Undergraduate Research

Ysabella Atehortua '22

OUR Featuted Researcher: Ysabella Atehortua '22

Portrait of Ysabella Atehortua
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones 

Ysabella Atehortua (she/her) is a Politics and Computer Science major conducting mentored research under Professor Mike Parkin. Her project is titled “Marriage Matters: How Candidate Marriage Status affects Voter Behavior". 

Please describe your project: 

In general, research has found that voters rely on heuristics when choosing which candidates to elect. Party affiliation, racial identity, perceived personality traits of candidates, among others, influence voters’ choices. These shortcuts allow voters to make quick decisions about which candidates align with their ideas of what a representative should be. One of these heuristics, I will argue, is that of a candidate’s familial makeup and more specifically, their marriage status. Despite the increased focus on social media to deliver information and increased scrutiny of candidates’ personal lives through this rise, little scholarly work has shown the ways in which a candidate's personal relationships serve as a heuristic. I will attempt to answer the question: do certain identities face disproportionate “marriage penalties” during elections?

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:

I am interested in voting behavior and the shortcuts that voters use to make decisions. My focus on relationship status comes from wanting to understand the ways in which family dynamics influence voting behavior and what implications that has on the makeup of Congress.

Why is your research important? 

My research can show that the traditional ideas are rooted in our political system inherently disadvantage minorities. It can also explain why Congress is lacking minority representation as well as add to the discussion of what heuristics voters use when deciding why is most fit to represent them. 

How did you get involved in research? How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?

I got involved with research through my mentor and research advisor, Mike Parkin. Seeing and hearing about his research got me super interested in the ways political scientists can incorporate psychological processes to understand the world around us. Working with Mike has completely changed the way I view research and how to conduct research. He has pushed me to be more experimental, not be scared to ask the questions I’m most interested in and given me the confidence to pursue academic research. 

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

I would encourage students to continue to be curious and pay attention to the questions you continue to have throughout your classes. To be able to answer these questions, don't be afraid to ask! Reach out to your professors and they will be more than willing to help you figure out how to go about answering these questions through your research.