Chad Levinson

Political Scientist

Research Interests

My research involves both US Politics and International Relations.  My specific interests focus on the executive branch and civil society in national security politics.  The president enjoys substantial advantages over rival political actors in this policy domain.  At the same time, the influence of interest groups on matters of national security troubles many minds.  My work explores the relationship between the White House and extra-governmental organizations, and the power they wield as a consequence.

Current Projects

Moral Subsidy
Extra-Governmental Organizations in US National Security Politics
Where do interest groups get their influence in US national security politics?  My dissertation provides an answer that addresses both the causal sources and historical development of the extra-governmental arm of the national security establishment.  I argue that ambitious presidents facing political opposition recruit credible allies from among civil society organizations to help mount a public relations campaign in support of the administration's agenda.  Outside groups provide a moral subsidy — legitimating third-party testimony in favor the president's chosen policy.  This makes selected groups influential in the moment — over the public and Congress — and in the long term — over the general direction of national security. 

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The Credibility Cartel
Extra-Governmental National Security Politics, 1937–1989

This book project will offer an analytic history of the development of an extra-governmental complement to the national security apparatus, designed and empowered to wage information warfare abroad and at home.  Formed on the foundation of organizations that failed to establish the League of Nations, the credibility cartel re-emerged to help FDR involve the US in World War II.  It then provided critical support for the Marshall Plan, the policies of NSC-68, and the psychological warfare of the Cold War's first decade.  The Vietnam War at first saw the marginalization of the Cartel, but ended with its elevation to a position of great influence.  The extra-governmental architecture left in place by the Nixon/Ford administrations, specifically the White House Office of Public Liaison, provided an institutional locus of centralization for Credibility Cartel coordination under President Reagan.  The book will conclude by extrapolating beyond the Cold War, into the Global War on Terror.

Collaborators as Corroborators
Extra-Governmental Organizations and the US War in Vietnam
Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication under President Obama, sparked a controversy in May of 2016 when he claimed to have created an "echo chamber" to promote the Iran nuclear deal.  His boast attracted the attention of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held a hearing during which several conservative think-tank representatives accused him of deceiving the public by deploying a "network of surrogates" to provide "seemingly independent validation" of the administration's position.  This paper explores the collaboration between the executive and extra-governmental organizations in US national security politics.  It argues that legal and political constraints compel ambitious administrations facing public resistance or congressional opposition to recruit outside groups to help wage public relations campaigns in support of the president's agenda.  Archival research conducted at the Johnson and Nixon Presidential Libraries reveals how and why both administrations either declined or pursued extra-governmental public relations assistance as the war's popularity rose and fell.  This analytic narrative shows how certain outside groups gained prominence in US national security politics, among them one of the organizations represented by Rhodes' critics, which made its political fortunes by helping President Nixon defeat the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment to End the War and pursue his program of Vietnamization.

Gilt by Associations
Since 1976, the General Services Administration has collected and published data on appointments to Federal Advisory Committees, the roughly 1,000 officially established venues for consultation between private citizens and executive branch agencies.  These FACs provide "a useful and beneficial means of furnishing expert advice, ideas, and diverse opinions to the Federal Government."  I am producing a series of papers that identify the strategic purposes for which political actors put these FACs to use.

Outsourced Persuasion
The problem of credibility lies at the core of the relationship between the executive and extra-governmental organizations.  Public support is a valuable asset to ambitious policy-makers, but partisanship and specific aspects of national security politics complicate the task of gaining the people's trust.  A series of controlled survey experiments reveals the potential value of extra-governmental collaboration in a public relations strategy that leverages source and framing effects in pursuit of an interventionist agenda.

Methodology

I believe in methodological heterodoxy.  I work from problem to method, not the reverse.  This requires special attention to each discrete step in a process of conceptualization, deduction, and validation.  Thus far, my work has included quantitative observational analysis, controlled experimentation, and archival research.

Data

I bring substantial professional experience as a software developer to the practice of political science.  I have designed and developed databases serving tens of thousands of end-users and millions of subjects, and I leverage these skills in my scholarship.  Proper data design is essential to a flexible program of research.  My data analysis skills are not limited to traditional large-n sources; I have devised my own digital workflow for the collection of primary source archival materials as well.  Altogether, my work synthesizes data from such diverse sources as Project Vote Smart, the Center for Responsive Politics, the United States General Services Administration, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, Voteview, and over half-a-dozen presidential libraries.