Getting to Know Dr. Todd Belt: Political Management Program Director

Dr. Todd Belt in a dark suit, white shirt and glasses in his office looking at a computer monitor watching Michael Cohen testify
Dr. Todd Belt in his office at the GW Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C., watching Michael Cohen testify live before Congress (Photo Credit: GSPM/Danny Parra)
February 28, 2019

Dr. Todd Belt joined GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) as the new program director of the Political Management Program in January 2019. Now that Dr. Belt, an accomplished educator, author and researcher, is settling into his new role, and a new city, we wanted to give our readers a chance to get to know him a little better.

Q: You are the newly appointed program director for the Political Management program at our Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM), but you aren't completely new to GW. Tell us about your previous experience at GW.

A: During my sabbatical from my position as professor of political science at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, I was a John W. Kluge Fellow in Digital Studies at the Library of Congress. While I was in D.C. for the fellowship, I taught one course for GSPM in the fall of 2017, called “Using Humor Strategically.” I greatly enjoyed my time at the University and looked forward to teaching GW’s high-quality students each week.

Q: I see you are a native Californian. What brought you to the DC region?

A: Yes, I am a California “surfer boy” at heart. My love of the water also attracted me to Hawaii, but after 15 years I was getting “island fever.” I missed being amongst colleagues who study what I do, so I made the hard choice to move to D.C. for career growth and to enjoy the intellectual stimulation of interacting with so many other professors with similar interests. The move was a trade off on lifestyle and the weather, but D.C. is the “center of our world” for my field.

Q: Tell me about the focus of your research and writings.  

A: My research focuses on the mass media, public opinion, the presidency, campaigns and elections. These topics are tied together by a common thread, namely how people make sense of politics. I focus on how people become informed about politics through elections, and presidential elections offer the best opportunity to do this because this is when the greatest number of people are paying attention to politics. 

And of course, the way that most people learn about politics is through mass-mediated communication, that is an important subject of my research. I personally find U.S. presidents to be very interesting, and they serve as a benchmark for how voters evaluate other politicians.

Q: You have co-published four books, over a dozen chapters in edited scholarly books and over two dozen scholarly articles. Tell me about your favorite publication.

A: I’d like to point out my presidency books. I don’t want to say they are my favorites, but they are highly relevant in the current political climate and I anticipate issuing updated editions with the inclusion of new presidents (The Post-Heroic Presidency: Leveraged Leadership in an Age of Limits and The Presidency and Domestic Policy: Comparing Leadership Styles, FDR to Obama).

I’m also excited about an article I just had accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal – “Humorous Political Images in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Campaign” (forthcoming in the Electronic Journal of Communication), which focuses on the use of funny “memes” in presidential campaigns.

Q: In your new role as program director of the Political Management program you will oversee the program’s curriculum, faculty and strategic mission. Any initial thoughts you’d like to share on where you see the program going?

A: I am excited to continue to strengthen the program and contribute to the Program's mission of preparing the next generation's political leaders. One thing I know I want to do is to continue offering, and expanding, cutting-edge courses on campaigns and the use of technology in campaigns.

Q: I see you won two teaching awards. Tell me more.

A: The first one was an “Outstanding Professor” award given by the Political Science Student Association when I was an adjunct professor at California State University, Northridge. The second award was the Frances Davis Teaching Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching while a member of the faculty at University of Hawaii.

Q: Are you currently teaching in addition to your program director responsibilities? If so, what courses can students expect to see you teaching?

A: I currently am teaching four sections per year of the capstone, “Political Power and Practice,” split between in-class and online offerings. Also, I hope to bring back my special topic course I developed and previously taught at GW, “Using Humor Strategically.” At some point, I’d also like to teach a section of a course I prepared titled “Navigating Hyperpartisanship.”

Q: Tell us about your family.

A:  I’m married, and my wife, Christine, is currently working on her MFA in sculpture at Brooklyn College – we try to visit one another every other week. Christine will finish her degree in May, and we will then settle in more permanently in the DC area (I’m currently in an apartment in the U Street area).  One of the things my wife and I like to do together is cook vegan food. We both like to cook so we often fight over who gets to prepare dinner. She is a great cook, and her food is my favorite. Beyond that, I really like Thai and Ethiopian food and spicy food in general. Since coming to D.C., we have also enjoyed checking out as many vegan restaurants as we can find.

Q: Do you have any special hobbies, in addition to surfing?

A: I’m also a musician (I play the bass guitar) and have gigged and recorded with a number of rock bands over the years.

Q: Favorite book? Movie? Sports team?

A: Amongst my favorite books are sci fi writings by Philip K. Dick. For movies it is a three-way tie between This is Spinal Tap, The Big Lebowski and The Empire Strikes Back. In sports I root for my home teams of the USC Trojans, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the LA Lakers (although I’m partial to the New York Jets of the NFL).

Q: What advice would you give to the political management students as a whole?

A: Three pieces of advice – Take your time in the program; take advantage of networking opportunities; take advantage of GSPM’s special events. GSPM has a lot to offer, and if students rush too quickly through the program they may miss out on a lot of opportunities.

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