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 in diverse, urban, Democratic-voting Milwaukee County, by 0.3%.  Problem is, it also shifted in other area urban counties. In fact, the 3% drop in Hennepin County (Minneapolis), and 2% drop in Polk County (Des Moines) were both greater than that in Milwaukee—and Minnesota and Iowa had no new voter ID laws.  Wayne County (Detroit) and Cook County (Chicago), also in states with no new restrictive voting laws, had smaller drops at 0.2% and 0.01%, respectively.  Again, it is important to note that I am computing turnout as a percentage of the country’s adult population, as per U.S. Census population estimates from the year before the election.  Furthermore, the turnout drop in Milwaukee did not come with a Republican shift—if anything Milwaukee shifted to being more Democratic—more so than Detroit or Minneapolis.


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.

 

 

Ruling by Distraction

MPSAblog-Rasool-RulleByDistraction

To rule by distraction is a time-tested tool of autocratic and authoritarian regimes. It is a go-to move for non-democratic regimes when faced with a challenge, domestic or international. As the name suggests, this approach is simple but effective. The idea is to create enough chaos and distraction that all eyes remain on that. The key is to make “normal” a moving target (i.e. change what it means to be normal on a regular basis). Doing so allows for drastic steps to take place behind the smoke screen and distractions.

A simpler way to understand this is to consider how bot net attacks work. Essentially when hackers bring down a website or a cyber system, what they do is simply overload the system with bot net queries. If a system is built to handle a million queries a minute, the system crashes when it is hit with 2 million queries. And while everyone focuses on the system crashing, no one notices the data stolen or traffic diverted.

Now let’s employ this to what happens every day in Washington these last few days. The morning starts with denials of Russian involvement, Rep. Nunez’s collusion with the White House, intelligence community up in arms and the latest Executive Order on immigration and visas being put on hold by courts in Hawaii. The average viewer/consumer of current affairs knowledge is already overloaded to take in all of this. Their focus moves beyond the fact that the proposed American Health Care Act (aka Trumpcare) failed miserably in Congress even though the GOP controls both houses. The average viewer has also forgotten that the President tweeted a baseless claim about wiretapping a couple of weeks ago. He was widely-assailed for that at the time, but the story did not stick. By overloading the attention span of the average person, the administration can push past any governance disasters. Because the news cycle is so small and there is so much “news” nothing sticks long enough to make an impact.

Why This is Dangerous for Democracy

A democracy relies on checks and balances in the system. Transparency through checks and balances allows people to continue trusting the governance institutions. Unless the people trust the governance institutions, they will not trust the democracy.

In a “rule by distraction” situation, the survival of the administration depends on people not being able to process the complete information. By creating multiple simultaneous distractions, the administration overloads the attention of its citizens. In essence, then, they are not lying to the people, they are just creating enough alternative explanations that “truth” becomes debatable. Add political polarization to this and consistent bashing of the “other” side and you have a loyalist following locked up that will disregard anything that questions the government.

To have some context on this – consider the example of Turkey in the recent weeks and months. Turkey will have a referendum in mid-April to determine whether it will effectively crown President Erdogan, the king by giving him sweeping powers but not the title. In run up to the referendum, the Turkish government has successfully changed the major news story every day. They picked a fight with Netherlands and Germany that escalated in to a fight with the EU all within a space of three days while they were losing soldiers in the Syrian incursion. Government ministers were slamming the US and its refusal to turn over Gulen while the U.S. Secretary of State was visiting Turkey this week.

Through perpetually distracting the viewers, AKP has successfully taken the focus away from the question of whether it was Gulenists who were behind the coup attempt or if it was some other group. The distraction has also helped take away focus from the fact that thousands of academics and journalists are languishing in jails under exaggerated charges while more than one hundred thousand people have lost their jobs. Because the distraction of a showdown with the European Union is more newsworthy, these smaller news stories have gone under the radar. Plus, through polarization, there are two groups of people in Turkey now, those who will vote yes and those who will vote no on the referendum. The only loser in this process is democratic norms of checks and balances through transparency.

Act Not Distract

The reason rule by distraction has worked so well in the U.S. so far is because the media is struggling to disaggregate news and distraction when the same authority is creating both. In this scenario, it is our responsibility as scientists, academics, and intellectuals to keep the focus on facts. We cannot fact check everything; what we can do is fact check our domain. What we can do is explain to our students, friends, and family how this cycle works. The news cycle needs to be slowed down, and we need to be a party to that.

We often discuss standing up for science; we hardly go in to details of how to do that. One way to do that is slowing down the news cycle by unpacking stories and issues. More crucially, we need to teach the society how to do that. Unless we focus on specifically doing this, we can expect the malicious cuts to arts and sciences that we have witnessed in the last few months. If the public does not know the value of our work i.e. proving and disproving ideas as facts through evidence, they will see no need to support it. Rule by distraction puts democracy at risk, as political scientists we have a duty to push back and reclaim space for facts.

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.

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.

 

 

Alone and Working: Making the Transition to ABD

Alone and Working: Making the Transition to ABD

The change from being a PhD Student to a PhD Candidate is a big one. The moment we cross that threshold of becoming ABD, we fall in to a kind of purgatory where we are no longer students and not yet peers of our professors. This purgatory, or as it is better known as ABD, is something that no one prepares you for. One of us (Harold Young) went through the process in the last two years and the other (Adnan Rasool) just started down this path a couple of months ago after I defended my dissertation prospectus.

Here we share our common experiences.

So what changes? What do we do? Why it matters and how do you survive this process?

The biggest change is that you are on your own. As one my professors keeps saying “you are on a little island all by yourself, trying to find a way back”. That is the reality and the way back is finishing the dissertation project. While the first few years of grad school provide the tools and framework needed to survive, during this phase there is little to no accountability leaving you alone to figure out how to harness the discipline needed to complete the dissertation.

But how does one go about doing this? Well you start figuring it out when you acknowledge and accept that you are virtually alone in this now. That realization eventually does hit even if it might take a few weeks or months. But when it hits home, that is when you realize a host of other things as well.

Firstly, you are no longer treated as a student. You are treated like a future peer. This means that the way your work is viewed is significantly different and the expectations are much higher. The kind of mistakes you could have made and powered through are no longer acceptable. More importantly, you cannot depend on constant guidance and advice of your mentors and professors because that part of the program is over. The only time you will get detailed feedback is when you submit significant chunks of your dissertation project.

While the department remains cognizant of you and wants to see you finish on time and hit the job market, they leave it to you to decide when to do that. What we mean by that is, the only time you will go back to the department is when students are specifically required to be there (e.g., student symposiums), need signatures or for scheduled practice sessions for job interviews. Otherwise, the only departmental contact you have is with your committee and specifically with the chair of your committee.Alone and Working: Making the Transition to ABD

Secondly, you will very quickly realize that your cohort is splitting up and going their own ways. Because everyone is working at a different pace on different projects, the tendency is for the comradery of the first few years of grad school to dissipate. You need to be prepared for your social circle to slowly thin and change over time. There is a certain amount of emotional toll the ABD experience and dissertation writing process takes on you and that should be expected. The best thing one can do is to prepare for it in advance by acknowledging this will happen.

Lastly, acknowledge and understand that this will be grueling process but ultimately you will be rewarded. You are here because you love learning and producing knowledge. This is the most time you will ever get to dedicate yourself to the singular pursuit of knowledge, so enjoy it. And while you do this, keep an eye on the job market. Your timeline depends greatly on the job market you wish to enter. The decision to enter the job market after writing a few chapters or waiting till finishing the whole project determines how you settle yourself in for the long haul. So, keep an eye on that and make reasonable accommodations.

Reach out and thrive!

The purpose of this piece is to talk about not just surviving but thriving during the hardest part of the PhD. Program. The clichés ”you cannot edit your head, so write” and “a good dissertation is a finished dissertation” ring true. However, getting to that goal is fraught with mental, emotional and physical stress. So, reach out to those are in the same phase or have recently succeeded, acknowledge your fears, discuss strategies and make new friends in the process. You will be pleasantly surprised at the friendships you make as they are the only people who can relate. That is actually a major reason we are such good friends.

