Spain’s majority-female cabinet embodies women’s global rise to power

By Susan Franceschet, University of Calgary and Karen Beckwith, Case Western Reserve University

Gender-equal governments, which include the same number of men and women as ministry heads and in other cabinet posts, used to be the purview of woman-friendly Nordic countries and highly progressive societies like Canada and Costa Rica.

No longer.

Mexico’s president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who takes office in December, has announced that women will hold eight posts in his 16-member cabinet, including the powerful secretary of the interior position.

And Spain’s new prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, recently became the first world leader to appoint women to almost two-thirds of cabinet positions. No country in the world has a higher proportion of female-led ministries. Thirty years ago, Spain had no female cabinet members.

Women hold just 20 per cent of cabinet positions in the United States and 28 percent in the United Kingdom. Worldwide, the average is 18.3 percent.

As political scientists who study women’s inclusion in cabinets, we believe the quick, steady rise of women to power in Spain embodies a trend we have observed worldwide: Once more women get into the highest levels of government, their numbers tend only to rise.

We call this the “concrete floor” for women’s political representation. For a democratic government to have legitimacy these days, – that is, for the general public to have faith in its decisions – it must include women.

Gains beget gains

Women’s representation doesn’t necessarily go up with each new administration.

But in studying the composition of governing cabinets in Spain, France, Australia, the United States, Canada, Chile and the United Kingdom from 1929 to 2016, we found that women’s presence did rise cumulatively – over time and across party lines – in these countries.

After a 40-year dictatorship led by General Francisco Franco, democracy returned to Spain in 1977. But it would take more than a decade for women to be included in government. Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González appointed the country’s first female ministers in 1989.

The next administration, led by conservative prime minister José María Aznar, raised the total with four female ministers in his 14-member cabinet.

Spain’s historic breakthrough came in 2004, when Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a self-described feminist, named the country’s first gender-equal cabinet: eight women and eight men.

Now 11 of Spain’s 17 ministers are women, including – for the first time in Spain’s history – the position of finance minister.

France’s recent history looks similar.

President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed seven women to his 15-member cabinet in 2007. His successor, Socialist François Hollande, had 17 women in his 34-member cabinet. Cabinet size in most countries varies from administration to administration.

On the campaign trail in 2016, President Emmanuel Macron promised to have equal representation. Today, his cabinet contains 11 women and 11 men.

Voters like gender-inclusive governments

Our research shows that when leaders use their powers of appointment to increase the number of women in cabinet, they are never punished electorally and are often applauded globally for doing so.

Just a few years ago Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was celebrated around the world for assembling a gender-equal cabinet. His reasoning? “Because it’s 2015,” he told reporters.

Leaders who appoint significantly fewer women than their predecessors, on the other hand, risk heavy criticism from the media and political opponents. That can weaken their support among voters.

When Australian prime minister Tony Abbott appointed just one woman to his cabinet in 2013, he had to justify his “embarassing” decision to voters, the opposition party and the press. His predecessor’s government had included three female cabinet members.

Malcolm Turnbull replaced Abbott two years later and quickly appointed five women to his governing team.

Each gender-equal cabinet appears to create expectations of similar or greater women’s inclusion in the next.

The ‘concrete floor’

We did find several instances where leaders appointed fewer women than their predecessors. However, the decline is generally minimal.

In Chile’s first post-dictatorship government, elected in 1990, President Patricio Aylwin apointed women to just 5 percent of cabinet posts.

Chile’s first female president, Socialist Michelle Bachelet, had a gender-equal government in 2006. Four years later, her conservative successor, Sebastián Piñera, appointed seven women to his 23-member cabinet. While his government was not gender-equal, women were significantly better represented than they had been before Bachelet’s administration.

We call this phenomenon the “concrete floor.” It is the minimal threshold of women’s inclusion for people to see a leader’s cabinet as democratically legitimate.

