Do Academics Stink at Work/Life Balance?

And is this scaring away students?

By Alex Ellison

At the 2018 Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, IL, I attended the session, Trying to Balance Work and Life with Joel Raveloharimisy from Andrews University, William Raymond from Benedictine College, Marjorie Hershey from Indiana University, and Jacob Holt from Columbus State University.

When I was in my second or third year of college, my advisor made the suggestion that I might like getting a PhD. “And doing what with that,” I asked. “You could become a professor.”

What?!

I was the first in my family to go to college. The daughter of a wine salesman and a waitress, I did not understand that college could be more than the place I learned; it could be the place I worked. I loved college, so this sounded wonderful!

Then I talked with my department advisor about my new plans. I was a German major and I would soon learn that because of the mass department closures happening around the country, the language professors were arguably the most bitter and resentful — not the kind of people who would offer encouraging advice for a starry-eyed undergraduate. He said, passively, “Yeah, sure. I suppose you could teach at one of the sister colleges.”

I heard similarly condescending remarks from a seemingly caring speaker at a conference on Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. As we walked and talked and I shared my plans and ambitions with him, he said, “You know, it is very difficult to be a woman in academia.” This was in the year 2009.

Fast forward to my first job after undergrad, a service-learning coordinator at the University of Nevada, Reno, where I worked while applying to graduate programs. Their German department was on the butcher block at the time, and I made the mistake of seeking guidance from a few very angry professors, one who seemed to resemble Karl Marx more and more each day. Not surprisingly, these folks strongly advised against my future plans.

Despite the naysayers, I was admitted to the University of Chicago’s Masters of Social Sciences program. I was taking my first step toward getting a PhD! I eagerly met with one of the faculty members in the German department during the admitted student weekend, and he couldn’t have been more annoyed by my visit and showed no interest in me as a prospective student.

Needless to say, I finally got cold feet. At some point, the collective words of discouragement overrode my more fantastical, head-in-the-clouds side, and I declined the University of Chicago offer.

While my life is fulfilling and full of meaning and joy today, I can’t help but wonder if I would have also been happy in academia. Is academia as terrible — especially for women who want a family — as some of the naysayers would suggest? Even if a degree in German history was a suicidal mission, why was there so little encouragement along my path? The experience gave me the impression that professors are an unhappy lot. That they lack balance and are constantly stressed out.

But the same could be said for people across a wide array of professions.

Are people in academia less able to find balance? Does the nature of their work, with the competing pressures to research and teach, make balance impossible?

These questions led me to wander into the session on work/life balance at the 2018 Midwest Political Science Association conference. Marjorie Hershey offered some refreshingly sound and friendly advice. I found myself wishing I’d had her as an advisor and mentor while I was an undergraduate. To the academics with families, she said to get involved in your kids’ lives; get involved in your communities. She stressed the importance of getting involved in the world around you, no matter how busy you are with research and publishing. She gave this advice:

It is hard to create a relationship with people if you wait until you’ve done enough publishing. There will never be a time when you say, “I’ve done enough publishing, I’m done!”

She said academia is actually one of the more autonomous institutions to be employed; professors are allowed relative independence in their work compared to other professions. She suggested taking advantage of this and not falling into the trap of living by others’ rules or trying to mirror others’ lives.

Because of the relative autonomy and the ability to mostly choose research directions, she gave the advice to choose research pursuits that fit into our lives:

If your free time consists of what you have during nap time and nursery school, don’t become a political philosopher.

So, perhaps it is not a question of whether or not academics can balance work and life, but if they are in the appropriate academic domains given their life situations. However, it does seem like academics are uniquely positioned to fail worse than other professionals at the whole balance thing. They simultaneously need to be liked by their departments and offer their service to the university, research and publish endlessly, never ever really knowing what the magic number, and they are pressured to fill up seats in their classes with students who will give them high marks as teachers. The pressures are real, but perhaps not insurmountable, and perhaps not a reason to avoid the profession altogether.

