Research Interests

My research focuses on American politics, public policy, race and politics, state and local politics, political inequality, and political behavior. More specifically, it examines the relationship between public policies and the American political dynamic. I am particularly interested in how policies structure and influence popular understandings of government and beliefs related to social and political inequalities. This work is broadly interdisciplinary, drawing on relevant insights from political science, sociology, history, political psychology and other social science fields. Within my home discipline, my interests in public policy and political behavior have led me to place special priority on bridging the divide between behavioral and institutional political science. Similarly, I strive in my research to make use of various methodological approaches, tailored to the research question at hand. My recent studies, for example, have drawn extensively on ethnographic research, in-depth interviews, survey research, and event history analysis. Seeking insights from a wide range of scholarly and methodological approaches, I aim to clarify how public policies may create, perpetuate, or help to overcome political relations that run counter to the normative ideals of a just and democratic society. 


Rosenthal, Aaron. "Investment and Invisibility: Racially Divergent Consequences of Political Distrust." Forthcoming at Du Bois Review.

Rosenthal, Aaron. “Conflicting Messages: Multiple Policy Experiences and Political Participation.” Forthcoming at Policy Studies Journal.

Bruch, Sarah K., Aaron Rosenthal, and Joe Soss. 2019. “Unequal Positions: A Relational Approach to Racial Inequality Trends in the U.S. States, 1940-2010.” Social Science History, 43(1), 159-184.

Karch, Andrew and Aaron Rosenthal. 2017. “Framing, Engagement and Policy Change: Lessons for the ACA.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 42(2), 341-362.

Karch, Andrew and Aaron Rosenthal. 2016. “Vertical Diffusion and the Shifting Politics of Electronic Commerce.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 16(1), 22-43.

Chen, P. G., Appleby, J., Borgida, E., Callaghan, T. H., Ekstrom, P., Farhart, C. E., Housholder, E., Kim, H., Ksiazkiewicz, A., Lavine, H., Luttig, M. D., Mohanty, R., Rosenthal, A., Sheagley, G., Smith, B. A., Vitriol, J. A. and Williams, A. 2014. “The Minnesota Multi-Investigator 2012 Presidential Election Panel Study.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. 14(1), 78-104.

Book Project

Locating the State: The Dual Visibility of Contemporary American Government

My manuscript examines how the American state shapes the development of political attitudes and behavior. The conventional wisdom holds that the popularity of policy’s utilizing indirect mechanisms, such as tax breaks, has obscured the role of government by creating a submerged state, leading to historically low levels of political trust. Recent events, however, have highlighted how visible the state can be, particularly in the form of the criminal justice system. In resolving the tension created by this contrast, I show that a more complete understanding of antipathy towards government is found not by considering how the state is hidden, but rather how it is made differently visible to different populations. Through this approach, I uncover a racial split in government visibility that shifts scholarly conceptions of public policy’s role in the decline of government trust and the perpetuation of political inequality.

I utilize both an historical perspective to chart the rise of this racial divergence in government visibility, as well as over 100 hours of ethnographic work, 58 in-depth interviews, and statistical analysis to explore its contemporary political function. I argue that, for whites, the growth of submerged state policies contrasted with the racialization of poverty policies to make government most evident in its provision of benefits to others. For people of color, the decline of federal civil rights legislation conflicted with the surge of mass incarceration and aggressive police tactics to make the state particularly visible in the form of the criminal justice system. As a result, this dual visibility has fostered low trust across races, but the political effects of this cynicism differ. Where white distrust is rooted in a sense of misspent tax dollars that leads to increased political participation, low trust among people of color stems from a fear of government as a controlling force, generating disengagement. Thus, even as formal laws designed to create racially patterned political inequality have declined, the state remains a key actor in maintaining the same disparity.

Manuscripts Under Review

Farhart, Christina and Aaron Rosenthal. “Timing Matters: How Adolescent Government Experiences Shape Political Lives.”

Rosenthal, Aaron. “Trust Issues: Government Visibility, Race, and American Political Trust.”

Manuscripts In Preparation

Rosenthal, Aaron and Andrew Karch. “Policy Tools, Not Policy Types: The Impact of Policy Instruments on the Diffusion Process.”

Bruch, Sarah, Aaron Rosenthal, and Joe Soss. “Marginalization Matters: Rethinking Race in the Analysis of State Politics and Policy.”


Manuscripts in Preparation and Under Review