Govern the Ungoverned: How State Presence Leads to Civil Conflict

By Luwei Ying, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis

Govern the Ungoverned

Political scientists and policy-makers have long argued that state weakness leads to civil conflict while enhancing state power helps prevent violence. Why, then, has increased state capacity worldwide coincided with more civil conflicts? This paper offers one potential explanation by disentangling the relationship between state power projection and civil conflict at the sub-national level. While most previous literature studies state capacity at the country level, state presence — also termed as state penetration or state reach — is in essence a spatial phenomenon. States do not govern each local area equally well at any given time (e.g., Lee, 2018). I argue that the overall increasing state capacity enables and incentivizes the state to govern the previously ungoverned or poorly governed regions. Such enhanced state presence often provokes the local non-state powers and can trigger civil conflict. The effect is particularly likely in peripheral regions where residents are concentrated disadvantaged ethnic groups. This unintended consequence of state presence may account for the higher levels of violence taking place in these regions.

These arguments speak to a larger debate on the global trend of armed conflict and the role that state capacity plays in it (Gohdes and Price, 2013; Lacina and Gleditsch, 2013; Pinker, 2011; Sarkees, Wayman and Singer, 2003; Scott, 2010). Noticing that ungoverned spaces have started to disappear as state capacity grows after World War II, Scott (2010) sends a caveat that clashes may occur between the peasant communities and the intrusive state. While optimist views represented by Pinker (2011) suggest that increasing state capacity decreases violence over time, the current paper indicates that extending state presence has indeed come with a backlash.

I conduct two sets of analyses to demonstrate the proposed effect of state presence. The first analysis is at the first-level administrative units, e.g., provinces. Following Lee and Zhang (2016), I use the accuracy of census data as a proxy for state presence, which covers seventy-four countries across twenty-five years. The periodic nature of census allows me to calculate the change of state presence over time. The civil conflicts concerned here are those that fall within each province in the years subsequent to the census. I find that a large rise in state presence increases civil conflicts in succeeding years. This violence-inducing effect is moderated by two conditions: distance to the capital and the presence of geographically concentrated ethnic minorities. State presence is more likely to trigger violence in distant regions and in those with different disadvantaged ethnic identities. This pattern, as depicted by Figure 1, is consistent with the theory relying on the resistance from non-state actors because the two moderators often favor the formation of a local authority prior to the state’s arrival.

Figure1Caption: Marginal Effects of Enhanced State Presence Using Kernel Estimators

Note: The 95% confidence intervals are shown. They are obtained from a non-parametric bootstrap procedure clustering on countries.

The second analysis is at the ethnic group level. I collect global ground transportation data (road and railroad) and overlay it with the settlement patterns of politically relevant ethnic groups using Geographical Information System (GIS). Figure 2 shows an example with Nigeria. This constitutes a measure of state presence in relation to individual ethnic groups. Multiple data sources identify the conflict incidents for which each ethnic group claims responsibility. Results further show that, among ethnic groups not fully incorporated into the state systems, those reached by the state are more likely to revolt than their isolated counterparts.

Figure2Caption: Measuring State Presence Engaged with the Ethnic Tiv (Nigeria) using Transportation Connection

Note: The connection points counted here are those that connecting the Tiv to the other parts of Nigeria (eventually to the capital, Abuja, through the transportation network) but not to other neighboring countries.

This study provides insights into understanding the puzzling and complex relationships between state capacity and civil conflict. The sub-national level analyses challenge the conventional wisdom that extending statehood reduces violent incidents (Pinker, 2011) and show that it could have the opposite effect. The paper thus deepens our understanding of the state’s role in civil conflicts. It implies that state building practice should put more weight on negotiations with established local non-state authorities to prevent fierce resistance. However, Scott (2010)’s argument that groups in peripheral areas often settled there to escape the state’s reach suggests this will be hard.


Luwei Ying

About the Author: Luwei Ying, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1063, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130;



Gohdes, Anita and Megan Price. 2013. “First Things First: Assessing Data Quality before Model Quality.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 57(6):1090-1108.

Lacina, Bethany and Nils Petter Gleditsch. 2013. “The Waning of War Is Real: A Response to Gohdes and Price.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 57(6):1109-1127.

Lee, Melissa M. 2018. “The International Politics of Incomplete Sovereignty: How Hostile Neighbors Weaken the State.” International Organization 72(2):283-315.

Lee, Melissa M. and Nan Zhang. 2016. “Legibility and the Informational Foundations of State Capacity.” The Journal of Politics 79(1):118-132.

Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York, NY: Viking.

Sarkees, Meredith Reid, Frank Whelon Wayman and J. David Singer. 2003. “Inter-State, Intra-State, and Extra-State Wars: A Comprehensive Look at Their Distribution over Time, 1816-1997.” International Studies Quarterly 47(1):49-70.

Scott, James C. 2010. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Understanding and Reducing Biases in Elite Beliefs About the Electorate 

by Miguel M. Pereira, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis.


A central question in the process of representation is how elected officials gauge and respond to voter signals. As office-seekers, politicians have strong incentives to be informed. However, there is a growing recognition that gauging constituent preferences is more demanding than originally suggested (Butler and Nickerson 2011). Representatives often have a distorted image of their constituents (Broockman and Skovron 2018; Converse and Pierce 1986) Hence, a key ingredient for responsiveness is often missing. In this study, I explore two questions related to this puzzle: (1) why do politicians misperceive voter preferences; and (2) how can misperceptions be mitigated.

I argue that elite misperceptions result from a combination of differential exposure and personal biases of legislators. First, representatives do not interact with all segments of the electorate in the same way. More affluent and organized groups are more likely to make their voices heard in the policymaking process (Giger et al. 2012; Schlozman et al. 2012). If legislators rely on availability heuristics to gauge public preferences, imbalances in political engagement may lead elected officials to overestimate the support for policies endorsed by these subconstituencies. Second, personal biases of elected officials may also hinder the development of accurate beliefs. Representatives may be inclined to engage in social projection: projecting their own policy preferences on voters (Krueger and Clement 1994). This cognitive bias may lead representatives to overestimate support for policies they endorse.

I tested these expectations in two complementary surveys with elected officials. The first study is based on a panel of Swedish MPs covering two decades. This dataset was combined with mass surveys fielded concurrently to create measures of perceptual accuracy. The analyses reveal that elite beliefs disproportionately reflect the preferences of high-status voters: white collar voters, or college-educated, or in the top 15th income percentile, or urban voters. Figure 1 summarizes the main findings. The probability of an MP correctly perceiving the majority opinion on a given policy issue decreases, on average, 12 percentage points when white-collar voters disagree with the median voter. The analyses also show evidence of social projection: elected officials systematically overestimate public support for policies they personally endorse.

Figure 1. The role of high-status voters and MP personal preferences on perceptual accuracy.

Figure 1

Note: Points are estimates from linear probability models with perceptual accuracy as the outcome variable (1 if respondent correctly identifies the majority position on a given issue; 0 otherwise). The key predictors are listed on the y-axis. Each color represents a distinct model based on the operationalization of high-status voters. All models account for preference imbalance and include fixed effects by party, year, and issue.

The second study was designed to provide causal evidence for the key predictions derived from the theory and to assess the degree to which misperceptions can be mitigated. In an original survey that leveraged real political events, 2,918 Swiss local representatives were asked to estimate support for two upcoming referendums in their municipalities. Together with the disaggregated results from the popular votes, these data allowed me to produce precise measures of perceptual accuracy at the local level. Officials were randomly assigned to informational cues designed to (1) overcome inequalities in exposure and (2) social projection. The results reveal that representatives were significantly more accurate in their predictions when encouraged to avoid availability heuristics and to consider the electorate more broadly. Figure 2 presents the main results of the experiment.

Figure 2. The effects of exposure and self-awareness to social projection on perceptual accuracy

Figure 2

Note: Points are estimates of the difference in the probability of Swiss local officials correctly perceiving the expressed preferences of the majority of voters in their constituency by treatment condition (control = baseline).

The findings have several implications for the study of political representation and responsiveness. First, the patterns uncovered provide a rather pessimistic view of the ability for constituents to control public policy. The study joins recent scholarship in the United States uncovering relevant distortions in elite perceptions of public opinion (Broockman and Skovron 2018; Hertel-Fernandez et al. 2019). However, Sweden and Switzerland are two of the most socially inclusive societies in the world. The fact that in both countries inequalities in political voice seem to have meaningful effects on perceptions of public opinion is concerning. The results shed light on the path yet to cover until societies are able to sustain fully inclusive political institutions.

The results also suggest that inequalities in responsiveness may have deeper roots than prior work suggests. Even when legislators are not trying to favor any particular subconstituency, differential exposure can reproduce inequalities in representation by systematically distorting elite beliefs about the preferences of voters.

At the same time, the Swiss study suggests that misperceptions are not inevitable. The informational nudges designed to help legislators avoid availability heuristics induced more accurate beliefs about the electorate. These results suggest that improving perceptions of public opinion is possible even with low impact interventions.


Broockman, David E. and Christopher Skovron. 2018. “Bias in perceptions of public opinion among political elites.’’ American Political Science Review 112(3): 542-563.

Butler, Daniel M. and David W. Nickerson. 2011. “Can learning constituency opinion affect how legislators vote? Results from a field experiment.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 6: 55-83.

Converse, Philip E., and Roy Pierce. 1986. Political Representation in France. Harvard University Press.

Giger, Nathalie, Jan Rosset, and Julian Bernauer. 2012. “The poor political representation of the poor in a comparative perspective.” Representation 48(1): 47-61.

Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander, Matto Mildenberger, and Leah C. Stokes. 2019. “Legislative staff and representation in Congress.” American Political Science Review 113(1): 1-18.

Krueger, Joachim, and Russell W. Clement. 1994. “The truly false consensus effect: an ineradicable and egocentric bias in social perception.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67(4): 596-610.

Schlozman, Kay Lehman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady. 2012. The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


Miguel PereiraMiguel Pereira is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis. His research focus on political representation and the behavior of political elites in established democracies. For more information about Miguel Pereira, please visit or follow him on Twitter @miguelmaria 

How Ideology, Economics and Institutions Shape Affective Polarization in Democratic Polities

Summary by Noam Gidron, James Adams, and Will Horne

Concerns over the health of democratic norms and institutions have intensified in recent years (e.g., Levitsky and Ziblatt 2018), with political polarization often cited as a key driver of democratic dysfunction. The rise of affective polarization in the mass public, defined as dislike and hostility across partisan lines (Iyengar et al. 2012), is especially disconcerting because it damages trust across partisan lines. Yet most of our knowledge about this important phenomenon is drawn from the American case. Analyzing affective polarization in a comparative perspective may improve our understanding of its causes and effects, as well as what is, and is not, unique about the American case. In our comparative study we find that the United States actually displays relatively moderate affective polarization when compared with other democratic polities. We also find evidence that institutional and economic conditions shape affective polarization.

