The Top 5 MPSA Roundtable Audio Recordings (podcasts) from 2017

MPSA-Top5Podcasts

Each year at its annual conference, MPSA records dozens of professional development panels focusing on topics most relevant to researchers and to those who teach. Audio from the roundtable discussions is available to MPSA Members online by visiting the Highlighted Presentations Section of the website and selections are also available to the public as part of MPSA’s outreach to the discipline. As 2017 comes to a close, its time to take a look back at the five most popular of these audio recordings.

  • MPSA Roundtable on Career: What to Do/Not Do at a Job Talk
    (Read the Recap) – Listen in as Elizabeth A. Bennion of Indiana University-South Bend chairs the MPSA Career Roundtable on “What to Do and What Not to Do at a Job Talk” with Mary Hallock Morris of University of Southern Indiana and David C. Wilson of University of Delaware. During the discussion, the members of the panel share their observations on how to know if the university is a good fit for you (personally and professionally) and what can make you stand out as a successful candidate.  
  • MPSA Roundtable: Applying to Graduate School
    (Read the Recap) – Mackenzie H. Eason of the University of California – Los Angeles chairs this MPSA roundtable session on “Applying to Graduate School” with Coty J. Martin, West Virginia University, Joan Ricart-Huguet, Princeton University, and Jovan Milojevich, University of California-Irvine. Members of the panel discuss questions and issues related to applying to graduate programs, such as when and where to apply, and how to make yourself a more appealing and ultimately successful candidate for admission.
  • MPSA Roundtable: Teaching LGBTQ Politics
    (Read the Recap) – Susan Burgess, Ohio University-Main Campus, chairs this discussion among panelists and participants in the audience on Teaching LGBTQ Politics. Panelists include Christine Keating of Ohio State University-Main Campus, Megan Elizabeth Osterbur of Xavier University of Louisiana, Marla Brettschneider of University of New Hampshire-Main Campus, and Courtenay Daum of Colorado State University-Fort Collins. Session topics included selecting topics, readings, and pedagogical strategies pertaining to teaching LGBTQ politics classes.
  • MPSA Roundtable On Congressional Leadership Through The Eyes Of Randy Strahan And Barbara Sinclair
    (Read the Recap) – Sean M. Theriault of the University of Texas at Austin, chairs this MPSA roundtable session on “Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair” with Gregory Koger, University of Miami, Daniel John Palazzolo, University of Richmond, Kathryn Pearson, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, David W. Rohde, Duke University and Matthew N. Green, Catholic University of America. Members of the panel remember the contributions of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair to the field of political science through the sharing of memories and personal reflections and take an early look at congressional leadership in the 115th Congress.
  • MPSA Roundtable: Teaching Research Methods to Undergraduates
    (Recap Not Available) – Nathan D. Griffith of Belmont University chairs the MPSA roundtable session on “Teaching Research Methods to Undergraduates” with Binneh S. Minteh of Rutgers University-Newark, and Emily Clough of Newcastle University.

Many thanks to our panelists at the 2017 conference and congratulations to those with topics that have been shown to be among the most popular with listeners after the conference. You may share your expertise by participating as a panelist in one of MPSA’s Professional Development Roundtables at the 2018 conference in Chicago. MPSA seeks to organize a series of roundtable sessions on topics including public engagement, career development, publishing, teaching, and research methods. Learn more about the opportunity and volunteer your expertise as a panelist.

More Guns, Less Replication: The Case for Robust Research Findings

MPSA-Blog_ReplicationRobust

The meaning of the wordreplication hardly seems like the sort of thing that would land a person in court. Yet, it did. In Lott v. Levitt (2009), the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois ruled on that very question, in a dispute between two academic authors of bestselling books.

In his book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt argued that “other researchers have failed to replicate” John Lott’s work, published in the latter’s book More Guns, Less Crime. In fact, as Lott later pointed out, he is willing to share his data, and when other researchers run the same statistical models using the same data, they successfully replicate the results. Lott did not falsify his data, fabricate results, or make errors in his reporting. This is what replication is meant to check, and Lott’s research passed the test.

Levitt countered by arguing that the word “replicatecan have a broader meaning. The courts agreed and also noted that generally, the judicial system should stay out of such disputes unless the use of the word is particularly egregious and serves to defame the target, which was not the case here. (A second part of the suit was settled in Lott’s favor, but this was unrelated to the argument over the exact meaning of replication).

