The Loss Lab

“Trump was an alternative to interchangeable robots whose goal is to avoid saying anything interesting.” – Molly Ball, political reporter, The Atlantic

“If you wanted to write a playbook for how to lose an election, Trump did that and he won anyway.”  – Steve Peoples, AP reporter

What rotten luck for political scientists! We had just become established as purveyors of credible data analysis that can help real-world political campaigns target their resources, and then… Well, see the quotes above.MPSAblog-MediaRoundtable

The quotes came from this year’s MPSA roundtable on the media and the 2016 election, in which Ball and Peoples were joined by CNN reporter Nia-Malika Henderson and political scientists Jennifer Lawless of American University and Danny Hayes of George Washington University. The discussion was free-wheeling and wide-ranging, but a few themes did emerge. First, Democrats are in a world of hurt. Second, Trump mobilized voters that do not normally vote, both in the primaries and in the general elections. Third, Trump opponents should be on notice — his popularity among his base is rock-solid and the Democrats offer few alternatives right now, save the simple, unconvincing negation of being not-Trump. Fourth, the news media did not take Trump’s candidacy seriously and thus did not rigorously fact-check his claims until well after he became a serious contender. Fifth, regular folks, including women, do not take Trump’s offensive rhetoric regarding gender as seriously as do those of us in the establishment bubble.

Finally comes the theme that relates to Molly Ball’s quote above; one which will trouble political scientists. Trump ran against the very political establishment which our discipline helped to create. Unless Trump’s election is a pure aberration — which these reporters doubt — the data-driven political consultancies discussed in Sasha Issenberg’s seminal book The Victory Lab lie in shambles, and the future for political scientists in campaigns is unclear.

A very brief history: while the study of politics goes back to ancient civilizations, the modern-day discipline of political science emerged here in the United States. In the early twentieth century, the discipline was associated with scholars such as W.W. Willoughby, and Woodrow Wilson, who later became U.S. President. Early political science was largely descriptive, focusing on what we now call institutions — Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency (the office, that is, not just personal biographies of presidents, which are the bailiwick of our colleagues in History).

In the 1920s, scholars like Charles Merriam, who ran for mayor of Chicago, began to turn the discipline toward analysis of behavior. His classic book on non-voters was an early attempt to suggest that if the reasons why people don’t vote could be isolated, they could also be ameliorated. Happy days, and higher voter turnout, would surely follow. The belief that human behavior was subject to scientific analysis and “correction” was perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the times, where scholars in other disciplines promoted such approaches. Engineer Frederick Taylor, for example, believed that “scientific management” could bridge the gap between labor and management with a common goal of efficiency. In our discipline, public administration scholars like Wilson suggested similar goals for those working in growing bureaucracies: efficiency, not ideology. In practice, like Merriam’s failed bids for mayor, it didn’t quite work out as planned.

By the 1940s, the advent of early computers and spread of the telephone opened up new research avenues. Studies of voting behavior using polling proliferated at Columbia and Michigan, with Michigan’s iconic Institute for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) eventually emerging on top. Through the mid-to-late 20th century, data-based analyses of voting behavior were sobering, even cynical, with classic studies like The American Voter suggesting that most Americans had little understanding of political ideology, and that relatively well informed, strong partisans cancel out one anothers’ votes, leaving elections in the hands of the least informed, most fickle, undecided voters. By the 1970s, many political scientists went so far as to assert that campaigns had little impact, with fundamentals like the state of the economy and presidential approval telling us all we need to know, to predict the next election.

Next came rational choice theory, which rested on the assumption that individuals take rational actions in pursuit of goals (the goals themselves could not be judged as rational or irrational, only the actions; the goals simply were.) Rational-choice resembled economics and featured very sophisticated, mathematical models, some of which utilized no data and were purely theoretical. The goal was to make the study of human, political behavior more truly scientific, with rigor resembling the physical sciences — but then came the backlash.

The ‘90s saw Green and Shapiro’s Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory achieve great popularity by skewering “rat choice” as un-useful in predicting real-world outcomes. Meanwhile the discipline’s perestroika movement took its name from the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev and sought to re-establish traditional approaches like area studies in comparative politics. They even ran rival candidates for the boards of political science associations, and won enough seats to make their point.

