I want students to understand how the system could work differently, no matter what views they hold.

Scott Meinke

Scott Meinke was only 5 years old when his father, seeing his interest in the 1980 presidential election, constructed a makeshift voting machine so he could pretend to vote.

"My parents also took me into the real booth when they went to vote," recalls Meinke. "I didn't know I was going to be a professor and spend my life researching this, but throughout my childhood, I was interested in politics."

Meinke teaches courses in how the systems of American government work — from the courts to Congress to the presidency. In the classroom, he likes students to learn by modeling. For instance, in his class on the American court system, students did a three-week simulation of Supreme Court decision-making. They took the roles of attorneys or Supreme Court justices for a real-life contemporary court case, doing briefs or writing opinions after argument.

"We learn about the process and how it shapes the justices' ability to get what they want in the end — how it affects the outcomes," says Meinke.

Much like the move toward analytics in sports, Meinke emphasizes quantitative analysis for his research.

"To try to understand how Congress works, for instance, we try to find ways to quantify their votes — what politicians say in their speeches, and how they talk about different issues," he explains.

Meinke involved a number of Bucknell students in his research on the 17th Amendment, which changed the way U.S. senators are elected, shifting the decision from state legislatures to direct election by citizens.

"I wanted to find out how this might have changed the types of legislation that came about," he says. "We looked at voting behavior and how it affected the way they sponsored or reacted to bills now that their constituencies had changed."

Meinke emphasizes that he never tries to convince students to change their partisan or ideological views, and that the most important thing is to understand how the system and its rules and conventions affect government.

"My approach in the classroom is to encourage students to appreciate both sides," says Meinke. "I want them to understand how the system could work differently, no matter what views they hold. If you are not pleased with what is going on, think about the current rules and process and how they can be improved."

Posted July 2018