Political science professor wins Emerging Scholar Award from American Political Science Association

Author: Beth Staples

Jeff Harden
Jeff Harden's research focuses on political representation, public policy diffusion, and American state politics.

Jeff Harden, the Andrew J. McKenna Family Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, won the 2022 Emerging Scholar Award from the American Political Science Association (APSA) State Politics and Policy Section.

The annual honor recognizes the top scholar in the field of state politics and policy who has earned their Ph.D. within the previous 10 years. 

Harden — whose research focuses on political representation, public policy diffusion, and American state politics — said it’s a meaningful time to be studying state legislatures in the United States.

“Often people can’t name their representative in the state House or Senate. But as we've seen the last couple of years, state legislatures have enormous power in what our lives look like as citizens of this country,” he said. “It’s important to look at topics that matter to citizens, not just a small group of scholars, and start from the point of how to inform debate about what makes a healthy democratic society.”

For Harden — who is director of graduate studies, a concurrent associate professor in the Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics, and a faculty affiliate of the Lucy Family Institute for Data & Societythat includes examining voter identification laws, open government and organized interests, political inequality, and the impact high-profile female politicians have on women running for office.

Significant acclaim

The award from the APSA section is particularly meaningful to Harden because of its connection with Thomas Carsey, his mentor and Ph.D advisor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Carsey, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2018, had edited the section’s peer-reviewed journal State Politics & Policy Quarterly and received the section’s Lifetime Career Achievement Award in 2017.

Harden, similar to his mentor, is active in the section, including serving on the editorial board of the journal. He’s also earned a number of section awards. 

Last year, Harden and Justin Kirkland of the University of Virginia won the section’s Best Published Paper Award for “Does Transparency Inhibit Political Compromise?” in the American Journal of Political Science. And in 2017, Harden; Christina Ladam of the University of Nevada, Reno; and Jason Windett of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte garnered the section’s Best Conference Paper Award for “Prominent Role Models: High-Profile Female Politicians and the Emergence of Women as Candidates for Public Office,” also published in the American Journal of Political Science.

Also in 2017, Harden’s book, Multidimensional Democracy: A Supply and Demand Theory of Representation in American Legislatures won the APSA’s Virginia Gray Award for the best book on state politics or policy in the United States published in the preceding three calendar years. 

New approaches

In his next book, The Illusion of Accountability: Transparency and Representation in American Legislatures, which is slated to be published in September, Harden and co-author Kirkland explore causes and effects of sunshine laws (focused on government transparency) on policy productivity, responsiveness to public opinion, and citizen approval of the legislature.

“We thought the work had broad appeal in that it questions a fundamental component of American democracy; just about everyone would say that sunshine laws are a good idea,” Harden said. “However, we were concerned that communicating that message would be difficult. Even if they are concerned about the health of American democracy, the general public is not necessarily interested in the details of rules and procedures in state legislatures.”

Their solution: Work with the graphic design firm Sequential Potential to create the cover and a four-page comic book-style prologue to tell key parts of the book’s story. 

While the medium is entertaining, the message is serious. 

“Anybody would expect open meetings would make representation better,” Harden said. “It’s a pessimistic conclusion, but they don’t. Citizens don't take advantage of open meeting laws but interest groups and lobbyists definitely do.”

He’s also currently collaborating on a massive research project funded by the National Institutes of Health to assess the impact of COVID-19 interventions on people’s mobility and transmission dynamics of the coronavirus in the U.S. 

And Harden is excited about a working paper that he’s written with political science doctoral student Alejandra Campos and Austin Bussing, a political scientist at Sam Houston State University. They found that in legislatures in states where voter ID laws have been implemented, polarization between Republicans and Democrats has worsened. 

“Legislative politics have become more acrimonious and contentious after a voter ID law,” he said. “There’s an indirect effect on the health of democracy exerted by voter ID. If there’s more polarization and gridlock, legislators are not representing the people’s interests. No one has shown this before.”