So here are some tips from the panelists:

  • Don’t be discouraged and fearful about pressures — Know that pressure will exist in this space and experiencing that pressure doesn’t mean you are weak, unsuitable, or disliked
  • It’s easy to focus on what’s immediate rather than what’s important — don’t let yourself fall victim to this trap; prioritize work and life so that you can tackle what’s most important first
  • Don’t confuse the time you’re putting into a project with the quality of your work — “It’s not the hours you put in; it’s what you put into the hours.” — Jacob Holt
  • We can’t be all of the things at once, but we can be all of the things throughout our careers — Our careers are a marathon, not a sprint; you may be teaching heavy at one end of your career and research heavy at another end
  • Invest in something you are passionate about outside of work — whether it’s a creative project or triathlon training, you have to have something you care about that is not your teaching or research

And sometimes, work/life balance emerges naturally once a family enters the stage. When we’re single, work doesn’t necessarily need to be balanced with anything else. As someone from the audience shared, when he was single, he simple worked until his brain was fried and he couldn’t work anymore. The family is often the force that makes us create balance. However, it’s arguably a good idea to start working on balance, even if you don’t have a family; you’re probably not working as well as you’re capable of with that fried brain and 3.5 hours of sleep.


Alex Ellison is a blogger at the 2018 Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, IL. She is the Founding Director of MENTEE, a non-profit organization that helps immigrant, refugee, and low-income high school students gain career exposure through job shadows and mentorship. She is also an independent education consultant and college counselor. Read more from Alex Ellison on Medium

Why the 2020 census shouldn’t ask about your citizenship status

File 20180220 116343 uhaykf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A naturalization ceremony, in December 2015.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

Jennifer Van Hook, Pennsylvania State University

“Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

On March 26, the U.S. Commerce Department announced that a citizenship question would be added to the 2020 census. This question, originally proposed by the Department of Justice, would ostensibly help enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When it was first proposed in December 2017, census experts, over 100 national scientific and civil rights organizations, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Democratic senators and House members protested vehemently.

I am a social scientist who studies immigration. I have used census data on immigration and citizenship in my research for over two decades, and I have urged government statistical agencies before to collect more data about immigrants. But I don’t think it’s wise to collect citizenship status in the 2020 census. Doing so would not only raise the risk of collecting inaccurate data, but also reduce public confidence in the census itself.

Tracking citizenship

On the one hand, data on citizenship is valuable. In any modern democracy, statistical data is essential for informing policy debates and guiding the implementation of governmental programs. Without it, decisions would almost certainly be too easily shaped by anecdotal evidence and personal biases.

Citizenship data has been used to track political participation and inclusion of immigrant groups. Citizenship is strongly associated with access to public assistance, health care and jobs. Social scientists and policy analysts rely heavily on survey items on citizenship to understand immigrants’ well-being and their impact on host societies.

What’s more, the U.S. Census Bureau has successfully collected confidential information on citizenship status in the past. The citizenship question was first introduced in the 1870 census and was part of all censuses from 1890 through 1950. It was included in the “long” form of the census – administered to 1 in 6 households – as late as 2000. It’s also asked in the American Community Survey, a survey that Census Bureau conducts every year.

Immigrants tend to be willing survey respondents. In a 2010 study, Hispanic immigrants were more likely than U.S.-born Hispanics to agree that the census is good for the Hispanic community. They were also more likely to correctly understand that the census cannot be used to determine whether a person is in the country legally, and that the bureau must keep their responses confidential.

In another study I published in 2014 with two colleagues, James Bachmeier and Frank Bean, we found that nearly all immigrants answered questions about their immigration and documentation status. These response rates are on par with or better than typical survey questions on health or income. Moreover, immigrants’ responses to these questions appeared to be fairly accurate.

A 1910 census population schedule.
U.S. Census Bureau

Harming the data

However, the political climate surrounding immigration has changed in the last year.

Not all immigrants have been cooperative respondents in the past. Those who are more likely to be undocumented have been undercounted in past censuses and were more likely to incorrectly report themselves as U.S. citizens.

The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy may have increased mistrust among all immigrants, not just those who are undocumented. During focus group interviews conducted by the Census Bureau roughly six months into Trump’s presidency, immigrants appeared anxious and reluctant to cooperate with Census Bureau interviewers. They mentioned fears of deportation, the elimination of DACA, a “Muslim ban” and ICE raids. One respondent walked out when the questionnaire turned to the topic of citizenship, leaving the interviewer alone in his apartment. Respondents even omitted or gave false names on household rosters to avoid “registering” with the Census Bureau. Interviewers remarked that it was much easier to collect data on immigration and citizenship just a few years ago than it is now.

It’s not yet clear whether the fears seen in the focus group interviews are widespread or how such fears would affect response rates if the citizenship question were added to the 2020 census. Additionally, researchers haven’t yet worked out a way to ask the citizenship question so it’s not perceived as threatening.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough time to find out. A finalized questionnaire must be submitted to Congress by the end of March.

What to do in 2020

I served on the Census Advisory Board from 2008 to 2011 and have personally witnessed the time and effort it takes for the Census Bureau to develop questions for the census. Officials must pay meticulous attention to the exact question wording, response categories, ordering and questionnaire layout.

I believe adding a citizenship question without adequate testing could severely reduce participation in the 2020 census among the country’s 44 million immigrants and the additional 32 million U.S.-born people who live with them.

The social and economic consequences of a low response rate for the 2020 census would be severe. Even small errors in coverage could shift the distribution of political power and federal funds, as well as reduce the effectiveness of public health systems and other government functions.

Perhaps even worse, high coverage error in the 2020 census could undermine the public’s trust in the census as the nation’s source of information on the size, growth and geographic distribution of the U.S. population.

This occurred a century ago, as historian Margo Anderson described in her book, “The American Census.” The 1920 census revealed dramatic shifts in population from rural to urban areas, as large waves of Eastern and Southern European immigrants settled predominantly in American cities. Congress, fearing the political ramifications of these changes, rejected the results of the 1920 census and voted not to redistribute the seats of the House according to the most recent census data. A similar rejection of the results of the 2020 census would likely result in a constitutional crisis today.

Citizenship data would be valuable. But the risks of poor data quality – or the erosion of public trust in the census and other governmental institutions – far outweigh the potential benefits. Given that there are other current data available on citizenship, why take unnecessary risks when the stakes are so high?

The ConversationThis is an updated version of an article originally published on February 22, 2018.

Jennifer Van Hook, Roy C. Buck Professor of Sociology and Demography, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Politics in the Trump Era – A Curated Guide to MPSA 2018

by Chana M. Solomon-Schwartz 

Politics in the Trump Era – A Curated Guide to MPSA 2018

In less than a month, scholars from more than 50 countries will congregate at the 2018 MPSA conference to present research, connect with one another, and eat deep-dish pizza. With more than 80 sections represented, there are panels, roundtables, talks, posters, and working groups for whatever topics catch your fancy.

One question being asked in different formats is whether—and if so how—Donald Trump’s campaign, election, and presidency have impacted politics. Has Donald Trump as candidate or president been impactful for groups in the United States or policies at home or abroad? Have institutions constrained President Trump and is the sense of his power overblown? At MPSA 2018, scholars approach this basket of questions from different angles.

If you’re interested in learning more about lessons from political science research about politics during a Trump administration, here’s a curated guide to some relevant sessions.

On Friday, April 6, presenters on the “How Race and Ethnicity was Experienced in the 2016 Election” panel will examine how different groups experienced and responded to the 2016 election. Danvy Le, Maneesh Arora, and Christopher Stout argue that discrimination against Asian Americans in the wake of the election has triggered feelings of linked fate and alienated Asian Americans from the Republican party. Brian Patrick Tilley’s paper demonstrates that during his campaign, Donald Trump used racially-charged language at a greater rate than comparable US Republican candidates. Two other papers on this panel example the impact of the 2016 election on mobilization within minority communities: within Native American communities and within Latinx and Muslim community organizations.

On Thursday, April 5, the Caucus for LGBT Political Science is hosting a roundtable entitled “LGBTQ Politics in the Trump Era.” Join participants from a diverse set of subfields including public law, public opinion, and political theory for the eponymous roundtable.

Other scholars address whether the 2016 presidential election weakened democracy. Simon Stacey and Carolyn B Forestiere ask whether the election reduced general support for democracy within the United States or just specific support for the Trump administration. They present a survey which suggests only the latter, and that contemporary concern about American democracy is unfounded. Damon M. Cann and David Magleby use exit poll data to show that Trump voters from a state with a strong third-party candidate were less confident their ballot would be counted correctly than Clinton or third-party voters. Join these authors and their co-panelists for the session “Trust in Democratic Institutions” on Friday, April 6.

