Klein College alumnus Juan Larrosa-Fuentes KLN '18 is one of two winners this year of the Tom Patterson Best Dissertation Award, granted by the American Political Science Association. His doctoral dissertation, "Communication and the Body Politic: Hillary Clinton's 2016 Presidential Campaign in Philadelphia's Latino Community," offered comprehensive analysis of Clinton's strategy with Latinx and Hispanic voters.
The 2016 presidential election was at the forefront of American attention as Larrosa-Fuentes was deciding on the focus of his doctoral dissertation. "It was clear that the 2016 elections were going to be an exciting and unique political and communicative process," said Larrosa-Fuentes.
As a native Mexican and Spanish-speaker, he was particularly interested in the crucial role that Latinx people were slated to play in the election, particularly considering Donald Trump's strong anti-immigration rhetoric. Larrosa-Fuentes was curious about how Latinx people were receiving messages from both candidates, and he became interested in Clinton's extensive outreach to the community.
"I chose only to observe Clinton's campaign," he said, "because she deployed an enormous campaign for Latino communities and hired a large Latino staff, in sharp contrast with Donald Trump, who was the first presidential candidate in the last 20 years that did not have a Latino outreach."
Larrosa-Fuentes' research revealed contradictions in Clinton's political message and in the perception of the candidate. Clinton positioned herself in her communication with Latinx people as their defender against Trump, and as an advocate for pro-Latinx policies.
The research revealed, however, that her ideas were not in line with those of the average Latinx voter. "On the contrary," said Larrosa-Fuentes, "she was trying to maintain the status quo and defending the legacies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—two presidents who are remembered by Latinos as politicians who did not embrace their agenda."
One of the most important findings of Larrosa-Fuentes' research is that the ground game matters. Even in our wired world, Larrosa-Fuentes reports that "human bodies are still the most relevant material infrastructure for political communication."
Dr. Nancy Morris, professor in the Department of Media Studies and Production, nominated the work for the Patterson Award. "It was a very high quality piece of work," said Morris. "A very smart, original idea. He used several different methods, his writing was just fantastic. His research and his conclusions were exceptionally thoughtful."
Regina G. Lawrence who serves as chair of the awards committee, agreed. "We were really impressed with the theoretical richness and also the lovely, complex, nuanced analysis that he conducted."
To Larrosa-Fuentes, the recognition is particularly meaningful because he considers his work to be on the margins of the political communications field, both because of its content and its methodology, which was qualitative.
"This research is not about the candidate who won and does not focus on the best practices to win an election," Larrosa-Fuentes explained. "[The award] means recognition to all the scholars who are not necessarily doing mainstream political communication research."
Lawrence said that this was very much the committee's intention. Two dissertations received the award, including one which represented more traditional quantitative research. "Theoretically and methodologically, the committee felt like it was an important time to signal with the two awards that we are giving this year that we are a diverse field," said Lawrence. "We thought it made sense to honor more than one approach."
Larrosa-Fuentes traveled to Boston to receive the award. His continued election research has already taken him to Mexico, where he serves as associate professor at the University of Guadalajara's Center for Digital Journalism. He is working on turning his thesis manuscript into a book.