King of Politics

Story and photography by Tiffany J. Le Gal

Friday, October 8, 2010

Political science Professor James D. King, Ph.D. was originally contemplating pursuing a degree in history. However, his first high school political science course, back in Michigan, managed to persuade him into the world of politics. King enjoys teaching government because of its "historical elements and contemporary applicability."


King is a Michigan native and was happy to pursue his education in state. He graduated in 1974 from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Social Science Teaching. He then went onto Western Michigan University, where he received his M.A. in Political Science in 1977. Leaving Michigan, King studied political science at the University of Missouri and graduated with his Ph. D. in 1983.

Beginning his scholarship as an assistant professor at the University of Memphis in 1981, King taught classes such as "American Government," "Political Inquiry," "State & Local Government" and "Intro to Public Policy." He stayed on at UM for eleven years, expanding his curricula and courses while working as an associate professor and department chair of the political science department.

The University of Wyoming smartly added King to their political science department in 1992. Since that time he has become the head of the department, accepting the title in 2007. King was also department head from 2001-2004. Just by reviewing the professor's brief vitae online, it is obvious he has thoroughly dedicated himself to his field of study. He is a very well respected member of the University of Wyoming faculty, according to students and his fellow colleagues.


Professor Bob Schuhmann, Ph.D., is a professor and the head of the criminal justice department at UW. Schuhmann studied at Appalachian State University in North Carolina where he received a B.S. in Political Science and an M.P.A. He went on to graduate with his Ph.D. in Public Administration and Policy from Virginia Tech.

Professor King considers Schuhmann to be a valued friend and colleague and when I asked him for candidates that I could “interrogate,” King paused reflectively before giving me his name. Schuhmann spoke very kindly of King and explained that he had had quite an influence on him over the years. Schuhmann joined the UW faculty in 1995 and was quickly introduced to King.

“I had just received my Ph.D. before coming to UW,” Schuhmann described, “and as a new instructor at a new school, I was looking for someone to be a kind of  ‘professional model’ or mentor to me, someone that could offer guidance. That person turned out to be Professor King.” Schuhmann said.


King's research focuses on several aspects of the U.S. Presidency and American state politics. "I am looking at the causes and effects of congressional candidates attacking or endorsing the president's policies during midterm election campaigns and on transitions between presidential administrations," King said.

He is currently studying to what extent a president's popularity plays a role in his overall performance and success in office. For example, the tremendous expectations placed upon a newly elected president are typically quite inflated and often unattainable, especially within the first year. A dip in approval ratings is common and expected during this time, according to King's research and other statistics. King gathers information from his sources and uses national surveys for his research, compares and merges his data and findings.


King teaches "American & Wyoming Government" and offers elective classes on American politics, including "U.S. Presidency" and "Seminar in American Political Institutions," according to King's online bio.

"The University of Wyoming is a very good environment with a combination of quality students and it allows me to focus on my research," Dr. King admitted when asked if he enjoyed teaching at the University of Wyoming.

If political science professor James D. King's students could leave his classroom having achieved just two things, it would be these: (1) To overcome apathy in knowledge of current issues, events and people in the political world; and (2) To improve abilities to critically assess and analyze from a neutral standpoint.

"For example," explained King, "as an observer assessing the U.S. president, you should be able to do so NOT just from a Republican or Democratic view."


Between his family, students and research, somehow King still manages to make the time to participate in many other professional activities. He is a consultant and commentator on political affairs and elections for national, state, and local media, and he is interviewed frequently. He is an Editorial board member for State Politics and Policy Quarterly and reviews manuscripts and proposals for academic journals.

King is a co-author of The Equality State: Government Politics in Wyoming, which all freshman students are familiar with. He is the author and co-author of many articles published in a variety of scholarly journals, and he often presents his work at professional conferences. For instance, his 2007 work entitled "Voting in U.S. Senate Midterm Elections: Does Focusing on the President Matter?" was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Chicago the same year.

Professor King's interest in American politics has allowed him to continue learning, teaching and shaping the minds of our future citizens. King also offered up three helpful tips to undergraduate students looking to pursue a degree in the field of political science. (1) Focus on learning to write, (2) work on analytical abilities and (3) get engaged!

Involvement in student, local, state and U.S. government can be as easy as reading the newspaper every day. Hundreds of options and ways to get involved exist and range from volunteering in your community to studying abroad. King simply wants his students to take advantage of the incredible opportunities that are available to them.