SPOTLIGHT ON ELECTIONS The Elections Research Center analyzes our political process
As a teenager, Barry Burden often found himself watching the nightly news, especially at election time. He went on as a college student to work on political campaigns, but found he liked studying elections more than taking a side in the debate. Now, as a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, he is helping to create a worldclass center for those who, like him, are fascinated by the electoral process and what it reveals about our society and culture. “Elections are the hallmark of our democratic system,” Burden says. The Elections Research Center, founded by Burden and his colleagues in 2015, fosters cutting-edge academic analysis of national and state elections. Burden hopes it will draw faculty and students from across campus to partner on research projects and discuss new ideas. Financial support to recruit and train graduate students is one of the center’s top priorities. In this first presidential election cycle since the founding of the center, the race has been fun to watch and study, Burden says. At the Iowa primaries, he was able to see the candidates up close and observe how events unfolded. While
Burden says the most surprising parts of this election so far have been how few Democratic candidates came forward and the success of nonpolitician Donald Trump, every election is different and unexpected in its own way. It’s also rewarding to work with students on an academic subject that is constantly changing and affects their own daily lives.“It’s racing with current events,” Burden says. “We are part of the thing we are studying.” In December, following the elections, the ERC will host a full-day symposium, bringing together the best minds on campus and beyond to hash out the results. The tradition will continue after each midterm and presidential election. “Hopefully this event will provide an opportunity for faculty to share the explanatory power of their research with the public, as well as identify factors likely to be pivotal in subsequent elections,” Burden says. The Elections Research Center builds on a long tradition of election-related study within the political science department at UW-Madison, which is among the top five most popular undergraduate majors in the College of Letters & Science and has a strong graduate program.
It’s popular for a reason: Courses relate to how our country functions, which can be good training for almost any career in business, law or government. Burden’s favorite course to teach is Elections and Voting Behavior. The students grapple with why people vote certain ways, what can affect voter turnout and how factors like candidate characteristics and the current state
L&S Annual Review 2015-2016