Bridging the Gaps: Phones, Gender, and Politics

By Matthew Bondy, College of William & Mary

Photo Courtesy of the Center for African Development
Photo Courtesy of the Center for African Development

The spread of mobile phones over the past thirty years to both developed and developing countries alike has changed the way people interact socially, commercially, and politically. However, access to this technology has not been universal. In particular, women in developing countries are less likely to own mobile phones than men and are less likely to participate in politics.

In my paper, “Mobile Phone Ownership, Gender, and Political Participation in Africa,” I examine whether owning a mobile phone is associated with increased likelihood of individuals engaging in the political process and whether there is any interaction between mobile phone ownership and gender when it comes to political participation.

These questions are worth examining because, first, the ability to use a friend or neighbor’s phone is different from actually owning one—a distinction that previous literature on the topic has not taken into account. And second, the paper brings together the literatures on the information and communication technologies (ICTs) revolution and the gender gap in political participation. To the extent that the Mobiles for Development (M4D) movement remains influential, these empirical questions are also relevant to decision-makers in the policy and development communities.

I theorize that mobile phone ownership leads to increased political participation. The ability to exchange information more easily could lead to an increased interest in politics or an awareness of the political process that allows for participation. Additionally, owning a mobile phone may be empowering—adding to a person’s sense of political efficacy, or sense in his or her ability to contribute to politics—which has been linked to participation.

In an observational study using the Afrobarometer dataset along with some additional country-level variables, I show that mobile phone ownership is associated with a statistically significant increase in political participation. In particular, I examine the likelihood that respondents contacted a member of parliament, attended a community meeting, attended a political rally, and the participants’ interest in politics overall.

In fact, my preliminary findings show that owning a mobile phone is associated with an approximately 3 percentage point increase in contacting a member of parliament. For attending a community meeting, that number is about 5 percentage points, and for attending a rally it is about 6 percentage points. Having a phone in the household (but not owning one individually) is associated with about only half as much of an increase in political participation.

The study also confirms that even controlling for other factors, being female is linked to decreased political participation. Although the interaction between mobile phone ownership and gender is not statistically significant for most of the models, there was a statistically significant relationship when the dependent variable was attending a community meeting. (5.3 percentage points, where the base outcome was that 57 percent of respondents attended a community meeting.)

These findings seem promising, but they don’t necessarily show a causal relationship between mobile phone ownership and political participation. In order to test the causal hypothesis, I plan to combine the observational study with experimental data as a part of my ongoing work with William & Mary’s Center for African Development (CAD).

Philip Roessler the director of CAD, along with Flora Myamba, Dan Nielson, and Peter Carroll, is conducting a field experiment on mobile phone ownership and women’s empowerment in Tanzania. The experiment entails the randomization of mobile technology training and handsets to non-phone owners. At this time, the field research for this project is still ongoing. But their most recent findings show that providing low-income women with mobile phones significantly boosts their access to and use of mobile money, especially for women who are literate or are relatively more educated. With this study we will also be able to assess whether mobile phone ownership has a causal effect on political participation by comparing the degree of political engagement of those who receive phones and those in the control group.

I was encouraged by the positive feedback and suggestions for improvement that I received on my poster at the MPSA conference in 2016 and I am excited to continue my research on this issue. Professor Roessler and I are exploring additional methods to tackle some of our remaining research questions and we hope that additional findings will be forthcoming.

About the Author: Matthew Bondy recently graduated from the College of William & Mary with a B.A. in International Relations and will be returning in the fall to pursue a M.S. in Business Analytics. Bondy received the award for Best Paper Presented as a Poster for his research presented at the 2016 MPSA conference.

The Strategic Calculus of Bureaucratic Delay

By Rachel Augustine Potter, University of VirginiaThe Strategic Calculus of Bureaucratic Delay

Regulations created by bureaucratic agencies touch on nearly all areas of our lives, from vehicle fuel standards to whether the “Plan B” morning-after pill is available over-the-counter at the local pharmacy. Regulations—also known as rules—carry the same force-and-effect as laws passed by Congress, but we don’t pay nearly enough attention to them.

One element of the regulatory process that typically flies under the radar is timing. Rules can take government agencies many years or even decades to create. The reasons proffered for delay are numerous, often centering on procedural hurdles or bureaucrats’ ineptitude. In my award-winning paper “Slow-Rolling, Fast-Tracking, and the Pace of Bureaucratic Decisions in Rulemaking,” forthcoming in the July 2017 issue of the Journal of Politics, I offer a different perspective on delay in the federal rulemaking process—that timing is strategic.

I begin by pointing out that not all regulatory actions move at a plodding pace. Indeed, agencies often create new regulations at a relatively rapid clip, but such actions rarely receive notice since bureaucracies do not generally receive attention for being expeditious or efficient. Why then do some rules move fast while others are so slow? I argue that underlying this variation in pacing is an element of strategic bureaucratic behavior.

Creating a new regulation requires considerable bureaucratic effort and resources. Yet, the president, Congress, and the courts have the ability to upend an agency’s rulemaking project. Each branch can overturn an agency’s rule or to punish the agency in some way for writing a rule that does not align with their preferences. Pacing can be a tool to help agencies protect their rules from these consequences. In other words, agencies can speed up (fast-track) or slow down (slow-roll) the rulemaking process in order to undermine political oversight from the constitutional branches. When the political climate is favorable agencies rush to lock in a rule, but when it is less favorable they wait on the chance that it will improve.

To empirically demonstrate this argument, I rely on an event history analysis of more than 11,000 agency rules from 150 federal bureaus. I show that the pace of these rules slows significantly when the president, the Congress, or the courts are more inclined to disagree with—and potentially punish—the agency issuing the rule in question. Importantly, I am able to show that this delay is not simply tied to how complex the underlying rule is; that is, the observed delay is not consistent with an explanation based on agencies “working harder” to make good policy.

