Undergraduate Research in Politics

At Pomona, students have the opportunity to apply for a funded summer research grant through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program. Below are recent projects conducted by students in the Politics Department.


Understanding Responses to Global Terrorism: How do Americans React to Terror and How Does It Impact Opinion on the Use of Force?

Lucy Onderwyzer Gold 21; Advisor: Tom Le

Do Americans respond differently to terrorist attacks in Western countries as compared to non-Western countries? Does public opinion on the use of torture and force change depending on whether the attack occurred in a Western or non-Western country? This research approaches these questions qualitatively by asking the question: what might lead Americans to react differently depending on where the attack occurred?  Beginning with a review of the literature on a subset of media theory called “framing,” I then perform a qualitative analysis and comparison of diplomatic statements regarding two recent terrorist attacks, those in Christchurch, New Zealand and Colombo, Sri Lanka. Framing refers to the practice in communications of organizing content according to a set of “principles that are socially shared and persistent over time, that work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social world” (Reese 2001; 9). I gathered data sets containing all digitally available official statements made by all sovereign states (as well as the EU) on both the Christchurch and Colombo attacks. Examining these data, I identified the persistence of several frames that may subliminally lead audience members to react differentially to terrorist attacks in Western countries as compared to non-Western countries.

Differences in Coverage

Ryan Levy ’20; Advisor: Tom Le

Does the amount of media coverage vary depending on the location of a terrorist attack? Evidence suggests significant bias in national news coverage towards terrorist attacks occurring in the west compared to the non-west, with western attacks receiving up to 152 times the number of articles per casualty. The difference in coverage represents an unwillingness by media outlets to invest in coverage unless it contains a particular "shock value," meaning the amount of coverage an attack receives is likely reflective of public interest. To support this conclusion, the totality of articles published by major American news outlets, in connection to a specific terrorist attack, were read and cataloged. The process was repeated for a variety of attacks spanning the past ten years. A plausible explanation for this trend, as supported by the evidence, is geopolitical significance. The 2015 Paris attacks caused a national reckoning with Obama's refugee policies and generated increased Franco-American coordination in the fight against ISIS. In the case of the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, the attack reinvigorated existing East-West tensions. Conversely, most non-western terrorist attacks were of little geopolitical significance for the United States. Yet, the discrepancy in news coverage grants news companies wide latitude to determine the importance of terrorist attacks and the correct degree of public and governmental outrage, a noteworthy implication.

The Present and Future of California Politics

Adam Yang ’20; Advisor: Susan McWilliams

Does demography dictate political outcomes? Are there different factions within the California Democrats? These are some of the questions Professor Miller and I addressed this summer. By using various federal and state databases, I compared the demographics of Texas and California as well as their impact on state-level policies. We concluded that demography is not destiny because these two states' similar demographics did not translate into similar policies. With an examination of campaign finance and lobbying activities in California, I looked at a group of 20 moderate Democrats who receive contributions from industries that are not typically associated with the California Democratic Party. And I discovered that even though California Democrats have supermajorities in both state chambers, the business community still found ways to shape state policies by killing specific bills.

Strengthened Grassroots Organizing Networks in Virginia: The Result of a Proposed Pipeline and Adamant Public Backlash

Virginia Paschal ’21; Advisor: Heather Williams

Grassroots organizing is traditionally a difficult feat in Virginia given the imbalance of economic power wielded by extractive industries, the political corruption resulting from this power, and the widespread rural poverty throughout the state.  In this project I explored  how the changing Appalachian relationship with land and community is influencing involvement in grassroots organizing.  I spent the summer in Charlottesville, Virginia shadowing the field coordinator of the Allegheny-Blueridge Alliance (ABRA)- a coalition of over 50 grassroots organizations in Virginia which oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Each week we drove to different counties in Virginia and trained local community coordinators in collecting water quality data. In doing this I met and formed relationships with community organizers across the state. I worked with organizers resisting the planned construction of a compressor station in a historically black town in Northern Virginia, volunteered with Virginia Organizing members at a Unity festival celebrating diversity in Charlottesville, and shadowed meetings of ABRA board members with Southern Environmental Law Center lawyers about developments in their legal cases against Dominion Energy. I learned that the proposed construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has resulted in the strengthening of networks of grassroots organizing across the state and the involvement of the public in community organizing efforts has grown as a result.

