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It’s been a great nine years for TMC political science analysis

We’ve published thousands of articles. Here are some of our editors’ favorites.

- December 31, 2022

Our time at The Washington Post (almost a decade!) is drawing to a close. To mark this, we’ve looked back through our publishing history to identify some of the most interesting or insightful articles — as well as a few fan favorites. Our mission has always been to connect political science to the public conversation.

Here are some posts that demonstrate how TMC helped do that — not just thinking through important global events, but everyday life, too.

The insightful

TMC’s most-viewed post in 2014 — the year Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula — was this report on a survey of 2,066 Americans. It found that only one in six Americans could find Ukraine on a map, and the farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the United States to intervene with military force.

Terrorism expert Brian Phillips explained why terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 got more news coverage than even deadlier attacks in Lebanon and Kenya that same year.

TMC published articles that challenged what we thought we knew. Computers are better than humans at counting ballots. War has become less fatal but not less frequent.

As events unfolded in real time, political science experts wrote helpful explainers, which brought their specialized knowledge to bear on topics of public concern. In U.S. presidential races, how exactly does delegate math work — and what happens if a candidate withdraws or dies before the election? What is budget “reconciliation” and why is it filibuster-proof? What is the World Health Organization, how are its leader elected, and where does it get its funding? How did North Korea succeed in getting nuclear weapons? Can U.S. presidents really pardon themselves?

Amid protests demanding racial justice in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans, Nadia Brown, Ray Block and Chris Stout curated a list of research articles that helped readers better understand the Movement for Black Lives. Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020 were overwhelmingly peaceful.

Fights over racial justice go back a very long time. As Alvin B. Tillery told TMC readers, many of America’s founding politicians were racist, while the celebrated 19th-century conservative commentator on American politics, Alexis de Tocqueville, said systemic racism was baked into American society. Alan Coffee explained how Frederick Douglass captured America’s political factionalism in a book written 150 years ago; it has always been easier to dominate the Black population than to address the root causes of deep disagreement.

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Systemic racism has shaped America’s politics toward its near neighbors, too, helping to explain enduring discrimination against Haitians. As Cecilia Hyunjung Mo argued in 2015, before the recent upsurge of visible anti-Asian racism, many Americans saw Asian Americans as foreigners, and increased conservative hostility to Asian Americans helps explain why Asian Americans have moved away from the Republican Party. However, public opinion data suggests that Americans are less opposed to immigration, less inclined to favor bombastic anti-immigrant measures such as former president Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, and more willing to consider compromise than the political debate might suggest.

As TMC has increasingly tried to show, female political scientists know stuff, too. In 2022, around 45 percent of our contributors were women — a far greater share than when we began publishing at The Post. We also regularly covered the politics of gender and sexuality. After Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, Christina Wolbrecht and David Campbell wrote that her defeat could still inspire young women. But gender politics could also cut in the opposite direction. Eric Knowles and Sara Di Muccio shared their research on how Trump appealed more to men who are insecure about their manhood.

Zein Murib explained how White identity politics shaped laws against transgender youths. Elizabeth Sharrow discussed how U.S. federal civil rights requirements conflicted with the anti-transgender laws being passed and considered in many U.S. states, while Heath Fogg Davis asked why sports and health care were categorized by sex at all.

Of course, TMC did not limit itself to U.S. politics. Marc Lynch provided an early analysis of how the 2017 purge in Saudi Arabia was less about fighting corruption than removing opposition to the Crown Prince. Chipo Dendere explained how you needed to know more about first lady Grace Mugabe if you wanted to understand the 2017 coup in Zimbabwe. TMC’s African Politics Summer Reading Spectacular shared the latest books on African politics each year. Suparna Chaudhry explained what we needed to know ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s U.S. visit in 2019.

In early March 2020, Dali Yang wrote about how Wuhan officials tried to cover up the coronavirus outbreak in central China. Later in the pandemic, Michael Bang Petersen and Alexander Bor explained how Denmark outperformed other countries in fighting the coronavirus.

