at the expense of other groups in society.

This type of kinship-oriented service provision exists in both autocracies and in “patronage democracies” (Chandra 2004), where leaders allocate resources disproportionately towards voters with whom they share an ethnic identity – or at least voters believe that they do. But this ethnic targeting of development resources is certainly not ubiquitous, and observing this pattern isn’t the same as explaining why it happens. So, when do leaders decide to target development resources towards co-ethnics, and why?

Kenya’s Constituency Development Fund (CDF) provides an excellent context in which to examine the relationship between ethnicity and public goods provision. The CDF gives all 290 members of Kenya’s National Assembly who are elected from single-member districts significant financial resources to form a local committee that makes decisions about funding clinics, schools, roads, and other community infrastructure projects within their parliamentary constituency. These committees have substantial autonomy over how the CDF is managed and where projects should be located.

As part of my dissertation research, I carried out over 150 semi-structured interviews with individuals in six different Kenyan parliamentary constituencies as well as representative public opinion surveys in three of these constituencies in order to understand the politics of resource allocation, and to find out just who benefits from CDF projects in these regions.

The constituencies that I study contain groups who distinguish between themselves on an “ethnic” basis – group membership is determined by socially-defined, “visible”, descent-based characteristics. But the nature and importance of these ethnic cleavages differs across constituencies. In some regions, groups differentiate between themselves on the basis of their membership in locally-relevant ‘clan’ groups even as they acknowledge a common overarching ethnic identity that sets them apart from other Kenyans. In other, more “cosmopolitan,” regions members of different groups perceive no such overarching kinship tie connecting them to their neighbors.

In these latter constituencies, ethnicity often serves as a reliable heuristic for how citizens vote in local and national elections. The “image” of political parties is strongly associated with different ethnic groups and candidates from a given ethnic community feel compelled to stand as representatives of “their” group’s party if they are to have any chance of victory (cf. Ferree 2006 , Posner 2005).  Because voters’ choice of candidates in such contexts is determined more by their ethnic identity and party identification than by an incumbent’s performance in office, politicians have an electoral incentive to allocate resources towards their co-ethnics as a way of shoring up support amongst their kin.

By contrast, in diverse constituencies where ethnicity is not a politically salient feature politicians lack the incentives to engage in this type of ethnically-oriented patronage and must rely on other criteria to guide the distribution of CDF resources. In these settings, politicians are able to leverage the CDF to appeal to voters from a range of ethnic groups within the constituency. And challengers from other parties can likewise make credible appeals across ethnic boundaries about their ability to serve all constituents rather than simply those with whom they share an ethnic identity.

These findings suggest that a narrow focus on ethnic diversity as detrimental to public goods provision is misguided. It is not diversity itself, but the political salience of ethnic divisions that motivates the ethnically-biased distribution of local development resources in Africa’s new democracies. Elected politicians will use ethnic criteria in the distribution of development resources only when they stand to gain votes by doing so.

Kirk A. Harris is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University who specializes in the study of democracy and development in Africa. His dissertation research, on ethnicity and resource allocation in Kenya’s CDF, was funded in part via a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG) from the National Science Foundation (SES-1423998). Harris can be contacted via email at 

Bernie Goldwater: What Sanders Supporters Can Learn from Young Americans for Freedom

Supporters were crestfallen, but their resolve was firm.

Their candidate had refused to buckle to the pressure from party elite—the usual pressure from political managers, to move to the political center and tone down strong rhetoric, seeking to enlist the support of middle-of-the-road voters and avoid alienating the power brokers and stakeholders who benefit from the status quo. Instead, the candidate took a stand for what he believed and stuck resolutely to his guns. One of his campaign slogans was, “in your heart, you know he’s right.”

Supporters included many well-organized young people who rejected the values of conformism. Their goal was not to support a candidate who moved to the political center in order to win an election, but one who would take a strong stand and build a movement that would shift the center of gravity underlying American politics, even if it took time.

In the end, they succeeded.

I refer not to this year’s surprisingly tenacious candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, whose dark-horse candidacy gave Hillary Clinton fits through the primary and caucus season. Rather, I refer to the iconic conservative of 1964: Arizona’s Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, who famously accepted his party’s nomination for President by saying “Extremism, in the defense of liberty, is no vice. And let me remind you that moderation, in the pursuit of justice, is no virtue.”

