The Student Honors Papers collection represents exemplary work in political science at Illinois Wesleyan University. The Ames Library is proud to archive these and other honors projects in Digital Commons @ IWU, the University's online archive of student, faculty and staff scholarship and creative activity.

For political science students interested in applying for Research Honors, please access the Research Honors Record Form and the Research Honors Procedural Guidelines. Declarations of intent are due by October 1.


It Takes a [Latina] Candidate: Discovering the Motivations That Lead Latina Elected Officials to Run for Office
by Melissa Guzmán

In the United States, women and racial minorities continue to face serious obstacles to entering elected office, particularly above the local level. This has serious consequences for democratic participation and legitimacy and may affect the substantive representation of issues that concern women of color. Studies show that many eligible women list the following as deterrents from running for office: low political confidence, perceived risks associated with running, a lack of support, and a lack of interest in running for higher office. But do Latina candidates, as members of an underrepresented gender and a marginalized racial minority, face unique challenges when compared to non-minority women or Latino males? This study builds on the research on women and Latinos in politics and attempts to garner an in-depth understanding of the Latina candidate's experience through interviews with Latina elected officials at various levels of government in Illinois. This study finds that familial support is of critical importance for Latina candidates but that identification and encouragement from party gatekeepers plays the key role in determining whether a Latina will step forward to seek office.

The Local American Voter: Mayoral Election Turnout in Midsized American Cities
by Austin Aldag

While the determining factors leading to the dismally low levels of voter turnout in national and statewide elections have been well studied, nowhere is turnout lower than in local elections, a particular area that is significantly understudied. Of the limited literature on local and mayoral elections, few examine cities below 250,000 in population. Rather, many examine mega-city elections, which are comparable to congressional or statewide elections. Utilizing an original dataset of 356 midsized (50,000-250,000 in population) American cities from the Midwest, South, and Northeast, this study examines the drivers of mayoral election turnout: election day circumstances, stakes in the game socioeconomic factors, and race. The primary findings are that election day circumstances, especially the timing of the elections, perform best across all models tested, with the stakes in the game variables also being significant. Additionally, these first two measures drive turnout far more than any social, economic, or racial composition of a city’s population.

Explaining Legislative Productivity: Evaluating the Effects of Polarization and Divided Government In a Cross-Sectional Study of State Legislatures
by Mike Kistner

Despite a wealth of literature on the causes of gridlock in Congress, there is a lack of comparative work at the state level exploring whether lawmaking in state legislatures functions similarly. Operating under a theoretical framework assuming polarization and divided government are the primary obstacles to legislative success, and controlling for majority seat share, I test the determinants of legislative productivity with an original dataset consisting of 31 states. I operationalize legislative productivity using a content analysis of editorials from each state during the 2009-2010 legislative sessions to identify pressing political issues, and then determine how many of these issues were addressed in some form of legislation during this period. Utilizing an improved measure of legislative productivity that weights issues by salience, I find that polarization's effects on productivity are conditioned by the presence or absence of divided government; during instances of unified government, polarization increases productivity, while this effect is negated under divided government.

Why They Rise Up, or Not: A Study of Linguistic Minorities and Ethnic-National Mobilization
by Yelei Kong

Most theories of nationalism focus on majority nationalism and do not provide an adequate explanation of the inaction of most ethnic minorities. The first part of this paper adopts the political process model from social movement theory to study the factors that prompt linguistic minorities to mobilize on ethno-national grounds. Using a large-N statistical model with data drawn from the Minorities at Risk (MAR) database, the results indicate that group capacity, a favorable opportunity structure, and strong issue framing facilitate ethno-national mobilization. The second part of the paper employs a most similar system design to compare Uzbek language minorities in Central Asia with the Uyghur linguistic minority in China. The focused-structured comparison confirms and extends the findings of the political process model. In short, isolated communities, an apathetic Uzbek state, and cross-cutting identities have created unfavorable conditions for ethno-national mobilization among Uzbek minorities. Much the opposite has been the case for the Uyghur minority in China.

United States House Elections Post-Citizens United: The Influence of Unbridled Spending
by Laura L. Gaffey

After the Citizens United decision in 2010 allowed corporations and unions to spend freely in elections, much media attention was given to the influence of unlimited and undisclosed donations during the 2010 midterm elections. This research attempts to determine the impact of increased outside spending by super PACs and other groups post-Citizens United by comparing United States House races in 2006 and 2010. The analysis controls for other factors that influence election outcomes in order to determine the influence of outside spending, confirming that outside money did have a small measurable effect in both elections when spent to support challengers. This study reveals the difficulties of compiling precise data on outside spending in elections, especially for spending that is not express advocacy. Additionally, the findings demonstrate that challengers see a greater measurable effect of outside expenditures, a finding consistent with previous research.

