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Honors Theses 2020 - 2021

The Department of Political Science is proud to showcase the work of the 2020-21 Political Science Honors students. See below to learn more about each of their honors thesis research projects.

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Ali Abdullah | Inequality Beneath the Surface: Nonprofits and Unequal Immigrant Services in Chicago

When it comes to helping immigrants to the U.S. adjust economically, socially, and civically, the work typically falls on local government and nonprofit organizations. And in most major cities, nonprofits take the lead in administering crucial services in specific communities, with cities playing a supporting role. However, the immigrant community is not a monolith, and a nonprofit-led social safety net risks letting disadvantaged portions of the immigrant community fall through the cracks. This thesis aims to answer the question of how the city-nonprofit relationship ignores or even contributes to inequality between segments of the immigrant community, as well as providing recommendations for cities and nonprofits to ensure an equitable approach. Drawing on survey data and interviews with individuals at Chicago nonprofits, this project attempts to understand the immigrant services landscape from the nonprofit perspective to offer perspectives for an equitable path forward.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Jaime Dominguez

Thomas Abers Lourenço | “Where Our Heroes Were Kept”: Social Status and Political Prisoner Campaigns in Northern Ireland, Palestine, and South Africa

Why do some imprisoned opposition leaders launch campaigns to mobilize society while others do not? This thesis seeks to answer this question by comparing the cases of Irish Republican prisoner Bobby Sands, Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti, and South African prisoner Nelson Mandela. While incarcerated, both Sands and Barghouti struggled to draw attention to the condition of political prisoners and rally support for them outside prison walls. Mandela, by contrast, spent decades in jail without engaging in such activism. Explanations that emphasize despair over living conditions and extreme isolation fail to make sense of this variation. I propose that perceived loss of social status causes prisoners to launch campaigns to mobilize society. Imprisoned leaders may tie their social status to the legitimacy of the political movement they represent. When their status comes under threat, they can interpret this not only as a personal issue, but as a movement issue which requires action. I examine this hypothesis using evidence from autobiographies and press releases, as well as from semi-structured interviews I conducted with former political prisoners and experts.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Wendy Pearlman

Alison Albelda | Politics Versus Policies: Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ghana

COVID-19 serves as a stress test for democratic consolidation. Ghana proves a case study demonstrative in the nuanced coexistence of democratic consolidation in terms of programmatic policy creation and backsliding in terms of enforcement mechanisms. The programmatic nature of government assistance bodes well for democratic consolidation in the country while the preexisting clientelistic tendencies reflect the complex transparency and accountability difficulties in the country. When pressed the government cuts corners, resorting to patron client politics affected by scarcity of resources. The performance is impaired by the fall back of patron-client politics, which was an issue in the country prior to the pandemic.

Thesis Advisor: Professor William Reno

Eli Baum | It’s A Rich Man’s World: The Effect of Campaign Spending on Primary Election Outcomes in the United States

The effectiveness or lack thereof of campaign spending has significant implications for campaign finance issues. While research on the impact of campaign spending is not uncommon, it is rarely used to explore primary election spending. This study attempts to measure the relationship between primary spending and electoral outcomes while also adjusting for a number of confounding variables. Using data from the last decade of U.S. Senate primaries, the study finds that even after adjusting for these variables, there is a statistically significant positive relationship between primary spending and electoral outcomes.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Jason Seawright

Eliott Brown | The Political Influence of White-Collar Workers in the AI Revolution

Existing discourse surrounding the introduction of artificial intelligence technologies centers largely around the ramifications that are predicted to be felt by blue-collar workers. This project focuses on examining a different aspect of the AI revolution by looking to the political impacts created by the potential involvement of white-collar workers in job losses, especially in the light of their disproportionate wealth and influence on politics. By looking to mentions of technology-driven job losses in the media, party platforms, and legislation, I attempt to quantitatively test whether there is evidence that at-threat white collar workers are driving a more robust social and political response to technology-driven job losses now when compared to the automation-driven job losses of the 20th century that implicated only blue-collar workers. I find that technology-driven job losses are unquestionably more prominent in the media discourse now, but any thrust by white-collar workers to create change in this area is yet to register in the later stage political indicators of party platforms and legislation.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Benjamin Page

