By Annie Lujan
Political science and economics major, Sawyer Barnett, was named one of four winners of the 2020-2021 Nevada Undergraduate Research Award at the University of Nevada, Reno. The award fund is funded by Research & Innovation and the Associated Students of the University of Nevada and helps to fund undergraduate research projects in fields in STEM, arts, humanities and social sciences. Barnett is developing research on the economic conditions of countries in relation to their democratic decline. He is looking at factors that might weaken a government’s democracy.
Barnett is examining research that classifies levels of democracy conducted by the V-Dem group at the University of Gothenburg. He noticed a decrease in various indicators of many nations’ democracies.
“We have substantially declined in aspects of our liberal democracy that we have been historically proud of as Americans. I would like to see if I can help contribute to narrowing the research gap,” Barnett said. He is using data from the World Bank as a supplement to the V-Dem research. He is looking through the regression analyses to see if there is a meaningful correlation between economics and democratic decline and is spending this year to develop this project. He hopes to publish the research after he finishes his undergraduate degree. Barnett thinks that this topic is relevant to the evolving nature of politics.
“What fascinates me is how widespread and evolving democratic decline is,” Barnett said. “Democratic decline has been taking place worldwide since the 1990s and in surprising depths. Politics change so quickly sometimes and this is reflected in different cases of democratic decline both here in the U.S. and abroad.”
Barnett is mentored by Political Science Assistant Professor, Allison Evans. “Dr. Evans has given terrific guidance on how conducting research works, finding available resources and making this project something I am really passionate to work on.”
Evans thinks that Barnett’s research is important in today’s world as there are many countries undergoing democratic decline throughout the world. “Sawyer's taking on some of the biggest, most fundamental questions in comparative politics,” Evans said.
She shared that Barnett has developed a strong hypothesis. “One thing that's really interesting is his hypothesis about the role of interest rates, which he expects to have a U-shaped relationship to democratic decline. In other words, both very low and very high interest rates would be more likely to be associated with democratic decline. I'm very curious to see if this is born out in the analysis,” Evans said.
Barnett plans to take time off after completing his undergraduate degree. During this time, he wants to prepare for graduate school. After graduating from the University, Barnett hopes to spend time learning about political economy and finish his research project in preparation for graduate school and a career in economics and politics.