We analyze 76 national election surveys across 20 countries between 1996 and 2015 using data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems. We first create a measure of country-level affective polarization that captures how much the average partisan in the country dislikes all parties other than the one they support. This allows us to compute an affective polarization score for each election in each country in our data set. We find that affective polarization in the American public is not high in comparative perspective. Only a handful of the countries in our study display notably less intense mass-level affective polarization than the US.  Figure 1 displays the average and range of affective polarization scores in each country over the period of our study, where higher values on the horizontal axis denote more intense affective polarization:


To analyze variations in affective polarization, we first evaluated whether affective polarization was driven by increasing levels of elite polarization. Using different measures of elite polarization, we found no consistent evidence that out-party dislike is driven by greater ideological differences between rival parties’ elites. In contrast, unemployment is strongly associated with affective polarization: in cross-national comparisons we find that countries with higher unemployment display more intense mass-level affective polarization, and in within-country comparisons we find that affective polarization intensifies as the national unemployment rate rises. We also find cross-national evidence that economic inequality intensifies affective polarization (McCarty et al, 2006).  Finally, in support of arguments originally developed by Lijphart (1999), we find that countries whose political systems foster more power-sharing between parties display markedly less affective polarization in the mass public, all else equal. Taken together, these findings suggest that affective polarization is driven more by structural economic and institutional factors than by ideological differences between rival parties’ elites.  Figure 2 displays the predicted levels of mass affective polarization across a range of values for the institutional, economic, and ideological variables that we study:


Notes: In each figure the vertical axis displays the predicted level of affective polarization in the country, where higher values denote more intense mass-level affective polarization.  In Figure 2A the horizontal axis is the level of ideological polarization that voters perceive between rival parties in the system, where higher numbers denote more intense ideological polarization.  In Figure 2B the horizontal axis is the degree of income inequality (the Gini coefficient), where higher numbers denote more income inequality.  In Figure 2C the horizontal axis is the national unemployment rate, and in Figure 2D it is the district magniture of the first tier of the electoral system, where a higher value means a more proportional electoral system.  For these computations all independent variables except the focal variable on the horizontal axis were set at their mean values.   

Our analysis is a first step towards a comparative research agenda on mass-level affective polarization. We have shown that the American case is not an outlier, which suggests that American politics scholars may learn more about their case by placing it in a broader comparative context.  In future research we will extend our analyses of the link between elite ideological polarization and mass-level affective polarization to consider more focused dimensions of policy debates, including elite disputes over nationalism and over economic policy.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: Noam Gidron is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and the Joint Program in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. James Adams is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at UC Davis, and Will Horne is a graduate student in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. They received the 2019 MPSA Kellogg/Notre Dame Award for their research “The Causes of Mass-level Affective Polarization in Advanced Democracies”.


Iyengar, Shanto, Gaurav Sood and Yphtach Lelkes. (2012). ‘Affect, Not Ideology.’ Public Opinion Quarterly, 76(3):405–431.

Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. (2018). How Democracies Die. New York: Crown.

Lijphart, Arend.  1999.  Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries.  New Haven: Yale University Press.

McCarty, Nolan, Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal. (2006). Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches. Cambridge: MIT Press.


How War Changes Land: The Ecological Consequences of the US Bombing of Cambodia

By Erin Lin

How War Changes Land: The Ecological Consequences of the US Bombing of Cambodia
Example of bomb found during fieldwork: B42 cluster bomb in the center-right, and a rock is on its left. (Photo courtesy of Erin Lin)


The village of West Father Long lies about five kilometers out of Kampong Thom town, Cambodia, in the southerly direction. Dirt paths run east and west, letting bicycles and farmers travel from the hamlet to the rice paddies, but the only route that travels with any suggestion of efficiency is Highway 6, a paved, two-lane road on which tour buses, jammed full, carry tourists from Phnom Penh, the capital, to the Angkor Wat ruins near Siem Reap. The landscape is remarkably verdant, but unattended: lopsided rectangular plots of paddy land; pools of fresh rainwater that fill the plots, bordered by raised clay to separate them; the rattan overgrowth and vine-like weeds that take over most paddies, except for certain edges near the dirt paths, where villagers have planted some rice seedlings.Cambodia administrative map

The loose, high-absorption soil, called Krakor locally, makes the land ideal for growing rice. For a good harvest, fertilizer need not be applied, nor irrigation lines installed. The village’s location, too, makes it easy to sell surplus rice since it is a short ride on Highway 6 to Kampong Thom market, the busiest in the province. But in reality, half the village’s plots lay fallow. Those who do cultivate their land only grow enough for their own consumption, planting 15 to 30% of their yield. No one brings their crop to market. And, most of the villagers are poor.

In 2012, the median amount a household spent on non-food items was $502 – for the entire year. This is approximately the cost of a used motorbike. By comparison, in Sweet Gum Tree village, only two and a half kilometers down the road, the median household spent $300 more on non-food purchases that same year. Here, the rice paddies are lush, well-tended, and planted 40 to 50% of their total capacity. Farmers produce triple the amount of rice as in West Father Long Village, both by weight and by price, and excess rice is sold to market.

Unlike in West Father Long, a thick layer of sandy soil, known as Prateah Lang, covers much of the area surrounding Sweet Gum Tree village. It is dry and constantly loses water, so irrigation tubes and makeshift water pumps are necessary to supplement the rain. When the water seeps through the surface soil to the subsoil, it takes nutrients with it. To help out the seedlings, most farmers spread chemical fertilizer after transplanting.

So why do people, where the land is worse, grow more rice and make more money – especially when farmers in both villages have good access to the nearby town market to sell their surplus? I believe part of the answer lies in the region’s history of conflict. Both villages were part of a targeted area in two US aerial strikes (one in 1971 and another in 1973). More than 12,000 unique bombs, weighing a total of 49,000 tons, were dropped in the district, an area roughly one-third the size of Manhattan.

Between 1965 and 1973, Cambodians saw 500,000 tons of US Air Force ordnance drop onto its rice fields, villages, and people, in an effort to root out Vietnamese Communists from the Cambodian countryside. More than a half-century later, it seems as if the effect of the bombing is somewhat mixed. On some bombed land, one can see “crater lakes” in the rice paddies, visible pock-marks of the bombing, which do not seem to hinder agricultural production today. Other bombed areas remain untouched or sparsely planted. This paper examines the ecological consequences of the US bombing of Cambodia while answering a very basic question in comparative politics: what is the historical legacy of violence on development?

To answer this question, I explore the role of soil fertility and bombing intensity on present-day agricultural output and planting decisions. Within the weapons literature, it is common knowledge that fertile ground provides more of a cushion for the bomb upon impact; thus, the trigger fuse is less likely to detonate. I examine the long-term impact of this mechanical failure on land production. I find that, in fertile land, as the level of historic bombing intensity increases, today’s farmers are more likely to subsistence farm and produce less rice due to the risk of encountering unexploded ordnance. This mechanism does not apply to less fertile land: since it tends to be harder and drier, bombs were much more likely to explode upon impact.

I use a unique historical dataset of 114,000 sites targeted in 231,000 US Air Force sorties flown over Cambodia from 1965 to 1973. I identify the location and types of ordnance, and compare them to the 2012 agricultural output of 3,617 geo-referenced household plots. After matching household plots according to prewar economic and geographic conditions, I run a multi-level OLS model with an interacted term for a household plot’s exposure to bombs and land fertility. The findings support the hypothesis about the differential relationship between land fertility and the legacy of bombing. In highly fertile land, bomb intensity is significantly related to a decline in rice production and in the amount of rice sold to market. In less fertile land, the relationship is negligible. The results demonstrate empirical limits of macro-economic measures in the post-conflict reconstruction literature, and emphasize the impact that local ecological changes have on long-term development.

About the Author: Erin Lin is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Global Food Politics at the Ohio State University. Lin was awarded the Best Paper in International Relations Award this spring for her research “How War Changes Land: A natural experiment of bomb-induced economic change in Cambodia” presented at the 2018 MPSA conference.

The Examination of the “Other:” An Insight Into The Asian Pacific Islander Experience in the Prison Industrial Complex

By Michelle M. Hicks, Willamette University

Hicks-MPSA Conference Poster


Who are the “others” inside the U.S. carceral system? According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the “other” is any race, which cannot be classified as White, Black, or Hispanic.[1] The “other” category is an amalgam of racial identities that do not fit in the above categories including American Indian, Asian, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, Alaskan Native, or anyone who identifies as multiracial. “Others” make up 9% of the state and federal prison population but are largely ignored within modern carceral discourse due to their small numbers, diversity, and inability to fit within the racial binary. [2] Traditionally, this category is not disaggregated, which is problematic because it glosses over the rich diversity present within these cultures. This creates a dearth of knowledge that is reflected through the scholarly focus on “black and white” issues and the continuation of the “othering” of Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs), one of the largest incarcerated groups within the “other” label, in academic works.[3] It not only omits important cultural phenomena but also makes it unclear whom scientists are actually referring to. Additionally, it does not account for the social, economic, and cultural differences in the API incarcerated population, thus homogenizing APIs with all of the “others” incarcerated.

The presence of APIs in the carceral state has skyrocketed in the past two decades to more than 10,000 incarcerated APIs.[4] This paper focuses on their specific experiences inside the Oregon state prison system and how their API identity shapes their experience being incarcerated. Even though APIs are one of the fastest growing groups of incarcerated peoples nationwide, there is an absence of research and resources allocated to understanding this phenomenon and the APIs who are trapped inside the carceral state. Their absence is especially visible in Oregon due to its small population of API identifying people.[5] When an individual becomes incarcerated, the repercussions reverberate through the entire API community. The label of API contains a multitude of cultures, immigration/residency statuses, religions, languages, and histories that contribute to the rich identity of these incarcerated persons. As a result, it is difficult for political scientists to conduct research or collect data with regards to the individual groups that constitutes the API label. In turn, this leads to further misconceptions about the experiences of incarcerated peoples, which has created the current neglect and the further marginalization of APIs in the academic sphere.

Additionally, there are many societal misconceptions that lead to further marginalization of APIs. There are few resources allocated to understanding and addressing API incarcerated peoples and how best to accommodate communal needs such as translation services, cultural identity, and loss of homeland. There have been numerous social constructions limiting the interpretation of this community inside the carceral state. To dispel some of the notions contrived from the Yellow Peril threat and Model Minority myth with regards to the API community, I conducted a series of interviews with members of an API club in Oregon. In my poster presentation, I argued that the API identity affects the API incarcerated persons’ experience due to the sociological constructions surrounding this community and the difficulties with retaining culture behind bars. These issues inherent in APIs’ experience while incarcerated have been mitigated by the existence of a cultural club, which uses its status and constituents to help span the deficiencies in programs provided by the administration and disrupt sociological constructions between non-API identifying men and API men.

The work that the club has done can be supported on a broader scale by supporting (either fiscally or with your time) any of the organizations listed below. Furthermore when conducting one’s own research, it is vital to disaggregate API category to gain a clearer picture of what the API community is like, who is affected, and how to better care for their needs. I am incredibly grateful to the MPSA for providing me with this award and platform to share my work.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Author: Michelle M. Hicks is a student at Williamette University in Salem, Oregon. Hicks received the Best Undergraduate Paper Presented in a Poster Format for her research titled “’The Examination of the “Other:’ An Insight Into The Asian Pacific Islander Experience in the Prison Industrial Complex” presented at the 2018 MPSA conference.  



1. United States. U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Prisoners in 2015….
2. Ibid.
3. “Asian Americans and Pacific….”
This pamphlet statistically analyses the “other” population nationwide, with a focus on California.
4. Brian D. Johnson, and Sara Betsinger. “Punishing the ‘Model Minority’ Asian-American Criminal Sentencing Outcomes in Federal District Courts.” American Society of Criminology 47, no. 4 (2009): 1045-1089
5. Ibid.

Blue is Black and Red is White? Affective Polarization and the Racialized Schemas of U.S. Party Coalitions

By Nicholas A. Valentino and Kirill Zhirkov


Affective polarization – the mutual partisan antipathy expressed by both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. – has increased dramatically over the last 30 years. Both real-life political processes and their reflections in social media offer anecdotal evidence for this conjecture, as demonstrated by declining civility in political debates. Systematic evidence for this disturbing trend also comes from the ANES time series, as documented by Iyengar, Sood, and Lelkes (2012).

