St. Olaf ’s political science department houses a number of fantastic professors with a variety of focus areas. One of the newest faces in the poli-sci squad is Professor Chris Chapp. Chapp received a B.A. in Political Science and English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an M.A. and PhD from the University of Minnesota. St. Olaf brought him on as a visiting professor right as he finished his graduate degree in 2008. In 2011, he left to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and returned to St. Olaf in 2014.
Chapp teaches a variety of courses on American poli- tics including Parties and Elections and a senior seminar called Inequalities in American Democracy, which focuses on various aspects of inequality in the American political system such as economic inequality, inequalities in political participation and inequality in political voice. He also teaches Analyzing Politics, which is the political science research methods course and is required for all political science majors.
“Research methods includes a lot of things, ranging from statistics that we use as political scientists and how to use statistics appropriately, to how to run a good survey, to how to do a face-to-face interview. So it encompasses a lot of stuff,” Chapp said. During Interim, he offers a course called Media and Politics, which analyzes the role that print, online and broadcast media has in the American political system, specifically its influence on public opinion and elections.
His classrooms are lively and his students stay engaged while he explains broad political ideas and terms with entertaining PowerPoints and modern day examples. His presentations are famous among his students, each slide accompanied with a citation and visual aids. His lectures often rely heavily on student feedback and participation.
Like most professors at St. Olaf, Chapp is consistently working on his own research outside of the classroom. Within political science, Chapp’s interests tend to center around American politics, rhetoric, political campaigns and elections.
“One thing that I’m really interested in is campaign communication, and there’s a couple of projects around that. One of the big ones is [that] I’m building a big archive of campaign websites, and then we analyze those to understand different aspects of candidates’ communication style,” Chapp said. “One project looked at ambiguity – this is actually a project I did with students through the CIR program.We analyzed ambiguity in campaign rhetoric. When are candidates sending clear and unclear messages? Another project looks at extremity in rhetoric, so, how partisan do candidates sound?”
Besides communication ambiguity and extremity, he also conducts studies on voter turnout, public opinion and the relationship between religiosity and political attitudes.
Chapp is always trying to blur the line between professional research and teaching. He does his best to involve students in his research and encourages students to reach out to him when conducting their own.
“I love to get students involved my research,” Chapp said. “Every project that I just mentioned, at some level, has involved student help, and so I would encourage students that are interested in working in any of these areas to come talk to me.”