Research & Scholarship

Student Awards

Each year, the Department of Political Science awards a series of prizes to deserving Tufts University Political Science and International Relations majors.

The James Vance Elliott Award is awarded in the senior year to students majoring in Political Science whose achievements best combine academic excellence with active participation and effective leadership in campus and civic affairs. The award recognizes the distinguished career of, former Chair (1956) and Professor of Political Science, James Vance Elliott.

The Peter Belfer Award is given annually for the outstanding piece of written work done in a political science course or independently by a political science major. This award was established in 1973 by Mrs. Ann Belfer Goldstein in memory of her late husband, Peter Belfer, A'67.


May 2021 Winners

Tys Sweeney is the recipient of the 2021 Elliott Award. His academic performance, combined with his work on The Daily and other civic activities, impressed the Political Science Faculty and led to his selection.

The 2021 Belfer Award for Best Thesis is shared by two remarkable works.

Bennett Fleming-Wood, "The Impact of School Discipline on Voter Turnout " (Advisors: Brian Schaffner and Martha Pott). The school to prison pipeline is a well-recorded process through which disciplinary policies track students out of schools and into the criminal justice system. While there is clear research documenting the school-to-prison pipeline and the demobilizing and disenfranchising effects of incarceration, there is little written about the longitudinal effects of school discipline on voter turnout. My thesis explores the impact of school discipline rates on youth voter turnout and registration, as well as adult turnout and registration. I conduct four linear regressions to determine the impact of per capita discipline rates in K-12 schools on voter activity. I find that counties with higher discipline rates have lower voter activity, for both young people and the electorate as a whole.

The Award Committee noted that this excellent thesis not only explores a very timely and important issue, but successfully tackles very difficult methodological challenges, shows clear and strong results, and does all this in engaging and lucid prose.

Tys Sweeney, "Hegelian Political Heritage in the United States: How Hegel’s Political Theory Influenced the Transformation of American Freedom and the State in the Twentieth Century" (Advisors: Robert Devigne and Vickie Sullivan). This study examines the philosophic and political challenge offered by mid-twentieth century progressivism and liberalism to the prevailing Lockean tradition of individualism and limited government in America. I examine the impact of G. W. F. Hegel’s political philosophy — especially his notions of positive liberty and the positive state — on John Dewey, Herbert Croly, and other founding philosophers of the American progressive movement. I explore how this new vision of political development informed the transformational state building efforts and social policies of the New Deal and post-war Liberal Consensus. I show that despite progressive liberalism’s own internal contradictions and powerful conservative opposition, this new governing philosophy established a political heritage, state structures, and policies that survive today.

The award committee recognized the superb quality of Sweeney’s thesis, noting with particular emphasis that it is exceptionally well written, learned, and daring in scope and ambition.

The 2021 Belfer Award for Best Paper was awarded to Brendan Hartnett and Alexandra Haver, for their paper "Impact of Popular Vote Margins on Accepting 2020 Presidential Election Results." The paper was written for PS 108: Public Opinion and US Democracy, taught by Prof. Brian Schaffner. It also won the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) Best Paper Award.

The results of the 2020 Presidential Election were greatly challenged both preemptively and after the fact. Due to the growing uncertainty that preceded the election, we chose to analyze support among voters for their preferred candidate resisting the results of the election. To do this, we asked respondents to the Tufts University "Polling the 2020 Election Seminar’" National Election poll about what their preferred candidate should do if they lost the Electoral College across various popular vote margins. We provide insight into the impact of popular vote margins on election legitimacy, into the favorability of the Electoral College, and into views that would warrant voters supporting their candidate challenging the results. Through the end of 2020, we offer analysis of what the presidential election results and the actions of political elites mean for U.S. democracy. Our analysis does not include events that transpired in 2021.

The Award Committee commended the authors for their high-impact, professional quality study, which is astutely designed and beautifully executed.


May 2020 Winners

Laurel Bliss and Shannon Lee are the recipients of the 2020 Elliott Award. They were selected for their success in their Political Science coursework, their leadership on efforts to engage and improve the Tufts community, and their civic engagement efforts in life beyond Tufts.

The 2020 Belfer Award for Best Thesis was awarded to two recipients this year.

Emily Kibbe, "Masculinity, Femininity and Environmental Action" (Advisors: Deborah Schildkraut and Richard Eichenberg). This thesis examines the impact of masculine and feminine personality traits on environmental engagement. Kibbe developed a creative application of an existing theory to and understudied area. It was not just an application of a theory's hypotheses to a new topic but a modification of those hypotheses in light of the unique insights she had about environmental politics. Ultimately, Kibbe found that masculinity and femininity both lead to increased environmental action, as expected. This was true for individual actions, like using reusable bags and composting, as well as for political actions, like contacting and elected official and protesting. She also found that femininity has a greater impact on individual actions while masculinity has a greater impact on political actions. In support of this award, her advisors wrote, "This thesis ranks among the very best ever completed in political science. It derives precise and important hypotheses from a body of previous theory and research, and it employs very sophisticated statistical tools to evaluate them. Finally, the prose is immaculate. A tour de force all around."

