Bi-Co Grad Uses Economics to Analyze Voting Habits

Hunter Rendleman BMC ’18 returns to the Bi-Co as part of the Young Academic Alumni Lecture Series to share her research on economics and politics.

In fall of 2014, then-first-year Hunter Rendleman BMC ’18 emailed Associate Professor of Economics Giri Parameswaran not to ask about an assignment, but to propose an idea. Rendleman was not even taking any classes with Parameswaran. She was emailing because she had a clarifying question about her own research paper. Prior to arriving to campus, Rendleman was interested in modeling how media impacts politicians’ public images. Specifically, she wanted to understand the importance and impact of writing about politicians when those politicians can respond to those articles with criticism and lawsuits. This was the first model she wrote, and throughout her time in the Bi-Co, she refined her economics research to focus on race and identity in politics. 

In Rendleman’s first and second years, she learned about economic theory and mathematical modeling of economics. Once she gained an understanding of theoretical economics, she then examined economic applications, such as how policy decisions impact groups of people. These applications are where she grew her interest for economics. “I was drawn to economics as a methodology, and what economics can tell you about and teach you how you can analyze and understand social phenomena,” she said.

As she progressed through the Bi-Co, she continued to work with Parameswaran as a research assistant to expand her understanding of political uses of economics. “Working with Giri was important because he introduced me to a subfield of economic analysis of politics,” says Rendleman. “One of the really good things about having a student like Hunter is that it wasn’t just a matter of ‘I had an idea and brought a student,’ she had been generating a bunch of ideas herself,” said Parameswaran.

For her senior thesis, advised by Parameswaran, she concentrated on the impact of media on protest movements. She also joined the Bi-Co chapter of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, where she went to nearby communities and helped people apply for government benefits that they would not have been able to get without a thorough understanding of their tax returns. Her involvement in this club sparked her interest in public policy, which is the focus of some of her current work now that she is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government at Harvard University and a James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Ph.D. Scholar in Inequality and Wealth Concentration at the Harvard Kennedy School

Rendleman returns to campus tomorrow, Thursday, September 23, to share her research on, “whether and how individuals link benefits they receive from the government to their voting behavior.” Her presentation, at noon in Lutnick Library, will ask whether politicians who enact beneficial policies, especially for those who are impoverished, are rewarded electorally by program recipients. By using empirical evidence, Rendleman will explain voter attitudes and habits in relation to government benefits.

Rendleman’s talk is the first in this year’s Young Academic Alumni Lecture Series (YAALS). YAALS talks bring Bi-Co alums who are pursuing graduate programs in academia to present their work on campus. Rendleman hopes that her talk motivates students to, “take opportunities where they come, and run with them.”