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Schmidt, Steffen Walter

Published onJul 30, 2021
Schmidt, Steffen Walter

(birth date unknown)

University Professor of Political Science, expert in American politics and known as “Dr. Politics” because of his extensive media activity.


Steffen Walter Schmidt is a University Professor of Political Science came to Iowa State University from Long Island University, New York in 1970. His PhD is from Columbia University in Public Law and Government (Political Science.) His undergraduate degree from Rollins College was in economics and Latin American politics.

Schmidt was born in Cali, Colombia of German immigrant parents. He studied in Colombia, Switzerland, France, and graduated from The Bolles Military Academy in the United States. He speaks fluent German, Spanish, and English and studied French and Italian while at boarding school in Switzerland.

His first research agenda included a series of projects and publications on women in politics with emphasis on Latin American and on women in the international environment. Schmidt was one of the first political scientists to join a group of researchers, among them Elsa Cheney, who were launching research and panels at professional meetings on women and politics. He recalls with humor an annual international meeting of the American Political Science Association where he was invited by Professor Cheney to attend an organizational meeting but was expelled because he was a man. He continued his research on these gender topics as the discipline expanded its focus on this important subject.

He also did analyses in comparative politics and patron-client relations and published numerous articles in important refereed journals on these topics.

Shortly after starting at Iowa State, the Democratic Party reforms created the caucus system for presidential candidate preference. In the first Presidential election using the caucuses (1972), Schmidt developed an interest and enhanced his expertise in American politics. The Iowa caucuses were created in Ames and Schmidt acquainted himself with the authors of this new, grassroots system and he began to write about caucuses and primaries.

This led to his proposing a new and more student friendly American government textbook and together with ISU Political Science colleague Mack Shelly and Barbara Bardes wrote American Government and Politics Today, which is in its 20th edition (2018) and has been read by millions of college students throughout the United States. The book is also available in Chinese.  

Schmidt is the co-editor several books including Issues in Iowa Politics, co-edited with Leanne Osbun, Soldiers in Politics, with Gerald Dorfman, Friends Followers and Clients, with Jim Scott, Karl Lande, Laura Guasti, and two books on identity theft Who is You: The Coming Epidemic of Identity Theft and The Silent Crime with co-author Michael McCoy.  He is also author of the book El Salvador: America’s Next Vietnam? He also wrote a distance learning book on Comparative Politics.

Schmidt has been known as “Dr. Politics” because of his extensive media activity, which has included being the weekly guest of two radio shows a week: KASI in Iowa and WNHN in Concord, New Hampshire. He has been extensively quoted by major national and international news organizations, and has been a guest on CNN, public radio, CTV (Canadian Cable Television), FOX TV, the Washington Post, New York Times, Washington Times, The Economist and many other prestigious outlets. One Iowa State dean said Schmidt was the most quoted professor at Iowa State.

In 2007 he was featured in an important National Public Radio documentary “Political Districting the Iowa Way” produced by Lind Wertheimer. One his most interesting media appearances was on The Daily Show with John Stuart where he was featured in a humorous episode on the Iowa Caucuses with comedian Al Madrigal as the interviewer.

He was interviewed and cited in in The Economist, Oct 19th 2013, in an article “Purple Heart: Lessons from Iowa’s Terry Branstad on how to run a divided state.”

Schmidt’s class was featured and is still available streaming on C-SPANs’ American History TV where he lectured on American parties, campaigns and elections with special emphasis and short video clips on the history of negative campaigns in American politics.

In 2016 he developed and launched a free Internet course on the Iowa Presidential Caucuses, which had a worldwide enrollment of almost 3,000. The course was developed with a team of professional videographers, teaching, and curriculum developers from the Engineering Online program at Iowa State University. The Provost and Vice President’s office provided generous funding for this important project. The course was of special interest to international journalists and US for whom the caucuses remained a mystery even more than forty years after the first caucuses.

Schmidt is a founding member of the Department of Defense US STRATCOM Academic Alliance which focuses on developing strategic defense policies especially Cyber defense and will involve ISU students in an exciting new frontier of research and career opportunities.

Schmidt is the recipient of many awards over his career including: 1983, The Governor’s Volunteer Award presented by Gov. terry Branstad from a nomination by the Latino community of Iowa for his work on behalf of Hispanics; 1986 Outstanding Academic Advising, Student Alumni Association (SAA); 1992 Amoco Award for Lifetime Career Achievement in Teaching; 1992 University Award Outstanding Achievement in Teaching; 1993 International Trade Paper, First Place Award, Academic Division, Iowa INTERNET (a trade consulting and promotion think tank created by the Iowa legislature); 1994 awarded the title of University Professor; 1996 University International Service Award; 1996 Wilton Park International Excellence Award; 1997 Distinguished Service Award, LAS College “in recognition of outstanding contributions to the educational mission of the College”; 2000 LAS College Master Teacher; 2001 LAS College Shakeshaft Master Teacher in Humanities and Social Sciences; 2004 LAS College Undergraduate Introductory Teaching Excellence; 2004 LAS College Award for Distinguished International Service to the Students of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences ; 2004 ISU Alumni Association Impact Award for “enhancing the reputation and visibility of Iowa State University”; 2005 Political Science Club "Action Film Star" award for his digital video productions used in classes and Internet classes; 2006 Alumni Senior Faculty Excellence Award; 2007 Iowa Distance Learning Association Innovator in Higher Education; 2010 W3 Award for Excellence in Online News for his Internet magazine; 2016 University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service as a William J. Clinton Distinguished Lecturer; 2016, "Arkansas Traveler" certificate from the Secretary of State and Governor Asa Hutchinson of AK after his keynote speech at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service; 2016 Professional and Scientific Council CYtation Team Award for Iowa Presidential Caucuses MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).

In 2017, he was promoted and awarded The Lucken Endowed Professorship in Political Science. 

Selected Sources

Daily Show:

Stream the Daily Show episode “The Chosen Ones of Iowa” here:

Clinton Distinguished Lecturer:

Schmidt in the Media:

Schmidt Class on C –Span:

Streaming live:



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