Research Plan

The thesis which I will be researching is: Do voters choose their candidates out of personal interest or because of their views on social issues? I may focus on one particular issue, such as affirmative action. So in this case, would a white individual who supports greater racial equality vote against affirmative action because it might hurt their chances at college acceptance or employment, or would they vote in support because of their desire for more equality? Secondary questions would evaluate the impact of party allegiances on voting behavior in regards to the primary questions, and the effect of voter information and issue knowledge. In my research thus far, both of these factors have had an impact on research addressing similar questions.

After reading “Whites’ Opposition to “Busing”: Self-Interest or Symbolic Politics?” (Sears, Hensler, and Speer, 1979), “Economic Discontent and Political Behavior: The Role of Personal Grievances and Collective Economic Judgments in Congressional Voting” (Kinder and Kiewet, 1979), and “Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind” (Bartles, 2005), I have come to the conclusion that my primary method of research will be analysis of large data sets such as the American National Election Studies data set. This data includes surveys taken every presidential election of voters, with questions regarding current economic and political issues as well as demographic questions and political and social ideology questions. I will locate the questions which best fit my thesis and analyse this data to arrive at an answer for my thesis question. In order to complete this research, I will need to learn how to conduct statistical analysis, and it is my hope that my research adviser will be able to assist me in this. Also, a source which I obviously still need to read, and very thoroughly, is the data set itself.

It is quite likely that I will need to conduct some original research to answer my secondary questions, particularly the one regarding voter information or knowledge of the subject at hand. The ANES data set contains information on political party allegiance, so I can use that to determine how that might effect voting behavior. However I don’t believe that it can evaluate voter information on the issues. To determine the impact that this has on voter behavior in regards to my primary thesis question, I will design an experiment which will measure voter behavior before and after being properly informed on the issue. I will first present the research subjects with a survey determining their demographics and social beliefs so that I can determine how the issue on hand, such as affirmative action, would effect them personally and how they would feel about it based on their world views. Then I would ask them how they would vote for a candidate who either supports or opposes the issue. After this, I would provide them with information on the issue, such as how it actually would or would not affect them, and the social difference it would make. After being given this information, I would ask them to vote again. Finally, I would study how their vote did or did not change, and from this determine if voter information makes a difference in how people vote on issues which concern their personal and social interests. Here again, I have some learning to do so I can design a sound experiment that properly collects meaningful data which could answer my research question. I will gain this experience through readings recommended by my adviser on research methods and how to design experiments, such as the Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science.

Though I have now read enough articles related to my thesis question to know that data set analysis will be my primary method of research, and to know that political party and voter information are important secondary questions to ask, I still could do additional reading to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the academic consensus on the topic of self interest versus social interests in voting behavior. From what I’ve read so far, most seem to believe that self interest is not involved at all, but I have encountered a couple important exception to this which I will need to consider more closely. I am also interests in the ethical implications of this voting behavior, especially if I do find that some people vote out of self interest, so I may want to speak with Dr. Flanigan or Dr. Price to discuss how I could work ethical considerations into my thesis.


Research Methods

My topic is very much in the social science field as I hope to discover why people vote as they do and what’s most important to them in their voting decision. Therefore, my research will likely include a fair amount of empirical secondary source research as well as some original experimental or survey research. If possible, I would love to map something or create some interactive way to engage with my findings as well.

I have already begun my reading of secondary sources, and as I’m starting to comprehend the multitude of readings which I will need to complete for my research, I’m beginning to think that it might be worth my while to do a separate literature review on my topic as I way to organize the readings and my thoughts on them. While most of my sources will be secondary sources from prior research related to my topic, I would also be interested in investigating some primary sources such as interviews with voters or raw data of voting behavior. I believe that doing so would bring more originality to my project and allow me to reach a more significant conclusion.

I’m not quite sure how I’ll go about my original experimental research, but I am certain that I would like to do it. I think that my biggest challenge with this will be finding a sample of participants outside of college students so that my research can adequately represent all voters in the United States. I am excited to work with Dr. Archer on this and to give it more thought so that I can successfully gather information that will successfully confirm or deny my research hypothesis.

Finally, I mentioned above that I would love to create something more interactive than a paper to represent my findings. I’m not sure that a geographic map could be created from my research, but maybe a mind map or some other tool related to my findings could be created. I would really enjoy the creative process involved in such a project, and leaving something more tangible than a paper behind when I’m done would be very satisfying.


Notes_Voter Strategy

Taking notes on a separate document was certainly a new method of note taking for me, but after my brief experience with it thus far, I can tell that it will work quite well for me. Traditionally, I have taken notes through highlighting/underlining, with some notes in the margin. While this system might be adequate if I only need to return to a reading once for class discussion, it would be inadequate for full research because flipping through a reading to find the quote or note that I’m looking for over and over again while writing a paper would waste considerable time and become quite tiresome. However, with my notes in a single document, I can quickly look through the document, without having to skim past all the things I don’t need, and easily find what I am looking for.

The single downside to this method is that I might not pull as many things out of the reading to write down as I might with a highlight or underline. Admittedly, I often underline much more than I actually need to, but I also find that underlining forces me to read an important piece of the reading a second time, which helps me to absorb the material, even if I don’t use that exact piece later in a paper. My hope is that I will be reading my sources for my research more than once anyway, so I will not need the practice of underlining to help me read the material more than once for better comprehension.

Things to Research

My current list of possible topics would leave me with a very long list of possible things to research, so I’m going to focus on just one or two. I’m choosing Group Decision Making and International Perception of US Politics over time.

For Group Decision Making, I will definitely have to study on the psychology related to the topic of decision making and more specifically group decision making. For this, I could look at any of the many prestigious psychology journals available and check their table of contents ant indexes for articles related to my topic. If I wanted to look more specifically at the difference between group decisions and individual decisions, I would have to search more directly for studies related to this topic, so I would use the UR library database. I might try with keywords such as “decision”, decision making”, “group”, “individual”, “outcome”, and so on.

For International Perception of US Politics over time, I would so more primary research work on international newspapers writing about US politics. For this I would probably go directly to the websites of these papers and search for articles about US politics. If the significance of this research questions was related to how perception affects foreign policy, I could search for scholarly articles on this topic in the UR Library database, using keywords such as “United States”, “Foreign perception”, “foreign relations”, “implications”, and so on.

Questions and Topic Ideas

Questions about Getting Started:

  1. How can I be sure I’ve settled on the right topic?
  2. How can I be sure that my research question hasn’t already been answered?
  3. How do I turn a vague interest into a specific research question?
  4. Do all theses require original research?
  5. How can I check if something is researchable before I try to research it for my thesis?
  6. If I have to decide on a research question before I start the reading phase, how can I know if my research question is precise enough?

Topic or Questions I’m Passionate About:

  1. Group Decision Making
  2. Preference ordering in political decision making
  3. Cost-benefit analysis of immigration by immigrants
  4. Evolution of racism and discrimination in the US
  5. International perception of US politics over time: From Groundbreaking Democracy to antiquated dis-functionalism.
  6. International Crimes Against Humanity: The case of forced disappearances