Other papers examine specific issue areas during the Trump era. Michelle Allendoerfer’s paper on the “Human Rights, Political Leadership, and Domestic Politics” panel asks whether U.S. public opinion favors human rights-based lenses or security-based lenses. In “Christian Nationalism and Anti-immigration Attitudes in the Trump Era,” Allyson Shortle, Eric L. McDaniel, and Irfan Nooruddin use original national survey to show that religious nationalism explains restrictive immigration attitudes above and beyond other religious factors. Shortle et al.’s research will be presented on Friday afternoon at “Civil Religion and the Convergence of God and Nation”, a session sponsored by MPSA 2018 program chairs.

Questions about the so-called “Trump effect” are also addressed from political theory perspectives. Naomi Scheinerman presents “Anti-Vaccination in the Trump Era: Mistrust of Experts and the Promise of Democracy” at the “Sympathy, Respect, Trust, and Liberal Citizenship” panel on the afternoon of Saturday, April 7. In this paper, she argues that democratic participation can restore trust in experts by allowing disillusioned and abandoned voters to be heard and to hear.

On Saturday morning, lightning talks will be presented at the “Media, Fake News, and the Information Environment” panel. Jerry L. Miller and Ryan Severance categorize the types of tweets posted by candidate and President Donald J. Trump as acclaim, attack or defense. Other presenters on this panel address broader patterns of fake news consumption outside the United States. Mathias Osmundsen, Dimiter D. Toshkov, and Michael Bang Petersen use surveys administered to citizens in three Eastern European countries to demonstrate that individuals selectively accept and reject “fake news” in patterns that reflect perceptions of zero-sum conflict between Russia and their own country. Mariana Sanchez Santos’ paper examines the sources of trust and distrust in news and social media using the 2017 general election in the UK as case study.

Please join the conversation!

About the Author: Chana M. Solomon-Schwartz received her Ph.D. in political science from the George Washington University in January 2018. Her dissertation, “The Strong Power of Weak Commitment: Treaty Ratification and Reservation Removal in the Service of Human Rights,” examines why (some) countries increase their level of commitment to multilateral conventions protecting the rights of women and racial minorities. She will be blogging for MPSA 2018 covering Teaching Panels and Roundtables and can be reached at cmss@gwu.edu.

Why Would A Mom and A Business Owner Get An MPA?

And what does she do with it?

By Alex Ellison

Photo by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash

I was accepted to the University of Chicago to their MA Program in Social Sciences. I visited, sent in my deposit and then backed out.

I moved out west. I started a business. I had a kid.

I applied to the Masters in Education Technology program at the University of Nevada. I started, realized it was not what I wanted and stopped.

I applied to the Masters in Public Administration program at the University of Nevada. I didn’t start.

Business grew. Kid grew…

I reapplied to the Masters in Public Administration program. 2 years later I finished. I did it for me. I wasn’t looking to get a job with the degree. I wasn’t looking to get a pay raise, since I was my own boss. I did it because I liked school and I also thought I might do more government contracting in the future (I was doing contract work with school districts), for which this degree would be helpful. But my reasons for getting my masters were largely personal, not professional.

I did get a research grant while I was in graduate school to go to Switzerland and investigate their dual education system and apprenticeship model. This work fascinated me and led to some interesting work in northern Nevada. However, once out of my masters, the umbrella was gone. The “home institution” no longer existed. I was busy with my work, but I tried to continue the research on my own, but it just felt futile without mentors and support.

I talked to another mom about this. She is a full-time teacher with 3 kids; she was a Fulbright scholar and she has two masters degrees. She too lamented over the difficulty in finding organizations, think tanks and fellowships to attach to when no longer available for, or interested in, a full-time research commitment, a job in the field, or a PhD.

I would love to see a conversation at MPSA’s Annual Conference this year around continuing our research when we are no longer officially “in the field,” yet we want to continue our research on the side and continue to be part of the political science and public policy community.

Alex Ellison will be a blogger at the Annual MPSA (Midwest Political Science Association) Conference in Chicago, IL. You can learn more about the conference and schedule here. She will be attending the Trying to Balance Work & Life andGrant Opportunities & Strategies sessions. Read more from Alex Ellison on Medium

Chicago Tips and Recommendations from a Graduate Student

By Charmaine N. Willis

Willis-ChicagoTips

This year marks my first year attending MPSA. I look forward to being able to share my research, to receive feedback, and to network with other scholars at one of the biggest and most well-known political science conferences. However, I would be remiss if I did not say that one of the biggest things that I am excited about in attending MPSA is returning to Chicago. Having been born and raised in rural New England, I have been to Chicago only one other time in my life but I quickly fell in love with the Windy City. It has all the trappings of any major city (a wide selection of food, drink, and things to do) while maintaining some semblance of a Midwestern charm. While my experience in Chicago is limited compared to some others’, I offer some recommendations to both graduate students and those attending MPSA for the first time.

First and foremost, check out Chicago-based Groupon for deals on food, drinks, entertainment, and other things to do. A recent glance at the site reveals over 1,200 deals for activities and over 1,200 on food and drink, respectively. Some deals offer especially deep discounts. Groupon is an important first consideration for graduate students and others on a tight budget as it can make partaking in some of Chicago’s signature activities and landmarks more realistic financially.

A second stop should be MPSA’s own Family Resources page. The page offers information for parents about resources available at the conference as well as family-friendly activities, including information on nearby parks, and dining options in Chicago. Additionally, the site lists discounts for local sporting events available to MPSA members and their family and friends. Conveniently, there is also a list of pharmacies and hospitals near the conference if needed.

One of the must-do activities that most visitors to Chicago will recommend is a river-boat architectural tour. Chicago boasts several distinct architectural styles throughout its buildings and having a knowledgeable tour guide to describe the history is imperative to understanding and appreciating them. The river-boat tours are particularly fun as one can relax and get perspectives of the buildings that one cannot get by walking or other types of tours. There are several companies that run river-boat tours, including a few by the Chicago Architectural Foundation. Those interested in going on an architectural tour should peruse Groupon for tour discounts.

Chicago, like many major cities, hosts several excellent museums. While I am not as much of a museum-lover as I wish I was, I really enjoyed visiting the Field Museum of Natural History. This museum has something for everyone including movies, hands-on activity centers, and, of course, exhibits (personal favorite is The Tsavo Lions– fascinating!) Fortunately, the museum is easily accessible by bus and fairly inexpensive for students even without a discount ($21 for basic admission).

Chicago is renowned for many things, not the least of which is its signature deep-dish pizza. Although I am an enthusiast of New York-style pizza, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much I enjoyed Chicago-style pizza. A local Chicagoan recommended that I try the pizza at Lou Malnati’s, a Chicago chain pizzeria known for its deep-dish style. There are locations throughout the city and the prices are reasonable. This is a good option for those interested in trying deep-dish pizza and seeing what the fuss is all about.

Finally, for micro-brew aficionados, Chicago is home to Goose Island Beer Company. Their two locations in the city feature more than a dozen brews on tap in addition to their widely-available 312 Urban Wheat Ale. They also offer average-priced pub fare and brewery tours by appointment to those interested in seeing the inner workings of the operation. A visit to one of the Goose Island breweries is fun for those interested in trying some of their hard-to-find beers or those wanting a low-key outing.

I look forward to experiencing MPSA in April, and adding to my list of Chicago must-see attractions!

About the Author: Charmaine Willis is a current PhD Student at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her current research interests are Northeast Asian regional dynamics; civil society development in non-Western contexts; and contentious politics with a specific focus on anti-US military base mobilization. Willis is also a blogger for the 2018 MPSA conference in Chicago. She can be reached at cwillis@albany.edu or on Twitter.

 

How Predictable is Your Work?

The truth about job security in the future

By Alex Ellison

 

HowPredictable

If you spend a lot of time doing predictable, physical work tasks in the accommodation and food services sector, you might want to diversify your skills and think about what transferable skills you have that could land you a new job in the next few years. Automation might get the better of you. On the other hand, if your work involves a good amount of managerial taskscreativity, novelty, expertise, or if you work in education, you’re probably in a good spot and you will likely have a fighting chance against the robots.

