Katherine Cramer to visit SIU for discussion about public opinion

Katherine Cramer to visit SIU for discussion about public opinion

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Katherine Cramer
Leah Williams

A well-known political science professor from the University of Wisconsin Madison is coming to Southern Illinois University to talk about public opinion.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6, at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s Morton-Kenney Public Affairs Lecture in the Student Center Ballroom B.

Cramer, who is the director of the Mogridge Center for Public Service and a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the college, will present a discussion on public opinion with an immersive focus where she invites herself into the conversations of different groups of people in hopes of learning how they understand public affairs.

Cramer said she first became interested in public opinion while she was growing up and having dinner conversation about current events with her parents.

“I have probably been interested in public opinion my whole life,” Cramer said.

The professor wrote “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker,” which was published by University of Chicago Press in 2016. The book examines the disenfranchised feeling many citizens living in rural communities feel toward the political process.

Instead of relying on public opinion polls and other empirical data, Cramer took to the field and listened to residents at informal places like gas stations and coffee shops discuss their views to their neighbors.

“I knew I wanted to invite myself into the conversation,” she said of her research style.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a bitter contested recall in 2012 and was subsequently reelected. Cramer looked to answer how people who could stand to benefit from strong government services, vote against a candidate who supports these services and also stand against the idea of big government.

The book found that the disagreements about basic political principles are often rooted into views of identity and how that candidate’s social identity may match — or perceive to match — one’s own ideals and reflect how they understand politics regardless of whether urban politicians and supporters shortchange those living in the rural areas.

Her book discovered a growing resentment that existed in rural communities toward more urban areas. Cramer said the people she interviewed longed for a past where they weren’t hardened by economic downturn.

“It’s not something I set out to find,” she said. “I’m from a bigger city but once it was there it started to make sense”

Jak Tichenor, interim director for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said Cramer’s research coincides with other research that has been done as well as the outcome of the 2016 election.

“It continues a trend we have been seeing the last 20 years in the state houses and the local government races,” he said. “She has some interesting ideas and while some might not agree with what she has to say, I think they’ll find it thought-provoking.”

Political Science Professor John Jackson said he first started noticing Cramer’s research this past fall and received her book over the holiday season. He said after he finished reading her work, he recalled seeing parallels between what happened in Wisconsin and the downstate versus Chicago debate that has existed for years in Illinois.

“It’s extremely well researched,” Jackson said. “It reminded me of the history of Illinois and her explanation of why Wisconsin worked the way it did was interesting.”

Cramer has also been published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Vox.com, USA Today and the Guardian. She also wrote “Talking About Race: Community Dialogues and the Politics of Difference” and “Talking About Politics: Informal Groups and Social Identity in American Life.” She was also a co-author on “Democracy at Risk: How Political Choices Have Undermined Citizenship And What Can We Do About It.”

Cramer said she plans to explore other research and writing opportunities, including finding out how to capture public opinion without the use of public opinion polls and a project about why some people have sorted into political parties.

Cramer said she believes the divide between rural and urban ideals will continue until there is a conscious effort to unite.

“What should we do? Listen to areas where there are larger populations of white people than people of color? That’s clearly no what should be done,” she said. “But then there’s something fundamentally wrong with our system when so many people feel like they are unheard.”