The going can be tough but that is the whole point of academic rigor and pursuit of knowledge at the ultimate level. You can do it and, when you succeed, be there for the next ABD newbie!

 

About the Authors:

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. 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.

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

 

Race and “Ism”: Incoming Fire from All Directions

Since it is impossible to discuss the issue of racism from the beginning, I will just start where I find myself. As an Assistant professor, it is probably safe for me to say that the multi-directional pressures and demands from administrations, departments, students, and parents are universal in academic life. What is different for faculty of color is the racism in the form of micro-aggressions encountered while going about the tasks of engaging a diverse student body and fulfilling other responsibilities in a challenging social and political environment. We are charged with supporting our students who also share these experiences. In “Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, Ross (2015)”, Lawrence Ross points out that it never seems to matter when or how often we bear witness to these realities, the incidents are marginalized as being isolated, or the acts of “one bad apple”.

barrydeutsch_theonesilike
Used with permission. See more and support the artist: http://www.patreon.com/barry

My goal here is to share some divergent experiences to reinforce to others that we, as faculty of color, are neither alone nor insane, or even overly-sensitive. Here are a few examples of what I have personally encountered:

  1. During a faculty orientation, the facilitator suggested the primary way of recognizing when a student was experiencing high anxiety or having a panic attack in class was a change in complexion. This is a “curious” indicator considering that approximately 20% of our students identify as Black or African American. Even considering the diversity within that group, the facilitator seemed completely oblivious to the inappropriateness of that indicator for those identifying as Black or African American where there would be no apparent physical change in complexion.
  2. I witnessed a Black female student recounting her anxiety about being judged about how she styled her hair: (a) If she went “natural” it may be interpreted as making a radical statement by the mainstream community; (b) a hair wrap might be critiqued as being “Aunt Jemima” and (c) wigs and other forms of “fake” hair might be interpreted as an identity crisis or trying to fit in. Her words to her classmate were literally, “you just don’t understand what Black women go through!”
  3. Following a controversial police shooting of unarmed Black men last year, I participated in two public forums in Fall 2016 which included law enforcement. A police chief opened his remarks by referring to Ferguson as the start of the problem between law enforcement and the black community. When the point was raised that it is a 400-year-old problem, he immediately apologized and backtracked – standard responses when caught marginalizing and isolating the issue. Many attendees were obviously traumatized by the recent events (I say this not because of any complexion variation that may or may not occurred) and expressed fear of any possible encounter with law enforcement.
  4. From the discussion in the forum mentioned above, the law enforcement representatives seem to have little understanding of the differences between community relations and community engagement. While the police chief was touting police-youth programs (public relations), I personally witnessed three White officers harassing three young Black men over a vehicle moving violation. The situation escalated to the point where one of the young men was pulled out of the car where he crouched as the officers searched the vehicle (and found nothing) while shouting at all three. Despite their “public relations” activities, this is an example how law enforcement engages the community.
  5. In another forum, a White colleague expressed his complete understanding of racial discrimination because he has had a ponytail since the 1960s and 1970s and often felt rejected by some of his counterparts. It never seemed to occur to him that while he could choose to cut his hair, skin color is not a choice.
  6. Finally, I attended a social gathering at a recent political science conference. Not recognizing anyone, I introduced myself to two colleagues and took a sip of wine. Seconds later a gentleman asked to join the table, introduced himself to my colleagues, then on looked directly into my face and turned his head without introducing himself. Make what you will of that!

As faculty of color, we must manage ourselves, encourage our students, and promote learning in sometimes less than ideal social climates. This task is often complicated by the denial or minimizing of the problems by segments of university communities and the society as a whole. We have to carefully choose when, where and how to respond to incoming fire lest we be labelled thin-skinned and aggressive. There are no simple answers, but know that you are not in this alone. As positive outcomes are dependent on multiple veto players, it is incumbent upon our personal leadership and the leadership of our colleagues, regardless of racial identity, to acknowledge these societal problems and constructively engage with one another to develop strategic approaches to support one another. We then must follow through, and repeat!

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