I recently blundered into this whole controversy. I published a newspaper column referencing Lott’s research, and I, too, suggested that others could not replicate his research. Lott spotted the column and wrote me a friendly note offering to share some of his more recent research on Australia’s gun laws with me. I read it and found it fascinating. However, he also asked for a retraction of the replication charge. I demurred, because while I would not use the word “replication” again in this particular context, I think the way I used it is defensible, as per the Lott v. Levitt ruling and the interpretation offered in the above, hyperlinked article from Scientific American. What I had in mind were other studies, using different data, methods, and time periods, that reach different conclusions than does Lott’s book—replication in a broader sense.

Lott and Levitt are both economists, but political scientists have had our own struggles with replication. In the 1990s, Harvard Professor Gary King started a movement to push for replication in quantitative political science, but the standards for which he advocated have never become universal. King did have some success in getting participating political scientists to make their data more accessible, but not everyone is game. Enormous amounts of time and, at times, money go into data-collection, and many researchers consider their datasets proprietary. Furthermore, academic journals rely on unpaid, volunteer reviewers, who layer the responsibilities on top of their other duties as professors and researchers. With few exceptions (including the AJPS which has a third-party replication process), journals must rely on reviewers to download massive datasets into statistical programs like SPSS and R, then replicate exactly what other researchers have done. This approach is probably not realistic; editors have a hard time just getting them to complete their reviews, which are sometimes months late and only a few sentences long. By contrast, book reviewers are often paid, but book publishers increasingly look, not for the kind of detailed, technical matters involved in replication, but rather for books that will reach a broader audience. Selling books only to other political science professors is not a very lucrative market. While Lott and Levitt both have their critics (including one another), both wrote bestselling books, and this is what publishers want. They are not likely to get involved in a lengthy replication project, when what they are seeking are readability and larger audiences: the next More Guns, Less Crime or Freakonomics—and they do not much care which, as long as it sells. In short, publishers cannot be relied upon to enforce standards of replication, nor can editors, and the courts would prefer to stay out of it.

One way out of this mess is to invoke another statistical concept: robustness. Just as replication can have a narrow or broad meaning, robustness can as well. While the word always makes me think of my morning coffee, or perhaps a good merlot, robustness in the statistical sense refers to a relationship between two variables that is not driven by just a few cases or assumptions. At the risk of oversimplifying: if a few seemingly minor alterations in a data analysis result in a change in the results, then those results were not robust in the first place. For a better, more technical explanation, visit http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~dtyler/ShortCourse.pdf.

Like replication, robustness can also be defined more broadly. Much as the results with a single dataset are robust if they hold across all (or least many) of the cases and not just a few, so research results can be said to be robust if the same finding keeps popping up in multiple studies, using different data and different ways of modeling it. Findings such as the relationship between education and political participation (those with more education are more likely to vote and to participate in other ways) hold up, no matter how you slice the data. Old data, new data, crude models, highly sophisticated analyses—again and again, the relationship appears. There is just no way around the fact that more education often pairs with more political involvement. Of course, a few individuals exist who do not fit this pattern, but these exceptions do not debunk the claim. It is solid. Within a single dataset, robustness refers to the relationship holding across a broad swath of cases. Considered more broadly, a finding can be said to be robust if it holds up across a broad swath of studies.

Conversely, the research on concealed-carry, gun ownership, and crime is not robust, in the broad sense that I am using it. Lott’s research finds that concealed-carry laws mean more crime deterrence. The research from Aneja, Donohue, and Zhang, referenced in the piece from The Washington Post above, shows that such laws increase crime—specifically aggravated assault—while having no impact on other crime rates. For his part, Levitt believes that there is little relationship at all between gun ownership and crime rates. In short, the research on this topic is highly sensitive to model specification, time periods covered, and data used. No clear, robust relationships have emerged that carry across different research by different researchers using different data and different modeling techniques, to establish clear conclusions. The most likely explanation for this, is that the relationship between gun ownership and crime is ambiguous. Whether positive or negative, the effects are small compared to the big drivers such as the percentage of poor, unemployed, young males—who commit the vast majority of street crimes, regardless of race—that exist in the population at any given time…

…which is exactly what I wrote in that newspaper column. But, by using the word “replication” loosely, I wandered into a whole new set of questions—ones which are not easily resolved, and ultimately go to the soul of social science itself.

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.

