The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: The Greco-Roman History Devotee Who Believes Running for Office Should Be Easier

We canvassed the world of the social and behavioral sciences, looking for rising stars whose careers promise to make a lasting mark. We'll be profiling the top 30 throughout the month of April.
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ANDREW HALL, 28, POLITICAL SCIENCE

(Illustration: Graham Smith)

(Illustration: Graham Smith)

Andrew Hall was born in Palo Alto, California, the son of a Stanford University economics professor, and the grandson of a professor at Stanford’s medical school. Following his lineage, Hall will join Stanford’s political science faculty this July.

Growing up around academia, he says, had a profound influence: “I’ve always loved the idea of having a job where I get to ask my own questions and have the freedom to study them any way I want.”

Hall came to political science relatively late. As a Stanford undergraduate, he majored in economics and classics—“I managed not to take a single poli sci course,” he says. He speaks Latin and Ancient Greek and is a committed devotee of learning Greco-Roman history. “If you read about what their political problems were and how they dealt with them, one of the most striking things is how similar it sounds to our issues today,” he says. “There’s an amazing common thread to human society across history.”

During college, Hall got interested in data analysis, taking as many econometrics and statistics courses as he could find. When he got hired as a research assistant for a political science professor, he realized that political science combined his interests perfectly—it was, he says, “the one place where I could use modern techniques for analyzing data to ask deep, old questions about politics.”

"Running for office has become so difficult and unpleasant. And holding office has become so much less of a reward than it used to be that fewer and fewer people with moderate views are willing to seek political office."

After Stanford, Hall headed to Harvard, where he’s expecting his Ph.D. this May and is also picking up a Master’s degree in statistics. Along with Gary King, an influential political and data scientist, Hall studies computer-assisted human research. “We’re trying to understand,” he says, “how software for the statistical analysis of text can help classicists study Latin and Ancient Greek literature.”

Hall’s dissertation uses data from United States elections to explain why our legislatures have become so polarized. “The supply of candidates willing to run for office has changed markedly over the past 40 years,” he says. “Running for office has become so difficult and unpleasant. And holding office has become so much less of a reward than it used to be that fewer and fewer people with moderate views are willing to seek political office.”

Most people who ponder political polarization focus on what Hall calls “demand-side” politics, or how voters’ preferences for candidates have changed. He points instead to the supply of candidates. “If we want to get more moderate candidates to run for office so that voters have the opportunity to elect them,” he says, “then we need to make running for office easier, and we need to make holding office more attractive.”

His research draws on huge amounts of information from elections. “These datasets,” he says, “and the ways we analyze them are changing so fast that it’s almost impossible to conceive of how things will look in 10 years. We’re going to be using a vast array of techniques to study the political arena and, in fact, to re-shape the political arena. I look forward to being involved in every part of that.”

In his free time, Hall cooks, plays chess, and spends time with his wife: “Living with my best friend, my partner, and my teammate is the most important part of life,” he says.

Though he’s worked alongside world-class thinkers at Stanford and Harvard, his most influential mentor was his grandmother, a first-generation American Jew whose family fled Russia during the Revolution.

“She cared more deeply about politics than anyone else I’ve ever met,” Hall says. “She was well aware of how much evil any form of government could produce. She didn’t teach me how to think analytically about politics, or how to use data—my dissertation committee taught me those things—but she taught me what to care about and why. She taught me how to keep my eye on what really matters about politics.”

We’ll be publishing profiles of this year’s list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 throughout the month of April. Visit this page every day to read about another young person who is making an impact on the social, political, and economic issues we make it our mission to cover every day at Pacific Standard.

A version of this year’s list is also available to subscribers as a feature in our May/June print issue. For more from Pacific Standard on the science of society, and to support our work, sign up for our email newsletter and subscribe to our bimonthly magazine. Digital editions are available in the App Store (iPad) and on Zinio (Android, iPad, PC/MAC, iPhone, and Win8), Amazon, and Google Play (Android).

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