Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy Year in Review 2020-21

Facilitating research on critical issues in American democracy and encouraging Notre Dame students’ engagement in civic and political life.

The Rooney Center’s central mission is to better understand American democracy, to share that understanding with the broader society, and to instill that knowledge in the next generation of American citizens and leaders. As the U.S. experiences rising polarization, misinformation, and distrust in democratic institutions, that mission is more important than ever.”

Matthew E.K. Hall, Director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy and David A. Potenziani Memorial College Professor of Constitutional Studies

Public Scholarship

Over the past year, Rooney Center faculty shared their research through op-eds and interviews with several major media outlets.

Christina Wolbrecht’s A Century of Votes for Women

Political Science Professor and former Rooney Center Director Christina Wolbrecht’s timely and impactful book generated significant media interest in 2020. Her research was cited in Smithsonian Magazine and the Wall Street Journal and she was quoted in The New York Times inauguration story “Why Kamala Harris and ‘Firsts’ Matter, and Where They Fall Short.

Interview Highlights

The Real Story Behind ‘Because of Sex.’ in Slate, June 2020.

How Rush Limbaugh helped turn feminism into an urgent threat to the Republican Party, in The 19th News, February 2021.


The Washington Post: "Barack Obama and Kamala Harris both identify as Black. The news media doesn't describe both that way" by Rooney Center graduate student Andrea Pena-Vasquez and recent Ph.D. Maryann Kwakwa, September 2020

The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage:Amy Coney Barrett is conservative. New data shows us how conservative” by Rooney Center Director Matt Hall and Professor Jeff Harden, October 2020

Ms. Magazine and Center for American Women and Politics blog: “Trump’s Rhetoric on Suburban Women Shows the Persistence of Gender Stereotypes in U.S. Elections” by Christina Wolbrecht, November 2020

In the News

Research Highlights

Geoff Layman and David E. Campbell new book: Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics

Jeff Harden in American Journal of Political Science: “Does Transparency Inhibit Political Compromise?

Matthew E.K. Hall in Journal of Empirical Legal Studies: “Affirming the District Judge: An Empirical Analysis of the Effect of District Court Judges Sitting by Designation on Circuit Court Panels

David E. Campbell in Daedalus (American Academy of Arts and Sciences): “The Perils of Politicized Religion

Spencer Lindsay in Social Science Quarterly: “The Transferability of Out-Group Contact: Does Knowing a Member of the LGBT Community Improve Feelings Toward Racial Minorities, Muslims, and Immigrants?

Geoff Layman and David E. Campbell in Public Opinion Quarterly: “Secularism and American Political Behavior

Public Events

The Rooney Center partners with faculty, centers and institutes across campus to offer events to the Notre Dame community to help them make sense of current events.

  • Flash Panel: Assault on the Capitol: What Just Happened? (with the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights)
  • Madam Vice President: Kamala Harris’ historic role and the pursuit of equality in the United States (with the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights)
  • Religion and the 2020 Presidential Election: The Enduring Divide
  • Justice for George Floyd? Unpacking the Verdict (with the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights)

Research Workshops

The Rooney Center regularly holds research workshops for faculty, graduate students and distinguished scholars who present and receive feedback on their work in progress. This year, the Center made the most of Zoom to host emerging scholars including:

  • Efren O. Perez, Professor, University of California Los Angeles
  • Rachel Porter, Ph.D. Candidate, University of North Carolina
  • Michelangelo Landgrave, Ph.D. Candidate, University of California Riverside
  • Patrick Tucker, Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University
  • Laura (Hussey) Antkowiak, Associate Professor, University of Maryland Baltimore County
  • Ursula Hackett, Senior Lecturer, University of London

The Center also supported a graduate student-led working group for research on the politics of race, ethnicity and sexuality.

Outstanding Students

Romelia Solano

Graduate Student Romelia Solano received a Ford Foundation Fellowship from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The Fellowship will support research for her dissertation “Dignity Politics: Detention and Democracy in the U.S.” She is one of only six political science recipients in this year’s fellowship class.

Wayde Marsh

Graduate student Wayde Marsh was awarded the 2021 Religion, Spirituality, and Democratic Renewal Fellowship by the Social Science Research Council. The project is an expansion of Wayde’s dissertation that examines the competing influences of elected officials and interest groups leaders in shaping patterns of public empathy and blame after traumatic events. The project also tests the de-polarizing power religion may play in contemporary partisan politics.

Ellen Pil

The Rooney Center-funded John Roos Prize for best senior thesis went to Ellen Pil ’21 for her project “State Legislative Attention and Longitudinal Trends in Central Appalachian Opioid Policy," advised by Jeffrey Harden. Ellen graduated with degrees in pre-health and political science and is beginning her first year at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Undergraduate Programming

Washington Program

Although the Washington Program took place virtually in 2020–2021 due to Covid-19, we still offered enriching opportunities to our students. Students took classes via Zoom and learned from experts in their fields, like Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carlos Lozada, who taught a course called Reading Trump’s America. Over Winter Session, the Washington Program offered a 1-credit practicum opportunity on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, where students prepared two dossiers requesting sanctions against kleptocratic elites from the Republic of Congo who pilfered funds from state coffers and invested it in real estate in New Your City and Miami.

Hesburgh Program in Public Service

Tarik Brown and Greg Miller, both students in the Hesburg Program in Public Service, received the prestigious Truman Scholarship (a generous award towards graduate study to prepare for a career in public service) in recognition of their commitment to public service and leadership.

Hesburgh Program Assistant Director, Claudia Francis, received Notre Dame’s Dockweiler Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising.