Dr. Elaine K. Denny is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Merced. At a macro level, Dr. Denny studies how insecurity and resilience affect political behavior. At a micro level, she explores the psychological links between stressors, cognitive load, and political decisions, as well the conditions affecting political persuasion and susceptibility to misinformation. Her current work explores these themes particularly in relation to the coronavirus pandemic and insecurity related to migration from (and deportation to) Central America. Dr. Denny has published in journals including PS: Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, Journal of Experimental Political Science, and Journal of Peace Research.
Dr. Denny also has consulted for organizations including UNICEF, UK Aid/DfID, the World Bank, and USAID in the design and evaluation of social norms, gender equity, and migrant welfare initiatives. She is passionate about UC Merced’s role in expanding access to higher education for all, and she is a committed mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students.
Department of Political Science
Spring 2022 Office Hours:
Tuesdays 4:30-6:00 or by appointment
Why do poor people often participate in politics at lower rates than wealthier counterparts, even when they stand to benefit more from political change? How does economic insecurity change how people make decisions about politics?
I draw insights from behavioral economics and psychology to understand when and why people do (or do not) take political action. I show that the experience of financial stress alters how people think about decisions, leading to divergences in political behavior. Related research interests include social movements, political violence, rights advocacy, and the spread of social norms. Research methods include lab, survey, and field experiments; geospatial analysis; and statistical modeling.
For the chronically vulnerable, does acute insecurity affect survey participation? We use survey and natural experiments to observe that reminders of anarchy decrease survey participation among the most vulnerable members of Mogadishu society.
Some harmful practices are sustained by social norms. We look at the potential of "organized diffusion" to expand the positive effects of community-based interventions. We provide quantitative evidence showing that participants in community-based interventions share their new knowledge and understandings with others in their networks, facilitating social norms change.
We argue that ethnic groups, on average, are likely to have more grievances against the state, are likely to have an easier time organizing support and mobilizing a movement, and are more likely to face difficult-to-resolve bargaining problems. We further argue that each of these factors was likely due to three pre-existing patterns associated with ethnicity.
Revise and resubmit.
Part of the World Bank's white paper series on forced displacement and social cohesion
I incorporate evidence-based best practices into my undergraduate and graduate teaching, with particular emphasis on approaches shown to support students of color, first generation learners, and low- income students. My teaching style, which views students as co-creators of knowledge, is inspired by Paolo Freire’s work. I highlight some of my teaching strategies in a piece coauthored with undergraduate research teams for PS: Political Science’s forthcoming symposium on structuring inclusion in political science.
I work hard to make my classroom an inclusive space, and feedback from both graduate and undergraduate students suggests that my efforts to foster respectful, well-considered discourse are effective, even in these polarizing times. The following comments reflect student experiences from across the political spectrum and represent a range of race, ethnicity, and gender identities: “Attending her lectures was a big relief for me because I felt safe.” “I could feel like myself in this class and feel comfortable to engage.” “I can say that without a doubt I have felt more welcomed and valued in your class over any other.” “I cannot stress the true extent your course benefited me enough. Now when I engage colleagues, I feel equipped to actually approach social issues in a more nuanced and open way.”
I also promote diversity through mentorship, where I push students to grow within a safe learning environment, even if that means making mistakes in the process. Most of the students I work with (undergraduate and graduate) have identities that are historically underrepresented in political science. Students recognize my commitment to professional development and mentorship through comments such as “This is an individual that passionately attempts to further the academic and career interests of her students” and “This class gave me a concentration on the type of advocacy work I want to do for marginalized communities for people of color.”
“Hands down the best professor I have ever taken at UC Merced.”
“Her teaching and set up allows you to actually learn and for that, I am grateful.”
“Her teaching was amazing, she somehow found a way to teach every student in a way special to them that they can understand.”
"She makes sure all students are set up to succeed."
"There was never a day I wasn't excited to attend and learn in her class"
“Professor Denny is what one would truly call a student's teacher. The level of care and consideration she gives to her students is monumental, and that is outside of her duties of just being a professor.”
In the policy arena, I have five years' experience evaluating gender and social norms programming for DfID in Nigeria. I also have consulted for UNICEF on social norms measurement. As a postdoctoral fellow with DevLab@Duke and RTI, I evaluated programming in Ghana and India, and co-authored a series of successful USAID grants. My research on Central American deportees has been supported by USAID and the World Bank. Other relevant experience includes work at Amnesty International and with NGOs in the U.S., Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
An in-depth report on measuring social norm change in Nigeria. It is one of the first examples globally of how to use large-n survey data to identify the existence of social norms and possible behavioral tipping points within a society.
A primer on social norms theory that presents both qualitative and quantitative tools for tracking social norms. The paper has been accessed over 13,000 times and is a common resource for UNICEF staff and international development professionals globally.
It is Trump's “losing” language that could be the key to his success to date. My research shows that making people, and especially Republicans, think about losses motivates them to take political action.
In El Salvador, homicide rates are higher than in almost every other country in the world. Last year, more than 68,000 unaccompanied children crossed into the US, trying to escape violence Central America. Now, Mexican authorities and US border agents are attempting to stem the northward flow of people fleeing the violence.