The interesting thing about automation, is that unlike the flu epidemic, which does not discriminate (especially this year), automation seems to discriminate based on the type of work you do. However, unlike some might assume, automation likely will not wipe out entire work sectors; rather, this imminent force will replace certain types of work tasks within a variety of sectors. In preparing for automation, we have to avoid blanket statements that name an entire sector as good or bad.

In the graph above, (another version of this graph can be found here), you can see that the accommodation and food services sector has a lot of people spending a lot of time doing predictable tasks. So it seems that it will be hard hit. However, experts and managers in that sector whose work is not predictable, meaning there are regularly new problems to solve and fires to put out daily, are pretty shielded from the threat of automation.

Look at education services. The bulk of the time spent in that sector is on tasks that involve expertise or management, meaning as a whole, that sector is pretty protected. A small amount of work in that sector is spent on manual labor, like data entry, and those job roles will likely be replaced by automation.

What does all of this mean for kids in school right now? What work will already be automated by the time they graduate high school or college? We ought to be preparing young people for the types of skills needed to be irreplacable; we ought to be preparing them for the unpredictable.


Alex Ellison is a college planner, education consultant, and co-founder at MENTEE. She will be a blogger at the Annual MPSA (Midwest Political Science Association) Conference in Chicago, IL. You can learn more about the conference and schedule here. Ellison will be attending Policies for Economically Vulnerable Populations and Making of Education Policy sessions. Read more from Alex Ellison on Medium

What George Washington Really Meant About Political Parties — and Why It Matters

By Michael A. Smith of Emporia State University

Politicians Having a Beer

Did George Washington really hate political parties? For our first president’s 286th birthday, it is time for historians to set the record straight. For political scientists, a nuanced view of Washington’s stand helps us understand the modern-day Americans who also despise partisanship (or say they do).

Critics of the party system often rely on Washington’s comments to buttress their views. For example:  according to the Washington Post, Neil Simon, independent candidate for U.S. Senate from Maryland, actually pointed to a picture of Washington before paraphrasing him on the evils of parties, adding, “There are no political parties in the Constitution.”

On the surface, the case seems clear. In his 1796 farewell address, Washington talked at length about the “danger of parties in the state.” A sample quote follows:

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true… [but] there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame…

 

There is plenty more, and readers are invited to click the hyperlink above to read the entire speech. Case closed, then?

Not so fast. First of all, Washington seems say we should reign in partisanship, not eliminate parties altogether. Furthermore, context matters, and the story—and the presidential term—that preceded Washington’s anti-party comments casts them in a remarkably different light.

From the Continental Army days onward, Washington worked closely with Alexander Hamilton, who would become a founding figure of the Federalist Party. Though Washington and Hamilton had their disagreements, Washington ultimately supported most of Hamilton’s agenda, including a strong Treasury Department, promotion of commerce, and neutrality between England and France. Thomas Jefferson, later a founder of the Democratic-Republican Party, was also in Washington’s nonpartisan cabinet, serving as Secretary of State. However, Jefferson quit in frustration as he saw the President increasingly siding with Hamilton. Later, divisions deepened over the controversial Jay Treaty, in which the U.S. sought to re-establish commercial relations with England, even making certain concessions, while staying neutral in England’s war with France. Jefferson favored an alliance with France. All of this and more is detailed in Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, the recent biography that inspired the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. Not only that, but according to historians Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, the hyper-partisan Hamilton actually helped draft Washington’s famous farewell. Spirit of party, indeed!

So, why the anti-party remarks? With Hamilton at his side, Washington denounced parties and “factions” because he saw Jefferson and Madison’s emerging, breakaway Democratic-Republican Party as a threat to national unity—especially, national unity behind the Federalist agenda. In other words, Washington and Hamilton denounced parties because if everybody would just agree with them, then there would be no need for parties. This is exactly why most Americans hate political parties today. In their 2003 book Stealth Democracy, John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse present the results of many focus groups conducted with nonparticipating and reluctant voters. Sure enough, most of the citizens they queried hated not only political parties, but politics itself. Yet without parties, how did these grumpy would-be voters propose to manage political conflict? Aye, there’s the rub! Hibbing and Theiss-Morse’s disengaged respondents did not propose a mechanism for managing political conflict, because they did not think there should be political conflict. If the country was simply ruled by consensus, then there would be no need for parties.

