Steven Sparks, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow 2019-20



Dr. Steven Sparks completed his PhD in political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019. He will join the Self, Virtue, and Public Life Project in August 2019. He specializes in American politics, with research interests in political communication, polarization, public opinion, and electoral behavior. Prior to graduate school, Dr. Sparks worked for several years at the federal, state, and local levels of government. He completed his MA in political science at the University of North Carolina and holds a BA in politics and government from the University of Puget Sound.

Research Plans

During the upcoming year at OU, Dr. Sparks’ research will focus on incivility and polarization among the American public. He will investigate how the media and political elites can use specific “nudges” to encourage citizens to enforce democratic norms of fairness, compromise, and civility that voters profess to support but are quick to abandon. In the abstract, Americans widely express support for norms and principles that are fundamental to a deliberative democracy. Despite supporting these principles in the abstract, however, many Americans fail to support them in practice, instead favoring uncivil partisan rivalry. Partisans increasingly favor doing whatever it takes to win elections, including cheating, voter suppression, lying, and stealing elections. In a series of survey experiments, Dr. Sparks will investigate ways in which political elites and the media may “nudge” voters to curb uncivil political behaviors, instead encouraging voters to embrace those same democratic principles and norms that they support in the abstract.