These findings make it very clear that bureaucrats are not neutral parties in the policymaking process. Rather, they have their own set of interests that they actively work to protect. Strategic pacing in the regulatory process also offers an answer to a long-standing puzzle in the rulemaking process. Specifically, many scholars have noted that agencies rarely make changes to regulatory policies as they move through the rulemaking process. But if agencies are subject to constant political scrutiny, how are rules able to withstand calls for change? Strategic timing is one mechanism by which bureaucrats are able to resist these political pressures.

Of course, bureaucrats are responsible for carrying out the entire rulemaking process, and timing is just one element of this process. In a larger book project, I look at other procedural tools that bureaucrats have in their arsenal and how strategic bureaucratic behavior affects the regulations that are ultimately produced via this process.

About the Author: Rachel Augustine Potter is an Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia. Her paper, “Slow-Rolling, Fast-Tracking, and the Pace of Bureaucratic Decisions in Rulemaking” received the Kenneth J. Meier Award for the best paper in bureaucratic politics, public administration, or public policy presented at the 2016 MPSA Conference. The paper will be published in the July 2017 issue of the Journal of Politics.


What Makes Citizens Support Gender Quotas?

By Tiffany D. Barnes and Abby Córdova, University of Kentucky

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. Tiffany D. Barnes and Abby Córdova, University of Kentucky

Gender quotas have been adopted in over a hundred countries in an effort to address gender disparities in national legislatures. Latin America has been a pioneer region in the implementation of gender quota laws, in which the state requires political parties to place female candidates on their party ballot. As of 2017, all but two countries in the Latin American region had implemented a state-mandated legislative gender quota. In our award-winning article, Making Space for Women: Explaining Citizen Support for Legislative Gender Quotas in Latin America”, published in the Journal of Politics (JOP), we carry out the first systematic examination of citizens’ views about gender quotas, and what makes them more or less inclined to support this gender equality policy.

To evaluate the extent of citizen support for quotas, we utilize a survey question included in the 2012 round of the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) survey which covered 24 countries. On a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), respondents were asked their extent of agreement with the following statement: “The state should require political parties to reserve some space on their lists of candidates for women, even if they have to exclude some men.” Based on data for this survey item, we find that the average level of support for gender quotas in the region is 5 points on the 1-7 scale. There is, however, wide variation in support levels across countries, ranging from 3.72 in Trinidad and Tobago to 5.95 in El Salvador (see Figure 1). As depicted by the frequency distributions of the gender quota item across countries in Figure 1, there is also substantial within country variation in quota support. Our article seeks to shed light on this puzzle, what explains differences within and across countries in citizen support for gender quotas in the Latin American region?

Figure 1. Frequency Distribution: Support for Gender Quotas by Country
Figure 1. Frequency Distribution: Support for Gender Quotas by Country

To address this question, we have developed a theory that emphasizes citizen preferences for government intervention and the extent of governance quality to explain citizen support for gender quotas. We focus, moreover, on how these two factors differentially influence men’s and women’s quota support. In this summary, we highlight two findings from our research. The first finding is that citizens’ normative beliefs about the role of government in society are important determinants of support for quota policies, which helps explain within country variation in support for quotas. Consistent with our expectations, high support for government involvement results in stronger quota support among women than men—most likely because women are more prone than men to attribute gender disparities to unfair treatment rather than to women’s decisions, which makes them more supportive of government intervention to improve gender equality. We illustrate this result in Figure 2, which plots the predicted probability of expressing strong support for quotas on the y-axis as support for government involvement increases across the x-axis.

Figure 2. Effect of Preferences for Government Involvement
Figure 2. Effect of Preferences for Government Involvement

We also find that citizens rely on heuristic information they draw on from their national context to determine their level of quota support. Differences across countries in the level of quota support are largely explained by governance quality. A government’s track record of governance quality serves as a cue to citizens trying to decide their level of quota support, and men are more inclined to resort to this contextual information than women. Given that men are less likely to see gender quota policies as serving their interests, men rely more heavily on cues from national context than on policy content to form their opinions on gender equality policies. In countries with a better track record of governance quality, men in particular become more confident that state-mandated gender quotas might be a good idea. Figure 3 plots this relationship. Specifically, we show the predicted probability of expressing strong support for quotas on the y-axis across different levels of government capabilities across the x-axis. The results plotted in Figure 3 indicate that in countries with better governance quality, the gender gap in support for gender quotas disappears.

Figure 3. Effect of Governance Quality
Figure 3. Effect of Governance Quality

The stronger effect of governance quality on quota support among men than women suggests that good governance may also narrow the gender gap in citizen support for other gender equality policies such as fair pay and equal access to employment. Beyond gender issues, governance quality can play a role in shaping support for other affirmative action policies currently topping the agendas of political elites and international organizations such as state-mandated quotas (or reserved seats) for ethnic and religious minorities in political decision-making bodies. Consequently, although political values such as support for government involvement may help explain attitude formation for policies intended to improve the lives of marginalized citizens, support for affirmative action policies in general is likely to be highest in countries with good governance. We are examining some of these issues in a new book project that leverages experimental data to test the theoretical mechanisms proposed in our JOP article.



About the Authors: Tiffany D. Barnes and Abby Córdova are Assistant Professors in the Department of Political Science at the University of Kentucky. Their research “Making Space for Women: Explaining Citizen Support for Legislative Gender Quotas in Latin America was recently honored with the Sophonisba Breckinridge Award as the best paper on the topic of women and politics presented at the 2016 MPSA conference.

Modern Police Tactics, Police-Citizen Interactions and the Prospects for Reform

By Jonathan Mummolo, Stanford University

New York City, New York – May 19, 2011: The crest on the jacket of a New York City Police Officer while on patrol.