#MPSAchat with AJPS Editor William G. Jacoby (10/24)

Fourth Tuesdays at 2pm EDT #MPSAchat1On Tuesday, October 24 (2pm Eastern), please join us for a Twitter chat with American Journal of Political Science editor William G. Jacoby. We’ll chat with Jacoby on trends he has identified during his time as editor, peer review, and tips for avoiding a “technical reject”, among other topics.

If you haven’t participated in a live Twitter chat before, here are a few tips:

  • A moderator from MPSA will post a series of numbered questions over the course of the hour to help prompt response from Jacoby and participants.
  • To share your comments to a specific question, just begin your response with “A1” and include the hashtag(s) designated for the chat. In this case, that’s #MPSAchat.
  • The live chat will last approximately an hour, and you are welcome to participate in some or all of it. We hope that the conversation continues using the hashtag so others can catch up on it later.
  • You may choose to use your regular Twitter account to follow along or you may opt to use online tools created specifically for Twitter chats. Here are three examples and instructions for each.

Future MPSA Twitter chats will be on the fourth Tuesday of each month with a focus on topics including professional development, public engagement, advocacy, research, publishing, teaching/learning, and work-life balance. Our next #MPSAchat will be November 28, 2017, when we discuss Work-Life Balance #PSBeWell. 

Missed the Twitter chat? Read the recap here. 

MPSA Roundtable on Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair

MPSA Roundtable on Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair

Sean M. Theriault of the University of Texas at Austin, chairs this MPSA roundtable session on “Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair” with Gregory Koger, University of Miami, Daniel John Palazzolo, University of Richmond, Kathryn Pearson, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, David W. Rohde, Duke University and Matthew N. Green, Catholic University of America. Members of the panel remember the contributions of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair to the field of political science through the sharing of memories and personal reflections and take an early look at congressional leadership in the 115th Congress.

Topics discussed include:

  • Reflections on the lives and careers of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair and their contributions to the study of leadership in a representative body and to the field leadership studies overall.
  • Discussion of Barbara Sinclair’s influence and impact on congressional studies scholarship by women.
  • Recollection of the theoretical insights and perspectives these scholars brought to the study of congressional leadership.

MPSA members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations.

Intrastate Conflicts: Refocus on the Intractable

By Harold A. Young

The burden and devastation of intrastate conflicts are disproportionally borne by people of color in the developing world. While many people of color in the United States may view these conflicts as distant, they are not. Some may have relatives and friends in these conflict areas; however, it is worth noting that many products we take for granted use raw materials extracted despite of and sometimes even used to fuel the conflicts. One only has to think of “blood diamonds” coming out of Sierra Leone and “conflict minerals” from Democratic Republic of Congo for graphic details. Further, while details are just emerging about the plight of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar (Burma), we do know that there has been little or no international response.

Without clear domestic and international leadership, a seemingly paralyzed global community struggles with sporadic attempts at cease-fires, humanitarian aid, and limited peacekeeping intervention. The designation of armed conflict is grounded in three key characteristics: (1) it is a political conflict; (2) it involves armed combat by the armed forces of a state or the forces of one or more armed faction seeking a political end; and (3) at least 1,000 people have been killed directly by the fighting during the conflict and there are at least 25 combat deaths annually (Project Ploughshare). Figure 1 illustrates the continuous decline of interstate conflict and death after World War II. Even with a brief decline in the mid-1990s, the growing trend in intrastate conflict (international conflict/war) is especially significant since the end of the Cold War (Human Security Report 2013).

Figure 1: Average number of Interstate conflicts per year by decade, 1950-2011
Figure 1: Average number of Interstate conflicts per year by decade, 1950-2011

There has also been an increase in the number of non-state armed conflicts resulting in significant casualties. These conflicts may involve groups in armed conflict outside the control of the government. Figure 2 displays comparative data on the numbers of intrastate conflicts (domestic conflict/war) and battle deaths (Human Security Report 2013).

Figure 2: Global trends in Intrastate conflicts and battle deaths, 1989 to 2011
Figure 2: Global trends in Intrastate conflicts and battle deaths, 1989 to 2011

State sovereignty remains an important concept in international politics. Westphalian “model states” never really existed nor were the geographic and political entities that existed unassailable. Acknowledging those realities would contribute more to peace and stability (Krasner 1995). Further, since the end of the cold war, some states are willing to lead, participate in, and publicly support multilateral humanitarian interventions using force against a state under certain circumstances. As was seen in the 1999 case of Kosovo, states are willing to act without authorization of the United Nations Security Council and without the U.S. expressly basing the intervention on humanitarian grounds. After the Cold War, the most important doctrinal development on humanitarian intervention is probably the U.N. authorization of intervention in Somalia in 1992 (Charron 2006). While the outcome is less than desirable, there are subsequent examples. The rationale may include reputation (U.S. as a champion of human rights), loyalty or history (e.g., colonial power and former colony as was seen with U.K. intervening in Sierra Leone starting in 2000) or to protect some specific national interest (U.S. intervention in Kuwait in 1990). While such interventions may be legitimate, there is a clear question of legality vis-à-vis the U.N. Charter. Nevertheless, the sample of intrastate conflicts in the table below shows that most of the conflicts affects people of color with little action from the international community.