By the early 2000s, the new trend was experimental research. In particular, Yale’s Alan S. Gerber and Donald Green conducted field-based research on what approaches and messages were most effective at mobilizing voters (they concluded that old-fashioned, in-person canvassing worked best). As documented by Issenberg, political campaigners began to notice. While initially skeptical, political campaigns began to hire political scientists as consultants. Gerber and Green helped out on Rick Perry’s bid for Texas Governor, where they targeted media buys and candidate appearances. Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s right-hand man, was also a fan. Democrats noticed, too. In 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign invested heavily in these political-science-based approaches, making very precise, precinct- and even voter-level predictions and targeting appeals accordingly. Obama’s victory only encouraged them, and the consultants were back in 2012, this time working for both campaigns.

As documented by Issenberg, the data-driven revolution in campaigns was nearly complete, old political hacks having to share the back rooms with these new number-crunchers. Targeting displaced market-share-based TV ad buys as the go-to strategy for serious candidates.

And then… Trump.

As Peoples notes in the quote above, Trump’s campaign used none of these insights. There were no political scientists on staff. There was no targeting. Trump’s preferred and often his only strategy was campaign rallies, widely dismissed by our discipline as only mobilizing those who already, enthusiastically support the candidate and having no effect on undecideds or those needing mobilization. Peoples points out that Trump campaigned as if bound and determined to do the opposite of everything detailed so carefully in The Victory Lab. And he won.

Now what?

Granted, political scientists pushing for renewed relevance in our discipline did not put all of our eggs in the Victory Lab basket. The popular Monkey Cage blog features well-respected scholarship that speaks in real time to policy challenges, and serves as an inspiration to this and other political science blogs that have sprung up in its wake.

Yet, if Trump’s win is not idiosyncratic–time will tell–the data-driven microtargeting that had just emerged is now called into serious question. The approach may still work for down-ballot races, but we can only use trial and error to determine that. The first order of business, of course, is for our discipline to deploy our formidable skills to determine why we did not see this coming.

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.

 

Four Stormy Days – #MPSA17

This year’s MPSA has been an interesting experience as opposed to other years. That is due to a near perfect storm of political events in the last few months. Add to this already interesting mix the fact that, due to inclement weather and flight cancellations, we end up with a more intimate conference with content that barely fits into four days.

The centerpiece to the conference, as always, are the expert roundtables and late-breaking sessions that for once are discussing critical issues like the executive order on travel and immigration, rise of populism, need for civic engagement, and the role of media in today’s world. But that is not all, this year one of the most awesome things is how much of a difference #WomenAlsoKnowStuff has made. The panels look and feel different. The voices and issues being discussed are of academic and public interest. It is refreshing to see an environment where one is encouraged to speak up and present their ideas without fear of being shut down or critiqued without logic.

I was fortunate enough to attend several panels during the first two days including two round tables; civic engagement of academia and media’s role pre-and post-election 2016. The civic engagement panel was phenomenal because for once academics are speaking up and having conversations about how to engage with the larger audience and not just an epistemic community. Matthew Lebo of Stony Brook University and Jennifer Victor of George Mason put in to words what I have been feeling for a while; we (academics) need to start engaging with a public at a very basic level. What this means is, we need to engage at school level, university level, and mass media. For a while now, there has been a heated debate in academia about the use of social media by academics to push their work and ideas. I have always been a proponent of this approach because how would we let the rest of the world know what amazing work we are doing given that majority of this planet does not have journal subscriptions but probably has twitter or snapchat.

This ties in to the next point I want to make that I observed in the panel on media’s view of the Election 2016 campaign with guests like Molly Ball from the Atlantic, Nia Henderson from CNN and Steve Peoples from the AP. During the discussion, the panelists were asked why the media allowed abundant free press coverage to now-President Trump. The answer by all three media persons was that he was interesting. When asked to elaborate, the unanimous reply was that he was always available and he was saying weird stuff that gets attention. This naturally opens the discussion on why academics need to be more involved in public engagement. For media in general, profits and numbers of viewers are far superior to facts and critical analysis. In absence of true experts, we are left with glorified media personalities who everyone assumes can talk policy. For instance, consider the level of know-how about the middle east or even health care that Alex Jones does compared to literally any middle east expert at the MPSA conference right now.  The difference is that Alex Jones has spent his life engaging with the public about his views, as outlandish as they are. So it only makes sense that in an environment where media is more interested in getting a fun story rather than a factual one, as academics we must step up and take the responsibility of protecting facts and logic.