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 question of whether and to what degree police officers respond to orders from their commanders is fundamental to understanding the prospects of effective police reform. But for decades, the policing literature has offered no consensus. Indeed, social scientists since the publication of James Q. Wilson’s landmark study, Varieties of Police Behavior (1968), have tended to paint patrol officers as autonomous bureaucrats who are relatively impervious to rules and supervision because of the large amount of discretion they are granted and because the nature of their work allows them to operate largely out of view from their superiors.

There are several reasons this question deserves renewed empirical testing. For one, in light of a spate of recent high-profile incidents of police misconduct, there are widespread calls for police reform today with little agreement on which policy changes will produce the best results. Much research on police misconduct also tends to focus on individual-level officer traits such as implicit bias and personality which, while important determinants of police behavior, suggest few policy-based remedies because prior work shows these traits may be immutable. In addition, many sources of high-resolution data on police behavior have only recently come online.

In my study, I leverage a sudden change in the New York Police Department’s procedure for implementing “Stop, Question and Frisk” (SQF) in order to gauge the responsiveness of officers to orders from their commanders. SQF is a controversial police practice that has historically targeted disadvantaged communities of color, and has been widely criticized for being over-zealously applied in major cities across the U.S. Combining quantitative data covering millions of police stops in New York City with qualitative evidence from original interviews and court transcripts, I use an interrupted time series analysis to estimate the causal effect of a procedural reform within the NYPD on the nature of police-citizen interactions. Specifically, I measure the impact of an order mandating that officers provide their commanders with narrative descriptions of the reasons they stopped criminal suspects on the “hit rate,” the proportion of stops conducted by officers which produced evidence of the suspected crime that motivated those stops. This metric has often been used to approximate the rate at which officers are stopping people actually engaged in criminal activity, rather than needlessly detaining innocent citizens.

The results of this analysis are stark. The day the reform was put into place, the hit rate— which had been relatively stable for years leading up to this date— effectively doubled by some estimates. Further analysis shows that this increase in the hit rate was driven by a sudden and sustained decrease in the number of stops being conducted, which occurred even as the number of stops producing evidence of a crime remained relatively constant. Further, contrary to claims by critics of SQF reforms that crime surged in New York City following this change, an analysis of homicide and robbery data shows no detectable change following the intervention. Faced with the prospect of increased scrutiny from their superiors, officers suddenly and dramatically refrained from detaining thousands of innocent New York residents with no discernible impact on public safety.

There are of course some necessary caveats. Though analyzing the immediate discontinuity in the hit rate at the moment of the intervention provides valuable causal leverage, it also confines inferences about this intervention’s effectiveness to the short term. The high hit rate observed post-intervention persists, and appears to grow, through the end of 2015. But we cannot attribute this persistence to the new directive with much confidence, as intervening events could be responsible. This study also examines data from a single city, and the efficacy of similar reforms should be tested and validated in other settings. Future work that selectively implements similar interventions experimentally across multiple departments could test the robustness and persistence of these effects.

The intervention was also followed by a sharp reduction in the number of stops producing a weapon. While we cannot necessarily attribute this change to the reform—since, again, there was no immediate change in this outcome the day of the reform, and intervening events could have easily been responsible for future changes—we also cannot rule out the possibility that this reduction was due to a lagged treatment effect. If the treatment did cause this decline, that would represent an important public welfare tradeoff. However, it is also worth noting that the primary purpose of removing weapons from the street according to proponents of SQF is to reduce violent crime. As the results show, the intervention did not lead to any detectable increase in homicides or robberies, a result that is consistent with earlier work finding no robust evidence that increases in SQF activity reduced crime rates in New York.

Despite the impact of this reform, the difficulty of improving the quality of police-citizen interactions should also not be understated. Officers still enjoy immense power and discretion as well as substantial barriers to prosecution in the event of wrongdoing. The effect observed here is limited to a single aspect of police work, and it is possible that the performance of other tasks which do not generate reports—or ones performed in environments where the press and populous are less able to scrutinize police behavior—would be much more difficult to improve. And even if similar interventions lead to widespread improvements in policing nationwide (a best case scenario), it may still take years, if not decades, to rebuild the atrophied levels of trust between residents of over-policed communities and law enforcement personnel.

But as solutions to the problems facing law enforcement continue to be sought, these findings should underscore for reformers the strong influence of institutional factors on police behavior. The trope of the “rogue cop” in discussions surrounding police misconduct has led to an individuation of social justice problems that, to a large extent, have institutional support. To be clear, this paper does not dispute that individual-level factors such as racial bias and personality affect police-citizen interactions, but rather that such results, at present, suggest few policy-based remedies. Even if some prejudice reduction strategies are effective, police organizations have often failed to demonstrate this by scientifically evaluating them during implementation. Indeed, the failure to adequately assess the merit of these initiatives may indicate a willful ignorance, and illustrate the resistance of institutions to more sweeping structural remedies. Announcing prejudice reduction initiatives while failing to properly evaluate them may allow political leaders to appear concerned about injustice while distracting attention from the fact that the institutions they control play a substantial role in shaping police behavior.

About the Authors: Jonathan Mummolo is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University. Mummolos research Can New Procedures Improve the Quality of Policing? The Case of ‘Stop, Question and Frisk’ in New York City was recently named as the Best Paper Presented by a Graduate Student presented at the 2016 MPSA conference.

Anti-Identity Movements in Latin America: Anti-chavismo, Anti-fujimorismo, and Anti-uribismo in Comparative Perspective

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.

MPSA-blog-Anti_Identity_Movements_in_Latin_AmericaAs many individuals who study partisanship know, politics is about identity. People vote for “their” party and support “their” candidates. In some cases, parties and personalities successfully capture the hearts and minds of individuals. These parties forge a strong sense of partisanship with their supporters. Typically, where this kind of partisanship exists, we see positive feedback effects on the political system. Research has shown that strong party identifiers are more likely to participate in politics. They tend to vote regularly, join political organizations, and participate in protest. Moreover, in certain contexts, partisanship correlates with regime support. It is also an indicator of democratic quality: where citizens exhibit stable preferences over time, parties can more effectively channel their demands.