Table 1 presents a sample of intrastate conflicts that have captured the attention of the media and the international community over the last four decades. This sample represents intrastate conflicts in several regions of world involving different groups and varying motives.

State

Conflict

Consequences

International Response

Democratic Republic of Congo,
1998-

Conflict over control of vast natural resources

6 million dead; 3.4 million internally displaced and 2 million refugees

No international military response

Cambodia,
1975-1979

State persecution
under Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge

Approximately
1,500,000 dead

Intervention by
Vietnam

Somalia,
1992

Inter-clan and inter-factional

350,000 to 1,000,000 dead

Intervention by US

Kosovo,
1999

Religious/ethnic
cleansing

1.5
million dead; 225,000 Kosovar men are believed to be missing. Estimated 5,000
Kosovars executed.

Intervention by NATO

Rwanda,
1994

Tribal conflict

Estimated
800,000

Intervention by UN
but did not prevent genocide

Sri Lanka,
1982-2009

Government vs. Tamil
separatist

Estimated 80,000-100,000
people killed

No international military
response

Sudan,
2010-2012

Ethnic cleansing

Estimated 30,000
killed and 1,000,000 displaced

No international military
response

Syria,
2011-2017

Government vs.
resistance movement; faction wars

More than 465,000
dead and 145,000 reported missing

No international military
response


Table 1: Examples of major intrastate conflicts since 1975

 

There is some agreement that the world community should act in the face of a humanitarian crisis. There is, however, a divergence of opinion on the scope for fear of abuse by more powerful states advancing national interests. Despite the changing scope of state actions and their role in the era globalization, no one takes the issue of state sovereignty lightly. As posited, there is a prima facie presumption of state sovereignty over intervention although that presumption may not hold in certain circumstances (Carey 1997) or may be contingent on the existence of circumstances that warrant a violation of state sovereignty. What is missing is a set of agreed criteria or benchmarks that will trigger an intervention or response by a force recognized by the U.N. and a method for assigning duties and distributing costs.

Undoubtedly the debate about the tension between real state sovereignty and the international community’s obligation to protect people within a state will continue. The framework needed for the world community to act on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) commitment is yet to be developed and agreed to despite the priorities agreed to earlier in the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility To Protect (ICISS). The report identifies preventing the development of humanitarian crises in the first place thereby avoiding the dilemmas and pitfalls of intervention that will inevitably plague the best-laid plans. Second, it specifies the responsibility of the international community to respond with military intervention as the last resort. Third, the responsibility to help the state rebuild after the intervention. Nanda (2013) reviews the future of R2P and the principles identified in ICISS is the light of the ongoing crises in different part of the world. Nanda expresses doubt that the principles of R2P and consistent international responses will become the norm.

It is unclear how far the current U.S. administration is willing to go in Syria or anywhere else based on the current mixed signals about guiding policies or plans of action. The 59-missile attack on a single Syria target on April 5, 2017 is characterized as a response to the use of chemical weapons as part of the ongoing conflicts and genocide (Rosenfeld, April 7, 2017). Further, despite establishing a commission in 2011 to investigate human right violation in Syria, its efforts have been stymied due to inaccessibility within Syria and the reports that have been produced based on sources escaping Syria have not yet resulted in any prosecutions. Frustration with the international commission peaked with the resignation of an experienced international prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, in August. She states “I am frustrated, I give up……We thought the international community had learned something from Rwanda. But no, they have not learned anything” (Gordts, August 6, 2017).

Meanwhile, intrastate wars smolder and rage in the hotspots around the world precipitating death, destruction of vital infrastructure, internal population displacement, refugee crises, and economic pressure on neighboring states. Those skeptical of the international will to act to prevent or stop intrastate wars have good reason while those who remain hopeful have little basis to do so.

About the Author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he was a health communications manager, a social worker and practiced law. Contact Young at youngh@apsu.edu.

MPSA Blog: Top 10 Posts from 2016

MPSA Blog: Top 10 Posts from 2016

Regardless of your research interests, your academic (or Alt-Ac) role, or your aspirations for the new year, there is something on this list of MPSA’s most popular blog posts from 2016 that is sure to pique your interest:

MPSA would especially like to thank regular contributors Newly Paul, Adnan Rasool, Michael A. Smith, and Harry Young for sharing their research, political perspectives, and pedagogical insights with us this calendar year. We look forward to highlighting even more NSF-Funded research, conference presentations, and MPSA member interviews in the coming months. If you’re interested in sharing your work with MPSA’s members and the discipline, we’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes for a safe and productive 2017!

On the Eve of the 2017 Conference Season

On the Eve of Conference Season 2017

As the Fall semester comes to a close, most academics in our field are readying for the upcoming hectic conference schedule starting with SPSA in New Orleans in January, ISA (February) in Baltimore, MPSA (April) in Chicago, and ending with WPSA (April) in Vancouver. Keeping this in mind, this post discusses some decisions and challenges most of us face during this season. I start with some of the challenges my colleagues and I are facing right now.

First, as much as conferences are awesome, they require a lot of attention and effort on the part of participants and presenters. Attending conferences is an amazing learning experience for all of us, but the work that goes in to it can be overwhelming at times. For instance, I am presenting two pieces of work at SPSA and then I am scheduled to present at MPSA in April as well. That means I am working on finalizing three full-length conference-worthy papers within a space of effectively 3 months. And it is not just me, most of my colleagues are in the same boat. We submitted abstracts of some awesome ideas and now we have to hammer out solid papers to be presented at each of these conferences.

This has led to some interesting conversations I have had with other political scientists regarding how many projects and papers can be worked on simultaneously without forgoing quality. I agree with the conventional wisdom that you can only do so many conferences a year and if you do not have something solid to put out, it is better to sit one out and go back next year with something worthy instead of showing up with a half-baked idea. I feel we have all sat through those presentations where the idea is just not there yet and the presentation just makes the presenter look bad even if it could eventually pan out to be something excellent. The point I am making is – it is totally okay to focus on a few pieces of work and present at one or two conferences rather than try to show up with a not-so-great paper to every conference. That is why most of my colleagues and I are seriously deciding on whether to focus on one or two papers instead of doing quantity. Quality beats quantity every time in academia and it is worthwhile to have that discussion with yourself and your co-author.

Second, it is a worthwhile idea to have internal presentations before heading out to conferences. My grad school has a policy that requires every one who seeks travel funding to do internal presentations of their work before they head out. This helps the presenters hone in on their flaws and prepare for questions related to their research. Additionally, it helps the presenters realize where they stand with their research and whether it is ready to a point where they need to be putting it in front of the world. This is critical as at times because many of us can get too close to our own work to see its true quality.

Instead it is a worthwhile idea to take a step back and let your peers and colleagues judge your work in a grad school setting than a conference setting. Internal presentations have helped me personally pinpoint critical issues I was dwelling with my own research. In particular, I was satisfied with a paper I have been working on for most of the year, but it turns out I was rushing past the theoretical contributions of the research. The internal reviews and presentations helped me realize the mistakes I was making as my professors stepped in to pinpoint the exact issue I had to address. What really helped during these internal presentations was that I presented in front of an audience from different subfields. The benchmark was if an Americanist or a Theory person can fully understand my presentation on comparative authoritarianism, then it has merits. Otherwise I need to simplify and narrow my presentation so that everyone hearing it understands my contribution.

Finally, conference presentations are great but often those papers never seem to materialize in to publications. That is totally okay. Sometimes the first go on a paper sounds amazing but once you spend more time fleshing it out you realize it will never be as good as you want it to be. Instead of being stuck on it, just shelf it for a bit and move on. Sooner rather than later, that work will help you with a future project or paper and will be useful in creating something you can put out there as a publication.

So as Fall semester ends and holidays begin, I hope everyone ends up with great work that we can share in the next year. I will hopefully see y’all at SPSA. If not there, then MPSA for sure! Happy holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukah! And a Happy New Year!

About the Author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate & Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also the recipient of the Taiwan Fellowship for 2017 by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC. Adnan is a blogger for the 2017 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on role of bureaucracies in democratization and populist clientalistic appeal in new democracies. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and his website

(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.