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UD professor reflects on his career studying public opinion

University of Delaware Professor Paul R. Brewer

By Justin Richards, University of Delaware junior and intern for the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication

FEBRUARY 24, 2020—From an early age, Paul Brewer knew he wanted to be around politics. He grew up in Kentucky, in a family that talked a lot about politics around the dinner table. “One of my earliest memories was the 1976 presidential election. I remembered being unhappy for who my parents voted for; in retrospect I think they made the right decision.”

His interest in politics ultimately brought him to the University of Delaware in 2011. Brewer holds joint appointments as a professor in UD’s Departments of Communication and Political Science and International Relations. He also leads the research mission for the Center for Political Communication. Joining the CPC was an exciting opportunity. “The CPC had a lot of incredible things that they were doing with public engagement, bringing in speakers, hosting debates, and also in research in terms of doing national surveys and experiments to test message affects.” 

In college, Brewer thought his career path may be in politics, but “a few slightly disillusioning experiences” while working as an intern for the Kentucky State Legislature and then for a gubernatorial candidate changed his mind. Both internships ended in scandals. Brewer did not even end up voting for gubernatorial candidate, and many of the state legislators were arrested for accepting bribes from the horse-racing industry. “I am obviously still very engaged in politics; I wouldn’t want to encourage students to be cynical about the process. I decided that it wasn’t for me being directly involved. Sitting back a little bit and studying what people believe and why people do what they do is more my speed,” Brewer said. 

He recalled meeting Karl Rove, a guest speaker for National Agenda in 2011, while team-teaching the National Agenda class with Ralph Begleiter, the founding director of the CPC. “Karl Rove mistook me for a teaching assistant. The actual TAs gave me a hard time about that. That was pretty fun to have that experience with a famous political figure, even if it was a slightly embarrassing one,” said Brewer. 

Brewer began researching public opinion surrounding LGBTQ rights following the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the Defense of Marriage Act and Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the 1990s. “It was a big issue then, I did research on it and published some of that, I thought I was done with it. Then there was the big public debate on marriage equality that came about in the early 2000s. I ended up writing a book on that, called Value War: Public Opinion and the Politics of Gay Rights. I’m pretty proud of that,” Brewer published the book in 2007.

Brewer has expanded his research to study transgender rights. He has published articles with several professors affiliated with the Center for Political Communication including Philip E. Jones, Lindsay Hoffman, and Jennifer Lambe. They are “looking at what explains whether people support transgender rights and their willingness to vote for transgender candidates, and their perceptions of and attitudes towards transgender people.”

Brewer also researches science communication and is currently writing a book with Barbara Ley, a communication professor at UD, that examines media messages and public opinion on science issues. In another project, Brewer is studying artificial intelligence, focusing on how it is being portrayed in the media and the wide variety of public reactions to it.

“I am curious about where beliefs come from,” said Brewer about his research philosophy. “That has been a big part of my career. I am interested in public opinion and what people think and why they think what they think and how they weigh the information they get, how thoughtfully and how critically.” 

To learn more about published research of Paul Brewer and other CPC affiliated faculty, visit www.cpc.udel.edu/research/publications.

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A lifelong interest in politics brought Paul Brewer to the University of Delaware, where he leads research for the Center for Political Communication.
2/24/2020
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