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Paul Brewer

The recent presidential election not only captivated the nation, but also opened up a whole new dialogue on politics.The sense of excitement surrounding the election mobilized the younger generations, who in turn supported their candidate by using social networking and video sharing sites and in some cases hitting the campaign trail.

This increase in participation was also noted by UK political science alum Paul Brewer. Currently an associate professor and chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Brewer shared the election enthusiasm of his students.

“Teaching students about politics is just plain fun, especially with lively events such as the 2008 presidential election taking place,” Brewer said. “My students were excited and in particular, many of them were enthusiastic about Obama’s candidacy.  That fits what survey research tells us—he had a huge edge over McCain among younger voters.”

Brewer attributes some of his interest in politics to his time spent at UK as an undergraduate. “I chose to attend UK because I received a generous scholarship from the university (the Otis A. Singletary Scholarship). I majored in political science because I intended to go to law school, but I eventually changed my career path from law to academia.”

The curriculum and professors of the department also provided Brewer with excellent preparation for his career. “The Political Science Department and my honors thesis gave me my first introduction to research in the field. In particular, Professor Mark Peffley’s course on political behavior was my first exposure to a field in which I’ve done much of my own research,” said Brewer. “In addition, my political science internships were memorable introductions to the world of politics – and full of great stories to tell my students.” 

Brewer’s current research interests include political communication, public opinion, and political psychology. “I recently published a book titled “Value War” that examines public opinion and the politics of gay rights. My next book project, with Kimberly Gross, deals with framing, political communication and public opinion,” Brewer said.

And with an increasingly interconnected world, he also teaches courses that specifically tackle the media and its effects on public opinion and politics.

“One of the things that interests me the most about contemporary American politics is the role of entertainment media in the political process,” said Brewer. “That role worries some observers, but I see potential for good in it. For example, I’ve argued in my research that “The Daily Show” may help young voters become more informed about politics. I also recently published a study with Andrew Pease that examined whether Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement shaped voters’ impressions of Obama. We found evidence that people don’t mindlessly follow celebrity endorsements; instead, they appear to use such endorsements to reason strategically about candidates’ chances of winning.”

For students in his classes and elsewhere who are interested in majoring in political science, Brewer offered a couple pieces of advice while pursuing the degree. “Try to read and conduct original research as much as possible. Also, get some real world experience in politics so that you have a personal context for understanding what you’re studying,” said Brewer. 

Having done exactly those types of activities while in Lexington, Brewer looks back at his time at UK knowing it has paid off in his professional pursuits. “I learned a great deal in my four years of study. I owe a debt of gratitude to the University of Kentucky in general and the Political Science Department in particular.”

by Stephanie Lang