Who’s Able to Do Political Science Work? My Experience with Exit Polling and What It Reveals about Issues of Race and Equity

Who’s Able to Do Political Science Work? My Experience with Exit Polling and What It Reveals about Issues of Race and Equity

by M. Brielle Harbin, United States Naval Academy

How best to address issues of equity and inclusion is a recurring conversation in the political science discipline? In this essay, I describe my experience as a Black woman administering exit polls in West Virginia and New Jersey in 2018 to illustrate how issues of bias can crop up at every stage of research production—even when researchers anticipate challenges before going into the field. My experience revealed that even when we do our best to prepare, there always will be dynamics that we cannot anticipate. Moreover, as researchers who occupy different positionalities, being intentional does not guarantee that we will have the same research experiences and outcomes. In at least some cases, these divergent experiences likely will reinforce existing racialized, gendered, and classed inequities in the discipline. Taken together, my experiences suggest that initiatives in the discipline meant to address issues of racial bias and equity must also consider the larger, structural ways that racism and prejudice affect individuals’ ability to successfully conduct work even after they become part of the political science research community.

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