Increasing Inclusion: The Transformation of Equality Legislation in Northern Ireland

Naomi Tilles ’22; Advisor: Erica Dobbs

The Northern Ireland Act (NIA) of 1998 articulated an extraordinarily broad definition of equality in post-conflict Northern Ireland. This poster addresses the central question: Why was the Northern Ireland Act, and especially Section 75, written so broadly? Using primary sources gathered at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast, I explore the development of equality legislation in Northern Ireland, the intent of Section 75 as articulated by key actors before the NIA was passed, and the concerns and predictions of key actors about the content of the NIA. I found that the rights of actors beyond the dominant Protestant-Catholic/Unionist-Nationalist axis were considered to a significant extent, mainly by the government bodies and NGOs that advised the legislation drafting process and by the British Labour government itself. However, most political parties involved in the peace negotiations were more concerned about how equality provisions would affect their politically/religiously defined constituencies. With some notable exceptions, the rights of actors outside of the dominant political/religious axis appeared as an afterthought to the rights of the parties’ constituents. In the current context of migration to “new destination” countries like Northern Ireland, the NIA is being used to facilitate the political incorporation of new, non-citizen, immigrants. This research illustrates how long-lasting equality protections can emerge from post-conflict societies.

“Out of Place, Out of Touch, and Out of the Loop:” The Impact of Length of Residency on Voter-Turnout in San Bernardino

Alejandra Davila ’19; Advisor: Gilda Ochoa

Decades of research in the field of voter participation demonstrates that socioeconomic and racial group attachments prominently influence people’s civic engagement in local, state, and federal elections. As a result, state and local governments have implemented policies that aim to address racial and socioeconomic barriers to the voting booth. California, specifically, has implemented a series of progressive policies that provide minority and low-income communities with additional resources. Yet, these policies have only slightly increased the voting turnout in San Bernardino City. As I gathered Census data and conducted content analysis, I realized that there might be an entirely different factor predicting San Bernardino’s turnout rates: attachment to place, most often determined by an individuals’ length of residency. While the field of political science has explored the impact of gentrification on voter turnout rates, this work primarily focuses on larger cities such as San Francisco. Extant research examines the impact of gentrification on displaced voters’ participation in municipal elections and disregards multigenerational immigrant and migrant experiences. Conversely, my research aims to examine the impact of residential mobility on incoming residents from nearby cities, counties and, at times, countries. As such, my work helps extend the literature on conflicting determinants of voter turnout through a theoretical frame of the politics of place and belonging.


Hope and Activism: Dominicans of Haitian Descent and the Fight for Membership

Efrain Zuniga ’18; Advisor: Miriam Feldblum

On September 23, 2013, the Dominican Republic’s highest court issued Judgment 168-13, which was a culmination of a long history of discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic. Through this ruling, the Constitutional Court retroactively applied laws that limited birthright citizenship, starting from 1929. As a result, over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian-descent were rendered stateless. This project explores how activists and human rights organizations in the Dominican Republic have responded to these restrictive laws and policies. How do activists and advocates view recent developments in the Dominican Republic? How do adverse policies and negative popular sentiment affect their attitudes and motivations? How do activists change their tactics and methods in order to more effectively achieve their goals? For this project, primary research consisted of examining contemporaneous accounts from news and media, court documents, film, and materials provided by activist organizations. The second part of the research project consists of conversations with human rights advocates and activists. This portion of the project will continue and be completed as a part of an International Relations senior thesis. Preliminary observations indicate that while local activists have met with some victories and benefited from the aid of international communities, temporary and partial government "solutions" hinder the achievement of justice.
Funding Provided By: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

