The Gardner Fellows Virtual Policy Conference 2020:
Economic and Educational Cooperation and Conflict
Effects of Partisan Leadership on Congressional Committees:
A Case Study of the 115th Congress
Major: Political Science
Faculty Advisor: Professor Ross Baker
Although debates about political polarization often revolve around high stakes bills and events, such as presidential impeachment, these instances are unrepresentative of the day-to-day work done by Congress. This paper explores the influence of political polarization on the Legislative Branch—not during the flashy moments that often garner media attention—but on congressional committees, where much of the legislative work within Congress actually occurs. The paper first recounts the existing literature on the functions of congressional committees, with specific emphasis on the effect that congressional committee leadership has on committee members and the committee itself. Given the influence of committee leaders, I hypothesize that the overall bipartisanship of a given committee will reflect the ideological separation of the committee chair and ranking minority member. Using the 115th Congress as a case study, this hypothesis is ultimately disproven, as even committees with large partisan disparities between the chair and ranking member have high rates of bipartisanship. Instead, the data collected confirms existing literature suggesting that a committee’s jurisdiction plays a significant role in the operations of that committee.
Lessons Learned and Lost from Empowerment Zones
Major: Economics and Political Science
Faculty Advisor: Professor Rosanne Altshuler
The highly partisan Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 did more than simplify the individual tax code and slash taxes for corporations. A new program creating “Opportunity Zones” (OZs) was buried in the bill. The program uses tax incentives to draw investment to distressed communities. OZs, modeled after a previous place-based development program (Empowerment Zones), were first proposed by a group of bipartisan senators. The goal was to lift communities from poverty through the development of thriving local economies. Three years after its creation and as the number of zones expands, policy makers are questioning whether the program will succeed in helping the targeted communities. Some analysts worry the program is simply a tax avoidance scheme that benefits only rich investors. Others fear it encourages gentrification that will not benefit communities. Inspired by this controversy, I investigate the program’s potential for success by drawing insight from the lessons learned from Empowerment Zones.
The 30 Million Word Gap
Major: Philosophy, Cognitive Science, and Linguistics
Faculty Advisor: Professor Kristin Syrett
Language is a causally important factor in most of what children learn early on in development. Indeed, according to some researchers, kindergarten language scores are the best predictor of school achievement by the time they reach third or fifth grade (Pace, Burchinal, Alper, Hirsh-Pasek, & Golinko, 2019). With that being said, gaps in cognitive skills arise before children even step on their first bus to go to school. Hart & Risely (1995) famously observed there to be an enormous difference in the amount and quality of language experience between children from high SES family backgrounds and children from low SES family backgrounds. These results effectively sparked discussion on what is now putatively been called the 30-million Word Gap in the literature. As part of a larger context, the research coming out of this literature has established that despite the phenomenon being called the “word gap,” it isn’t just a disparity in the token number of words that children hear at home. In this video, I’ll review some of the research from this literature (Hart & Risely, 1995; Hoff, 2003; Romeo et al., 2018) and in the process of doing so, explain what exactly the gap is and why the 30 million number is significant.
White Hostility and the Great Recession
Major: Political Science
Minor: Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE)
Faculty Advisor: Professor Katie McCabe
Public opinion research has long attempted to explain changes in attitudes toward immigrants based on external economic events and respondent characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, income, age, education, and others. Broadly speaking, the results of such studies have shown increased hostility toward immigrants after economic crises, with low-income and white respondents in the United States exhibiting the strongest increases and overall hostilities toward immigrants. Building off of research that examines the attitudes toward immigrants after the Great Recession, I sought to understand the extent to which white Americans displayed increased hostility toward immigrants on interpersonal and community levels in 2006 and 2011 using panel survey data from the World Values Survey. The results of my study show that while there was little change in interpersonal attitudes between 2006 and 2011, hostility toward immigrants in a labor market context actually decreases categorically among respondents, including white and low-income Americans. I conclude by discussing possible explanations for this trend and considering implications for current events.