Academics and Research

DU-founded political science blog finds a wider audience

With articles such as “Who’s Copying Us Now? The Politico Edition,” “Are Political Scientists Smug? Maybe” and “What Hillary Clinton Should Learn from Donald Trump: Nothing,” the political blog Mischiefs of Faction puts a savvy, self-aware spin on its investigation of American political parties. The blog aims to make the complexities of the American political system more accessible for average readers — and it has plenty to cover with the 2016 presidential election already dominating the news cycle.

Blog cofounder Seth Masket is chair of the political science department at DU. He has taught in the department since 2004 and served in his current role since 2012.

Digital news outlet picked up Mischiefs of Faction in September 2015, but the blog has not lost any of its characteristic wit and knowledge. Mischiefs of Faction joins other Vox brands, including tech blog The Verge, sports site SB Nation and gaming hub Polygon. With the addition of Mischiefs of Faction, Vox follows the trend of major media outlets hosting specialized political blogs. The Washington Post is home to The Monkey Cage, which discusses political science research; The New York Times hosts The Upshot, which focuses on politics, economics and developing policy.

The University of Denver Magazine spoke with Masket about the blog and the 2016 election.


Question: How did Mischiefs of Faction get started?

Answer: I started it in 2012 with several friends from graduate school. We read a lot of political coverage and have often found that there isn’t a great understanding out there about the way political parties function or even what they are. This is a subject of real importance to us, and so we thought we might be able to influence political coverage a bit by producing some brief posts that explained political parties in an accessible way and applied political science research to current events. We’ve added several people since then and now have eight political scientists contributing stories.


Q: What is the purpose of the blog?

A: The blog is devoted to improving public understanding of political parties. We’re chiefly focused on American politics, although we do occasionally look at other nations.


Q: How does Mischiefs of Faction differentiate itself from other political news sources?

A: We actually have a pretty narrow focus compared to many other news outlets and even other political science blogs. Probably the closest outlet to what we do is The Monkey Cage, a political science blog at The Washington Post. But they’re very broadly committed to covering political science research, and we keep our work pretty closely focused on American political parties. That said, parties touch on almost every aspect of political life in this very partisan era, from congressional behavior to Supreme Court nominations to elections to voter attitudes, so we can talk about quite a bit.


Q: What do citizens need to understand about political parties?

A: Parties emerge very naturally within a democracy, and it’s pretty close to impossible to organize a democracy without them. Partisanship can be annoying and even petty, but it can also be very healthy, giving citizens a way to understand and participate in politics. Elections are far more predictable and regular than many people think, and party insiders have a lot more influence on them than is generally appreciated, while things like advertising and spending and candidate personality traits have a lot less influence than is generally appreciated.


Q: What do you think is going to happen in November 2016?

A: Despite what looks like a tumultuous election season, the November election will be pretty typical, with a mainstream center-left former senator (almost certainly Hillary Clinton) in the Democratic position, running against a mainstream center-right former senator or governor (quite possibly Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio) in the Republican position. The election will largely turn on the strength of the economy.


Q: What are the benefits and risks of such a long election cycle?

A: What’s nice is that voters and party insiders — donors, activists, interest groups and elected officials — get many opportunities to examine the presidential candidates and get a sense of what they’d do and how they’d behave in office. There’s probably too much emphasis on the presidential election, compared to other elections, but the president is nonetheless a very powerful actor in the political system, so there’s nothing wrong with spending a year or two vetting candidates for that position. Yes, voters will grow tired and annoyed with the process, but that was going to happen anyway. More importantly, they will actually learn about the candidates and some of the key political issues of the day. Voters generally don’t follow politics closely, and a big-spending presidential election is pretty much the only thing that can change that.


Q: Finally, any thoughts about Donald Trump?

A: Trump is a wealthy entertainer and businessperson. He has enormous name recognition but no electoral experience and a pretty weak commitment to Republican party principles. In other words, he’s precisely the sort of person who will appear to be doing well when it least matters, and he’s precisely the sort of person parties basically never nominate. We may see pretty substantial party efforts to drive him from the race should he still be high in polling by January, but chances are he’ll have flamed out long before that.



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