Political science professors at the University of Georgia conduct their own research about campaigns, elections and political psychology. Some of their research will study the political opinions and attitudes exhibited during the fast-approaching 2020 presidential election.
But what happens when the researchers themselves have to vote?
Political science professors use caution every day to ensure they educate their students rather than indoctrinate them, not portraying their opinions as truth.
Partisanship affects political scientists, too
Brittany Bramlett, a political science professor, said after years of political research and teaching courses on political science, she’s become more skeptical since her first sojourn into the world of politics as an undergraduate student.
But political scientists share the same partisan attitudes as every other voter, and she said partisanship definitely affects political scientists in the same way.
“I'd like to say that I was really methodical and stuff, but we all are political beings, as well as professors,” Bramlett said. “We all have our partisan attitudes, and they're probably more ingrained than they were 20 years ago.”
On the other hand, Jeffrey Glas, a political science professor, said his political opinions and choices remain relatively unchanged and do not differ from the “average Joe.”
“At the end of the day, my behavior in the voting booth and my opinions on the issues haven’t really changed,” Glas said. “I expect that political scientists are not really all that different than your average Joe. We just know more about this process than others.”
Geoffrey Sheagley, an assistant political science professor, said his studies and research resulted in a dispassionate view of politics. He said after studying the effects of politics for so long, he avoids the “horse race aspect” of campaigns.
“I'm probably far less engaged in the horse race aspect of politics than I was before I did this because I think part of what my training and what our research tells us is that stuff often is noise and doesn't matter a whole lot,” Sheagley said.
Students’ political stances, too, are affected by their political science classes. Samantha Lemke, a senior political science major from Tampa, Florida, said her study of political science helped her see multiple perspectives from both a conservative and liberal ideological viewpoint.
“I was raised really conservative and being able to be around my peers, I've been able to get out of that and see things a different way than I used to,” Lemke said.
Teaching without opinion
As Bramlett said, “We are all political beings,” and professors have opinions about the topics they research.
Because students encompass a diverse assortment of political opinions and ideologies, many political science professors opt out of discussing their own personal political opinions in the courses they teach to ensure an inclusive environment.
Discussing President Donald Trump’s administration in class presents a challenge in itself at times, Bramlett said. She’s careful to not convey her own personal feelings about his administration; rather, she explains the fundamentals of what sets Trump’s apart from previous presidential administrations.
“I feel like there's a responsibility to highlight when things are not normal or when norms are maybe changing. And that has happened, particularly over the last several years because we do have a very unique president,” Bramlett said. “I feel a responsibility to teach that, how the institutions and how American government may be changing.”
Sheagley said he avoids the discussion of his personal views by solely sticking to political theories and applying them to concepts in his classes.
“I think there's a way in which this is almost easier for political scientists than it is for people who study, say, sociology or other areas because we are kind of grounded in our classes in the systematic theories of politics,” Sheagley said.
Glas, too, said he’s careful to separate his political opinions from what he teaches, but he said some students learn his political opinions when taking upper-level courses. At the same time, Glas shares the same sentiments as Sheagley and approaches politics with a “dispassionate,” more analytical view of politics.
“Because there are students that I work with on a regular basis that are juniors and seniors, they're going to learn some stuff about my personal politics, but they're also kind of shocked by how unpolitical I am,” Glas said.
Lemke said depending on the professor, she sometimes cannot guess their political ideology.
“I've had professors where it's really hard to tell what their views are because they're very unbiased, so they present both sides of what they're talking about,” Lemke said. “I've also had professors where they might not say it, but you can tell, just [with] the way they’re teaching and what they're actually bringing up in class where they lean.”