Political Science professor among most cited in her field

Caroline Tolbert, a political science professor, was recently named among the most cited scholars in her field. Over the course of her career, Tolbert has authored eight books and been recognized my Microsoft.


The Old Capitol is seen on July 16, 2015.

Kate Pixley, News Reporter

University of Iowa political-science Professor Caroline Tolbert was recently named as one of the most cited scholars in her field.

Tolbert is among the 400 most cited scholars in political science and one of the 40 most cited female political scientists nationwide.

A native of Boulder, Colorado, Tolbert obtained an undergraduate certificate in political science at the University of California-Santa Barbara. She went on to receive a Ph.D. in public policy at the University of Colorado-Boulder, during which time issues on the ballot included gay rights, the Great Outdoors Colorado initiative, and term limits.

“I was really interested in these controversial issues, and I came from a family where some of my family members were Republican and some of my family members were Democrats, so these issues were debated,” Tolbert said. “The literature of political science studied the executive branch, Congress, and courts. They didn’t study these issues that could be voted on and become law. That became what I wrote my dissertation on.”

After Boulder, Tolbert became an assistant professor at Kent State University in Ohio.


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“She asked me and one of my other colleagues in political science to get together and said there’s this thing, this new form of inequalities, and we can see it in the libraries,” Tolbert said.

Along with her colleagues, Tolbert wrote a book called Virtual Inequality about the digital divide. Following the publication of the book, Tolbert and her co-authors received a call from Microsoft. Some of the staff there had read Virtual Inequality, and they wanted to make changes in the way that they donated money.

“Because of our work, they still gave money to school for the computers and for the wires, but then they also started giving money to the Boys and Girls Club of America and to teachers to use technology,” Tolbert said.

Once at the UI, Tolbert began working as a professor and researcher in political science. During the 2008 election, Tolbert aided in the creation of the Hawkeye Poll, a tool that still exists today. 

“I was here in Iowa, and I met a colleague named Dave Redlawsk, and we decided to host a conference together and to write about 2008 presidential primary and caucuses. We started the Hawkeye Poll,” Tolbert said. “We were doing all this polling, and the Hawkeye Poll, our poll, came back and showed that Obama was leading in Iowa over Clinton. And this was back in 2008, when everyone thought that Clinton would be the nominee.”

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Those results were picked up by national publications. Once the poll was found to reflect the results of the primary election, Tolbert wrote a book called “Why Iowa” about Iowa’s influence in presidential elections.

UI political-science Professor Sara Mitchell, a friend and colleague of Tolbert’s for more than 10 years, said she has had a good experience working and researching alongside Tolbert.

“She has a knack for being on the edge of research before it reaches its pinnacle,” Mitchell said.

The UI praised Tolbert in a press release, referencing her achievement of a Collegiate Scholar Award in 2009 for her research. 

“She has contributed to our understanding of digital politics, American state politics, direct democracy and race and politics,” the college said.