Research Opportunities

Gov 92r

Gov 92r allows you to conduct research in the Government department for academic credit. It is graded SAT/UNSAT. If you are interested in any of these projects, please contact the supervisors directly. You will need to submit the Gov 92r form (available here) to Karen Kaletka before you can register for the course on my.harvard.

Fall 2020


Christina Davis
Trade Conflict and Cooperation
This research project examines the politics of trade disputes with a focus how institutions at home and in the international regime help states to balance competing interests. First, one paper compares how governments structure the domestic bureaucracy that conducts trade policy.  Foreign trade is at the nexus of commerce and diplomacy.  For a leadership that seeks an active trade agenda for broad economic interests, this presents a challenge. Managing trade as commercial policy will risk capture as an instrument of industrial policy. Alternatively, handling trade as part of the foreign policy portfolio risks cooptation as a tool of economic statecraft.  Confronting this dilemma, the United States Congress established the USTR as an independent agency focused exclusively on trade policy. But few other governments follow this path. Trade policy in most countries falls under the jurisdiction of either the foreign ministry or the commerce ministry – what explains the choice to center trade policy closer to industry or foreign policy?  Research will involve compiling detailed analysis of the bureaucracy across countries at each stage of trade policy development.  

The second paper looks at the effectiveness of the World Trade Organization to shape the trade policies of its members.  Under intense criticism from the United States, which has blocked the functioning of the WTO Appellate Body, the World Trade Organization dispute settlement system lies at a crossroads.  The paper will consider the empirical record for how well it has functioned to resolve specific disputes and whether it reduces their future occurrence. The research will update a dataset of potential trade disputes coded from U.S. government reports on foreign trade barriers to allow comparison of outcomes achieved in bilateral negotiations and those brought to the WTO. Case studies will explore the role of WTO jurisprudence within other members facing related policy choices to uncover any evidence that disputes have positive spillover to bring reforms and reduce future disagreements.
Prerequisities (courses and/or methodological skills): Preference will be given to those who have a familiarity with reading business news and have taken a course in economics or political economy and feel confident in their ability to code data in excel and use R software to produce simple tables and graphs.
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Emilee Martichenko (


Chase Harrison
Using the Science of Survey Methodology to Improve the Quality of Harvard College Student Surveys
Harvard College regularly conducts surveys of students which inform FAS policy and practice in a variety of areas, and help the college learn more about its students. This project will use the science of survey methodology to improve these surveys. Specifically, surveys at Harvard and in virtually every other setting face problems with declining response rates. Survey methodologists are actively developing adaptive and responsive design approaches to maximize the quality of survey data and reduce the bias induced by low-response rates. We will learn about these principles and practices and develop approaches to implement them in surveys of Harvard college students.
Student Activities in this research project will include:
Reviewing published literature in responsive survey design to understand the current state-of-the-art approaches used to maximize survey response rates while minimizing bias in other settings. We will identify the state-of-the-art responsive survey design strategies used to collect high-quality survey data across the world.

Reviewing published literature suggesting approaches to increasing survey response rates among students. Examples of approaches reviewed in the literature include different types of incentives, contacts, messages, appeals, survey timing, survey length, and so forth. We will identify the approaches that have been found to increase response rates to surveys of college students and understand whether or not these strategies have been successful in improving data quality.

Meeting with the FAS Institutional Research Office and reviewing current approaches to conducting surveys. We will review the challenges FAS faces in conducting surveys, review differing response rates among different groups of students, and review the current approaches FAS uses to implement surveys. We will learn what FAS currently does to collect survey data among Harvard undergraduates.

Providing evidence-based recommendations to FAS on how to improve response rates in surveys of Harvard College students. We will develop recommendations based on our literature review on ways FAS can improve the quality of their survey data. hypotheses about approaches which might improve FAS survey quality, either overall or within different types of students, and design survey experiments to test these hypotheses. We will develop specific tests which can be implemented to understand the specific factors that will lead to maximal survey data quality across all sub-populations.
Prerequisities (courses and/or methodological skills): The ideal student for this project will have taken GOV 1010 or a similar course on survey research methods.  Students who have previous experience administering surveys to students or other populations, or who have experience recruiting subjects to lab-pools will also be well-prepared for this project.
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Dr. Chase Harrison,

Alisha Holland
Can Infrastructure Fund a Political Campaign? Insights from Latin America
Why do politicians build infrastructure projects that won’t be completed during their time in office?  This project investigates the role of infrastructure as a source of campaign finance in developing countries.  Quantitatively, it tests whether countries with less public campaign finance are more likely to build large infrastructure projects.  Qualitatively, it uses leaked documents from the Car Wash investigation in Brazil and the Panama Papers to examine the importance of campaign donations for what infrastructure projects get built.  Research responsibilities may include summarizing newspaper articles on campaign finance scandals, analyzing and coding testimonies related to judicial investigations, and, if interested, analyzing data on public campaign finance cross-nationally.
Prerequisities (courses and/or methodological skills): Knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese is a plus; some statistical training (R or Stata) is a plus but not required
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Prof. Alisha Holland:

Kosuke Imai
Legislative Redistricting in America
Legislative districts serve as the fundamental building block of democratic representation in the United States.  Congressional redistricting, which redraws district boundaries in each state following the decennial Census, plays a central role in influencing who is elected and hence what policies are eventually enacted.  Unfortunately, because the stakes are so high, political parties often engage in gerrymandering by manipulating district boundaries in order to amplify the voting power of some groups while diluting that of others. 