But TMC published extensively on health and politics long before the pandemic. A viral post by Kim Yi Dionne and Laura Seay pushed back on racist media coverage of the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak, highlighting the long history of associating immigrants and disease and the problematic impact “pandemic othering” has on attitudes toward immigrants. Mara Pillinger explained the implications of the WHO decision that the 2016 Zika outbreak was a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC).

We’re grateful for political scientists who have shed light on world events by centering the voices of ordinary citizens. Our partnership with Afrobarometer offers multiple examples — from what Africans think about China’s influence in their countries to citizen trust in governments on vaccine safety after coronavirus vaccine rollouts began. Likewise, with all the reporting on the Islamic State, what do ordinary citizens in the Arab world think about them?

Politics in everything

You can find politics everywhere, including sports. This is demonstrated by Dani Gilbert’s most recent analysis of Brittney Griner’s wrongful detention in Russia — or Chris Hanretty’s fun post imagining a “World Cup of Democracy.” TMC regularly featured analysis of the World Cup and the Olympics.

If V-Dem electoral democracy measures predicted the winner of the 2022 “World Cup of Democracy,” here's how the final rounds would play out.
If V-Dem electoral democracy measures predicted the winner of the 2022 “World Cup of Democracy,” here’s how the final rounds would play out.

Michael Horowitz used political science research on the behavior of dictators to analyze how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has managed to hold onto power. Kevin Wallsten, Lauren McCarthy and Tatishe Nteta showed that White racial attitudes affect people’s opinions about whether college athletes should profit from the use of their names and images.

We’ve also published a number of articles that connected political science to celebrities and pop culture. One was Marc Lynch’s article after the “X-Files” revival. Seth Masket’s post on what “House of Cards” got wrong about American politics was a fan favorite. Political scientists have weighed in on Bigfoot and UFOs (more than once!).

We commemorated holidays. On Labor Day, Danielle Phillips-Cunningham reminded us of the role Black women played in securing labor rights. We also had posts on Juneteenth, Memorial Day and even Giving Tuesday. Former editor Erik Voeten wrote about the traditional portrayal of “Black Pete” in the Netherlands before the character became highly controversial. In a few years, we’ve even compiled holiday gift guides.

Political scientists can also have fun

Sarah Binder’s posts on how U.S. political institutions really work have attracted many readers over the years. Most people, even most political scientists, have only a hazy understanding of how, for example, U.S. Senate procedures affect lawmaking, but they have to start paying attention when they want to know the likely prospects for a bill that they care about. But Sarah has many other talents. She has written regularly on ordinary people, including French people.

Many Americans — including people who ought to know better — treat Africa as a country, not a continent, paying no attention to the enormous diversity of people, cultures, languages and politics across an enormous and varied landmass. This is a source of great unhappiness among people who study Africa. It also provoked the most successful April Fool’s prank in TMC history, when Kim and Laura wrote an article in which professors wearily gave up on their “struggle against the forces of poorly-informed journalism, Eurocentric educational curriculums, and Irish pop stars who peaked in 1987.” The high readership and lively Twitter debate showed how many people shared their frustration.

Check out TMC’s expanded list of classroom topic guides.

When Bill O’Reilly said he would flee the United States for Ireland if Bernie Sanders was elected president in 2016, Henry Farrell, the TMC’s specialist on Irish politics, told him what he could expect to find there. Spoiler alert: He would have been in for a shock.

TMC is going on to something new

TMC has had nine great years at The Post. Our time at The Post turned a small specialist blog, run by a few professors in their spare time, into a much bigger operation. It has also helped change political science, sharing new research and breaking long-standing myths.

Our editors have helped thousands of political scientists write for a broader audience. Some of those political scientists have gone on to write elsewhere. Others have gone back to their research with a new understanding of public debate and how relevant their research is to it. We can only mention a tiny fraction of the great writers and great pieces that we’ve published, but we’re delighted to have the chance to celebrate these contributions — and we’re looking forward to TMC’s next move. There is more to come.