How research experience influenced a career in political science: the case of Josue Gomez and CLEA

Developed by Katie Brown and Josue Gomez.

This is the first post in a series about students working on research projects in the Center for Political Studies (CPS). Here, we profile Josue Gomez, whose work on the Constituency-Level Elections Archive (CLEA) helped influence his career path in political science.

blog26_1Josue Gomez was raised in a farming community in southern Idaho, the son of a Mexican-American farm worker. The current debate on immigration policy, especially the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, piqued his interest in politics. He enrolled at Boise State University — the first in his family to attend college — and majored in political science. As part of the McNair Scholars program supporting under-represented students, Josue was required to complete a summer research program prior to graduating. Josue and his advisor, Ross Burkhart, identified the University of Michigan as a good place to apply, and Josue was accepted as part of the Student Research Opportunity Program (SROP) at Michigan. Through the SROP program, he joined the Constituency-Level Elections Archive (CLEA) project as a research assistant in the Summer of 2012.

CLEA is a repository of detailed election results from around the world which collects outcomes from lower house elections. CLEA provides opportunities for students to be involved at all stages of the data collection process, providing valuable experience and training for them.  Working on research projects can be an excellent way for students to explore whether they would like to further their career in research and academia. Many of CLEA’s alumni have gone on to attend graduate school and obtained research-oriented jobs.

As part of his responsibilities on the CLEA project, Josue was assigned to work on Latin American and a few European countries. Given his fluency in Spanish and natural inclination to learn about these countries, Josue grew a strong connection to the project. Among the countries he was assigned to work on, he was encouraged to choose one to study in more depth. Chile was the largest country in Latin America that was not yet represented in CLEA, and Josue decided that it would be valuable for CLEA to include it.  As Josue studied the intricacies and results of elections in Chile, he became interested in a broader research agenda concerning political parties and democratization. Prior to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinoche, Chile had held elections  After the dictatorship was removed, Chile began to hold elections again. In his studies, Josue began to wonder how relationships between parties and an old regime (in Chile’s case, the dictatorship) influence the performance of the parties in elections during and following the transition to democracy.

At the time, Josue was a senior at Boise State University. In his work on CLEA he identified what became a fundamental question for him: How do parties succeed in foundational elections? CLEA also helped him begin to answer this question.

As a McNair Scholar, Josue published a short article based on his work with CLEA. In the blog26_2paper, Josue lays out a spectrum of parties that exist in new democracies, in order to help understand why some parties are more successful than others. Focused on Latin America, Josue finds a relationship between party alignment in older regimes and success in new elections.

Josue notes that political scientists and other researchers are always looking for reliable data like that provided by CLEA. By examining the electoral rules and election results from countries around the world, researchers can discover what electoral systems work better in certain regions and in certain time frames, investigate how political parties developed or declined, and seek to understand whether and why the democratic experience is working or not.

Josue’s experience in building social science infrastructure and his own research skills in his work with CLEA laid the foundation for his McNair Scholars paper, and has also influenced his academic path.  The experience has led him to pursue a Ph.D.; he is currently enrolled as a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at The Ohio State University

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