Bersch Wins Best Paper Award

Kate Bersch’s paper, “State Capacity and Bureaucratic Politicization in Brazil” (co-authored with Sérgio Praça and Matthew Taylor), has been awarded the 2015 Best Paper Award by the Political Institutions section of the Latin American Studies Association, for the best paper on Latin American politics presented at the association’s 2014 conference.

1st Annual Shawnee Trail Regional Seminar on American Politics and Constitutionalism

Curt Nichols and Justin Dyer are serving as co-conveners of the 1st Annual Shawnee Trail Regional Seminar on American Politics and Constitutionalism in Columbia, MO on April 22nd 2015. The Seminar is sponsored by the Kinder Forum on Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri. UT alumni and graduate students expected to attend include: Neal Allen, Thomas Bell, Kody Cooper, Jay Dow, Justin Dyer, James Endersby, Connor Ewing, and Curt Nichols. The 2nd Annual Seminar will be held in Texas in the winter of 2016. Contact Curt Nichols for information.

McCormack Wins Bremer Best Paper Award

Daniel McCormack has been awarded the Stuart A. Bremer Award for the best graduate student paper delivered at the 2014 Peace Science Society meeting. The award brings travel support of $1500 to present the paper at the 2015 European Peace Science meeting, typically held in June at the Jan Tinbergen Institute in Amsterdam.

Paper: Presence and Promise: Strategic Foreign Aid and Foreign-Induced Regime Change

Abstract: This paper considers the relationship between foreign aid and leader security. I argue that while the presence of aid increases leader security, the expectation of aid in the future can cause domestic instability. Through analysis of a formal model, I establish conditions under which the promise of foreign aid in the future generates incentives for political competition. This mechanism depends on the existence of domestic institutions that allow the private expropriation of rents from foreign aid. Using data on bilateral U.S. economic aid, I present two empirical findings that bolster the results of the theoretical model. First, the promise of aid in the future increases the risk of leader turnover, but only in states that do not provide many public goods. Second, leaders that currently receive aid are at a lowered risk of losing office.

The Man Who Invented the Educated Political Operative? Vincent Harris and the importance of higher education

If you pay serious attention to American party politics, it is hard to imagine you have not yet heard of Vincent Harris. As featured in a recent BloombergPolitics piece, Harris is “The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet.” To summarize and oversimplify, Harris has taken the stereotypical stodgy Republican candidate, mixed with Twitter, and won some very high-profile elections. Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, Dan Patrick – Vincent Harris ran their digital campaigns, and in news that broke recently, Rand Paul has signed Harris as chief digital strategist.

But Vincent Harris is also a graduate student in the Department of Government, and wearing his academic hat, he believes political practitioners have ignored academic research for too long. He thinks there is a big gap between the two worlds, and he is doing his part to bridge that gap. For example, he says, “if you are going to hire a pollster, wouldn’t you like that pollster to have a Ph.D. in statistics? Or, don’t you, personally, want to be able to look at a poll and have a deeper understanding of what that poll is saying?”

Harris’ broader argument is that too much of the campaign industry operates on Beltway conventional wisdom, and to him that just makes no sense. Why spend millions of dollars and risk your political future based on gut feelings, when there is an academic universe churning out research with real data to deploy in campaigns? Harris says that many people in politics do not trust math, but, for him, data do not lie. And on the Republican side he says many have a misconceived notion that academics are out to get Republicans. Harris sees no partisan agendas at the university, just research agendas.

Numbers do not lie – that is one side of Harris’ argument in support of the academic enterprise. The other is much deeper, much more intellectual, and arguably much more powerful. It is one of gaining perspective, asking different questions, and finding different paths to the answers. “Being a graduate student has helped and forced me to read things, to discover research, and to sit down and think about questions that I never would have thought about.”

Are we spending money in the rights ways? How are voters perceiving information we are sharing with them? These are some of the questions Harris has pursued and continues pursuing, and he transfers his studies to his real work.