The other set of panels that I was fortunate enough to attend included the Author Meets Critics session for the awesome new book by Christina Wolbrecht and Kevin Corder that talks about the women’s suffrage movement and incidents after 19th amendment came in to force. The excellent book not only details cases at the state level, it provides a set of answers to the question, “What happened to women voters after the 19th amendment?” Did the turnout shift the political power balance? How did voting patterns change over time? All these questions and others are answered in this book as it sets up a wider discussion for future work in the field.

So far, the MPSA conference has been fantastic and I hope the kind of discussions we are having this year will translate into work that reaches a wider audience. The blogs, social media presence, and op-eds help expose our research to a wider audience. We need that in these post-truth times.

About the Author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science, Georgia State University. He is also a Student Innovation Fellow at Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CETL) at GSU and Taiwan Fellow 2017 at National Sun Yat Sen University, Kaohsiung (Taiwan). His research focuses on role of bureaucracies in democratization and populist clientalistic appeal in new democracies. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and his website.

Election 2016: Did New Voting Laws Tip the Balance?

Since the early 2000s, a flurry of new voting laws have passed in the states. There is a marked Democrat-Republican divide.  Democratic-leaning states, such as California, Oregon, and Massachusetts, have passed laws making access to the ballot easier.  Oregon now automatically registers citizens to vote any time they do business with the state.  California does the same for those getting driver’s licenses — a must in many parts of a car-crazy state. Massachusetts joins a few other states in allowing pre-registration of 16 year-olds, who then automatically enter the voting rolls upon turning 18: a policy that North Carolina also has, for now, depending on court rulings.

Republican-leaning states, meanwhile, have taken a different turn.  Under the auspices of curbing voter fraud, GOP legislators and governors have passed a flurry of new restrictions.  Critics, myself included, are quick to point out the dearth of evidence for those voter fraud claims. Yet the theoretical possibility, anecdotes, and research by Richman, et. al. indicating that some fraud may go undetected, all combine to make a case for new laws requiring state-issued Photo ID at the polls, proof of U.S. citizenship to register, limiting early voting, complicating third-party voter registration drives such as those once undertaken by the controversial ACORN, and so forth.

Critics, again myself included, argue that these restrictive new laws are not neutral in their effects.  Research by scholars such as Matt Barreto (.pdf) indicate that African-Americans, Latinos, the poor, the disabled, and the elderly are more likely to lack photo ID.  Stories, admittedly anecdotal, circulate about voters having trouble getting birth certificates.  Some were not born in hospitals and were never issued birth certificates, while others contain clerical errors requiring a Kafkaesque legal labyrinth to untangle.  One thing most of these voters seem to share: a tendency to vote for Democrats;  that is, they if are able to vote at all. The popularity of these new restrictions in Presidential and Senatorial battleground states like Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin, heightens worries.

What was the bottom line in 2016?  Did the laws put a thumb on the scales and ensure Donald Trump’s victory?

I dove into this question for our roundtable, “Did It Matter in the End? Restrictive Voting Laws and the 2016 Election,” presented at this year’s MPSA conference in Chicago. Using ArcGIS mapping and multivariate regression, I traced the shift in voter turnout in each county in the U.S. I also considered the impact of various independent variables, such as percentage of white residents in a county, economic growth or decline, population (an urban-rural measure, since rural counties have smaller populations), and other factors as controls to explain vote changes between 2012 and 2016.  In addition, I put in the new voting laws.  After controlling for the “usual suspects” which explain partisan shifts and turnout change, is there anything left for these new voting laws to explain?  In other words, did they have an impact?

In terms of turnout, the evidence does suggest that restrictive new laws may have had an impact, at least in certain regions.  The most dramatic contrast is between Ohio and Pennsylvania, two states that “flipped” from Democrat to Republican in 2016.  Ohio shows marked turnout decline relative to the Keystone State. However, there is no clear partisan impact resulting from this.

