Mass Administrative Reorganization, Media Attention, and the Paradox of Information

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

Our article – Mass Administrative Reorganization, Media Attention, and the Paradox of Information (Now PAR 2015) – is one of a series of three related pieces of research focused on the structural politics of independent agencies. This line of research is part of the Shrinking the State project and set in the context of a reform agenda of the recent UK coalition government (2010-2015). The public policy and public administration questions we address are broadly applicable: in any democratic setting, there is some kind of link between voters and their policy demands, politicians seeking to win elections, and government agencies tasked with producing policy outputs. The elected politicians can, in circumstances dependent on the specific national institutional arrangements, modify the structure of the administrative state. The study of structural politics is all about the consequences of those decisions.

Why “Mass Reorganization”?
Our work fits broadly into the literature on agency termination. This literature is largely American-centric and reflects the question Kaufman (1976) famously asked: “are government organizations immortal”? Recent scholarship (see: Lewis 2002) suggests that they are not, even in the US; rather, agencies are thought to face a hazard of termination over some period of time. Nevertheless, agency termination remains something of a rare event in an American separation-of-powers context relative to what can happen in a high accountability system like the UK.

The British coalition government in 2011 put together a reform proposal comprehensively examining about 400 independent agencies, ultimately removing independence (absorbing into a government department or terminating the function entirely) for 32 percent of them. Making decisions about this many agencies all at once (a “bonfire of the Quangos”) involves termination decisions of a different magnitude than what we have seen in an American context. Thinking through what might be different about these cases can provide useful insights into structural politics across different types of political systems.

Why “Media Attention”?
A decision about agency independence is fundamentally tied to the politics of accountability. A decision to remove independence increases the identification of the government with the outcomes in that policy area. Even if an agency is terminated entirely (removing not just the agency’s independence but also ending functional performance), the government remains responsible for outcomes in that policy domain. Media attention is one way voters can know that an agency exists and get some sense of what it might do. We should expect politicians to think about the media salience, and salience with some particular audiences, of any particular agency when making these kinds of decisions.

Why a “Paradox”?
As media salience increases, we argue that the termination decisions should be less systematic. An agency’s salience with partisan audiences – core or opposition supporters, and those willing to swing either way – should directly impact the political decision, as one might expect. Nevertheless, a high media profile, rather than making outcomes more predictable as information becomes readily available, can actually disrupt the normal way governments learn about agencies; it is one thing if the minister hears about the agency from the professional civil servants, and another if the minister has been reading about the agency in the morning in the newspaper (as any devotee of Yes, Minister well knows).

What can we learn?
Particularly for practitioners, and scholars working in other areas, there may be a tendency to assume that governments simply kill off agencies that do things they do not like. The view we present is more complicated. Given the considerable freedom of choice of governments in high accountability systems like the UK, we see that the predictability of the outcomes changes with total media salience. This suggests that the government is considering carefully, although less systematically, the consequences of their choices with the most commonly mentioned agencies.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: Anthony M. Bertelli is a Professor of the Politics of Public Policy and J. Andrew Sinclair is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Public Service at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. Their paper “Mass Administrative Reorganization, Media Attention, and the Paradox of Information” was recognized at the 2016 MPSA Conference with the Best Paper in Comparative Policy Award sponsored by the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice (JCPA) and International Comparative Policy Analysis Forum.

Complex Interactions: How Electoral Institutions affect Voter Support for Female and Minority Candidates

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

Women and racial and ethnic minorities hold far fewer political offices than one might expect given their presence in the American population. Even at the local level, where the barriers of entry to political careers are smaller, women hold only a quarter of city council seats, Blacks hold 6%, Latinos 3%, and Asian-Americans less than 1% of seats. And, plenty of research demonstrates that this underrepresentation matters for the kinds of policies that are created and implemented at the local level and thus for the quality of representation offered to all Americans.

Why are members of these groups so unlikely to hold political office? One explanation some have offered is that the structure of elections shapes the chances of success for women and minorities. But, the research offering this suggestion is quite inconsistent in its recommendations. District elections might be the solution for racial and ethnic minority representation – except in cases where they have limited or no effects. And at-large, multimember district elections are the recommended mechanism to increase women’s representation – except in cases where they don’t matter or actually decrease the number of female candidates and elected officials. Despite an enormous amount of research on the connection between electoral systems and the representation of underrepresented groups, we still do not have a clear understanding of what structures positively or negatively affect representation for women and racial and ethnic minorities.

Why does this lack of clarity persist? In short, because existing scholarship has been unable to determine exactly how institutions and representation are linked. In this paper, we test a mechanism that has been ignored in existing research: voter use of stereotypes when choosing officials. We argue that the difficulty of the voting decision itself can make voters more or less likely to rely on stereotypes in the voting booth. Specifically, we propose that district elections, which frequently feature just two major candidates, present a cognitively simpler task than at-large elections in which voters are asked to make multiple selections among a large field of contenders. When the cognitive task is simplified, voters are more likely to be able to suppress negative stereotypes that are inconsistent with their personal beliefs or desire to respond in a socially appropriate way. In other words, district elections may yield more support for candidates from underrepresented groups for reasons that have nothing to do with common explanations in the literature like geographic segregation or polarized voting.

We test this theory using a set of experiments in which people vote in either “district” elections (selecting 1 of 2 candidates) or “at-large” elections (selecting 3 of 6 candidates) for a variety of local offices. We modeled our elections after typical local elections, where voters know very little about the candidates on the ballot. In the experiments, voters choose between candidate images. These images suggest a candidate’s race, ethnicity, and gender, but have been selected not to differ in other ways that might influence votes. This is similar to contexts where voters identify candidates only by their images on a direct mail piece or campaign sign. We conducted our experiments among two very different populations and found consistent results.

As the below figure demonstrates, we found that female and Black candidates are advantaged in district over at-large elections. In other words, when voters are selecting only one of two candidates, they’re more likely to pick a Black candidate or a female candidate than when they’re faced with the more difficult decision of selecting three candidates out of six offered to them. Thus, we find an effect of election structure on the likelihood of success for female and Black candidates that cannot be due to the explanations proposed in previous studies.


The Benefit Candidates Receive in District vs. At-Large Elections
The Benefit Candidates Receive in District vs. At-Large Elections (Note: This figure shows the estimated benefit of district elections for each candidate attribute (race/gender). Estimates are based on OLS regressions in which candidate attributes are interacted with election type (district vs. at-large) and standard errors are clustered on respondent. Bars represent 95% confidence intervals.)


Is this positive effect of district elections for Black and female candidates because of our proposed mechanism – that voters can work to overcome their negative stereotypes about these less-traditional candidates when faced with an easier voting decision, but when they’re exhausted by the more difficult at-large ballot they are more likely to rely on negative stereotypes to make a voting decision? Two additional findings suggest support for this theory:

First, we find that our results – the district benefit for women and Blacks – are being driven by respondents who are not themselves female or Black. Women vote for female candidates and minorities vote for minority candidates at similar rates in at-large and district elections. The gap between district and at-large election success appears for female candidates among male voters, and for Black candidates among white voters, suggesting that the voters who have a harder time voting for less-traditional candidates when faced with more difficult (at-large) elections are those who are more likely to hold negative views about those groups – because they are not members of their ingroup.

Second, we find that people who willingly express lower support for gender equality and higher levels of racial resentment vote for women and Blacks at similar rates in both district and at-large elections. The effect of district elections on success for female and Black candidates instead shows up among people who explicitly indicate beliefs in gender equality and less racial resentment. In other words, the people who we’d expect to want to overcome negative stereotypes they may hold about candidates from non-traditional groups are the ones who do so in district elections.

In sum, we find that electoral structure matters for who is elected because of how it influences voters. Even those voters motivated to support diverse candidates appear to be less able to realize those preferences in at-large contests compared to districts. This suggests that other electoral contexts that impose greater cognitive difficulty on voters may also diminish support for candidates from groups about which there are broadly held negative attitudes. For example, elections with particularly long ballots, or that involve referendum decisions that tax a voter’s cognitive resources may diminish the chances of success for female and minority candidates on those ballots.


MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors:  Melody Crowder-Meyer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at University of the South, Shana Kushner Gadarian is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, Jessica Trounstine is an Associate Professor of Political Science at University of California, Merced, and Kau Vue is a Graduate Student at University of California-Merced. Their research “Complex Interactions: Candidate Race, Sex, Electoral Institutions, and Voter Choice” was awarded the Sophonisba Breckinridge Award for the best paper on the topic of women and politics at the 2016 MPSA Conference.



Son’s Draft Risk Motivated Parents to Vote

Photograph No. 127-W-A-185146; “Da Nang, Vietnam…A young Marine private waits on the beach during the Marine landing”, August 3, 1965, 1998 print; Picturing the Century: One Hundred Years of Photography from the National Archives; Records of the U. S. Marine Corps; National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

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

How do citizens respond to government policies that impose a significant burden? Perhaps the most onerous of all public policies are those related to military conscription. Amid waning public support for the Vietnam War and growing distrust around the administration of the Selective Service System, American military conscription came to an end in 1973. As the Vietnam War drew to a close, fewer and fewer men were being drafted. Many sought a more egalitarian way to determine which men were compelled to serve. After a long political and legislative battle, Congress returned authority to the executive branch to determine the order of induction by random lottery. In November of 1969, President Richard Nixon issued the executive order to reinstate the draft lottery system to determine the order of induction priority among American men.

On December 1, 1969, the first of the three consequential lotteries of the Vietnam era was held. The 366 possible birthdays in a leap year were printed on strips of paper and placed in blue capsules. The capsules were drawn from a glass cylinder in an event that was broadcast on national television and radio; the resulting order of priority was printed in every newspaper. Each birthday was assigned a Random Sequence Number based on the order in which it was drawn. In the 1969 lottery, the first birthday drawn was September 14. Men born on that day were assigned a Random Sequence Number of “1”; they were first in line to be drafted for service unless they had deferments or were otherwise unqualified. Men with lower numbers, therefore, were assigned a higher risk of being drafted. Numbers up to a particular “ceiling” – 125 for men in the 1969 lottery – were called in numerical order to appear before their local draft boards.

The Vietnam draft lotteries provide a “natural experiment” that has been used to study causal relationships between conscription, service, or combat on a variety of outcomes across a wide range of disciplines.  I use the draft lottery design to measure the causal effect of government-induced risk of loss on voter turnout. Since risk of military service was randomly assigned by the lottery, the study avoids the endogeneity issues that arise as a consequence of the fact that the attributes that make one likely to serve in the military are correlated with the attributes that make one likely to vote.

The draft lotteries created “winners” and “losers.” Unlike other lotteries, however, “losing” the draft lottery could result in catastrophic loss for men and their families.  How did such exposure to such an extreme policy affect political participation? Specifically, I ask the following questions: First, were the parents of men assigned low numbers that incurred a greater risk of being drafted more likely to vote in the 1972 presidential election than parents of men whose sons permanently escaped the draft with high lottery numbers? Second, did the effects of randomly assigned draft risk vary across local contexts? In particular, was the effect on voter turnout stronger when the risk of loss was made salient by previous local casualties?

For this study, I assembled a dataset of parents of men born in 1950-1952 – the years for which the lottery was the exclusive mechanism for determining induction priority – from births recorded in the annual reports of small towns in New Hampshire. To measure responsive participation, I used voter checklists used at polling places, copies of which are held in the from the New Hampshire State Archives to record individual-level turnout of the men’s parents in the 1972 election.

Results of my analysis imply that parents of men assigned to low numbers turned out, on average, at a rate between 2.5 and 4.5 percentage points higher than parents of men who were safe from the draft. Risk of catastrophic policy-induced loss appears to have motivated responsive political participation among those most likely to be negatively affected. This finding conforms to expectations formed on the basis of prospect theory, which is motivated by the observation that people are more sensitive to potential losses than potential gains.