The potentially positive effects of partisanship are, therefore, multiple. It should come as no surprise, given these widely accepted findings, that a marked decrease in levels of party identification will have negative consequences for a party system and also for a democratic regime. Where partisanship is weak, electoral volatility grows, accountability suffers, and the quality of representative institutions decreases. In the most extreme cases, a loss of partisan identification can provoke the collapse of the party system. When this occurs, voters simultaneously decide to vote every established party out of office. One set of parties is replaced by another, ostensibly overnight. This kind of catastrophic party-system crisis has occurred in several countries, including Bolivia, Italy, Peru, and Venezuela.

Our research seeks to understand what happens to representation in countries that experience major party-system crisis. Party-system collapse represents one kind of party-system crisis. Major crisis also occurs, however, when one or more established parties experiences a sudden decline in votes. In these situations, the electoral supply dramatically changes from one election to the next. Where party systems undergo this kind of rapid and major change, disaffection predominates. Confidence in political parties plummets, and independent candidacies flourish. The political landscape becomes hostile to parties. Under these circumstances, scholars predict that partisanship will be fleeting, if it exists at all.

In our paper, which received the Kellogg/Notre Dame Award for the Best Paper in Comparative Politics, we add nuance to these conclusions. We show that, in post-crisis political systems, marked as they are by instability and high fluidity, anti-identity movements can nonetheless guide the preferences of citizens who hold weak or no partisan sympathies. Anti-identity movements are strong, identity-based predispositions against a particular party or movement. Their adherents are ideologically cohesive in nature. They exhibit certain behavioral tendencies, including a propensity to vote a certain way. In short, we argue that, in unstable political contexts, anti-identity movements can function like conventional partisan identities for their adherents.

To demonstrate the cogency of this argument, we examine anti-identity movements in a region that has undergone serious party-system crisis: the Andean region of Latin America. Specifically, in Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia, parties that dominated politics for years and even decades were rejected by voters, opening up the political system to new “outsider” candidates. These controversial individuals—Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and Alvaro Uribe in Colombia—relied heavily on charisma to govern. They cultivated groups of followers to shore up support for their radical projects. To date, their movements, called fujimorismo, chavismo, and uribismo respectively, have largely transcended formal party organizations—although all three leaders eventually founded a political party to underpin each movement.

The existence of fujimorismo, chavismo, and uribismo has had a profound impact on politics in Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia, respectively. Yet, perhaps even more importantly, even larger groups of individuals who would never support fujimorista, chavista, or uribista candidates have also emerged. In our paper, we focus on these movements. We show that anti-fujimorismo in Peru, anti-chavismo in Venezuela, and anti-uribismo in Colombia are sustained by meaningful, identity-based ties. Each movement attracts adherents who claim they will never vote for a fujimorista, chavista, or uribista candidate. The adherents are consistent in their ideological predispositions, and they vote in ways that are consistent with their beliefs. Overall, we find that anti-identifiers behave in ways that are consistent with positive, partisan identifiers.

This study is the first of a longer project that seeks to better understand the new “-isms” that have emerged in Latin America in the last decades. It represents one of the first comparative applications of social identity theory to political identities in Latin America. As such, it adds to the literature on social identities. It also provides novel insight into political representation and identity in the region.

Indeed, our findings have serious implications for how we understand democratic representation in less stable political systems. We consider the existence of anti-identity political movements after acute party-system crisis—a hallmark of low quality representative institutions. These movements operate in party systems that tend to be dominated by small, ephemeral, or highly regionalized parties with weak roots in society. Yet, our work suggests that a democracy without meaningful party-based representation is not necessarily a democracy without representation. Where identity- and anti-identity-based movements operate, channels exist through which citizens can express at least some of their preferences.

This study also adds to the burgeoning research agenda on negative partisanship. This work has by and large been limited to the study of better institutionalized and more stable party systems. In countries with established two-party systems, for example, we know that an existing anti-identity can have an independent effect on determining vote choices. We also know that positive party identification and ideology drive those negative party evaluations. Individuals vote against one party because of their sense of belonging to another.

Our findings, again, add nuance to this discussion. We show that, in more fluid, multi-party systems, negative partisanship may not be rooted in a coherent positive counterpart. In each of the countries we investigate, a large group of individuals actively oppose Fujimori, Chávez, or Uribe. Despite this strong, consistent tendency to never vote for certain candidates, no single party or leader has emerged in any of the countries to capitalize on the group’s antipathy. We therefore conclude that, in less stable party systems, coherent anti-identities can exist without an equally coherent, positive identity to anchor the negative evaluation. When controversial leaders divide societies, individuals may very easily know whom they are against before they can collectively articulate who they are for. Our work therefore helps us understand how negative partisanship can operate in less stable, more fluid democratic settings.

As mentioned above, the findings here represent just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to understanding groups similar to anti-chavistas, anti-fujimoristas, and anti-uribistas in Latin America and elsewhere. Our future work, which will include speaking with movement identifiers as well as additional, over-time quantitative data, should add to our initial findings and broaden our understanding of party-less but nevertheless politically cohesive political movements in Latin America and beyond.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: Jennifer Cyr is an assistant professor in the School of Government and Policy and the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona and Carlos Meléndez is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Universidad Diego Portales. Their research “Anti-Identities in Latin America: Chavismo, Fujimorismo, and Uribismo in Comparative Perspective” was awarded the Kellogg/Notre Dame Award for the best paper in comparative politics presented at the 2016 MPSA conference.


The Problem With Discretionary Philanthropy

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 post was first published on the HistPhil blog and is shared here with permission.MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearch

A perennial question in the field of philanthropy is this: How much discretion should donors enjoy in deciding whether to give away their resources, and to whom exactly? Often, it is assumed donors should enjoy wide discretion in deciding how to direct their donations to causes that they–the donors–personally care about. After all, it is their money that they are giving away. But is this assumption justified? I don’t think so.

The question matters, since today many governments have institutionalized such a ‘discretionary view’ of philanthropy. For example, the British Government (HM Government 2011), while encouraging philanthropy to fill the gap left behind after the government withdrawal from the provision of many goods and services, still insists that giving should happen “on the back of free decisions by individuals to give to causes around them” to which “they care about.” Similarly, charitable tax-deductions in the United States leave donors with wide discretion in selecting the organizations that receive their tax-exempted donations.

This discretionary view of philanthropy is also supported by some philosophers who claim that citizens are morally permitted to donate resources to certain causes, rather than to other, more urgent causes, if “one’s vision or life history” makes the former especially important to the donor (Richard Miller, “Beneficence, Duty and Distance,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 32 (2004): 357–83). Even so-called “effective altruists,” who argue that people should donate in order to promote humanitarian outcomes most effectively rather than according to their personal policies, assume that donors have the moral right to choose among available charities. From this perspective, donors should make their choices as if they were making a private investment in those organizations.

In my paper “Reparative Justice and the Limits of Discretionary Philanthropy” (now published as a chapter in Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli and Lucy Bernholz, eds. Philanthropy in Democratic Societies, The University of Chicago Press, 2016) I argue against this discretionary view. Indeed, I make the case that, under certain conditions, donors are entitled to no personal discretion when deciding how and to whom to give. By “personal discretion” I mean the moral prerogative to appeal to reasons that make reference to a particular agent’s identity, life history, conception of the good, or personal attachments. Minimizing personal discretion, I argue, requires that public officials constrain discretionary forms of philanthropy through appropriate institutions.

Those who allow for donors’ wide discretion assume that donors have full ownership rights over their resources. They regard giving as a duty of beneficence, that is, a duty to use one’s own resources to promote valuable ends, rather than as a duty of justice, that is a duty to return to others what is rightfully theirs. After all, we would all agree that if the money I have in my pockets is not mine but rather yours, I have no right to discretionally decide whether to give the money back to you or not, or whether to give it back to you or to someone else, or whether to give it back to you in cash or in some other form. Debtors cannot be choosers.

But are donors’ resources truly their own, to do with whatever they like? This may be true under ideal conditions. The political philosopher John Rawls famously argued that where political institutions discharge their primary responsibility to secure justice effectively, citizens provide their fellow citizens with what they are rightfully entitled to have. They do so by contributing their fair share of resources to both the redistributive and the public provision branches of government. If that happens, then citizens can be said to rightfully own what remains in their pockets. Then they can do what they want with those resources, including giving them away.

But in many contemporary societies, the division of labor between taxation and donation is blurred. For example, basic education and healthcare in the United States are financed and produced through a very complex hybrid system of public and private funding. The same is true of the UK and continental Europe. Under such conditions, it becomes unclear whether the money philanthropists give away can be regarded as rightfully their own.

Further, when the public provision branch of government shrinks, the well-off tend to benefit from this withdrawal, while the worst-off are harmed. The well-off benefit for several reasons. First, they pay fewer taxes than they would have had to pay to support a just, government-funded system of public provision. Second, they are not themselves damaged by the cuts, for they can self-segregate and afford access to justice-required goods privately through the market. Empirical research, for example Anthony Atkinson’s book Inequality (Harvard University Press, 2015), demonstrates that the rich have benefitted from government withdrawal over the past decades in precisely this way.

Benefiting from a system that unjustly harms the worst-off by depriving them of what they have an entitlement to possess provides reasons to attribute to the wealthy a duty of reparative justice towards the worst-off. By a duty of reparative justice, I mean an agent’s duty to fairly compensate another for harm for which the former can be held liable, where “harm” means a setback to a person’s interests.

Moreover, wealthy citizens may acquire reparative duties even without benefiting at all from injustice. Indeed, I can have a duty to compensate others for an injury that I negligently inflicted on them, regardless of whether I benefit from it or not. Similarly, the wealthy may still acquire duties of reparative justice if they can be held liable for their government underproviding certain goods, regardless of whether they benefit from these policies or not. Now, as a long tradition of democratic theory holds, citizens of minimally legitimate, democratic states may acquire such liability for their states’ unjust policies, carried out in their own name, even if they did not directly vote for those policies. Because of this and other reasons, I argue that wealthy citizens in contemporary democratic societies bear duties of reparative justice towards their fellow citizens who suffer from deprivation as a consequence of insufficient public provision by the government.

The question then becomes how the wealthy should discharge these duties. While wealthy citizens have a duty of distributive justice to support, through political advocacy, more just political institutions, reparative justice demands that we contain the extent of the harm generated by the withdrawal of government provision by providing time-sensitive goods before more just institutions can be brought about. In contemporary societies, given non-ideal conditions, this is what philanthropy should primarily do, or so I argue in my contribution.

Understanding philanthropy as a means of reparative justice has important implications for how donors should give. First, nonpublic reasons that make reference to what donors’ “care about” should play no role in giving decisions. Donors should make these decisions as if they were repaying a debt. This does not mean, however, as it is sometimes assumed, that donors’ decisions should be dictated by the recipients’ preferences. For recipients do not generally get to decide in what currency a debt should be repaid either. All that should guide wealthy donors’ reasoning is a concern about bringing their co-citizens as close as possible to a pre-harm baseline, defined according to sufficientarian principles of justice. In this respect, the focus should be not so much on democratizing philanthropy but in forcing it to track principles of justice (although, in the real world, democratizing philanthropy may be the only way to achieve this purpose). Second, those who are deprived of justice-required and time-sensitive goods such as primary education and maternal care should be served first. Third, and most importantly, governments should strive to minimize donors’ discretion, for example by matching tax deductions with specific causes, selected according to the very same sufficientarian principles of justice. This in turns means that donations to unrelated causes should receive no incentives and there may even be reasons to restrict philanthropy especially when it threatens public commitments to political equality and fair equality of opportunity.

