American Politics

American politics at Penn State emphasizes the mechanisms and processes by which democratic preferences are translated into public policy.  Faculty have a well-deserved reputation for studies that cross traditional lines such as examinations of political behavior in the context of institutions like courts or electoral rules, and studies exploring how institutions influence government responsiveness to citizens and interest groups.  In doing so, faculty research helps us better understanding policy debates concerning health care, foreign policy, welfare, criminal justice, education, climate change and other pressing issues. Collaborative research projects provide numerous opportunities for graduate student training and research aided by the Center for American Political Responsiveness, which provides opportunities for graduate students to develop their own research and interact with faculty from around the country.

Faculty Research

Gender, race, class and inequality in U.S. politics

  • How does economic inequality affect voters' choices and preferences? [Suzanna Linn]
  • How do racial considerations shape American state social policy? [Michael Berkman]
  • Does unfair treatment by police affect faith in the legal system? [Michael Nelson]
  • Does incarceration affect voting? [Allison Harris]
  • What determines which states elect more women to their state legislatures? [Susan Welch]
  • How does diversity (broadly construed) among judges affect individual judge's behavior? [Allison Harris]
  • How do women’s movement protests affect the attitudes of the general public? [Lee Ann Banaszak]

Federal & State Courts, and Judicial Behavior

  • How do U.S. Supreme Court justices' use of language in their opinions reflect the professional and personal dynamics on the Court? [Chris Zorn]
  • Do elected judges pander to voters? [Michael Nelson]
  • How does the hierarchical structure of the U.S. federal courts shape the decisions judges make? [Chris Zorn]
  • Do judges respond to current social and political movements when sentencing? [Allison Harris]

Social Movements, Interest Groups and Representation

  • What is the relationship between political protestors and parties, particularly for those protesting  the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions? [Lee Ann Banaszak]
  • How do organized interests communicate about issues with their supporters, and how do they try to keep their issues on the public’s agenda? [Marie Hojnacki]
  • How has the polarized political climate affected the organizational advocacy community’s interactions with policymakers as well as with one another? [Marie Hojnacki]
  • How much do civil servants follow their personal ideology, rather than written policies, when implementing the law? [Eric Plutzer]
  • How and why do the variables that shape policy advocates' success differ for different types of advocates? [Marie Hojnacki]

Public Opinion, Participation and Voting

  • What factors shape citizens' preferences for negotiation versus military action in response to foreign threats? [Douglas Kriner]
  • What can we learn about political candidates based on the networks of donors who finance their campaigns? [Bruce Desmarais]
  • How do Americans feel about politics in the Trump era?  What makes them angry, and what gives them hope? [Michael Berkman]
  • Is public opinion the most powerful check on the president's use (and abuse) of executive power? [Douglas Kriner]
  • Have political elites created religious polarization in addition to partisan polarization? [Suzanna Linn]
  • Do politicized decisions harm the U.S. Supreme Court's legitimacy? [Michael Nelson]
  • Why is youth voter turnout so low, and what can we do to change that? [Eric Plutzer]