And unlike the “glass ceiling,” that subtle, invisible barrier that has kept women out of powerful positions, the concrete floor ensuring their inclusion in government is visible to – and recognized by – all the leaders we studied.

Gender diversity is the only guarantee

A similar standard applies to certain other kinds of political representation in the some, but not all, of the countries we studied.

In Canada, Germany and Spain, for example, cabinets must be geographically representative. Like those countries, the United States also has a federal system of government, but American presidents are not expected to ensure that cabinet posts go to people from different states or regions.

In Canada and the United States, all-white cabinets are now virtually unthinkable. President Lyndon Johnson appointed United States’ first African-American cabinet member – Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Robert C. Weaver – in 1966. Lincoln McCauley Alexander became Canada’s first-ever black minister in 1979.

Few Western democratic government cabinets look like this anymore. – AP Photo

Meanwhile, cabinets in Germany and Spain – both increasingly diverse countries – remain entirely white. The lone black parliamentarian in Spain, Rita Bosaho, wasn’t elected until 2015. No racial minority has ever held a Spanish cabinet position.

Gender was the only required representational criterion that appeared across all seven countries we studied, where all-male cabinets have been universally extinct for a quarter-century.

The ConversationWomen make up half the world’s population. Now, increasingly and evidently irreversibly, democratic governments are starting to show it.

About the Authors:  Susan Franceschet, Professor of Political Science, University of Calgary and Karen Beckwith, Professor of Political Science, Case Western Reserve University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Save the Swamp

By Michael A. Smith of Emporia State University

The Trump Administration’s recent reversal on immigration policy regarding children has gotten me to thinking. What exactly does it mean to “drain the swamp?”

First, let me share a bit of background about the current situation. In 1997, a court ruling known as The Flores Settlement Agreement (Flores) set forth standards for the conditions in which children must be held, when in detention. The same standards were not set for adults. As a result, the most cost-effective way for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to comply was to release undocumented immigrant parents (or just one parent) with their children, with an order to appear at a specific court date. Some show up for the court dates, others do not. Trump supporters derided this policy as “catch and release” and instead attempted to put in place a new policy that such undocumented immigrants would be detained until their court date. The problem is, few facilities which meet the Flores standards can accommodate whole families, so ICE began separating the children from their parents, producing heartbreaking smartphone videos, and a grassroots movement to overturn the policy. To construct detention facilities for entire families meeting the Flores standards would cost an estimated $300 million and take time, neither of which are immediately available. There are also a lot of questions about the integrity of the contractors that bid to build and operate the facilities—oversight of private prisons and detention facilities is lacking.

Thus, acceding to public pressure to stop separating children from parents effectively means a return to the earlier policy. Currently, the implementation of the undoing is another mess. Some of the children are unaccounted-for, while others had been sent to facilities in different states from their parents. Some were being held in a converted, former department store. There even appeared to be children locked in cages. All this, because the Administration had wanted to hold the undocumented immigrants in detention until their court dates.

There are a lot of moving parts here: court rulings, campaign promises, public budgeting, public pressure, private contracting for facilities (building and management), oversight, smartphone videos and news coverage, and simple human empathy, to name a few. Oh, and it’s an election year, too.

This debacle is an excellent place to begin re-considering Trump’s oft-repeated campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”

This now-famous phrase deserves more scrutiny—Trump is effectively analogizing his plan to reform government, to the act of destroying an ecosystem. Is that really the metaphor you want, Mr. President?

Draining an actual swamp is a truly terrible idea. Swamps are teeming wetlands that support a wide variety of life. Their destruction can have ripple effects thousands of miles away—for example, by wiping out stopover sites used by migratory birds, and destroying the boundaries between fresh and salt water, just for starters. In fact, the U.S. did try to drain the swamps at least once—in the Florida Everglades, during the early and mid-twentieth century. Swamps were drained to make way for railroads, then housing developments and hotels, and later freeways. Water was diverted, while agricultural chemicals polluted what was left.

