Research News

Beginning of a Decade TIPSHEET – Politics and Government

As you consider year-in-review stories and look ahead to the trends of 2010, Vanderbilt University faculty are available to offer perspective on these and other topics.

News media fuel success of attack ads
While the blame for negativity in campaigning has been placed on consultants, candidates and their advisers, the often-overlooked culprit is the news media, says political scientist John Geer. Since the 1988 presidential campaign, journalists have paid increasing attention to advertising, especially negative ads. “The shift in coverage has recast the incentives of consultants, altering how they approach elections, in general, and advertising, in particular. Consultants now know that attacks can draw significant attention in the free media, giving them more incentive to produce and to air negative ads than they had 25 years ago. Attack ads will continue in the upcoming elections as both parties battle for media attention.” Geer can be reached at

Civility in political discourse should be a priority
A little respect could go a long way to preserving democracy in America, says Vanderbilt professor Bob Talisse in his new book. Democracy and Moral Conflict, published by Cambridge University Press, examines the level of political debate in modern America. Whether it’s Rush Limbaugh and FOX News on the right or MSNBC and Michael Moore on the left, the associate professor of philosophy and political science is disturbed by what he sees. Americans are paying a price for the trend of media moving from non-partisan reporting of the facts to pandering to particular political viewpoints for profit. “We should distrust any outlet that presents a complex issue as so simple that there’s just one smart view and everything else is dumb,” Talisse says. Contact Talisse at

Will we see an increasingly post-racial America?
The election of President Barack Obama was heralded as a sign that America has transcended issues of race. However, many sociologists argue that we have entered an era of “colorblind racism” in which people believe that race is no longer a factor while they ignore entrenched systems that foster disparities in areas such as wealth creation and health care. “I think that identity politics, colorblind racism, biracial identity, and authenticity will continue to be issues for the Obama White House. His campaign dismissed identity politics, but the people suffering most during the current economic recession are people of color and women,” said Tony Brown, associate professor of sociology. Brown’s research interests include racial and ethnic disparities in health, race socialization process within black families and changes in the manifestation of whites’ racial prejudice. Brown can be reached at

No final answer on health care reform
Any health care reform bill would take years to implement, so the construction of the current legislation does not result in complete closure of the issue, said Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of political science. “Circumstances will change,” he said. “People tend to think whatever passes is the last word, but it’s not.” Other major pieces of legislation on the horizon in the coming year are the energy bill and additional parts of the stimulus package, especially related to jobs creation, says Oppenheimer, who teaches and writes about the legislative process, political parties and elections. He is co-author of Sizing Up the Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation and co-editor of Congress Reconsidered, now in its ninth edition. Contact Oppenheimer at

Accountability key to health care reform
The focus of health care reform should be on spending less money while delivering better care, said Larry Van Horn, associate professor of health care management and director of health care programs at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. “We cannot afford the current consumption of services. The cultural focus is on finding someone else to pay with no accountability for lifestyle choices and their impact on health care demand,” said Van Horn, who is writing a book with U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper on the business of health care. Health care currently accounts for 17.5 percent of the gross domestic product. It’s predicted to rise to 25 percent within 15 years. At 22 percent of the GDP, he says, drastic changes such as defense cuts would have to be made to pay for health care. Van Horn can be reached at

Fundamental reforms need to solve complex policy problems such as health care
Solving complex policy problems will continue to be difficult without fundamental reforms of political processes to limit the influence of corporate interests, according to Bruce Barry, Brownlee O. Currey Jr. Professor of Management and professor of sociology. Despite the recent financial tumult, the industry is vigorously lobbying to preserve the status quo. Barry predicts that “financial institutions will continue to take little responsibility for their role in inducing a credit crisis.” The longer term question is whether the nation will continue to allow disproportionate corporate influence over policy goals and outcomes, he says. A first test: The health care reform debate. Contact Barry at

Media contact: Ann Marie Deer Owens, (615) 322-NEWS