Risman is a distinguished professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Percheski is an associate professor of sociology and faculty fellow of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. They co-chair the Chicagoland chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network.
With the first presidential debates behind us and the next ones rapidly approaching, the fight for the Democratic nomination is in full swing. Though the presidential hopefuls disagree on some of the specifics, the story of the 2020 election — at least at this point — is shaping out to be one that includes lots of smart policy informed by some of the best research in the field. Just look at Elizabeth Warren's relentless policy proposals that are backed by academic research and may have driven her recent surge in the polls.
As the co-leaders for the Chicagoland chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network, we applaud the use of research and evidence in campaigns, and later in policymaking. This is exactly what our organization has been working towards for years. But it doesn't just need to happen in presidential election years. Local and state candidates can and should work with academics to inform their policy proposals too. Our experiences in Chicago show a couple ways this can work.
This year, Chicago saw a historic election for the city's mayor. Following Rahm Emmanuel's withdrawal from the race, and lacking a strong front-runner, Chicago voters were asked to choose from 14 candidates, some relatively unknown. At the same time, the city was also electing 50 alderman for the Chicago City Council. With little funding and intense competition for staffers, many campaigns barely had the resources to put out detailed policy proposals, let alone do the background work of combing through the relevant literature to inform their ideas. That's not unusual in local elections.
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