The result was unmitigated disaster. Species were driven to extinction, while human beings settled and built homes in natural-disaster prone areas. Some species reproduced out of control when their natural predators were decimated, the overflow spilling into areas populated by humans. Later, many people died and property was destroyed on developments in flood-prone areas, then rebuilt at great cost to us taxpayers- right in the path of still more disaster. Displaced from their homes, alligators and other swamp creatures still frequently appear in populated areas, for example in swimming pools.

Today, efforts are still underway to reverse the damage. An even more expensive project has allocated hundreds of millions of tax dollars to un-do the mess: trying, as best they can, to return the wilderness to this once-thriving area. Nonprofits are helping, too. At least in some places, the swamp is finally being un-drained, but there is still work to do. Florida, along with other states, still encourages and even subsidizes development in ecologically sensitive, disaster-prone areas such as coastline and floodplains, disrupting wildlife, endangering lives, and putting the taxpayers on the hook for major rebuilding expenses.

In short, draining the swamp was nothing less than a human-made disaster, the efforts to restore it cost a fortune—and still, it will still never quite be the same. The same is true of Trump’s metaphor. A key lesson of the immigrant children debacle is that “draining the swamp” of the federal government is a horrible idea.

While the metaphor is novel, Trump’s idea is not. Generations of politicians have sought office by promising to “clean up the mess” in Washington, the state capital, or city hall. The Coen Brothers’ popular movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? features a challenger candidate running for Governor of Mississippi by promising to “Clean Up for the Little Man,” complete with Vaudeville-style theatrics. (Spoiler alert: In the end, the reformer turns out to be more corrupt than the incumbent he is challenging.)

Like a real swamp, a government in a pluralistic democracy is a complicated ecosystem teeming with life. From court rulings to interest groups, election cycles to news cycles, international agreements to Gross Domestic Product, and lobbyists to lawyers, few public policy problems have easy answers. As in the case of the children, changing just one aspect of policy means changing a whole chain of interconnecting parts. Domino effects abound. Simply ending the cruel practice of separating children from parents means ending Trump’s policy initiative altogether, at least for now. There are simply too many things which affect other things which affect other things, and so on. Changing one thing—for example, the separation of children–undoes a whole policy. Public policy, like a swap, is an ecosystem.

It takes a lot of full-time professionals to oversee such a complicated government, but too often, there are not many to be found. This is the point made by John J. DiIulio, Jr. in his 2014 book Bring Back the Bureaucrats. DiIulio, a Democrat who was director of faith-based initiatives in the George W. Bush Administration, shows that federal spending has grown exponentially since the Kennedy Administration, but the federal workforce has not. Instead, the federal government has expanded its scope via entitlement payments to individuals, along with grants to for-profits, nonprofits, and state and local governments. DiIulio thinks there are far too few civil-service federal employees overseeing what is done with all this money and power, and he calls our current system “Leviathan by Proxy.” He ends by calling for an expansion of the civil-service workforce, arguing that more oversight will cost far less than one may think, and the end result of increased accountability will in fact save taxpayers’ money—a lot of it. The lax oversight of for-profit detention facilities is an excellent example, which is currently in the news.

Having more government professionals means that we can study the swamp before we go trying to drain it.

Better staffing, more professionalism, and elected officials who consult with and listen to the civil service workers we do have, can help prevent disasters like the recent one involving the immigrant children. Instead, the policy was thrown together in the same spirit as those campaign promises to “clean up the mess in Washington”—the simplistic idea that the current politicians and civil-service workers are too stupid, corrupt, or lazy to make common sense changes that will simplify and change policy. In reality, they are too smart to do this. Full-time government professionals realize that the enormous interdependence of public policies means that careful review and study of the costs and benefits of policy change are needed before seemingly-simple reforms are put in place. It would not hurt to have a few political science- and economics-trained professionals on staff to analyze the impact of things like unintended consequences, substitution effects, and ripple effects before putting these policy changes into effect. It also wouldn’t hurt to take a look at court rulings and even the Constitution itself before issuing orders.

