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News Experts examine American politics in 2017

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Scholars to discuss electoral processes, public opinion, cultural differences, unrest

​Left to right: Caroline Tolbert, Jennifer Merolla, James McCann, Donald Haider-Markel, and Lonna Rae Atkeson

​February 7, 2017 -- The University of Delaware Political Science and International Relations Department announces its spring 2017 American Politics Speaker Series, which is free and open to the community. Nationally recognized scholars will present their research on electoral processes, immigration policy attitudes, civil unrest, and social identity.

February 9: Caroline J. Tolbert

In the surprising 2016 presidential election Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million votes over Donald Trump, but Trump won the Electoral College (EC) to become president. The odd outcome exposes a problem with how America votes. At the municipal level, multiple localities now use ranked choice voting (RCV), a form of instant run-off voting that ensures the candidate with the most votes (majority) is elected; voters rank candidates in order of preference, usually their top three. But we know little about how these alternative electoral rules affect voters. The study draws on a comparative research design to explore questions of campaign civility, voter comprehension, voter mobilization and turnout, and public opinion about electoral systems in cities using RCV compared to similar jurisdictions using plurality elections. The data includes 2013 and 2014 national surveys, and 2016 population data with millions of respondents designed to measure citizen attitudes about campaigns and political behavior. Results show citizens are more likely to be contacted in RCV cities and to vote, they perceive elections as less negative, as well as other differences in opinion. Beyond ensuring majority winners, the findings suggest there may be significant democratic benefits to preferential voting.

Caroline Tolbert is the Professor of Political Science and Collegiate Scholar at the University of Iowa. Her work weaves together a concern with diversity and inequality, elections and representation, and subnational politics and policy. She has contributed to numerous subfields including digital politics and informatics, voting and elections, electoral systems, public opinion, American state politics, direct democracy and race & politics. She is the coauthor of Why Iowa? How the Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nomination Process (2011) and Educated by Initiative: The Effects of Direct Democracy on Citizens and Political Organizations in the American States (2004). She is co-editor of Democracy in the States: Experiments in Election Reform (2003) and Citizens as Legislators: Direct Democracy in the United States (1998). She has written three books on the internet and politics, including Digital Cities: The Internet and the Geography of Opportunity (2012), Digital Citizenship (2008) and Virtual Inequality: Beyond the Digital Divide (2003). She is also coauthor of the American politics textbook We the People with Lowi, Ginsberg and Wier (W.W. Norton). Tolbert currently serves on the Council of the American Political Science Association. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

February 15: Jennifer Merolla

While undocumented immigration is controversial, the general public is largely unfamiliar with the particulars of immigration policy. Given that public opinion on the topic is malleable, to what extent do mass media shape public opinion on immigration? This talk will explore how conservative, liberal, and mainstream news outlets frame and discuss undocumented immigrants across three policy domains, legalization, the DREAM ACT, and deportations. Drawing from original voter surveys, Dr. Merolla will show that media framing on immigration has significant consequences for public opinion, especially when those frames are negative, novel, or from an unexpected source. The findings have important implications for understanding how the language surrounding policy debates on these issues affect public opinion, and in turn public policy.

Jennifer L. Merolla is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Riverside and American Behavior Field Editor for the Journal of Politics. Her research focuses on how the political environment shapes individual attitudes and behavior across many domains such as candidate evaluations during elections, immigration policy attitudes, foreign policy attitudes, and support for democratic values and institutions. She is co-author of Democracy at Risk: How Terrorist Threats Affect the Public, published with the University of Chicago Press (2009), and Framing Immigrants: News Coverage, Public Opinion, and Policy published with the Russell Sage Foundation (2016). Her work has appeared in journals such as Comparative Political Studies, Electoral Studies, the Journal of Politics, Perspectives on Politics, Political Behavior, Political Research Quarterly, Political Psychology, and Women, Politics, and Policy. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation. She received her PhD in Political Science from Duke University in 2003. Prior to joining the University of California, Riverside, she served as Assistant Professor (2003-2009) and then Associate Professor of Political Science (2009-2015) at Claremont Graduate University.

