Why do politicians dislike political science?

It might seem strange the politicians have so little time for political science: the study of themselves.

Their attitude only reflects the lack of public interest in political science. After all, what could be worse than one of the least respected professions… the study of that profession. Their attitude also reflects the lack of clues the science gives to campaigning, and the tendency of the science to fail to appreciate the messy human nature of decision making.

A well argued piece from Seth Masket, a political scientist in Denver, puts a case for political science, against cuts being made to public funding.

Reading them, I concluded that another reason politicians are not interested in political science is not only that its practitioners are self-righteous, but that they find ways of improving the practice of Government. And frankly, most politicians like it messy.

Seth’s examples included:

• “Effectiveness, Control, and Competence in Public Agencies” – David Lewis is developing theories and a new dataset on the subject of “how incentives in government agencies affect the expertise, competence, and, ultimately, performance of those agencies.” Cost: $69,662.

• “Experimentally Testing the Roots of Poverty and Violence: Changing Preferences, Behaviors, and Outcomes” – Chris Blattman, Julian Jamison, and Margaret Sheridan are investigating the link between poverty and violence among young men in Liberia. They’re conducting an experiment to determine whether cash payments can substantially reduce both poverty and crime. Cost: $104,872.

• “Partisan Polarization and the Representation of Women in the U.S. Congress” – Suzanne Mettler and Danielle Thomsen are trying to understand how a party’s reputation makes it easier or harder for it to recruit female candidates, and how this is affected by partisan polarization. Cost: $22,400.

• “The Mapping of American Legislatures” – This is Boris Shor’s project, in which he has collected two decades of roll call votes from every state legislator in every state. It’s resulted in a dataset measuring polarization in every state legislature, and will soon provide ideological estimates for every legislator. Cost: $135,261.

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