McCarthy Center Research Deepens Bay Area Political Discourse

by Ed Carpenter, Office of Marketing Communications

If you search the news for the University of San Francisco on any given week, there is a good chance you’ll come across election, demographic, or public opinion analysis from the school’s Corey Cook, associate professor of politics, and Public Research Associate David Latterman. 

The two have become a potent one-two punch, delivering insightful and timely assessments of the Bay Area political scene for The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, and more.

Cook and Latterman’s expertise has positioned them to lead the charge at USF’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good: increase research on topics and organizations that Bay Area residents care about and involve residents in the research. Cook and Latterman’s efforts to build upon the record of the center—a home for public research since its founding 10 years ago—recently had them delving into San Francisco’s contentious ranked-choice voting and ferreting out whether San Francisco residents approve of the direction charted by Mayor Ed Lee.

“We are trying to initiate research that will inform the public discourse around public service and public policy,” said Cook, who, in addition to being an associate professor of politics, is the McCarthy Center’s director.

The center’s research generally falls into two categories: public policy research and community-based research.

Cook believes the center’s public opinion surveys, such as an October 2011 survey on the local elections and a June 2011 survey on public policy and the economy, fill a significant void. “Though there are exceptional measures of public opinion in California, there is little research on public attitudes in the Bay Area,” Cook said. 

And while the impact of voter surveys on the public discourse is more obvious, community-based research, the McCarthy Center’s second focus, is just as valuable. 

“This year, we have taken on several research projects in support of existing community partnerships, including a field survey to assess immigrant integration in San Francisco and a survey of San Francisco health- and social-service nonprofits. And the McCarthy Center has supported faculty doing innovative community-based research,” Cook said.

In addition to engaging Bay Area residents on political, social, and economic issues, the McCarthy Center’s reinvigorated focus on research benefits USF students with its real-world approach. Graduate students in the Masters Program in Public Affairs (MoPA) get to know officials, nonprofit staffers, and community residents in San Francisco and beyond, said Latterman, a prominent Bay Area political analyst and founder of Fall Line Analytics who brought his research insights to USF beginning in 2011.

That kind of experience is invaluable, if you ask MoPA student Aimee Nichols MA ’13. Nichols, with classmates Maria X. Martinez MA ’13, and Esin Nacar MA ’13, published research in March that found that while gender disparities on San Francisco city and county commissions have been declining in recent years, ethnic and racial disparities still exist—with Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders, and American Indians being underrepresented. 

USF’s Alia Al-Sharif MA ’13, another MoPA student, said the program has offered her one-on-one training and mentoring while, at the same time, allowing her to maintain ownership of her research—a balance that’s hard to find. “That has helped me to develop a skill set that I can take with me when I pursue a career in public affairs,” Al-Sharif said.

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