Thanks to Donald Critchlow’s book  “The Conservative Ascendency” (University Press of Kansas: 2011), we know that Goldwater got shellacked by Lyndon Johnson in ’64, but observers at that time may not have appreciated what was happening. Four years later, in the midst of the Vietnam War, LBJ was so unpopular that he did not even seek re-election, and Republicans captured the White House. Goldwater supporters, on the other hand, ascended to power through the 1970s, nearly upsetting the re-nomination of President Ford in 1976 and ultimately catapulting Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980. This did not happen by chance.

In fact, Reagan was one of Goldwater’s enthusiastic supporters. Then a General Electric spokesman and former actor, Reagan gave one of his most famous speeches in support of Goldwater’s small-government crusade. This was a major step forward on Reagan’s path, leading to the California governorship and ultimately the presidency. This speech was officially called “A Time for Choosing,” but it is so well-known among conservatives that many simply call it “The Speech.” (Read the speech transcript.)

Goldwater’s supporters also included many young people, particularly college students that were part of a new group called the Young Americans for Freedom. Organized in Sharon, Connecticut by conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr., the YAF issued its own “Sharon Statement” (avoiding the word “manifesto,” which had a decidedly communist-sounding ring to it), condemning the middle-of-the-road politics of both parties and calling for a renewed commitment to small government, anti-communism, and religious values in public life. As Republicans, they sought a greater differentiation between the two parties, who they thought had clustered together in a political center that accepted too much big government: one that had gone soft in its opposition to communism and secularism alike.

Less than ten years later, galvanized by their opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision affirming abortion rights, conservative activists began to take over the Republican Party. Some of these were veterans of the YAF and the Goldwater campaign. They took on and defeated prominent moderate and liberal Republicans in primary elections, while challenging Democratic dominance in districts once thought unwinnable. In particular, they targeted the West and the South, culturally-conservative areas long accustomed to the Democratic Party by tradition and habit. They used then-novel computer technology to organize donor databases and make fundraising appeals, and fought at the grassroots by targeting church groups, party caucuses, and low-turnout elections such as those for school board and Republican precinct committeeman and –woman. Reagan nearly captured the GOP nomination, almost defeating a sitting incumbent of his own party in the bizarre, post-Watergate political environment of the mid-1970s. More gains came in 1978, with conservatives defeating both liberal Republicans and Democrats for a handful of key Congressional races. Finally, in 1980, the big prize: a President conservatives could call their own, along with a Republican majority in the Senate and a coalition of Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats that effectively created a conservative majority in the House as well.

Tax cuts, beefed-up military spending, staunch anti-communist policies in Afghanistan and Central America, conservative social legislation, and deregulation swiftly followed. Sixteen years after Goldwater’s seeming defeat, the values for which he had stumped were victorious. Still a U.S. Senator, Goldwater was able to be a part of the revolution that his candidacy had launched.

Fast-forward to 2016: This year’s most visible young political activists are on the political left. Young people – particularly college students – are Feeling the Bern for tuition-free college, universal health care, regulations that break up huge banks, and other policies at the opposite pole from those once backed by Goldwater, Reagan, and the YAF. Yet I re-tell the story of conservatives’ rise to power because I think it has relevance to Sanders’ young supporters.

Like the YAF, Feel the Bern activists believe their party has sold out to the powers that be. Their argument that Hillary Clinton’s policies are little different from those of a moderate Republican nicely mirror the Sharon Statement’s condemnation of establishment Republicans. Like the YAF, Bernie supporters believe it is more important to be true to one’s values and support a candidate that they believe has integrity, than it is to make the kind of compromises that lead to short-term political victory by winning over moderates and big-money donors. Like the YAF, many Bernie voters are young and have lots of elections in front of them. Winning in 2016 is not as important to them as shifting the political center of gravity. Conservative activists took 16 years to move this center to the right. Will Sanders’ supporters have the same tenacity and patience to move it left?

Doing this will take serious organizing skills. This is where Bernie’s veritable army of supporters can learn a lot from the YAF and the Goldwater veterans. If they are in for the challenge, here are a few tips:

  1. Target Low-turnout Elections 

If Sanders and his voters have one signature issue, it is their absolute outrage at the way both political parties have, in their view, caved into the pressure of “the establishment”: wealthy bankers, corporate CEOs and Board members, and their hangers-on who manipulate the political system to their own benefit, avoiding both taxes and accountability while raking in subsidies.

