State and Local Politics

Research Project Guidelines

The purpose of this paper is to do an intensive case study of a policy issue in a single state or locality or do comparative case study of a policy issue in several states. You should apply the methodology from Nicholson-Crotty and Meier, “Size Doesn’t Matter" to do a qualitative analysis of an important theory from the political science literature on state or local politics.



The first step is to find a policy area or political event that you think is interesting.  There are all sorts of bizarre and interesting things going on in the states.  The diversity will constantly amaze and surprise you.  The best place to start is the web.  Here are some links to web sites with tons of news stories about state and local politics.  I would encourage you to flip about and follow links to find something you think is interesting. 

  1. State and Local News
    1. Greater overall state news and their exhaustive list of state issue and politics blogs
    2. Governing Magazine, the
    3. Council of State Governments
  2. Each year, the National Council of State Legislatures looks at the upcoming legislative sessions and highlights trends and likely issues state legislatures across the nation will be considering. The National Governors Association is also good as is the National League of Cities for urban politics.
  3. Check out state political blogs- Governing's 13th floor is excellent

Second Step:  After you have found a topic you think is interesting, set up an appointment to meet with me to discuss the issue so I can help provide some guidance about framing the question and researching the topic. This is important for the literature review section of the paper. How have other scholars studied the issue?


Third Step:  Researching the topic.  The joy of the internet is that we can get all kinds of first hand information on obscure topics (read state politics). 

a.                          periodical search:  Go to the Washington Post web site to identify the main newspapers in the state or city.  Do a Lexus nexus search in those newspapers on your topic to find related articles.  Using these, you can identify all the key players and institutions and do additional magazine and internet searches.

b.                          Government web sites:  state government web sites may have lots of information on your topic.

c.                          First hand research:  Call the relevant actors to find out what happened.  The earlier the better. 

Fourth Step: Write the Paper- your paper should have 4 sections

a. Literature Review- why is this an important theoretical question; how have other scholars studied the issue; what are the big unknowns

b. Research design- how are you studying the issue; why did you select this/these cases; what is your data

c. Evidence and data analysis- explain the case and events; review the data that support and oppose your argument in light of the theoretical questions rasied in your literature review

d. Conclusion - what are the broad empirical and normative answers and questions raised by your study. How do they relate to the larger body of scholarly research on the issue.

Your grade is a function of:

  1. the caliber of your research.  There is lots of data out there on states. Primary research is a big bonus.
  2. The quality of your theoretical argument;
  3. Organization- is your argument and data logically presented
  4. clarity of writing and thought.  Take to heart the advice of William Zinsser:
    1.  "Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time.  Remember this as a consolation in moments of despair.  If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard.  It's one of the hardest things that people do.”
    2. “Look for clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly.  Be grateful for everything you can throw away.  Reexamine each sentence that you put on paper.  Is every word doing new work?  Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it's beautiful?"


Administrative Details

Length 14-16 pages

Double-sided, stapled, with page numbers


Late papers are not accepted.