Bernard Grofman, author of two books and editor of more than a dozen books on political science, has titled his most recent volume Political Science as Puzzle Solving.
“My work is about solving mysteries,” he says. “And I love a good mystery. I think of myself as a puzzle solver, as someone interested in the real-world questions that matter—equality and democracy, civil rights and voting rights.”
Grofman, a founding member of UCI’s Center for the Study of Democracy, is a leading expert on American politics and the U.S. electoral system as well as an international expert on issues of constitutional design. He recently was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, received UCI’s Lauds & Laurels award for faculty achievement in 2001 and for professional achievement in 1995 and serves as president of the Public Choice Society. His international research includes edited books comparing elections in Japan, Korea and Taiwan and those of Australia, Ireland and Malta.
Grofman’s work has had major impact outside of academic circles. As a scholar and expert witness or court-appointed consultant, he has participated in legislative and congressional redistricting lawsuits in 12 states, including at least a half-dozen landmark cases involving the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or issues of partisan gerrymandering. His work on redistricting and voting rights often has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court. He is often interviewed by national newspapers and has written a number of newspaper op-ed pieces. Grofman also has been a panelist on radio and television talk shows, discussing such topics as societal implications of the Reginald Denny beating trial verdicts after the Los Angeles riots, congressional redistricting, minority voting rights and, most recently, the Florida presidential recount controversy.
When he is not reading about political science, law, economics or history—or watching the Lakers—Grofman devours mysteries and science fiction, and has accumulated a library of some 8,000 mystery and sci-fi novels. (“I buy everything I don’t own,” he quips.)
“In the social sciences, just as in mystery stories, there are whodunits but there also are whydunits. What was the mechanism that caused a particular phenomenon or event?” Grofman asks. “Why, for example, are democracies richer than non-democracies? We don’t understand why that relationship exists. Does democracy bring wealth, or is it the other way around, or does the causality run in both directions?”
Following completion of his doctorate at the University of Chicago, Grofman began his career at the UCI School of Social Sciences in 1976 as a visiting assistant professor. Among the campus’ attractions was the opportunity to work with Duncan Luce, professor of cognitive sciences and economics, and one of the nation’s top mathematical psychologists. A book on game theory co-authored by Luce was a source of inspiration for Grofman’s thinking about how to use mathematics to study social phenomena. Grofman continues to make extensive use of mathematical and statistical models dissect and analyze voting patterns in the United States and around the world.
“He’s blended these mathematical methods with extensive political data in an extremely effective fashion,” Luce said. “The importance of his work has become widely recognized.”
Grofman’s work on the American political system has looked in detail at how the design of the electoral system affects political representation, especially for racial and ethnic minorities. His most recent research findings have challenged the commonly held notion that black candidates needed majority-black districts to win election by showing that black Democrats in large numbers, even if they are not a majority, can win a primary election and go on to win a general election, even though most whites fail to support them. In work co-authored with graduate student Craig Brians, Grofman also turned on its ear the widely held belief that easing voter registration would have the most impact on turnout among the poor and less-educated voters (voter turnout increased most among middle-income voters).
“Social scientists try to understand patterns: In what parts of the country have Republican gains been the greatest? How have different groups of new immigrants developed political identities and party loyalties? Where has migration occurred? You answer the factual questions like those, and then you try to understand why it’s happening,” Grofman says.
Understanding begins with awareness, Grofman points out. In graduate classes, he aims to produce a thinking student, a political scientist who “notices” and then asks why.
“The person in the street subconsciously notices something unusual. A true social scientist not only notices it, but tries to find out: ‘How often does it happen? Do different groups (men and women, for example) respond differently? Can we use the past to predict the future?’ Only when we have the facts straight can we try to understand why things are as they are,” Grofman says.
“There are puzzles, and you try to make sense of them.”