As the presidential campaign picked up steam following this summer's nominating conventions, political scientists from around the country met to present research at the recent 1996 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association. In addition to Alan Abramowitz (left), Barkley Professor of Political Science, the following is a sampling of the research presented by Emory political science professors and graduate students at the conference:
If anyone had a shot at radically changing the way the U.S. Congress conducts business, it would seem that House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and his "Republican Revolution" had a golden opportunity this past year. In assessing the outcome of the 104th Congress, Associate Professor Randall Strahan examined how factors such as Gingrich's personal leadership style, the Republican's first Congressional majority in decades, and institutional tradition converged to influence American governance.
Although political scientists disagree on the impact of congressional leaders' personal styles on institutional change, Stahan said that Gingrich, "has to be considered one of a number of extraordinary figures in the history of the House---not only for his success in establishing a new party government regime, but also for having helped create the critical moment in institutional time that made change on this scale a possibility." As to the view held by some political scientists that the American political system has become incapable of enacting large-scale change, Strahan argues that what we're seeing now is not the waning of innovative capacity per se, but "the waning of the near term possibilities for new policies or governing regimes that require a larger presence of the federal government in American society."
Because elections are often decided by a few percentage points, scholars and politicians alike have been increasingly interested in understanding the "gender gap" and its role in elections. Assistant Professor Beth Reingold and graduate students Heather Foust and Paige Schneider analyzed results of national surveys conducted in each presidential election year from 1976 to 1992 to determine if there were gender-related differences in the criteria men and women used to evaluate the candidates.
Past gender gap studies revealed fairly consistent differences between men and women in beliefs about levels of military and defense spending and "compassion issues" such as social welfare spending, with women taking more pacifist and liberal positions. Reingold and her colleagues took the findings one step further and classified the reasons people give for voting for or against a presidential candidate as "masculine," "feminine" or not gender-related (for example, leadership ability and military experience were considered masculine concerns, and interpersonal relations, morality and political responsiveness were classified as feminine concerns). "We found that men are often more likely than women to evaluate candidates on the basis of personality traits and issue positions traditionally associated with masculinity, while women are expressing a growing concern for `feminine' attributes, and interest in issues traditionally perceived as `women's issues' such as abortion," said Reingold.
In a very different realm of politics, Assistant Professor Carrie Wickham looked at the flourishing of "associational life" (private civic, religious and social service associations) within the Arab world and its impact on authoritarian regimes. Wickham focused on how Islamist groups in particular were able to "exploit cracks in the edifice of authoritarian rule more effectively than their secular counterparts." In addition to their unique organizational abilities, Wickham said that Islamist activists challenged dominant patterns of political noninvolvement by promoting the idea that individual Muslim are personally obligated to participate in the Islamic reform of society and state.
The "da'wa illa-allah," or "call to God," is most appealing to educated lower- and middle-class youth. "Reacting against a situation in which political and economic elites can exploit their positions for private gain, such youths are drawn to Islamic ideology's emphasis on obligatory adherence to a universal moral code and collective responsibility for public welfare," said Wickham. Yet, in order to move to the center of political life, "Islamists need to convince influential groups that their call for substantive justice and morality does not jeopardize elite interests, values and lifestyles." But given the sharp class and ideological divisions in many Arab societies, Wickham said that in the near future, rather than democracy, "we should expect more Islamist mobilization, more state repression, and--in response--more silence."