Alexis Tatore, "When Party Trumps All" (Advisors: Brian Schaffner and Jeffrey Berry). This thesis seeks to understand whether, when, and why Republicans criticize Trump. Tatore chose to take on an ambitious task – to find and code every instance in which a Republican member of Congress criticized President Trump on Twitter and then try to understand what causes Republicans to criticize the president. One of her important findings is that when Republicans criticize Trump, it is almost always because he is diverging from the party's issue agenda, not because of his many non-issue based transgressions. In support of this award, one of her advisors wrote, "This is the best undergraduate thesis I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Not only that, but it is better empirical and theoretical work than many of my past PhD students produced in their dissertations. It is an outstanding piece of scholarship, and I am completely confident it will be published in a good American politics journal.

The Political Science Awards Committee wrote, "The Committee concluded that both of these theses are urgently relevant. Emily's work deals with the gendered aspects of climate change activism; Alexis's examines the unification of GOP congresspeople around President Trump. Both are methodologically sound. Both are closely engaged with the relevant scholarly debates, rigorously reasoned, and beautifully written. Emily's analytical prose is particularly impressive, but equally impressive is Alexis's creative approach and painstaking work (using Twitter to track variations in the tone of GOP reps and senators, from the time of Trump's candidacy to his impeachment). At base, both theses address the ever-important issue of political engagement, one at the level of the citizenry, the other at the elite level; and both make a contribution to the literature. In brief, both are exemplary works, and fully deserving of the Belfer Prize."

The 2020 Belfer Award for Best Paper was awarded to two recipients this year as well.

Samantha Heyman, "The 'Eternal Object of Our Pursuits': Understanding Virtue in the Spirit of the Laws," written for Political Thought of Montesquieu, taught by Prof. Vickie Sullivan. In nominating the paper, Sullivan wrote, "not only does Sam's final paper enter into the scholarly debate quite successfully, but she actually develops her own rather distinctive interpretation of Montesquieu's thought. This is an extremely impressive achievement for an undergraduate. [When] she discusses Montesquieu's reference to a well-ordered constitution, she argues that his reference to combining powers must necessarily refer to powers outside of governmental ones. Neither have I ever read the passage in that way nor have other scholars made that suggestion, to my knowledge. It was a "wow" moment." The Political Science Awards Committee was impressed by her intellectual sophistication and flawless execution and recognizes her valuable contribution to our understating of Montesquieu's work.

Shoshana Goldman, "Kurdish Rights in Turkey and the Long Road to Reform," written for Turkish Foreign Policy, taught by Prof. Malik Mufti. In nominating the paper, Mufti wrote, "I found it to be a very well-written, well-organized, and smart paper that made good use of the available sources and selected some very apt quotes. Most importantly, it captures the complexity and multi-dimensionality of the Turkish-Kurdish relationship better than many published accounts, including academic ones." Our awards committee was impressed by her sharp and systematic analysis of an extremely complex issue, and the clarity she brought to our understanding of Kurdish rights reforms in Turkey.


2019 Winners

Peter Belfer Awards
Alexandra G. Fognani
Jacob T. Rubel

James Vance Elliot Award
Catherine Perloff

Matthew Shea Memorial Awards
Kai Smith
Jacob Rubel
James Himberger


May 2018 Winners

Misha Linnehan and Zara Rancheva are the recipients of the 2018 Elliott Award.

The 2018 Belfer Award for Best Thesis was given to Lorenza Ramirez for her thesis, "Apruebo Este Mensaje:" How the Language of Political Communication Affects the Political Attitudes of Linguistically Diverse Latino Voters. This thesis was written under the supervision of Professor Natalie Masuoka, who wrote of this project: "Ramirez finds that not only does it matter whether or not [a political advertisement] is communicated in Spanish but also that how Spanish is communicated (the type of accent, the type of speaker, etc) influences Latino voter attitudes.  [Lorenza] shows that bilingual Latinos respond very differently to political ads compared to those who are English dominant. It is an enjoyable read and demonstrates the superior quality of research our students are capable of producing for the thesis program."

The 2018 Belfer Award for Best Paper was given to Benjamin Kaminoff for his paper, which was written as an Independent Study, Running as a Gay Man in 2018: Do Homophobic Views Still Impact the Congressional Campaigns of LGBTQ Politicians? This paper was written under the supervision of Professor Natalie Masuoka, who wrote, "This paper shows just how unusual American public opinion about gay rights is relative to other issues--it is an issue where Americans really have shifted in their biases towards LGBT identified individuals and developed a more neutral or even positive perception of these individuals, yet at the same time continue to hold latent stereotypes. I am so impressed with the amount of fieldwork Ben conducted for this study. Even with all this fieldwork, Ben composed an extremely well written paper which includes an impressive review of the academic literature.  It is really a perfect candidate for the Belfer award."

Read about previous award winners >