What are the root causes of this process? One of the most influential approaches to affective polarization emphasizes the changing social compositions of the two parties (Mason 2018). Over the last decades, sorting rendered Democrats and Republicans relatively homogeneous and distinct on a number of non-ideological dimensions, from religious affiliation to place of residence. For example, whereas both conservatives, moderates, and even some liberals once identified with the Republican party, now the vast majority are conservative. While Democrats once included highly religious as well as secular adherents, most fundamentalists have now departed for the Republicans.

However, we think another dimension is most important. Race/ethnicity now cleaves the parties more neatly than ever, and not simply because Democrats and Republicans disagree in their attitudes about race itself. In fact, whites are sorting out of the Democratic party at a significant rate while minorities are standing pat. Figure 1 presents evidence in this regard using the American National Election Studies time-series data starting from 1952. The growing racial gap between the two parties is evident. As the share of Whites among self-identified Democrats is rapidly decreasing (outpacing demographic changes in the country as a whole), the Republican Party remains overwhelmingly White. Our conjecture is that it is these changes in race and ethnicity that drive most of the affective polarization we have witnessed over the last 30 years.

Figure 1. Changing racial compositions of the U.S. electorate and the two major parties

If we are correct we would expect that American voters have begun to develop much more highly racialized mental images of political parties. Furthermore, these racialized images should be much more politically consequential than partisan schemas linked to religion, class, or other dimensions.

To explore this possibility, we conducted two survey studies based on interviews with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) workers. In the first study, we relied on implicit methods to measure respondents’ associations between the two major parties on the one hand and Blacks and Whites on the other hand. Specifically, we used a timed image sorting task similar in architecture to the well-known implicit association test (IAT). However, unlike the standard IAT our task did not include an affective component – instead, it simply measured the strength of associations between racial and partisan groups via objective reaction times (transformed into the IAT D-scores according to the respective guidelines).

Figure 2 presents the results. On average, respondents’ racialized schemas about partisan coalitions were consequential. White respondents who thought of the Democratic Party as Black reported clear affective preference for the Republican Party. Furthermore, this effect was moderated by racial resentment: racialized schemas about the two parties were consequential for those high in racial resentment but not for the racially liberal respondents.

Figure 2. Implicit racial schemas about the two parties, racial resentment, and affective polarization
Figure 2. Implicit racial schemas about the two parties, racial resentment, and affective polarization

In the second study, we asked explicit questions about supporters of the two parties. Specifically, we wanted our respondents to tell us their best guess about the race/ethnicity of “the typical Democrat/Republican.” We found that even in the MTurk sample, which is known to be more liberal than the U.S. general population, as much as 25% of respondents thought of the modal Democratic voter as Black or African American. This is clearly a misperception: even though the Democratic Party indeed draws a substantial share of its electoral support from minority groups, Whites still comprise the plurality of Democratic supporters.

As with implicit schemas, explicit ones were politically consequential. Even controlling for issue positions and demographics, respondents who perceived themselves to “match” with one of the two parties in terms of race exhibited significantly more polarized partisan feelings than those who did not feel they matched one or both of the parties in terms of race. Moreover, partisan identity matching with other groups, namely religious denomination and social class, had almost no effect on affective polarization. Results are presented in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Perceived identity match with the two parties and affective polarization
Figure 3. Perceived identity match with the two parties and affective polarization

Our findings have important implications for the study of affective polarization and for the subfield of American political behavior more generally. We suspect that Americans now see the partisan coalitions in racial terms and that these racialized images are highly consequential for how people feel toward the parties. In comparative politics, the “ethnicization” of political parties is associated with a host of negative system-level outcomes, such as bad governance and political instability. If the process that we highlight continues, the American political system may experience problems much worse than Twitter brawls between fans of Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity.

About the Authors: Nicholas A. Valentino is a Research Professor at the Center for Political Studies and a Professor in the Departments of Political Science and Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. Kirill Zhirkov is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan. Valentino and Zhirkov received the Best Paper in Political Behavior award for their study “The Images in Our Heads: Race, Partisanship and Affective Polarization” presented at the 2017 MPSA conference.

Iyengar, Shanto, Gaurav Sood, and Yphtach Lelkes. 2012. “Affect, not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization.” Public Opinion Quarterly 76 (3): 405–31.

Mason, Lilliana. 2018. Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ethnic Networks

The following is part of a series of posts written by MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences and in the American Journal of Political Science. The following AJPS Author Summary was first published on the AJPS website and is shared here with permission.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchIn developing countries, ethnic groups – also known as tribes – play an important role in political life. Prior research shows that people living in areas that are more ethnically homogeneous are more likely to act collectively. For example, in more homogeneous communities, people are more likely to donate to a local public school or support a local armed rebellion. Several existing theories assume that such collective action is easier among people from a single ethnic group in part because group members are better able to share information than people from different groups. This is the case, several scholars believe, because the social networks among people of an ethnic group are denser.

To study the “real world” accuracy of these assumptions, we conducted an experiment in rural Uganda. We seeded identical information in the same way at the same time in two villages that are similar in most ways – except that one village is ethnically homogeneous, and the other is more diverse. The seeded information was that in three days an event would be held at which all adults in attendance would receive a valuable block of soap in exchange for taking a survey. By then surveying villagers who did and did not attend, we learned that, as expected, the information spread much less widely in the diverse village; more than eight-times more individuals from the homogeneous village heard about the event. However, contrary to expectations, we find that the social network in the more diverse village is significantly denser; many more social ties interconnect people there. In other words, news spread much more widely in the homogeneous village despite having a less dense social network.

To understand why network density can in fact impede information spread, we argue that if people hesitate to share information more with out-group members than with in-group members – even if the difference is small – then greater network density can actually impede the spread of information. The intuition is as follows: given a limited number of opportunities to share news with a social contact on a given day, greater density – especially if it is driven in part by more cross-group ties — increases the likelihood that some of those opportunities are with less trusted social contacts. Additional ties to those one trusts less crowd out the chance to interact with more trusted people, to whom information flows more freely. Because of the exponential nature of information spread, when this dynamic recurs throughout a network, it can greatly impede the spread of information overall. In the paper, we show how this process can work by simulating information spread through the village networks about which we collected data.