Do these still-young activists realize that this is not purely a federal problem? In state and local governments across the country, generous tax packages are dangled before big businesses in order to get them to locate in one place over another. There is little, if any evidence that Tax Increment Financing and other incentives produce any overall growth to local economies, primarily because they are a zero-sum game in which all local governments are forced to compete. What they do is hollow out the local tax base, forcing communities to rely on residential property assessment and regressive sales taxes to fund schools, police, fire, and other local services. Taking the anti-corporate crusade to state and local government could lead to “truces” among municipalities that would stop the giveaways and safeguard tax bases from further depletion.

As if that weren’t enough, another Bernie priority—the $15-per-hour minimum wage—can also be implemented at the state and local level.  Indeed, some states and localities have already done so.  More gains for progressives in local office means more places with a majority to pass such legislation — not to mention more chances to show, contrary to critics’ worries, that it does not cause widespread job loss.

  1. Run for Office

Now seventy four years old, it is not clear that Bernie is the one who will ultimately ascend to the presidency if the progressive left does triumph. Besides, no one person can make up a grassroots movement. It is time for these liberal young activists to look, not at Bernie, but at themselves—are you ready to seek public office? Our media culture obsesses on the Presidency, but this is not where things start. Bernie’s backers can start their insurrection in the Democratic Party, or as independents, but either way they should seek jobs like precinct committeeman and –woman, getting spots on platform-writing committees, and running for offices like school board, city or county commissioner, and state representative.

Like a “deep bench” in baseball, well-qualified, thoughtful, articulate candidates for offices like these form the ranks from which future members of Congress and even Presidents will be chosen. Many of these elections, including party primaries, have low voter turnout, which tends to reward those who are well-organized and passionate. Sanders did better in caucus states, which reward perseverance and passion, than in primary states, in which voters need only mark a ballot. The energy of these supporters can be tapped to start taking and holding government and party offices from the bottom up. Besides, state and local government is where key decisions are often made, for example the overly-generous tax packages given to business.

  1. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

It may seem odd for Sanders and his activists to take heart from the right-wing Goldwater-Reagan coalition. Yet, it is important to learn from them regarding tactics, if not ideology. Buttressed perhaps by their religious faith, late-twentieth-century conservatives did not fret about the loss of a few seats or one election. They had long-term goals and planned accordingly. Party activists like Newt Gingrich carefully planned out strategies to target districts as they became winnable, and to differentiate themselves from establishment politicians on key wedge issues that would appeal to voters. If they had folded their tent and gone home after 1964, none of this would have happened. They had a twenty year plan and they seized on opportunities as they became available, meeting periodically to track progress. They built a deep bench of state and local officeholders and sought higher offices when they came within reach.

4. Organize, Organize, Organize

In the ‘70s, conservative activists realized that computers could be used to keep track of supporters and target fundraising appeals. These computers might seem museum-quality crude today, but at the time it was revolutionary. Knowing who your voters are, being able to reach them when needed, and raising money by bundling lots of small contributions are all essential skills in today’s politics. Today’s counterpart may be the social media savvy taken for granted by many of Bernie’s younger backers, who cannot remember a time when there was no Internet. Activists in Bernie’s campaign and #BlackLivesMatter have shown us that social media is not a place to rant against one’s political opponents, it is an organizing tool, and they have used it effectively. These skills will come in very handy at bundling small contributions and organizing voters, particularly in low-turnout elections like party primaries.

Bernie Sanders will be 90 years old in 16 years. Many of his supporters will not even be 40.

Who knows? Maybe this year’s Sanders campaign has launched a new generation of activists that will shake up the Democratic Party in the years to come, leading a grassroots revolution that will ultimately elect a President and Congressional majority and make real change to our creaky political status quo.

Someday, maybe they’ll call him Bernie Goldwater.

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.


