Samara Klar (Ph.D. Northwestern University) uses experimental and survey methodology to study how individuals’ social surroundings and personal identities influence their political attitudes and behavior. Her coauthored book, Independent Politics, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2016. In it, the authors explain why independent voters are on the rise and why this matters for American democracy.
Tell us how #WomenAlsoKnowStuff was founded.
Klar: I started #WomenAlsoKnowStuff in February 2016. It was all very impulsive. I was just sifting through emails and I noticed a few announcements for small conferences that were dominated by male speakers. I remember one in particular that had, I think, 11 male speakers and just 1 female. Usually when this sort of thing irked me, I’d just grumble about it with some colleagues or friends and we’d roll our eyes and move on. But it occurred to me that conference organizers often turn to the most visible scholars when organizing these events. I myself have organized panels and have had trouble thinking of women to invite. So I figured that maybe a website that listed women in political science by subject area could be a simple way to help overcome that problem. I just very quickly put together a wordpress site, emailed a dozen or so colleagues to help spread the word… and it really just grew from there.
In addition to joining your list, what else do you recommend women political scientists do to share their expertise with broader audiences?
Klar: I think a lot has been written lately on how to get your work out into the media – for example, by submitting op-eds to the MonkeyCage, contacting your university’s press office, or sharing your work on social media. When it comes to sharing your work throughout the academic community, I’d urge women – particularly junior women and grad students — to submit their work to conferences both big and small. APSA is a great opportunity to see lots of different types of research but smaller conferences provide unusually excellent chances for junior scholars to really meet their academic mentors and to get high-quality feedback. Submit abstracts to conferences and while you’re there, make the most of it. Arrange to meet with scholars who share your interests and tell them about all the great stuff you’re working on. People in our field are overwhelmingly friendly and constructive. Sharing your work face-to-face with other scholars provides great opportunities to get helpful feedback and to get the word out on what you’re researching.
What can women political scientists do to foster the next generation of women experts?
Klar: There are so many established women in political science who are incredibly welcoming and eager to mentor my generation of scholars. Women working on events like the “New Research on Gender and Political Psychology Conference” or the “Visions in Methodology Conference” are doing a huge service to young female scholars. Many senior women in our field go out of their way to organize formal or informal dinners and include junior women in those social outings. These overtures are so valuable. When I attended my first MPSA, it felt like everyone knew each other except for me and I really felt as though I had no place there. This feeling isn’t unique to women – I think all scholars can feel out of place, especially when they’re just starting out. Efforts that senior scholars make to welcome the next generation into our field are crucial. These inter-personal relationships are what foster research collaborations, feedback on projects and manuscripts, and professional advice generally.
Tell us more about your background and work in political science.
Klar: I grew up in Alberta, Canada, and went to college in Montreal but I was always interested in American politics. Throughout college I did a semester abroad in the US (which my American friends find a bit bizarre!) and interned for a U.S. Congressman (despite never having set foot in his home-state…). As soon as I graduated from college, I moved to the US. I earned my PhD from Northwestern where I became really interested in experimental approaches to studying political behavior. I’m particularly interested in how individuals navigate conflicting internal pressures, such as identity group interests, when they make political choices. I find that, although partisanship is of course an enormous determinant of political behavior, individuals also rely on other identity groups and, in certain cases, these interests outweigh their partisanship.
Tell us about a recent research project.
Klar: This year, I published Independent Politics (Cambridge University Press), coauthored with Yanna Krupnikov. Yanna and I became very interested in this massive increase in the number of independent voters that has been occurring just as Americans have grown more politically polarized. It felt like a bit of a paradox. We investigated why so many Americans say they are independent when, in fact, they hold partisan viewpoints. Yanna and I conducted about a dozen experiments to show the degree to which Americans view political independence as a socially desirable label. We also uncovered some important consequences of this bias: Americans are often unwilling to speak or behave in ways that will reveal their true partisan preferences.
In some of my favorite ongoing research projects, I’m focusing on how this disdain for politics manifests itself in expressed dislike for the opposing party (with Yanna Krupnikov and John B. Ryan), psychological traits that determine the degree to which Americans are polarized (with Chris Weber), and the way in which an individual’s social network might encourage exposure to the opposing viewpoint and with what effect (with Yotam Shmargad).
Look for more profiles from Women Also Know Stuff editorial board members in the coming weeks.