The Future of Homelessness in Orange County

Elizabeth Newland ’18; Advisor: Heather Williams

I have spent the summer helping Heather Williams research homelessness and housing along the Santa Ana Riverbed in Orange County. We looked at the factors that cause homelessness, the conditions and struggles in the riverbed, the difficulty in escaping these conditions, and looked at the affordable housing crisis in California (especially in Orange County). We went about our research and got information and data in a variety of ways. The main ways in which we collected data was through interviews with non-profit groups, advocates, law firms, public officials, and people who live along the river. Additionally, we read a multitude of books and articles on the subject. We also attended county and advocacy meetings in order to obtain a feel for the various positions on the riverbed and homelessness. While it is difficult to get concrete results in this type of study, we did come to some conclusions. One thing that we found consistently throughout the research is that the only way to end homelessness is through permanent supportive housing. Another conclusion we reached is that the lack of affordable housing in Orange County is a large factor in furthering the increasing homeless rate in the County. Finally, we came to the conclusion that tent cities, like the one that surrounds the riverbed will become a permanent structure in suburbia like Orange County unless the housing crisis is addressed.
Funding Provided By: The Edwin W. Pauley Foundation SURP Fund

Tackling Japan’s Under-Representation of Women in Politics

Kirara Tsutsui ’20; Advisor: Tom Le

Politicians have power to shape societal values, culture, economic policies, etc. Simultaneously, socio-cultural norms shape citizens’ course of political action and, consequently, politicians. With this symbiotic relationship in mind, I conduct a comparative study of women’s under-representation in Japanese politics. Ranked 111th out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2016, Japan’s politics has been male-dominated. In 2016, only 9.3% and 20.7% of the Lower House and Upper House respectively were women. Through reviewing the history of the Japanese patriarchal narrative, I examine variables that have hindered gender parity in Japanese legislation and representation. Tracing past women politicians from the local, prefectural, and state levels using quantitative analysis of polling data and qualitative analysis of governmental statements and media articles using ATLAS.ti, I study the internal and external variables that revolve around this discussion. Internal variables include Japanese feminism theory and the institutional character of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), while external variables include changing economic conditions and international pressure. I then contend that familial and educational background, and a supporting male politician figure, are common factors in successful women politicians. I conclude the project with an evaluation of steps taken in other Asian countries, expanding on the potential the quota system in Japan.
Funding Provided By: Cion Estate SURP Fund

Effective Framing and Various Understandings of Rights in the U.S. Immigrant Rights Movement

Valeria Sanchez-Jimenez ’19; Advisor: David Menefee-Libey

Purpose: To explore the degree to which the communication strategies of several prominent immigrant rights groups reflects a) the frames in communication that public opinion has identified as being persuasive for turning public opinion in favor of immigrant rights, and b) the arguments for immigrant rights considered most persuasive by contemporary political philosophy; in order to compare the two disciplines’ understandings of the immigrant-rights issue and their connection to the day-to-day operations reality of the immigrant rights movement.

Methods: Literature review of political philosophy, and sociology and public policy research on immigrant rights, content analysis of social media communications from three prominent pro-immigrant-rights organizations

Results: The two disciplines overlap in their consideration of human rights, or cosmopolitan justice, as considerations in public discussion of immigrant rights. Political philosophy also considers the tension between the rights of a community versus of an individual, notions which are both identifiable within the economic, human rights, and family unity frames whose impact on the public recent public opinion research has focused on. Of these, family unity and human rights frames, respectively the most and least persuasive frames to the public, as identified by public opinion research, emerged as the frames most prominently employed by two of the organizations studied.
Funding Provided By: Aubrey H. & Eileen J. Seed Student Research Fund

Democracy Through “Dictatorship”: Preserving Democracy in Trump’s America

Sean Gunther ’18; Advisor: Richard Worthington

Democracy, by most measures, is under siege. U.S. voter turnout, citizen engagement rates, and trust in government totals are at record lows. A recent New Republic article claims: “Yes, Donald Trump is a fascist.” At the same time, international agreements have made significant headway. The UN Global Compact, the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), and the Paris Climate Accord have affirmed sustainable integration. Through ethnography, conference, and reading, I studied uncertainty in contemporary democracy. Delving into business-government relations, transnational advocacy networks, and political philosophy, I sought to answer the question: how do we preserve democracy? I find, when citizens engage with – and are engaged by – political institutions, democratic trust builds. The U.S. must rebuild this trust, if it is to preserve democracy. If it does not, global democracy is susceptible to various system threats, including fascism, corporatism, and terrorism. The U.S. can do this by encouraging public-private partnerships, eliminating barriers to entry, and engaging more directly with citizens. Corporate entities, similarly, can reach out to NGOs and network with communities. Ultimately, open public dialogue is the key to democratic longevity. These conversations must continue. I am grateful to Professor Richard Worthington for sponsoring this research and Dr. Mahmud Farooque for hosting me this summer. Have a lovely year, and may our paths cross again!
Funding Provided By: The Edwin W. Pauley Foundation SURP Fund