Clerics and Scriptures: Experimentally Disentangling the Influence of Religious Authority in Afghanistan

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

What power do religious authorities exert over people? While the traditional role of churches and clergy as nurturers of social capital has declined with the secularization of the West, the importance of religious actors in large-scale social and political mobilization in the non-Western world has been steadily increasing for many years. Both government policy campaigns and anti-government protests find themselves sinking or swimming depending on their ability to “connect with the society… [and] maximize the use of traditional and religious leaders.” Muslim clerics serve as the backbone of social service and militant fundraising for organizations such as Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army in Iraq, and conversely, the ‘de-radicalization’ of terrorists. Clearly, religious authorities wield unusual influence over people; but what this influence is and how it works is a mystery.

One possible explanation for the effectiveness of religious authorities as mobilizers may be that especially charismatic and persuasive individuals are overrepresented in this profession. Ruhollah Khomeini may have personality traits that would have made him a powerful a leader, whether as Grand Ayatollah or as a secular authority figure. However, personal characteristics aside, being perceived as a religious authority may imbue an individual with unique psychological powers. The most obvious one may be that religious authorities are implicitly associated with God, and hence automatically remind people of higher ideals, being perfectly observed by God’s omnipresence, and after-life rewards and punishments. This is far more powerful than an alternative channel, which is that religious authorities influence people by virtue of their position as community leaders and enforcers of norms.

Investigating these competing hypotheses is difficult with existing data. Personal characteristics that distinguish religious authorities and civilian authorities are difficult to categorize, let alone measure. In situations like this, where counterfactuals are often impossible to establish with real-world data, experimentation plays a central role. A few studies manipulate the identity of the deliverer of a message to be from a religious authority in writing, through video, or in the form of a picture. However, “the most subtle dynamics ..[on].. how relative status is signaled and established depend on the resources made available by face to face interaction and a shared physical setting.”

We present the first experiment we know of to do just this. In our experiment, a Muslim cleric in Kabul, Afghanistan appears in person to solicit contributions for a public good (a hospital) from low income day laborers under two experimental conditions: while dressed as a civilian (Civilian) and while dressed as a cleric (Cleric). By having an actual cleric interact face-to-face with the subjects, we isolate the additional impact of his positional authority after preserving the multidimensional characteristics (speech, gesture, etc.) of an individual that would self-select into this high-status position. Indeed, the cleric’s distinction is apparent even in his civilian clothing: 80% of subjects who guessed his profession stated professions of secular authority.

Figure 1 – Note: Capped lines represent the 95% confidence interval.


We find that people are far less likely to contribute nothing (0 AFN) to the hospital when the solicitor is dressed in his clerical garments (17%) compared to when he is dressed as a civilian (50%) (see Figure 1). However, average contributions are equal across the conditions because while more people give when asked by the cleric, (a) they give minimally (10 AFN) and (b) the decrease in conditional amount is especially pronounced among those with formal education. While civilians do not wield verbatim quotations of scripture as a motivating and legitimating tool, clerics do. We therefore add a third treatment, the Cleric+Scripture treatment, which proceeds identically to the Cleric treatment except for an addition of a short reading from the Qur’an at the end of the solicitation script reminding subjects that “Allah loves good-doers”. The use of religious text is among several known ways to explicitly prime religion in the experimental and behavioral literature, and consistent with this literature we find that conditional amount increases while the probability of giving remains high. As a result, average contributions in Cleric+Scripture are twice of that in the Civilian and Cleric conditions.

How should we explain this behavior? First and foremost, our evidence suggests that religious priming comes from the Qur’an, not the cleric. The increase in the intensive and extensive margins of giving that is observed in previous experiments with religious priming only occurs in our experiment with the addition of the scripture. Second, the increase in the propensity to contribute, coupled with the decrease in conditional contribution to the smallest possible denomination of 10 AFN, suggest that the day workers in our experiment were complying with the Islamic norm of sadaqah (charitable giving) in a way consistent with legalism, that is, an adherence to the letter but not the spirit of the norm. In other words, religious positional authority appears to place the cleric as a legitimate leader of the Muslim community, but without the rhetorical tools of scripture, not one that is implicitly associated with an omnipresent God (otherwise, this would suggest that while God can observe whether you give, he apparently cannot count). Third, those who are formally educated appears to be less receptive to religious positional authority. Overall, our experiment illustrates the limits to the positional power of religious authorities and shows just how important holy scriptures can be as justification for the cleric’s exhortation or as a direct reminder that God is watching and rewarding the behavior that the cleric is encouraging.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: Blog post submitted by Luke N. Condra, Mohammad Isaqzadeh, and Sera Linardi. Their research, “Clerics and Scriptures: Experimentally Disentangling the Influence of Religious Authority in Afghanistan” was named as a co-winner of the Kellogg/Notre Dame Award for best paper in comparative politics at the 2016 MPSA Conference.

