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Honors Theses 2021 - 2022

The Department of Political Science is proud to showcase the work of the 2021-2022 Political Science Honors students. See below to learn more about each of their honors thesis research projects.

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Felix Beilin | Repolonizacja Through an Empirical Lens: Content and Discourse Analysis of Private Media Capture in Poland

Between December 2020 and March 2021, PKN Orlen, the Polish national oil refinery, completed a takeover of Polska Press, the owner of twenty regional daily newspapers with over fifteen million online readers. To date, this has been the Law and Justice Party’s most significant achievement within its campaign to “repolonize,” or ensure greater domestic ownership, of its media. Allegations of media capture and democratic backsliding, as well as changes in article content regarding coverage of controversial political stories, have proliferated throughout the Polish news media ecosystem. They compel a longitudinal content analysis of pre-repolonization and post-repolonization newspaper content to evaluate if and to what extent these highly political consequences have been borne out. This study used content and discourse analysis to examine changes in word count (as a proxy for article quality), frequency of name citation of politicians and PiS affiliates, and the level of nativism across Polska Press newspapers and Gazeta Wyborcza, a national-level control. Results indicated that article quality, as expressed through word count, did not appear to fall at Polska Press newspapers, relative to Gazeta Wyborcza. Politicians at Polska Press newspapers were named less frequently than before the intervention, and the rate of mention of PiS figures fell dramatically as well – this outcome variable was somewhat muddied by steep increases in politician and PiS figure name citation in Gazeta Wyborcza, which was meant to serve as the control. The level of nativism in Polska Press articles, and especially in syndicated articles across multiple newspapers, did not increase. Many of these findings are counterintuitive, and invite more research into the nature of the Polish case of government media capture.


Thesis advisor: Andrew Roberts

Nuo (Anor) Chen | Living through Belonging and Integration: Experiences Amongst Chinese Short-Term, Low-Skill Labor Migrants

Existing literature on migration has largely failed to consider short-term, low-skill labor migrants within the larger framework of integration and belonging processes, as policymakers and political institutions assume that these processes only apply exclusively to migrants with long-term settlement patterns (i.e., refugees). Consequently, policies and laws both in the US as well as abroad have often excluded short-term, low-skill labor migrants from their integration/belonging policies and resources. This research seeks to provide an exploratory study of the lived experience of short-term, low-skill labor migrants to evaluate if they do indeed undergo integration/belonging processes, and if so, how short-term, low-skill labor migrants’ processes differ from long-term immigrants that might be vital in guiding policy decisions and programs in the future. Through a qualitative, case study analysis of Chinese short-term, low-skill labor migrants in the Chicago Metropolitan Area, this study finds that short-term, low-skill labor migrants do indeed experience processes of integration and belonging, with some overlapping similarities with long-term immigrants. However, despite some initial similarities, their processes also widely differ from long-term immigrants and challenge traditional models of integration posited by scholars like Ager and Strang. Despite its exploratory nature, this study provides the groundwork for future research to build off of any initial patterns that were identified and further provide the necessary visibility to the lived experiences of all short-term, low-skill labor migrants.

Thesis advisor: Galya Ben-Arieh


Scarlet Li | It’s Getting Precarious Out Here: Employment Relationship, Social Contributions, Market Performance, and the European Legislative Response to the Rise of the Platform Economy

The advancement of the platform economy is arguably one of the most prominent features of the current day job market. Its emergence reflects the combined effect of the internet boom, the decades-long effort of commercial liberalization, and the acceptance of the just-in-time workforce as a social norm. While the platform economy is highly preferred by businesses and customers, work and social benefits associated with work are becoming increasingly precarious and insecure. This research uses case studies to understand the connection between sector market performance, platform economy-specific legislation, and welfare regimes in Spain, France, Denmark, and Sweden. Results show that although the welfare regimes are good predictors of platform-related legislation, it takes time for policymakers to pass laws to protect workers. Furthermore, even when two countries share similar welfare regimes and platform economy-specific collective agreements, market performance—especially the nascent online food delivery sector—can vary due to factors such as sector historical presence and Covid-19.


Thesis advisor: Jean Clipperton

Kelly Miller | American Oligarchy? Billionaires, Polarization, and Tax Policy in the 2020 Senate Elections

Over the past fifty years, U.S. tax policies have facilitated, rather than mitigated, surging economic inequality, shifting massive amounts of wealth and income to those at the top of the scale. The “median voter theorem,” first posited by economist Anthony Downs, suggests that in an ideal democratic two-party system, moderate candidates from both parties tend to win general elections by appealing to the center of the public opinion in their constituencies. However, recent U.S. congressional elections seem to contradict this model. This thesis employs a case study analysis of key 2020 Senate races in which six historically conservative states—Kansas, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee—became noteworthy battlegrounds. In all cases except Georgia and Texas, the candidates who won supported economic policies, particularly on taxation and redistribution, that were becoming increasingly unpopular among the public in their states but were aligned with the policy preferences of ultra-wealthy conservatives. In order to offer a potential explanation for this outcome, I evaluate the internal dynamics of the primary elections, such as low turnout, low visibility, and the activity of ideologically-driven party activists and elites, which may have impacted the nomination process. I also compare the policy preferences of major candidates and public opinion on tax reform and redistribution in each state to the political contributions from 66 of the top conservative billionaire donors during the 2019-2020 election cycle. Together, these elements reveal that the candidates funded by these billionaires are the ones who are, more often than not, elected and in many cases, more ideologically extreme than other primary and general election candidates.