While this is a small study of two villages, it provides a rare, direct look at the process of information transmission in rural societies, and provides clues about why information – and perhaps even disinformation or propaganda – may spread more easily in less diverse areas.

About the Authors: Jennifer M. Larson of Vanderbilt University and Janet I. Lewis of the U.S. Naval Academy have authored the article, “Ethnic Networks”, published in the April 2017 issue of the American Journal of Political Science, which was awarded the AJPS Best Article Award at the 2018 MPSA Conference. (MPSA members: Log in at to access.)

How Governments Influence Competition between Militant Groups

By Justin Conrad and William Spaniel

When Algeria descended into violence in the 1990s, two militant groups – the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) – competed for supremacy of the rebel movement. The competition between the two groups, in fact, became a major source of violence during the Civil War. Similarly, competition between Irish republican groups appears to have influenced their use of violence during the Troubles. The Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) assassination of Lord Mountbatten, for instance, may have been a response to increasing competition from the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

While both cases involved militant groups using violence in response to competition, there is one notable difference. The Algerian government, despite signing a truce in 1997 with the various militant factions in the conflict, failed to effectively end the groups’ recruitment efforts. As a result, competitive violence among these groups continued to plague the country. In Northern Ireland, on the other hand, government enforcement measures – the use of informants, in particular – played a key role in reducing terrorist recruitment levels, and ultimately, the level of violence. Despite competitive violence among militant groups in both conflicts, government enforcement and counter-recruitment policies appear to have influenced the violence in one case, but not the other.

The idea that militant groups might use violence in response to increased political competition is not a new concept. Political scientists have dubbed this behavior as “outbidding”: when groups face greater levels of competition, they may use public displays of violence to differentiate themselves from one another. Potential recruits and supporters constitute the “audience” for such violence. But much of the existing outbidding literature assumes competition among groups occurs in a vacuum, largely ignoring the role of an important strategic actor: the government. Not only is the government the ostensible target of the groups’ political violence, but it also potentially has the power to influence their recruitment processes.  Government efforts to intercept or discourage volunteers should logically undermine the outbidding process. Fewer potential recruits means fewer incentives to use violence to attract those recruits. On the other hand, ineffective government enforcement can create additional opportunities to use violence in an effort to outbid each other.

In our study, “Competition, Government Enforcement and Political Violence,” we explore these strategic dynamics with a model of outbidding that explicitly incorporates the government and its capability to police militant group recruitment efforts. We derive expectations from our model that support the classic outbidding hypothesis: more groups should result in more violence overall (see Figure 1: there is more aggregate violence when there are 4 active groups than when there are 2). However, the additional amount of violence is smaller when the government is better at enforcement.

Government's Marginal Cost of Enforcement
Figure 1

We subsequently test this expectation using data on terrorist violence from the Global Terrorism Database and a variety of measures capturing the relative costs of government enforcement. Figure 2 shows one set of results that captures the basic argument. Each line in the graph represents the predicted number of terrorist attacks a state will experience when there is a specific number of active groups (0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 groups). Again, more groups are associated with higher predicted counts of terrorist attacks. But the effect is clearly influenced by the relative costs of government enforcement (here, measured as the government’s relative political reach). As the number of groups increases and competition becomes particularly intense, we see lower enforcement costs having a pacifying effect on the amount of violence the state experiences. These effects are highly robust to a number of specifications and measures.

Figure 2
Figure 2

The results of the study offer an additional insight: they help refute an alternative to the outbidding hypothesis. The outbidding thesis suggests that more groups lead to more violence because of competitive pressure. But any evidence of this effect would be consistent with an alternative explanation: when there are greater levels of grievances among the population, more people will be willing to both join groups and commit violence. This line of argument, however, does not predict the interactive effect that our study identifies. In other words, we provide evidence that groups do indeed engage in competitive violence while also providing evidence that the government can influence these dynamics.

The lessons for counterterrorism policy are fairly straightforward. Conventional wisdom in academic and policy circles often recommends an “enemy of my enemy” approach where states play factions off one another to undermine their capability to use violence. Our analysis, however, provides additional support for the outbidding thesis that increased competition can lead to more violence. And we identify specific conditions under which this violence is most likely to occur. In a new study presented at the 2018 MPSA conference, one of the authors used original data on intergroup competition to provide additional insight into how group violence is determined by concerns about direct competitors as well as broader concerns about the conflict environment. Ultimately, this line of research suggests that while groups may frequently outbid one another with violence, there is much more to the story than previously imagined.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: Justin Conrad is Associate Professor of Political Science at UNC Charlotte. His research on intergroup competition is funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation. William Spaniel is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Conrad and Spaniel received the Best Paper in International Relations for their study, “Competition, Government Enforcement, and Political Violence,” presented at the 2017 MPSA conference.

All Male Panels Erode Citizens’ Perceptions of Democratic Legitimacy

By Amanda Clayton, Diana Z. O’Brien, and Jennifer M. Piscopo

All-male panels increasingly face public pushback. Though once ubiquitous, male-only groups are encountering greater scrutiny at conferences, in workplaces, and especially in politics. In the United States, for example, a photo showing a male-only meeting of politicians discussing whether health insurance plans should be required to include maternity services provoked outrage. Irish citizens recently expressed indignation at an all-male group of city and county councilors advocating for a “no” vote in the country’s referendum to decriminalize abortion.

That all-male panels confront scorn, especially when their topic addresses matters connected to women’s experiences, suggests that women’s presence can affect how citizens view policy decisions and the institutions and processes that make them. What does women’s presence in political decision-making bodies signal to citizens? Do citizens’ reactions change depending on what decision the group makes? And do women and men respond similarly to women’s presence? Our research explains whether, when, and for whom the makeup of political institutions affects citizens’ perceptions of democratic legitimacy.

