Natalie Wenzell Letsa Receives Heinz I. Eulau Award for Perspectives on Politics

The Heinz I. Eulau Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best article published in the APSA journal, Perspectives on Politics.

Natalie Letsa received her B.A. in Political Science from Reed College in 2009, and her Ph.D. in Government from Cornell University in 2017. She is currently the Wick Cary Assistant Professor of Political Economy in the Department of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Her primary work focuses on public opinion and political behavior in authoritarian regimes, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Her new research explores the effects of historical legacies on contemporary political beliefs and behavior on the continent, particularly the legacies of colonial rule. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming at Perspectives on Politics, the Quarterly Journal of Political ScienceComparative PoliticsThe Journal of Modern African Studies, and Democratization. She is also currently working on two book projects. 

Citation from the Award Committee:

After carefully considering all articles published in Perspectives on Politics during the calendar year 2020, the Committee has decided to award the Heinz I. Eulau Prize-PoP to Natalie Wenzell Letsa, “Expressive Voting in Autocracies: A Theory of Non-Economic Participation with Evidence from Cameroon.”

This article examines an important and long-standing question: why do people vote in elections in which the outcome is already decided? As democratic decline and electoral authoritarian regimes proliferate and entrench themselves today, the article is particularly timely. Contrary to prevailing claims in relevant literatures, the author finds that two non-economic ‘expressive reasons’ motivate individuals. These include a sense of civic duty and a desire to improve democratic processes. The article contributes to our understanding of political participation within and beyond authoritarian settings. The data to advance this argument is a strength of a piece: it is novel and rich. In a multi-method approach, the quasi-national survey in Cameroon augmented with some 2200+ interviews with ‘ordinary citizens in autocracies’ is very impressive and effectively utilized. This allows a fascinating micro-level approach to unearth and demonstrate these dynamics in detail. Moreover, the piece is excellently written — lucid, clear, and compelling and systematic in its scope and approach.

This was an extremely difficult decision, and we recognize that only one article can win the award, as noted in the instructions to the committee. We would also like to acknowledge the excellence and substantial impact of the article “Reconceptualizing Political Knowledge: Race, Ethnicity and Carceral Violence” by Cathy J. Cohen and Matthew D. Luttig. Drawing on unique survey questions, the authors find that when questions about carceral violence are included, African Americans have higher levels of political knowledge, and white respondents no longer have more political knowledge. The article makes a fundamental contribution to our understanding political engagement. It broadens the concept of political knowledge and widens the scope of what is considered political. Additionally, it brings unique data to this question. The concept of political knowledge has long been narrow in survey research. This article asks fundamental questions about traditional concepts of political knowledge and the implications for differently situated groups in society.


APSA thanks the committee members for their service: Miki Kittilson (Chair), Arizona State University; Hannah Smidt, University of Zurich; and Aarie Glas, Northern Illinois University.