Political Science

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    What It Takes to Get on Track: Exploring State-Level Policy Change in Public Transit Funding
    (2022) Edelman, David; Oberfield, Zachary W.
    I sought to understand the factors affecting political support for public transit by studying the process of policy change that has taken place around recent attempts to boost state transit funding. This research connects to the broader field in three important ways. First, it adds to our knowledge of state transportation politics, a topic that has received less attention than other policy domains at the state level such as education and criminal justice. Second, it provides an opportunity to apply theories of policy change across several different states, each with their own political histories and idiosyncrasies. Third, it examines the effect of rising political polarization on the policy change process. Voters have become increasingly split along partisan lines in their support for public transit, but scholars have not comprehensively documented the effects of this shift on transportation funding, a pattern that has repeated itself across many other policy domains at the state level. I reviewed several of the leading theories of policy change and coalition politics, including Kingdon’s multiple-streams theory of agenda setting, Baumgartner and Jones’s punctuated equilibrium model of policymaking, and Sabatier’s advocacy coalition framework. However, the purpose of this thesis was not to test different theories against each other but to find elements within each of them that proved useful for classifying and illuminating the political challenges faced by efforts to expand state transit funding. This approach was informed by my choice to use an inductive research method to study the issue of transportation funding with the goal of forming broader conclusions about the state policymaking process. My research focused around two sets of case studies, each comparing a state that succeeded at substantially increasing funding for public transportation over the past decade to a similar state that failed to do so. The first set compared Michigan and Pennsylvania, both controlled by Republicans during the early 2010s, while the second set compared Illinois and New Jersey, both controlled by Democrats since 2018. I chose not to pair states with different parties in power, because the evidence for the influence of partisanship on attitudes towards public transit is so strong that it would have made it difficult to isolate other factors. I employed primarily qualitative methods in my research to explore the policy change process and understand the political obstacles to state public transit funding, with some quantitative methods to contextualize each case study. The most important strategy for developing my empirical data involved interviewing actors who were involved in or familiar with the policymaking process in each state, including reporters, transportation agency officials, and interest group leaders. I also incorporated both primary and secondary sources relevant to each of my case studies, including legislative records and newspaper coverage of the policy change process. To complement my qualitative analysis, I analyzed federal time-series data on transit agency funding and ridership from 1991 to 2020. I found that there were four dynamics that best explained the success or failure of efforts to increase dedicated state transit funding. Coalition politics within each state’s broader transportation funding subsystem influenced the agenda-setting process, particularly the relative strengths of transit-supportive and road-supportive coalitions. Efforts by advocates to redefine the policy image of public transit as an economic generator, rather than a social welfare service, affected their ability to disrupt the existing transportation funding equilibrium. Even with both a suitable coalition and a positive policy image, transit funding required the backing of the governor, due to their ability to set the state political agenda. Finally, legislative polarization influenced debates over funding for public transportation, but it primarily came into play late in the policymaking process, after the scope of the political agenda had already been set. My results demonstrate the utility of theories of policy change in understanding a particular policy issue but highlight that no single theory can comprehensively describe every dynamic within each subsystem. For instance, the multiple-streams theory of agenda setting characterizes problems, policies, and politics as flowing mostly independent of each other. This may have been true in the highly developed, amply resourced policy environment of Washington, D.C., but it does not accurately describe the reality in even large state capitals. I found that the lines between the problem and policy streams tended to blur, as interest groups raised the alarm about the state’s decaying infrastructure with one hand while they drafted the bill to solve the problem with the other. With far fewer independent think tanks and policy experts, the agenda-setting process at the state level may be less well-defined. The primary limitation of my research design—indeed, of any small-N analysis—is that it is difficult to be certain that the conclusions developed from the case studies apply more generally. There are so many factors at play that make it difficult to pinpoint any single element as the key determinant leading to successful or unsuccessful efforts to expand transit funding. However, this inductive research has laid the groundwork for future scholars of transportation funding and state policymaking, who could generate specific hypotheses around coalition strength, economic policy image, gubernatorial support, and legislative polarization, then test them on a larger dataset to see if my conclusions stand up to scrutiny.
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    The Wind and Solar Takeover: An Analysis of Wind and Solar Generation to Increase RE Usage in the Northeastern United States
    (2022) Shiff, Jacob; Oberfield, Zachary W.
