2010 William H. Riker Prize in Political Science

Awarded on October 1, 2010, to Howard Rosenthal


Report of the 2010 Riker Prize Committee

Citation by Professor James Johnson

The Award to Howard Rosenthal

We are extremely pleased to award the 2010 William H. Riker Prize in Political Science to Howard Rosenthal of New York University. The selection committee was chaired by James Johnson (Rochester) and included a past recipient of the prize Gary Cox (Stanford) and an alumnus of the department Wendy Schiller (Brown).

Howard Rosenthal earned his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1960 and 1964 respectively. He began his academic career at The University of California - Irvine, quickly moving on to Carnegie-Mellon University where he taught from 1966-1993. From 1993 through 2005 he was Roger Williams Strauss Professor of Politics at Princeton University where he now is Emeritus status. He currently is Professor of Politics at New York University. Howard also has served as visiting faculty at: Hebrew University (Jerusalem), Foundation Nationale des Science Politiques (Paris), University of California - San Diego, M.I.T., and Brown University. He has been honored in numerous ways — as National Fellow at the Hoover Institution (Stanford) and at The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Science (Stanford), as the Fairchild Distinguished Scholar (CalTech), as a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, and as Fellow at International Center for Economic Research (Torino). And that is an incomplete list!

Over the course of his still active career Howard has published nearly 100 scholarly papers and 11 books or monographs across the social sciences — from sociology and political science to economics. Indeed, the subtitle to what may be Howard's best known work — his 1997 book (written jointly with Rochester Ph.D. alumnus Keith Poole) Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting — clearly suggests that the boundaries separating the social sciences are, for him, something of an inconvenience.

That book was dedicated to Bill Riker "teacher, friend, mentor." In the opening paragraphs of the preface Poole and Rosenthal write:

"This book is dedicated to the memory of William H. Riker. Without Bill, political science would not have become a science in the late twentieth century, and in particular, the research project discussed in this book would never have been initiated. As our work developed we benefited from several discussions with Bill . . .

Bill's vision led to the development of the best doctoral program in political science in the world. Twice, in the mid-1960s, he offered Rosenthal the opportunity to join the faculty at Rochester, but living in the arctic was not to be endured even for the best of intellectual opportunities."

You will recall that during the period described here, Howard was teaching in the tropical city of Pittsburgh!

Like Bill Riker, Rosenthal has been methodologically open-minded. Among his first published papers you can find titles like "The Popularity of Charles De Gaulle: An Example of the Use of Research Archives," "A Simultaneous Equation Model of Split Ticket Voting in Israeli Elections," "Election Simulation," and "Prediction Logic: A Method for Empirical Evaluation of Formal Theory." This last paper — from 1974 — suggests that the newly discovered, well-funded enthusiasm for EITM among political scientists may properly be viewed as a symptom of disciplinary amnesia. More recently, of course, Howard has engaged in experimental studies, formal modeling and large-N statistical research. And in the process he has, like Riker, always, kept an eye on history, on empirical work over time.

Like Bill Riker too, Howard has worked on crucially important substantive problems. His work is animated by concern for politics. And here again he has been more or less heedless of less than useful sub-field specializations. Starting in the 1970s and 1980s Howard (with Tom Romer) developed what is commonly called the "setter model" to capture the importance of institutional features — specifically agenda control — on strategic action in spatial models. And, of course, they also pressed forward to empirically test that model with examples from public finance. This research was integral to a larger movement among rational choice theorists to move beyond models of institutionally unbound strategic environments that generated troubling theoretical results.

Howard's best known work, this time with (in various combinations) Keith Poole, Alberto Alesina, and Nolan McCarty, arguably is his research on the structure and divisions in American politics. Howard and his colleagues argue that our politics is characterized by "low dimensionality," highlighting the enduring importance of conservative-liberal differences and of race. And they go on to argue, given that characterization, that political-economic inequality and patterns of low participation among immigrants account for the partisan polarization of American politics in recent decades. Those are "big picture" topics. Howard and his co-authors explore them in what is exceptional social science research. But lest you think that Howard has shed his comparative propensities, in the last half dozen years he has published papers too on "Analyzing Roll Calls with Perfect Spatial Voting: France 1946-1958" and "Checks and Balances: And Assessment of the Institutional Separation of Powers in Columbia."

All this is just the sort of intellectual curiosity and breadth Bill Riker himself embodied and that he celebrated in others. It is the sort of breadth we ought to be pressing on Ph.D. students in Rochester today. If you students are searching for an exemplar of how to build and sustain an intellectual career — and that is what graduate school is for, after all — you can do no better than look to Howard Rosenthal.