19: Ross Butters


Political Science

Program and Year of Study

PhD in American Politics, 3rd year

Previous degrees and colleges

BA Political Science, The Ohio State University

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Germany, but grew up in “the Cereal City,” Battle Creek, Michigan.

Where do you live now?

Sacramento, CA

What's your favorite spot in Davis?

My favorite spot in Davis is Central Park, especially on Saturdays. The Farmer’s Market is second to none. 

How do you relax?

I’m an avid Buckeye fan, so I relax by watching whatever OSU sport I can, whenever I can. I also like hanging out with my new cat, Morty. He can make it pretty difficult to stay motivated when I’m working from home.

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

What was the last film you saw at the theater?

I can’t remember the movie, but my girlfriend and I went with our neighbor. All I remember is that our neighbor fell asleep.

Research interests

My research focuses on the impact of social factors on individual political attitudes and behavior. Specifically, I am interested in understanding how composition of political communication networks, and the information therein, influences political attitudes and participation of individuals. I also examine what contextual factors influence the composition of these networks. 

Dissertation title or topic

I do not have a title quite yet, but the topic will be related to how individuals perceive, interact with, and are affected by their social and contextual environments.

Please share a surprising or noteworthy fact or finding from your research

I’ve been looking into how political disagreement has survived several recent, hotly contested presidential elections. The most interesting finding from my investigation of the 2016 election is that 75 percent of Americans regularly talk politics only with members of their own political tribe. It’s not news that many people don’t often encounter political disagreement, but as recently as the 2000 presidential election, scholars found that 65 percent of Republicans and Democrats had homogeneous discussion networks. This means that in just 15 years, Americans’ political discussion networks have become even more closed off. 

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

At OSU, I worked with Professor Janet Box-Steffensmeier on a project investigating the development of obstructionist techniques in the US Senate. She really encouraged me to pursue graduate school. 

Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?

I wish I had written John Zaller’s The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. It’s a good book and it seems like it gets cited for everything, even if the thing being cited isn’t really in there. 

Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?

I work closely with Robert Huckfeldt in my own department. He’s spent most of his career studying communication networks and decision-making. I also really like the work that Mark Lubell does in Environmental Policy. 

What’s the best thing about being a grad student?

I am always surprised at how much I enjoy keeping my own schedule. Having so much control over my schedule can also be a little terrifying, but if I want to write on my patio all day, I love having that ability. 

What's the worst?

Also having almost complete control over my schedule. It can be difficult to stay on task when I know I can just start working whenever and wherever I want. 

If you weren’t a grad student, what would you be doing?

I would still be doing research, but with a government agency or think tank. If I didn’t have to worry about money, I would open a barbeque restaurant or food truck. 

Finally, please ask yourself a question

What is your dream vacation?

I would love to go back to Germany and spend as much time as possible with the friends and neighbors that still live in the area where I was born. The rolling hills, vineyards, and rivers are especially beautiful in the summer. The people are amazing all year round.


—June 2017


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