Political science associate professor pens book on public opinion in cities
February 28, 2014
Neil Kraus, associate professor of political science, wrote “Majoritarian Cities,” a book regarding public opinion in a local setting.
The book was published in October 2013 and focuses on Minneapolis and Gary, Ind. Kraus has lived in both cities, which is why he became interested in researching them.
Kraus covers five issues in “Majoritarian Cities” and relates them to public opinion. In Minneapolis, he researched education, law enforcement and affordable housing, while he researched education and riverboat casinos in Gary.
“In every city, the schools are a big issue no matter where you are, so that was kind of an issue that I was going to choose no matter what city,” Kraus said.
Kraus chose to study affordable housing in Minneapolis because it was a prominent issue in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Kraus was beginning his research.
“There was a lot of back and forth about what the city should do about affordable housing. It was just a big deal locally,” Kraus said. “That issue was an obvious choice.”
“On the issue of law enforcement, it was kind of an obvious choice too, because there was quite a bit of debate and discussion between the Minneapolis Police Department and mostly minority communities about a bunch of issues related to police treatment,” Kraus said.
According to Kraus, the issues relating to police treatment were often centered on young males, and the tension resulting in an incident in the early 2000s.
“After this riot there was this big process that went on for a couple of years, where the police department was negotiating with the federal government,” Kraus said. “It was just this big, big debate in Minneapolis too.”
Concerning the issues covered in Gary, Kraus said there is not as much going on there because it is smaller and a poorer city, therefore there was a limited array of topics to research.
“There was this issue of casinos, which most cities don’t have, but in Indiana the law is different,” Kraus said.
Indiana’s state legislature passed a law that allowed select cities to adopt the riverboat casinos, which Kraus found to be a topic that had a strong public opinion. Also, the issue of riverboat casinos is not something that can be covered in Minneapolis.
The process to write “Majoritarian Cities” has been ongoing for over a decade.
“The serious writing of chapters and stuff like that started about nine or so years ago, but I have interviews dated 2001,” Kraus said.
Kraus interviewed 36 people; 19 were from Minneapolis and 17 were from Gary. The interviews were conducted in groups or individually.
“I wasn’t a very good interviewer because I deliberately didn’t tape any of them,” Kraus said. “In an ideal world you could tape everything, but I found that as soon as you start documenting, it chills them even more.”
Therefore, there are not many direct quotes in “Majoritarian Cities,” because Kraus only wrote notes, mainly background information. Some of his interviewees also provided him with extra resources, including reports and studies. The interviewees included people like former and current elected officials, judges, school officials, people in some measure of authority and lawyers.
“They were all people that would be called elites in social science terms,” Kraus said. Geography Professor John Heppen has read parts of “Majoritarian Cities” during its various drafts.
“What sets this book apart is that Dr. Kraus has spent hundreds of hours talking to people and doing fieldwork,” Heppen said. “He just doesn’t look at census data or read what others have written; he gets the actual information and views from the people who matter in Minneapolis.”
Kraus also conducted informal interviews with numerous citizens in both Minneapolis and Gary about their public opinions on the fi ve issues he focused on.
“Majoritarian Cities” is Kraus’s second book. The first one, “Race, Neighborhoods, and Community Power,” focused on the politics of race in Buffalo, N.Y.
“I knew I wanted to do another one,” Kraus said. “One way to do it is kind of immerse yourself in all the literature that’s out there, because I thought I had something to add but I wasn’t quite sure what is was.”
Once Kraus had a topic in mind that he thought he had a unique angle on, he began his research. Kraus said that the main message of “Majoritarian Cities” is that city governments often enact policies that are not necessarily in line with the majority of public opinion. He named high-poverty schools as one of the most important issues that need to be addressed.
“I think in any city, of any size, that is probably the most pressing issue,” Kraus said. “It is what to do with the public schools, what to do with the schools that have a large number of low-income kids.”