Over the summer, I assisted Dr. Holger Sieg of the Department of Economics on his study regarding local governments in the United States. My project was to do research on various political institutions, such as term limits and partisan elections, and find variables that could be used to predict whether or not a municipality in the United States would employ those institutions.
The first phase of my role was to collect data on the municipalities in my sample, including their institutional characteristics and demographic and socio-economic variables. Next, I ran several binary regressions, with the political institutions as the dependent variable and the population characteristics as the independent variables. The purpose of these regressions was to see which of the characteristics could be used to significantly predict the presence of a political institution in a municipality. For instance, I found that cities with larger population sizes are more likely to employ term limits on their elected officials, and those with Democratic-leaning populations are more likely to have weak mayors, with few powers and little authority.
As part of my project, I also wrote several case studies regarding unique and interesting occurrences in cities across the country. For instance, I wrote about the mayorship of Michael Bloomberg. New York City had enacted a term limit on elected mayors, restricting them to serving a maximum of two terms as head. Nevertheless, Bloomberg managed to circumvent those restrictions and serve an additional third term. In another study, I wrote about Louisville Metro, when in 2003 the old city of Louisville merged with the surrounding Jefferson County to become one larger entity.
My participation in this project was a very enlightening and educational experience. Primarily, this was my gateway into research. I discovered the arduous and oftentimes dull task of collecting data. I also experienced the bumps in the road and disappointments that come with not obtaining valuable results, as well as the joys of finding new routes around the obstacles. Even my meetings with my mentor, where we discussed the current state of my project and the next steps to take, allowed me to better understand the kinds of thinking involved in the research process. Additionally, I was introduced to new programs like STATA and LaTeX as well as statistical regression concepts like linear probability models and multicollinearity.
Finally, it was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to learn from Dr. Holger Sieg over the summer. He was an excellent mentor and provided insight into both my specific project as well as its role within the bigger picture. He taught me a lot about the research world, and I look forward to continuing my research with him in the fall.