Were parents from towns with prior “hometown” casualties more strongly affected by their son being assigned a “losing” or risky lottery number? Using casualty data from the National Archives, I created a binary indicator for whether or not a town had experienced a local casualty in the Vietnam War prior to the first lottery drawing on December 1, 1969. Probit estimates reported in the table below imply that the effects of conscription risk on parents’ turnout were heterogeneous across local contexts. Parents from towns with prior casualties whose sons were assigned risky numbers voted at a rate approximately nine percentage points higher than parents of men assigned safe numbers in those towns. The effect of a losing number on voter turnout of parents from towns without prior casualties was two percentage points and was not statistically significant.

Probit Estimates of the Effect of At Least One Son Assigned to a Losing Number on Parents

There are several implications of the study. First, the findings complement recent reconsiderations of the political consequences of the Vietnam draft by contribute behavioral evidence that self-interest manifests itself in responsive political participation. Second, the heterogeneous treatment effects imply that context, in this case local war casualties, moderates the ways in which people experience policies and consequently, the way they respond to them. Third, the analysis offers evidence that voters are more likely to be mobilized by potential loss than potential gains, since the “losing” parents voted at higher rates than the “winning” parents. Local casualties may have intensified perceptions of the risk incurred by a “losing” number. A socially proximate casualty may have functioned as a sort of “availability heuristic,” leading parents of men assigned numbers that exposed their sons to greater risk of conscription to overestimate the probability of casualties among draftees. Finally, the differential rates of turnout between parents who were more and less affected by draft policies constitute evidence of mass policy feedback. Though we cannot know which candidate parents mobilized by exposure to draft risk supported, we know they participated at higher rates in response to draft policy.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Author: Tiffany C. Davenport is an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science United States Naval Academy. Davenport’s article, “Policy-Induced Risk and Responsive Participation: The Effect of a Son’s Conscription Risk on the Voting Behavior of His Parents”, published in the January 2015 issue of the American Journal of Political Science, was awarded the AJPS Best Article Award at the 2016 MPSA Conference. (MPSA members: Log in at to access.)

A Portrait of Politics: The Cultural Marketing of the Chicago Neighborhood of Pilsen

Photo by Scott Braam (Unsanctioned Street Art on 16th street in Pilsen, Chicago 2014)The following is part of a series of posts written by 2016 MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences.

Urban space is temporal, contextual and fluid. It is socially and culturally produced, often exhibiting shifting social and interpersonal political power dynamics. In certain contexts, the aesthetics of urban space via public art (murals) can challenge or reinforce entrenched normative spatial hierarchies. These localized urban aesthetics exhibit socioeconomic and political power dynamics that are uniquely relational to the physical and social world they are part of (Harvey, 2005; Lambert, 2013; Lefebvre, 1968). Contentious politics portrayed in the aesthetic of community created murals, can help to induce bottom up sociopolitical processes that alter or disrupt hegemonic political forces. Public art via muralism holds the power to push back against the hyper-individualistic nature of the neoliberal city, often providing a more communal experience for residents and visitors alike.

In Chicago’s Pilsen enclave the spatial dynamics of culture, commerce and political power are publically on display – representing disparate contextual eras and shifting community interests and lifestyles. Pilsen has a long history of community-born politically-symbolic murals that, depending on their origin, particular artist and temporal context, symbolically represent a myriad of interests ranging from the normative interests of the community to the hegemonic interests of the state. Considering the aforementioned, how have murals played a political role as both “promoters of” and “deterrents to” gentrification in Pilsen?

Pilsen has historically been a port of entry for working-class immigrants in Chicago. Beginning in the early 1960s, Pilsen was targeted for urban renewal projects designed to serve the accommodation, accumulation, and consumption desires of artists, students, and young professionals (Betancur, 2005). Over-time, Pilsen changed from a predominantly working-class community to a higher-income community, displacing many of its original residents and economically empowering entrepreneurial newcomers and real estate stakeholders (Betancur, 2005). This unequitable gentrification process has drastically affected the aesthetics of the neighborhood. My research attempts to not only track gentrification in Pilsen through the shifting themes and aesthetics of its murals, but also highlight the public policy disconnect between the community’s aldermanic leadership and the neighborhood’s long-time residents.

Pilsen’s earliest murals were prized and celebrated by the community, often portraying scenes from the Mexican revolution. Murals served as artistic vessels for self-recognition, politics, identity, Mexican cultural, and community pride. Murals were conceptualized and produced within the confines of Pilsen – by Pilsen’s cultural creators. Home grown murals acted as territorial borders that marked and claimed Chicago’s precious urban space for Pilsen’s Mexican residents. Today in Pilsen, murals born from top down processes led by aldermanic privilege and the neoliberal urban growth machine, are often seen as tools to promote and market the neighborhood, at a cost to the community.

The political culture of the Chicano Muralism Movement fostered political activism, self-help institution building, and neighborhood mobilization – themes central to the survival of the community. However, a new wave of muralism has developed – one that reflects the encroaching gentrifiers. New wave murals focus on procuring real estate investors and making college students swoon. Non-Mexican art and artists are commonly commissioned, in fact preferred. Murals, financially backed by the new political and economic steak holders of Pilsen, are designed to attract young hip professionals, with the lure of a culturally rich and gritty urban living experience (Betancur, 2005; Davila, 2004; Zukin, 2009; Lloyd, 2006).

The Art in Public Places (AIPP) initiative, created by Chicago’s 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis has made inroads at successfully rebranding the neighborhood. As Pilsen became more observed by tourists and coveted by investors – as the name “Pilsen” became ingrained in the vernacular of young white hipsters, more pathways of capital accumulation and consumption were established, and rent in Pilsen skyrocketed. This process has displaced many long-time residents including cultural producers, while contributing to the rebranding of Pilsen from a Mexican enclave to a hipster haven.

Those with political power in Pilsen see murals as a conduit toward a wealthier and more financially-competitive neighborhood. Pilsen social justice activist Nicole Marroquin sees Pilsen’s elites as “using art strategically to gentrify” while dumbing down Pilsen’s rich history of Latino art by erasing the activist part of the Chicano Muralist Movement, in favor of “cute decorations” on walls (N. Marroquin, Personal interview, 2013).

Well-planned and initiated neighborhood art-based public policy ought to better integrate community and contain built in structural mechanisms that would supply funding for the upkeep and maintenance of the art. Art initiatives in culturally gifted communities like Pilsen ought to prioritize local artist’s work, therefore propping up a community’s cultural creators rather than out of town artists. Public walls used for murals need to be prepared correctly, curated properly, adequately funded, and maintained by local government via the city.

Gentrification in Pilsen can be viewed through the shifting aesthetics of the neighborhood’s murals. Under the neoliberal umbrella – in an era of federal urban fiscal abandonment – the culturally gifted Pilsen community and its long history of muralism was utilized as an aesthetic marketing tool for Alderman Solis and Pilsen’s business elites. This hijacking of Pilsen’s Mexican culture was framed as “beneficial” to all residents, but clearly the scales were tipped in the direction of the state and its global business partners.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Author: Scott Braam is a 4th year PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago and will soon take his comprehensive exams in Urban and American fields. His research “A Portrait of Politics: The Wholesale Marketing of the Chicago Neighborhood of Pilsen” was awarded the Best Paper Presented in a Poster Format at the 2016 MPSA Conference.


Betancur, J. J., & Deuben, L. (2005). Gentrification before Gentrification? The Plight of Pilsen in  Chicago. A Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement White Paper.

Castillo, M. (2013, October 13). Chicano Muralist Movement’s Mario Castillo [Personal interview].

Dávila, A. M. (2004). Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and the Neoliberal City. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gonzalez, J., & Zimmerman, M. (2013, November 20). Chicano Muralist Movement’s Jose Gonzalez [Personal interview].

Harvey, D. (2001). Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. New York: Routledge

Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space. Oxford, OX, UK: Blackwell.

Marroquin, N. (2013, July 25). Community activist Nicole Mannequin [Personal interview].

Pacheco, L. (2014, July 17). Lauren Pacheco head of the A.I.P.P [Personal interview].

Zukin, S. (2009). Changing Landscapes of Power: Opulence and the Urge for AuthenticityInternational Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(2).

The Calculus of Vote-Selling: Electoral Trust and the Value of a Vote

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

Existing work has established that clientelistic parties can maximize their returns by targeting poor voters, because their votes are “cheaper” in the sense that the value of a gift is elastic and the diminishing marginal utility of income implies that a gift of a given monetary value will be worth more to a poorer voter. I examine the other side of this cost-benefit analysis, arguing that the value of the vote is elastic as well, hypothesizing that the extent of citizens’ trust in elections affects their perception of the value of a vote and thereby their reservation prices.

I consider two main interpretations of trust in elections, which respectively entail the following:

  1. Fraud-based: I believe that the outcome of this election reflects the votes cast.
  2. Value-based: I believe that it is legitimate and effective to distribute political power based on the results of an election.

According to either interpretation, higher levels of trust should be associated with higher value attached to one’s vote. If voters believe that elections are clean, then the belief that their votes will be counted accurately should cause voters to attribute greater value to their votes. A vote’s instrumental value comes from the ability it confers on the voter to express preferences and hold the government accountable. If votes are not counted, then voting no longer confers these benefits to the voter. A voter who believes that elections are wrought with fraud, then, has fewer reasons to value the vote and should consequently have a lower reservation price. In accounting for the value-based trust of elections, if a voter believes that the results of elections, based on the popular vote, are inherently valuable and preferable, this creates an additional disincentive to sell the vote.

I employed the Latin American Public Opinion Project’s AmericasBarometer survey in Argentina to test this theory of trust and vote-selling. As seen in Table 5.1, reported trust in elections significantly affects rates of vote-selling, but the effect runs in the opposite direction of what is expected, with those expressing higher levels of trust in elections also reporting selling their votes at higher rates.

Table 5.1: “Value of Elections” comes from a question asking respondents to weigh the relative importance of having a strong leader versus a democratically elected leader; “Intent to Leave” indicates intent to emigrate from the country within the next 3 years; “Sought Assistance” indicates having sought assistance from a governmental office/official within the last year.


I conclude that these results are likely a result of measurement problems: trust is measured by inquiring to what extent the respondent trusts X. The lack of an object in standard survey questions about trust (an alternative taking the form of “to what extent do you trust X to do Y?”) likely causes the questions to miss their mark. Such questions may elicit something more akin to an approval rating, due to the vagueness with regards to what trust in a given institution would entail. In that case, the positive relationship in the data would make theoretical sense – if the existence of clientelism is known to all, then those who report participation in such exchanges are more likely to approve than those who report having refused such offers.

The counterintuitive finding of this paper highlights the need for more nuanced and specific survey questions about trust in order to accurately examine its role in political behavior. In addition to reducing measurement error by articulating more specific questions, the introduction of a series of questions on trust would allow for a deeper understanding of how trust functions in the valuation of citizens’ votes. Is the belief in widespread fraud the source of the link between trust and the value of the vote? Does this relationship relate to the sense of a democratic duty to express one’s preferences through voting? Do those who believe that vote buying is widespread and pervasive, as opposed to fraud, trust elections less as a result? Such questions require new measures of trust, and their answers speak not only to the individual decision-making process of voters targeted by brokers in clientelistic systems, but also to the more general role of institutional trust in voting behavior.


About the Author:
 Eli Rau has just completed his first year as a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Yale University. His research “The Calculus of Vote-Selling: Electoral Trust and the Value of a Vote” was awarded the Best Undergraduate Poster Award at the 2016 MPSA Conference.


The Company You Keep: How Voters Infer Party Positions on European Integration from Governing Coalition Arrangements

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

Democratic accountability requires citizens to be reasonably well-informed about political parties’ issue positions. Citizens may employ heuristic “shortcuts” to update their perceptions of parties’ positions, for a number of reasons, for example because collecting detailed political information is costly or because the political landscape is uncertain. However, such heuristics may also lead citizens astray. We identify a heuristic that citizens apply to the European integration dimension, which prompts them to make seemingly problematic inferences about party positions on this issue.

