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Luuk van Roozendaal wins Political Science Master’s Thesis Prize 2021

In the 2020 presidential elections, voters in several, mostly southern, electoral districts of the United States saw ‘their’ polling stations closed by the local authorities. In order to cast their vote, they had to travel further or use the mail ballot. Media reports and civil rights activitsts often qualify these poll closures as a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise specifically targeted groups of voters. Luuk van Roozendaal, a master’s student in Leiden University’s Political Science programme, took a deep dive into this matter. With the resulting thesis Roozendaal earns a lot of respect from established researchers, as well as the 2021 Political Science Master’s Thesis Prize.

‘Highly sophisticated quantitative analysis’

In ‘Not As Simple As Going to the Polls: The Relationship Between Race, Ethnicity, Polling Place Closures, and Voter Turnout in the United States’ Luuk van Roozendaal explores whether the effects of closing polling places on citizens’ turnout during presidential elections in the United States vary according to race and ethnicity. The result ‘far surpassed the expectations’ of the jury, consisting of Assistant Professors Michael Sampson and Martijn Mos (Institute of Political Science). They report that Van Roozendaal ‘went above and beyond by compiling his own dataset’. His thesis also stands out for its ‘polished writing’ and its ‘highly sophisticated quantitative analysis’.

‘Could be published in a respected journal’

Van Roozendaal was nominated by his thesis supervisor Associate Professor Tom Louwerse. In his recommendation, Louwerse writes that ‘this work, with some minor changes, could be published in a respected journal’. Louwerse also mentions that he has never before awarded a thesis with a 9,5—a grade that is only very rarely given in the Dutch system.

‘A tall order’

Speaking of journal publications, jury members Sampson and Mos point out that ‘our Institute of Political Science essentially asks of students that they write their thesis in the form of a journal article, of which they will have read many by the time they graduate.’ Therefore, the jury uses the same criteria that are applied by editorial boards and peer reviewers to assess submitted papers. ‘This is a tall order that, we are glad to say, all nominees filled.’ ‘Outstanding work’, in other words, was done by all nominees and their supervisors, according to the jury. ‘Selecting a winner from this competitive shortlist’ was not easy.

Honourable mention: Daphne Steenbergen

One thesis in particular, ‘comes very close’ to Van Roozendaal’s winning thesis. The jury gives an honourable mention to Daphne Steenbergen. Her thesis is entitled ‘The Belarusian Boomerang: How the Belarusian Democratic Opposition Influences the Foreign Policy of the European Union’. It provides a ‘timely and original look’ at how the domestic opposition to Alexander Lukashenka, the autocratic President of Belarus, sought to shape EU-Belarusian relations. Under the supervision of Assistant Professor Hilde van Meegdenburg master’s student Steenbergen has ‘accomplished everything that we look for in a successful thesis’: a ‘highly relevant research question, answered with a comprehensive understanding of the literature on transnational advocacy networks and, especially, with great insight into the Belarusian case.’ 

Confirming the ‘runner-up’ status of ‘The Belarusian Boomerang’, and also the exceptional quality of Van Roozendaal’s treatise, Sampson and Mos state that ‘We have no doubt that this thesis would have won in a less competitive year.’

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