3: Christy Cahill


Political Science

Program and year of study

PhD Candidate in Comparative Politics, 6th year

Previous degrees and colleges

BA Political Science and International Studies, University of Iowa 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the tiny town of Nevada, Iowa, named the 26th Best Small Town in America (at least in the early 1990s). 

Where do you live now?


What's your favorite spot in Davis?

I teach spinning classes at the FitHouse in downtown Davis four days a week, and I love the supportive and encouraging community there. 

How do you relax?

I sneak up to Tahoe once a week to go skiing. I also relax by running and walking on the green belts around town, going to yoga classes at FitHouse, and going to happy hour at U of Beer.

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Like thousands of other Americans, I recently read Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, to try to figure out what in the world is happening right now with American politics. 

What was the last film you saw at the theater?


Research interests

I have been collecting data on private campaign contributions to political parties in 13 Western democracies from the early 1990s to the present. I am interested in how these private donations incentivize parties to present ambiguous policy positions to the electorate, and then the subsequent consequences of these ambiguous policy positions on parties’ vote-shares. I am also broadly interested in how political institutions—primarily ballot structure--shapes the behavior of voters and political elites in Western democracies. 

Dissertation title or topic

The Causes and Electoral Consequences of Policy Ambiguity for European Political Parties 

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

The structure of a ballot has massive influences on the campaigning behavior of candidates. If a ballot is structured so that voters can choose individual candidates (such as in Norway or Finland), then candidates tend to be personal in their campaigns by emphasizing personal attributes, “localness”, and experience. If the ballot is structured so that voters can only choose a list of candidates that is presented by party leaders (Spain and Chile), then candidates overwhelmingly emphasize the party in their political campaigns. I am continuously blown away at how making seemingly minor revisions to a ballot can have such huge impacts on the behavior of political elites and voters! 

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

I took an introductory quantitative political science class with Professor Michael S. Lewis-Beck at the University of Iowa that rocked my world. I remember being floored at how quantitative methods opened up this whole new creative and challenging framework for understanding social and political phenomenon. That’s when I switched from pursuing law school to graduate school. 

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

I wish I had written Capital, by Thomas Piketty. Piketty presents important arguments about the sources of inequality in modern industrialized countries. I appreciate that the book is relevant and interesting for both academic and non-academic audiences. 

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

In political science, Cory Belden does fascinating work on how political institutions shape government responsiveness and policy creation on environmental issues. Marisella Rodriguez analyzes human rights abuses during conflict, particularly in understanding patterns of sexual violence against women. Andrey Tomashevskiy does relevant work on how flows of foreign direct investment support right-wing governments.

Beyond my home department, talk to Amanda Modell (Cultural Studies) about her research and fieldwork on music festivals in Australia—her experience and research is so interesting! Jennella Loye and Scott Carroll travel around the world doing research on mosquito repellants. Jenella’s love for insects and animals shines through on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, and brings a smile to my face every day.  

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

The best thing about being a grad student is having a flexible schedule. 

What’s the worst?

The worst thing about being a grad student is never being able to completely turn off the work.  The pressure of exams, completing a dissertation, finding a job, publishing, and getting tenure is always present.

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

I used to work at an outdoor company, St. Elias Alpine Guides, in McCarthy, Alaska. If I wasn’t a graduate student, I would definitely be working at a ski resort in the winter, and then back to Alaska in the summers.  

Finally, please ask yourself a question

What do you appreciate the most about your experience at UC Davis? 

I appreciate the opportunities available at UC Davis to work outside of one’s field. I worked at the Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE) for three years, and it opened up a whole new world of academia for me. The consultants and staff at CEE are doing innovative and important work to promote effective and inclusive teaching strategies in higher education. My experience working at CEE actually changed my career goals and trajectory, and I recently accepted a position at Carnegie Mellon University in faculty development.


—February 2017


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