Visiting Professor Discusses ’08 Election

From Northwestern University, to Stanford, to MIT, Professor Marc Meredith of the Political Science Department is truly a traveling scholar. Earning masters degrees in both economics and political science, Marc examines today’s political scene with the eye of an economist. He currently teaches Quantitative Research Methods I (17.800), a graduate class where students apply statistical techniques to politics in order to better understand and predict social trends. When it comes time to predict the next president, Marc will be one step ahead, applying game theory to the society in which we live. While his field is rigorous, Marc also finds time to enjoy his many hobbies including running, football, poker, and ping-pong.

The Tech: Earning a degree in political economics from Stanford University, you arrived here in Boston last July. What attracts you to MIT’s Political Science Department?

Marc Meredith: It is a good place to work. I’ll be a visiting professor here for two years, and it will be a good opportunity to get some experience. The faculty here that do Political Economics are some of the best you can work with in the country.

TT: Are there any specific faculty members, in particular, that convinced you to come?

MM: In my suite, I sit next to Jim Snyder, Adam Berinsky, and Gabe Lenz. Those guys are all at the top of the field in doing research relating to political economics.

TT: How would you describe political economics in your own words?

MM: Political economics is using the tools traditionally used by economists to analyze markets and applying them to non-market situations like politics. Generally, it is more on the quantitative side either via using game theory or using some newer statistical techniques, [rather] than some of the more traditional political science ways of analyzing problems.

TT: With the new election coming up, are you doing any research that is linked to what is happening now?

MM: I have a bunch of projects going on, but one that’s particularly relevant … is that I’m working with a professor at Stanford, and we’re studying the effects of absentee voting in the upcoming election. This is sort of a growing technology that people use to vote, and we are seeing — whether people [are voting by] polling places or absentee — if that is affecting the final outcome. Specifically, we are looking at late campaign information like debates or commercials and seeing whether this information affects absentee voting.

TT: How do you go about getting this information about absentee voting?

MM: A lot of rules are set at either the state or county level, so the models we use are often very mathy. Most of the day-to-day work is drudging up data and going on Web sites and contacting election officials.

TT: For students who want to get into this field, what classes do you recommend they take?

MM: I’m only teaching graduate courses this semester, but I know Gabe Lenz teaches [Introduction to the American Political Process (17.20)]. I think that would be a great class for someone interested in political science theories and politics in general. I think that would be a great place to start for someone who is interested in political economics.

TT: With the economy and the politics linked together, do you see anything with the economy right now contributing to the election?

MM: Well, I think a big issue is how people may perceive the same economy very differently. So both campaigns are trying their best to try to shape how people are seeing the economy, even though it is the same for everyone. I would guess Obama’s campaign will be trying to focus on things like the unemployment rate and McCain’s campaign will be focusing more on the growth of the economy.

TT: On a lighter note, knowing that you come from the West Coast, what are your first thoughts of Boston?

MM: It’s a bad change coming to humidity, but the biggest change will be when the snow first hits. Yesterday I had to wait until 1 p.m. to watch football … in the West Coast, football starts at 10 a.m. There, I get to wake up to football. I am a Green Bay Packers fan … [a] cheese head.

TT: Outside of political economics, what other hobbies do you enjoy?

MM: I am a big runner, and I bike a lot. I like playing almost any card game or board game. I’m sure MIT students, on average, would all beat me at poker. Oh yeah, and ping-pong!

TT: And what about music? Do you like any specific artists or genres?

MM: Yeah, I am pretty broad in my musical interests. Recently I have been listening to a lot of Death Cab for Cutie and Guster. I’d say that indie rock and classic rock are my two favorite forms of music.

TT: What do you think of the food in Boston? I know this is probably a big change from the west coast.

MM: It’s kind of based on sauces and meats here in Boston … I miss the California fresh style cooking. Here, the Italian food is great! I’ve been to some good restaurants, including Mike’s Pastry in the North End. It’s good, but I have to work up my exercise regimen.

TT: One last question. Is there a political figure or economist that you look up to or follow up on research?

MM: That’s a very good question. I would say out of all economists, Joe Stiglitz. I enjoy reading David Brooks of The New York Times. His editorials are the ones I seek out the quickest. I have also liked my advisors at Stanford: Doug Bernheim, Dan Kessler, and Keith Krehbiel. All three of them have had a big impact on me. Two of them are more economists while the other is more of a political scientist.