New Faculty Friday: Q&A with Dr. Mollie Cohen

SPIA is excited to introduce Mollie Cohen.

Mollie Cohen received her PhD in Political Science from Vanderbilt University. From 2017-2018, she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Latin American Public Opinion Project and a postdoctoral researcher with the Trans-Institutional Brazil Health Policy Project. Cohen’s research focuses on elections, public opinion, voting behavior, and political representation, especially in the Latin American region. She will be teaching Introduction to Comparative Politics this fall.

What attracted you to UGA?

MC: The IA department is a very young and research active environment, and seemed like an exciting – and very collegial! – place to work. On top of that, Athens seemed like an awesome place to live.

What are you working on that you’re most excited about?

MC: I’m currently working on a book manuscript that examines why individuals cast blank and spoiled votes in Latin America and the world. These protest votes are cast at very high rates in some countries – they often “beat” the first-place candidate in legislative elections! – but scholars have tended to treat them as voter errors. Contrary to much existing scholarship, I find that much invalid voting in presidential elections isn’t accidental and isn’t an expression of anti-democratic attitudes. Rather, individuals intentionally invalidate their ballots in protest of the slate of candidates available or the policies those candidates propose. The book also looks at whether and how campaigns promoting invalid voting are successful. While these “against-all” campaigns receive a lot of news coverage, I find that they are only rarely able to successfully mobilize voters to spoil their votes, and that they are best able to do so when they are led by very popular individuals with a clear and convincing grievance to protest.

What was your favorite part of your college experience?

MC: During my last year at UCSD, I had the opportunity to participate in the Mexican Migration Field Research and Training Program. I went to Mexico and Los Angeles to conduct survey and semi-structured interviews with migrants in the U.S. that came from a small town in Mexico, and with citizens living in that town. That experience convinced me to pursue a career in public opinion: I really enjoyed developing survey questions, interviewing respondents, and writing up the results for publication. It was hard work, but was also extremely gratifying.

Please tell us one fun fact about you.

MC: As a child, I lived in Mr. Roger’s (actual, real-life) neighborhood. We ran into him on the street.

What are you looking forward to in the coming year?

MC: Working in a place with so much school spirit!!

What is one goal you have for yourself for the next year?

MC: To run my tenth half marathon.

Do you have any pets? If so, what kind(s)?

MC: Yes! My dog Nelson is a Boston Lab (a black lab/ Boston terrier – at least, that’s what we think). He’s a very good boy.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

MC: Finishing my Ph.D.

Who inspires you in your research or career?

MC: My grandparents, and many strong female mentors.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

MC: To speak any language fluently without studying it.

What advice do you have for SPIA students?

MC: First, get to know your professors! We are all here in part because we want to interact with you and talk about your ideas and interests. A related bonus is that students who come to office hours perform better in class, without fail. Second, take care of yourself! School and your social activities are important, but your physical and mental health are more important.