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Hire a University of Houston Ph.D.

Our graduate students have strong records of accomplishment and promise. Some of our recent graduates have accepted tenure-track faculty positions at CIDE, Utah State University, Lamar University, and the University of Alabama. Others have been awarded pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard University and Rice University. We are excited to call your attention to students entering the academic job market in Fall 2015. For more information about any of our students, please refer to their web sites or contact Professor Eduardo Aleman (, the Graduate Placement Coordinator.


Lucas Williams

R. Lucas Williams PhD (2016 expected)

Dissertation Title: Three Essays On Legislative Behavior In American Legislatures  

Dissertation Committee: Jennifer H. Clark (chair), Justin H. Kirkland, Jason P. Casellas, and Keith E. Hamm

His dissertation examines legislative behavior from three perspectives. The first paper develops and tests a theory explaining how income inequality leads legislators to become more consistent in their roll-call behavior. He finds that as income inequality increases in a legislators' district, political clout (e.g., electoral resources) becomes concentrated among fewer constituents. As a result, legislators need to satisfy fewer preferences and therefore are more consistent in their chamber votes. The second paper designs a measurement of procedural knowledge using a field survey of state legislators and explores possible explanations for variation in legislators' proficiency of their chamber rules. The third paper investigates the effect non-partisan chambers have on the behavior of their memberships. Scholars know a great deal about how parties discipline their members, but they know little about how legislators behave in an environment absent parties. Williams explores how Progressive Era anti-party reform efforts in Minnesota provide a unique opportunity to examine such a circumstance via natural experiment. He collects an original data set of roll-call votes from the Minnesota State Legislature in early 1900s when parties were unexpectedly banned. Additionally, he furnishes a historical account of this event that supports the sudden nature of the banishment of parties in order to provide context for the analysis. Each of these inquires into legislative behavior generate novel ways to think about the work legislators do and the factors that influence how they pursue individual goals. 

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Comparative Politics

Paula Cecilia Pineda PhD (2016 expected)

Dissertation Title: Deconstructed Decentralization and Ethnic Conflict: The Impact of Political, Fiscal, and Administrative Decentralization

Dissertation Committee: Ryan Kennedy (chair), Tanya Bagashka, Patrick Shea, Kristin Bakke

This dissertation addresses the divided, inchoate understanding of the role that decentralization can play in ethnic conflict. First, I highlight inconsistencies in the conceptualization of decentralization, which is traditionally bounded to the concept of federalism. To this end, I present the Deconstructed Decentralization Model (DDM), which features political, fiscal, and administrative spheres of decentralization.

My empirical models demonstrate that different types of decentralization are associated with different impacts on ethnic conflict. For example, I find that the local level in the administration sphere functions as a vessel for higher representation and reduces ethnic conflict levels. Importantly, this impact is consistent across low, mid, and high levels of democracy within states. The dissertation also includes a case study of these dynamics in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and concludes with direct policy implications for the increasingly salient ethnic conflict reality.

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Rodrigo Nunez-Donoso PhD (2016 expected)

Dissertation Title: Are Ethnically Heterogeneous Cities More Democratic? Explaining the Sub-National Component of Consociationalism in Post-Conflict Countries

Dissertation Committee: Eduardo Aleman (Co-Chair), Tanya Bagashka (Co-Chair), Jim Granato, Sam Whitt

His dissertation investigates the dynamics of sub-national democratization in post-conflict countries, taking into account the role of ethnic heterogeneity at the local (municipal) and individual levels. He argues that ethnic diversity at the local level is associated with greater levels of electoral competitiveness, and favours de de-ethnification of political contestation by increasing the electoral vote share of multiethnic parties when economic factors are positive. The shift from national level to the subnational one intends to analyze the institutional and behavioral aspects that are usually overlooked in the literature of power-sharing, post conflict democratization. He uses the critical case of Bosnia and Herzegovina (where he has conducted field research) to test the implications of this theory. Bosnia, a case dominated by journalistic descriptions emphasizing protracted ethnic grievances signifies a hard empirical test for his theory.

