The Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best book on government, politics, or international affairs.
Amy E. Lerman is Associate Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy, Co-Director of The People Lab, and Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research is focused on issues of race, public opinion, and political behavior, especially as they relate to punishment and social inequality in America. She is the author of two books on the American criminal justice system – The Modern Prison Paradox (2013) and Arresting Citizenship (2014). Her most recent book, Good Enough for Government Work, examines how perceptions of government shape citizens’ attitudes toward privatization. Professor Lerman’s scholarship can also be found in a wide variety of academic journals and has been featured in numerous media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, and NPR. In addition to her academic work, Lerman has served as a speechwriter and communications consultant for national nonprofits and members of the United States Congress, a community organizer in Latin America and Southeast Asia, and an adjunct faculty member of the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison. She consults widely on issues related to prison reform, access to higher education, and law enforcement mental health.
Citation from the Award Committee:
The committee unanimously selected Amy E. Lerman’s book Good Enough for Government Work as the winner of the 2020 APSA Woodrow Wilson Award. In this beautifully written, carefully composed book, Amy Lerman explores how the reputation of government is itself an impediment to the government’s ability to achieve the common good. When people have persistently negative views about government, and these views are resistant to change, people may opt out of public goods, thus reducing their quality and resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy of negative views of government programs. Drawing on social psychology, public opinion research, and crisis management in the business world, Lerman analyzes these questions in a creative and compelling way. The book combines evidence from survey experiments that isolate the key treatments of interest; field experiments that leverage a partnership with HealthSherpa.com (to compare sign up rates with healthcare.gov) to test how framing the policy as publicly or privately provided affects policy uptake; and quasi-natural experiments comparing Princeton Township and Princeton Borough, as well as different size dwellings in Chicago, to study people’s actual experiences with publicly versus privately provided waste management services. The committee came away from reading Lerman’s book feeling like we had acquired a nugget of truth about how the world works.
This masterful book provides valuable insights for scholars and for policymakers. Lerman achieves the gold standard for rigorous research using cutting edge methods while presenting the work in a way that makes it accessible and compelling.
APSA thanks Princeton University for its support of the award and the committee members for their service: Professor Dan Posner (chair), University of California, Los Angeles; Laurel Harbridge-Yong, Northwestern University; and Elizabeth Rigby, The George Washington University.