Our research group has recently developed several statistical and computational methods that allow one to detect gerrymandering.  We are gearing up for the upcoming redistricting cycle that is likely to occur next year after the 2020 Census.  We look for undergraduate students who help us apply these methods to evaluate redistricting from past decades in various states.  Students will collect necessary data, apply the methods, and produce a final report.  Depending on their background, students may also contribute to the software and other methodological development. 
Prerequisities (courses and/or methodological skills):  Interested students should have at least two semesters of statistics and computer science classes.  The solid knowledge of statistical programming language R is required.  Students should also be interested in legal and political aspects of redistricting.
Contact: Those who are interested in this course should email the following materials to Ms. Emilee Martichenko at

  • Curriculum vitae
  • Transcript
  • One-page application essay explaining your qualification and motivation


David Kane
Tools for Data Science Education

I teach two courses: Gov 50: Data and Gov 52: Models. The purpose of this project is to create tools and resources --- using R, Git, GitHub, and DataCamp --- which make these courses more effective.
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills): Gov 1005, Gov 50, or the equivalent.
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to:


Pia Raffler
Does Debate Participation Matter?
We are exploring whether debate participation hurts or promotes electoral success. A growing number of countries hold Presidential debates, including in the developing world. Whether candidates participate is a strategic decision, of which we do not yet understand the ramifications. Organizations promoting debates, such as NDI, wonder about this as well. We have constructed a dataset with presidential elections, whether a debate took place, and if so, who participated in it for Africa and Latin America. In addition, we are collecting time-series polling data of each case where a debate took place, before and after the debate, as well as Twitter data. This data will allow us to estimate the effect of debate participation on voter sentiment through a difference-in-difference analysis. Dataset construction is almost complete and data analysis is underway. We are recruiting RAs to help with the finalization of the data set construction and data analysis. In the process, students will learn about politics in Africa and Latin America and a host of data sources and will build their skills manipulating and analyzing data.
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills): Statistics background and experience coding in R or Stata a strong plus.
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Prof. Pia Raffler (, and Prof. Horacio Larreguy (


Daniel M. Smith
Representative Democracies with Unrepresentative Bureaucracies
How representative are government bureaucracies of the people they serve? Political theorists have argued that elected politicians’ backgrounds should be representative of the population, especially with regard to gender, race, geography, and class background. Less attention has been paid to unelected civil servants, despite the fact that civil servants in most democracies have considerable influence over the details of laws that affect all citizens. Building a representative bureaucracy is not a trivial undertaking, as there may be tradeoffs between representativeness or diversity and expertise or experience.

This project will collect data on the socioeconomic backgrounds of civil servants in multiple democracies, in order to test theoretical predictions about the causes and consequences of representative bureaucracies. Concrete questions include: When there are more women in the bureaucracy, are policies friendlier to women’s interests? When geographical parts of the country supply fewer bureaucrats, do those areas get fewer redistributive benefits? Does the bureaucracy get less representative at higher ranks or seniority and power? Does the representativeness of the bureaucracy matter more/less when elected politicians are more/less representative of the population?

The RA will mainly be involved in collecting and organizing documents and data, as well as drafting literature reviews or notes on country cases. Qualified applicants will also have the opportunity to work on data analysis. In the process, the RA will learn about the patterns of representation in each of the countries included in the study, and build experience and skills in building a research project. A particular focus will be gender representation, but we will also be collecting data on other attributes of civil servants.
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills): None. Japanese, Norwegian, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Swedish language skills would be especially helpful and welcome, but not required. The student should be familiar with Excel, and will be encouraged to learn how to use either Stata or R over the course of the semester. Other data management skills are helpful, but not necessary.
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Professor Daniel M. Smith:

George Soroka
Religion and the Response to COVID-19
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the country, an interesting tension is being evinced between religious bodies that stress their right to gather and worship freely and public health authorities. This research project seeks to contact, map and interview religious leaders across the US in order to better understand the particular dynamics at play when negotiating the boundaries between religious liberties and public health.  
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills): Gov 62 (preferred) or another comprehensive research methods course.
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Dr. George Soroka,


George Soroka
Memory Laws in Europe
I am seeking a research assistant to help with compiling and fact-checking a database of memory laws (legal proscriptions on how the past is depicted or allowed to be publicly talked about) for a book project I'm working on with a German colleague. Ideal person would be someone who has high-level fluency in one of the languages either myself or my co-author do not read (i.e., other than German, French, Russian, Ukrainian, or Polish).    
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills): None except for curiosity and willingness to work with attention to detail.
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Dr. George Soroka,


Julie Anne Weaver
Re-election and Accountability in Low- and Middle-income Countries
Re-election is theorized as an important tool for generating political accountability, but under what conditions does it actually work in practice?  This project evaluates this question by focusing on how weak parties and institutions impact re-election and accountability in local-level elections.  As part of the project, the Research Assistant would be responsible for building a dataset of mayoral/local-level re-election rates across low- and middle-income countries worldwide, and conducting preliminary analysis.  Main research tasks would include original data collection from countries’ electoral institutions’ websites; cleaning the data; data visualization; writing a short analytical piece on re-elections in each country; conducting relevant literature reviews; and if time allows, analysis of complementary survey data in each country. This is a great opportunity for someone interested in developing their skills in data management and analysis, and learning more about local politics and accountability in developing countries. 
Prerequisites (courses and/or methodological skills): Ability to use R (beginner-level is fine if you have an interest in developing more advanced skills). Spanish or French language skills an advantage but not required.
Contact: If you're interested, send a CV and a short paragraph on why this project interests you to: Dr. Julie Anne Weaver,