Catherine Buchaniec | Collapsing Agreements: Understanding the Durability of U.S.-Russia Arms Control

Over 75 years have passed since American bombers dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the last hours of the Second World War. In the decades following, the world carefully avoided the use of nuclear weapons in the context of war despite a years-long arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, the world’s two largest nuclear powers at the time. Some experts point toward nuclear arms control agreements between the two parties as a key factor in preventing the introduction of nuclear warheads into the realm of warfare. Despite initial support, several of these agreements have fallen into a state of disarray, and ultimately, collapse. This study examines four nuclear arms control treaties between the United States and the USSR/Russia — the INF Treaty, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II), START, and New START — and considers each treaty as a case study. The results of this study suggest that no one factor is responsible for the collapse of these treaties. Instead, this study shows that the nature of nuclear arms control faces the same problems as other types of alliance-building. Nuclear arms control treaties are not robust and do not exist outside the larger context of the relationship between the involved entities, therefore, they are subject to the same variability as other manners of diplomacy and international engagement.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Hendrik Spruyt

Mia Cavener | A Dragon Guarding Gold: Do Natural Resources Drive China’s UN Peacekeeping Participation in Africa?

In recent years, scrutiny over China’s increasing participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations has grown, with many worrying that China’s participation will lead to a weakening of human rights norms in peacekeeping missions as well as a decrease in the efficacy of peacekeeping missions. An argument often made by the Western news media is that China’s interest in peacekeeping, especially in Africa, is driven solely by China’s dependence on African resources and the economic dividends reaped from resource extraction and trade. In response, there has been an increase in peacekeeping literature addressing China’s motivations when it comes to participating in UNPKOs. Several of these disregard, or wholly discredit, the claim that resource interests motivate China’s deployment of peacekeepers to UNPKOs. This thesis finds that while trade and resources play a role in China’s decision-making process, they are not the sole explanation for the deployment of Chinese peacekeepers.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Hendrik Spruyt

Zachary Colton-Max | Are the Justices Really “Doing Better?” An Analysis on Supreme Court Clerk Racial and Gender Diversity

This thesis analyzes Supreme Court clerk data to evaluate whether a justice’s ideology, race, gender or birth year affects the racial and gender diversity of their clerk hires. It first provides updated statistics on clerk racial, gender, and law school diversity from 1994-2018. After evaluating the research question using established clerk recruitment models, the thesis develops a distinct method for evaluating the impact of justice identities on clerk hiring outcomes using multi-level models and link-function comparison. The paper concludes that a justice’s ideology impacts the racial and gender composition of their clerks. Additionally, the paper finds that a justice’s gender and birth year impact their clerk gender diversity, with mixed evidence regarding the impact of these traits on clerk racial diversity. By exploiting clerk hiring as a novel form of judicial decision-making, the thesis finds support for the different voice, representational, and informational theories of gender and judicial decision-making.

Thesis Advisors: Professors Chloe Thurston & Joanna Grisinger

Adam Downing | The Digital Front: Understanding and Evaluating National Responses to Cyber Attacks

Despite its relative infancy, clear trends regarding interstate reactions to cyber attacks have begun to emerge. This thesis investigates whether or not nations respond disproportionately mildly to cyber attacks. Three distinct national case studies are compared utilizing Mill’s method of agreement to attempt to answer whether or not nations respond more mildly. The concluding results confirm that nations respond less aggressively toward cyber attacks when directly compared to like physical attacks. This thesis further posits that this disparity stems from both a neoliberal as well as realist school of thought as national and international leaders lack norms governing how to respond to interstate cyber conflict between nations with asymmetric digital infrastructure.

Thesis Advisor: Professor William Reno

Julian Freiberg | The Revolving Door: Private Detention Center Corporations, Bureaucratic Capital, and Political Influence

Private prisons and detention centers are prominent topics in political discourse due to concerns of inhumane conditions and unfair treatment of detainees. Despite these concerns, private detention center corporations house over 70% of detainees and continue to procure contracts with the federal government. This paper examines the bureaucratic capital that the private corporations have accrued by hiring powerful public sector employees, a phenomenon known as the “revolving door.” I first created a database of all revolvers at the five major private detention center corporations and then conducted quantitative analysis. My findings show that the revolvers generate an inequality of influence among corporations. Next, I used qualitative analysis to understand ways that revolvers impact the contract procurement process and threat of corruption that powerful revolvers pose within the industry. Lastly, this paper offers prescriptive policy recommendations intended to limit the revolving door and resolve ethical and normative political concerns.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Jacqueline Stevens

Rasa Kerelis | Exploring Social Norms through Fiscal Policy in the European Union: A Case Study of Refugee & Migrant Programs in Italy, Germany, and Greece

Having been founded on the principles of economic and social cohesion, the European Union succeeds when its Member States succeed. A major avenue for maintenance of economic and social cohesion, the EU Budget funds countless programs throughout various Member States and provides financial stability and additional funds for grant-seeking projects. When the 2015 Migrant Crisis brought an influx of migrant and refugee populations in, programs tasked with integrating and resettling those populations along with programs aimed at crisis and terror prevention received institutional funds through the EU Budget. In order to ensure proper distribution, the EU Budget and its various distributary agencies maintained social cohesion between Member States and incoming third-country nationals. So how are funds distributed within the European Union? This project explores the relationship between the European Union as an Institution and the various actors by which it disseminates, legitimizes, and reinforces social norms through fiscal policy and answers the question, how are norms affected by fiscal policy within International Institutions? While creating a standardized and legally binding set of communal values helps mitigate crises and aides in streamlining ethical financing at an institutional level of ground-level programming, several key accountability issues arise. Within existing institutional structures, high-quality accountability is necessary for the effective internalization of norms throughout all levels of EU society. Transparency, knowledge of impact, and the exclusion of non-citizens each pose distinct issues for the Budget of the European Union achieving its goals of promoting cohesion.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Galya Ben-Arieh

Aran Mehta | The Hindu Rashtra Meets Dar al-Islam: The Impact of Hindu Nationalism on India’s Relations with Muslim-Majority Countries

Since 2019, tensions between Hindu nationalists and Muslims in India have received greater attention in mainstream political discourse. This thesis evaluates the impact of Hindu nationalism on India’s relations with Iran, Turkey, and Malaysia during Narendra Modi’s premiership. While Modi’s increasingly Hindu nationalist agenda has provoked rhetorical condemnations from these three countries, the direct impact of Hindu nationalism on bilateral relations is negligible. Although this trio’s criticisms of India are partly out of solidarity with Muslims, they are largely symptoms of their desire to challenge Saudi and Emirati hegemony in the Muslim world. Through detailed analysis of current scholarship, newspaper articles, government publications, and interviews with experts, I demonstrate that Hindu nationalism plays a superficial role in India’s relations with these three countries, and is ultimately outweighed by pragmatic considerations. This research draws attention to an understudied area of India’s foreign relations and the intersections between religion and foreign policy, painting a clearer picture of India’s great power trajectory.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

Jacob Montgomery | “Music to Kill To”: The Impact of Media in Civil Conflict and the Importance of Contributing Factors

The role media institutions play in civil conflict is a widely contested topic in political science. Some scholars view the media as watchdogs, while others see media institutions as powerbrokers of public discourse. This work seeks to demonstrate the importance of contributing factors in the study of media and civil conflict. Using a mixed methods approach, this study seeks to highlight the second-order impact the RTLM broadcasts had on Rwandan political culture through the lens of deference to authority and normalization of violence. Through the exploration of both the Concordia RTLM transcript and ICTR transcript databases, this study concludes that the RTLM transcripts did have a contributing effect on the Rwandan genocide through short term changes in civilian political culture. The results of this paper suggest that scholars need to rethink their approach to explaining the onset of political violence and highlight the importance of the ‘contributing factors’ theory.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Ana Arjona