That these intellectual exercises have had direct payoff in the business world is evidenced, in abundance, by the success of Harris Media. “My classes here have been so helpful in giving me different perspectives than the norm, and it is so valuable … more people in the industry should pursue graduate degrees and force themselves to keep learning, otherwise the execution of practical politics stagnates.”

Harris offers the same advice to undergraduates thinking of pursuing a career in practical politics: “Undergraduate is just the surface, you have to dig deeper.” Harris says there is a huge creative aspect to it, spurred in part by curiosity: “I have gone down so many rabbit holes, I have been opened to so much rich literature and research, not just in American politics, but in other fields too, and it all has a practical application.”

Part of the utility of his studies has come in forcing him to take the time to step back from his work and look at it in a setting he never would have otherwise. Harris has worked on campaigns, collected data, and then investigated the data in term papers he wrote for courses. “I have looked at and analyzed my own datasets and built stuff out of them. Taking a step back in this way, this is something that there is not time for in the real world. Being in graduate school has forced me into an environment where I have had to look at these data in different ways than I would have, and it has been huge.”

And what about Harris’ studies? What exactly is he working on, and are the strategies he devises for clients rooted in the research he is so firm in advocating for? The answers to both are related.

Harris believes that to reach voters, campaigns have to break through the clutter, particularly the entertainment clutter in a media world dominated by the likes of Kim Kardashian and Jon Stewart. In short, he believes effective campaigns are entertaining campaigns. As for data, he knows that entertaining campaigns reach more people – the number of people seeing the information campaigns put out increases when the content is entertaining and funny. But, reach is only half the game.

What is happening at the level of the individual voter? Does more entertaining content affect the speed and extent of voters changing their preferences, or whether they are more likely to recall information? Harris now has a wealth of campaign data to answer such questions, and he plans to do just that.

Graduate Student Conference Brings Together Country’s Emerging Scholars

Organized by graduate students Connor Ewing and Robert Shaffer, earlier this month the Department of Government hosted a graduate conference in public law, a two-day conference that brought together leading emerging scholars from around the country. Graduate student-driven and national in scope, the conference was an unprecedented event.

In addition to the department’s own students, including Ewing and Shaffer, Alex Hudson, Anthony Ives, Margaret Moslander, Henry Pascoe, Thomas Bell, and Christina Noriega, the conference drew students from Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Washington University, Notre Dame, UW-Madison, Columbia, Toronto, Michigan, UC-Berkeley, UC-San Diego, the Claremont Graduate University, and FLASCO in Mexico.

Faculty discussants included Gary Jacobsohn, Zach Elkins, H.W. Perry, Jeff Tulis, Dan Brinks, Jeffrey Abramson, Sandy Levinson, Paula Newberg, and Lawrence Sager. Mariah Zeisberg, from the University of Michigan, delivered the keynote address.

Graduate Student Public Law Conference, Fall 2014

Connor Ewing, Gary Jacobsohn, and Robert Shaffer (left to right) talk during the Graduate Conference in Public Law, held at The University of Texas at Austin, October 30-November 1, 2014.

Thematically, the conference was noteworthy for the breadth of contributions and the diversity of disciplines from which participants came, spanning an array of academic departments and law schools. The conference bridged the intersection of political science and law, and public policy too. Bridging interdisciplinary gaps was a motivating factor behind the conference. Shaffer and Ewing, in 2013, launched a public law lunch series with a goal of strengthening connections between the Government Department, Law School, and LBJ School of Public Affairs, and the conference was part of expanding those efforts and extending their reach outside of the university.

The conference also brought together students and faculty approaching the law from different perspectives. “One of the exciting parts of the conference is that we could bring theory- and empirically-oriented people together onto the same panels, and get them into direct dialogue with one another,” Shaffer said.

JJ Kinkel Publication and Award

Jonathan Kinkel’s paper, “Judicial Autonomy and Economic Development in Urban China: How Markets for Legal Services Create Pressure for Merit-Based Judicial Designs,” will be published in a 2015 issue of Law & Social Inquiry. The publication is tied to Kinkel being announced as the 2014 winner of the American Bar Foundation’s Graduate Student Paper Competition, widely regarded as the top graduate student prize in the Law and Society field.