MPSAblog-Smith-Image1

In the map above: darker green=higher turnout relative to 2012, lighter = lower turnout

To the north and west of these states lies a region containing three states which flipped from Obama to Trump (Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin) and one where Trump made major gains but did not win (Minnesota). In the northern Midwest, only Wisconsin had new, restrictive voting laws take effect between 2012 and 2016.  Sure enough, turnout dropped more in diverse, urban, Democratic-voting Milwaukee County than in Minneapolis, Detroit, Des Moines, or Chicago — a 10% drop in Milwaukee versus smaller drops in the other urban counties of the region (plus a 1% increase in Chicago) between 2012 and 2016.  Problem is, Milwaukee’s first-in-the-region turnout drop did not come with a shift toward more Republican votes.  The shift in Milwaukee was toward more Democratic votes, much as in Chicago and Minneapolis, both located in states without restrictive new voting laws.  In two states also lacking new voter restrictions, Des Moines and Detroit shifted toward more Republican votes — a shift that should have been evident in Milwaukee, but was not.


In the map above, red=Republican shift, blue = shift away from Republican. Milwaukee is the southernmost blue county on Lake Michigan, in eastern Wisconsin

 

In other words, the results did not fit the prediction that restrictive new laws would hinder Democratic vote share.
The results were even more startling with my regression analysis.  Regarding turnout, the imposition of other new restrictions (limiting early voting days, reigning in organized voter registration drives, etc.) correlates with higher voter turnout — evidence of a possible “backlash” effect.  Democrats in affected states may use the presence of these laws to mobilize constituencies that feel targeted by the laws, a sort of “don’t let them take your vote away” message, which colleagues and I found may have boosted Democratic turnout for Pennsylvania in 2012, when that state did try to implement new voter restrictions. It probably didn’t help that a Republican leader in the state legislature boasted that the law would deliver Pennsylvania to Mitt Romney.

Even more startling was my regression for Republican vote share. Even when controlling for other factors (% white, job loss, urban-rural, etc.), there is a strong, negative relationship between the imposition of these new laws and Republican vote share.

That’s right: it appears that restrictive new voting laws hurt voter turnout for Trump.

How can this be?  A thoughtful, post-election analysis by two reporters at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests an answer.  Journalists Kristina Torres and Jennifer Peebles secured the entire voter file for Georgia and analyzed it for patterns.  Their findings: counties that showed strong increases in support for Trump, mostly rural, also showed significant increases in ballots cast by new and infrequent voters in 2016.  Meanwhile, some of the voters from 2012 did not vote this time.  The result was an older, whiter, more-rural electorate.

New voting laws are likely to have the greatest impact on new and infrequent voters.  Those who vote regularly will adjust to a photo ID or proof-of-citizenship requirement, while those that do not may not be prepared for the changes.  Given that Trump appears to have mobilized new and infrequent voters, it makes sense that those voters would be the most “thrown” by new requirements.

Thus the impact of new restrictions appears to be greatest on those who are new to voting–one of Democrats’ biggest fears, but with a twist, in that it was the Republican, not the Democratic candidate, that mobilized such voters in 2016.  This is not to say that the laws won’t hurt Democrats next time, as they are the party that typically tries to bring in new voters through registration drives, election-day canvassing, “souls to the polls” drives for Sunday early voting at predominantly African-American churches, and so forth.  Yet it appears to be Trump that took the brunt this time – and it did not prevent his Electoral College victory.

Finally, a personal note: I dislike these laws.  I find scant evidence for the voter fraud claims used to substantiate them, and I see little rationale (.pdf) for them other than for the purpose of hindering those who do have a right to vote, from exercising that right.  I also think these laws, passed with few exceptions by Republican state legislatures, clearly are meant to target Democrat-leaning voters. At the same time, I am a political scientist, and facts are facts.  The fact that these laws appear to have hindered vote shifts to a (quirky, unexpected) Republican candidate this year does not mean they will do the same in the future. More importantly, it does not justify the laws. The voter-fraud premise remains as flimsy as before, while evidence of disparate impact on society’s most vulnerable remains credible.