There is a final upshot to my argument. Only by supporting, and ultimately achieving, just public institutions can citizens create the conditions necessary so that private philanthropy might then fulfill the discretionary and expressive wishes of donors. Insufficient state provision is a curse rather than a blessing for philanthropy.

About the Author:  Chiara Cordelli is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. Before joining Chicago, she was a postdoctoral scholar at the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University. Her field of research is contemporary political philosophy. She is the author of several articles on the duties of justice of civil society actors and the co-editor of Philanthropy in Democratic Societies (The University of Chicago Press, 2016).  Additionally Cordelli’s paper “Reparative Justice and the Moral Limits of Discretionary Philanthropy” won the Review of Politics Award for best paper in normative theory presented at the MPSA conference in 2016.


Sources of Authoritarian Responsiveness: A Field Experiment in China

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_RecognizingOutstandingResearchA growing body of research shows that authoritarian regimes can be responsive to ordinary citizens, but why is this the case? Why do those in power in authoritarian regimes expend any effort in dealing with citizens’ everyday complaints and demands when they face no pressure from electoral competition?

Do officials in these regimes respond because they fear collective action of ordinary citizens, because they are worried about sanctions from their superiors, or because responsiveness to citizens is a measure of co-option with particular attention to a core of supporters?

To answer these questions and explore the internal mechanisms of authoritarian responsiveness, we conduct an online experiment among 2,103 Chinese counties. We test whether responsiveness among local officials comes from bottom-up citizen engagement, from top-down oversight of government superiors, or from preferential treatment toward loyal supporters.

In our experiment, we made four types of requests asking for assistance in obtaining social welfare benefits on local government web forums and examined how differences in these requests affected government responses. One request simply described economic hardship (the baseline), while the other three contained the same description but also included additional information: 1) an intention to take some undefined action with other people who face similar hardship if the government cannot help (collective action requests), 2) an intention to complain to upper levels of government if the government cannot help (tattling to superiors requests), and 3) identification as loyal, long-standing Party member (Party loyalist request).

There are three main findings of our experiment. First, we find that the collective action requests and tattling to superiors requests generate higher levels of responsiveness from Chinese local governments than the simple description of economic hardship; the identification as a Party loyalist, however, does not increase responsiveness substantially. With the baseline request, we received responses from approximately one third of counties. To put this number in context, one third is higher than responsiveness of U.S. state legislators to constituents (~20%) but lower than the responsiveness among members the U.S. congress (~40%) on certain issues. [1] Adding the intention of collective action and tattling to superiors both increase response rates by 8-10 percentage points.

The second finding is that the collective action requests, compared with other types of requests, made the local government respond in a more public manner. This could be because local official are really concerned about social instability or because they believe responding publicly is a low-cost strategy to resolve similar problems among many citizens. Finally, we also find that local officials are more likely to provide pertinent and concrete information to citizens when receiving the collective action requests.

Together, these results show that top-down mechanisms of oversight as well as some forms of bottom-up pressure exerted by citizens can increase government responsiveness in this particular authoritarian context. Regardless of whether responsiveness derives from top-down mechanisms or bottom up pressures, citizen engagement seems to be consequential.

[1] Butler, Daniel M, Christopher F Karpowitz and Jeremy C Pope. 2012. “A Field Experiment on Legislators Home Styles: Service versus Policy.” The Journal of Politics 74(02):474–486.


About the Authors:  Jidong Chen of Beijing Normal University, Jennifer Pan of Stanford University, and Yiqing Xu of University of California, San Diego have authored the article, “Sources of Authoritarian Responsiveness: A Field Experiment in China”, published in the April 2016 issue of the American Journal of Political Science, which was awarded the AJPS Best Article Award at the 2017 MPSA Conference. (MPSA members: Log in at to access.)


Judicial Review, Federalism, and Representation

MPSA blog - Kastellec - Judicial Review US Supreme Court, Washington DC

Two years ago, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage, thereby striking down laws in several states banning same-sex marriage. In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the majority had acted undemocratically:

“Until the courts put a stop to it, public debate over same-sex marriage displayed American democracy at its best. Individuals on both sides of the issue passionately, but respectfully, attempted to persuade their fellow citizens to accept their views. Americans considered the arguments and put the question to a vote. The electorates of 11 States, either directly or through their representatives, chose to expand the traditional definition of marriage. Many more decided not to. Win or lose, advocates for both sides continued pressing their cases, secure in the knowledge that an electoral loss can be negated by a later electoral win. That is exactly how our system of government is supposed to work.”

Scalia’s critique fits squarely within a long tradition of judicial and scholarly concern over the counter-majoritarian difficulty: the potential problem that arises from giving unelected and life-tenured federal judges the power to invalidate legislation passed by elected (and thus accountable) politicians. His criticism also implicates the role of judges in a system of federalism, where federal courts have the power to evaluate and strike down both federal and state legislation. How, then, should we evaluate the exercise of judicial review given the realities of judicial power in a system of federalism?

In my paper “Judicial Federalism and Representation,” presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the MPSA, I answer this question by examining the role of federal floors in shaping policy representation at the state level. What is a federal floor? Via their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, federal judges can establish a minimum level of constitutional protection that states must provide to their residents, below which no state can lawfully set policy. The combination of federalism and judicial review of state statutes means that the actions of federal judges and state legislatures are inherently tied together. As a result, with the introduction of federal floors, federal courts can mediate the relationship between state policy and state-level public opinion.