Our article examines how citizens infer parties’ European integration policies based on the set of parties participating in the coalition government. Recent studies document that voters infer that coalition partners’ Left-Right policy positions converge when these parties enter into a joint governing coalition. We report analyses of data from European Election Study surveys showing that citizens apply a similar coalition-based heuristic to infer parties’ positions along the European integration dimension. Specifically, citizens infer that, over time, junior coalition partners change their European integration policies in the same direction as the Prime Ministerial (PM) party’s perceived shift on this issue. Figure 1 depicts these effects. It displays how the PM party’s perceived shift on European integration correlates strongly with the perceived policy shifts of its junior coalition partners, but not with opposition parties’ perceived shifts. (Junior coalition partners are displayed as a dotted line in the figure and opposition parties as a solid line, with shaded confidence intervals). These patterns strongly suggest that voters employ a coalition-based heuristic to update their perceptions of party policy positions on European integration.

Figure 1. Predicted effects of Perceived PM Party Shifts on the Perceived Shifts of Junior Coalition Partners and Opposition Parties

Notes. The figure charts the predicted effects of the Prime Ministerial (PM) party’s perceived shift on the perceived shifts of junior coalition partners (the solid line) and on opposition parties (the dotted line), based on model estimates presented in the article. The shaded regions are set so that the probability is under .05 that the predicted values overlap.


Furthermore, we show that citizens’ coalition-based inferences on European integration may be problematic, in that they conflict with alternative measures of party positions. In particular, neither political experts’ perceptions of party positions nor the codings of parties’ election manifestos support voters’ inference that junior coalition partners adjust their own positions on Europe in response to the PM party’s policy shift. This seeming disconnect suggests that citizens misapply the coalition-based heuristic to the European integration dimension, i.e., that they incorrectly infer that junior partners have changed their positions. However, as we emphasize in the article, an alternative interpretation is that rank-and-file citizens define party positions in terms of their short-run concrete actions, whereas experts privilege party elites’ rhetoric (and long-term positions). Although we have identified an important aggregate level pattern that supports the use of the coalition heuristic, it is difficult to parse out the relative influence of party actions and party rhetoric on citizen perceptions which is ultimately an individual-level process. Accordingly, future research may approach this topic at the individual level, using an experimental setup to enhance our understanding of how citizens formulate perceptions of parties’ issue positions.

Regardless of the specific interpretation, our results also indicate that citizens’ perceptions of party positions on Europe matter, in that citizens react to parties’ perceived shifts by updating their own policy views and/or party support. In other words, perceived party policy shifts drive partisan sorting in the electorate.

Our findings have implications for mass-elite policy linkages and for parties’ election strategies, which are important given the growing salience of Europe as displayed in the bitter public debates over the financial assistance packages offered to distressed economies in Greece, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal; the upcoming national referendum on European integration scheduled to be held in the United Kingdom this June; and the growth of radical right, anti-European integration parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece, the French National Front, the UK Independence party, Italy’s Five Star movement, and the Dutch Party for Freedom. The European issue is especially relevant to such parties’ strategic calculations, because to the extent their images as staunch anti-EU parties are compromised when they govern in coalition with a more moderate Prime Ministerial party, these radical right parties may have electoral incentives to withhold this support from the government. Following such incentives could lengthen the process of coalition formation, increase the frequency of minority governments, and constrain what governments can actually accomplish

This article is an expanded version of a summary first appearing at the AJPS Author Summaries blog.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: James Adams is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at UC Davis, Lawrence Ezrow is a Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Essex, and Christopher Wlezien is a Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Their research “The Company You Keep: How Voters Infer Party Positions on European Integration from Governing Coalition Arrangements” was awarded the Pi Sigma Alpha Award at the 2016 MPSA Conference.

The article is now available online as an Early View publication prior to inclusion in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. (MPSA members: Log in at to access.)