February 20: James A. McCann

In recent decades as the size of the foreign-born population in the U.S. has climbed, political scientists have devoted increasing attention to the factors that encourage or impede immigrant incorporation into American politics and society. Prior research underscores the role that civic organizations play in acculturating immigrants and facilitating their involvement in politics. Relatively little attention, however, has been given to political parties as agents of immigrant socialization. Drawing from original surveys of foreign-born Latinos conducted during the 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2016 campaigns, Dr. McCann finds that partisan mobilization and electoral competition can significantly shape the political identifications and orientations of immigrants. The local partisan machines that were prominent in the last great wave of migrant settlement a century ago have faded away. Yet partisan campaigning today remains an important force for the incorporation of immigrants.

James A. McCann is Professor and Graduate Placement Director in the Department of Political Science at Purdue University. He conducts research and teaches courses on public opinion, electoral processes, participation, and representation in the United States and cross-nationally. His work has appeared in many scholarly journals, including the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, the American Journal of Political Science, and the British Journal of Political Science. He is the co-author, with Jorge Domínguez, of Democratizing Mexico: Public Opinion and Electoral Choices (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Global Policy Research Institute. He is Principal Investigator, with Michael Jones-Correa, of the 2012 and 2016 Latino Immigrant National Election Studies (LINES).  Since 2012, he has served as an editor of Politics, Groups, and Identities, an official journal of the Western Political Science Association, and he is an associate editor of the Oxford University Press Bibliographies in Political Science.

March 15: Donald P. Haider-Markel

Civil unrest and riots in the U.S. have engendered considerable attention. Much of the civil unrest from the 1960s, 1990s, and recent incidents of appear to have arisen from many conditions, including poverty and police use of force. However, not all of observers view these events from the same perspective. Dr. Haider-Markel contends that these events are often interpreted through social identities, such as race and partisanship, and thus causal attributions for these events differ widely. His study employs data from a variety of surveys and media accounts to broadly understand these events and individual interpretations of the causal forces leading to these events. Further analysis suggests that social identities provide a powerful lens by which individuals come to attribute causes for civil unrest, and conflicting narratives over causes likely hinders attempts to provide solutions and reduce the likelihood of future violence.

Don Haider-Markel is Professor and Chair of political science at the University of Kansas. His research and teaching is focused on the representation of interests in the policy process and the dynamics between public opinion, political behavior, and public policy. He has more than 20 years of experience in survey research, interviews, and in policy studies. He has authored or co-authored over 55 refereed articles, over a dozen book chapters, and several books in a range of issue areas, including civil rights, politics in the culture wars, criminal justice policy, counterterrorism, race and inequality, and environmental policy.

March 20: Lonna Rae Atkeson

Dr. Atkeson asks how racial cues that emerge in extraordinary events – high salience national crises that capture national attention through the media – shape the black-white divide in opinions. Research on black opinion suggests that race is the central organizing principle through which blacks understand the political world. As such, social identity produces policy preferences and attitudes that favor the in-group on such policies as the provision of government services and attributions of blame toward government leaders who have violated group interests. However, while explicit racial cues (cues that tie policy or leaders directly to group interests), clearly connect blacks to their racial identity and consequently produce social identity effects, implicit racial effects (cues that use coded language to impart racial connotation) may limit their application. Specifically, issues that are implicitly racial and connect blacks to negative stereotypes about the group may be rejected and provide theoretical predictions about when black and white opinion should converge and the boundaries of social identity. Dr. Atkeson tests for differences and similarities in opinion across a range of policy preferences and evaluations of leaders between blacks and whites from two extraordinary events: Hurricane Katrina and the Rodney King riots. These cases provide an opportunity to understand and explore how explicit and implicit racial cues work together to encourage or discourage the application of social identity in the formation of opinion.

Dr. Lonna Atkeson is a Professor of Political Science, Regents’ Lecturer, and Director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy, and the Institute of Social Research at the University of New Mexico. She is an internationally recognized expert in the area of election sciences, survey methodology, voting rights, election administration, public opinion, and political behavior. She has written over 50 articles and book chapters, and dozens of technical reports, monographs, amicus curiae briefs and other works on these topics. She advocates for a data driven, applied social science, approach to election reform and public policy.

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The University of Delaware Political Science and International Relations Department announces its spring 2017 American Politics Speaker Series.

The University of Delaware Political Science and International Relations Department announces its spring 2017 American Politics Speaker Series, which is free and open to the community. Nationally recognized scholars will present their research on electoral processes, immigration policy attitudes, civil unrest, and social identity.

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