Thesis advisor: Benjamin Page

Andrew Myers | The Rise of Zoom: Studying the Effectiveness of the Emerging Virtual Platform in U.S. Political Campaigns

The Covid-19 pandemic introduced much of the United States to Zoom, a relatively unused web-conferencing platform pre-COVID-19 pandemic, and forced millions of Americans to rely on it for schooling, work, and daily communication between friends and loved ones. The 2020 presidential cycle was not immune to this phenomenon as all 2020 political campaigns across the country shifted their get out the vote and fundraising efforts to Zoom and other web-conferencing platforms. The ongoing use of virtual platforms by political campaigns (and other industries in the U.S.) even as the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, raises the question: how effective are virtual political campaign events at turning out voters and fundraising when compared to in-person events? I attempt to answer the question by running an experiment where participants are randomly assigned to attend a simulated campaign event in-person or over Zoom. I find that differences between in-person and virtual mediums have no effect on voter turnout and fundraising. However, voter turnout and fundraising are indirectly affected by participants’ engagement with the event, their perceptions of the candidate, and their event experience, all of which are in turn affected by the differences between in-person and virtual campaigns. The study results showed that in-person campaign events performed better than virtual ones in terms of both participant engagement and perceptions of the candidate. But given the relatively small differences between the two, the clear benefits of virtual events, and both the staying power and growth of virtual products, campaigns should remain open to the idea of using virtual campaign events—when appropriate—in the foreseeable future.

Thesis advisor: Jamie Druckman

Katica Hope O’Connor | Religiosity, Voter Turnout, and Congressional Representation of Black Americans

The 2018 Election recorded the highest number of votes by Americans in any midterm election, with particularly high rates for Black Americans.  How much of this had to do with church?  I investigate the relationship between religiosity and turnout in the 2018 using the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study.  I find a lack of a significant relationship between religiosity and turnout for Black Americans on the individual- or district-level.  I conduct interviews with seven Chicagoland residents on the motivators behind their turnout understand how church may motivate turnout.   I determine that religion serves to shape the sociopolitical beliefs and resources to vote that respondents access, but other communities can play a similar role.  Using a combination of the 2018 CCES and roll call votes, I determine whether districts with higher Black turnout have better representation for issues that Black voters care about.  I find that, ultimately, alignment with the party of the Representative is what matters.

Thesis Advisors: Laurel Harbridge-Yong and Anthony Chen

Zamone Perez | A Solution from Hell?: A Libyan Case Study in Atrocity Prevention and R2P Viability

The responsibility to protect came out of a desire to formalize international responses to mass atrocities, especially in the wake of various genocides and crimes against humanity in the 1990’s. In 2011, Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s brutality against democracy protests — and later civilians during the initial uprisings — caused a stir among the international community. Roughly a month after protests started, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of military force to protect civilians. It would be the first implementation of the new R2P policy. Fast-forward a decade, and Libya’s situation is precarious. Many analysts blame the intervention as the impetus for the decline of the state of Libya. The chief aim of this paper is to use the Libyan intervention as a case study in ethical humanitarian intervention within the framework of compassionate pragmatism (to be defined in the study). By doing that, this paper seeks to offer insight into the ethics of the intervention — and what that tells of the R2P doctrine’s viability in the future.

Thesis advisor: Karen Alter

Georgia Schafer | Keystone State Sentiments: Analysis of Differences in Political Knowledge, Opinion, and Participation between Rural and Non-Rural Pennsylvanians

This research focuses on the rural residents of Pennsylvania and distinctions that manifest between this group and non-rural Pennsylvania residents. The specific differences explored are within the areas of political knowledge, policy opinion, and participation. Other data analyzed includes information about levels of racial resentment and also reported levels of religiosity. The survey data utilized is from the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey (CCES). Analysis has shown that rural respondents have lower levels of political knowledge. Very few shifts are recorded over time in terms of the policy preferences of rural Americans, and rural residents differ from their peers on social policies more frequently than economic policies. No differences are found when respondents self-report religious importance. Finally, there are no real distinctions in the reported consumption of news media, nor the rates of self-reported political participation. However, rural respondents recorded higher levels of racial resentment than their non-rural counterparts.   

Thesis advisor: Traci Burch

Harry Xie | With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Pivotality and Self-interest in Voting

While the concepts of pivotality and self-interest have both received significant attention in political science, literature which connects the two is scarce. This study uses a novel two-part experiment consisting of an economic game and a policy survey to answer the question of whether increasing pivotality influences peoples’ propensity to vote in their self-interest. It finds that pivotality does affect self-interest in voting, but the direction of this effect can vary; in some contexts, increasing pivotality results in more selfish voting while in others, increasing pivotality results in less selfish voting. The findings have important ramifications because of the increase in voting rights restrictions seen across the country, the increased attention given to the study of local politics, and the implications it may have for the viability of epistocracy.

Thesis advisor: John Bullock