To help understand this process, in the paper I develop a framework that is based on models of the effect of federal mandates on policy choices, when policy is a function of choices made at both the state and federal levels. In my framework, a federal court can unilaterally establish a federal floor in a given policy area—for example, how much protection does the Constitution provide for women to obtain an abortion without interference from states?  This floor thus establishes a minimum level of protection that states must provide.

I use the framework to recast the counter-majoritarian difficulty as an issue of federalism, as it allows for precise decisions of when a decision is in fact counter-majoritarian. Specifically, I develop versions both with and without scenarios in which the status quo at the state level may lag behind changes in public opinion, and with and without the presence of cross-state moral externalities, in which voters care about policies not just in their states but in all states. I then show that the existence of lagging status quos or cross-state externalities is a necessary condition for a decision to be classified as pro-majoritarian. In the presence of externalities, the implementation of a federal floor benefits voters who prefer higher levels of constitutional protection, due to the positive externalities of states in “low protection” states being forced to shift their policies. Conversely, a floor harms voters who prefer lower levels of protection, since they suffer both immediate policy losses and negative externalities from other states shifting their policies to accommodate a federal court’s mandate. Comparing net beneficiaries to net losers from the mandate allows for a classification of whether a given decision is pro- or counter-majoritarian.

Since last year’s conference, I have split the original paper into two separate papers that examine different empirical implications of the judicial review and federalism framework. In one paper, I present a quantitative analysis of the path to the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states, which was in large part caused by federal courts finding a constitutional right to gay marriage (state legislatures and courts also shifted policy in many states). I show that in a majority of states, federal courts actually brought policy in line with opinion majorities, due to the fact the legal status quo lagged behind the change in public support for gay marriage. Thus, these decisions were pro-majoritarian. Combined with the existence of cross-state moral externalities, in which pro-same-sex marriage citizens in benefitted from laws in other states being changed, these results strongly mitigate the force of Scalia’s counter-majoritarian critique in Obergefell.

At the same time, the invalidation of state laws will not always result in furthering the connection between state-level public opinion and policy. In the second paper, I examine abortion policy in the decades after the Supreme Court established the right to an abortion in 1973 in Roe v. Wade. Examining public opinion, judicial rulings, and state policy related to seven types of abortion restrictions (such as parental consent and waiting periods), I show that these restrictions have been broadly popular.  Because the Supreme Court has shifted its doctrine over time to allow states to implement more abortion restrictions, these levels of opinion mean that there has been less congruence between state-level policy and state-level opinion in periods where the Court deemed these restrictions to be unconstitutional.

Taken together, these papers show that effect of judicial review and judicial decision on state-level representation is ambiguous. The power of courts in the United States is such that the actions of judges can have both representation-enhancing and representation-reducing effects. As judicial review is a mainstay in American democracy, evaluating this question requires careful analysis of the contexts in which courts are acting.


About the Author: Jonathan Kastellec is an assistant professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His research “Judicial Federalism and Representation” was awarded the Pi Sigma Alpha Award for the best paper presented at the 2016 MPSA conference.



Why White Americans Love Their Guns

MPSA Blog - Why White Americans Love Their Guns

Before we get to why many Americans are so attached to firearms, there are some facts to know about guns in America. First, there are 250-350 million firearms in private hands (Cook and Goss, 2014). Since we don’t allow gun registration, the numbers are fuzzy; but that is a lot of guns. Second, according to NORC at the University of Chicago, the proportion of gun-owning households has declined from 47% in 1973 to 31% in 2014. The Census says there are about 125 million households, so about 39 million own guns. The math suggests that gun-owning households own an average of 6 to 9 firearms. Gun hoarding is a thing in America. Third, studies indicate that about 75% of all gun-owners are white (ANES 2012 Time Series Study), so white representation among gun-owners is much higher than among the general population. Finally, with the exception of Switzerland which also has universal military service requirements, no other developed country has such a heavily armed civilian population: this is clearly an American phenomenon, a facet of American exceptionalism. So, why do so many people, especially white Americans have such an attachment to guns?

Fear of crime is a tempting answer. Surveys say that 48% of gun-owners cite “protection” as the key reason for owning guns, up from 26% in 1999. However, crime today is down compared to the 1990s. According to the Department of Justice, in 1991 the homicide rate was 9.8; in 2010 it had dropped to 4.8. Not only has violent crime declined, but whites are the group with the lowest victimization rate. From 1980 to 2008, on average, there were 4.5 white but 27.8 Black victims of violence per 100,000 Americans. Add to that the fact that white neighborhoods typically have better policing than Black neighborhoods and fear of crime loses its explanatory appeal. African-Americans who have good reason to fear gun violence are far less likely to own guns.

Former slave, Fredrick Douglass offers a different answer: there is “something ennobling in the possession of arms,” he said in 1863 (Emberton, 2013). For a great many white people, guns are important not for their practical utility but for the image they convey and the feelings they generate in their owners. In short, guns are not about duck hunting, or even crime protection; guns are about respect.

The cultural importance of the firearm goes back to the Revolution and the myth of the citizen-soldier. Despite General Washington’s contrary opinion, the rhetoric of the era endowed the Patriots with three virtues: independence, armed masculinity, and moral righteousness. Since the new Republic explicitly rejected religion, heredity, or ethnicity as the bases for citizenship, these values became the markers of the “true” American. The righteous man who was ready to fight for liberty deserved the title of citizen.

Heroic as this myth was, American history shows that it served to justify racial hierarchies. The armed protector of liberty was a white man. As historian Francois Furstenberg has argued, liberty and resistance went together only for whites. It is not that Blacks haven’t fought in every war including the Revolution. They have. But the double standard of American culture, present to this day in modified form, suggested that an armed Black man was a criminal. In his horrified response to the slave rebellion in San Domingue, Thomas Jefferson makes it clear that slaves fighting to rid themselves of masters are not patriots, but murderous savages.

