Police and the Polls: Student Receives First-Ever Pre-Doctoral Fellowship at Brown University

Brandon Davis

Brandon Davis, a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science, recently received a paid pre-doctoral fellowship from Brown University to study how negative experiences with the criminal justice system keep people from voting—and hinder political involvement in general.

While research has shown how incarceration negatively impacts political participation, Davis looks more closely at how second-tier experiences with the police—like getting pulled over, being verbally or physically harassed, or having a family member go to jail—also impact political involvement.

Davis initially became interested in the topic in 2014 after he read the U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Missouri, police department shootings.

“I was looking at their city demographics and the makeup of the elected officials,” Davis said, “and I started to wonder how a city that was 67 percent black could have an almost entirely white mayoral office and municipal court.”

He hypothesized that negative interactions with an aggressive police force, which, in Ferguson, seemed to disproportionately target African Americans, caused the minority populations of the community to lose trust in the system and feel like their votes didn’t matter.

As he continues to analyze data from federal government surveys, he expects to see that minority communities, which statistically have more contact with the criminal justice system, will show less desire to have any contact with the state—from voting to volunteering.

Davis is the first pre-doctoral student Brown has accepted into its program, and he has been offered a position as a post-doc fellow once his dissertation is finished.

“This is a great mentoring experience for Brandon,” Dr. Richard Fording, Davis’s UA doctoral advisor, said. “He will benefit a lot—and so will our department by having him represent our graduate program while he is there.”