Washington, Hamilton, and the surly voters (and non-voters) studied in Stealth Democracy were skeptical of the whole idea that voters would—and should—have differing views. Instead of supporting parties as a means of managing competing ideas and interests in a pluralistic democracy, these critics proposed that all voters should simply agree with them, thus averting the need for any organized way of managing conflict. No conflict, no need to manage it: now everyone line up behind me!

This also explains another dilemma of today’s party critics. As John Sides points out, these “independent” voters overwhelmingly behave as partisans. In fact, the country is more politically polarized than it has been in a long time, with many of us even stating we would not want our children to marry someone who affiliates with the other party—and so-called “independents” are very much a part of this trend. Nor are self-identified independents necessarily more moderate: in 2016, supporters of liberal Bernie Sanders were more likely to call themselves independent. Hillary Clinton, who took more centrist positions, won most of the primary voters who self-identified as Democrats.

Today’s partisan-voting haters of political parties are not so different from their hero, Washington. Like the man from Mt. Vernon, today’s “independents” seek, not new ways of managing the tumult of political conflict, but the elimination of political conflict they imagine would occur if everyone just took the same stand on the issues—their stand. Then and now, the denunciation of parties is really an attack on people that have the audacity to have different opinions: those troublemaking factions who have the nerve to disagree with me!

As for me—like many political scientists, I like the parties. In the diverse tumult we become, we are bound to have passionate disagreements on the issues of the day. We do not all have the same values, but we can all value a system that allows us to fight, haggle, electioneer, and logroll our way toward some type of compromise instead of withdrawing or resorting to violence. The process can be messy, and parties allow for these differing opinions to coalesce into organized blocs and compete for votes. If I were king for a day, I would nudge the U.S. toward proportional representation, opening up the possibility of more than two competitive parties.  However, I harbor a deep distrust toward those that would dispense with parties altogether. As for the others, instead of denouncing the evils of “party” and “faction,” it might just be easier—and more honest—to denounce the evils of “anyone who dares to disagree with me.” It was true in 1796, and it is true today. No, thanks: I’ll stick with the parties.

Then again, perhaps Washington did have the answer. In the quote above, he suggested, not that we quench political parties, but rather that we prevent partisanship from becoming an open flame. Today, in our hyper-partisan climate, too many of us may join the cynical voters studied in Stealth Democracy, seeking only to end conflict with a win for our side, and placing no value on the system itself. We want only for our party to win, we do not nurture and celebrate the values that allow us to have political parties—all political parties, not just the one we support—to organize and negotiate our differences in the first place: country first, party second, and both are important. Hibbing and Theiss-Morse suggest that we begin by teaching children and adults alike to manage conflict productively, instead of offering only feel-good civics lessons and me-too groups of likeminded people that avoid any discussion of dissenting views. Indeed!

We owe our first president a deeper reading of his famous remarks and their context, and we owe our nation’s political parties their due. Happy Birthday, George!

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.

When the elite abandon democracy – A Warning from Belize?

By Harold Young of Austin Peay State University

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As always, my first full day in Belize starts in my barber’s chair. The “trim” (haircut) is accompanied by spirited conversations with other barbers and clients. The topics run the gamut. Sports, weather, sex and, of course, domestic/international politics merge and intertwine at various junctures highlighted with grand gestures, fist bumping and laughter. In the middle of a particularly animated discussion about the latest corruption revelation, a young man walks in and starts grooming his beard in the mirror. Half under his breath he says, “Barrow di teef franh di poa” (Prime Minister Barrow is stealing from the poor).

This statement reflects the perception that he, a poor individual, is being acted upon or taken advantage of by the elite represented by the Prime Minister. The term “elite” is grounded in a long history of study in political science. It springs from the Greek notion of the “guardian” class of rulers or the best among us to govern. This minority forms the leadership in a society and is studied in political science as elite theory. Elite theory, therefore, can be defined as the perspective that a small minority of people are arguably best suited to handle public affairs and that this arrangement is inevitable in modern societies (Maloy). Lasswell and Lerner point out that understanding the role of the elite is indispensable to understanding politics and the processes by which we are governed. We should also note that the term “elite” includes those with political, economic/business, educational, law enforcement, faith/religious, national defense and bureaucratic power and/or influence.

