Samuel Abrams

Samuel Abrams

Undergraduate Discipline

Politics

AB, Stanford University. AM, PhD, Harvard University. Visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC; faculty fellow at George Mason's Institute for Humane Studies; faculty fellow at Center for Advanced Social Science Research at NYU; and member of the Council on Foreign Relations. A graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government Program on Inequality and Social Policy and a former affiliate of Harvard's Canada Program and Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Main topics of research include social policy, inequality, international political economy, and comparative and American politics; special interest in network analysis, the media, Congress, political behavior, urban studies and cities, public opinion and survey research, political communication and elections, and the social nature of political behavior. Conducted fieldwork throughout Europe and North America. Authored three books and numerous peer-reviewed and popular press works. Two substantial projects are presently in progress: a deep-dive into American political tradition and local community and an empirical study aimed at understanding the political culture on college and university campuses. SLC, 2010–

Undergraduate Courses 2018-2019

Politics

Community and Civility

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Social theorist Wendell Berry argues, “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” This course will explicitly examine Berry’s ideas about collective possibility and how community shapes the American idea, our national ethos, political and social life, and the very concept of civility that is essential in society. From America’s founding to the Age of Trump, the course will look at how concepts of community and civility have evolved from New England and frontier towns to suburban postwar sprawl and the current rise of inner cities, planned communities, and gentrification. Moreover, the course will attempt to make sense of the seeming polarization in American society today, along with the concurrent rise in rudeness, anxiety, social dislocation, and isolation that is chronicled regularly in both popular and academic writing. To be sure, this course on community and civility fits into a larger and growing area of research that has shown that the norms and networks of civil society have powerful practical effects in many disparate geographic, political, and economic arenas, including questions of inequality and social mobility. We will examine concepts such as “social capital” and “civil society,” and the seminar will explore these areas with a focus on the United States. Although many issues, concepts, and methods discussed in this seminar have important analogues in other settings, from the United Kingdom to Brazil, the literature and substantive focus of this seminar is entirely US-based. This seminar is intended to be both practical and contemporaneous to the politics of the present, and it will straddle the border between academic research and contemporary policy questions. The course will be both applied and theoretical and will ask students to apply social scientific concepts and methods to controversial public problems. The course is advanced, the workload is intense, and prior background in American history and politics is preferable.

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Previous Courses

Presidential Power

Open , Seminar—Year

The President is the most prominent actor in the US government, and developing an understanding of how and why political leaders make the choices that they do is the goal of this course. Presidents must make countless decisions while in office and, as Edwards and Wayne explain, “Executive officials look to [the presidency] for direction, coordination, and general guidance in the implementation of policy...Congress looks to it for establishing priorities, exerting influence...the heads of foreign governments look to it for articulating positions, conducting diplomacy, and flexing muscle; the general public looks to it for...solving problems and exercising symbolic and moral leadership...” This course will examine and analyze the development and modern practice of presidential leadership in the United States by studying the evolution of the modern presidency, which includes the process of presidential selection and the structure of the presidency as an institution. We will then reflect on the ways in which presidents make decisions and seek to shape foreign, economic, and domestic policy. This will be based on a variety of literatures, ranging from social psychology to organizational behavior. We will look at the psychology and character of presidents in this section of the course. We will also explore the relationship of the presidency to other major governmental institutions and organized interests. We will pay particular attention to how presidents have attempted to expand presidential power and the various struggles the White House has had with the ministry, Congress, the Judicary, and global institutions such as the United Nations. We will pay particular attention to a particular set of presidents: Franklin D Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, and Dwight D Eisenhower. We will conclude by examining the post-9/11 era of Bush, Obama, and Trump, where all of these presidents have greatly sought to increase the power of the Oval Office relative to other branches of government. While the course is open to all students, the workload is intense, and prior background in American history and politics is preferable.

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Presidential Leadership and Decision Making

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

The course is open to all students but is intense in workload and prior background in American history is preferable.

The president is the most prominent actor in the US government, and developing an understanding of how and why political leaders make the choices that they do is the goal of this course. Presidents must make countless decisions while in office and, as Edwards and Wayne explain, “Executive officials look to [the presidency] for direction, coordination, and general guidance in the implementation of policy…Congress looks to it for establishing priorities, exerting influence…the heads of foreign governments look to it for articulating positions, conducting diplomacy, and flexing muscle; the general public looks to it for…solving problems and exercising symbolic and moral leadership…” This course will examine and analyze the development and modern practice of presidential leadership in the United States by studying the evolution of the modern presidency, which includes the process of presidential selection and the structure of the presidency as an institution. The course will then reflect on the ways in which presidents make decisions and seek to shape foreign, economic, and domestic policy. This will be based on a variety of literatures, ranging from social psychology to organizational behavior. We will look at the psychology and character of presidents in this section of the course. Finally, we will explore the relationship of the presidency to other major governmental institutions and organized interests. We will pay particular attention to a particular set of presidents—Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D Roosevelt, and George W. Bush—and one British prime minister, Winston Churchill.

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Additional Information

Selected Publications

Professors moved left since 1990s, rest of country did not

Heterodox Academy

Samuel Abrams, January 9, 2016

Every few years a debate re-emerges on the internet as to whether university faculty have truly shifted to the left, and if so, whether it matters. The debate has just flared up because of a graph that I made after some discussions about ideology in the academy with my friend Jon Haidt, who wanted to document the trend here at Heterodox Academy.

Jews in the West, Jews on the left

The Jewish Journal

Samuel Abrams and Steven M. Cohen, January 7, 2016

Regardless of the exact rationale, Jews of the West are politically and ideologically different from those in the rest of the United States.

Informal Social Networks and Rational Voting

British Journal of Political Science

Samuel Abrams, Torben Iversen and David Soskice; April 2011 volume #41, issue #2: pp 229-257

Classical rational choice explanations of voting participation are widely thought to have failed. This article argues that the currently dominant Group Mobilization and Ethical Agency approaches have serious shortcomings in explaining individually rational turnout. It develops an informal social network (ISN) model in which people rationally vote if their informal networks of family and friends attach enough importance to voting, because voting leads to social approval and vice versa. Using results from the social psychology literature, research on social groups in sociology and their own survey data, the authors argue that the ISN model can explain individually rational non-altruistic turnout. If group variables that affect whether voting is used as a marker of individual standing in groups are included, the likelihood of turnout rises dramatically.

The Big Sort” That Wasn't: A Skeptical Reexamination

PS: Political Science & Politics

Samuel J. Abrams and Morris P. Fiorina; April 2012 volume #45, issue #2: pp 203-210

In 2008 journalist Bill Bishop achieved the kind of notice that authors dream about. His book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, was mentioned regularly during the presidential campaign; most notably, former president Bill Clinton urged audiences to read the book. Bishop's thesis is that Americans increasingly are choosing to live in neighborhoods populated with people just like themselves. In turn, these residential choices have produced a significant increase in geographic political polarization. Bishop does not contend that people consciously decide to live with fellow Democrats or Republicans; rather political segregation is a byproduct of the correlations between political views and the various demographic and life-style indicators people consider when making residential decisions. Whatever the cause, Bishop contends that the resulting geographic polarization is a troubling and dangerous development.