MPSA Member Interview: Emily Kalah Gade

Emily Kalah GadeEmily Kalah Gade is a PhD Candidate at the University of Washington at Seattle and has recently been awarded a Moore/Sloan Data Science and Washington Research Foundation Innovation in Data Science Postdoctoral Fellowship. She also competed at the 2012 Olympic Trials (rowing) in the lightweight double sculls and placed second in that same event at the 2013 US National Team Trials. Gade is also the two-time champion and current course record holder in the lightweight women’s single scull at Henley Women’s Regatta (UK). Here we ask her a few questions about her experience and perspective:

Congratulations on your Moore/Sloan and WRF Innovation in Data Science Postdoctoral Fellowship! What do you wish non-academics knew about civilians in conflict zones, political violence and nonviolent resistance?
Thanks! Well, given all the talk about terrorism in the context of the presidential election, I’d say this: it’s hard to conceive of a civilian experience in a conflict zone from most of the West, or to hold space in our daily lives to empathize with the darkness that mars certain human experiences. I think that makes it hard to understand the choices people make when they are soaked in the deep horror of those circumstances – including turning towards violence. Political violence or insurgency are often conflated with “terrorism”, effectively vilifying people who stand against a state. While denoted definitions of terrorism vary, the connotation of terrorism seems to be using violence against civilians for a loosely defined political aim, which in my view is never justified. Some people who stand against a state should be vilified, but others have legitimate grievances and few alternatives. In some cases, people using violence against a state are not the only ones committing grievous crimes, and indeed may not be committing the most grievous crimes. Many of these movements are victims in their own right, and use nonviolence as well, which often goes unnoticed in the West. State abuses of human rights are underreported, especially when compared with the amount of press non-state actors’ violence receives. I think it is easy to forget about the power disparities between even governments we think of in a positive light and the people they govern, or to forget that America too was born of revolution (and terrorism) against the British Crown.

Mixed up somewhere in all of that, stories of suffering from these conflict zones have become almost titillated, like slowing down to look at a car crash on the freeway, and I think they voyeurism of that helps us remove ourselves from those experiences. It’s hard to remember that there are positive things happening in conflict torn places too, that people have babies and get married and fall in love in all but the most extreme situations, and I think that helps construct people who live in those areas as “other”. When people are conceived of as “the other”, “the victim”, or especially “the radical”, their lived experiences in those spaces, and the human quality of each interaction, is sanitized or distorted, and the soul of each person’s story, its humanity, is gone.

Who has had the greatest influence on your research and/or career?
Mary Kaldor. I read her book when I was a Masters student at the London School of Economics and immediately signed up for her class. She ended up being (albeit briefly) a wonderful mentor. I really admired her scholarship, she gave me great feedback on my Master’s thesis, told me to try to publish it, and her belief in my project gave me confidence I hadn’t had before. It doesn’t hurt that she is a truly sweet human being. Afterwards, I switched from studying sustainable ag/development to conflict/political violence and haven’t looked back!

What are the similarities between sculling and political science, if any?
I’m not sure how similar they are, but I think I approach them in almost exactly the same way. I would say I learned the following from being an elite athlete:

  1. How to take big goals and break them down into manageable daily activities
  2. How to find ways around seemingly insurmountable obstacles
  3. How to deal with sometimes scathing criticism, learn from failure, and endure pain/ discomfort
  4. How to hone self-control and self-discipline
  5. The importance of good self-care and recovery habits (!!), and,
  6. Above all, just keep going!

I think almost all of that applies to getting a PhD or to writing an article/book.

Do you have a favorite writing resource or process to keep you motivated?
Having a writing schedule. Working out before starting!  Keeping work out of my personal life and personal time (don’t work in bed, don’t work in designated “relax”/social times). Making sure to take breaks (even just to stand up and walk around) every 45/hour or so.

What would you tell undergraduate students considering a career in political science?
Sky’s the limit! Political science is the study of why people do what they do, basically. That means you have a lot of freedom to study whatever it is that makes you tick. I think the whole area is fascinating, but if you aren’t into research and writing than might not want to make it a career!

What are the top three things on your bucket list?

What book are you currently reading for leisure? Are you enjoying it?
Ghost Fleet – Sci-fi by a political scientist! It’s great. 🙂

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

MPSA - Emily Kalah Gade

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.

 

 

Incorporating Family in Your MPSA Conference Experience

MPSA2016_FamilyinChicagoSo having done it recently myself, I understand how challenging it can be to have family join you during a conference. Out of necessity, I recently had my two little ones (both under the age of five) accompany me to an out-of-state conference. Crazy, yes, I know. I worried constantly about how I was going to make everyone feel at home when we weren’t at home. How would I occupy everyone’s time when I was busy with conference activities? Would I be able to find places to eat and things to do that were suitable for everyone? What if someone gets sick?, etc. The usual head spinning challenges.

For attendees with family members joining them during the upcoming MPSA conference in Chicago, we’ve compiled a series of association, conference hotel and local Chicago resources to help make your family’s experience a more comfortable and entertaining one. Instead of having our attendees research ideas on their own, we’ve compiled a list of family-centered Home Away From Home resources to make it easier to plan for this year’s conference experience.

Looking for a kid-friendly restaurant? Done. Need to find a park nearby? Done. Need to locate a drugstore for aspirin and clear your head on the walk? Done. This amazing compilation of great family resources will also be available on the conference mobile app during the conference for easy access. Making bringing your family to the MPSA conference easier? Done!

About the Author: Juliene Heaney received a MA in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management from University of South Carolina-Columbia and has been a member of MPSA staff since late 2014. She is responsible for exhibits, sponsorships, meeting and receptions, as well as the new MPSA Grad Lab and Tech DemoStation events. At the upcoming conference, you will find her in the registration area and working with vendors in the Exhibit Hall.