How Do Experiences with Government Programs Shape Political and Civic Engagement? Looking Beyond the American Case

A key insight of policy feedback theories is that government offices are sites of adult political learning. As Joe Soss explains:  “…public bureaucracies provide relatively immediate experiences with government. Legislatures may host more dramatic political activities, but the police station, the motor vehicles office, and the Internal Revenue Service are more likely to supply citizens with lessons about government that ring with the truth of first-hand experience.” The key point is that people are apt to generalize their personal experiences with government bureaucracies to government and politics at large. These experiences and the lesson about government that they impart can influence people’s sense of political agency, their perceptions of government responsiveness and their propensity to participate in political and civic life. People’s experiences with government bureaucracies will, of course, differ and the policy feedback effects can be expected to vary accordingly.

A key finding to emerge from studies of the impact of program experiences on political and civic activity in the United States is that programs that are structured along paternalistic lines typically have negative feedback effects. Clients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program are particularly likely to have experiences that are disempowering and politically demobilizing. Their lives and personal circumstances are subject to a good deal of scrutiny and control and they are apt to be stigmatized and treated as deserving, at best, of pity.

The Impact of Program Participation on Participation in Politics and Civic Life – Presented by Elisabeth Lesley Gidengil at the annual MPSA conference in Chicago, April 8, 2016.

The question is whether these findings generalize to other welfare states. The United States is hardly a typical case. It is usually viewed as the archetype of the liberal welfare state where the neoliberal restructuring of welfare programs has been the most thoroughgoing. The result has been a very paternalistic welfare system that makes the receipt of benefits conditional on fulfilling a variety of obligations and gives case workers a good deal of discretion in administering benefits. This restructuring is reflected in popular discourse where welfare recipients are caricatured as “moochers” and “welfare queens”.

North of the border, Canada is also usually classified as a liberal welfare regime. However, Canada’s regime is less robustly liberal than the United States. Canada’s national social insurance programs, for example, include paid maternity (15 weeks) and parental (35 weeks) leave and unemployment benefits are available for up to 36 weeks or more. Welfare reform has been less far-reaching than in the United States. For example, while receipt of welfare benefits can be tied to workfare requirements, there is no time limit on eligibility for welfare benefits. Canada thus makes an interesting case for comparison.

The data come from a two-wave online survey of 1,692 residents of Ontario, Canada’s most populous and socially diverse province. The survey includes a large over-sample (941) of respondents who have used needs-based social programs. Respondents were asked about 11 different social programs that differ widely in terms of their design and authority structures. Respondents who had used a given program were asked whether they had ever contacted a government office about the program. Those who had were asked to rate the treatment they received in terms of helpfulness, whether it was fast or slow, whether they were treated with respect and how the treatment made them feel about themselves.

First, we can look at the relationship between participation in each program and various forms of political and civic activity. The test is a tough one because multiple programs are analyzed simultaneously. The findings turn out to be strikingly different from those reported in studies of program use in the United States. There is no evidence that welfare recipients are less likely than other respondents to take part in political and civic activities. This is the case whether we look at party membership, contacting elected officials, signing petitions, taking part in a product boycott or a demonstration, working with others in the community to solve a problem or complaining to local authorities about a problem in the neighborhood. The only exceptions relate to volunteering and, not surprisingly, making a donation to charity

At the same time, there is little evidence that contributory insurance programs have positive effects on political and civic engagement. Like Social Security, these programs are characterized by depersonalized financial relationships with government and they are very visible to recipients. The U.S. literature would tell us that these are the sorts of programs that are most likely to be associated with greater involvement in political and civic activities. However, in Canada, the effects are either very small or non-significant.