Douglass hoped service in the Union Army would elevate Blacks to the status of citizenship. He was only partially right. Armed self-defense never meant the same thing for Blacks and whites as the resistance to Black militia attests. Only white gun ownership reflected virtue; Black gun ownership spoke of violence. More recent case in point: the horrified white reactions to claims of armed self-defense by the Black Panthers in the 1960s.

Since the 1960s, reactionary movements have interpreted minority groups’ efforts to ensure equality as an assault on the status of whites. Conservative intellectuals argued that race-conscious programs disadvantage whites, and many whites agree: 37% of all whites, but in a 2015 UIC Survey on Gun Control, 47% of white gun-owners say that the government “does too much” for Blacks. Experimental evidence strengthen the correlational results by showing that exposure to pictures of Blacks depresses support for gun control among whites (Filindra and Kaplan, 2015).

Given that firearms carry such a strong association with notions of virtuous white citizenship, it is not a surprise that white Americans who feel socially devalued and who attribute the change in their status to unfair gains by Blacks would see in firearms a symbolic way to regain respect: to be seen as noble and virtuous citizens. In this sense, gun rights are arguably the most persistent vestige of white privilege.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Author: Alexandra Filindra, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Filindra and co-author Noah Kaplan were awarded the Lucius Barker Award at the 2016 MPSA Conference for the best paper on a topic investigating race or ethnicity and politics and honoring the spirit and work of Professor Barker for their work on “Racial Resentment and Whites’ Gun Policy Preferences in Contemporary America”.

(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil

The following is part of a series of posts written by 2016 MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences.

(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil
Photos from Cooperman’s fieldwork in Ceará, Brazil. Top left: A fleet of water trucks owned by a wealthy local family are parked outside their home. Bottom left: Local water sources, including this former pond, and even state reservoirs are dry after five years of drought. Right: A donkey carries water jugs from the neighborhood well to nearby homes.

Most international attention on Brazilian politics focuses on the president’s recent impeachment and high-level corruption scandals. However, my fieldwork has shown me that “all politics is local” is more apt. Many Brazilian citizens are especially concerned about the politics of two issues salient for their day-to-day lives: Water and drought.

I argue that natural disasters, especially those that are cyclical and occur over longer periods – such as droughts – can provide electoral and economic opportunities for local politicians. Since disasters are seen as ‘exogenous’ and ‘natural,’ it is much easier for politicians to justify emergency and targeted funding to certain populations over others.

Campaigns for the upcoming municipal elections (to be held October 2, 2016) have begun, and in Northeast Brazil, the country’s poorest region suffers through its fifth year of devastating drought. The phenomena of “water for votes” and “the drought industry” are likely to be in full swing this election season. The overlap of electoral budget cycles and natural disasters can have drastic consequences for the distribution of critical and scarce public resources.

My research evaluates the politicization of disaster relief, focusing on drought and access to water resources. Even within the drought-prone region of Northeast Brazil, I find puzzling variation in the distribution of drought relief across states and municipalities. Some appear to follow programmatic policy based on need, while others receive drought relief even during high rainfall periods. Interviews that I conducted with rural farmers in Northeast Brazil highlight the incredible dependence that poor, subsistence farmers have on local leaders and politicians for sending water trucks and distributing drought-related cash transfers.

This study asks: where and when is politically-targeted (vs. need-based) distribution of basic services most likely, and how do politicians benefit from providing targeted relief?

Research Design

I utilize two sources of exogeneity to isolate the effect of non-climatic factors on declarations of drought: the exogenous timing of rainfall and the fixed electoral cycle. Since rainfall shocks are orthogonal to election year timing or other political factors, I am able to identify the relationship between political drivers and drought relief. By controlling for climate and local agricultural conditions, I test political hypotheses using the remaining variation.

I use a generalized difference-in-difference model with municipal and year fixed effects to tease apart political and temporal factors through administrative data, which provide the opportunity to explore systematic patterns and variation across 991 municipalities from 1999-2012. I explore the mechanisms through interviews of rural farmers, community leaders, and local politicians in the drought-prone Brazilian state of Ceará.

Main Findings and Discussion

I find that relief is more likely during mayoral election years, in both drought and high rainfall conditions. Incumbent mayors who provide drought relief in an election year are more likely to be re-elected, and mayors from the PT party are more likely to receive drought relief. These results are robust to the inclusion of controls for precipitation, agriculture and cattle, and municipal and year fixed effects.

Interviews that I conducted during fieldwork in Northeast Brazil in 2014 and 2016 suggest that drought relief is a political tool, especially water trucks and crop insurance cash transfers that can be targeted by neighborhood and household. Farmers sometimes even “pray for drought,” since the drought relief funds actually increase household stability for the vulnerable population relative to non-drought years.

Many local citizens and researchers also describe the pervasive “drought industry” (indústria da seca). Local elites, who sell water from private sources on their land and also own the water trucks contracted by the government, can profit immensely during periods of drought.

Local politicians have perverse incentives to provide drought relief – with its electoral and economic rewards – instead of maintaining existing water resources and reducing local vulnerability to chronic climate shocks.

Further Research

My broader dissertation further explores the local political economy of water resources and drought.

I study the sub-municipal relationships that affect who gets water access, drought relief, and other essential services:

  • What explains variation in access to water and other public services?
  • What are the electoral and economic incentives to receive and distribute disaster relief vs. to create sustainable, resilient water systems?
  • What is the role of local collective action and community associations in improving citizens’ access to basic services?

I am currently conducting a pre-election household survey in rural Northeast Brazil of 500+ households across 9 municipalities to study micro-relationships between water access, drought relief, participation in civil society and community associations, and electoral politics. I will continue my fieldwork throughout 2017.

About the Author: Alicia Cooperman is a 4th year Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. Her paper “(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil” was awarded the Westview Press Award at the 2016 MPSA Conference for best paper delivered by a graduate student.