Fall 2015 Student Interview: Aaron Shapiro

Aaron Shapiro is a Ph.D. candidate majoring in American Politics with a minor in Comparative Politics.

André Guzzi: Before coming to school you were working in electoral politics. What were you doing exactly and why did you decide to pursue an academic career?

Aaron Shapiro: I did campaign work, mostly in the field for a number of Democratic campaigns including Obama in 2008. I went into academia because there were questions and frustrations involved in practical politics that I thought I needed to step back from if I wanted to gain leverage on them. And I was interested in teaching.

AG: Tell us about your experience as a lecturer at CUNY.

AS: It’s great. Obviously teaching is time consuming, but it’s a real benefit to have to relate your academic knowledge in plain English to undergraduates. The diversity of CUNY classrooms is really an incredible and unique political laboratory.

AG: What is your dissertation topic and how did you come up with this idea?

AS: It’s about Democratic Party organization in the age of Obama. Basically we’ve seen over the last few years a return to electoral strategies based on the mobilization of sporadic, but loyal party voters, and so I’m tracing how this has affected the party’s organizational infrastructure. I guess the idea came out of a combination of the things that interested me in my professional experience especially in regard to voter mobilization, and all the political science literature that I’ve read, along with on-the-ground developments since I’ve been in grad school. In particular the development of a presidential electorate that favors Democrats, yet their struggles in mobilizing this electorate in the midterms.

AG: What are your views about the 2016 presidential elections?

AS: Well I think what I find fascinating — both for my research but maybe more importantly for American democracy — is how the Democratic Party and electorate will respond without Obama on the ticket. On the one hand I think broadly most elite actors in the party now recognize the importance of mobilizing strategies in presidential elections, but the million dollar question is can the Obama electorate be reconstituted without Obama as a candidate.