The suggestion that the laws hinder Democratic vote share has always been an understood supposition in the debate over them, but it is not part of the actual, legal case against them. Most importantly, as political scientists we must go where the data take us. These laws do appear to be affecting elections – just not in the direction predicted… at least, not this time.

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.

Judicial Review, Federalism, and Representation

MPSA blog - Kastellec - Judicial Review US Supreme Court, Washington DC

Two years ago, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage, thereby striking down laws in several states banning same-sex marriage. In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the majority had acted undemocratically:

“Until the courts put a stop to it, public debate over same-sex marriage displayed American democracy at its best. Individuals on both sides of the issue passionately, but respectfully, attempted to persuade their fellow citizens to accept their views. Americans considered the arguments and put the question to a vote. The electorates of 11 States, either directly or through their representatives, chose to expand the traditional definition of marriage. Many more decided not to. Win or lose, advocates for both sides continued pressing their cases, secure in the knowledge that an electoral loss can be negated by a later electoral win. That is exactly how our system of government is supposed to work.”

Scalia’s critique fits squarely within a long tradition of judicial and scholarly concern over the counter-majoritarian difficulty: the potential problem that arises from giving unelected and life-tenured federal judges the power to invalidate legislation passed by elected (and thus accountable) politicians. His criticism also implicates the role of judges in a system of federalism, where federal courts have the power to evaluate and strike down both federal and state legislation. How, then, should we evaluate the exercise of judicial review given the realities of judicial power in a system of federalism?

In my paper “Judicial Federalism and Representation,” presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the MPSA, I answer this question by examining the role of federal floors in shaping policy representation at the state level. What is a federal floor? Via their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, federal judges can establish a minimum level of constitutional protection that states must provide to their residents, below which no state can lawfully set policy. The combination of federalism and judicial review of state statutes means that the actions of federal judges and state legislatures are inherently tied together. As a result, with the introduction of federal floors, federal courts can mediate the relationship between state policy and state-level public opinion.

To help understand this process, in the paper I develop a framework that is based on models of the effect of federal mandates on policy choices, when policy is a function of choices made at both the state and federal levels. In my framework, a federal court can unilaterally establish a federal floor in a given policy area—for example, how much protection does the Constitution provide for women to obtain an abortion without interference from states?  This floor thus establishes a minimum level of protection that states must provide.

I use the framework to recast the counter-majoritarian difficulty as an issue of federalism, as it allows for precise decisions of when a decision is in fact counter-majoritarian. Specifically, I develop versions both with and without scenarios in which the status quo at the state level may lag behind changes in public opinion, and with and without the presence of cross-state moral externalities, in which voters care about policies not just in their states but in all states. I then show that the existence of lagging status quos or cross-state externalities is a necessary condition for a decision to be classified as pro-majoritarian. In the presence of externalities, the implementation of a federal floor benefits voters who prefer higher levels of constitutional protection, due to the positive externalities of states in “low protection” states being forced to shift their policies. Conversely, a floor harms voters who prefer lower levels of protection, since they suffer both immediate policy losses and negative externalities from other states shifting their policies to accommodate a federal court’s mandate. Comparing net beneficiaries to net losers from the mandate allows for a classification of whether a given decision is pro- or counter-majoritarian.

Since last year’s conference, I have split the original paper into two separate papers that examine different empirical implications of the judicial review and federalism framework. In one paper, I present a quantitative analysis of the path to the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states, which was in large part caused by federal courts finding a constitutional right to gay marriage (state legislatures and courts also shifted policy in many states). I show that in a majority of states, federal courts actually brought policy in line with opinion majorities, due to the fact the legal status quo lagged behind the change in public support for gay marriage. Thus, these decisions were pro-majoritarian. Combined with the existence of cross-state moral externalities, in which pro-same-sex marriage citizens in benefitted from laws in other states being changed, these results strongly mitigate the force of Scalia’s counter-majoritarian critique in Obergefell.

