Friday, November 3, 2017

An Interview with David Darmofal

David Darmofal is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of South Carolina. He has co-taught the Summer Program workshop "Maximum Likelihood Estimation II: Advanced Topics" since 2012. For more information about David, visit his website.

Tell us about your current work and research.
Much of my work focuses on spatial analysis and survival models and my current research reflects this. I'm currently working on two book projects. One is the second edition of Event History Modeling: A Guide for Social Scientists, which I'm joining as a co-author with Jan Box-Steffensmeier and Brad Jones. We envision this book as being a bold, cutting-edge volume that maintains the first edition's user-friendly approach while introducing researchers to the state of the art in event history analysis. The second edition will incorporate recent advances in the field while also providing a more comprehensive treatment of topics covered in the first edition. I'm also working on another book with one of my recent Ph.D. students, Ryan Strickler. This book, Demography, Politics, and Partisan Polarization in the United States, 1828-2016 is under contract for the Spatial Demography series at Springer. In this book, we examine the political geography of partisan voting from the advent of Jacksonian democracy through the Trump vs. Clinton election in 2016. We have several principal findings. First, the familiar red state vs. blue state maps mask a great deal of sub-state variation in partisan voting. We map the political geography of this vote since 1828 using spatial analytic methods. We also find, in contrast to the Big Sort thesis, there hasn't been a marked rise in geographic polarization in recent elections. We have lived through far more segregated times in terms of partisanship than we live in today. Finally, the Jackson to Trump time-frame is fortuitous as it allows us to examine voting for these two candidates who were quite similar in many ways. And we do find a similarity in voting patterns! Counties that went strongly for Andrew Jackson in 1828 also tended to go strongly for Donald Trump in 2016. In addition to these two book projects, I'm also currently working on several spatial papers, including ones on roll-call voting (with Chuck Finocchiaro and Indridi Indridason), the spatial diffusion of deunionization (with Chris Witko, Nate Kelly, and Sarah Young), and county-level behavior under the Voting Rights Act (with Susan Miller).

How did you become interested in American political behavior and geography? And in methodology?
My interests in American political behavior really began as a graduate student at the University of Illinois. It's a great place to study political behavior and the members of my dissertation committee (Peter Nardulli, Jim Kuklinski, Wendy Tam Cho, and Brian Gaines) were influential in sparking my interest in political behavior, political geography, and American political development. Wendy was one of two scholars who were particularly influential in my interest in methodology. Luc Anselin had just moved to the University of Illinois and Wendy was working with him on some methods projects. She suggested that I look into spatial analysis because of the leverage it could provide on my dissertation project. Wendy really changed my entire career path. I wouldn't be where I am today without Wendy's influence. Another scholar I can easily say that about is Jan Box-Steffensmeier. I was fortunate enough to take her event history class through the Big 10's Interactive Television Program in Advanced Political Methodology and that led to a post-doc position in Jan's Program in Statistics and Methodology (PRISM) at Ohio State and subsequent co-authorships.

On your website, you say that your research “is motivated by the questions of whether and how American democracy functions effectively.” Following the 2016 election, how would you judge the current state of democracy in America? What gives you hope and/or concern?
I've never been overly optimistic about the state of democracy in the U.S. I've just never been in the camp that views elite cues as a shortcut to overcome a citizen's lack of knowledge about politics and policy. This said, I'm not a glass half-empty person either. I think the most interesting questions are under which conditions can citizens perform the types of tasks that a reasonable model of citizen influence would expect of them in a representative democracy. I believe that elites can overcome some of the inertia that busy citizens with more pressing concerns than politics face in their lives as political actors, but that political elites too often lack incentives to educate the citizenry, and citizens often lack the time to pursue such civic education. This highlights the importance of the media and non-partisan civic groups in providing the essential information that citizens need to make effective decisions.

Who had the biggest influence on your career path?
Definitely my dissertation committee members and Jan. I hope every grad student can be as fortunate as I was in crossing paths with such caring and supportive scholars early in their careers.

How did you become an instructor for the Summer Program? 
I had long thought I would like to be an instructor in the Summer Program once I got tenure. Once that happened, I got in touch with the then ICPSR Summer Program Director, Bill Jacoby, to express my interest in being an instructor. He told me about the opportunity to teach in the Advanced MLE workshop and I've been teaching the two weeks on time series cross-sectional models in that workshop ever since. I really enjoy it every year. It's great to come back to the community at the ICPSR Summer Program, reconnect with old friends in the program, and meet students from across the world. They really inspire me.

What moment at the Summer Program stands out as the most memorable?
Two moments in particular stand out. The first are the office hours in which I get a chance to meet students from around the world, and from a variety of disciplines, and learn about their work. I really enjoy that. It's inspiring to see all of this excellent work that's being done by students today. The other are the Blalock lectures. Getting to see some of the top scholars across a variety of disciplines presenting their current work sparks new insights for me. That's an added bonus to being a part of the ICPSR Summer Program community.

Outside of political science, tell me something interesting about yourself.
I'm a huge Cubs fan. I'm just glad I didn't have to wait 108 years to see a World Championship team like some Cubs fans did!

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