Our study is based on a November 2016 survey experiment. We asked a representative sample of Americans to read a hypothetical newspaper article about an eight-member state legislative committee evaluating sexual harassment policies. Our design varied both the gender makeup of the panel (all-male vs. gender-balanced) and the decision reached (increasing or decreasing penalties for those found guilty of harassment).

We asked respondents their feelings about the legitimacy of the decision itself, a concept we term substantive legitimacy. We also asked about their attitudes towards the decision-making process, willingness to acquiesce to the decision, and trust in the political institutions that made the decision. Together, these concepts capture procedural legitimacy. Our design allows us to see how citizens’ perceptions of governing institutions change based on whether policies advantage or disadvantage women and whether women are involved in the decision-making process.

We find that citizens, both men and women, strongly prefer gender-balanced decision-making bodies. At the same time, we also show important differences related to citizens’ assessments of substantive or procedural legitimacy, the decision the group reaches, and respondent gender.

Regarding substantive legitimacy, we find that aversion towards male-only panels is particularly strong when they make decisions that roll back women’s rights. Said another way, women’s presence adds legitimacy to policy decisions that harm women. Men especially respond positively to women’s presence in these conditions. Women’s inclusion may cue men that the decision is “right” for women (even though the decision objectively removes protections for women). At the same time, changing from an all-male to a gender-balanced panel does not affect the perceived legitimacy of decisions that expand women’s rights, for either men or women respondents.

Moving to procedural legitimacy, we find that citizens view decision-making procedures as more legitimate when women are present. This finding holds for both men and women, both when decisions expand group rights and when they restrict them. Even in cases in which all-male panels advance feminist policies, citizens report lower average levels of procedural fairness, institutional trust, and acquiescence as compared to the gender-balanced committee.

Our findings hold across citizens’ party identification, indicating that both Republicans and Democrats prefer gender-balanced panels. And, our results were replicated in June 2017, ensuring that our findings are not driven by the 2016 election, when women’s access to political power and sexual harassment were particularly salient media topics.

Importantly, our results concerning procedural legitimacy also hold when we focus on a policy issue where women’s rights are not at stake. A separate group of respondents saw a news story in which an all-male or gender-balanced panel could raise or lower penalties for the mistreatment of animals on commercial farms. In this experiment, women’s presence does not affect attitudes about the substance of the decision. Yet, respondents report higher average levels of perceived fairness, institutional trust, and acquiescence when the decision is made by a gender-balanced panel. Again, citizens prefer inclusion.

Together, our outcomes have mixed implications for politics and policy. On the one hand, women’s presence legitimizes policies that harm women. Actors looking to roll back group rights could thus manipulate public opinion by placing women on decision-making bodies in these instances.

On the other hand, our findings demonstrate the profound importance of inclusion. Women’s presence in elected office is necessary in order for political institutions to be seen as wholly legitimate. This holds across policy areas, and even when decisions expand women’s rights. Politicians should recognize that opprobrium against all-male panels is not just a social media trend, but a genuine citizen grievance. Having male-only policymakers erodes citizens’ beliefs in the democratic legitimacy of their political institutions.


MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: Amanda Clayton is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, Diana Z. O’Brien is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University, and Jennifer M. Piscopo is an Assistant Professor of Politics at Occidental College. Their research “All Male Panels? Representation and Democratic Legitimacy” presented at the 2017 MPSA conference, received the 2018 Sophonisba Breckinridge Award for the best paper on the topic of women and politics.

The Deliberative Sublime: Edmund Burke on Disruptive Speech and Imaginative Judgment

Edmund Burke Engraving
Edmund Burke Engraving

By Rob Goodman of McGill University

Could it be true that judicious political conduct requires injudicious political language? Is there a case to be made for the value, amidst relatively settled institutions, of unsettling speech—speech characterized by rhetorical excess, exaggeration, impropriety, indecorousness, and even the uncanny?

Given the current state of American political discourse, many of us would be tempted to answer with a firm “no.” In fact, many of us would likely agree with former President Obama’s argument that “only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation,” or with the bipartisan group in the House of Representatives, who last year claimed in a draft resolution that “civil discourse and dialogue…have been jeopardized in recent years by growing division in and coarsening of our political culture,” and who called for “civility training in schools.”

And again, many political theorists would seem to sympathize with these arguments. The literature on democratic deliberation (even when rather grudgingly setting aside a place for rhetoric as a prompt or invitation to deliberation) often conceives of the desirable norms of political speech in restrained terms, stressing discussion, conversation, civility, and strict factuality.

These concerns are part of a long tradition. To eighteenth-century ears, for instance, such complaints over immoderate political speech would have sounded familiar. Among theorists in the early era of constitutionalism, it was something of a commonplace that the rule-bound governance of the modern era demanded a complementary style of rule-bound speech: a discourse that was factual, restrained, dispassionate, and even happily mediocre. When the partisans of this discourse denounced classical eloquence as “waste language” (John Trenchard), praised the speech of modern pleaders who aimed only “at convincing and instructing” (Hugh Blair), or decried “the ascendency of passion over reason” (James Madison), they anticipated in important ways the deliberative theorists of the present, as well as the contemporary yearning for “civility” as a cure to political ills.

Even if the discourse of deliberative civility has been more honored in the breach than the observance, it is still a matter of enduring interest for political theory: notions of acceptable and aberrant speech have long been treated as central to a polity’s self-conception. It is one thing to tolerate immoderate speech; it is another thing to actively defend it. How could one make such a defense? Why would one even want to do so?

In a paper presented at the 2016 MPSA conference, which was recently published in APSR as “The Deliberative Sublime: Edmund Burke on Disruptive Speech and Imaginative Judgment,” I tried to answer those questions. In doing so, I drew on an unlikely eighteenth-century source: Edmund Burke’s theory and practice of rhetorical excess or, in his own terms, the rhetorical sublime.

