Policy Research Seminars

Policy research seminars focus on critical thinking and methodology.

In the seminars, faculty members supervise small groups of students engaged in research on a specific topic in public and international affairs. Students also participate in a research methods lab designed to teach them quantitative and qualitative research methods.

For more detailed information, please access the SPIA Undergraduate Program Guide to Junior Independent Work.

Getting Started in Data Analysis: Topic Selection and Crafting of a Research Question - Independent research projects start with the selection of a topic and the crafting of a feasible research question. This video maps the initial steps to help those who are trying to write a term paper, junior paper, senior thesis or a dissertation for the first time and do not know where to start or what to do.

Topics for Spring 2023 Include:

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PMAndy Guess

How should democratic societies respond to the amplification of propaganda, disinformation, and hate speech on digital forums designed to promote free expression? This seminar will explore topics related to misinformation, hate speech, and (social) media’s role in amplifying them. We will cover practical and scholarly debates surrounding content moderation on social platforms, especially as they relate to pathologies such as health- and election-related misinformation, hate speech, and incivility.

Topics will include the role of algorithms and curation in ranking content; the promise of labeling, fact-checking, and other interventions designed to reduce hate speech and misinformation; and the tradeoffs associated with commonly proposed policy solutions. In the course of exploring these issues, students will learn about the challenges of studying social media through reading, discussing, and critically evaluating research on these topics. Students will develop research designs to answer specific questions related to online harms and content moderation strategies.

In this course, students will make use of experiments, quantitative and/or qualitative analysis, surveys, and other relevant approaches in order to test their hypotheses.

Andy Guess is an assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University. His research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of political communication, public opinion, and political behavior. Via a combination of experimental methods, large datasets, machine learning, and innovative measurement, he studies how people choose, process, spread, and respond to information about politics. Recent work investigates the extent to which online Americans’ news habits are polarized (the popular “echo chambers” hypothesis), patterns in the consumption and spread of online misinformation, and the effectiveness of efforts to counteract misperceptions encountered on social media. Coverage of these findings has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Slate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other publications.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PMEmily Pronin

Political partisanship and polarization sometimes seem to be the norm in American politics. We will study the psychological roots of these problems. This seminar will explore the psychological causes and consequences of people’s tendency towards partisanship and polarization in the political realm.  The problem of political partisanship generally involves bias in favor of a particular cause or group, at the expense of a more objective, fair, or rational analysis. The problem of polarization involves real – or, often, perceived – vast differences between political factions that become barriers in reaching agreement, achieving compromise, and otherwise communicating peaceably and effectively. This course will introduce students to psychological research concerning fundamental aspects of human cognition, social interaction, and intergroup perception of relevance to partisanship and polarization. We will focus on careful readings of experimental (mostly) research, with the interest of growing your capabilities in processing psychological research, thinking about it critically, and developing research questions. Furthermore, you will be challenged to apply psychological findings and theory to current political problems of polarization and partisanship that are of particular interest to you, as you practice bridging the gap from basic psychological research to real-world problems.

Emily Pronin is Associate Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM Tanushree Goyal

This seminar will provide an overview of cutting-edge research which has challenged existing paradigms on women’s leadership and political participation worldwide, with a focus on the Global South. We will focus on where and why women and men do not participate equally in politics, why, and how this gender inequality in politics affects human welfare and development, and what can and has been done to increase men’s and women’s political participation in the Global South. This course will introduce students to the cutting edge historical, ethnographic, theoretical, experimental, and quantitative research on political participation in countries as diverse as India, China, South Korea, Brazil, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Mali, as well as the reasons why some policy solutions to reduce gender inequality in politics succeed while others fail or even backfire. The course will emphasize the significance of culture and norms. Students will investigate women’s political participation or leadership using existing quantitative survey data or qualitative data or replicating existing papers with a new approach. The instructor will provide guidelines on ideas for research questions and methods to select a junior paper on the topic. Students will acquire additional skills to develop original research questions and access academic materials more efficiently.

Tanushree Goyal is an Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. Her research interests lie at the intersection of comparative politics, gender and politics, and the political economy of development in the Global South. Prior to joining Princeton, she was a post-doctoral scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Oxford. She has geographic expertise in South Asia, and India in particular.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PMCorrine McConnaughy

Do women want something different than men from the state? Do they need the state to provide for them in different ways? Has their formal incorporation into institutional politics changed how politics and the policy process work? Can and have they made any particular demands upon the state more effectively than men because of gendered processes or influence? Does gender construct particular challenges to seeking policy change? These are the central questions of this course. Our purpose this semester is to consider how gender enters and shapes politics and policies. We will focus primarily on the American context, but the ideas should inform broader consideration. As we discuss policy topics, we’ll consider the range of ways that gender enters—how it forms our normative notions of what the state should provide, how gendered life experiences can create differences in men’s and women’s policy needs and values, whether and how policies have disparate impacts due to gender, and how gender is strategically used to create political support or opposition for policies.