    This policy analysis aims at determining which renewable energy generation source, between wind and solar, can increase renewable energy usage the most in the Northeastern United States; this region is of specific concern as it is the most populous region within the U.S. and thus accounts for the vast majority of U.S. energy consumption (Novacheck, 2017). Additionally, mitigating climate change plays a large role in the backdrop of this thesis as nearly 40% of all U.S. CO2 emissions come from power plants burning fossil fuels and so in increasing renewable energy usage, the Northeast could minimize carbon pollution, have a significantly lower impact on our environment, and even decrease energy rates for end consumers ("Importance of Renewable Energy in the Fight against Climate Change," 2015). Within the realm of wind and solar power, I weigh three specific alternatives, each encompassing several sub-components, against my criteria of effectiveness, economic feasibility, and political feasibility. My first alternative proposes installing high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines from the Midwest and Great Plains, being the regions with the most promising utility-scale wind and solar production, to the Northeast, where land availability for projects of such size is scarce. My second alternative proposes increasing distributed generation of solar in the Northeast through the use of community solar projects and incentivizing home and business owners to install their own rooftop solar. My third and final alternative proposes the installation of offshore wind farms off of the Northeastern coast as the Atlantic Coast proves promising for significant wind power production with high wind speeds and relatively shallow waters, allowing for easier installation when compared to the Pacific Coast. Ultimately, this policy analysis recommends the rollout of all three alternatives over separate time frames. First, I recommend that the federal government facilitates community solar projects throughout the Northeast while incentivizing home and business owners to install their own rooftop solar systems within the immediate future (2022-2030). Within this time frame, I also recommend that the federal government begin to pre-approve specific sites for offshore wind farms to incentivize and streamline the pre-construction process and implement a transmission tax credit. Second, I recommend that the federal government increases funding for Northeast offshore wind development and implements a direct pay option for the current production tax credit (PTC) on wind power in the near future (2030-2045). Additionally, I recommend that the federal government clarify the use of eminent domain for interstate transmission projects during this time to streamline the next time frame. Lastly, I recommend that from 2045 and on, the federal government should increase funding for interstate HVDC transmission projects from the Midwest/Great Plains to the Northeast, including the implementation of a "smart grid," to ultimately bolster the reliability of renewable energy in the Northeast.
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    (2022) Yeakey, Hannah; Borowiak, Craig Thomas, 1971-
    The inclusion of disabled students in public schools within the general education classroom is an integral component to the education of all students, whether they are disabled or nondisabled, and this process is guided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Within IDEA, the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) mandate focuses on this inclusion, stating that disabled students should be educated alongside their peers "to the maximum extent appropriate" ("Sec. 300.8 (c) (6)" n.d.). Within this mandate, discretion is given to teachers, administrators, and other professionals on how to implement this mandate and create inclusive climates for disabled students within the broader school, which can lead to a disparity in the quality and success of services provided. To measure the approaches that schools take to fulfill IDEA mandates, I utilized the framework of school climate. The climate of a school is defined as the internal characteristics that distinguish it from another and relate to people's experience of school life that reflects norms, goals and values of the school (Hoy 1990; Cohen et al. 2009). This project investigated the connection between school climate and the implementation of IDEA's LRE mandate, through interviews at three districts in Southeastern Pennsylvania with teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders. Despite the goals of looking into how school climate impacts service delivery and success, much of my findings related to the determinants of school climate. I found major differences in the climate of school districts connected to differences in the socioeconomic levels of the district. Specifically, schools with more resources had climates that were less communicative, more individualistic, and adversarial with parent-teacher relationships; although they were able to hire more experienced teachers and provide more resources. Schools with fewer resources were unable to provide as many material resources to staff and students, but their climates were more communicative, had high levels of initiative, and more collaborative. These results did not connect back to school climate and effectiveness as was originally intended, but still provide important information in the consideration of the broader effects that resource has on districts, and how formational contexts of plenty or scarcity are on the climate surrounding inclusion. Further research is necessary on this topic because of the limited number of interviews that were conducted to draw firmer connections between resource, climate, and the direct impacts on quality and success regarding the inclusion of disabled students under IDEA's LRE mandate.
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    Gender Quotas and Representation in Government in Rwanda and France
    (2022) Schwam, Isabel; Wing, Susanna D.
    In the last thirty years, various countries have implemented gender quota laws to require a percentage of legislative bodies to be women. However, the process of the adoption of gender quotas differs in countries around the world. This thesis aims to explain why the process of gender quota adoption occurs and if it functions as a mechanism to increase women's substantive representation in the case studies of France and Rwanda. With France being a democracy and Rwanda being an authoritarian state, one might assume that France's process to adopt quotas was based in the desire to increase equity. In contrast, it might be assumed that Rwanda would not be interested in adopting quotas due to the absolute rule of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). This thesis provides evidence for the opposite outcome: Rwanda boasts the highest number of female representatives in a legislature in the world while France has struggled to meet gender parity and support women in the legislature. Another significant piece of the question is to what extent gender quotas have affected women's substantive representation. In the Rwandan case, there were significant changes to substantive representation for women, including the creation of women's governmental groups that interacted with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). In the French case, the changes to women's substantive representation in government were minimal. However, gender quotas led to the breakdown of gender norms in other sectors of public life in both countries.