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In election season, KU research helps inform public opinion, policy

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

LAWRENCE – As a highly contentious U.S. election season wraps up today at the polls, KU News Service offers a review of some of the most important recent publications and findings from University of Kansas political and policy researchers. The topics span key voting issues, such as guns and LGBTQ rights, to the election itself.

The Electoral College
Even though two of the last three U.S. presidents were elected without earning the popular vote, the Electoral College still remains the method used for selecting the national leader. Paul Schumaker, professor emeritus of political science, published a new book in Feburary 2020, “The Twenty-Eighth Amendment? Beyond Abolishing the Electoral College.” “There might not be a resolution on November 3 because the Electoral College will not produce a winner,” Schumaker said. Don’t miss his podcast interview on this subject. 

Key issues
Abortion remains among the most polarizing topics in America, and it’s a major issue that sends voters to the polls. Despite the perceived notion of legality, actual access has become increasingly restrictive due to state control mechanisms, according to a 2020 study by Alesha Doan, professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration and women, gender & sexuality studies. “In many respects, it was much easier for people to access abortion care shortly after Roe v. Wade and the ensuing decades than it is in 2020,” she said. Doan also has published research about how an "abortion regret" narrative has made its way into public policy.

Transgender and LGBTQ rights are another key issue for voters. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court deemed it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees for sexual orientation or transgender status. In a recent podcast episode, Kyle Velte, associate professor of law, explains why the SCOTUS ruling is a “landmark case that will transform the American workplace." Velte also published an article in 2020 about how precedents set in racial discrimination cases should extend to LGBTQ cases.

Given the current national climate of apprehension and intolerance, most people probably assume a transgender political candidate is less likely to be elected than a traditional one. But a 2020 study by Don Haider-Markel, professor of political science, concludes that even in this period of anti-LGBTQ backlash, such candidates are not facing new or significant hurdles when running for state legislative seats.

Haider-Markel also co-wrote a 2020 article with Patrick Miller, associate professor of political science, about Caitlyn Jenner and transgender-related political attitudes. “The entire question of celebrities in politics is vastly understudied,” Miller said.

Mark Joslyn, professor of political science, just published the book “The Gun Gap,” which captures the differences between gun owners and non-gun owners, and shows how this gap improves conventional behavioral and attitudinal models. “The difference between owning a gun and not owning one and your likelihood of voting Republican is a fairly small probability. There’s a much larger probability between a person who owns one gun and another who owns 10 of voting for a Republican,” he said.

Another KU researcher of gun politics is Margaret Kelley, associate professor of American studies, who recently published “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Gun Ownership.” She also took part in a podcast last month exploring the intersection of religion and gun ownership. “We’re seeing a growing diversity among gun owners. I don’t know how that’s connected to religion necessarily, but there is in terms of social upheaval right now an interest in what it means to be armed,” she said.

David Roediger, Foundation Distinguished Professor of American Studies and in history, writes on how race and class intersect with politics. His latest book, “The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History,” refutes the concept that the United States is a middle-class nation, while tracing the history of how the designation became a vote-pandering issue for rival parties. He recently wrote a guest column about his work for The Print. 

Education
Meagan Patterson, associate professor of educational psychology, researches what school-age children know about politics and elections as well as how parents can talk about difficult topics with their children. She was interviewed Oct. 30 by The New York Times about her work. She has also published 2019 research examining how picture books represent political processes and positions of power and historical political leaders.

Political participation
In the years since a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, some states have passed laws that have made it more difficult for minority and low-income Americans to vote. Those laws can also challenge election administrators trying to enact policy while maintaining equity and access as their jobs require, according to research by Shannon Portillo, associate professor of public affairs & administration, published in 2020.

Contact with the criminal justice system affects the level of trust people have in government and their intentions to take part politically, including at the polls, according to Brandon Davis. The assistant professor of public affairs & administration has shown that carceral contact affects family members as well and that it also negatively influences individuals’ sense of well-being, which also reduces political participation, especially in communities of color. “In a society founded on petitioning government and participation, the study of the political consequences of carceral expansion has major implications for what it means to be an American citizen,” he wrote. Davis also spoke during a recent podcast about how overpolicing can actually create crime.

Kevin Mullinix, assistant professor of political science, has published a 2020 study about police use of excessive force and a 2019 study about wrongful convictions and racial disparities in traffic stops. “These tragic events are having an impact on the broader public,” he said. “Many people aren’t just reading about them and moving on with their day. We’re finding it’s actually changing people’s beliefs.” His research was recently mentioned in New York Magazine. 

Rhetoric
Whether you love or hate what the president has to say, it’s turned into a prolific area of study for researchers. Robin Rowland, professor of communication studies, is the author of "The populist and nationalist roots of Trump's rhetoric,” named the best journal article of 2019 by the Political Communication Division of the National Communication Association. Rowland also recently gave a podcast interview on President Donald Trump’s rhetoric.