MPSA Award Recipients - 2015

The MPSA sponsors many awards for outstanding research presented at the MPSA Conference and one award for the best article published in each volume of the American Journal of Political Science (AJPS). Nominations are made by conference chairs, discussants, and section heads after the conference. Award committees select the winning papers. Awards are announced at the MPSA business meeting during the conference the following year.

The following awards were presented at the 2015 conference for research presented at the 2014 conference:


AJPS Best Article Award 

A $1,000 award for the best article appearing in the volume of the American Journal of Political Science preceding the conference.

Title: Group Segregation and Urban Violence (Volume 58, Issue 1, pages 226–245)

Authors: Ravi Bhavnani, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Karsten Donnay, ETH Zürich, Dan Miodownik, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Maayan Mor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dirk Helbing, ETH Zürich

Award Committee: David Darmofal, University of South Carolina (chair); Matthew Golder, Penn State; Tracy Osborn, University of Iowa

From the committee: Bhavnani, Donnay, Miodownik, Mor, and Helbing’s article, “Group Segregation and Urban Violence”, is an imaginative paper that brings a rigorous research design and methods to bear on an important and timely topic: how does segregation shape intergroup violence in contested urban spaces? The authors argue that social distance – be it religious, ethnic, or ideological, class- or gender-based – is a key mechanism that explains conflict over urban areas. All else equal, higher levels of social distance increase the likelihood that day-to-day contact between members of nominally rival groups leads to violence.

The authors apply agent-based modeling to the demonstration case of Jerusalem, seeding their model with micro-level, geo-coded data on settlement patterns for each of the city’s 77 neighborhoods. One of the most innovative contributions of this paper is to employ agent-based modeling to examine violence under four proposed scenarios for the future status of Jerusalem: “Business-As-Usual”, “Clinton Parameters”, “Palestinian Proposal”, and “Return to 1967.” The authors find that the “Return to 1967” scenario would most dramatically curb violence in the city. They also conclude that although integration is a promising strategy when social distance is small, arrangements to reduce intergroup interactions – including localized segregation, limits on mobility and migration, partition, and differentiation of political authority – can be effective when social distance is great.

Bhavnani et al’s article has several attractive features. In highlighting the importance of social distance it demonstrates the contingent nature of intergroup interactions in conflict-prone settings and identifies an important factor that helps account for whether these interactions will ameliorate or promote conflict. Its use of agent-based modeling demonstrates the utility of this approach, particularly in forecasting the likely consequences of proposed scenarios in real world settings. Finally, the rigorous methods it employs are applied to one of the most consequential and intractable conflicts in the world. For all of these reasons, we believe that “Group Segregation and Urban Violence” is well-deserving of the AJPS Best Article Award.

Best Paper in Comparative Policy Award 

A $500 award sponsored by the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice (JCPA) and International Comparative Policy Analysis Forum for the best paper in comparative policy. The winner(s) may submit their paper to JCPA for an expedited triple blind-fold review process.

Title: Ripples from the First Wave: The Monarchical Origins of the Welfare State

Author: Eileen McDonagh, Northeastern University

Award Committee:  Charles Blake, James Madison University (Chair), Christoffer Green-Pedersen, Aarhus University, Denmark, Klaus Schubert, University of Muenster          

From the committee:  In a considerable number of settings in the comparative study of policy dynamics, prevailing public attitudes toward government action are presented as a given. In contrast, in this innovative paper, Professor McDonagh argues that the origins of public support for the welfare state in the 20th and 21st centuries can be found in distinctive monarchical legacies. Highly patrimonial regimes demonstrated a familial rhetoric and took courses of action that laid the foundation for future policy development and for public support of government activity in pursuit of public welfare. In contrast, less patrimonial monarchies evolved into more liberal polities with political cultures more focused on individual responsibility for socioeconomic outcomes. Professor McDonagh combines a comparative historical approach with contemporary quantitative analysis to engage in process tracing regarding the origins of distinctive political cultures and of distinctive policy outcomes.  Her work extends the temporal boundaries of the contemporary debate over the causal dynamics of robust welfare states with implications both for future research and for practitioners engaged in social policymaking. 


Best Paper by an Emerging Scholar Award

A $250 award given for the best paper, regardless of field of topic, authored by a scholar or scholars who have received their terminal degree(s) no sooner than six years prior to the year in which the paper was delivered.

Title: Social Norms and the Presentation of Partisanship

Authors: Samara Klar, University of Arizona, Yanna Krupnikov, Northwestern University

Award Committee: Leonie Huddy, SUNY Stony Brook (chair); Michael Berkman, Penn State; Raymond Duch, University of Oxford

From the committee:  American political behavior research has established that leaning political independents, those who call themselves independent but lean towards one or the other major political parties, act as consistent partisans. What has remained unclear in past research is why such individuals call themselves independents and not partisans. In this well written, carefully researched, and innovative paper, Klar and Krupnikov find that Americans are more likely to call themselves political independents in climates characterized by partisan disagreement. This is especially the case for high self-monitors, individuals who are highly attuned to social norms and most likely to modify their attitudes and behavior to fit within a specific social context. Partisan disagreement not only pushes Americans towards an independent self-identification it also dampens their political activity. Klar and Krupnikov base their conclusions on four well-designed experiments that show the powerful effects of political disagreement on the avoidance of partisan labels and decreased levels of political engagement.  Their work lends obvious insight into political engagement. It also answers an incredibly important but vastly understudied question: Why do people vary in their attachment to political parties? At a time of intensified partisanship and heightened partisan acrimony, their research is trend setting and timely.

Best Paper in International Relations

A $250 award for the best paper on the topic of international relations.

Title: Modern Day Merchant Guilds: Supply Chains and Informal Property Rights Enforcement

Authors: Leslie Johns, University of California at Los Angeles, Rachel Wellhausen, University of Texas at Austin

Award Committee: Zaryab Iqbal, Penn State (chair); Philip Arena, SUNY Buffalo; Jonathan Renshon, University of Wisconsin, Madison

From the committee:  This paper stands out for both its intellectual and empirical rigor, as well as its creativity. Substantively, it makes the important point that reputational arguments (of the sort invoked not only to explain property rights, but many other outcomes in international relations) hinge upon an often implicit assumption that certain actions will be deterred by punishments no one actually has any interest in carrying out. This is a glaring problem in a number of literatures and it is important to draw attention to it. Methodologically, the paper combines formal theory, statistical analysis, and case studies to great effect. One rarely sees such a wide range of approaches adopted within a single paper. Johns and Wellhausen dexterously use a combination of observational data, surveys case studies, and formal theory to construct a convincing narrative that feels like more than the sum of its parts. While it is common these days to see multi-method approaches, it's rather unusual to see them carried out so well.

Best Paper Presented in a Poster Format Award 

A $250 award for the best poster presentation.

Title: Natural Resources and Recurring Civil War

Author: Vita Thormann, German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA)

Award Committee: Heather Evans, Sam Houston State University (chair); Gwen Arnold, University of California, Davis; Nick Clark, Susquehenna University

From the committee:  Vita Thormann's paper makes an interesting contribution to the study of the interrelationships among natural resource holdings and conflict by examining how the attributes of bundles of natural resources possessed by a country may make the country more or less vulnerable to recurrence of civil conflict. The paper tests hypotheses about how variation in these bundles, specifically with respect to the lootability of natural resources and the extent to which their expropriation can be feasibly obstructed, can affect the balance of power between state and rebel actors such that post-conflict stability is more or less fragile. Thormann focuses on four classes of goods typed by a two-by-type matrix of lootability and obstructibility, using as his/her empirical focus fuel rents, primary diamond production, secondary diamond production, and contraband goods. The statistical analysis suggests that variation in fuel endowments does not affect the likelihood of conflict recurrence, a finding that contradicts indications in some existing scholarship and thus deserves further investigation. A country's possession of lootable resources, such as secondary diamonds and contraband resources such as drugs, appear to increase the likelihood of conflict recurrence. The research suggests that these latter resources have some sort of inherently destabilizing impact, the causal mechanism needs further exploration. The research is somewhat limited by its small n, the small number of resource types upon which it focuses, the lack of fine-grained resource classification, and the need for more thorough explication of the resource-related incentives of state and non-state actors vis-a-vis conflict engagement. Nonetheless, the research question is interesting, the theoretical approach is innovative, and the results suggest productive paths for future research.


Best Undergraduate Poster Award

A $250 award for the best poster presented by an undergraduate.

Title: Learning in Harm’s Way: The Effects of Neighborhood Violence on School Performance

Author: Elizabeth Froom Pelletier, The College of William and Mary

Award Committee: Jennifer Hayes Clark, University of Houston (chair); Victor Asal, SUNY Albany; John Hulsey, James Madison University

From the committee:  The committee felt that this research was strong both theoretically and methodologically, investigating the very important and timely question of whether geographic proximity to violent crimes affects school performance.  Using sophisticated GIS techniques, Pelletier finds a statistically significant and negative association between proximity to violence and test score results.

Kellogg/Notre Dame Award 

A $250 award for the best paper in comparative politics.

Title: Reverse Engineering Chinese Censorship through Randomized Experimentation and Participant Observation

Authors: Gary King, Harvard University, Jennifer Pan, Harvard University, Margaret E. Roberts, Harvard University

Award Committee: Robert Rohrschneider, University of Kansas (chair); Chris Blattman, Columbia University; Georgia Kernell, Northwestern University

From the committee: How can one study censorship of internet activities China? This paper applies an ingenious research design to investigate this question. It uses a twofold strategy. First, the study creates numerous social media accounts across China. It then randomly submits different types of messages to these sites. This strategy allows the authors to assess which messages pass the censorship bar-and which ones fail to clear it. Second, the study interviews participants in the censorship process through one of its social media sites. Cumulative, the study reveals that some topics (like corruption) are more likely to be censored than others; but it also indicates that "obvious" topics like government criticism are not automatically censored. The study makes a major contribution by revealing a nuanced portrait of censorship-at-work in China.

Lucius Barker Award

A $250 award for the author or authors of the best paper presented at the annual meeting on a topic investigating race or ethnicity and politics honoring the spirit and work of Professor Barker.

Title: Assessing the Causal Impact of Race-Based Districting on Voter Turnout

Author: Bernard L. Fraga, Indiana University

Award Committee: Ismail White, (chair) Ohio State University; Marisa Abrajano, University of California, San Diego; D. Stephen Voss,University of Kentucky

From the committee: This year’s nominations for the Lucius Barker paper award featured a number of exceptional papers that all nicely embodied the spirit of Dr. Barker’s work and his exceptional contributions to the study of race and ethnic politics.  Although it was not easy given the quality of the papers, the awards committee unanimously selected the paper, “Assessing the Causal Impact of Race-Based Districting on Voter Turnout,” by Benard Fraga as the recipient of the 2015 Lucius Barker paper award. This paper not only addresses an important question within the race and ethnic politics literature but it is meticulously researched and provides  convincing evidence about the causal link between co-racial/ethnic candidates and racial differences in voter turnout. Leveraging the 2012 round of redistricting and examining the turnout behavior of 65 million registered voters from 10 states, Fraga demonstrates that the presence of a co-racial candidate interacts with the racial makeup of an individual’s new congressional district to alter the individual’s propensity to turnout and vote.  He finds that when moved into districts that feature both co-racial candidates and significantly greater proportions of co-racial constitutes, the probability of voting increases for both blacks and whites  while it decreases for Latinos. The paper is innovative, a pleasure to read and we look forward to seeing it in print.

Patrick J. Fett Award 

A $250 award for best paper on the scientific study of Congress and the presidency.

Title: Legislative Style

Authors: William Bernhard, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Tracy Sulkin, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Daniel Sewell, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Award Committee: George Edwards, Texas A&M (chair); David Canon, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Michael Ensley, Kent State University

From the committee:  The authors focus on defining and analyzing how members of the House allocate their time and effort, their “legislative style.”  They categorize a large number of representatives’ activities them into indices composing legislative style and then use model-based clustering approaches to uncover how these components cluster together. Their sophisticated and rigorous analysis reveals that representatives’ legislative styles are predictable and relatively stable across time.  Their findings have important implications for our understanding of legislators’ careers, the quality of constituency representation, and the nature of policy outcomes.


Review of Politics Award 

A $250 award for the best paper in normative political theory.

