Political Science Now

Jeremy Ferwerda– 2017 Gabriel A. Almond Award Recipient

The Gabriel A. Almond prize is awarded annually for the best dissertation in the field of comparative politics. It carries a prize of $750.

The award was created in recognition of Gabriel Almond’s contributions to the discipline, profession, and Association. He was a long time faculty member at Stanford University and former APSA President (1966). Almond’s scholarly work contributed directly to the development of theory in comparative politics and brought together work on the developing areas and Western Europe that prevented splintering into an array of disparate areas studies.

Jeremy Ferwerda is an assistant professor of Government at Dartmouth College. He received his PhD in Political Science from MIT in September 2015, where his dissertation work was supported by the Social Science Research Council and Harvard University’s Center for European Studies. Before graduate school, he graduated summa cum laude from Cornell University and worked at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co.

Jeremy Ferwerda (PhD, MIT) is the winner of this year’s Gabriel A. Almond Prize for the best dissertation in the field of comparative politics. Ferwerda begins with the observation that European local governments’ discretion over redistributive policy has grown over the past thirty years. Ferwerda discovers that surprisingly decentralized discretion over policy has not led to a “race to the bottom” in social spending as it is commonly argued. Instead, newly empowered local governments exert greater redistributive effort, often raising their own revenue to do so. Ferwerda develops an important argument to make sense of this new finding: local and national redistributive politics differ because of voters’ proximity to politicians and each other. He identifies two channels through which the “politics of proximity” affects redistributive spending. First, voters feel local negative externalities associated with poverty more keenly than national ones. Second, because local electorates are relatively small, politicians’ can swing elections by using redistributive policy to mobilize voters, particularly poor ones. Ferwerda provides impressive and original evidence for his theory using carefully constructed subnational tests with data from Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, and Sweden. Some of the core findings of Ferwerda’s important dissertation include evidence that support for redistribution, especially amongst the wealthy, is greater in smaller municipalities. He also shows that local governments increase redistributive spending in response to visible disorder and if they raise their own revenue. Additionally, he finds that local politicians who spend on social services and transfers perform better at the ballot box. Finally, he demonstrates that local redistributive spending mobilizes poor voters, as turnout is higher in local elections than national ones in poor municipalities with discretion over social spending. In sum, while the Almond Committee had to choose among some very impressive dissertations, we have selected Ferwerda’s dissertation for its richly theorized and novel empirical findings on a substantively important topic, conducted in a highly empirically rigorous manner, which all together represent a significant contribution to the field of comparative politics and beyond.

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