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Yeaji Kim PhD (2016 expected)

Dissertation Title: Education and Democracy

Dissertation Committee: Eduardo Aleman (chair), Pablo Pinto, Justin Kirkland, David Campbell

Her dissertation explores how education stimulates democratic values and political participation, as well as the policy implications of these effects on the possibility of authoritarian reversal and democratic consolidation.

The first chapter assesses conditions under which states experience authoritarian reversal or democratic consolidation cross-nationally. She argues that increasing educational attainment decreases the likelihood of authoritarian reversal and promotes the survival of democracy. In particular, this outcome is more prevalent in the developing countries than in developed countries. Her second dissertation chapter argues that education has a positive influence on citizens' democratic values and tolerance, regardless of regime type. For example, previous research asserts that people who were educated and socialized under authoritarian regimes are less likely to be democratic. However, in an analysis of Mexican public opinion data, she finds that education promotes democratic values regardless of regime type. Even individuals who were educated under the pre-2000 Mexican authoritarian regime are more likely to support democracy when they are more educated. The third chapter investigates explanations of voter turnout in the United States. Contrary to the conventional belief of decreasing voter turnout, she demonstrates that instead of decreasing, voter turnout has been relatively static by extending the time period from 1960 to 2012, a 52-year time span in relation to the previous average time span of 30 years. Yeaji reassesses a variation in voter turnout with regard to the effect of generation and education. By analyzing public opinion data from the General Social Survey (GSS) from 1972 to 2014, she finds that there is no generational effect on voter turnout. Yeaji also shows that the positive effect of education on voter participation diminishes over time. In particular, education does not increase voter turnout during the 2000s.

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Luai Allarakia PhD (2016 expected)

Dissertation Title: The Dynamics of Legislatures in Popular Rentier Monarchies: Kuwait’s Majlis Al-Ummah

Dissertation Committee: Ryan Kennedy (chair), Eduardo Aleman, Justin H. Kirkland, Francisco Cantu, Michael Herb 

Luai’s dissertation explores the dynamics of legislatures in authoritarian regimes; specifically, he examines the monarchical regime type, which is often understudied in the literature on authoritarianism.  He delves into the dynamics of Kuwait’s National Assembly (Majlis Al-Ummah, KMU) by utilizing an original data set of roll call votes spanning the period of 2006 to 2012, using Pool and Rosenthal’s Scaling Methods. The aim is to unveil the dynamics of conflict in Kuwait’s political system and how they affect the stability of the country, especially as it pertains to the relationship between the unelected hereditary executive and the elected national assembly.  He finds that while most studies of institutions and legislatures in authoritarian regimes study them as either conduits of co-optation and regime survival, or liberalization, the Kuwaiti example provides a third understudied outcome: terminal executive-legislative deadlock.  

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Margarita M. Ramírez PhD (2016 expected)

Dissertation Title: Why do legislators participate during COFs?  Rethinking the relationship between electoral incentives and participation patterns in Congressional Open Forums

Dissertation Committee:

Ramírez analyzes the determinants of participation during Congressional Open Forums (COFs) -- the open periods of the legislative session that allow non-lawmaking speeches. She argues that parties and legislators have different patterns of participation in non-lawmaking speech forums than during regular bill deliberation. While the scholarship expects chamber behavior to be either on an individual or collective basis depending on the country's electoral rules, her theory predicts that there will be a mixture of both types of behavior during COFs. She theorizes that during these forums, legislators' behavior will be rooted more in various chamber disadvantages held by individuals and parties than it is in the electoral rules. She hypothesizes that electorally vulnerable legislators from all parties and disadvantaged freshman legislators from the majority will participate individually, while disadvantaged parties will participate collectively. Ramírez relies on her own original dataset -- which contains counts of open non-lawmaking speech deliveries per legislator from the lower-or-only chamber of Costa Rica, Panama, Uruguay, Chile, and U.S.A. -- to test the implications of her theory.

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Political Theory