The African Politics Lab

Ruben Murray ’19, Advisor: Pierre Englebert; Collaborator: Manacoro Mbaye ’15

The African Politics Lab (APL) is a collaborative faculty-student research and programming center at Pomona College. Our research effort spans across the African continent from issues of development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to rent distribution in Burkina Faso. Ruben Murray ’19, focused on data monitoring for the Congo Project. Using the data collected from a series interviews in each of the 26 provinces of the Congo and their respective territories, and by aggregating them to variables indicating state presence (hospitals, primary schools), the African Politics Lab attempted to apply the theory of state discontinuity in the Congo. The "super slide" will be used as a background document to better understand the insurgencies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Funding Provided By: General SURP Fund, Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

From Morocco’s Rif to the Netherlands: Tales of Youth, Motherhood, and Human Rights

Claudia Sandell-Gandara ’18, Advisor: Pardis Mahdavi

I began my research in Morocco’s Rif and ended in the Netherlands, simulating the migration of research participants and/or their families. From May to August, I observed the social dynamics inclusive of politics in each location. I spoke with about 25 (mostly female) Moroccans and Dutch-Moroccans. Amazigh identity, colonization, and state oppression provided frameworks for understanding society in Al Hoceima, the Rifian capital. Women dressed and married according to standards of propriety grounded in domestic roles. They also showed signs of change. Amid police occupation of the city and the arrest of protest leader Nasser Zefzafi, women voiced resistance and demonstrate civic mindedness and political aspirations. In the Netherlands, I undertook research in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the Hague. I met hairdressers, mothers, community organizers, social workers, and politicians. Women negotiated concerns about their political and social climate integration, radicalization of husbands and youth, bi-cultural identity, household dynamics, Islamic education, female empowerment, health education, and Moroccan and world politics. The women, my research claims, identified human rights as a basis for their clarity of perspective and vision for the future. The research aims at defining women’s understanding of human rights in relation to a historical context and in particular, their status as migrants.
Funding Provided By: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Changes in Formal Political Speech from 1860

Heidi Artigue ’19; Advisor: John Seery

Speech is the medium of interpersonal communication; politics, the forum in which ideas clash and by which we distill cultural values and government policies. Political speech, then, is vitally important. It is the means by which we argue about what our society is and what it should be. This project examines changes over time in the formal political campaign speech of political parties. I analyze differences over time; across parties; and between winners and losers of elections. My data come from transcripts of all televised presidential and vice-presidential debates; inaugural addresses; and party platforms after 1860. I examine the speech of the Democratic and Republican parties. I use Wilcoxon rank-sum tests of the frequency of the most common 2,000 words in my data to compare mid-1800s to early-2000s speech within each party; mid-1800s and early-2000s speech between parties; and all-time speech between parties. This process allows me to identify words that are used significantly more often by one party or era. The number of statistically significant words also gives a measure of changes over time in the difference between parties. I find that over time, recent versus historical party platforms have larger differences than recent and historical debate speech. Differences between parties are larger than differences between winners and losers; this finding persists between debates and platforms. Speech in debate has only diverged slightly between parties over time.
Funding Provided By: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Leveraging Economic Insecurity in the South China Sea