Of course, when Trump says “drain the swamp,” he means to end a corrupt system of lawyers, lobbyists, and influence peddlers who have too much influence by comparing them to the alligators, snakes, and other reptiles that live in the swamp. No standup comedian could pass up the opportunity to point out the unfairness. Predatory alligators and snakes are just fulfilling their role in the food chain, after all—they hardly deserve to be compared to the likes of Washington lawyers and lobbyists!

Yet on a serious note, this summer’s events are a powerful reminder of the complexity and interconnectedness of policy. This is a fine time to revisit the swamp metaphor. Just as destroying an ecosystem in real life is an ecological disaster that disrupts or ends plant, animal, and human life, so draining a swamp is also a terrible way to go about governing. The diversity, complexity, and interconnectedness of governing life is as important as it is in a wetland. With actual swamps, it is time to stop the drainage. Instead, let’s hire some more wildlife biologists and park rangers and implement their recommendations. Likewise, with the metaphor, more professionals trained in political science and related disciplines working in the civil service can help show how even one seemingly small change can have a far greater impact on human lives than we ever imagined—and hopefully, next time the warnings will come sooner.

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.

 

Ethnic Networks

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Governments Influence Competition between Militant Groups

By Justin Conrad and William Spaniel

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

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

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

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

Government's Marginal Cost of Enforcement
Figure 1

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

Figure 2
Figure 2

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

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

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

All Male Panels Erode Citizens’ Perceptions of Democratic Legitimacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Edmund Burke Engraving
Edmund Burke Engraving

By Rob Goodman of McGill University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voting Can Be Hard, Information Helps

By Melody Crowder-Meyer, Shana Kushner Gadarian, and Jessica Trounstine

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When Los Angeles County voters entered their polling booths in November 2016, they were faced with a multitude of decisions. The choice of which presidential candidate to support was likely fairly straightforward. But how about voters’ choice for the U.S. Senate? Both candidates available were Democrats – how did voters determine which candidate would better represent their preferences? Further down the ballot, voters were then presented with local races. The candidates running for Board of Supervisors, Judge of the Superior Court, City Council, and Rent Control Board were all listed as nonpartisan. Making all these decisions – filling out this ballot – asked a lot of citizens. So, how do citizens generally make decisions about casting their votes when they have little information to use?

In this paper, we examine how voters make decisions under varying levels of information. Existing research clearly demonstrates that voters draw on shortcuts – heuristics such as ideology and partisanship – to substitute for full information when making voting decisions. But in non-partisan elections or in elections (like party primaries) in which both candidates share the same party identification, these heuristics can’t help. What then do voters do? We investigate the extent to which voters use candidates’ race, ethnicity, and gender – characteristics that can often be identified even in the lowest information elections – as shortcuts to help them make decisions. Importantly, our exploration is conducted in settings where partisan cues are absent, which is the case in the vast majority of local elections in the United States.

We use 3 experiments to test the way that varying the amount of candidate information affects how voters choose candidates. In particular, we are interested in whether information helps or hurts the chance that candidates of color and female candidates win. In the experiments, we asked subjects to act like voters and choose candidates in 3 elections: city council, county board of supervisors, and a parks and recreation board. We randomly assigned candidates of varying races and gender, and randomly assigned levels of information available to voters.

Our lowest information setting included only candidate’s names –like this ballot from Duluth, Minnesota.

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Our medium level of information setting provided candidates’ occupations as well – just like this ballot from Alameda, California.

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In our highest information setting, we told voters candidates’ name, occupation, age, educational background, and incumbency status.

We find that voters do indeed rely on candidate characteristics when casting their ballots. While racial and ethnic minorities lose in low information settings, women win. However, as shown in the figure below, increasing the amount of information available to voters moderates both of these effects.

