Tamu Green

Meet the Political Scientist

by | Sep 19, 2022 | Culture, Resident Expert

Benjamin Highton, professor and chair of the UC Davis political science department, studies mass political behavior. His research on public opinion and American voting patterns has particular relevance lately.

“The differences between the parties, especially between party elites, elected officials and party leaders, are substantial,” he said. “It’s a defining feature of contemporary American politics, and it is a major impediment to things like having a coordinated national policy on a whole host of pressing issues.”

Although political literacy can be daunting for the public at large, Highton stressed that the average person doesn’t need to know everything about the American political system. “One of the nice things about government is that we have professionals who dedicate their lives to it, so ordinary people don’t have to know all the answers. We can pick which of the two major political parties is more like us and make choices based on that.”

As a professor, Highton instructs his students with the goal of not only understanding the American political system but discerning why certain outcomes are produced, incorporating leading theoretical schools of thought. He added that cycles of American public opinion change with current events. The recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, is an example.

“In the immediate aftermath of school shootings there is an increase in support of stricter gun regulation, but that will likely recede well before the fall elections. If we only wanted to predict the course of public opinion that would be it, but the critical thing is to understand why and to answer that we need to dig deeper.”

Highton studies these types of phenomena. “When a pattern is being repeated it’s not a coincidence, there’s an underlying explanation, and it’s the job of a political scientist to understand and explain the pattern.”

Learn more

Benjamin Highton will speak on “The Policy Implications of the Fall Elections” at UC Center Sacramento on Sept. 28. In-person and remote options are available. Register