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WKU professor broadens international reach with political science research

  • Author: Justin Turner
  • Author: Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Even as the events of the 2016 presidential election unfold, WKU’s Dr. Timothy Rich, Assistant Professor of Political Science, continues to turn his attention internationally, studying the processes of politics beyond our border. 

Rich’s international research is distinguished by its broad scope of analysis. He focuses his efforts on two-vote systems in the East Asian nations of Taiwan, China, and Japan. However, Rich has also studied mixed electoral systems in a number of other nations around the world, ranging from Mexico to the Philippines.

In Taiwan, China, and Japan, electoral politics are defined by a two-vote system where the public votes for candidates of single member districts as well as for political parties on a list.  Both votes result in the winning of legislative seats. Party list seats, however, are filled based on percentage of votes. Therefore, if a party on the list receives only 10 percent of votes, they would still fill 10 percent of the party list seats.

Rich studies the two-vote system and its effects on public perception, education, and internal legislative relations. He focuses on how clearly the public understands the two-vote system and how it affects their representation in legislature. His research has uncovered numerous trends concerning legislature and public education of electoral politics. Rich has found that smaller parties deem it necessary to remind the public that they can still be influential on the party list. 

“Small parties will run candidates in districts they know they can’t win just to remind the public that the party is still there and you can vote for them on the party list,” said Rich. 

Rich’s research also shows that supporters of small parties understand the system more than supporters of dominant parties. Educating the public on the two-vote system is more important to the smaller parties because it is advantageous for them to explain to voters that representation is possible through the party list. 

It seems, however, that public education during election reform is easier said than done for many nations. 

“In some countries, the assumption that’s made is that the information has been put out there and it’s been on the news, therefore, you should know,” said Rich. “That’s a poor assumption.”

Rich said he thinks a lack of public education may even be reflected in the American political system. 

“The elections are a good time to teach polling literacy and the basics of the Electoral College, as students and the public more broadly are woefully uninformed on these matters,” Rich said.

In addition to electoral politics and legislative elections, Rich also researches North Korean English language news. He studies patterns in the English news media produced by North Korea and how they differ from the nation’s internal news media in order to understand North Korea’s strict grip on public perception as well as how they wish to be perceived internationally.

Rich puts much of his focus on Faculty-Undergraduate Student Engagement (FUSE) projects.  FUSE projects allow undergraduate students to work with professors to develop and perform a variety of research and creative projects funded by FUSE grants.

Undergraduate students use the FUSE program as a sort of stepping stone to more professional research and writing experiences. Rich finds that the mentoring relationship with his FUSE students can be beneficial to him as well. 

“I had a student who did a paper on gender representation in legislatures, and I knew very little about where women were elected until then,” Rich said. “I’ve done more on gender in legislatures largely because of that student.”

In fact, over the last two years, Rich has expanded his research to include women’s and LGBT representation in East Asia. He expects the scope of his research to expand in the future.

Earlier this year, Dr. Rich received both the Potter College of Arts and Letters Faculty Award for Research and Creative Activity as well as the University Faculty Award for Research/Creative Activity. Rich’s efforts continue to improve our understandings of the complexities of East Asian electoral politics.

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