Office: NH 122 | Phone: (619) 594-4289 | Email: [email protected]
Brian Adams joined the political science department at SDSU in 2003 after earning his Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine. Brian’s research explores why local governments do not live up to their democratic potential. As small jurisdictions, localities should be “closer to the people,” allowing for more extensive citizen participation and greater accountability. Yet participation in local government is dismally low, and local officials are often unresponsive to citizen demands. Local governments, rather than being hotbeds of democratic activity are often corrupt and unresponsive entities dominated by elites. What accounts for this pattern?
Brian’s research approaches this question from a few different angles. First, he has analyzed non-electoral participation in local politics in an effort to assess how citizens participate. His 2007 book Citizen Lobbyists found that citizens take advantage of the many opportunities they have to participate and benefit from their participation in terms of promoting favorable policy and acquiring knowledge about the policy process. But given the manner in which they participate and the issues they choose to influence there is little benefit to the political system as a whole. He has also done research on how citizens discuss policy issues, finding that they offer evidence to support their claims but usually neglect to tie evidence and conclusions together in coherent arguments. They also avoid working through disagreements, preferring to deflect or simply ignore opposing viewpoints. Deliberative conversations among citizens typically comprise of strings of conclusions and evidence without much coherence or back-and-forth exchange.
A second strand of Brian’s research has examined local elections as a democratic practice. His book Campaign Finance in Local Elections: Buying the Grassroots examines whether the campaign finance system undermines the capacity of local elections to enhance the democratic character of American elections more generally. As the smallest units in the American political system, localities have the potential to contribute to democratic practices by fostering accessibility to the political system, promoting competitiveness, and reducing the biases seen in state and national elections. Yet the manner in which local candidates raise and spend campaign funds undermines these goals. Another article on local elections found that municipal candidates with a business background are less successful than those with political experience
The final line of research focuses on conceptualizing the relative benefits of local governance. In a recent article (“Assessing the Merits of Decentralization: A Framework for Identifying the Causal Mechanisms Influencing Policy Outcomes”) Brian developed a new theoretical framework that explicates the causal mechanisms through which decentralization (moving policy authority from central governments to local ones) alters the motivations and behavior of government officials.
He is currently working on a research project that explores citizen activism in local politics. Activism—efforts by average citizens to influence policies they care about—often leads to policies that go against majority preferences, creating a central tension in local democracy. This research is based on interviews with over three dozen activists in San Diego, exploring how they participate, their ability to bring about policy change, and the responsiveness of local officials.
In addition to research and teaching courses at SDSU, Brian has done two stints of teaching overseas. In 2009, he spent six months at Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea on a Faculty Fulbright grant, teaching American Politics to Korean students and researching Korean local government, For the 2011-12 academic year he taught at the Hopkins-Nanjing center in Nanjing, China, teaching courses on democracy and American politics to Chinese master’s students.
- “Community Acceptance of, and Opposition to, Homeless-Serving Facilities.” International Journal on Homelessness 3,2 (2023): 156-183 (With Megan Welsh Carroll and Nicolas Gutierrez III).
- "Ballot Cues, Business Candidates, and Voter Choices in Local Elections" American Politics Research. (2020) (with Ted L. Lascher Jr. and Danielle Joesten Martin).
- “Decentralization and Policy Experimentation in Education: the Consequences of Enhancing Local Autonomy in California.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 50, 1 (2020): 30-54.
- “Campaigning in Lilliput: Money’s Influence in Small and Mid-Sized City Elections.” California Journal of Politics and Policy 10, 2 (2018): 1-17.
- “Assessing the Merits of Decentralization: A Framework for Identifying the Causal Mechanisms Influencing Policy Outcomes.” Politics & Policy 44, 5 (2016).
- “Working Through Disagreement in Deliberative Forums.” Social Science Journal. 52, 2 (2015): 229-238.
- “Reason-Giving in Deliberative Forums.” Journal of Public Deliberation. 10, 2 (2014): article 6.
- “Citizens, Interest Groups, and Local Ballot Initiatives.” Politics & Policy 40, 1 (2012): 43-68.
- “美国联邦制下的地方政府自治” (“Local Government Autonomy in the American Federal System”). Journal of Nanjing University (Philosophy, Humanities and Social Sciences) 2 (2012): 15-27 (translated by Juan-Juan Wang and Rong Xia).
- “Gender, Campaign Finance, and Electoral Success in Municipal Elections.” Journal of Urban Affairs 33, 1 (2011): 83-97 (with Ronnee Schreiber).
- Campaign Finance in Local Elections: Buying the Grassroots. First Forum Press, a Division of Lynne-Rienner Publishers, 2010.
- “State Immigration Policy: Cooperation, Conflict, or Innovation.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 39, 3 (2009): 408-431 (with Lina Newton).
- Citizen Lobbyists: Local Efforts to Influence Public Policy. Temple University Press, 2007.
- “Fundraising Coalitions in Open-Seat Mayoral Elections.” Journal of Urban Affairs 29, 5 (2007): 481-499.
- “Public Meetings and the Democratic Process” Public Administration Review 64, 1 (January-February 2004).