Feb. 2, 2023

Congratulations to Reed Merrill!

Winner of the UCalgary Political Science 2021–22 Best MA Thesis Prize!

Best Political Science Master’s Thesis Prize is for the best Master’s thesis defended in the Department of Political Science, open to any area of Political Science

Reed Merrill’s thesis was written under the supervision of Dr. Jack Lucas 


Dr. Lucas, tell us a bit about what made Reed’s thesis stand out? 

If you’ve followed municipal elections in a big city in Canada in recent years, you will have noticed that incumbent candidates—that is, candidates seeking re-election—tend to win re-election nearly all the time. Until Reed’s thesis, we had no idea if this pattern held true outside the big cities. Using painstaking original data collection and rigorous quantitative analysis, Reed’s thesis research reveals some very interesting patterns in the relationship between population size and incumbent success in Canadian local elections. Along the way, the thesis also reveals astonishing numbers of uncontested elections in smaller municipalities. It’s a thesis that will be read and cited in the Canadian municipal democracy literature for many years to come.  

Merrill headshot

Reed, what was your thesis’ title and main findings or arguments? 

My thesis title is “Population Size and Incumbency in Canadian Municipal Elections: Two Essays”. In it, I investigated the relationship between the size of Canadian municipalities and trends in incumbent successthe rate at which municipal council members run for and win the seat they previously held. I found that in the smallest places incumbent candidates often run for election unchallenged, suggesting that those elections tend to be less competitive. Another element I considered is whether voters who live in smaller places make their voting decisions differently than their big-city counterparts. Using a randomized experiment, I found that voters in smaller municipalities tend to see incumbency as a less favourable attribute. While I couldn’t directly investigate why this is the case, it could indicate that in smaller places people give higher value to richer, more contextual forms of information about who they vote for.

What do you wish you had known when you started your thesis work? 

When I started working on my thesis, I felt very time-constrained, which led me to think that I needed to find a topic, commit to it, and get going! Obviously, that approach is a good way to successfully finish a thesis in a reasonable amount of time. The thing I wish I had known is that the “find a topic” part of the process is probably the most important. A good topic that you’re truly interested in will produce a good thesis much more smoothly than the alternative. 

So, what’s next for you after the thesis? 

Since finishing my thesis work I have started a PhD at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I’m planning to study people’s attitudes towards democracy and explain how people have responded to political polarization. 


Congratulations to Reed Merrill on your 2021–22 UCalgary Political Science Best Thesis Prize! 


Please visit the Political Science website to learn more about our paper prizes and past prize winners!

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