Senior political science major Gavin Rodden of Alton, Illinois researches the relationship between the effectiveness of election interference and the exploitation of social media. 

Senior political science major Gavin Rodden, of Alton, Illinois, is one of many graduating this month. He’s made a name for himself in the political science department for tackling Russian election interference on his senior assignment. 


Every political science student is required to submit a senior assignment before they graduate. Rodden took on the task of finding a relationship between the effectiveness of election interference and the exploitation of social media. Rodden said he succeeded in finding a relationship. 


“I found support for a relationship between the two – not necessarily a causality because that’s not what the project sought to find out – but it seemed like there was support for the relationship as social media exploitation increases, effectiveness of election interference increases,” Rodden said. 


Election interference has been a very talked about issue over the past few years. Political science professor Andrew Theising, a professor of Rodden’s who helped him on the assignment, said election interference is becoming more important and relevant all the time. 


“As our society becomes more sophisticated in terms of technology, social media and communications … questions of where are the vulnerabilities and what are the limits of confidence in our electoral systems, those are things that we’re asking at the national level, the state level and even at the local level,” Theising said. 


Rodden said he believes election interference will only increase in the future. 


“From what I found it seemed like Russia amped its efforts up in 2016, and from what I’ve seen so far – this is personal opinion, not related to the Air Force or [Department of Defense] at all - I think it’s probably not going to slow down. In fact, it’s probably going to increase,” Rodden said.


After graduation, Rodden will be entering the United States Air Force. He is currently in Air Force ROTC, and he will be commissioned on May 16 to serve four years before deciding if he wants to continue or not. Rodden said he planned to join the Air Force from a young age. 


“I did Air Force JROTC in high school because my parents forced me to because of a resume booster, and I just kind of found a home there and it seemed like it suited my personality as I grew up a little bit, and I decide ‘Hey, why not stick through it,’” Rodden said. 


Rodden said serving is important to him. 


“I think giving up a portion of yourself and your liberties to protect everyone else is important on some level,” Rodden said. 


Political Science Department Chair and Professor Ken Moffett said Rodden is a joy to have in class. 


“He is an excellent student and also an equally fantastic human being,” Moffett said. “[He is] very much a quiet analytical thinker who does his job, does it really well and is an eminently good colleague.”


For more information on Russian election interference, read the U.S. Department of Justice’s full report on the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 


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