Supreme Court Responsiveness: An Analysis of Individual Justice Voting Behavior and the Role of Public Opinion
by Michael Browning

This study aims to explain why the Supreme Court responds to public mood by analyzing individual justice liberalism and comparing it to public liberalism between the years of 1953 and 2005. Three theories suggesting why the Court may respond to public opinion are discussed, including the replacement, political adjustment, and the attitude change hypotheses. The argument of using Court reversals to determine the ideology of the Court is presented and implemented. Public reaction to Court decisions is analyzed along with the Court’s institutional legitimacy as means to determine the Court’s strategic behavior. Ideology, public mood, the parties controlling the House, Senate, and Presidency, and the overall Court mood are used as independent variables to explain the driving force behind changes in individual justices’ voting behavior. The study concludes that Court mood is the strongest and most significant factor in changes in judicial voting behavior, while public opinion, ideology, and the parties controlling the other institutions of government explain little to none of the variance. In addition to justice replacement, the aggregate attitude change of justices is determined to be the most likely explanation for the Court’s adherence to public opinion.

Redistricting and the Public Interest: Developing a Value-Explicit Dialogue
by Amy B. Uden

Throughout the coming year, legislators will take up the decennial responsibility of drawing new boundaries for legislative districts. Political scientists and practitioners often emphasize the profound impact of redistricting on political careers, process, and policy. However, the ultimate goals of redistricting remain controversial. Redistricting plays a large role in establishing the framework for American politics, and is thus directly linked to representation and the “public interest,” a contested theoretical concept. Using the lens of previous public interest theory, this study examines the historical redistricting dialogue through a content analysis of redistricting-related Supreme Court cases. By applying an analysis of Brian Barry’s ideal- or want-regarding classifications of the public interest, this research finds that methods of legislative redistricting have trended toward want-regarding concepts of the public interest. Bolstered by an analysis of contrasting redistricting policy in the neighboring states of Illinois and Iowa, this paper concludes with a call for a more value-explicit theoretical dialogue surrounding the process of legislative redistricting.

Institutions and Elites: Democracy and Stability in sub-Saharan Africa
by Michael R. Burgess

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most politically unstable and undemocratic regions in the world. Theories of power-sharing and recent studies have indicated that institutions that allow for higher levels of power-sharing are often more successful at consolidating democracy and stability in highly divided societies, like those common in Sub-Saharan Africa. By examining the electoral system, executive type, and level of decentralization, this study first determines the level of institutional power-sharing for each of the 48 sub-Saharan states. Next, it compares these levels of power-sharing with indicators of democracy and state stability to determine if more power-sharing does correspond with higher levels of democracy and stability. Using a bivariate analysis and factoring in region, the data show a strong and significant correlation between higher levels of institutional power-sharing and higher levels of democracy and state stability in sub-Saharan Africa. However, power-sharing does not appear to be a necessary or sufficient driver of democratic outcomes. In order to better determine the nature of the relationship between institutional design and contextual factors, the later part of the study employs a focused-structured most-similar comparison between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, countries with identical and moderately low power-sharing scores but drastically different levels of democracy and state stability.

Public Relations and Political Power: A Case Study of the Caterpillar Tractor Co.
by Frank Simpson

The central concern of the paper is to present a case study of the public relations activities of the Caterpillar Tractor Co. Caterpillar is the largest private employer in the state of Illinois and the largest single employer in the city of Peoria. It has plants, offices, and parts depots in twenty-two places in nine teen different congressional districts; and the Company also has many
facilities overseas. Finally, Caterpillar is a major exporter o f heavy machinery. Such an organization would therefore be highly interested in--and sensitive to--the political climate in which it operates.

The Struggle for Standing to Secure Judical Review of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
by Donald E. Garrison

This is a case study of the attempts of ordinary taxpayers, as well as of a United States Senator, to resolve an issue through the judicial process. Ordinarily, individuals bring questions of contemporary significance to the Supreme Court, seeking an interpretation of the Constitution which favors their particular interests. Seldom, however, do individuals have occasion to question the adjudicatory powers of the Court itself--a debate of the separation of powers doctrines older than the Constitution itself.