At the same time, the invalidation of state laws will not always result in furthering the connection between state-level public opinion and policy. In the second paper, I examine abortion policy in the decades after the Supreme Court established the right to an abortion in 1973 in Roe v. Wade. Examining public opinion, judicial rulings, and state policy related to seven types of abortion restrictions (such as parental consent and waiting periods), I show that these restrictions have been broadly popular.  Because the Supreme Court has shifted its doctrine over time to allow states to implement more abortion restrictions, these levels of opinion mean that there has been less congruence between state-level policy and state-level opinion in periods where the Court deemed these restrictions to be unconstitutional.

Taken together, these papers show that effect of judicial review and judicial decision on state-level representation is ambiguous. The power of courts in the United States is such that the actions of judges can have both representation-enhancing and representation-reducing effects. As judicial review is a mainstay in American democracy, evaluating this question requires careful analysis of the contexts in which courts are acting.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearch


About the Author: Jonathan Kastellec is an assistant professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His research “Judicial Federalism and Representation” was awarded the Pi Sigma Alpha Award for the best paper presented at the 2016 MPSA conference.

 

 

Chicago’s “Must See” Locations for Political Scientists

We asked Chicagoan members:  What are the “must see” locations for political scientists while visiting the Chicago area?

In addition to the Palmer House’s own History is Hott tour, MPSA members from the Chicago area have provided us with the following “must see” locations of political, historical, and architectural interest:

 

General John Logan Memorial
General John Logan Memorial (Photo: Anahit Tadevosyan)

General John Logan Memorial  (Grant Park – 337 E. Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601)
Nathan Tarcov, University of Chicago recommends the intersection of Balbo and Michigan which boasts at least three points of political significance: 1) The Blackstone Hotel, site of the famous “smoke-filled room 404” where the Republican bosses picked Warren G. Harding as the party’s presidential nominee in 1920, 2) Balbo Drive itself, probably the only street in the U.S. named for a major Fascist leader, and 3) the section of Grant Park opposite the Hilton where the Chicago police charged the demostrators who chanted “the whole world is watching” during the Democratic convention of 1968.

 

Chicago City Hall
Chicago City Hall (Photo: Anahit Tadevosyan)

Chicago City Hall  (121 N LaSalle Dr, Chicago, IL 60602)
Dick Simpson, University of Illinois at Chicago Professor and former Chicago Alderman, points out the political history at City Hall “where the Democratic Headquarters were under Richard J. Daley” and “Daley Plaza where the cast of Hair sung at the first Earth Day Demonstration.”

 

President Barack Obama’s Home
President Barack Obama’s Chicago Home (Photo: Anahit Tadevosyan)

Barack Obama’s Chicago Home (5046 S. Greenwood Ave., Chicago, IL 60615)
While currently sitting empty, former President Barack Obama’s house remains under watch by the U.S. Secret Service at 5046 S. Greenwood Ave. Though, when in town, Obama can occasionally be spotted at Valois Restaurant .

 

Return Visit
Return Visit Photo: Anahit Tadevosyan)

Return Visit (401 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611)
Pay a visit to an earlier former President with roots in Illinois at  “Return Visit – Abe Lincon” in Pioneer Court.

 

Jane Addams Hull-House
Jane Addams Hull-House (Photo: Anahit Tadevosyan)

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (800 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60607)
Anahit Tadevosyan, University of Illinois at Chicago, recommends a visit to the Jane Addams Hull-House. Another noatble Chicagoan, Jane Addams was the co-founder of the ACLU and the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Marquette Building
Marquette Building (Photo: Anahit Tadevosyan)

Marquette Building (56 W Adams St, Chicago, IL 60604)
If time permits, you may also consider a tour of the Marquette Building offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The Tiffany mosaics of Jacques Marquette’s exploration of Illinois are worth the trip.

 

Monadnock Building
Monadnock Building (Photo: Anahit Tadevosyan)

Monadnock Building (53 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60604)
Once the world’s largest office building, Monadnock Building is building is often credited as the beginning place of the modern architecture movement. The building is on the Chicago Landmarks list, is included on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been named a National Historic Landmark.

 

Tommy Gun’s Garage
Tommy Gun’s Garage (Photo: Anahit Tadevosyan)

Tommy Gun’s Garage (2114 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60616)
If you are interested in experiencing one of the more notorious hangouts in Chicago’s political history, consider a visit to the themed dinner show/speakeasy Tommy Gun’s Garage (the former home of Colosimo’s Café, the club of “Diamond Jm”).