Trey Thomas Receives Clark Center Grant

The university’s Edward A. Clark Center for Australia and New Zealand Studies has awarded Trey Thomas a research grant for travel to Australia, where he will work with Darren Halpin at the Australian National University to study how organized interests in the U.S. and Australia use media releases to signal policy preferences to government actors.

Thomas has had two articles recently accepted for publication:

LaPira, Timothy M., Herschel F. Thomas III, and Frank R. Baumgartner. “Washington Lobbyists in the Core and on the Periphery.” Interest Groups & Advocacy, in press.

Theriault, Sean T. and Herschel F. Thomas III. “The Diffusion of Support for Same-Sex Marriage in the US Senate.” PS: Political Science & Politics, in press.

Update: Edward A. Clark Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies

It was a busy summer (or rather, winter) for the Clark Center. Graduate student Robert Shaffer spent six weeks in Australia, during which time he was a Visiting Scholar in the School of Politics and International Relations at the Australian National University. As part of his research into the law and politics of environmental regulation in Australia, Shaffer interviewed a number people from the public sector as well as civil society. He also collected original data concerning policy implementation and made valuable academic contacts, laying a strong foundation for further research towards his dissertation.

Center Director Rhonda Evans Case and graduate student Sean Fern spent three weeks in New Zealand as Program Visitors at the Victoria University of Wellington’s (VUW) Law Faculty, researching agenda-setting on the New Zealand Supreme Court. They enjoyed full access to the Court’s files and interviewed retired justices as well as current members of the Court. Evans Case and Fern presented their research at both the VUW and University of Auckland’s Law Faculties. They also experienced the 6.6 earthquake that struck Wellington on August 16. Unfortunately, no one told them in advance just how much well-engineered buildings are supposed to move in the course of such an event. In addition, Evans Case traveled to Australia, where she met with faculty and administrators at the University of Queensland and University of Adelaide in furtherance of ongoing collaborations. She also delivered a research presentation on the Australian Human Rights Commission at Monash University, and at a Fulbright Symposium on “Soft Power, Smart Power” in Canberra, Evans Case spoke about important ways in which research centers and exchange programs can partner to promote their respective objectives.

Publication and Presentations by Yuval Weber

Yuval Weber presented the paper, “Energy Revenues, Petropolitics and Russian Foreign Policy Outcomes” at the PONARS Eurasia Workshop “Rethinking the Sources of Russian Foreign Policy” held at George Washington University’s Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies on March 16-18.

Weber was also a panelist at the ‘The Rise of the Rest’ discussion put on by the UT-Austin International Affairs Society.

Weber has a review of “Red Gas: Russia and the Origins of European Energy Dependence” by Per Hogselius in the forthcoming issue of Cold War History.

Evans Case Pushing Clark Center Forward

The Edward A. Clark Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies has been working on two major research initiatives concerning courts and public policy that extend the scope of the Comparative Agendas Project to Australia and New Zealand. The first of these projects focuses on the New Zealand Supreme Court. The Clark Center’s interim Director, Rhonda Evans Case, and graduate student Sean Fern presented preliminary findings on the Court’s agenda at the annual meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Studies Association of North America (ANZSANA) at Georgetown University in February. Evans Case and Fern will travel to New Zealand this summer to conduct further research on the mechanics of the Court’s agenda-setting process. The Center’s second project focuses on the policy agenda of the High Court of Australia. Stephen Joyce will present a paper on this research at the Law & Society Association conference in Boston in May. In addition, the Clark Center is providing funding for graduate student Robert Shaffer to conduct pre-dissertation fieldwork on environmental policy in Australia this summer. Shaffer, too, presented a paper on this subject at the ANZSANA conference.

The 2014 meeting of the ANZSANA will be held at UT-Austin February 6-8 in the Julius Glickman Conference Center in the College of Liberal Arts’ new building. A call for papers will soon be posted on its website.

