News Briefs

Field Studies

If you want to learn how electoral politics really works, you can get answers from professional political strategists or from social scientists who study campaigns. But don’t expect the same answers.

Although they are interested in many of the same questions, academics and political practitioners rarely collaborate and rarely have the same perspective. In an effort to bridge the gap, the Center for Survey Methodology at Chicago Harris recently invited some of the nation’s leading experts from both sides of the divide and both sides of the political aisle to share their insights at an initiative called “How Voters Think: Lessons From Science and Practice.”

With support from the Population Research Center and the UChicago Institute of Politics, the first conference, held in Chicago May 27–28, brought together 10 prominent Democratic practitioners and six of the nation’s top political scholars to share their perspectives on the inner workings of electoral politics. A parallel event on October 10–11 featured the same scholars and 10 of the nation’s top Republican strategists. The conferences were organized by Harris Professor and former Dean Colm O’Muircheartaigh, Stanford Professor Jon Krosnick and Marc Farinella, executive director of the Center for Survey Methodology.

“Campaigns by their nature are short-lived and don’t allow for much thoughtful examination as to which practices are more or less effective,” says Beth Myers, a conference participant who managed Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. “What may seem obvious to the academics may not hold in the field, and what seems problematic on the campaign trail may be clear as day to the academic with distance from the emotions of a frenzied campaign.”

Topics for discussion included the causes of turn-out and candidate choice, the impact of political advertising, the effectiveness of mobilization efforts and more. At the close of both events, Harris Assistant Professor Anthony Fowler, whose work focuses on causal questions about political representation, led a discussion on open questions and future research opportunities.

O’Muircheartaigh, who serves as academic director of the Center for Survey Methodology, believes the conferences helped advance one of the center’s primary goals. “By sharing knowledge and experiences, disseminating research findings and helping campaigns better incorporate the use and proper analysis of data in their decision-making,” he says, “the Center can help make political campaigns more relevant and meaningful to voters, and government more accountable to them.”

Research, Recognized

Chicago Harris PhD students Patricia Ritter and Luis Herskovic brought home two of the three top “poster prizes” from the fall conference of the prestigious Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM), held in Miami November 12–14.

Ritter’s research examined the relationship between the availability of clean drinking water, obesity and gastrointestinal health in developing countries. She examined whether a sharp fall in the price of soda in Peru in the late 1990s affected consumption and weight, and then tested whether that effect was stronger in places with access to potentially contaminated water. The falling price, she found, led to more consumption of soda and less consumption of water, especially in areas without piped-in water.

Herskovic’s research looked at the relationship between school choice and access to public transportation in Santiago, Chile. While school choice has been in place in Chile since the 1980s, relatively few parents have taken advantage, which has led some commentators to theorize that parents place little value on school quality. But Herskovic and fellow PhD student Sebastian Gallegos theorized that parents might not have many good choices nearby. They conducted a natural experiment and found that parents who lived within a certain radius of a newly opened subway line chose schools that were further away, but performed better on standardized tests.

Medical Advances

David Meltzer has been elected to membership in the National Academy of Medicine. A professor at UChicago Medicine and Chicago Harris, Meltzer conducts economic analyses to address problems in health economics
and public policy with a focus on the cost and quality of care, especially in teaching hospitals. He heads the Hospitalist Scholars Program at the University of Chicago, which provides training in this field and examines the economic forces that have fueled growth of the new specialty of hospital medicine. Meltzer also pioneered the development of the Comprehensive Care Physician model, in which physicians provide inpatient and outpatient care for patients at increased risk of hospitalization to leverage the power of the doctor–patient relationship and improve outcomes while controlling costs.

The Academy is recognized as a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis on health issues. “A major focus of the National Academy of Medicine is the idea of collecting data from routine practice and using that data to inform care,” says Meltzer. Election recognizes individuals who have made major contributions and demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.

