Jessie Trudeau Receives the 2022 Franklin L. Burdette/Pi Sigma Alpha Award

The Franklin L. Burdette/Pi Sigma Alpha Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best paper presented at the previous year’s Annual Meeting.    

Jessie Trudeau’s work spans comparative politics and political economy, with a substantive focus on crime, violence, inequality, and corruption.  She completed her Ph.D. in Government in 2022 at Harvard University and is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Brown University.  In Fall 2023 she will begin a position as Assistant Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs and Citizenship.  Jessie’s research sheds light on how electoral politics works in the presence of organized crime.  Her book project, Machine Gun Politics: Why Politicians Cooperate with Criminal Groups, explains what politicians can gain from partnering with criminal actors.  This project brings together a quasi-experimental study of voting, an original database on criminal governance, and 18 months of extensive fieldwork in a mixed-methods study of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Working papers drawing from her dissertation have recently won awards from the American Political Science Association (APSA) and the Latin American Studies Association (LASA).  Another recent body of work focuses on the implications of public security on inequality and violence, and was referenced in Brazilian Supreme Court testimony regarding the legality of police raids.  Her work has been published or is forthcoming in World Development, Economia, and The Washington Post, and has been funded by the Corporación Andino de Fomiento (CAF), David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS), Harvard Brazil Cities Initiative, Foundations of Human Behavior Initiative (FHB), Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and the Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences.

Citation from the Award Committee: 

The committee is pleased to award the 2022 Franklin R. Burdette/Pi Sigma Alpha Award to Jessie Trudeau for “Machine Gun Politics: Why Politicians Cooperate with Criminal Groups”.  This paper stands out as the best paper presented at the 2021 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Seattle, Washington.  Trudeau’s paper is a fantastic contribution to the study of state-criminal interactions in Latin America, estimating the magnitude of criminal influence on voting beyond descriptive research.

Trudeau’s primary contribution is greater depth in our understanding of criminal dominance in electoral politics and its implications for inequality and violence.  Trudeau’s analysis provides evidence for how criminal governance affects electoral competition: by providing voters and restricting access to candidacy.  These findings have significant implications for electoral access and criminal governance.

This study is multi-method, first drawing on an original database of criminal governance in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, which shows which criminal groups governed favelas from 2015-2020, and comparing that to voter data, demonstrating that voting differs when criminal groups are present.  Specifically, criminally dominant favelas have higher voter turnout and low levels of electoral competition.  In addition, Trudeau supplements these findings with 18 months of field research with more than 50 candidates for local and state legislative office, their staffers, criminal group members, and residents of criminally dominated communities.

The paper is masterfully written, methodologically innovative, and excellently argued.  The paper offers a high level of detail and takes its audience through the theory strategically.  Overall, this study has wide implications in political science as it helps to better our understanding of elections and democracy in contexts where criminal groups govern.

APSA thanks Pi Sigma Alpha for its support of the award and the committee members for their service: Dr. Mario Guerrero (chair) of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Dr. Alexander George Theodoridis of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Dr. Aubrey Westfall of Wheaton College.

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