During the Fall 2019 semester, Associate Professor Aaron Weinschenk (Political Science) offered—for the first time ever at UW-Green Bay—a research lab in political science. (This year, there were 14 undergraduate students enrolled in the lab). The goal of the lab was to have students experience the research process from start to finish and help them develop and practice research skills, which Weinschenk says are increasingly important to employers.
This semester, the lab studied the nationalization of state supreme court elections. Previous research has shown that the correlation between voting patterns in presidential elections and sub-presidential contests (congress, gubernatorial, state legislative) has increased dramatically over the last several decades, but there have not been any studies on whether this is happening in the context of state supreme court elections.
Under Weinschenk’s supervision, students in the lab assembled an original dataset containing nearly 15,000 county-level state supreme court elections results (from 2000-2018). According to Weinschenk, this is an amazing feat because, unlike other types of elections, there is not a preexisting database of state supreme court election results. The students had to gather all of the election results themselves from government sources, which took several months to complete.
After assembling the dataset and conducting statistical analyses, Weinschenk and the students collaborated to write a journal article, which has now been completed and is available here for those who might be interested. The article will be submitted to a peer-reviewed political science journal focusing on elections very soon! All of the lab members will be listed as co-authors on the paper.
Weinschenk says it is important to develop and institutionalize high-impact experiences like this for undergraduate students. He notes that “research has shown that high-impact experiences help make students feel like they are in a supportive campus environment. In addition, participation in high-impact experiences can lead to boosts in GPA and increase the probability of retaining students.”
When asked about their experience doing undergraduate research, students in the lab reported that it was an incredibly valuable experience.
“The lab gave us the opportunity to conduct research on a different level than any other class and be able to submit it for publication,” Tara Sellen, one of this year’s lab members, said. “It was amazing to be a part of a hardworking group and to produce such a substantial product that can contribute to the literature.” She said students in the lab did something “we never thought we could accomplish.”
Amanda Loehrke, another one of the lab members, shared her experience.”Being a part of the Political Science Research Lab has been very rewarding,” Loehrke said. “Working with a group of peers to produce a research paper was challenging, educational, and very enjoyable. The experience has given me and my peers first-hand experience with the research process from collecting data to running statistical analyses to writing the final article. I am very thankful to have been part of the first research lab for the department and am looking forward to seeing if our paper gets published!”