50 years of friendship and scholarship: Aldrich and Rohde receive career Legacy Award

Friday, August 30, 2019

Over the past 50 years, John Aldrich and David Rohde have shared many academic milestones.

They met as graduate students at the University of Rochester. Both launched their teaching careers at Michigan State University. And they both ended up as political science professors at Duke.

On Friday, they will share the American Political Science Association’s Barbara Sinclair Legacy Award. The award – named after a former colleague who also earned a Ph.D. at Rochester -- recognizes “the work of a scholar or set of scholars who have contributed a lifetime of significant scholarship to the study of legislative politics.”

“It is unusually special for several reasons,” says Aldrich, the Pfizer, Inc./Edmund T. Pratt, Jr. University Professor of Political Science. “First, it is named for a friend and professional colleague who was trained just a couple years before me by some of the very same faculty as I was.

“Second, it is a ‘legacy’ award for a particular argument that Dave Rohde and I have made over the years, called ‘conditional party government,’ that seeks to understand different eras of congressional politics. The ‘legacy’ part is that this theory was seen as having made an enduring contribution to the study of legislatures.”

Rohde, Ernestine Friedl Professor of Political Science, says the award is significant “because it expresses a positive judgement on a career of research and because it comes from the organization of specialists who study the same topics we do.”

Both professors specialize in American politics and are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Aldrich has taught at Duke since 1987; Rohde since 2007.

After some five decades of teaching, Rohde and Aldrich say the biggest change has been both the political situation and their collective understanding of it.

“Fifty-two years ago, when I started grad school, the virtually universal consensus among political scientists was that American political parties in government were weak and mostly inconsequential, and that this condition would continue indefinitely,” Rohde says.

“Today, the consensus is that parties are currently and have been for quite some time relatively influential and quite polarized, but that the degree of influence is variable depending on certain underlying conditions.” 

Aldrich and Rohde consider their conditional party government theory as their most significant contribution to political science, along with the many graduate students they’ve trained who are now faculty themselves.

“While there had always been some scholars in political science who sought to create a systematic study of politics, it is really that the systematic study of politics -- the science of politics, from logic consistency in theory through empirical testing, was really in its infancy when I started graduate training,” Aldrich says. 

“There will always be more to the study of politics than what I am calling the scientific study of it, but the science of politics has moved from the fringes to the center of the field.”

Written by Steve Hartsoe, for Duke Today