Research Agenda

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Health care has emerged as the defining U.S. policy issue of the last decade and climate change could very well be the defining global policy issue of our lifetime. My research agenda is broadly focused on American politics and public policy with an overarching goal to provide insights into these complex, important policy areas. My research focuses on how the institutions and behaviors of American politics (partisanship, Congressional gridlock, etc.) can make federal solutions difficult while also examining some of the underexplored areas of these policies.

My dissertation was a quantitative approach to the longue durée of mental health policies and attitudes in the United States. I was particularly interested in how, why, when, and in what contexts the popular mandate for outpatient-oriented mental health policies emerged. Using corpus analysis, I traced the trajectory of social and political rejection of inpatient-oriented mental health policy, a rejection that was partly due to the emergence of a trans-Atlantic conservative movement and partly bound to the end of Great Society values and aspirations. Additionally, my research has demonstrated the possibilities of a meso-economic and meso-political analysis of influences on policy. The meso level is, in the case of mental illness, what takes place between the very highest level of policy (formulated by the federal government) and the costs and benefits of such policies as they flow down to individuals such as the mentally ill. State governments were shown to be at the meso level, as their decision-making was an important mediator between federal policy and its impact on the individual. Pharmaceutical companies were also important meso-level players, as they interposed themselves between the federal government and the treatment of mentally ill individuals, both through informal and formal lobbying.

This combined my two main interests insofar as I was able to trace the development of a specific kind of public policy while exploring underlying shifts in American politics. Although my analysis was quantitative in nature, both my literature review and the structure of my argument were heavily indebted to qualitative ideas about the influence of social preferences on political action. In my work, statistical methods merely traced and formalized a profoundly human phenomenon, that is, the interaction between individual voters, social groups, opinion-makers, and, ultimately, politicians.

In the realm of American politics, my enduring interests are (a) partisanship, (b) gridlock, and (c) voting behavior. In terms of policy solutions, I am particularly interested in (a) health care policy and (b) environmental policy. In my dissertation, I focused on an aspect of health care; however, I have also recently written a variety of scholarly articles, including one based on the environmental Kuznets hypothesis as a framework through which to approach the relationship between economic growth and emissions in United States. I am interested in the carbon-trading phenomenon both in terms of applied game theory and, more qualitatively considered, as a means through which to understand an emerging translational order based on a combination of development and conservation.

In this context, my focus on the United States is driven primarily by empirical considerations. Because of the extensive and informative data available, it is possible to test many questions of international relevance—such as the environmental Kuznets hypothesis—in the context of the United States. However, I still consider empirical findings as a basis for exploring the more fundamental questions related to the emergence of themes (such as transnational governance) that might not necessarily belong in empirical models.

Although much of my work to date has been nominally quantitative in nature, I am more comfortable with describing my research approach as being mixed-methods in orientation. For me, a model is never the end of analysis, but a means of exploring qualitative questions with more rigor and precision. My research agenda will continue to prioritize the ability to explore political and policy debates through the mediation, but not the domination, of empirical models.