Research Awards

Research awards for Elon faculty working on issues related to political communication and civic engagement are given every two years. 

Turnage 2016 Award Recipients

Dr. Damien Blake, Department of Political Science
Project: “Democracy & Exclusion” 
This research project addresses online intolerant and bigoted dialogue among individuals observing the political process.

Professor Douglas Kass, School of Communications
Project: “Reverse Democracy in Hong Kong & Taiwan” 
This research addresses the role of media in political transitions, and ties into his previous Turnage work on media and democracy.

Professor David Levine, School of Law
Project: “Confidentiality Creep, Opportunistic Privacy and Dual-Use Secrecy: The Professions in an Age of Information Capture” 
This project addresses how tech experts view information access, what information is actually needed to make informed recommendations, and the reasons why tech leaders keep information secret.

Dr. Harlen Makemson, School of Communications
Project: “Political Vision: Images that Shaped Elections and Shook American Culture"
Dr. Makemson’s project will compare techniques used in Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” documentary film at the outset of World War II with those used by Edward R. Murrow in his famous “See It Now” television broadcast against Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1953.

2014 Recipients of Turnage Fund grants

The following research projects have been funded by the Turnage Fund for the 2014-16 period:

Byung Lee, School of Communication
Comparative Study of Tweets and TV Ads of the 2014 presidential candidates: Complementary or Independent?  This project addresses the relationship between twitter and campaign television ads. The use of ads from the Political Communication Lab at Stanford is a strength of the project.

Doug Cass, School of Communication
The Rise of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Role of Free Media in Democratizing Burma. This project addresses the important topic of the role of media and democratization in Myanmar. It continues work supported by the Turnage Fund that enabled Professor Cass to travel to the region.

Jason Kirk, Department Political Science
South by South Asian: Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, and the Meaning of Two Desi Governors in Dixie.  This project addresses the role of politics, identity, and media through an analysis of “the contested meaning of the Jindal-Haley phenomenon.”  The work analyzes politics and representation of two Indian-American governors.

Recipients of Turnage Fund grants have completed their research. Their reports on their findings can be found below. For further information, please contact the scholars at the email addresses provided.

Douglas Kass (Communications)
Dissident Media and the Struggle for Freedom of the Press


In 2011, after nearly half a century of military rule, Myanmar’s government embarked on a broad range of reforms that stunned observers around the world.  Among other sweeping changes, the government lifted long held censorship laws, unblocked numerous websites, and allowed the publishing of daily newspapers.  Yet two years hence, free speech still appears deeply in jeopardy in Myanmar.  This research project examines what, if anything, the government has actually given up, and how much press freedom is truly necessary for a country to be considered a democracy.  The work includes extensive interviews with Burmese and non-Burmese involved and affected by the reforms, as well as experts in the media of the region.

Byung Lee (Communications)
Tweets by Five Presidential Candidates and the Structure of Linkage Behavior of Twitter Followers in the 2012 Presidential Election

This project examines how five presidential candidates- Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and President Barack Obama- used Twitter in the 2012 presidential election. It found that President Obama and four Republican presidential candidates used Twitter mostly as a one-way channel when they communicated with their followers.

This study also examines how citizens receive information from the Twitter network. It found that people's communication patterns on Twitter suggest a strong two-step model in which candidates connect with opinion leaders and opinion leaders connect with general Twitter followers. Also in this model, there is a hint of a network model, in which a small number of general Twitter users communicate with each other for sharing information. This project showed that about roughly 10 percent of Twitter users emerged as opinion leaders who tended to influence others by posting numerous tweets and having more followers than friends.

A majority of Obama followers (95.4%) followed only Obama. On the other hand, the four Republican candidates, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul, had unique 3,847,822 followers, who followed only Republican candidates. Among them, 1,877,358 (48.8%) followed at least two Republican candidates.

