As incoming director of the Weidenbaum Center, Andrew Reeves plans to further support researchers and build collaborations with campus and community partners.
Do voters see the economy through partisan-tinted lenses? Do they care about how presidents wield power? And how does the urban/rural divide structure political behavior? According to Andrew Reeves, professor of political science, the answers to these questions hold potentially major political consequences, as well as implications for how we understand what it means to be an active and engaged citizen.
With support from the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy, Reeves investigates unilateral presidential action, Americans' skepticism towards that power, and the importance of public opinion for presidential politics. As incoming director of the Weidenbaum Center, he looks forward to supporting fellow researchers puzzling through similarly significant topics and expanding opportunities for undergraduate research with real-world impacts.
“The Center has enabled researchers to publish cutting-edge research that is important for society, and it will continue to link academic research to the most important problems facing the world today,” Reeves said, pointing specifically to the invasion of Ukraine, recent Supreme Court appointments, political questions around pandemics, and issues related to employment practices.
Through its influential small grants program, the Weidenbaum Center has historically supported faculty research in the departments of Political Science, Economics, and Sociology. Continuing that support underpins Reeves’ plans for expanding the Center’s presence both on campus and with external partners.
“I want to make sure that people around the university – all around the Danforth campus and Med School too – know that the Weidenbaum Center can help connect them to social scientists who can be essential partners in their research endeavors,” Reeves said.
According to Reeves, these kinds of interdisciplinary partnerships have become especially critical with the advent of big data and data science – areas where social scientists, engineers, and public health experts alike have leveraged new technology for big breakthroughs. “Public health is a social science,” Reeves noted. “In a university, disciplinary silos can build up. But the Weidenbaum Center can enable productive and long-lasting connections.”
Reeves also sees interdisciplinary work facilitated by the Weidenbaum Center as an opportunity to answer Chancellor Martin’s call to be “in St. Louis, for St. Louis.” Drawing from his own experience as a researcher with the Center and as a professor of introductory political science courses, Reeves sees increased community involvement as essential to the Weidenbaum Center’s next chapter.
During the 2016 election, Reeves and his students participated in a national study where students went to randomly selected precincts in St. Louis County to gather data on how long people had to wait to vote and any other technical issues that might affect polling place conditions. For Reeves, this experience is a prime example of how academic research can productively combine with community engagement.
“It was public policy, it was based in the community, it resulted in a number of academic papers that were published, and I think for a lot of students, it was a pretty cool experience,” Reeves recalled. And he wants to see a lot more experiences like it, particularly more ways for WashU students to engage directly with public policy.
“A lot of our researchers are doing cutting-edge work that has major implications for how local governments are run, including things like how to run elections, encourage civic engagement, and promote best practices in policing and employment,” Reeves said. “We're here in a major American city in a region where we can learn from the challenges that local public policy officials are facing, but we can also be a source of information and communication. This confluence of factors sets up incredible opportunities.”
Alongside his goals and aspirations as the new leader of the Weidenbaum Center, Reeves will also continue his own research on presidential politics. Mirroring his positive view of the Center’s future as an engaged community partner and interdisciplinary research hub, Reeves’ forthcoming book, No Blank Check: The Origins and Consequences of Public Antipathy towards Presidential Power, coauthored by Jon C. Rogowski, reveals surprisingly positive insights into the behavior of American citizens and the future of American democracy.
“There's a media narrative that partisans will do or believe whatever their leaders tell them to do or say,” Reeves said. “But our research presents a more optimistic view of the American public. We find that American voters, even accounting for partisanship, are nervous about the use of unilateral political power. We should not take democracy for granted, but our research does show that Americans hold core values that can help sustain democracy.”