Last week, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) sponsored an amendment in the House that would prohibit National Science Foundation support for political science. Other political scientists have already written eloquently about the important research that NSF grants have supported. I thought I would build on their points by highlighting how work I have featured on this blog has been supported by the NSF:
1. I've frequently cited Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal's DW-NOMINATE estimates of Congressional ideal points. Despite its limitations, Poole and Rosenthal's work, which has been supported numerous NSF grants over the past three decades, provides the best available evidence of trends in polarization and the extremity of legislators' voting records.
2. Another important metric for understanding American politics is Jim Stimson's measure of public mood, which I often invoke as a counter to prevailing mythology about presidential leadership. Stimson's pioneering work shows that public opinion tends to move in the opposite direction of government policy, which is what led me to predict in May 2009 that "we should expect demand for government to decline substantially over the next few years given that Democrats control both Congress and the White House" even though Obama and the Democrats were ascendant. Stimson recently received a grant to collaborate with Frank Baumgartner to extend his measure of public mood to specific issue domains and to link it with data from another NSF-supported project measuring government attention to policy issues.
3. Over the years, I have cited the classic book Why Parties?, which was written by my Ph.D. adviser John Aldrich, as a corrective to the mistaken notion that parties are passé or that a centrist third party will emerge. Aldrich's early research on modeling party activism received NSF support.
4. Finally, I've also cited NSF-supported research by Gary Cox on strategic voting, which is one of the key barriers to third party electoral success in a two-party system, and NSF-backed research by Cox and Mat McCubbins on how majority parties block legislation that would split their party from being considered on the floor.
While none of these studies have direct policy implications or economic benefits, that's true of many of the projects funded by NSF. As Penn State's Chris Zorn points out, Flake is targeting our discipline due to the perceived lack of value of its research - an intrusion into the scientific process that, as Flake himself admits, saves no money (see Ezra Klein and Inside Higher Ed for more on this point). I hope readers will contact their senators to help defeat this amendment.
Update 5/16 12:31 PM: For more on the thermostatic relationship between public opinion and public policy, see also this AJPS article (gated) by Chris Wlezien and his later collaborative work with Stuart Soroka, especially their book Degrees of Democracy.