In March, Evans Case participated in a one-day event on the US-Australian Alliance that was convened by the Australian Embassy and University of Sydney’s United States Studies Center. The meeting involved government officials as well as researchers from both the US and Australia in discussions about opportunities and challenges facing the Alliance.

In February, the Clark Center collaborated with the University’s Energy Institute and Bureau of Economic Geology to bring a delegation of energy researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) to UT-Austin. In addition to exploring common scientific and technological research programs, broader discussions about policy and societal implications were discussed. One of the UQ delegates, law professor Tina Hunter, will spend four weeks at UT-Austin in the coming year to research shale gas regulation in Texas in light of recent developments in fracking technology as part of a comparative study with Australia. Plans are also in the works for UQ to host a delegation of UT researchers in Australia next year in conjunction with an Australia-Texas Energy Forum that is planned to be held Brisbane.

Calla Hummel Wins NSF Research Fellowship

Government graduate student Calla Hummel has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the most prestigious fellowship available to an American graduate student. The fellowship will fund Hummel’s research into when and why marginalized populations organize.

Hummel proposed a study of the conditions under which informal workers organize around political goals. In preliminary fieldwork, she found that informal workers sometimes organize after experiencing repression. Hummel’s research will investigate the connection between repression and informal workers’ organizations through case studies and a survey experiment in La Paz, Bolivia, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Asuncion, Paraguay.

Contreras Wins Bolin Fellowship

Danilo Antonio Contreras has been awarded the prestigious Gaius Charles Bolin Dissertation Fellowship from Williams College. Bolin Fellowships are two-year residencies at Williams, with up to three scholars or artists are appointed each year; Contreras will be a Bolin Fellow in the department of political science at Williams from August 2013- May 2015.

Danilo’s dissertation,“Nation Before Pigmentation: Race and Electoral Politics in The Dominican Republic,” examines the effect of racial identity on electoral politics in the Dominican Republic. He challenges the assumption inherent in broader approaches on race and ethnic politics that high levels of racial stratification create strong racial group identities and that these identities dictate electoral preferences. He argues that stratification may actually undermine the activation of racial cleavages in elections by discouraging identification with marginalized racial groups. This is particularly true in regions like Latin America, where high levels of mestizaje (race mixing) and historical nation-building efforts have helped to prevent the formation of strong racial identities.

Danilo tests his argument through the analysis of qualitative and quantitative data collected over a period of eight months of field research in the Dominican Republic. The qualitative data stem from focus group research, semi-formal interviews, archival and media analysis. The quantitative data were derived from an original field experiment and survey conducted in the capital city, Santo Domingo. His findings lend support for his explanation for why ethnic voters do not always activate ethnicity in elections. In essence, where voters can identify with a menu of less marginalized ethnic categories and where stratification provides the incentives to do so, they select the exit option (by not activating ethnicity in elections) rather than voice grievances (by voting for fellow coethnics or making ethnic demands). In addition, his findings suggest that nationalism or a strong national identity may help to redirect racial cleavages in electoral behavior. In short, nation may come before pigmentation at the ballot box.

Mine Tafolar Receives Project Grant

Mine Tafolar has received a project grant from Bogazici University in Turkey. Tafolar’s dissertation investigates social assistance schemes, clientelism, and the empowerment of recipients, and this grant will analzye the potential role of particular public policy programs in shaping the political perceptions and behavior of citizens.

Fall 2012 On-Campus Job Interviews

Here is a list of where our job candidates have had (or have scheduled) on-campus job interviews to date:

University of Georgia

University of Oklahoma-Norman

University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Texas State University

University of Maryland-Baltimore County

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

University of Miami

Colorado Christian College

James Madison University

Sorace Wins Fulbright-Hays

Christian Sorace has received a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Research Fellowship. He is doing fieldwork in Sichuan, China. His is researching the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and how the Chinese state’s reconstruction plan impacted and shaped grassroots politics. By focusing on varieties of disaster reconstruction political economy, Sorace hopes to shed light on the regime’s vision for developing the countryside, rural politics, and state-society relations in China more broadly.