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From passion to career in politics

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Political science chair researches the effects of negative campaigning

Dr. David Redlawsk, Political Science Department Chair

By Walker Chavatel, University of Delaware junior and Center for Political Communication intern

MAY 13, 2019―The path to discovering your passion is rarely free of digressions. It almost always requires trial and error. To David Redlawsk―a James R. Soles professor, chair of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware, and an affiliated faculty member with UD's Center for Political Communication―his nonlinear academic journey has been essential in refining his life's purpose.

Redlawsk's initial aspirations resided within business, but eventually shifted to politics. He earned an AB in political science from Duke University in 1980, an MBA in marketing from Vanderbilt in 1982, and a PhD in political science from Rutgers in 1993. Redlawsk applies his history with business to his current role of political science chair, where his experience with management has permitted him to efficiently oversee his department. 

Redlawsk describes the significance of his academic trials. "If you're smart about it, everything you learn has application in some point along the way." He has also used his experience as an elected local official in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania to develop an understanding of real-world politics, something he was able to integrate into his research. 

Since receiving his PhD, Redlawsk has focused on voter behavior, and particularly the effects of negative campaigning. In his 2014 book with Kyle Mattes, The Positive Case for Negative Campaigning, He argues, "Negative campaigning is necessary, in that voters are fully informed through both the bad and the good." In the age of mass media, the impact of negative campaigning is more influential than ever. "In a world of social media the influencing environment is potentially very broad," says Redlawsk. "In the old days the fact that other people influenced you meant people you really knew, that you actually hung out with." He also expresses concern with the decline of local newspapers, where the reality of local news "drying up" has made it difficult for voters to have access to legitimate, relatable news.

Of all of the books that Redlawsk has published, he most enjoyed writing Why Iowa?  "It was a labor of love as it let me not only look at the academic side of caucuses, but also write about how the caucus works." He is currently investigating both the negative and positive effects of contempt in politics, and particularly how it was utilized in the 2016 presidential elections. He believes this has created a concerning reality for both Republicans and Democrats. "Morals appear to be disregarded in sight of partisan gain, as our identity as partisans has become very tied up in our identity as human beings."

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From passion to career in politics