Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

American Politics

American Politics

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, 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

Race, Ethnicity, and Politics

  • What is the shape, nature, and role of Americans’ racial attitudes in politics? [Candis Watts Smith]
  • How do members of non-dominant demographic groups translate their psychological attachment to politics into political action? [Ray Block]
  • How does increasing diversity among various racial and ethnic groups influence how Americans see themselves and others?  [Candis Watts Smith]
  • How do racial considerations shape American state social policy? [Michael Berkman]
  • How do reproductive technology policies impact women according to race and class? [Erin Heidt-Forsythe]
  • How does public opinion about assisted reproductive technologies vary by race and ethnicity? [Erin Heidt-Forsythe]
  • To what extent do changing boundaries of group identity call into question the most relied upon measures and theories in political science? [Candis Watts Smith]

Gender and Politics

  • Is gender bias in the media a barrier to women running for office? [Erin Heidt-Forsythe]
  • How does the implementation of state policies differ along the lines of gender, race and class?  [Lee Ann Banaszak]
  • How do women’s movements and the gendered nature of institutions affect differences in state policies along the lines of gender, race and class?  [Lee Ann Banaszak]
  • To what extent is access to reproductive healthcare equitable? [Candis Watts Smith]
  • What determines which states elect more women to their state legislatures? [Susan Welch]
  • How does gender and partisanship shape the politics of egg donation in the United States? [Erin Heidt-Forsythe]

Public Opinion, Participation, and Voting

  • What can we learn about political candidates based on the networks of donors who finance their campaigns? [Bruce Desmarais]
  • Do millennial candidates increase engagement and voter turnout among millennials?  [Kevin Munger]
  • Why is youth voter turnout so low, and what can we do to change that? [Eric Plutzer]
  • How do Americans feel about politics in the Trump era?  What makes them angry, and what gives them hope? [Michael Berkman]
  • Can changing trends in voter well-being explain Donald Trump’s victory in 2016? [Suzanna Linn]
  • Do voters punish elected officials for attacking courts? [Michael Nelson]
  • To what degree do differences in state institutions and party control create inequalities in voter list maintenance across the U.S. states? [Lee Ann Banaszak]
  • Do politicized decisions harm the U.S. Supreme Court’s legitimacy? [Michael Nelson]
  • Does exposure to “deepfake” videos decrease trust in the news media? [Kevin Munger]
  • How have health outcomes and labor force participation influenced county level presidential election outcomes in the last 10 presidential elections?  How do these factors influence individual voter choices in the last 3 elections? [Suzanna Linn]
  • How will the advancing age pyramid and coming mass retirement by baby boomers reshape issue salience? [Kevin Munger]

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 more experienced attorneys win more often at the U.S. Supreme Court? [Michael Nelson]
  • How does the hierarchical nature of the U.S. federal courts shape the decisions judges make? [Chris Zorn]
  • How do interpersonal relationships among judges affect their decisions? [Michael Nelson]
  • Do elected judges pander to voters? [Michael Nelson]

Social Movements, Interest Groups, and Representation

  • How is the longevity and success of social movement organizations influenced by leadership characteristics?   Does experience in the federal or state government increase success? [Lee Ann Banaszak]
  • How much do civil servants follow their personal ideology, rather than written policies, when implementing the law? [Eric Plutzer]
  • How do interest groups’ messages to their supporters change over time as their priorities take center stage in the public debate and then recede when other issues gain more attention?  [Marie Hojnacki]
  • How do Republican women in state legislatures represent motherhood and family issues? [Erin Heidt-Forsythe]
  • How do partisan women in state legislatures represent motherhood and family policies? [Erin Heidt-Forsythe]
  • How frequently do interest groups reach out on different issues?  How are the issues framed?  Are some types of groups more likely than others to use partisan frames?  [Marie Hojnacki]