Student Senior Culminating Experience Research Paper Accepted into Academic Journal

April 13, 2010

After a long semester of research, data gathering and analysis, LeighAnn Rodd, a senior political science major from Perry, Ohio, received a great honor when her Senior Culminating Experience (SCE) paper, Electoral Politics: The Senate, Nomination Reform and Presidential Candidates, was accepted for publication in the Michigan Journal of Political Science.

The Michigan Journal of Political Science is a peer-reviewed journal for undergraduate and graduate students. The process is long and competitive. All submissions are read and reviewed by editors in order to qualify for publication.

Rodd's paper was submitted at the suggestion of her advisor, Dr. William Cunion, director and assistant professor of political science. Besides being extremely well written and researched, Cunion said, 'What drew my attention was that LeighAnn had found something new and surprising. Her results directly contradicted what 'everybody knows.''

Rodd's topic of research was based on the question of whether or not Senate experience worked against a presidential candidate. 'I had heard analysts claim that a lack of experience in the executive branch had worked against presidential candidates such as Al Gore and John Kerry,' Rodd said. 'I wanted to see if this assumption would hold true when examined quantitatively.'

Rodd's SCE semester fell between two presidential elections. 'I decided that a study of the presidential election process would be relevant now and in 2008,' said Rodd.

In order to execute this research, Rodd collected data from each major candidate in every presidential election from 1856 to the present. This included party identification, percentage of votes won, professional background, the size of the state represented by each candidate and whether or not they served in the U.S. Senate. 'I collected primary data from 1952 to the present as well, applying the same categories to all of the major contenders in the primary races,' Rodd said.
She added, 'Tests were run using this data to see if any of the above traits were significant factors of the elections outcomes.'

Rodd found that Senate experience had no impact on the success of the presidential candidate as well as the success of a candidate in the primary elections. 'Candidates with Senate experience were successful at almost exactly the same rate as those without,' Rodd said.

To explain how the results were opposite to what analysts were claiming Rodd said, 'I believe Senate experience was widely accepted as a liability to candidates because the most recent presidential elections show senators losing out to candidates that had experience in the executive branch of government-generally serving as governors.'

Cunion added, 'Our perception is probably driven by high-profile cases like Bob Dole in 1996 and John Kerry in 2004.'
Rodd believes it is difficult to say if experience in the Senate is an asset. 'Many of the positives I would associate with being a senator such as name recognition, experience with issues of local, national and global importance and experience in Washington may also work against a candidate.'

Overall, Rodd believes that public opinion is at the base of it all. She said it, 'fluctuates, and when the American public views things as going well, candidates currently serving in Washington will also be viewed favorably.' She added, 'When things aren't going so well, politicians tend to be lumped together and viewed negatively by the general American public.'

Rodd was surprised when she learned of her acceptance. 'I was certainly grateful to have all of my hard work pay off and share my conclusions with other people who may be interested in the topic,' said Rodd.
Cunion was as well surprised and pleased at the acceptance of her SCE. 'Even though I thought it was very good, the process is very competitive, and I knew that the odds were still very much against her,' said Cunion. 'Perhaps that is why I was definitely more excited by the news than she was.'

According to Cunion, Rodd's SCE is the first from the Department of Political Science to be accepted into an academic journal.

In addition, Rodd received the Frank Grace Award for the best paper submitted from a school other than the University of Michigan.

The Grace Award was established in 1985 to honor the late Frank Grace, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan from 1943-1983. It is one of the Department's most prestigious awards.

Rodd said she owes a lot of gratitude to Dr. Cunion. 'I would not have considered submitting my paper had it not been for his suggestion and encouragement,' she said.

After graduation, Rodd plans to pursue a job in international policy that focuses on human rights issues. 'I would absolutely love a job that involves world travel and interacting with people of different cultures,' Rodd said.

Rodd is a member of Alpha Chi Omega, Janus, Mount Union College Democrats, Order of Omega, Blue Key and Psi Kappa Omega; she has studied abroad in Australia. She is currently doing an internship in New York City at The Daily Show with John Stewart.

To The Top!