Why are the findings for the means-tested programs that involve the most intrusion into and control over recipients’ lives so at odds with some of the negative policy feedback effects reported in the United States? One possibility is that Canadian recipients are less likely to have negative experiences with their case managers or with the agencies responsible for administering these programs. Predictably, though, welfare recipients were the most likely to have reported negative experiences when contacting a government office about the program and recipients of other means-tested benefits were also less likely to have had positive experiences than people receiving tax-related benefits and social insurance benefits. But far from dampening political and civic engagement, negative experiences either have no effect or are associated with an increased propensity to participate.

So why don’t negative program experiences have demobilizing effects on recipients of means-tested benefits in Canada? On the one hand, Canada’s social programs are more generous and the new paternalism has not shaped the design of social programs to the same degree as in the United States.  On the other hand, we need to look beyond the nature of the welfare regime to consider institutional differences and especially the presence of a viable social democratic party.

About the Author: Elisabeth Gidengil is the Hiram Mills Professor in the Department of Political Science at McGill University in Montreal and is the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship. She specializes in elections, public opinion and voting behavior, political communication, and women and politics research. 


Mass Administrative Reorganization, Media Attention, and the Paradox of Information

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

Our article – Mass Administrative Reorganization, Media Attention, and the Paradox of Information (Now PAR 2015) – is one of a series of three related pieces of research focused on the structural politics of independent agencies. This line of research is part of the Shrinking the State project and set in the context of a reform agenda of the recent UK coalition government (2010-2015). The public policy and public administration questions we address are broadly applicable: in any democratic setting, there is some kind of link between voters and their policy demands, politicians seeking to win elections, and government agencies tasked with producing policy outputs. The elected politicians can, in circumstances dependent on the specific national institutional arrangements, modify the structure of the administrative state. The study of structural politics is all about the consequences of those decisions.

Why “Mass Reorganization”?
Our work fits broadly into the literature on agency termination. This literature is largely American-centric and reflects the question Kaufman (1976) famously asked: “are government organizations immortal”? Recent scholarship (see: Lewis 2002) suggests that they are not, even in the US; rather, agencies are thought to face a hazard of termination over some period of time. Nevertheless, agency termination remains something of a rare event in an American separation-of-powers context relative to what can happen in a high accountability system like the UK.

The British coalition government in 2011 put together a reform proposal comprehensively examining about 400 independent agencies, ultimately removing independence (absorbing into a government department or terminating the function entirely) for 32 percent of them. Making decisions about this many agencies all at once (a “bonfire of the Quangos”) involves termination decisions of a different magnitude than what we have seen in an American context. Thinking through what might be different about these cases can provide useful insights into structural politics across different types of political systems.

Why “Media Attention”?
A decision about agency independence is fundamentally tied to the politics of accountability. A decision to remove independence increases the identification of the government with the outcomes in that policy area. Even if an agency is terminated entirely (removing not just the agency’s independence but also ending functional performance), the government remains responsible for outcomes in that policy domain. Media attention is one way voters can know that an agency exists and get some sense of what it might do. We should expect politicians to think about the media salience, and salience with some particular audiences, of any particular agency when making these kinds of decisions.

Why a “Paradox”?
As media salience increases, we argue that the termination decisions should be less systematic. An agency’s salience with partisan audiences – core or opposition supporters, and those willing to swing either way – should directly impact the political decision, as one might expect. Nevertheless, a high media profile, rather than making outcomes more predictable as information becomes readily available, can actually disrupt the normal way governments learn about agencies; it is one thing if the minister hears about the agency from the professional civil servants, and another if the minister has been reading about the agency in the morning in the newspaper (as any devotee of Yes, Minister well knows).

What can we learn?
Particularly for practitioners, and scholars working in other areas, there may be a tendency to assume that governments simply kill off agencies that do things they do not like. The view we present is more complicated. Given the considerable freedom of choice of governments in high accountability systems like the UK, we see that the predictability of the outcomes changes with total media salience. This suggests that the government is considering carefully, although less systematically, the consequences of their choices with the most commonly mentioned agencies.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: Anthony M. Bertelli is a Professor of the Politics of Public Policy and J. Andrew Sinclair is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Public Service at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. Their paper “Mass Administrative Reorganization, Media Attention, and the Paradox of Information” was recognized at the 2016 MPSA Conference with the Best Paper in Comparative Policy Award sponsored by the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice (JCPA) and International Comparative Policy Analysis Forum.