New Data-Driven Notre Dame Faculty Uses Advanced Methodologies to Reevaluate Long-held Theories and Identify New Trends in American Politics | News | Department of Political Science

Erin Rossiter

As political scientists, Rachel Porter and Erin Rossiter know the importance of mastering multiple languages.

Porter includes R (a programming language for statistical analysis and data visualization), Stata (statistical software used for data manipulation, visualization, statistics, and automated reporting), and Python (a high-end programming language). general purpose level).

Rossiter is also multilingual. She is an expert in R, Python, C++ (a programming and coding language), SQL (a programming language for managing relational databases) and Java (a high-level, class-based and oriented programming language). object).

“Our methodological skills, our tools and our experience come together,” Rossiter said. “We are a powerful team. It’s exciting.”

Rachel PorterRachel Porter

Their technical skills make adjunct professors of political science two of the best young quantitative data scientists in political science today, said Geoff Layman, chair of the Department of Political Science. They significantly improve and expand research opportunities and course offerings for graduate and undergraduate students.

“Having these stunning young women in our faculty is a real feather in the department’s hat,” he said. “They are extremely talented, energetic and creative academics, and each was the best political methodologist on the job the year we hired them.”

Ready for change

Rossiter, who joined the faculty in 2021, studies how conversations about burning issues between Republicans and Democrats affect polarization. And Porter, who started this year, studies Congress, candidates and elections.

Evolving tools and methodologies allow Rossiter and Porter to gather, distill and analyze information relatively quickly, discuss findings with others in the hallway and around the world, and communicate findings on dynamics and trends.

In the process, they are able to reevaluate, revise, and reinvent long-standing theories in the discipline.

“The technology keeps growing and the tools at our disposal keep getting better and better,” said Porter, who is also a faculty member at the Lucy Family Institute for Data and Society. “If you want to stay at the forefront of the field, you also have to keep growing.”

Rossiter enjoys designing experiments, including when they involve interventions for social good – like investigating whether conversations reduce political polarization. She taught a graduate course in experimental design, and she and Porter are also teaching or will teach unpublished courses on programming, big data, text as data, and quantitative policy analysis.

“Notre Dame attracts the best and brightest students and we want to help make them even better and brighter,” Porter said. “We want them to have these new methods in their quantitative toolbox, along with the incredible qualitative and substantive knowledge they have about politics that they learn from the breadth of this faculty. We want them to be even more prepared to face the world, to get the best jobs and to be the most ready to make a difference.

“We want (Notre Dame students) to be even more prepared to face the world, get the best jobs, and be the most ready to make a difference.”

Fighting negative stereotypes

Rossiter’s fascination with politics began in Iowa in 2008, when she attended rallies of presidential candidates with her mother before state caucuses – and Barack Obama campaigned in the gymnasium of his college.

She chose to study Politics and English at Creighton University, then during her graduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis, she learned experimental design techniques for her doctoral dissertation, “Les consequences of cross-party conversation on external affect and stereotypes”.

Porter Rossiter
Rossiter and Porter, similarly dressed, near their offices at Jenkins Nanovic Halls. Starting their careers together has been fantastic, they said, because few women conduct research in their field like they do.

For this research, which won the Timothy E. Cook Award for Best Graduate Student Paper from the Political Communication Section of the American Political Science Association, she designed an experiment that paired Democratic and Republican voters to talk in face-to-face. Some discussed controversial political topics (including gun control and migration), and others touched on non-political issues.

Talking, she found, improved the way both parties felt and thought about each other, whether the conversations were political in nature or not. Participants used fewer negative words such as ‘mean’ and ‘narrow-minded’ and more positive adjectives, such as ‘honest’ and ‘clever’, to describe their interlocutors.

“It’s contrary to what a lot of people would expect,” Rossiter said.

She wondered, however, if this would be true after the uprising at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. So she designed a similar experiment in which Republicans who voted for Donald Trump correspond online about the election result with Democrats who voted for Donald Trump. voted for president. Joe Biden.

Even though circumstances might have pushed them “deep into their partisan recesses,” Rossiter said, attendees still came away feeling warmer toward each other.

“It showed that if we strike up a conversation with someone from another party, just once, it can have a domino effect,” she said. “Maybe things can change.”

Over the past year, Notre Dame undergraduates funded by the Rooney Center for the Study of Democracy hand-coded each conversation in the study so Rossiter could analyze why it happened.

She hopes the results will encourage people to connect with people of different political stripes rather than attributing negative traits to them.

“That’s how you learn,” she says.

No experience required

Porter, who grew up in Toronto, Canada, first became involved in American politics when she took a summer course on the presidency at the University of Georgia, as it was the only class to have a free slot.

Her professor was impressed by her insightful questions and recruited her to conduct research. She was hooked, switching her art history major to political science and international affairs, then interning for a congressman in Washington, D.C.

She still has an interest in Congress, including studying trends of diversification in the predominantly white, older, and male institution. It analyzes who is running for office, who is donating to candidates, who is elected and how they behave.

She is also writing a book (and published an article on Vox) analyzing the recent trend of political newcomers defeating experienced politicians – in 2016, for example, an inexperienced candidate won 60% of Republican primaries for open seats.

While newcomers give Congress new perspectives and more diversity, Porter said, because many have never served politically before, lack connections, are unfamiliar with processes and have a curve. steep learning curve to overcome.

“Is this a bad thing or a good thing, or both? said Porter, who earned his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “That’s to be determined.”

Porter also discovered new patterns in how congressional campaigns are funded. In a Quarterly Legislative Studies article, she showed that from 2016 to 2020, political newcomers who secured early contributions from outside their respective districts had more success in later fundraising and an increased likelihood of winning the primary.

This contrasts with previous elections, when a candidate’s anticipated congressional district money was the best predictor of future fundraising and electoral success.

Decades ago, accessing this data would have required sending letters to the Federal Election Commission and receiving them on a floppy disk. Now, when Porter makes targeted queries to the right sources, all relevant information is at her fingertips, and then she uses her programming ability to draw conclusions.

“I have to understand data structure and data storage and ask the right questions about the interface or the code base to get the data I need to do the job I want to do,” he said. she stated.

“This department, and the University in general, is so supportive of young scholars and intellectual freedom, intellectual curiosity and intellectual growth.”

Teaming up

This spring, Porter and Rossiter plan to do a joint presentation on partisan discourse among elites at the Rooney Center’s Keeping the Republic conference on campus, and look forward to opportunities to learn from the nation’s top scholars.

They also both appreciated the goodwill of Notre Dame’s senior faculty, who readily answered questions and provided advice on research and teaching.

“This department, and the University in general, is so supportive of young scholars and intellectual freedom, intellectual curiosity and intellectual growth,” Porter said.

Starting their careers right next to each other has also been great, they said, because few women conduct research in their field like they do.

“It’s great for the department as a whole, but it’s also great for each of us,” Porter said. “We have someone to talk to, to rely on and to get our ideas rolling. It’s really special.

Originally posted by Beth Staples at on November 02, 2022.


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