Meet 2017 Carnegie Fellow Charles Stewart III

The Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program recognizes an exceptional group of both established and emerging scholars, journalists, and authors with the goal of strengthening U.S. democracy, driving technological and cultural creativity, exploring global connections and global ruptures, and improving both natural and human environments. 

Charles Stewart III is the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT, where he has taught since 1985, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His research and teaching areas include congressional politics, elections, and American political development.

His current research about Congress touches on the historical development of committees, origins of partisan polarization, and Senate elections. His recent books of congressional research include Electing the Senate (2014, with Wendy J. Schiller), Fighting for the Speakership (2012, with Jeffery A. Jenkins), and Analyzing Congress (2nd ed., 2011).

Professor Stewart received his B.A. in political science from Emory University, and S.M. and Ph.D. from Stanford University.

I’m hoping that the Fellowship will not only give me a chance to pull together a lot of research I have done myself, but also help to draw attention to this new growing field.

How will the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program impact your research and overall career?

Stewart: The Carnegie Fellows Program will give me a year to reflect on and write about my research over the past two decades that seeks to understand how the mechanics of voting — voting machines, polling place practices, election laws and reforms, etc. — affect voter behavior.  The 2000 presidential election opened the eyes of the public and the scholarly community to how these seemingly neutral factors can have a big impact on election outcomes.  There’s been an explosion of scholarship since then in the field of election science — the scientific study of these seemingly mechanical practices — but it’s not been integrated very well into political science.  So, I’m hoping that the Fellowship will not only give me a chance to pull together a lot of research I have done myself, but also help to draw attention to this new growing field.

What research topics do you primarily focus on? How can people access your work?

Stewart: On the elections side, I am primarily interested in voting technologies, polling place practices, voter registration, and methods that are used to assess the performance of election systems.  I also still have an active research portfolio in the history of Congress.  These days I’m interested in the evolution of the committee system and whether Congress continues to be as institutionally capable as it was in past years.

Do you have any advice for students in political science, including tips on how to find funding and support for research projects?

Stewart: I would be the last person in the world to give advice to students in political science, other than to say that you should pursue what interests you while at the same time avoid letting your passions get the better of you. I think we all get into political science because we’re drawn to politics.  However, political science is not just partisan politics wrapped up in statistical jargon and long, dense books.  It takes hard work to discipline yourself to let the evidence take you where it goes. On the issue of funding, I have to say that in both of the fields I have participated in, congressional politics and election science, funding is a bit tricky.  Congressional politics is a bit easier, because of its long history and the historical funders, big (NSF) and small (the Dirksen Center, which is a treasure).  Still, the NSF is always under attack from Congress, which means that anyone in that area has to be careful in how they frame their research.  In election science, we’re competing with those who are interested in campaigns and elections, which is the much sexier topic.  Again, because of the high stakes of electoral competition, and the strong partisan implications of work in this area, funding sources for rigorous scientific work is limited.  I’m lucky enough to have been given a grant from the Hewlett Foundation to support my own grant-making in this field, through the MIT Election Data and Science Lab.  So, I’m hoping things change for the better, at least for a little while.