Research

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The cornerstone of SPA's success is its esteemed faculty, comprised of prolific scholars, researchers, lecturers, executives, and ambassadors – all leaders in their field. They delve into the complex and pressing issues of our time, yielding real-world, practical solutions for pressing problems.

Select Research in Criminology


Criminology Select Research

What is the Impact of Bullying on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Students?

SPA Professor Lynn Addington used data from the 2015 National Crime Victimization Survey's School Crime Supplement to explore the direct impact of bullying on 12- to 18-year-old students of different sexual orientations. The study results confirm that students who were bullied because of their sexual orientation reported more frequent bullying than students who did not attribute the bullying to their sexual orientation. Her paper, "What is the Effect of Being Bullied? Comparing Direct Harms of Bullying Experienced by LGB and non-LGB Students," was published by the Journal of Family Strengths.

Studying the Impact of Victimization on School Safety

Just how students who are victims of violence feel about their safety at school is the focus of research by SPA Professor Lynn Addington. Her study uses a nationally representative sample of nearly 2,200 Israeli Jewish and Arab students to explore incidents with the same type of victimization and experiences with different types of school violence. The study confirms that being a victim of school violence decreases the feeling of safety, but suggests that a single experience may be more significant for this relationship than multiple victimizations. Addington’s paper, “Students’ Feelings of Safety in School: Does Frequency of Victimization Matter?” is published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice.

Research Compares Sentencing Trends for Older Defendants

SPA Associate Professor Kareem Jordan examines factors affecting sentencing of defendants over 50 using data from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing in his article, “A Multivariate Analysis of Incarceration and Sentence Length Decisions for Older Defendants.” Jordan, along with coauthors Tina Freiburger and Carly Hilinski-Rosick, finds older defendants are more likely to be sentenced to community sanctions than prison time, but those over 50 who are jailed receive significantly longer sentences. The results suggest the severity of the offense and prior record have a more negative effect during the incarceration decision. The study is published in Criminal Justice Policy Review.

Lack of Fairness in Capital Punishment Cases Documented

“A Culture That is Hard to Defend: Extralegal Factors in Federal Death Penalty Cases,” by SPA Professor Jon Gould and Kenneth Leon of George Washington University, appears in Northwestern University School of Law's Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Looking at data from federal death penalty cases between 1998 and 2004, the researchers discover that resources allocated to ensure fair trials were driven by the social and political climate of the jurisdictions and the judges’ backgrounds rather than the facts of the cases. The study finds that those extralegal factors hurt poor defendants and increases their likelihood of receiving a death sentence. Defendants who receive resources below a basic floor (which comprised about 30 percent of cases) are at twice the risk of being sentenced to death.

Examining What Works in Improving School Safety

As concern over crime and violence in school continues, SPA Professor Lynn Addington explores what works in schools trying various measures to keep students safe. The study, “Adding Security, But Not Subtracting Safety? Exploring Schools’ Use of Multiple Visible Security Measures,” appears in the American Journal of Criminal Justice. The research analyzes nationally representative school administrator-reported data from the School Survey on Crime & Safety. Addington considers the relationship between the use of multiple forms of security (cameras, metal detectors and security personnel) and youth’s exposure to drugs, fighting, property crime, and firearms at school. The results indicate that using multiple security measures reduces the likelihood of exposure to property crime in high schools, but most other security utilization patterns are associated with poorer school safety outcomes.

Lack of Fairness in Receiving Public Defense Services: Study Reveals Injustice in Death Penalty Cases

Although Americans want to believe that courts are fair, particularly in capital punishment cases, a study coauthored by Jon Gould, professor in the AU School of Public Affairs shows the courts are falling short. In the study, "A Culture That Is Hard to Defend: Extralegal Factors in Federal Death Penalty Cases," published by Northwestern University School of Law's Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology looks at data from federal death penalty cases between 1998 and 2004. The researchers discovered that resources allocated to ensure fair trials were driven by the social and political climate of the jurisdictions and the judges’ backgrounds rather than the facts of the cases.

College Women and Violence

A study by SPA's Lynn Addington and co-author Callie Marie Rennison review the limitations in current studies of violence against college women particularly in the ways in which violence is defined and operationalized. The research, titled "Violence Against College Women: A Review to Identify Limitations in Defining the Problem and Inform Future Research," suggests college women are exposed to a variety of risks regarding violence that often are overlooked in most research. The study is published in Trauma, Violence and Abuse.

Beyond Community Gates

A study co-authored by SPA's Lynn Addington explains how households in gated communities experience fewer burglaries than their non-gated counterparts, but identifies unintended costs of living in gated communities. The research, titled "Keeping the Barbarians Outside the Gate? Comparing Burglary Victimization in Gated and Non-Gated Communities" also emphasizes diversity within gated communities, in contrast to common perceptions that the areas are "affluent enclaves." The study appears in Justice Quarterly.

Select Research in Health Policy & Management

Researcher handling medical marijuanaResearch Reveals States with Medical Marijuana Laws Have Lower Workplace Fatalities

AU School of Public Affairs professor Erdal Tekin recently completed a study that examined workplace fatalities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1992 and 2015. He compared the changes in incidents over time among states with and without medical marijuana laws using a technique called difference-in-differences. Tekin, along with coauthors Mark Anderson and Daniel Rees, described the results in the article, “Medical marijuana laws and workforce fatalities in the United States.” The article appeared online in the International Journal of Drug Policy in August and will be in print this fall.

Various hands working on a puzzleManaging Racial Diversity: Matching Internal Strategies with Environmental Needs

A study by SPA Associate Professor Anna Amirkhanyan, SPA Distinguished Scholar in Residence Ken Meier, Steve Holt SPA/PhD’17 and SPA doctoral student Austin McCrea analyzes hiring decisions by of nursing home managers and how that impacted to the needs of clients they serve. “Managing Racial Diversity: Matching Internal Strategies with Environmental Needs,” finds managers who consider diversity and hire employees skilled in caring for diverse clientele have better facilities with fewer regulatory violations. The paper is published in the Public Administration Review.

Study Shows Fluctuating Income Impacts Child Health and Nutrition

According to research by SPA Associate Professor Taryn Morrissey, income and employment instability can be harmful to a child’s health and food security. An analysis of data from the 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation reveals that each year 60 percent of children under age 5 experiences a change in a parents’ employment status, and about half experience a change in income equivalent to or greater than 33 percent of their household income. Losing a job and an income change are linked with an increase in the likelihood of food insecurity. Income instability levels are even higher among children with less-educated parents. Her article, “Economic Instability, Food Insecurity and Child Health in the Wake of the Great Recession,” coauthored by Sharon Wolf of the University of Pennsylvania, appears in Social Service Review.

Food Prices and Obesity

A study by SPA Associate Professors Taryn Morrissey and Alison Jacknowitz, and Katie Vinopal SPA/PhD'16 finds that high prices for fresh fruits and vegetables are associated with higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in young children in low- and middle-income households. The article, "The Influences of Local Food Prices on Children's Obesity and Eating Habits," finds when the prices of fruits and vegetables go up, families may buy fewer of them and substitute cheaper foods that might be less healthy and have more calories. The research appears in Pediatrics.

Air Quality and Infant Health

A study coauthored by SPA Professor Erdal Tekin shows how Turkey's use of natural gas, instead of coal, can have a positive effect on air quality and results in healthier infants. The study, "Air Pollution and Infant Mortality: Evidence from the Expansion of Natural Gas Infrastructure," showed that a nationwide move toward natural gas has led to improvements in air quality by reducing emissions from coal, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. The research appears in The Economic Journal.

Depression and Child Safety

A study by SPA Associate Professor Taryn Morrissey examines links between mothers' and fathers' depressive symptoms and their parenting practices relating to gun, fire, and motor vehicle safety. The research, titled "Parents' Depressive Symptoms and Gun, Fire, and and Motor Vehicle Safety Practices," uses data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, and concludes that interventions that identify and treat parental depression early may be effective in promoting appropriate safety behaviors among families with young children. The study is published in Maternal and Child Health Journal.

Linking Obesity to Cancer

A study coauthored by SPA Distinguished Professor Jeff Gill (led by E.C. Benesh) and colleagues identifies a link between obesity and prostate cancer in mice and may offer insights in human obesity links with cancer. The study, "Maternal Obesity, Cage Density, and Age Contribute to Prostate Hyperplasia in Mice," finds that prostate tissue was adversely affected during early life by the mother's overnutrition, size of her cage, and her age. The research appears in Reproductive Sciences.

Select Research in Homeland Security Policy

Silhouette of Three Foreign Fighters

Foreign Fighter Returnees: An Indefinite Threat?

SPA Assistant Professor David Malet co-authored a paper examining how long it typically takes a returned foreign fighter to launch a domestic attack, and he found there is not a long-term risk as feared. Understanding what happens with returnees is important to know because it can affect policies on everything from countries admitting refugees to whether to permit ISIS fighters to leave the theater of conflict alive. The article was co-authored with Rachel Hayes, a former graduate student at George Washington University. In their analysis of 230 jihadi returnees to Western countries, the researchers found the majority of attempted attacks occur within one year. Prison appears to play no role in lag times. Malet’s article, “Foreign Fighter Returnees: An Indefinite Threat?” recently published online in Terrorism & Political Violence.

Carrots, Sticks, and Insurgent Targeting of Civilians

Parked cars burningA new paper co-authored by AU School of Public Affairs Associate Professor Joe Young looks at how governments react to terrorist attacks on civilians — with conciliatory actions or counterattacks — and what kind of response that elicits from insurgents. The researchers compared how nonviolent and violent counterinsurgency tactics affect militant group violence against civilians. Results of the study suggest that using a “stick” — government coercion against a group — is associated with subsequent terrorism by that group. However, this is only the case for larger insurgent groups, which raises questions about the notion of terrorism as a weapon of the weak. “Carrots, Sticks, and Insurgent Targeting of Civilians” by Young, Victor Asal, Brian J. Phillips, R. Karl Rethemeyer, and Corina Simon recently appeared online in the Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Leaders Influence Terrorist Group Alliances

SPA Assistant Professor Tricia Bacon delves into the shifts in terrorist groups and leadership in her article, “Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State’s break: Strategic Strife of Lack Luster Leadership,” which appears in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. After reviewing individual and systemic explanations for the split between Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the research concludes that individual leaders factor greatly into terrorist alliance outcomes. Osama bin Laden prioritized unity and handled internal disputes more deftly than his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The style of bin Laden was instrumental in keeping Al Qaeda and ISIS forces together. Although a troubled alliance, strategic differences between Al Qaeda and ISIS were not sufficient to cause the split. Rather, the capabilities of Al Qaeda's leader determined the group's ability to prevent alliance ruptures, Bacon’s research discovers.

Why Do World Leaders Adopt Social Media?

A recent study by SPA Assistant Professor Thomas Zeitzoff and Pablo Barbera of the University of Southern California reveals that 76 percent of world leaders had an active presence on social media by the end of 2014. While some scholars have studied the impact of social media activity on political behavior, these researchers looked at leaders' motives in signing up and using it in the first place. "The New Public Address System: Why Do World Leaders Adopt Social Media?" was recently published in the fall issue of International Studies Quarterly.

