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Political Science Department Chair Susan Scarrow awarded $264,000 NSF grant

National Science Foundation grant is funding creation of international database on political parties over 3 years

Prof. Scarrow

Susan Scarrow, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science has been awarded a $264,000, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to support her research on how political parties structure political participation and representation in parliamentary democracies.

Dr. Scarrow is leading an international collaborative project that includes teams in 19 countries, including Canada, Australia and European Union member nations.  Collectively they are gathering data about the organizations and resources of 138 political parties.

Entitled “Political Party Database Project: How Parties Shape Democracy in Parliamentary Systems,” this multi-national research project will produce a user-friendly database comparing parties’ organizational practices, and a book whose chapters analyze how parties’ organizations affect areas such as which candidates are selected, and which funding sources are most important.

“The aim of the research and the database is to help strengthen party-based representative democracies, for instance by identifying party practices which encourage under-represented groups to play a more active role in politics,” Dr. Scarrow said.

“When completed, the information that we gather will provide a window into party organizational practices and political outcomes in both established and newer democracies,” Dr. Scarrow said.

To do the work, expert teams from each country are systematically collecting information on parties’ rules and practices, uniformly inputting that information into a single database and making the database available to the public. Team members will use the standardized data to conceptualize and test the impact of party resources and structures.

“Potential users of the data include political parties which are considering changes to their statutes, as well as democracy-promoting organizations such as USAID, the National Democratic Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy,” Dr. Scarrow said.

The National Science Foundation grant money will be used to build the human and technological infrastructure needed to establish the Political Party Database as a self-supporting long-term endeavor.

Dr. Scarrow’s award is part of an approximately $750,000 total grant being shared with her collaborators Professor Thomas Poguntke of the Dusseldorf Party Research Institute at Heinrich-Heine University Dusseldorf in Germany and Professor Paul D. Webb of the University of Sussex Department of Politics in Brighton, England.

The total grant amount was awarded by the Open Research Area scheme, a program run by the U.S. National Science Foundation and four European national research agencies to promote international collaborations in social science research. This is the third round of funding since the scheme was launched in 2010 and the first round with the United States as a partner.

Of the 15 projects awarded grants by the scheme, nine included scholars at U.S. colleges and universities. The University of Houston was the only institution in Texas and the American South and Southwest regions to be awarded funding in this round.

Dr. Scarrow returned in early July from Warsaw, Poland, where she participated in a gathering of "party experts" sponsored by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, an office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“This is an example of the kind of organization that has a ‘real world’ interest in the data we are gathering,” she said.

- By Shannon Buggs