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Our graduate students have extraordinary records of accomplishment and promise.  Training at UNC is comparable to that at the nation’s top PhD programs and we are proud to bring your attention to these students entering the academic job market.

For more information about any of our students, please see their individual web sites as listed below or contact Professor Frank Baumgartner, Placement Director

American Politics
Comparative Politics
International Relations
Political Theory

American Politics

Leah Christiani. American Politics and Political Methodology. DissertationHe Said What?! The Shifting Effectiveness and Acceptance of Negative, Explicit, Group-based Appeals (Baumgartner, Ryan, Smith, Stimson, White)In recent years, the United States has witnessed a resurgence in the use of overt references to race and identity by politicians. This increase is surprising since previous studies in political communication and racial priming suggest that citizens reject explicit references to race.  My dissertation  examines  why  this  change  has  occurred.   Drawing  on theories of group threat, I propose that the relative effectiveness of explicit appeals depends on the dominant group’s perceptions of threat. When members of a dominant group feel threatened by a minority group, they are likely to be more receptive to denigrations of that minority group as their prejudice is activated in order to maintain their group position.  I test this expectation with survey experiments and analyses of political media. Status: PhD Expected March 2020. Publications: Duke Forum for Law and Social Change (2017, co-authored). Teaching Interests: quantitative methodology; race and identity; intersectionality; American politics; public opinion; political communication. Email: Website:

John Lovett. American / Methodology Dissertation: Issue Leaders and Issue Challengers: How Individual Members of Congress Change Public Policy. (Baumgartner, Gross, MacKuen, Roberts, Stimson).  His research looks at how media influences American political institutions, in particular the United States Congress. His book manuscript, The Politics of Herding Cats: When Congressional Leaders Fail is currently under review at the University of Michigan Press and is also under contract at the press. In addition, he currently has work related to media roles in the presidency and Supreme Court that will be under review during the fall of 2019. His teaching interests range across the depth of American politics and public policy, and include classes he has taught and is in the process of teaching, including Introduction to American Politics, the United States Congress, Mass Media and Politics, State & Local Politics, and Introduction to Public Policy.  Status: PhD Spring 2016. Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University. Publications: Political Communication (2014, co-authored); Political Research Quarterly (2015, co-authored); Policy Studies Journal (2015, co-authored). Teaching Interest Areas: Introduction to American Politics; State and Local Politics; Political Communication/Media and Politics; Political Parties; Campaigns & Elections; Congress; Public Policy; Agenda-Setting; Undergraduate-level Research Methods. Email: Web:

Steven Sparks. American Politics. DissertationConsequences of the top-two primary: How reform has reshaped campaigns and representation in California and Washington. The top-two primary modifies the typical two-stage process by placing all candidates into a single blanket primary. The two candidates that receive the most votes then proceed to a runoff election, regardless of party. Recently adopted in California and Washington, this system offers a context in which we can broaden our understanding of how institutions shape electoral behavior and representation. My dissertation finds that the top-two primary and the presence of same-party general election contests affect the influence of campaign spending, the positions candidates take when they run for office, and the methods and intensity with which they campaign. In short, my research reveals that the top-two primary produces several important consequences for representative democracy. Status: PhD (2019). Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oklahoma, 2019-2020. Publications: Political Communication (2019) and Electoral Studies (2018). Teaching Interests: State and local politics, parties and elections, political communication, interest groups, public policy, the American presidency, Congress, political behavior, women and politics, introductory American politics, research methods. Email:  Website:

Serge Severenchuk. American Politics and Quantitative Methodology. Dissertation Title: Polarization and Partisan Bias. Summary: My dissertation primarily deals with psychological bases of polarization and partisan bias. First, I examine whether people with certain psychological traits approach partisanship in a more emotional, biased manner. Second, I examine whether the effects of partisanship vary by the context (namely political vs. nonpolitical). Finally, I have a methodological study on conjoint experimental design in political science. It examines how different types of conjoint design affect subjects’ preferences. Status: PhD August 2019. Currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Dartmouth College, The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences. Publications: American Politics Research. Teaching Interests: Quantitative methods, public opinion, political psychology, public policy, and American politics. Email: Website:

Emily Wager. American / Methodology Dissertation:  People Like Us? American Preferences for Bigger Government (Stimson, Baumgartner, Hetherington, MacKuen, Kelly).  The U.S. has experienced runaway economic inequality since the 1970s, yet there is not strong public support for government policies that serve to narrow the growing disparities between citizens. In my dissertation, I endeavor to develop a deeper understanding as to why. To better understand public opinion in the context of inequality, I take a multi-method approach, using both micro and macro quantitative data, as well as qualitative methods involving fieldwork in several American states.  This research has been funded by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant.  Status: Expected March 2020. Publications: Cambridge University Press (Elements Series).  Teaching Interests: public opinion, race/ethnicity and politics, political economy, macropolitics, state and local politics, quantitative and qualitative methodology.

Comparative Politics

Katharine Aha. Comparative Politics/International Relations/Methodology. Dissertation: Ethnic Heterogeneity and Party Politics in Eastern Europe (Vachudova, Hooghe, Martinez-Gallardo, Maxwell, Robertson). The three articles of my dissertation demonstrate that ethnicity, long argued to be an important cleavage in post-communist politics, continues to structure how parties compete with one another in many party systems across the region. This structure of political competition varies depending on whether or not a country has a politically salient ethnic minority group, and when present, the minority group’s previous position within the former communist state. In the countries that do have ethnic minority parties, these parties have become enduring members of the party system. Mainstream formateurs have found them to be a constant ally in governing coalitions: ethnic minority parties are more likely to be asked to join a coalition than mainstream parties, even when controlling for other factors, like ideology, that we may expect to contribute to a party’s appeal as coalition partner. Additionally, after serving in government, ethnic minority parties are not punished at the polls for poor performance, despite consistent punishment of mainstream incumbents. This hints that the ethnification of party systems is here to stay, as ethnic minority parties continue to be successful at mobilizing voters and earning spots in government. Publications: Party Politics (forthcoming) Status: PhD Fall 2018. Lecturer, Department of Government, Dartmouth College. Teaching interests: Comparative Politics, European Politics, Central/East European Politics, Ethnic Politics, Party Politics. Email: Website:

Guzel Garifullina. Comparative Politics/Methodology. Dissertation: Political leaders and risky decisions: the effects of selection institutions (Robertson, Bassi, Hooghe, Reuter, Olivella). In my dissertation, I identify and explore one of the mechanisms connecting institutions of political leader selection and leader characteristics and behavior – political ambition. I argue that the conditions under which political leaders are selected (whether they are popularly elected, whether the selection is competitive, how they are held accountable) determine who will choose to run for leadership. As a result, leaders with certain characteristics will be more or less likely. I focus on one such characteristic – risk attitudes – and demonstrate through a laboratory experiment how changes in selection conditions lead to changes in the candidates’ risk attitudes. I then test the predictions of this theory on the municipal level data from Russia, arguing that we should see the effects of candidates’ (and then leaders’) risk attitudes in risky policy decisions they are making. This adds to our understanding of specific conditions under which institutional changes lead to changes in political leader behavior and policy decisions and outcomes. My other projects focus on Russian subnational elites. Publications: Comparative Political Studies (2016, co-authored), Demokratizatsiya (2014, co-authored), Europe-Asia Studies (2014, co-authored). Status: PhD expected by May 2020. Teaching interests: Comparative Politics, Russian and Post-Soviet Politics, European Politics, Latin American Politics, Subnational Politics and Federalism. Email: Website:

Claire Greenstein, PhD Fall 2018. Comparative Politics / International Relations / Methodology. Dissertation: Pressures, Promises, and Payments: Explaining Governments’ Reparations Decisions after Domestic Human Rights Abuses (Vachudova, Stephens, Hooghe, Ballard-Rosa, Robertson). My dissertation, which I am now adapting into a book, draws on and contributes to the subfields of transitional justice, human rights, and democratization. It uses quantitative and qualitative methods to answer the following question: What motivates governments to promise and to pay reparations to their own citizens in the wake of human rights abuses for which the state bears some responsibility? I theorize that governments promise and pay reparations in order to satisfy victims and their allies. Thus, reparations are the product of bottom-up social movements. I argue that when victims’ groups organize to demand reparations, they attract allies to their cause who, in turn, help them pressure the government to promise reparations. Then, if that pressure is sustained, these same forces induce the government to pay reparations. I test this theory using both a quantitative analysis of an original dataset on reparations and three qualitative case studies. The quantitative analysis examines different factors that could influence governments’ reparations decisions using original reparations data that I collected on reparations promises and payments in 180 post-conflict and post-authoritarian cases between 1939 and 2006 in Europe, Latin America, and Central Asia. I also contribute to the discipline by distinguishing between reparations promises and payments and by including the full universe of cases, namely where reparations for human rights abuses were promised but not paid, promised and paid, and neither promised nor paid. The dissertation finishes with three in-depth case studies: the West German government’s reparations payments to Jewish Germans after the Holocaust, the West German government’s reparations payments to Romani Germans after the genocide committed by the Nazis, and the Peruvian government’s reparations payments to victims of the 1980-2000 Armed Internal Conflict. In these case study chapters, I identify the causal mechanisms that drive reparations promises and payments by presenting data that I gathered in archival work in Germany and in sixty interviews that I conducted in Germany, Peru, Croatia, the United States, and the Czech Republic. Publications: Democratization (2017, co-authored); Chapter in Sage Handbook of Research Methods in Political Science and International Relations (forthcoming March 2020, co-authored). Status: Currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies, a Jean Monnet Center of Excellence, at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Teaching Interests: Graduate and undergraduate courses in comparative politics and international relations, particularly in transitional justice and human rights, European politics (both Western and Eastern), politics of the European Union, democratization, and social justice; undergraduate quantitative methods, undergraduate and graduate qualitative methods. Email: Website:

Cole Harvey, PhD 2019. Comparative Politics / International Relations. Dissertation: The Machinery of Manipulation: A comparative analysis of principal-agent relationships and electoral manipulation in Russia, Ukraine and Mexico (Committee: Robertson, Bassi, Carsey, Hooghe, Martinez-Gallardo, Wibbels). My research investigates how authoritarian leaders attempt to manage elections through electoral manipulation. In particular, I investigate the principal-agent dynamic that occurs between leaders who wish to influence the election result and the individuals who are responsible for actually stuffing the ballot boxes, buying the votes, or forging the results. There are two key insights in this model that distinguish it from earlier approaches. First, I argue that it is the consolidation of patronage networks rather than the competitiveness of the election that allows agents to coordinate around a particular patron. Second, I argue that election-manipulating agents can face risks, including possible criminal penalties, even if their principal remains in office. Where such risks are locally high, agents prefer to rely on techniques like vote-buying, which are harder to detect. The theory thus makes predictions for both the severity of electoral manipulation and the form it is likely to take, which I test using election-forensic analysis of precinct-level data from Russia, Ukraine, and Mexico. I also have ongoing projects on authoritarian courts and elections, and the political psychology of election manipulation. Publications: Electoral Studies (2016), Democratization (2017), Government and Opposition (2018), Europe-Asia Studies (forthcoming). Teaching interests: Intro to Comparative Politics, Russian / Post-Communist Politics, Varieties of Authoritarianism and Democratization. Email: Website

David Ma. Ph.D. expected Spring 2020.  Comparative Politics (major) / Political Theory (minor). Dissertation: The Political Economy of Judicial Independence in Dominant-Party Democracies (Committee: Huber, Hartlyn, Unah, Issacharoff, Koo). My dissertation research investigates three cases of a relatively rare phenomenon — an independent court within a dominant-party regime. Instead of focusing on the power diffusion among political parties as the main explanatory variable that is often employed by the literature, I identify an alternative power diffusion that is between the dominant party and the business sector that accounts for the independent constitutional courts in Malaysia (before 1988) and South Africa, as well as the independent ordinary courts in Taiwan (since the 1990s). I test the theories using mainly qualitative methods such as process tracing and other observable qualitative or quantitative implications of the theories, collecting data through elite interviews, surveys, and archival research. Further Research: My next (book) project will investigate the divergent historical trajectories of the constitutional courts in two nascent and natural resource-dependent democracies: Indonesia and Mongolia, in the context of democratic backsliding. Publications: Comparative Politics (forthcoming 2020), Democratization (2017). Teaching Interests: Introduction to Comparative Politics, Politics and Political Economy of East and Southeast Asia, Comparative Constitutionalism and Judicial Politics (undergraduate course / graduate seminar), Democratic Backsliding: A Global Survey, Introduction to Research Methods (undergraduate). Email:

Katherine McKiernan. Comparative Politics/ Methodology. Dissertation: My dissertation focuses on three questions pertaining to how legislators successfully distribute club goods, or excludable public goods, to municipalities in weak party systems. In the first paper of my dissertation, I ask where national legislators are most likely to use mayors as brokers in order to distribute club goods. I develop an original measure of municipal-level clientelism using a Bayesian Mixed-Membership model in order to test the hypothesis that legislators are most likely to provide goods to municipalities where the mayor uses clientelist linkages. I test my theory in Colombia and find that municipalities with higher levels of clientelism are more likely to receive club goods. This suggests that mayors may continue to use clientelism in order to increase their access to central government resources. In the second paper of my dissertation, I develop a formal model in order to generate predictions for when a mayor will be a reliable broker for national-level politicians. I develop a signaling model with three stages. In the first stage, mayors chose whether to send a clientelist signal in order to indicate that they are investing in building political networks. In the second stage, legislators can decide to provide a club good of any size between 0 and 1. Finally, in the last stage of the game, the mayor can determine whether to attribute credit to the legislator for the club good. My model predicts that mayors who have ambition for higher level office are more likely to attribute credit and finds a pooling equilibrium where all mayors will chose to invest in clientelism, regardless of ambition. I test the predictions of this model using a survey experiment of municipal elites in Colombia. Finally, in the last article of my dissertation, I ask when club goods will actually affect citizen vote choice. I ran an original survey experiment of over 2000 citizens in Colombia and find that citizens are more than twice as likely to correctly identify a legislator as responsible for club goods when they have received credit and are more likely to support that legislator. Status: Ph.D. expected by May 2020. Teaching Interests: Comparative politics, Latin American politics, distributive politics, democratization, research methods, regression analysis, formal theory, survey experiments, Bayesian analysis. Email: Web:

Political Theory

Clyde Ray. Political Theory.  Minor: Public Law.  Dissertation: John Marshall’s Constitutionalism. (Lienesch, Bickford, McGuire, Spinner-Halev, Kessler). My dissertation explored Chief Justice John Marshall’s constitutional theory in the context of several of his most important Supreme Court opinions, arguing that Marshall’s political thought emphasized the federal Constitution’s fundamental legitimacy; its sovereignty over national and state government policy; its importance in defining responsible citizenship; and its role in establishing a Constitution-based form of American nationalism. My second book looks at the elements of effective political leadership through an ancient, medieval, and modern lens, ranging in scope from Plutarch to Augustine of Hippo to Jane Addams. More than a historical analysis, these case studies in statesmanship provide citizens today with a vocabulary for identifying and debating the characteristics of this time-honored but often obscure term. Status: PhD Spring 2016. Visiting professor of political science at Brevard College. Publications: John Marshall’s Constitutionalism (SUNY Press), Defining Statesmanship: A Comparative Political Theory Analysis (Lexington Books). Teaching Interest Areas: Constitutional law, political theory, American government.  Email: Website:

Lucy Britt. Political Theory. DissertationToward a Political Aesthetic of Commemoration. My dissertation focuses on how political societies remember historical violence through their physical environments. I analyze case studies of aesthetic representations of mass violence: representations of the Rwandan genocide in Rwanda, of chattel slavery in the United States, and of colonial violence against Indigenous peoples in Australia. Analyzing the successes and failures in each of these cases, I propose a three-pronged approach to a politically productive aesthetic of commemoration that emphasizes bodily vulnerability, historical contingency, and political solidarity. I take a comparative political theory approach and engage in a number of literatures, including memory studies, material culture, architecture and planning theory, and postcolonial theory. A few of the thinkers I engage with are: Theodor Adorno, Judith Butler, Elaine Scarry, Susan Sontag, and Hannah Arendt. Status: ABD; Ph.D. expected Spring 2020. Teaching Interests: feminist theory, modern political theory, introductory U.S. government, contemporary political theory, democratic political theory. Email: Website:

International Relations

Daniel Gustafson. International Relations. Minor: Political Methodology. DissertationCompounding Grievances: Economic Stress and Self-Determination Movement Contention (Stephen Gent, Navin Bapat, Mark Crescenzi, Graeme Robertson, Dave Siegel). In my dissertation, I develop a theory that highlights the combination of economic stress factors and state repression as the key determinants of contentious strategies for both self-determination movements and governments. While conflicts between self-determination movements and governments are most often defined by the domestic opposition’s long-term aspirations, my dissertation asserts that groups’ and states’ behaviors are subject to short-term concerns. I argue that in order to understand the patterns of violent and nonviolent tactics used by the actors in self-determination disputes, we must focus on short-term grievances caused by poor economic conditions and the use of violence. Specifically, my dissertation research suggests that as economic stress factors worsen and governments engage in repression, self-determination movements become more violent. Knowing that repression might trigger anti-government violence, governments can observe economic indicators in their strategic evaluations of the decision to violently crackdown. I argue that these dynamics do not only apply to the contenders in self-determination disputes, as economic conditions and the use of violence shapes public opinion over the disputants. I test these hypotheses using an original dataset of self-determination movement events in Africa. My dissertation generates new insights into the ways in which short-term grievances affect the long-term strategy of self-determination movements, and it offers important policy implications for conflict prevention and the protection of human rights. Status: Ph.D. Expected Spring 2019. Teaching Interests: Civil conflict, contentious politics, the politics of self-determination, quantitive methodology, and Bayesian modeling. Email: Website:

Mitchell Watkins. International Relations/Political Economy. Dissertation: My dissertation focuses on three questions pertaining to the impact of foreign aid on political institutions and governance in recipient countries. The first paper of my dissertation examines the effect of Chinese development assistance on recipient country compliance with Western aid conditionality in Sub-Saharan Africa. The findings suggest that development assistance from emerging donors might deter policy reform, particularly in high conditionality sectors such as governance, energy and natural resources, and macroeconomic policy. The second paper examines the effect foreign aid on the incidence of political budget cycles in developing democracies. The third paper investigates how foreign aid projects impact citizens’ perceptions of institutional trust and government legitimacy using geolocated data on project locations and multiple rounds of the Afrobarometer survey for three Sub-Saharan African countries. Status: Ph.D. expected in May 2019. Teaching Interests: International relations, international political economy, international institutions and global governance, politics of development. Email: Web:

Rob Williams. International Relation. Minor: Political Methodology. Dissertation: The Geography of Secession (Mark Crescenzi, Stephen Gent, Navin Bapat, Patricia Sullivan, and Santiago Olivella) In my dissertation I ask why some rebel groups fight for secession and independence, while others are willing to use violence to secure more autonomy and self-governance within an existing state. Because rebel groups are strategic actors, they realize that military victory or plebiscite is not the end of their political struggle; if they gain independence, they must then create a new state. States are territorial entities, and so the trajectory of any new state will be greatly influenced by the resources and challenges its territory holds. Knowing this, rebel groups whose territory is more conducive to governance and administration will push for independence, while groups whose territory is less suited will fight for autonomy within the state. However, governments are aware of which groups inhabit territories most suitable to secession and employ various measures to try and stop these conflicts before they can begin. To test these arguments, I focus on rebel movements tied to ethnic groups with defined homelands. By doing so, I am able to exploit geospatial data on population and government activity to compare the governability of subnational territories cross-nationally. I also employ agent-based models and qualitative case studies to closely investigate causal mechanisms. Status: Ph.D. Summer 2019, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Washington University in St. Louis 2019-2020. Publications: Journal of Open Source Software, Political Science Research and Methods (forthcoming). Teaching Interests: Conflict processes and management, terrorism and political violence, quantitative methodology, machine learning. Email: Website: