Jacob Gunderson, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science, spent time in Germany during summer 2021 researching the role political parties play in European politics. The support he received as the recipient of The Graduate School’s Leland J. Bellòt Summer Research Fellowship allowed him this meaningful opportunity to move his research forward.
Gunderson’s research focuses on the ways in which political parties’ brands have become more or less differentiated over time. For instance, Gunderson observed that some parties that were historically on the left or the right have drifted toward the center on economic issues, which limits distinction among parties. He is tracking that trend and to understand why it is happening.
“The reason I care about this is if everyone is talking about the same issues, that’s one less tool for voters to use in understanding their political system and to differentiate between parties,” Gunderson said. He also argued that less well-defined political parties can result in lower electoral turnout—because the parties’ stance on issues are less obvious to voters.
Like many Summer Research Fellowship recipients, Gunderson appreciated the opportunity to access research material on-site and focus on his doctoral dissertation. “It takes everything else off your plate, which is really helpful,” Gunderson said. “A lot of times, during the semester, we’re teaching, trying to do the research at the same time. To use this to solely focus on your dissertation—it’s extremely valuable.”
Gunderson hopes his research will speak to the developments and changes in party competition beyond just Europe—as the causes and consequences of political change in one region can inform our understanding of events in others. “I was able to make connections with local scholars at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB), who will hopefully play a key role in facilitating field work in the future,” Gunderson said. “I hope other students will benefit from summer research fellowships as much as I have.”