More information reduces the effect of candidate race and gender on vote choice

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The figure shows the difference in the probability of voting for candidates with specific racial and gender characteristics – compared to white candidates and male candidates – under conditions of low, moderate, and high information. African-Americans suffer the greatest penalty in our low information experiments, followed by Asians and Latinos. Women are given a slight benefit when voters have the least information. Adding information about the candidates reduces these penalties and benefits.

But who is most likely to rely on candidate race and gender as cues….and why? In a separate experiment, we found that voters assume that black and Latino candidates are more liberal than white candidates, and that female candidates are viewed as more liberal than male candidates. How did this affect vote choice? We find that liberals and Democrats are substantially more likely than conservatives and Republicans to support female candidates and candidates of color in our lowest information settings. In fact, the preference for women in the lowest information setting is wholly driven by liberal and Democratic respondents. Voters seem to be drawing on racial and gender stereotypes to cast their ballots in our experimental elections.

But, does any of this hold outside of the lab? To determine the extent to which our findings apply outside the experimental context, we also evaluated a set of voting choices in a real, but very low information, election – the election for presidential convention delegates. In New York State, voters in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary voted in their Congressional Districts both for the presidential candidate that they preferred, and also directly for the delegates who would support those candidates at the Democratic National Convention. Democratic party rules dictate that half of all delegates to the convention be male and half female, so delegate candidates were equally divided by gender, mimicking our experimental design. In addition, voters had very little information about these delegates except for their names and their gender.

Each delegate on the ballot was pledged to one of the presidential candidates, but some of the ballot designs made that easier to understand than other ballots. We take advantage of this difference in ballots across counties to predict that any advantage given to female delegates should disappear when delegates are clearly linked to candidates (essentially, when we move from a very low information condition to a more moderate information condition). This is exactly what we find. As the figure below highlights, even in real world elections, more information decreases gender of candidate effects on vote choice.

Ballot clarity helps male delegates in NY State presidential primary

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In sum, using three experiments and one real-world election, we show that when voters are forced to make decisions without any information about the candidates other than their names, they use the names to figure out who to pick. Adding information to voters’ ballots largely eliminates these penalties. Small amounts of virtually costless information decrease voters’ use of demographic traits to make decisions. In our real-world example simply clarifying the delegate’s pledged candidate largely eliminates the effect of gender and adding occupation to our experimental ballots significantly reduces the effects of race. Should a broader set of states adopt ballots with additional contextual information about candidates (as shown in the Alameda, California ballot above), or if media trends changed such that (especially local) political information was more widely accessible and consumed by voters, this could substantially affect the ways that voters make decisions about who governs them – at the local level and beyond.

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About the Authors: Melody Crowder-Meyer is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Davidson College, Shana Kushner Gadarian is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University, and Jessica Trounstine is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Merced. Their research “Voting Can Be Hard, Information Helps” presented at the 2017 MPSA conference, received the association’s inaugural Best Paper in American Politics.

What 18,000 Declassified Documents (and a Computer) Reveal About the Credibility of Signals During Crises

By Eric Min of Stanford University

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Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, left, and U.S. President John F. Kennedy sit in the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Vienna, Austria, at the start of their historic talks. [AP/Wide World Photo/US Department of State]
For the last couple decades, international relations scholars have fervently debated the credibility of signals during crises. Thomas Schelling’s work, followed by James Fearon’s audience cost theory and its offshoots, has popularized the belief that public signals are more credible because they implicate higher costs to take back. More specifically, costs from hand-tying through public words are greater than those from cost-sinking through public deeds. Private words are cheap. Some recent research has countered these claims by arguing that private signals can be just as costly in reputation as their public counterparts.

Two forms of path dependency have shaped and limited the contours of this discussion. First, likely due to Schelling’s enormous influence, most studies have focused on costs as the main and potentially only source of credibility. Second, without systematic data on diplomatic signals or how elites interpret them, scholars have used formal models and historical case studies to bolster their points. These methods have been valuable but also allow for different forms of cherry-picking.