In the Burkean view that I develop, there are considerable costs to thoroughly hiving off from the work of deliberation what Thomas Spragens once called the “darker passions.” Drawing on Burke to defend unruly rhetoric might seem unlikely just because he shared with contemporary critics of rhetorical excess an appreciation for stability, predictability, and gradualism in the institutions and practices of government. But Burke’s historical reputation as the ur-conservative (which recent biographers have challenged as anachronistic), might blind us to the ways in which he rejected his contemporaries’ association of moderate language with moderate governance.

For Burke, such governance demanded the exercise of circumstantial judgment—and therefore demanded that deliberators overcome an allegedly ingrained resistance to judging. Burke presumed that most of us would take every opportunity to offload the pain of judgment onto preexisting “methods and forms,” maxims, and abstractions, all of which fail to engage with circumstantial complexities. He consistently urged his audiences to attend to the singular political moment and its particular circumstances, a challenge for which rules, procedures, and nostrums offer little help. In fact, he held that the very political stability he prized might lead deliberators to abdicate judgment. We may sympathize with such concerns if we recall the ways in which the phenomena of group polarization or the power of partisan loyalty over political perceptions and preferences seem to perform similar judgment-avoidance functions in our own time.

For Burke, the spur to sound political judgment was immoderate language: speech that might serve as a provocation of judgment and a corrective against the deliberative weaknesses he saw as endemic to constitutional government. There is thus a necessary place within settled institutions for unsettling and even uncanny speech. Burke proposes, in short, that the “deliberative sublime” is not the contradiction that it would seem to be. If the sublime is a kind of crisis of the senses—a simulation of danger that provokes a “sense of inward greatness” when successfully encompassed by the mind—there is a comparable kind of crisis that does not undermine a constitutional order, but inoculates it. My paper attempts to show how an analogous claim can be brought to bear on the anti-rhetorical strand of contemporary deliberative democracy—and, on the other hand, how even the Burkean defense of sublimity is consistent with a recognition of the harmfulness of certain kinds of uncivil and hateful speech.

While Burke is best known today for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, he was also regarded as one of the leading parliamentary orators of his day—one whose language, even by the standards of its time, seemed especially florid, heated, emotive, or superabundant. One contemporary compared him to a howling “wolf” in debate, and another described him as “foaming like Niagara.” Such contemporaries as William Wordsworth and James Boswell were struck by the force of his rhetoric. Others described him in terms of ethnic caricature, as when the populist politician John Wilkes mocked his “wild Irish eloquence” as the product of “potatoes and whiskey.”

My paper engages in a close reading of a number of passages of the kind that inspired these assessments—passages that seem to have been intended to startle, provoke, and disorient. Those passages include an account of a bloody whaling expedition, imagined visitations by supernatural entities, and a vision of the globe “burned to ashes” in the apocalypse. In some strict senses of the term, such passages are not “deliberative” at all. But in Burke’s theory of language and judgment—which was developed in his early work on the aesthetics of the sublime and put into practice in his oratorical career—such passages are integral to deliberation, because they stimulate the imagination and prime audiences for the exercise of judgment. In Burke’s terms, deliberation is so mentally strenuous that most of us take every excuse to avoid it—and so we must be “alarmed into reflection.” In fact, Burke explicitly cast his oratory as an appeal to the imagination:

Do not entertain so weak an imagination as that your registers and your bonds, your affidavits and your sufferances, your cockets and your clearances, are what form the great securities of your commerce… All this, I know well enough, will sound wild and chimerical to the profane herd of those vulgar and mechanical politicians…who, therefore, far from being qualified to be directors of the great movement of empire, are not fit to turn a wheel in the machine.

Burke’s object is not just to criticize the habits of parliamentary government for failing to “stretch and expand our minds”—but also that his own words might begin to affect the needed expansion. Burke leads us to the counterintuitive position that the language best suited to judgment may not itself be judicious.

None of this means that we ought to mistrust the notion of civility itself. Burke, for one, stressed that politics, “as it is a work for social ends, is to be only wrought by social means.” In other words, deliberation is a collaborative activity, and it benefits from the inclusion of marginal perspectives and language, as Burke’s own example illustrates. Because deliberation is collaborative, orators are obliged to carefully balance the need to provoke with the need to preserve the social context that gives provocation its value, steering clear of the kind of incivility that can be described (in the words of J. Cherie Strachan and Michael R. Wolf) as “rhetoric apt to sever relationships.” On the other hand, my paper argues that too demanding a notion of civility can stunt deliberation. We may have good reason to prefer a standard of civility minimal enough to make room for disturbingly provocative speech, agonistic ambition, and even what Teresa M. Bejan called “a commitment to mutual contempt.”

While Burke was engaged with eighteenth-century problems of parliamentary government, his core arguments—that cultivating political judgment can be difficult and even painful, and that disruptive speech can help us overcome that pain—continue to resonate. Consider, for instance, a 2014 speech of Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, a Marshall Islands poet, to the United Nations Climate Summit. Jetñil-Kijiner addressed these words to her infant daughter, imagining the lagoon near their home transformed by rising seas: “Men say that one day that lagoon will devour you. They say it will gnaw at the shoreline, chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees, gulp down rows of your seawalls, and crunch your island’s shattered bones.” The echoes of the Burkean sublime, and its aim of alarming into reflection, ought to be evident enough. At the same time, reconceiving deliberation in Burkean terms would lead us to reconsider the varieties of political speech we tend to view as troubling—not only the demagogic appeal, but also what Umberto Eco called the “pernicious vacuousness” that fails to offend and equally fails to engage our judgment.

About the Author:
Rob Goodman will be an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Political Science at McGill University, beginning in August. His paper “Edmund Burke and the Deliberative Sublime”, presented at the 2016 MPSA conference, received the Review of Politics Award in 2017.