Spring 2017 SPP Faculty Colloquium Features Rolfe, Tropp, Rice

The School of Public Policy (SPP) will kick off its Spring 2017 Faculty Colloquium series on Monday, March 6, with a talk by Meredith Rolfe, associate professor of political science. The talk will take place from 12:15-1:15 p.m. in Thompson 620.

SPP’s colloquia are generally held monthly each semester and feature UMass faculty discussing ongoing research that has significant policy implications. The colloquium’s theme this year is “Broadening the SPP Network at UMass.”

Rolfe’s talk, “Trade-offs in Campaign Finance Reform: Less Money or More Donors,” will draw on her recent paper about that topic. In an era where the role of big money in politics has come under increased scrutiny and voters are concerned about potential corruption in the political system, there is increasing interest in the public financing of political campaigns. Reformers have argued that adoption of public financing systems, particularly voucher systems such as Seattle’s innovative Democracy Vouchers program, can increase citizen participation in election financing, reduce the inequality among donors, reduce corruption, and attract a wider range of competitive candidates.

In the paper, Rolfe and her collaborators formally model the structural constraints present in all campaign finance systems, such as the fixed relationship between total campaign spending, average contribution size and total number of donors. They find that prior analysis may significantly overstate the ability of public funding programs such as those in Seattle to generate significant increases in the number of people who donate to political campaigns. Instead, structural limits on campaign spending and candidate participation may result in an overall decrease in the proportion of citizens donating to municipal elections. Their analysis highlights the inherent trade-offs in any campaign finance policy between the goals of increasing donor participation, limiting campaign spending, and reducing inequality among donors.

Professor Rolfe's research generally examines individual and organizational decision-making as a result of social influences and networks. She also has research interests in such areas as media and public opinion and research methodology, and is an affiliated faculty member with the UMass Computational Social Science Initiative. She is the author of Voter Turnout: A Social Theory of Political Participation (Cambridge University Press), which received the 2013 Best Book in Political Networks Award from the American Political Science Association. She also has publications in such journals as Public Opinion Quarterly and Social Networks. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the British Academy, Oxford University’s Centre of Corporation Reputation, and other sponsors. Prior to joining UMass Amherst, Professor Rolfe was a Lecturer in Management at the London School of Economics.

Two additional speakers will participate in SPP’s Faculty Colloquium this spring: Linda Tropp, professor of psychological and brain sciences (April 3), and Doug Rice, assistant professor of legal studies (May 1).

All talks in the SPP Faculty Colloquium are free and open to the public. Brownbag lunches are welcome. For additional information, go to www.masspolicy.org or contact Charlie Schweik (cschweik@pubpol.umass.edu) or Susan Newton (snewton@pubpol.umass.edu).