Corrine M. McConnaughy, PhD, is a Research Scholar and Lecturer in the Department of Politics at Princeton, affiliate of the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, and co-coordinator of the Princeton Research in Experimental Social Science (PRESS) program. She was previously Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University and Assistant Professor at both The Ohio State University and UT-Austin. She works broadly on questions of whether and how American democracy depends upon its institutional arrangements and the actions of those historically excluded from it, as well as on social science research methodology. Her work has been published in a broad range of journals including the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, Public Choice, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Studies in American Political Development. She is author of the book The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment (Cambridge University Press, 2013). She has also published broadly on American politics in public outlets, including as a regular contributor to the Washington Post, and has provided expert commentary on politics for a range of media, including PBS, the New York Times, CNN, NPR, and Vox.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PMSophie Meunier

European integration is much more than the common currency shared by 19 of the 27 members of the European Union (EU). It is a process that has brought peace to bitter historical enemies, facilitated the economic growth of its members, and served as an attractive beacon that has stabilized the whole region and beyond. Yet it is now facing a multiplicity of simultaneous crises, from the Russian war in Ukraine to the fallout from Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, from challenges posed by refugee flows to challenges to the rule of law.

In this seminar, we will learn about the history, institutions, and policy functions of the European Union. We will analyze successive stages in the integration process and ask why member states transferred so much power to the EU over the years. We will read and discuss sample works using different empirical strategies and methodologies, which examine the political consequences of these transfers of power and competences to the supranational entity, both at the domestic and at the international levels. And we will reflect on the simultaneous crises currently challenging European integration from all angles. 

The main purpose of the seminar is to give you all the tools, both substantive and methodological, to be able to produce independent research and write an academic-style paper. The main challenge will be for you to do three things simultaneously: learn substantively about European integration; familiarize yourself with the analytical research skills taught in the Methods Lab; and produce independent research in your JP.

Sophie Meunier is Senior Research Scholar at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University. She is Director of the Program in Contemporary European Politics and Society and Co-Director of the EU Program at Princeton. She is the author of Trading Voices: The European Union in International Commercial Negotiations (Princeton University Press, 2005) and The French Challenge: Adapting to Globalization (Brookings Institution Press, 2001), winner of the 2002 France-Ameriques book award. She is also co-editor of several books on Europe and globalization, most recently Developments in French Politics 6 (Palgrave MacMillan 2020) and Speaking with a Single Voice: The EU as an Effective Actor in Global Governance? (Routledge, 2015). Meunier is incoming Chair of the European Union Studies Association (2022-2023). Her current work deals with the politics of investment screening mechanisms and the political challenges posed by Chinese direct investment in the European Union, including as part of the PRISM project and the Beauty Contests grant. She was made Chevalier des Palmes Academiques by the French Government.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PMAlison Isenberg

This seminar will survey core policy issues facing U.S. cities, equipping students to frame and complete significant, original research projects.  Topics include:  affordable housing, business development, migration and immigration, education and youth, employment, transportation, infrastructure, open space, urban design, cultural institutions, real estate and gentrification, environmental health, climate change, policing, and crisis management.  In addition to this overview approach, each student will research a chosen area of urban policy expertise, with the flexibility to define the scope--local, regional, or national.  Students will experiment with mixed methods for their projects, drawing upon the range of humanities, social science, and policy approaches.  Over the course of the semester, weekly readings will evaluate the contributions of geography, ethnography, theory, history, planning, architecture and design, cultural analysis, politics, economics, social science data analysis, and documentary film to the specific policy area under consideration.  Students conduct literature reviews and refine the narratives framing their original contributions.

Students will take up the challenge of generating new ideas in contemporary urban policy, with the goal of shaping equitable, dynamic cities.  What are the opportunities and limitations of using cities as a category of policy analysis?   What are the opportunities and limitations of using policy to transform cities?  Should top-down policy frameworks be reworked to include more community agency?  U.S. culture favors new frontiers, but most cities are old places looking to reinvent themselves.  Every city’s inherited historical patterns have channeled policy—land-use, legal structures, demographic trends, deindustrialization, past mayors, master plans, racial segregation, disasters, etc. Policy frameworks themselves of course have histories.  Understanding the recent urban past sheds light on where cities might go next; it helps identify bold new directions as well as fresh combinations of existing strategies. 

Alison Isenberg is a Professor of History and founding Co-Director of the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities.  She has worked in parks planning and low-income housing finance in New York City.

Tuesday, 7:30-10:00 PMMarkus Prior

Does public policy—laws, rules, and regulations—reflect what the public wants? This seminar offers an introduction to public opinion and its role in the policy-making process. How do we know “what the public wants”? What if “the public” cannot agree or does not know what “it” wants? What are the channels by which public opinion affects lawmakers? Under what conditions do elected officials ignore the public?

The seminar will prepare students to analyze survey data. This entails understanding question design, questionnaire development, as well as operationalization and measurement of issue opinions and policy preferences. Substantive topics include identity, the role of political knowledge, and non-attitudes. Readings and discussion will focus on the United States, but students may examine public opinion in other countries for their independent papers.

This seminar will involve hands-on explorations of survey datasets by students. Students will be required to use quantitative analysis methods in their JP, so they must choose to attend the quantitative methods lab. Students will need basic knowledge of a statistical software (opening a dataset, producing a cross-tab, etc.) Examples in the seminar will use STATA, but students will be welcome to use a statistical package of their choice for their individual research.

Markus Prior is Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.