Research Tests Rhetoric About Syrian Refugees: Its Political Impact in Question

SPA Assistant Professor Thomas Zeitzoff and colleagues recently examined attitudes toward Syrian refugees in Turkey - the largest host country of Syrian refugees - and how messages about their presence impacted the local political landscape. His research revealed that fundamental factors, such as partisanship and previous exposure to conflict, were stronger predictors of citizens' attitudes toward the country's peace process than negative messages about refugees. Zeitzoff's paper, "Refugees, Xenophobia, and Domestic Conflict: Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Turkey," coauthored by Anna Getmasky of the University of Essex in the United Kingdom and Tolga Sinmazdemir of Bogazici University in Turkey, will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal for Peace Research.

Report Raises Risks of Artificial Intelligence Playing Out in Political Reality

SPA Assistant Professor, Thomas Zeitzoff, contributed to a new report that outlines the potential danger of artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to digital, physical, and political security. Zeitzoff was one of several authors of "The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, and Mitigation," a 99-page report sponsored by the Future of Humanity Institute, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Center for a New American Security, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

New Book Examines How Terrorist Groups Become Allies

A new book, "Why Terrorist Groups Form International Alliances," by SPA Assistant Professor Tricia Bacon, examines why some terrorist groups choose to work together, and how policymakers can disrupt them.The book reviews partnerships formed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al-Qaida, Egyptian jihadist groups, and others. Bacon looks into the benefits of partnering (bolstering operational effectiveness, efficiency, and prestige) and potential risks (exposing partners to infiltration, security breaches, and additional counterterrorism attention). University of Pennsylvania Press

Exploring Hurdles to Terrorism Alliances

A study by SPA's Tricia Bacon examines what inhibits terrorist organizations from working together. Contrary to how terrorist alliances are often portrayed, terrorist organizations struggle to form and sustain alliances. Thus, the article was an important correction. The research, "Hurdles to International Terrorist Alliances," finds that even groups like al-Qaida, which have an exceptional ability to form alliances, experience obstacles that can hinder their relationships. This offers underutilized opportunities to exploit and disrupt terrorist partnerships. The study appeared in Terrorism and Political Violence.

Truth, Lies and Terrorism

A study co-authored by Joseph Young explains why terrorists strategically avoid truthfully claiming responsibility for an attack. The research, "Lying about Terrorism," is published in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism.

Impact of Rocket Threats on Voting

A study by SPA Assistant Professor Thomas Zeitzoff and Anna Getmansky of the University of Essex focuses on how the threat of rocket attacks affects voting behavior in Israel. The study, "Terrorism and Voting: The Effect of Rocket Threat on Voting in Israeli Elections," looks at the localities in southern Israel that have been exposed to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip since 2001. The research shows the evolution of the rockets' range leads to exogenous variation in the threat of terrorism. Comparing voting in national elections within and outside the rockets' range, the authors find the rightwing vote share is two to six percentage points higher in localities that are within the range - a substantively significant effect. The research appears in American Political Science Review.

Why Terrorists Join Forces

A forthcoming book by SPA's Tricia Bacon, examines what causes terrorist organizations, such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, to develop alliance networks. The book, "Alliances for Terror," finds groups that cluster and ally with hubs, tend to be the ones that are most violent, the most resilient, and pose the largest threat. The conventional wisdom has been that shared ideas and ideologies motivate groups to form these relationships, but Bacon discovers that organizational needs and weaknesses drive groups to seek allies. The book is published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Select Research in Law & Society


Law & Society Select Research

Gangs and Gang Violence in the Caribbean

This international symposium convened leading scholars who study the gang problem in the Caribbean. Participants examined the latest findings related to gangs and responses to gangs to improve the knowledge base on the Caribbean region's gang-related problems and their potential threat to democratic governance and human security in the Caribbean. The symposium covered a range of gang types, from inexperienced and disorganized neighborhood youth gangs engaged in petty property crime, to more organized and violent adult gangs that represent a serious threat to public order in some nations. The symposium also focused on the causes, correlates, and consequences of the gang problem, including the destabilizing effects of gangs on legitimate governance in Caribbean nations. The main purposes of the symposium were to discuss the strengths and limitations of existing research on gangs and gang violence in the Caribbean and to develop a research agenda for the Consortium about these issues.

Occupy Wall Street and the Police

On September 17th, 2011, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) officially launched in New York City's Zuccotti Park. OWS spurred a larger Occupy movement that spread quickly across the country, with Occupy sites emerging throughout the U.S. in a matter of days. The Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has provided funding to American University to carry out a nation-wide research study that will take stock of how police departments have responded to the OWS protests. Through interviews with police officers, city officials, and protesters, this study showcased the experiences of U.S. police agencies. This study culminated in the production of a guidebook that outlines the experiences and lessons learned by these departments. This guidebook serves as an invaluable resource in helping police agencies develop thoughtful community policing practices for managing social movements in the most effective, efficient, respectful, and just manner.

Preventing Wrongful Convictions

This project, led by SPA Professor Jon Gould and funded by the National Institute of Justice, is a unique collaboration between academic researchers and criminal justice professionals, including representatives of the prosecutorial and defense communities. The research began by identifying a set of 460 erroneous conviction and near miss cases that met a stringent definition of innocence. We then researched and coded the cases along a number of variables, including location effects, nature of the victim, nature of the defendant, facts available to the police and prosecutor, quality of work by the criminal justice system, and quality of work by the defense. The cases were subsequently analyzed using bivariate and logistic regression techniques. With the assistance of an expert panel, we also explored the cases from a qualitative perspective.