The elite, therefore, should serve the source of its power and authority while working against democracy because it has faith in the rule of the few. It rejects the idea of rule by the people in general (Johari, p.104). Therefore, Maurice Duverger suggests that “government of the people and by the people must be replaced by another formula, a government of people by an elite sprung from the people” (p. 425).

At the expense of being an alarmist (or offending), I suggest that Belize is teetering on the precipice of being a failed state.

The Fund for Peace developed the Fragile States Index which includes twelve distinct conflict risk indicators. Based on these indicators, Belize rates 115th out 177 countries. Worsening from 2007 to 2017, we are one stage below “Warning” (but not in “Stable” category) and one step in front of Guatemala, which is in the Warning stage. Further, the Belizean elites are more factionalized according to Index declined from 5/10 in 2007 to 4.3/10 in 2017.

Source: The Fund for Peace

Further, the Global Policy Forum  defines a failed state as follows:

Failed states can no longer perform basic functions such as education, security, or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty. Within this power vacuum, people fall victim to competing factions and crime, and sometimes the United Nations or neighboring states intervene to prevent a humanitarian disaster. However, states fail not only because of internal factors. Foreign governments can also knowingly destabilize a state by fueling ethnic warfare or supporting rebel forces, causing it to collapse.

With all this in mind, Belize is not a failed state (yet) but the elements are present. Arguably, nothing is inevitable, but I suggest the current course is unsustainable without change, or the likely outcome will be at best be a contained intrastate conflict or, at the worst, adsorption by Guatemala (or the former followed by the latter).

That these scenarios are raised in disparate social groups is serious enough for concern. In Belize, the elite blames the poor for being poor. They view the poor as lazy and unambitious disregarding the inequities in society and institutional indifference and neglect that frames the lives of many of poor and mostly working strata of society. While I did see some people idle, most were working or hustling in some fashion. Second, on more than one occasion the use of government-sanctioned extrajudicial executions (a la the Philippines) is a viable crime-fighting alternative to keep them safe found support in elite discussions. They assume that they will be exempt from such a measure. Third, those in Belize’s upper echelons are overtly suspicious of any foreigners who are not Caucasian, or wealthy. Fourth, the wisdom of universal adult suffrage was questioned. The basis is that much of the voting public is stupid and/or corrupt. Fifth, it is widely believed the government needs to be more authoritative with a strong leader enforcing law and order at the expense of civil rights and freedoms. This is reminiscent of the “big man syndrome” which where one person or group exercises absolute control over others and ultimately leads to instability, further neopatrimonial corruption and increased disparities (Shawa 2012). Sixth, people do not feel safe unless walled in at home. The rise of private security is an indictment of public law and order institutions. The irony (if you want to call it that) is that those employed to secure are guarding the very ones who care little about their interests. Seventh, general disgust with politicians (part of the political elite) and blaming the very people who secure the interest of a portion of the elite. Eight, I was shocked at the resignation to the notion that independent Belize has failed. This seems to open the door to accepting dismemberment of the country within the realm of possibility (even acceptability).

The big question: how do all citizens (the voting public) ensure that the public’s interests are not ignored, and democracy is not undermined? There is no silver bullet. I humbly suggest that a part of the answer rests with the elite. What is expected of the elite, therefore, is that men and women who see beyond self-interest step forward in their respective spheres of interest and influence (not everyone can run for office) to champion the general welfare. Countries like Belize (and the U.S.) have no dearth of politicians but a shortage of statespersons, which means campaigning never transitions to governing after an election cycle. Policy development with consistent and equitable implementation must focus on the most good for the most people. None of this is to say that individuals or some civic groups do not do good works, but Belize is at the point where it must be more widespread, coordinated and focused to address the systemic problems of accountability, corruption, and disparities that drive societal problems. Though easier said than done of course, let us start with a public discourse of the real underlying issues and our failures to hold the political elite accountable. Does this account sound familiar?

P.S. At my last visit to the barber three weeks later, I was told that the young man was seriously injured in a shooting a few days earlier.

About the Author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research focuses Public Law and examines an American and international perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he works as a health communications manager, a social worker and practiced law.