Tom Mould (Sociology & Anthropology); Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler (Psychology); Aunchalee Palmquist (Sociology & Anthropology); Ashley Burns (Political Science); Kathy Colville (Human Services); Ken Hassell (Art); Darris Means (Elon Academy Associate Director); Greg Honan (student – Political Science); Sara Dufour (student – Anthropology); Community partners from Department of Social Services (DSS), Burlington Housing Authority; United Way; Allied Churches, among others.

The Faces of Welfare: A Comparative Analysis of Narratives about Public Assistance and Their Impact on Public Perception and Policy

The Voices of Welfare Project is now in its third year of work. Our research continues to examine the stories people tell about public assistance, with the primary goal of understanding the varied opinions, views and lived experiences of people both intimately involved in the welfare system such as aid recipients and providers, and those involved less directly, from politicians to consumers of U.S. media.  Further, this research explores how these narratives contribute to political discourse nationally and locally. 

Initial outcomes and products of our collaborative research include:

  • A website with local, state and national statistics about welfare programs; stories from aid recipients, providers, politicians and community members; and resources related to welfare in the U.S.:
  • A journal article on the collaborative research process of the project titled: "Collaborative-Based Research in a Service-Learning Course: Reconceiving Research as Service" published in Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, 5(1):1-21. Available online at:
  • 4 conference and symposium presentations by faculty, students and community partners:  International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference (Raleigh, NC 2013), Civic Engagement Institute (Elon University, 2013), Underserved Populations Symposium (Elon University 2013), and the American Folklore Society Annual Meeting (Providence, Rhode Island 2013).
  • A video documentary on the origins and initial stages of the project:
  • A service-learning, Anthropology course titled "The Faces of Welfare" that launched the research project.
  • Undergraduate research by 15 Elon students and counting. 

The VOW Project is a collaborative research project sponsored by Elon's Program for Ethnographic Research and Community Studies (PERCS) with community partners that include the Alamance County Department of Social Services, the Burlington Housing Authority, The United Way, Allied Churches, the Open Door Clinic, and the Women's Resource Center of Alamance County. Research has been generously supported by the Turnage Family Faculty Innovation and Creativity Fund for the Study of Political Communication, Elon's Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, and a Community Partnership Initiative Grant from Elon University. For more information about this project and PERCS, check us out online at:

Safia Swimelar (Political Science)
The Political, Symbolic, and Strategic Uses of Media Images of Political Violence in Contemporary Narratives of American Foreign Policy

This research project and paper investigates several of the iconic photographs and videos of the U.S Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and analyzes how the state, and to some extent the media, made political, normative, and strategic uses of these images. Specifically, it examines how the U.S government creates, disseminates, hides, and tries to control prominent and iconic images of enemy execution, political violence, and violations of human dignity in the context of post 9/11 wars and terrorism, and how these images fit into the contemporary U.S strategic narratives.

Four main cases were examined: the photographs of the executions and bodies of Saddam Hussein’s sons, the images and video of Hussein’s capture and later hanging, the photographs of Americans with desecrated Taliban bodies, and the controversy surrounding the images, or lack thereof, of the killing of Osama bin Laden. In the cases analyzed, the state attempted to control the visual field and used post 9/11 images of death and political violence for many strategic, political, and normative purposes such as: (1) to build support for war/to justify military action/win hearts and minds, (2) as evidence and proof of “victory,” (3) to counter images of the enemy; (4) to illustrate tangible and symbolic military power and domination (trophies); and (5) to counter unethical “exceptional behavior” and reinforce American values and humanitarian law.

It was also argued in the paper that the level of control the state had in the production and dissemination of the image was released in their ability to control the subsequent interpretation and the narratives. The paper lends support and evidence to recent calls for international relations scholars to pay much more attention to “image warfare,” that is, the visual and ideational battle, not just the material aspects of warfare. International relations needs to take international communication more seriously and focus more on the role of visual power in understanding conflict, human rights, and global politics more broadly.

This paper was presented at the International Studies Association annual conference in 2013. Currently, it is being revised and extended and will be submitted for publication.