Department News

Students Present Papers at Tennessee
Political Science Association Meeting

Jenny Buffington (front, left) and Rachelle Haskins take a break during the Tennessee Political Science Association's 2005 meeting. Jenny holds the Lewis Moore Memorial Award that she won at the conference.
Political science majors Jenny Buffington and Rachelle Haskins presented papers at the Tennessee Political Science Association’s annual meeting held at Fall Creek Falls State Park on April 22-23, 2005. Buffington, whose paper was entitled “Assessing the Governor: What Affects Gubernatorial Approval?” won the Lewis Moore Award that the Association gives each year for the best undergraduate research paper delivered at the meeting. Haskins’ paper was on “The Differential Success of Democrats on Local and National Issues.” Also attending the conference were Professors Sean Evans and Kevin Cooney.

Buffington’s and Haskin's papers were written in association with Dr. Evans as part of the Union Undergraduate Research Grant program. The grant, entitled “Whither the Southern Democrat? Democratic and Republican Prospects in Tennessee,” examined why Democrats are successful at winning state and local offices but consistently lose elections to Republicans for federal offices. To answer that question, Buffington and Haskins worked with Dr. Evans and classmates in a political science research methods course to develop and administer a statewide phone survey of 317 registered voters in Tennessee. From the data collected by the class, the students wrote empirical research papers.

In her paper, Buffington examined the factors that influence gubernatorial approval. She believed that four factors are important. First, presidential approval is strongly related to gubernatorial approval. Since the president is the dominant political leader in the country, performance is strongly related to gubernatorial approval. Economic performance is the most common method of judging gubernatorial performance. If the economy in the state is doing well, then voters reward the governor for his contributions to economic development. If the state economy is doing poorly, voters punish the governor. Third, the closer voters are to the governor’s ideology, the more likely they are to support the governor. Fourth, Democrats are more likely to support the Democratic governor than Republicans.

Buffington found that economic performance and ideological proximity are the main factors that influence gubernatorial approval. Contrary to other studies, presidential approval is not related to gubernatorial approval. Also surprisingly, party identification is not related to gubernatorial approval. Both Democrats and Republicans approve of Governor Phil Bredeson’s performance. Overall, the results indicate that democratic accountability is occurring as the public holds the governor responsible for his actions and rewards officials who pursue policies ideologically in line with the public.

Haskins’ paper addressed the success of Republicans at the national but not state and local level. She hypothesized that voters prefer Republicans for national levels and Democrats for state and local issues. From the survey, she found that the most important issues facing the nation are the economy, the war in Iraq, and terrorism, and that in dealing with them the public trusts the Republican party over the Democratic party by 10%. She concluded that since the GOP is the party of business and national security, the GOP has a built-in advantage in managing the economy and protecting the nation.

Haksins also found that the most important issues facing Tennessee are the economy, education, and health care. Education and health care are quality of life issues that Democrats historically are successful with. The survey backed this up as the public trusts Democrats over Republicans by 8%. She then examined the causes of this distinction between the national and state parties. Her multivariate analysis led her to conclude that voters believe the national Democratic party is too liberal and thus out of touch with Tennessee voters. However, on the local level, state and local Democrats are viewed as more moderate than the national party and thus are electorally more successful.

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