Around the Quads
Five Minutes with ... Robert Y. Shapiro
Robert Y. Shapiro is a professor of political science (and former chair and director of undergraduate studies of the department) and the acting director of ISERP, the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy. He received his B.S. from MIT and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Shapiro, who has taught at the University since 1982, specializes in American politics with research and teaching interests in public opinion, policymaking, political leadership, the mass media and applications of statistical methods. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and recently was president of the New York Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.
Where did you grow up?
What was your favorite game?
A baseball board game.
What would you have liked to have been, if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
Shortstop for the New York Yankees. That’s easy.
How did you get interested in political science?
Probably when I was in high school, taking courses on American history. I also was interested in mathematics. When I went to MIT, I went with the idea of double-majoring in political science and math, and decided at the end that it was more fun to focus my work in a department where there were 10 majors rather than 150. But I took a lot of math and wound up with a bachelor’s in political science and a teaching certificate in high school mathematics and social studies.
Which classes are you teaching this fall?
As acting director of ISERP, my teaching load this year is a two-semester sequence. The first semester is W4910, “Principles of Quantitative Political Research,” which is a basic course in statistics and data analysis. The second semester course is “Analysis of Political Data,” but the only thing political about it is whatever data sets the students themselves bring in. It’s basically a course in applied econometrics.
What’s the most interesting thing you’re working on?
Trying to study — in recent history and in real time — what’s turned out to be increasing ideological polarization in politics. That is, it’s increasingly been the case that Democrats in the United States, at the level of political leaders and increasingly at the level of ordinary citizens, are more consistently liberal than they had been compared to the 1970s. And Republicans are more consistently conservative. So politics has gotten increasingly ideologically charged … The big question is, will all this moderate should Obama or McCain be elected?
Who do you think will win in the upcoming election?
At this point [interview was conducted in late June], if I had to bet — and I’m not ready to bet — it’s Obama.
Who are you voting for?
I’m a registered Democrat.
Are you involved in election analysis again this year?
For the last couple of years I’ve done far-behind-the-scenes exit poll analysis for ABC News. Not projections, just looking at why people voted the way they did. I’ll be doing it on Election Night.
What do you like most about political science?
What I like the most is its connection to real-world politics. What I like the least is when political science deviates from real politics and gets too tied up in abstract things, the relevance of which seems unclear.
Are you married? Do you have kids?
I am married. No children.
Where do you live?
I live in Battery Park City, with all the windows from my apartment basically facing the World Trade Center site. I moved there three years ago. Earlier on, the area was grim, when the site was empty and all you had were klieg lights — now it’s a little more exciting, because everybody’s waiting with anticipation to see what goes up.
What’s something your students would never guess about you?
I spend a lot of time listening to old-time rock ’n’ roll music on a radio.
If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
I’d be interested in seeing the new rising middle/upper-class and middle-class areas in China and India.
What’s your favorite food?
(Long pause.) Pizza. Which I rarely eat.
Interview: Rose Kernochan ’82 Barnard