Select Research in Nonprofit Management

Watering a plantResearch Partnership Shows Impact of Capacity-Building Grants

Lewis Faulk, an SPA associate professor, worked with Mandi Stewart, SPA/PhD '15 and now an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, to analyze 15 years of data for 400 organizations that applied for grants from the Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C. Their findings were published in a recent article, “As You Sow, so Shall You Reap? Evaluating if Targeted Financial Capacity-Building Improves Nonprofit Financial Growth,” in Nonprofit Management and Leadership.

Nonprofit Management Select Research

How Freedom of Information Act Requests Are Managed

While some researchers have looked at individual agency responses to Freedom of Information Act requests, Khaldoun AbouAssi, assistant professor in the AU School of Public Affairs, coauthored an article with an aggregate analysis of FOIA that reveals trends in how public administrators are managing compliance with the federal law. FOIA allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents that the U.S. government controls. “A Snapshot of FOIA Administration: Examining Recent Research Trends to Inform Future Research,” was coauthored by AbouAssi and Tina Nabatchi, associate professor in the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs at Syracuse University. American Review of Public Administration, May 2018.

Capacity-Building and Financial Growth

SPA Associate Professor Lewis Faulk and Amanda J. Stewart, SPA/PhD'14, evaluate foundations' capacity-building grant programs, which are designed to improve nonprofit performance through organizational capacity development. This study adds new research to better understand whether these capacity-building programs achieve their intended results by evaluating fifteen years of capacity-building grants. Findings show that capacity building contributes to nonprofit financial growth in time and inform sector leaders who dedicate resources to capacity-building programs about the outcomes of these efforts. The article, titled "As You Sow, so Shall You Reap? Evaluating if Targeted Financial Capacity-Building Improves Nonprofit Financial Growth," was published in Nonprofit Management and Leadership (2017).

Exploring Impact of Gender in Local Government Management

A study by SPA Assistant Professor Khaldoun AbouAssi and SPA Professor Jocelyn Johnston, along with SPA Doctoral Student Zachary Bauer explores how gender affects management in local governmental nonprofit organizations using data from Lebanon. The research entitled, “Collaboration, Venus and Mars: The Gender Factor in Intersectoral Relations,” suggests females leading local government organizations are less likely to enter into cross-sector collaboration than their male counterparts, and in the nonprofit sector, gender plays no significant role in the decision to collaborate. The research was published in Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory.

Understanding Nonprofit Donor Behavior

An article “Organizational Response to Changing Demands: Predicting Behavior in Donor Networks,” by SPA Assistant Professor Khaldoun AbouAssi and Mary Tschirhart of The Ohio State University aims at better understanding the funding, performance, and management of nonprofit organizations. The article offers a strategic response model to integrate resource dependence theory with a network perspective. Four cases show the model's application to nonprofit organizations by focusing on relations with a government aid agency that switched funding priorities. The model describes why networks of recipients of funding may change over time and predicts organizational responses to changing demands from resource providers. The research appears in Public Administration Review.

Collaboration, Venus, and Mars: The Gender Factor in Intersectoral Relations

Scholarship across disciplines offers evidence that gender plays a significant role in organizational dynamics. Gender differences in preferences, attitudes, and behaviors affect employee behavior and organizational outcomes. According to a new study led by SPA Assistant Professor Khaldoun AbouAssi, the research extends the gender factor into the realm of interorganizational and intersectoral collaboration to examine not just whether, but also how gender affects the management of these relationships. The article was published in 2018 in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory.

How Nonprofits Shift Funding Priorities

SPA Assistant Professor Khaldoun AbouAssi and Mary Tschirhart of Ohio State University explain the variation in nonprofit organizations' response to shifts in funding priorities. The study presents a parsimonious "Strategic Response Model" for organizational behavior by examining both the level of dependence on a donor and the ties an organization has within the donor's network. Using four cases of nonprofit organizations in Lebanon, the model helps explain why networks of recipients of funding may change over time and predicts organizational responses to changing demands from resource providers. The article, titled "Organizational Response to Changing Demands: Predicting Behavior in Donor Networks" appears in Public Administration Review.

Relationship Between Nonprofit and Government Services

A study authored by SPA Assistant Professor Khaldoun AbouAssi, Associate Professor Lewis Faulk, and doctoral students - Minjung Kim, Lilli Shaffer, and Long Tran-test the relationship between individuals' satisfaction with local government services and their use of nonprofit services, adding to our understanding of the roles of, and gaps in, government and nonprofit services on the local level. They find strong evidence that nonprofit services compliment rather than replace government services on the local level. These findings support theories of interdependence between government and nonprofit sectors and point to the importance of inter-sector collaboration to fully serve all individuals on the local level. Findings were presented at the Public Management Research Conference, which was hosted by SPA in July, 2017.

How Citizens Influence Government

A forthcoming book by SPA Associate Professor Anna Amirkhanyan and Kristina Lambright SUNY Binghamton College of Community and Public Affairs' Associate Dean Kristina Lambright is based on a simple premise: in democracies, power originates with citizens. Governments today contract with nonprofit and for-profit organizations to deliver a wide array of services. Yet, little is known about how citizens influence government decisions and policies in this context. Based on nearly 100 interviews with public and private managers, Amirkhanyan's research examines the state of citizen participation in contract governance. Widespread, and yet narrow in their forms and impact, the participation practices this study helps identify do not live up to the ideals of democracy and self-governance. The book is titled, "Citizen Participation in the Age of Contracting: When Service Delivery Trumps Democracy."

Select Research in Policy Analysis

Children in classroomResearch Suggests Looking Beyond Test Scores to Measure School Quality

A new study coauthored by AU School of Public Affairs Distinguished Professor Ken Meier shows parents do a good job at evaluating the overall quality of a school, regardless of how well their child does in the classroom. The results point to the need to look at more than test scores to assess how well a school is serving its students. The article, “Citizen Satisfaction and the Kaleidoscope of Government Performance: How Multiple Stakeholders See Government Performance,” co-authored by Meier and Miyeon Song, a doctoral student at Texas A&M University, was recently published in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory.

teacher in front of childrenStudy Reveals Early Education is Good for All Children

Kids who attend center-based early care and education the year before kindergarten have higher math and reading scores regardless of the income level of their neighborhood, according to new research by AU School of Public Affairs (SPA) Associate Professor Taryn Morrissey. The paper, “Center-based Early Care and Education in Children’s School Readiness: Do Impacts Vary by Neighborhood Poverty?” was written by Morrissey and Katie Vinopal, a former SPA PhD student now on faculty at The Ohio State University, and appears in the journal Developmental Psychology.

Red Pen with A+ written on paper

Study Focused on High School Grade Inflation Exposes Inequities

Grade inflation is a growing problem and one that is more prevalent in high schools attended by affluent students, according to new research by SPA Associate Professor Seth Gershenson. His recent study published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute analyzed data from 2005 to 2016 for more than 1 million students in North Carolina. Examining results from all students taking Algebra 1 in the state, he compared course grades with scores on the state’s end-of-course test to assess the extent of grade inflation.

Policy Analysis Select Research

New Book Explores Whether Democracy Can Handle Climate Change

From wildfires in California to hurricanes in the Carolinas, the recent extreme weather in the United States highlights the threat of climate change. Yet, the Trump administration has been rolling back policies to protect the environment, raising concerns that democratic governments are incapable of responding to the growing danger to the planet. In his new book, "Can Democracy Handle Climate Change?" published by Polity Books, SPA Distinguished Executive in Residence Dan Fiorino challenges those who are skeptical of democratic countries’ capacity to address climate change.

Research Links Medical Marijuana Laws with Lower Workplace Fatalities

A study by SPA Professor Erdal Tekin examines workplace fatalities in 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1992 and 2015. He compares the changes in incidents over time among states with and without medical marijuana laws and finds legalizing marijuana was associated with nearly a 20 percent reduction in the expected number of workplace fatalities among workers age 25 to 44. Five years after coming into effect, the laws were associated with a 33.7 percent reduction in the expected number of workplace fatalities. Tekin, along with coauthors Mark Anderson and Daniel Rees, describe the results in the article, “Medical Marijuana Laws and Workforce Fatalities in the United States.” The article appears in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Study Documents Racial Divide in Teacher Expectations

People largely acknowledge that teachers matter in student success, but just how to measure the link between teacher expectations and student outcomes has been a challenge. SPA Associate Professor Seth Gershenson and Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University analyzed federal Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 that followed a cohort of 10th-grade students for a decade. Teachers were asked whether they expected their students to complete a four-year college degree. These responses were used to document the presence of racial bias in teachers’ expectations and study the effects of differences in teacher expectations on students’ likelihood of completing college. College completion rates are systematically higher for students whose teachers had higher expectations for them. The research also shows that white teachers have far lower expectations for black students than they do for similarly situated white students. The article, “The Power of Teacher Expectations,” appears in Education Next.

Center-based early care and education in children’s school readiness: Do impacts vary by neighborhood poverty?

SPA Associate Professor Taryn Morrissey coauthored a study with Katie Vinopal that examines how a growing up in poor neighborhood impacts children’s academic achievement. The paper, “Center-based early care and education in children’s school readiness: Do impacts vary by neighborhood poverty?” uses data from the American Community Survey and finds children who attend center-based care in the year prior to kindergarten show higher math and reading scores across neighborhood contexts. The article appears in Developmental Psychology.

Understanding the Diversity of Washington, D.C. Neighborhoods

American University's Metropolitan Policy Center launched the annual DC Area Survey (DCAS) in 2016 to study neighborhood and resident well-being in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area. The DCAS focuses on priority themes in strategically selected types of neighborhoods. The 2016 pilot survey concentrated on attachment to place, health, safety, trust in local organizations, and governance, and focuses on the experiences of DC area residents in two relatively new types of neighborhoods: Latino neighborhoods and "global neighborhoods." Survey results will inform research initiatives led by AU faculty and provide insights that will be shared with stakeholders throughout the area.

Civil Unrest Leads to Student Achievement Decline

In 2014, the highly-publicized police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri triggered community protests that had profound effects on student achievement. According to a study published August 2, 2016 by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), disruptive outside events can cause student and teacher absences, leading to lower grades and test scores. The research was conducted by Seth Gershenson, assistant professor at American University's School of Public Affairs, and Michael S. Hayes, assistant professor at Rutgers University, Camden.

Teachers and Racial Bias

A recent study by Seth Gershenson suggests implicit racial bias may impact teacher expectations of students. The research found that non-black teachers have significantly lower expectations than do black teachers when evaluating the same students. Many believe that teacher expectations have a significant impact on educational development and attainment. The working paper, titled "Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations," was published by the Upjohn Institute.

Select Research in Political Science

Voter at pollsResearch Shows Deeper Knowledge Not Necessarily Motivating for Voters

A new study by SPA Professor and Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies David Barker analyzed national survey data from 2004 to see if encouraging deeper thinking and reflection of issues among citizens would translate into increased political participation and better decision-making at the polls. “Cognitive Deliberation, Electoral Decision Making, and Democratic Health,” appeared in a recent issue of the Social Science Quarterly.

Civil War Cannon

Professors Link Relevance of Civil War to Political Debate Today

The Civil War may have been more than 150 years ago, but SPA Professor Alan Levine and Associate Professor Thomas Merrill say many of the questions at the heart of the conflict remain unresolved and relevant today. Their new book, "The Political Thought of the Civil War," published by the University of Kansas Press is a collection of 14 essays that Levine and Merrill co-edited along with James Stoner, Jr., from Louisiana State University. Many of the volume’s chapters originated as lectures delivered at the SPA Political Theory Institute between 2011 and 2015. Authors include leading scholars in political science, history, and literature, examining crucial debates of the Civil War era.

American Politics Select Research

New Research Examines Attitudes on Gay Rights

A new study by SPA Assistant Professor Elizabeth Suhay suggests that giving people information about why some people are gay does not change how people feel — they either still support or disapprove of people of other sexual orientations, depending on the ideological lens they had going into the experiment. The article, "Science, Sexuality, and Civil Rights: Does Information on the Causes of Sexual Orientation Change Attitudes?" was published recently online in the Journal of Politics.

Deeper Knowledge Does Not Necessarily to Better Voting Outcomes

A study by SPA Professor and Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, David Barker, analyzes national survey data from 2004 to see if encouraging deeper thinking and reflection of issues among citizens would translate into increased political participation and better decision making at the polls. The results found citizens who were exposed to a treatment to motivate greater cognitive deliberation tended to reduce voting incentives among those who tended to be less engaged already -- young people, women and citizens with low-knowledge. Since the results were disproportionate, the study concluded that if citizens were more thoughtful in weighing political choices it may not only shrink the electorate, it may produce a more biased one. The article, “Cognitive Deliberation, Electoral Decision Making, and Democratic Health,” appears in a Social Science Quarterly.

Is There an Upside to Political Polarization?

While many people express concern over the impact of political polarization, SPA Professor Adrienne LeBas researches places in sub-Saharan Africa where it has had surprising institution-building effects for new democracies. In her paper, “Can Polarization Be Positive? Conflict and Institutional Development in Africa,” LeBas argues that the overall impact of polarization on a political system is determined by the character of preexisting identity cleavages and the balance of forces between groups on either side of the political divide. She finds where there exists a history of formal group exclusion or differential citizenship rights, political polarization is more likely to result in large-scale violence and democratic breakdown. However, in instances where power is strongly imbalanced, polarization is unlikely to be sustained, and the status quo ante will be retained. When these two conditions are absent, however, a relatively high degree of polarization can have surprising institution-building effects for new democracies. The article appears in American Behavioral Scientist.

The Trump Effect

The day after Donald Trump took the oath of office, hundreds of thousands of women traveled to Washington, DC, to demonstrate their opposition to the new president. This groundswell of activism almost immediately led to widespread reporting that Trump's victory was inspiring a large new crop of female candidates across the country. Is Donald Trump's ascension to the presidency really pushing women everywhere to throw their hats into the political ring? Is Donald Trump such a shock to the political system that he's able to spark the kind of political activism and ambition that previous political candidates and major political events simply could not? This report, led by Jennifer Lawless is based on a May 2017 national survey of "potential candidates" - college educated women and men who are employed full-time - begins to provide systematic answers to these questions. Read the report here.

Multiculturalism and Muslim Accommodation

A study by SPA Associate Professor Matthew Wright assesses the apparent effect of political multiculturalism on tolerance of Muslim accommodation among native-born majority members. The principle goal is in understanding how public opinion on religious accommodation varies as a function of both federal multicultural policy, on one hand, and more deeply rooted notions of political culture, on the other. Wright and coauthors do so by examining responses to a pair of survey experiments embedded in surveys conducted in Canada and the United States. The experiments allow us to convincingly demonstrate "Muslim exceptionalism." Contextual comparisons across multicultural policy regimes (Canada and the United States) and within them but across distinct political cultures (Quebec vs. English Canada) lend credence to a fairly subdued role for policy and a much larger one for political culture. These effects are, we argue and show, strongly moderated by support for multiculturalism at the individual-level.

Lay Belief in Biopolitics and Political Prejudice

Building on psychological research linking essentialist beliefs about human differences with prejudice, SPA Assistant Professor Elizabeth Suhay tested whether lay belief in the biological basis of political ideology is associated with political intolerance and social avoidance. Suhay finds that belief in the biological basis of political views is associated with greater intolerance and social avoidance of ideologically dissimilar others. The association is substantively large and robust to demographic, religious, and political control variables. These findings stand in contrast to some theoretical expectations that biological attributions for political ideology are associated with tolerance. We conclude that biological lay theories are especially likely to be correlated with prejudice in the political arena, where social identities tend to be salient and linked to intergroup competition and animosity. The study was published by the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

SPA Professor Jennifer Lawless and coauthor Danny Hayes focus on U.S. House elections to look at the factors that keep women out of politics in their book Women on the Run: Gender, Media, and Political Campaigns in a Polarized Era. They show that the vast majority of women who run for office are treated - by the media and voters - no differently than men. Women are under-represented not because of what happens on the campaign trail, but because they are much less likely to run in the first place. And misperceptions about bias against female candidates are one reason why.

Power Without Constraint: The Post-9/11 Presidency and National Security

A new book by Chris Edelson makes a thorough comparison of the Bush and Obama administrations' national security policies and the ways in which President Obama asserted power in key areas-military action, surveillance, and state secrets. Edelson contends that this legacy of the two immediately post 9/11 presidencies raises crucial questions for future presidents, Congress, the courts, and American citizens.

Latino Electoral Participation: Variations on Demographics and Ethnicity

Using the 2012 Latino Immigrant National Election Study, the 2012 American National Election Study, and the 2012 Current Population Survey, SPA Professor Jan Leighley documented the demographic factors that influenced Latino (native-born and immigrant) voter turnout and participation in the 2012 presidential election. She estimated multivariable models of turnout and participation, including standard demographic characteristics (education, income, age, gender, marital status) as explanatory variables. She and her coauthor Jonathan Nagler found that the relationships between these characteristics and participation are much less consistent across these datasets than the conventional wisdom would suggest. Understanding these results likely requires survey data-with large sample sizes-including information on the resources (including education and income) available to immigrants in their home countries to better understand the lingering influences of immigrants' experiences in their countries of origin on voter turnout. The study was published by The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.

Sex, Bipartisanship, and Collaboration in the U.S. Congress

Despite growing bodies of research about party polarization, women's leadership, and legislative effectiveness, largely open questions still remained. Until now. Our comprehensive study of gender and cooperation on Capitol Hill is a first cut at assessing the conventional wisdom that women of both parties are more likely than their male co-partisans to be "problem solvers" - people who create a climate for passing legislation rather than serving partisan goals. But as we illustrate in this report, the results indicate only the faintest evidence for this argument, write Jennifer L. Lawless and Sean M. Theriault. Read the report here.

Electoral Systems, Ethnic Diversity and Party Systems in Developing Democracies

A study by SPA Professor David Lublin highlights how party system nationalization is often viewed as critical to national unity, the production of public goods, and may have implications for democratic success. His study assesses the impact of ethnic diversity and electoral rules in 74 economically developing democracies. Contrary to past studies, majoritarian electoral systems heighten the tendency of ethnic diversity to reduce nationalization while proportional representation greatly reduces its impact. Presidential systems produce higher levels of nationalization than parliamentary systems but the effect reverses as the number of presidential candidates increases. Though ethnic party bans may increase nationalization, ballot access requirements, the level of freedom, and relative prosperity have no effect. The study was published in the journal Electoral Studies.

Politics of Enlightenment

"Methinks I am like a man, who having narrowly escap'd shipwreck," David Hume writes in A Treatise of Human Nature, "has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe." With these words, Hume begins a memorable depiction of the crisis of philosophy and his turn to moral and political philosophy as the path forward. In this book, SPA Associate Professor Thomas W. Merrill shows how Hume's turn is the core of his thought, linking Hume's metaphysical and philosophical crisis to the moral-political inquiries of his mature thought. Merrill shows how Hume's comparison of himself to Socrates in the introduction to the Treatise illuminates the dramatic structure and argument of the book as a whole, and he traces Hume's underappreciated argument about the political role of philosophy in the Essays. Learn more about the book.

Select Research in Public FInance and Budget


Woman working at desk

Study Finds Performance Gaps Play Role in Public Budget Decisions

Research by Carla Flink, SPA assistant professor, found that budgets can rise and fall based on how well an organization is delivering on its promises. Flink examined how financial resources are altered in response to performance changes at public organizations. She analyzed data from hundreds of schools in Texas districts from 1993 to 2010, looking closely at how performance gaps affected the magnitude and direction of budgetary changes. She discovered that as performance slips, the probability of incremental budgetary changes declines and medium positive budgetary changes increase. The findings of the study show that performance matters in policy decisions and they could be applied to administration in other fields as well. The article was published in the Journal of Public Administration and Theory.

Predicting Budgetary Change

A study by SPA Assistant Professor Carla Flink finds that performance is a key consideration as public managers decide how to allocate funds. The research, “Predicting Budgetary Change: The Effect of Performance Gaps,” uses data from hundreds of schools in Texas districts from 1993 to 2010 and chronicles how budgets can rise and fall based on how well an organization is delivering on its promises. The paper appears in Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory.

Select Research in Public Management and Leadership

Teacher and Managers Vary in Evaluations

Using a unique set of surveys with managers and their subordinates, SPA Assistant Professor Nathan Favero and SPA Distinguished Professor Ken Meier research the differences in relationship between how Danish school managers and teachers perceive management functions and organizational performance. They find teacher responses are better predictors of student performance for management aspects that are visible to and mediated by teachers. Manager responses better predict performance for manager expectations that are less visible to employees, their work, coauthored with Simon Anderson, Laurence O’Toole, and Soren Winter, appears in the International Public Management Journal article, “How Should We Estimate the Performance Effect of Management? Comparing Impact of Public Managers’ and Frontline Employees’ Perceptions of Management.”

Examining the Indirect Effect of Bureaucrats on Clients They Don’t Directly Serve

Research by SPA Assistant Professor Nathan Favero and Angel Luis Molina of Arizona State University looks at whether passive representation produces effects only for those clients who directly interact with bureaucrats who share their demographic characteristics or if passive representation produces broader organizational-level effects. Their article, “Is Active Bureaucratic Representation an Organizational-Level Process? The Indirect Effect of Bureaucrats on Clients They Don’t Directly Serve,” reveals strong evidence that minority clients’ outcomes are positively associated with representation in portions of the bureaucracy with which they do not directly interact. They conclude that either passive representation produces substantial bottom-up, organizational-level effects or that managers who recruit minority personnel also adopt policies that are favorable toward minority clients. The research appears in American Review of Public Administration.

Study Addresses How to Manage Goal Conflict

To what extent can a diverse set of network actors be managed? SPA Professors Barbara Romzek and Jocelyn Johnston, along with Kelly LeRoux from the University of Illinois, address that question in the article, “Managing Goal Conflict in Public Service Delivery Networks: Does Accountability Move Up and Down, or Side to Side?” published in Public Performance Management Review. The researchers use data from a comparative case study approach and discover informal accountability forces play a greater role than formal authority in preventing and mitigating goal conflict. When network administrative organizations are responsible for both vertical network management and direct service delivery, goal conflict tends to be weaker. The study suggests networks that manage both vertically and horizontally may be best equipped to achieve goal congruence.

Citizen Satisfaction and the Kaleidoscope of Government Performance

An article by SPA Distinguished Professor Kenneth Meier and Miyeon Song investigates how different government performance assessments relate to each other. The study, “Citizen Satisfaction and the Kaleidoscope of Government Performance: How Multiple Stakeholders See Government Performance,” reviews surveys and archival data on secondary education and suggests that parents, students, and teachers provide similar assessments of school performance, which reflect the actual quality of the schools. The research was published in Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory.

Nursing Home Management and Performance

"Management and Performance in U.S. Nursing Homes" by SPA Associate Professor Anna Amirkhanyan, SPA Distinguished Visiting Scholar Ken Meier and coauthors studied the effect of management on different dimensions and measures of performance in public, nonprofit, and for-profit U.S. nursing homes. Their analysis is based on archived government data on nursing home performance combined with a recent nursing home administrators' survey. The study was published by The Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory in 2017.

Linking Internal Management with Performance Outcomes

"Goals, Trust, Participation, and Feedback: Linking Internal Management with Performance Outcomes" by Nathan Favero, Kenneth Meier and coauthors examines the relationship between such internal management at the mid-level, as perceived by subordinates rather than the managers themselves, and educational performance for more than 1,100 schools in the New York City school system in a three-year period. The results indicate that internal management matters, often sizably, for delivering educational outcomes. Managers' setting challenging goals appears to be especially important in generating educational results. The study was published in The Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory in 2016.

Governance Reform in the National Nuclear Security Administration

SPA Professor Barbara Romzek is currently researching contracting and accountability dynamics characteristic of federal government national laboratory contractors. She currently serves on a Congressionally mandated panel assessing the National Nuclear Security Administration's responses to longstanding problems affecting the nuclear security enterprise. The problems were documented in the 2014 congressional advisory panel report. The nuclear security enterprise comprises both a highly technical mission and a complex government management challenge - and many of the problems to be addressed may have roots in that duality, particularly contracting and accountability. This joint panel is convened by The National Academies of Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration, and they report to Congress quarterly. The first report titled, "Review of Governance Reform in the National Nuclear Security Administration" published in April 2017.

Guiding Government Leaders

"The Handbook of Federal Government Leadership and Administration: Transforming, Performing and Innovating in a Complex World" edited by David Rosenbloom, Patrick Malone, and Bill Valdez gives public servants a new tool to navigate the changing nature of their work. The book includes 13 chapters written by a mix of authors who are currently federal leaders or have had long careers with the government. Topics range from adaptive leadership to organizational change to relationships with political forces. It was published by Routledge in 2017.

Select Research in Social Policy


Social Policy Select Research

What is the Long-Term Impact of Government Assistance?

SPA Associate Professor Bradley Hardy recently published an article, “Income Instability and the Response of the Safety Net,” about the long-term impact of government assistance on Americans who find themselves caught in the cycle of economic expansion and recession. The study finds that the level of instability is highest, and the reduction after transfers is largest, among low-income, black, female-headed, and lesser-educated families. For these families, the safety net has generally become less responsive relative to rising earnings instability since 1980. Hardy, who studies the relationship between transfer programs, employment trends, and income inequality, received the “Best Article Award for the paper from the Western Economic Association International in 2018. The article was published in June 2018 by Contemporary Economic Policy.

Income Instability and Response of the Safety Net

A 2016 study by SPA Associate Professor Bradley Hardy shows that safety net programs such as SNAP, EITC, Unemployment Insurance, and public housing provide an important buffer against income instability. Hardy finds that this instability is very often driven by job loss and larger macroeconomic shocks, and that income instability is highest among low-income and less-educated households in the last 30 years. For many low-income households, resources are not only limited but perhaps less predictable as well. The challenges with meeting these income swings are heightened for families lacking adequate savings or access to credit to weather these economic challenges. The study was published in Contemporary Economic Policy.

Children at Risk for Food Insecurity

A study led by SPA Assistant Professor Taryn Morrissey shows that children at risk for food insecurity can be found in communities across the income spectrum. The research, "Neighborhood Poverty and Children's Food "Insecurity," reports that 22 percent of kindergarteners in high-poverty communities lived in food-insecure households, compared to 9 percent of those in low-poverty communities - a lower rate, but still high. The study appears in Children and Youth Services Review.

High Priced Food and Childhood Obesity

A study by SPA Associate Professor Taryn Morrissey, Associate Professor Alison Jacknowitz, and then Ph.D. student Katie Vinopal, finds in 2013 that high prices for fresh fruits and vegetables are associated with higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in young children in low and middle income households. The study, "The Influences of Local Food Prices on Children's Obesity and Eating Habits," focuses on households under 300 percent of the federal poverty line. The findings are published in Pediatrics.

stacked journals

SPA Hosts Five Research Journals

SPA now hosts five journals that span public affairs, government, and law subject matter. Our faculty expertise is a draw for these journals, and we are honored to play a leadership role for these excellent publications.

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Teacher in front of young children

Research ·

Study Reveals Early Education is Good for All Children

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Bradley Hardy speaking

Research ·

Research by SPA Associate Professor on Impact of Government Assistance Wins "Best Article"

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Flooded suburbs

Research ·

New Book Explores Whether Democracy Can Handle Climate Change

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Red Grading Pen with A+ written on piece of paper

Research ·

Study Focused on High School Grade Inflation Exposes Inequities

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Ken Meier walking with students

Achievements ·

Aarhus University in Denmark Awards Meier Honorary Doctorate

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Medical Marijuana

Research ·

Research Reveals States with Medical Marijuana Laws Have Lower Workplace Fatalities

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