Q&A with government professor Yusaku Horiuchi

by Berit Svenson | 10/3/17 10:42am

Born in Japan, government and quantitative social science professor Yusaku Horiuchi has had a global academic experience. After receiving his undergraduate education in Japan, Horiuchi obtained his master’s degree at Yale University and his doctorate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He then taught political science and public policy in Singapore and Canberra, Australia, respectively, before arriving at Dartmouth in 2012. At the College, he has taught courses in various academic departments including government, quantitative social science and Asian and Middle Eastern studies. Horiuchi’s current research interests include Japanese attitudes toward refugee resettlement, campus diversity and the influence of media frames on citizens in the United States. Earlier this year, Horiuchi co-authored, “Explaining Opposition to Refugee Resettlement: The Role of NIMBYism and Perceived Threats,” which surveyed 2,500 American citizens on whether they take into account the geographic context of refugee resettlement following President Donald Trump’s travel ban. 

How did you become interested in government and Japanese studies? 

YH: I’m the Mitsui Professor of Japanese Studies here, so I teach Government 40.03 “Politics of Japan: A Unique Democracy?” every year. I start multiple new projects, but always at least one of them has something to do with Japan because I feel that I need to do something about Japanese politics. But I’m not just a Japanese politics expert so I have done research on many things. For example, the most recent paper that I have published with my co-authors here at Dartmouth is what American people think about the Muslim travel ban, how American people react to this policy, how their reactions are influenced by the media frame and also how their reactions are conditional on whether or not there are many refugees in their area. 

I’m generally interested in public opinion, political behavior, media influence and policy-making processes. My bachelor’s degree and also master’s degree are in economics, so I was initially thinking to be an economist. I did lots of statistics and econometrics, and I was thinking I might be focusing on international economics or labor economics, but that was in the 1990s. Back then, for those who wanted to study the political aspect of economic policy or policy-making processes, the obvious choice was to pursue a Ph.D. in political science, not a Ph.D. in economics. So I changed my subject, and I pursued a Ph.D. in political science. But I think it turned out to be good. I’m really interested in politics, particularly the relationship between borders and the political process. I’m interested in when and why people participate in elections, voter turnout and how this participation affects policy processes. That’s actually my main interest. 

Can you discuss what you found in “Explaining Opposition to Refugee Resettlement: The Role of NIMBYism and Perceived Threats”? 

YH: It’s published in a journal called “Science Advances.” Within a week after Trump signed that controversial treaty, we designed a randomized, survey experiment, and we invited about 3,000 people in the U.S. to participate in our survey. We had about 2,500 responders all over the U.S., and then they were randomly assigned to three groups. In group one, they were asked to read a short article, an actual news article published in the Washington Times, which is a conservative newspaper, and the article actually says that refugees are entering into Western countries but they are terrorists. They may be terrorists — that’s the frame. And fortunately on the exact same day we found an article on CNN, which is more liberal, and it said that in the U.S., there is absolutely zero refugees that are terrorists. So it’s a counter frame. And then to the control group, no information was given. So people were exposed to this or no information, and then we asked that question, “How much do you support refugee resettlement in the U.S.?” As I expected, when people are exposed to the negative frame, then there is little support toward refugee resettlement. But to the people exposed to the counter frame, it actually doesn’t have much effect. So the negative frame is called framing or priming. Negative frame affects people’s mindset.

Another more interesting part is when we actually asked two questions — “How much do you support refugee resettlement in the U.S. in your country?” and “How much do you support it in your community?” — and we found people tend to support the national refugee resettlement, but when they are asked about refugee resettlement in their community, they say no. This is called NIMBY, “not in my backyard” syndrome. 

How did your background influence your current work?

YH: I got my Ph.D. in 2001 — I was just a student, so I was focused on doing my work, taking courses, studying hard and writing my dissertation. I left the U.S. and after 11 years came back as a faculty member. Then I found that diversity is such a huge issue at Dartmouth and at many other institutions. And then there was a huge protest [in spring 2016] — that weekend, it made the nationwide news and we held workshops and discussions. I am one of the few professors at the College who are Asian, so I was invited to attend many sessions to work and meet with students, the president and the provost. I naturally got interested in this topic and I didn’t just want to attend meetings. I wanted to use my time effectively for Dartmouth and for my research, so I thought I should do research with this. 

Two years ago, we did a survey asking Dartmouth students what they think about diversity. It’s not easy to ask this question because it is a socially sensitive issue. When students are asked what they think about diversity, they feel like they feel the need to say diversity is important, but it’s not quite sure whether they are expressing their honest opinion or whether they are responding to the survey questions based on what is regarded as socially desirable. There are certain statistical techniques to elicit honest opinions. We found at Dartmouth, students indeed support diversifying the faculty and student body. 

What advice would you give to students interested in government or Japanese studies?

YH: I would ask students to take advantage of being at an liberal arts college. You can take courses in computer science, but you can also take courses in government. Try to put these pieces together, and you will be able to do some really innovative research. And that is actually what we do in quantitative social science. Students can work on any topic — sports, history, marketing, we try to encourage interdisciplinary research.

What is your favorite aspect of Dartmouth?

YH: I really like the students. I can say that without any doubt. I met many students and taught many students in different countries, but I really like Dartmouth students. They are hardworking and smart but also open to new ideas and innovative. I always like to work with Dartmouth students. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.