Book Stars

On September 16, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the newest selection for his Year of Books challenge: Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and Chicago Harris Professor James Robinson. “This book explores the different kinds of social institutions and incentives that nations have applied to encourage prosperity, economic development and elimination of poverty,” Zuckerberg told his Facebook followers in a post that has since been shared nearly 5,000 times. Also selected for the challenge was Dealing With China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower, by Chicago Harris Distinguished Senior Fellow Henry Paulson.


Harris in a New Light 

Harris personnel and students walking into the school’s building this school year are finding their work and social spaces literally in a new light. A major renovation to the Harris facility has transformed enclosed spaces once lit by fluorescent bulbs into welcoming areas washed in natural light. Office spaces have been expanded and streamlined, and a larger, more comfortable lounge on the lower level is well equipped to meet students’ changing needs. “Harris is committed to providing the next generation of public, private and nonprofit leaders a space that best reflects the Harris brand and the amazing work that happens at the school,” says Misho Ceko, chief operating officer of Chicago Harris. “We made significant improvements to the current facility, especially the common areas, to accommodate an aggressive growth plan and provide students a place to come together to tackle the latest public policy challenges.”

Right away, someone walking in on the north side of the building will notice a new entrance hall between the dean’s wing and the café. Offices that once hid the expansive windows have been moved, and ceilings have been opened to allow in natural light. To the south of the entrance hall are three strips of administrative offices for staff in the student affairs, admissions and career development departments.

One of the most significant changes is the new student lounge. Its amenities are a significant step up from the smaller lounge areas that had been spread across two floors and offered little more than tables and chairs. Now, the dedicated space on the building’s lower level features a modular design that can be adapted for everything from quiet reading to large group meetings and seminars. Once again, large windows allow daylight to stream into the room. Students can work, print or surf the web in the computer lab opposite the north wall and store or prepare food in the large kitchen area. “The new lounge is modern and comfortable, contemporary and functional,” says Jeremy Edwards, senior associate dean of academic and student affairs.

Building Excitement

Chicago Harris has assembled the team tasked with transforming the Edward Durell Stone building at 1307
E. 60th St. into the future home of the school. Chicago-based Woodhouse Tinucci is working with Farr and Associates to devise architectural and interior design plans for the Keller Center. Both firms are recognized nationally for their emphasis on sustainability and collaborative approach to design. “The new direction will not only accommodate the expected growth of Chicago Harris and its partners, but also create a space that best reflects the spirit of the school,” says Chicago Harris Chief Operations Officer Misho Ceko. The project steering committee has selected a direction for the remodel, and renderings of the building plans will be made available in the coming months. “We chose the design that best reflects the spirit of what we are trying to accomplish – to build a special place where students, faculty and staff can impact the world,” says Ceko.

Sound Bites: Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty, a leading economist and author of the best-selling Capital in the Twenty-First Century, joined Chicago Harris on November 6 for an evening of conversation about global economic inequality. Here are the sound bites. (For more from Piketty, check out his interview on the Radio Harris podcast: PikettyPodcast.)

“Extreme inequality of wealth usually comes with limited mobility.” Piketty considers this the most damaging result of the rising income inequality he chronicles in Capital.

“[Inequality is] the consequence of all kinds of shocks and random events. And the problem is, it often goes too far.” There’s no evidence that the highest earners are creating jobs or performing exceptionally well, says Piketty.

“The history of taxation is full of surprises.” For instance, after World War II, with Axis economies now under Allied control, the U.S. dramatically increased their tax rates in order to rebuild their war-torn economies and promote egalitarianism.

“With better social and economic policies, Europe could integrate a lot more migrants.” Previous influxes of immigrants didn’t have negative repercussions in the Eurozone, Piketty insists, and economic concerns shouldn’t be used to keep out refugees today.

“With Beyoncé, you get a lot for your money!” Artists and athletes are compensated well for sharing their talents with the public. But most people in the highest income brackets aren’t benefiting anyone but themselves, says Piketty.