 

Chicago History Museum (Photo: Chicago History Museum)
Chicago History Museum

Chicago History Museum (1601 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614)
If you’re short on time, or just want the highlights, James N. Druckman, Northwestern University, recommends the Chicago History Museum. He says “basically all of it is great. And it’s an oft missed thing, I think….”

Did we miss one of your favorites? Please share your favorite Chicago-area political, historical, or architectural locations in the comments.

 

 

On the Eve of the 2017 Conference Season

On the Eve of Conference Season 2017

As the Fall semester comes to a close, most academics in our field are readying for the upcoming hectic conference schedule starting with SPSA in New Orleans in January, ISA (February) in Baltimore, MPSA (April) in Chicago, and ending with WPSA (April) in Vancouver. Keeping this in mind, this post discusses some decisions and challenges most of us face during this season. I start with some of the challenges my colleagues and I are facing right now.

First, as much as conferences are awesome, they require a lot of attention and effort on the part of participants and presenters. Attending conferences is an amazing learning experience for all of us, but the work that goes in to it can be overwhelming at times. For instance, I am presenting two pieces of work at SPSA and then I am scheduled to present at MPSA in April as well. That means I am working on finalizing three full-length conference-worthy papers within a space of effectively 3 months. And it is not just me, most of my colleagues are in the same boat. We submitted abstracts of some awesome ideas and now we have to hammer out solid papers to be presented at each of these conferences.

This has led to some interesting conversations I have had with other political scientists regarding how many projects and papers can be worked on simultaneously without forgoing quality. I agree with the conventional wisdom that you can only do so many conferences a year and if you do not have something solid to put out, it is better to sit one out and go back next year with something worthy instead of showing up with a half-baked idea. I feel we have all sat through those presentations where the idea is just not there yet and the presentation just makes the presenter look bad even if it could eventually pan out to be something excellent. The point I am making is – it is totally okay to focus on a few pieces of work and present at one or two conferences rather than try to show up with a not-so-great paper to every conference. That is why most of my colleagues and I are seriously deciding on whether to focus on one or two papers instead of doing quantity. Quality beats quantity every time in academia and it is worthwhile to have that discussion with yourself and your co-author.

Second, it is a worthwhile idea to have internal presentations before heading out to conferences. My grad school has a policy that requires every one who seeks travel funding to do internal presentations of their work before they head out. This helps the presenters hone in on their flaws and prepare for questions related to their research. Additionally, it helps the presenters realize where they stand with their research and whether it is ready to a point where they need to be putting it in front of the world. This is critical as at times because many of us can get too close to our own work to see its true quality.

Instead it is a worthwhile idea to take a step back and let your peers and colleagues judge your work in a grad school setting than a conference setting. Internal presentations have helped me personally pinpoint critical issues I was dwelling with my own research. In particular, I was satisfied with a paper I have been working on for most of the year, but it turns out I was rushing past the theoretical contributions of the research. The internal reviews and presentations helped me realize the mistakes I was making as my professors stepped in to pinpoint the exact issue I had to address. What really helped during these internal presentations was that I presented in front of an audience from different subfields. The benchmark was if an Americanist or a Theory person can fully understand my presentation on comparative authoritarianism, then it has merits. Otherwise I need to simplify and narrow my presentation so that everyone hearing it understands my contribution.

Finally, conference presentations are great but often those papers never seem to materialize in to publications. That is totally okay. Sometimes the first go on a paper sounds amazing but once you spend more time fleshing it out you realize it will never be as good as you want it to be. Instead of being stuck on it, just shelf it for a bit and move on. Sooner rather than later, that work will help you with a future project or paper and will be useful in creating something you can put out there as a publication.

So as Fall semester ends and holidays begin, I hope everyone ends up with great work that we can share in the next year. I will hopefully see y’all at SPSA. If not there, then MPSA for sure! Happy holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukah! And a Happy New Year!

About the Author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate & Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also the recipient of the Taiwan Fellowship for 2017 by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC. Adnan is a blogger for the 2017 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on role of bureaucracies in democratization and populist clientalistic appeal in new democracies. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and his website