Lorrie Frasure MPP'01
Lorrie Frasure MPP'01

By any metric, Lorrie Frasure, MPP’01, is impressive: Ph.D. from the University of Maryland by the age of 28, dozens of peer-reviewed articles and research studies, countless fellowships and grants. As a professor of political science and African American studies and the inaugural Ralph J. Bunche Endowed Chair at the University of California at Los Angeles, she became UCLA’S first woman of color ever hired on the tenure track in political science. And as a first-generation college student, she understands the challenges of treading one’s own path. “My upbringing on the South Side of Chicago gave me determination and this spirit of connectedness and community,” says Frasure. “We depend on one another and uplift one another.”

She walked into the Harris School of Public Policy in 1999 with confidence.  “Although it can be intimidating as a first in my family to pursue a graduate degree, I was confident that I could do it because I didn’t have anybody telling me that I couldn’t,” she says. This is a lesson she imparts while teaching first-generation students at UCLA. Regardless of background, each student is learning how to navigate the life of an undergraduate or graduate student, and they often share an impostor syndrome. Frasure tirelessly helps her students to overcome their insecurities and to navigate the “hidden curriculum” of academic life by building a strong network and finding mentors.

She’s equally dedicated to a potentially touchy subject: racial and ethnic politics. “I try to create a space where I’m going to tackle some sensitive topics during class each week,” she says. “I want students to feel comfortable questioning the extent to which race or ethnicity does or does not play a role in American politics. The goal is not to shape hearts and minds, but to empower scholars to ask questions and to be able to back up their statements.”

This is a complicated endeavor: ask a question the wrong way, use the wrong word, and everything can seemingly fall apart. Add in the fact that many of UCLA’s international students may have learned about American race relations from outside of the U.S., and others may have attended schools that were not very diverse, and you have opportunities for misunderstanding.

“For students who may have experienced race in a different way or experienced ethnicity in a different way, how do we get them to feel comfortable asking questions and seeking knowledge?” asks Frasure. The process starts, she says, with being honest about her own blind spots. “I don’t pretend I’m so woke around all the issues that we discuss. I note to my students that I’m still struggling to understand issues and to grow right alongside them,” she says. “I hope that makes people feel more comfortable to have these kinds of really sensitive conversations.”

Frasure has spent years studying and explaining the intersection between race, place, and politics, in particular the concept she coined: suburban institutional interdependency (SII). “Most Blacks, Asian Americans, and Latinos live in the suburbs of large metro areas, yet scholars continue to rely on models developed when these groups were primarily urban dwellers to understand the politics of redistribution in the United States,” she wrote in her 2015 book, Racial and Ethnic Politics in American Suburbs. Yet local goods and services have not financially caught up to address the needs of the changing demographics in suburbs. “Even in a moderate-income suburb, the public and non-profit sectors often need to work interdependently to provide translation services in three or more different languages,” Frasure provides as an example. “Because there may be very little or no money in the county budget for translating important information to the public into multiple languages.”

One of Frasure’s current large scale data collection efforts dovetails with her passion to build a strong pipeline of scholars throughout academia: the Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey (CMPS). What started as a couple of junior scholars pooling their resources to conduct a study of registered voters in just a few battleground states has grown into the most comprehensive multiracial/ethnic, multilingual post-election study of policy preferences and political behavior among U.S. adults following a presidential election.

Through a crowdsourcing mechanism, the project went cooperative in 2016, giving widespread access to high-quality, non-partisan survey data on racial and ethnic groups.  The CMPS expanded access to minority data collection for scholars in large research universities as well as those scholars in smaller teaching colleges with fewer resources. “We wanted to create a space where scholars have access to, and share, election data, and also to build a network of scholars with shared research interests” says Frasure, who has been there from the beginning in 2008. Now, nearly 250 scholars from more than 100 universities in the U.S. and Canada have joined, and the CMPS’s post-election survey translates into nine different languages. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the CMPS more than $1 million in grant support, and the CMPS is going even bigger following 2024 presidential election. The project will survey over 20,000 adult respondents and launch its first longitudinal panel study to survey  16-and-17-year-olds, which they’ll continue to follow over the years.

One of Frasure’s current book projects focuses on the intersections of race, gender and partisanship in the United States. For example, she notes that, “the persistence of a partisan gender gap between male and female voters in U.S. presidential campaigns is driven by the historical patterns of women of color voters, particularly black women in majority support of the Democratic Party candidates since the 1960s.” Longstanding research, she’s found, shows that white women, with few exceptions—including 1964 and 1996—have consistently supported Republican Party presidential candidates since the American National Election Study (ANES) began collecting data about U.S. voters and their preferences in 1948. “Until the 2016 election,” Frasure notes, “most existing academic studies of gender differences on vote choice in presidential elections were undifferentiated by gender as well as race/ethnicity.”  

Her book project will use survey data as well as in-depth interviews with women to examine the role of racial animus, sexism, policy preferences and other factors to help explain partisanship among women of different backgrounds. “These conversations are very difficult to have among women of color and white women,” Frasure says. “If you don’t understand why a particular race and gender group elects candidates to serve them, how can we understand which public policies matter to and across groups?”

Lorrie Frasure
Frasure received the Rising Star Harris Alumni Award in 2017

“We still have a long way to go in academia to advance longstanding theories and models, but folks at Harris have been studying them in real time for a long time,” says Frasure. “During my Ph.D. studies, I was eager to expand on some of the concepts that I first learned at Harris, because I felt like there was so much missing in the existing literature and a shortage of data on minority communities. I value the opportunity to be at Harris for two years and learn everything I learned.”

Frasure remains committed to helping the next generation. Her work with the UCLA Institute of American Culture (IAC) in partnership with UCLA School of Education allows her to help develop an ethnic studies curriculum initiative aimed at helping teachers whose goal is to teach ethnic studies at the K-12 level. “You may be a K-12 teacher and really love what you do, but the world is happening around you, and suddenly you are figuring out how to explain the Civil Rights movement in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.” To that end, she’s helping to launch UCLA’s Ethnic Studies Summer Certificate Program (ESSCP) that will help train middle-and high-school teachers interested in advancing their knowledge of an ethnic studies curriculum.

The conversations are difficult – but in true Harris fashion, Frasure is undaunted.