Title: Corruption and the Problem of Patronage in Machiavelli’s Florentine Histories

Author: Amanda Maher, University of Chicago

Award Committee: Joan Tronto, University of Minnesota (chair); Patrick Deneen, Notre Dame University; Peter Lindsay, Georgia State University

From the committee:  In this paper, part of her dissertation project, Maher offers an original reading of Machiavelli, focusing on a work (Florentine Histories) that is widely neglected among political theorists. She argues that Machiavelli combined moral concerns with a socio-historical analysis that offers us a powerful way to understand the nature of republican virtue. This paper is sophisticated and well-argued, and will surely become an important part of the scholarship on Machiavelli and republican virtue for years to come.

Robert H. Durr Award 

A $250 award for best paper applying quantitative methods to a substantive problem.

Title: Encouraging Small Donor Contributions: Field Experiments Testing the Effects of Nonpartisan Messages

Authors: Donald P. Green, Columbia University, Jonathan S. Krasno, Binghamton University

Costas Panagopoulos, Harvard University, Benjamin Farrer, Hobart and William Smith College, Michael Schwam-Baird, Columbia University

Award Committee: Janet Box-Steffensmeier, Ohio State University (chair); Andrew Gelman, Columbia University; Gabriel Lenz,University of California, Berkeley

From the committee:  The paper uses a field experiment conducted in New York City, New Jersey, and Virginia during the 2013 election cycle to examine the feasibility of using nonpartisan messages to increase donations from small contributors, which is a particularly important question in the current campaign finance system in place. The authors use a forecasting model to identify those voters most likely to donate based on observed covariates from voter registration and turnout records. Among those voters with above-average estimated probabilities of donating, they randomize a variety of non-partisan messages that encourage the recipients to give to the candidate of their choice. They remind randomly selected subjects in New York City that small donations are matched by public funds and in Virginia that small donations are subject to a tax credit. Donations, the outcome variable, are measured using donor surveys and public databases of campaign contributions. The suite of experiments represents the first attempt to assess nonpartisan outreach to small donors. They find that a simple, non‐partisan appeal can increase the yield of donations. They also find that there was less success growing the number of donors than in increasing the size of the average donation.

Sophonisba Breckinridge Award 

A $250 award for the best paper delivered on women and politics.

Title: Women and Men from Different sides of the Wall:  Gender Attitudes, Institutions, and Political Participation in Unified Germany

Authors: Sarah Glatte, Oxford University, Catherine E. de Vries, Oxford University

Award Committee: Kim Fridkin, Arizona State University (chair); Alice Kang, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Christina Wolbrecht, University of Notre Dame

From the committee:  The Glatte and de Vries paper proposes an original theory that gender regimes have a long-term effect on citizens' attitudes and political behavior, even after the regimes are no longer in place. Leveraging the division and reunification of Germany in the second half of the 20th century, the authors identify a novel natural experiment for testing their theory. With data from the German General Social Survey (1990-2010), the authors find that people who grew up in pre-unified West Germany hold more traditional attitudes about gender than do their counterparts who grew up in pre-unified East Germany. Further, the authors find that the contemporary gender gap in political participation (specifically, being politically interested and being a party member) is narrower in former East Germany than in former West Germany. By comparing cohorts that were socialized under different gender regimes and then brought together under one unified system, Glatte and de Vries make a significant contribution to the scholarship on gender institutionalism, political behavior, and political culture.

Westview Press Award 

A $250 award sponsored by Westview Press for best paper by delivered by a graduate student.

Title: Can Inclusive Institutional Reform Reduce Political Violence? Field Evidence on Village Governance and Conflict in India

Author: Benjamin Pasquale, New York University

Award Committee: Shaun Bowler, University of California, Riverside (chair); Adam Seth-Levine, Cornell University; Wendy Pearlman, Northwestern University

From the committee:  His paper asks an important question, uses innovative methods to answer it, involves a significant amount of original data collection, and carefully examines several different mechanisms underlying the pattern of results.  It is a very clearly written paper with a great balance between detailed knowledge of a particular case and theorization of general relationships; convincing contribution with empirical, theoretical, and policy implications. Pasquale uses a sophisticated research design that shows high methodological skills (an original household survey with special methods to protect respondents’ anonymity; discontinuity-style field research design; great careful original data collection involving overseas fieldwork and non-English language research. Ultimately (perhaps most importantly) he makes an important contribution to our understanding of the relationship between institutions and political violence. It is a truly impressive paper.