Jacob Merkle ’18; Advisor: Tom Le

I spent this summer working at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Pacific Forum in Honolulu. My research focused on the South China Sea, where tensions have been rising as China builds artificial islands and ignores a decision from the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) that ruled last July against Chinese claims. The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam all have competing claims to the islands and maritime commons that lie within the South China Sea. My work focused on the economic aspect of Chinese actions in the South China Sea, particularly the way in which it has compelled other claimants to accept its actions. The CSIS office was mostly made up of other research fellows from East and Southeast Asia, which offered incredible cultural and personal exposure. Most of them are in the research stages of PhD programs, and my role was similar to theirs. While I knew a decent amount about the South China Sea coming into the internship, I had catching up to do when compared to people who were researching their own countries and had been doing it for many years. This internship also exposed me to high-level conferences between former state officials, scholars, and current decision makers, which was a unique opportunity to experience the tone and environment of these conferences.
Funding Provided By: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Political Discussion in Online Fora: An Investigation of Reddit During the 2016 American Presidential Election

Jake Smith ’19, Advisor: John Seery

In academe, the Internet is still a fairly new phenomenon. Political science scholars have begun researching the Internet, but it is perhaps not as well studied as it could be (or should be) in the modern day. The social news and aggregation site Reddit.com provides an excellent opportunity to study online political discussion. Reddit’s board dedicated to discussion of major events in American politics, “/r/politics,” is one of the largest political communities on the Internet, with well over three million readers and consistent daily viewership in the tens of thousands. This study employs a three-pronged framework developed by Deen Freelon and based on the work of Jurgen Habermas and Lincoln Dahlberg to classify Reddit’s “/r/politics” board. Freelon’s work outlines three models of online democratic communication. The liberal individualist model focuses on personal expression and the pursuit of self-interest, the communitarian model focuses on social cohesion and group identity, and the deliberative model focuses on Habermas’ concepts of rational-critical argument, issue focus, and equality. The presidential debates of 2016 provide large amounts of data for study, with each having a thread on /r/politics with thousands of comments. Analysis of the 9,475 total comments on /r/politics’s discussion thread for the first presidential debate of the 2016 American presidential election reveals that /r/politics is largely deliberative and somewhat both communitarian and liberal.
Funding Provided By: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Friend or Foe? The International Politics of Disaster Relief

Divya Ryan ’19, Advisor: Tom Le

In this mix-methods research project I examine how the existing political relationship between countries affects the level of humanitarian aid given in times of natural disaster. In particular, I focus on China’s disaster aid contributions to countries with which it has conflict, with whom it has friendly ties, and with whom it is neutral. China, which many argue is a rising power, has utilized soft power to improve its image in the international community. As such, international pressure may impact China’s contributions, which I also consider. I compare these contributions to those of India and South Korea in the specific cases of the 2010 Pakistan floods, the 2011 Tohoku Triple Disaster, and the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Through quantitative analysis of aid statistics and qualitative analysis of media articles using ATLAS.ti, I find that the international community is quick to react when it is perceived that the level of humanitarian aid is affected by a country’s particularly positive or negative political relationship towards the afflicted country. China, due to its complicated relationship with many countries, seems to be subject to more scrutiny by the international community. While China does bend to international pressure to increase aid, ultimately it keeps its own agenda when deciding how much to contribute to humanitarian aid in countries with which it has conflicts.
Funding Provided By: Faucett Catalyst Fund SURP Grant

Against Electoral Extremism: Refugee Aid and Inclusion in Europe

Erin Morris ’18, Advisor: John Seery

In the wake of Trumpism, Europe is seeing a surge in the popularity of right wing extremist candidates running for the highest office. The refugee crisis plays a huge role in contemporary European foreign policy and has thusly posed many serious questions for the candidates running for election this year. The political right has responded to the crisis with anti-refugee campaign promises and Islamaphobic discourse. The left has responded with organized resistance that seeks to provide aid to refugees and to offer inclusive rhetoric. I sought to study what we can learn about right-wing parties and their supporters from the responses in support or condemnation of welcoming refugees.

As for methodology, I participated in community work, did participant observation, had informal conversations as well as completed formal interviews with those that I met and worked alongside. I pinpointed a plethora of reasons why people are volunteering to aid refugees. Most of these reasons were not overtly political. Religion, family history of refugee status, and general social consciousness were the reasons I heard the most. However, it does seem plausible that once volunteers were mobilized, they began to see their work as something political.
Funding Provided By: The Elgin Fund for Summer Student Research