Benjamin Nober | Regulating Government Use of Artificial Intelligence

Over the last decade, artificial intelligence (AI) has become a mainstay in the everyday lives of Americans. This thesis seeks to better understand what conditions can foster greater regulation of government use of AI systems. The present government reliance on private politics and the relatively low level of traditional government regulation of AI poses strong technical and ethical concerns affecting the liberties of Americans. Critical to answering questions surrounding regulation of AI are the legislative and electoral influences involved. How do legislator preferences, interest groups, and public pressure affect whether lawmakers are incentivized to engage in proactive regulation or to continue the current path of narrow, reactive measures? I argue that the pace of technological change and the place of government as the direct consumer of AI provide sizable regulatory hurdles. As a result, I hypothesize on the importance of the role of outside influences in driving regulation of government use of AI systems.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Akash Palani | Long Distance Nationalism: Indian Americans and Hindutva

What explains Indian American attitudes toward Hindu nationalism? Following the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, has become a potent political force in India. In the Indian diaspora, particularly in the United States, the past decade has seen an increase in public activity related to Hindu nationalism. From the World Hindu Congress in Chicago, to President Trump and Prime Minister Modi’s massive joint rally in Texas, to demonstrations against Hindu nationalist citizenship laws in India, Indian Americans are more vocal than ever about politics in India. This study employs regression analysis to identify key predictors of Hindu nationalism among Indian Americans. Religious identity and behavior, Islamophobia, and certain benchmarks of assimilation emerge as statistically significant. Little empirical work has been conducted on the subject of Hindu nationalism in the United States, especially after the ascendance of the BJP in 2014. As one of the first surveys of Indian Americans focused on Hindu nationalism, this work evaluates the existing theoretical explanations for the phenomenon and helps set the agenda for future research. Furthermore, this study puts forth a method for quantitatively measuring attitudes towards Hindu nationalism, the index of Hindu nationalist sentiment.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Julie Lee Merseth

Lawrence Raia | This Isn’t Funny Anymore: An Analysis of the Evolution of the Usage of Humor in Presidential Campaign Speeches from 1960 to 2020

This thesis is an analysis of 100 presidential campaign speeches from 1960 to 2020. The questions guiding this prospectus are: does Donald Trump’s rhetoric represent a distinctive increase in negative partisan humor in recent decades? In other words, can we document a shift in political humor from more positive to negative? It was found that Donald Trump, while an extreme case, did fit within the overall rhetorical trends of the Republican party.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Jaime Dominguez

Hayden Richardson | Cheerleading at Northwestern University: A Case Study of Institutional Failure

This paper describes the sexual harassment, race discrimination, and endangerment experienced by Northwestern cheerleaders during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years and investigates the University’s response to multiple complaints. To understand the case, this paper presents evidence based on interviews with cheerleaders, the design of which was approved by the University’s IRB.

Supplementing the case study is a close textual analysis of the University’s long, inconsistent, and disorganized Title IX Policy. The analysis highlights the disorienting interactions had by those accessing the Policy and seeking help from the University’s Office of Equity. These interactions occurred under the guise of the Office serving as a resource for students. I also review recent scholarship addressing Title IX implementation limitations and its impacts on those who report.

This analysis advances two conclusions in tandem. First, it demonstrates that the abuse and other problems detailed were not the result a single bad actor but were widespread and persisted after multiple formal complaints to NU’s Title IX administrators. Second, it demonstrates that the University’s Office of Equity exercised its discretion in ways that prioritized the University’s interests and excluded cheerleaders from participating in the disciplinary process. 

The University’s Policy resulted, intentionally or not, in a power imbalance between students trying to access resources articulated in the Policy and Title IX administrators in the Office of Equity. This power imbalance gave administrators excessive control, discretion, and personal protection when responding to complaints of harassment and discrimination.

Cheerleading at Northwestern University: A Case Study of Institutional Failure shows that decisions of great consequence for both individuals and the University were made by individual administrators with great discretion and little oversight. The case of Northwestern cheerleading detailed in this thesis is an exemplary case of institutional failure. Students were told the Office of Equity exists to support them. Support is not what they found there.

Thesis Advisors: Professors Kimberly Yuracko & Sara Monoson

Victor Wang | Do Republicans Pay Fewer Tariffs? Steel and Aluminum Tariff Exclusion Requests and the Political Affiliation of American Firms

In March 2018, President Donald Trump acted to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Not all firms have to pay tariffs though. American companies can receive tariff exclusions by applying for them at the Department of Commerce. Using a unique dataset containing tariff exclusion request decisions made between March 2018 and June 2019, I study how the political affiliation of American firms may impact their ability to secure tariff exclusions from the Department of Commerce and examine how increasing partisanship in the United States has impacted bureaucratic decision-making with respect to individual American firms. The results of data analysis suggest that the Trump Administration and the Department of Commerce favored American firms with no partisan political affiliation as well as firms affiliated with the Democratic Party when making decisions to grant or deny tariff exclusion requests. In addition, the Department of Commerce was more likely to grant tariff exclusions submitted by smaller Republican-affiliated firms, larger Democratic-affiliated firms, and smaller firms with neither affiliation.

Thesis Advisor: Professor Stephen Nelson

Drew Weisberg | Synergy or Discord: Domestic- & Foreign-Owned MSME Interactions in Kenya

Over the last decade, researchers have paid increasing attention to the phenomenon of foreign entrepreneurs opening micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Kenya. Existing research on this subject has found that these foreign-owned firms often outcompete their Kenyan counterparts and that the interactions between these two groups tend to be tenuous. This research adds to the existing literature by taking a micro-level approach to understanding the outcomes of interactions between Kenyan and foreign-owned MSMEs, through an original large-N survey and interviews with Kenyan businessowners, union leaders, and a government official. The analysis of these data has resulted in several key conclusions: that the possession of proprietary assets by Kenyan firms provides them leverage in bargaining with their foreign-owned counterparts, that the extent of collective action established between Kenyan firms in a given industry can grant them an advantageous bargaining position in inter-firm negotiations, that the degree of legal codification of inter-firm arrangements can provide incentives for a given party (the foreign firm is examined here) to defect from an agreement or not, and that Sino-Kenyan business relations in particular are shaped by existing understandings of inter-firm trust and Chinese cultural mores, as well as the existence of an oft prohibitive language barrier. These conclusions yield multiple implications, namely that greater unionization within the MSME sector in Kenya can benefit domestic business, legal education could reinforce partnerships and increase institutional trust, a more robust language education system in Kenya can reduce friction in inter-firm interactions, and more realistic depictions of inter-firm interactions in Kenya can increase relational trust between the studied groups.

Thesis Advisor: Professor William Reno

Jacob Yalowitz | The Layered Development of Chicago Anti-Machine Politics: Mayor Lori Lightfoot as a Qualified Progressive

For most of the 20th and 21st centuries, political scientists studied Chicago politics due to its powerful and infamous political machine. Due to the dominance of the machine, students and observers of Chicago politics often failed to notice the current of cohesive anti-machine politics slowly developing in opposition to the long-tenured machine mayors. This thesis gives a comprehensive account of the development of anti-machine politics from 1955 to present, studying both winning and losing anti-machine mayoral candidates, and providing a new framework for analyzing differences in machine platforms. Through a layered understanding of political development, this thesis shows how anti-machine politics has changed over time, leading to three main categories of ideology – reform, progressivism, and qualified progressivism. 

Thesis Advisor: Professor Daniel Galvin

Juan Zuniga | The 2020 Protests: Disparities in Police Response to Left and Right Wing Demonstration

In 2020, the United States and world was impacted greatly by the COVID-19 Pandemic. In response to the pandemic, several state governments created rules and regulations to limit travel and necessitate mask wearing and social distancing for the summer and into the fall. As a result, many right-wing groups began to protest these executive orders and regulations at state capitols, federal buildings, and public spaces. In May of 2020, the murder of George Floyd sparked the largest civil rights protest movement in American history. Many communities began to question their role in policing, and many protests, although peaceful, were met with seemingly arbitrary state-sanctioned violence. Through the use of a multinomial logarithmic regression model, this thesis finds that protest ideology has a significant impact on how state agencies respond to a given demonstration. Notably, the size of the protest does not heavily determine the given outcome of a protest. 

Thesis Advisor: Professor Reuel Rogers