At the 2017 MPSA conference, my co-author Azusa Katagiri and I presented a paper entitled “The Credibility of Public and Private Signals: A Document-Based Approach,” which offers two corresponding innovations to this debate. First, we present a novel rationale for why words exchanged behind closed doors may be more informative, and thus credible, than words exchanged in public. Second, we use text analysis and machine learning methods to create a comprehensive set of data on private statements, public statements, public actions, and White House evaluations of the Soviet Union during the Berlin Crisis of 1958 to 1963. These data permit the first quantitative study of diplomatic signaling and its effects.

The core of our theoretical argument is based on information processing/perception and relies on a more realistic understanding of the diplomatic environment, where policymakers are overloaded with tasks to perform and information to process. It is also intuitive. (Our argument’s framing has changed since we presented in 2017, so please check the revised paper.) So many statements are made in public that governmental actors—whether low-ranking desk officers or Cabinet members—cannot reliably keep up with or process them. Moreover, even though public statements are designed for and directed toward specific audiences, nobody can prevent other actors from noticing and (mis)interpreting those words. Public diplomatic statements are very noisy. In contrast, private diplomatic statements are infrequent, precise, and directed at one audience, all of which decreases their likelihood of being ignored or misperceived. This gives them important informational value and credibility.

We test these claims using over 18,000 de-classified documents from the Berlin Crisis of 1958 to 1963, which we photographed at the National Archives and the Eisenhower and Kennedy Presidential Libraries. This is a full collection of cables and memos during one of the most serious crises in American history. The documents come from three sources, which align with our concepts of interest: the Department of State (private statements from the Soviet Union), the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (public statements from the Soviet Union), and the White House (American elites’ assessments of Soviet intentions).

To convert these documents into quantitative data, we use a series of text analysis and supervised learning methods to make weekly-level measures of private statements of Soviet resolve (ostensibly costless), public statements of Soviet resolve (hand-tying), and White House perceptions of Soviet resolve. We also use The New York Times to manually create a measure of costly public actions by the Soviet Union (cost-sinking).

Statistical analysis points to three results:

  • First, costly actions have far greater impacts on perceptions of resolve than either public or private statements.
  • Second, private statements are indeed less frequent and more focused compared to public statements.
  • Third, and consequently, private statements of resolve are more credible and affect White House perceptions of Soviet resolve than public statements.

These findings completely rearrange the hierarchy of signal credibility. Most research on costly signals would put them in this order of credibility:

Public statements > Public actions > Private statements

However, according to the information processing perspective, as well as our data, we get this:

Public actions > Private statements > Public statements

Our research has implications that are relevant to the current diplomatic situation with North Korea. President Trump’s bellicose tweets throughout 2017 and early 2018 were indeed unprecedented and increased the risk of grave unintended consequences, but fears about being committed to conflict were overblown. Not only have President Trump’s erratic and inconsistent statements already undermined his credibility, but his tweets were only one of multiple streams of public statements from his administration that were more measured or sought to engage in diplomacy. (For example, consider positions taken by Secretary Mattis or former Secretary of State Tillerson.) Conversely, claims that President Trump’s tweets recently intimidated North Korea into coming back to the table are also debatable. U.S. troop deployments and joint military exercises with South Korea have arguably been more important to American credibility.

Private diplomacy is a vital conduit through which to make clear and direct statements to one’s adversary, stripped away of incentives to perform for an outside audience. Unlike what President Trump has said about diplomacy with North Korea in the past, it is not “a waste of time.” Mike Pompeo’s secret trip to North Korea, while clearly unorthodox since he was then director of the CIA, underscores this point. But it is also for this reason that direct talks between Trump and Kim may be unwise. The higher up the ladder talks start (before lower-level officials already work out issues behind closed doors), the less likely they are to be truly private, and the more likely it becomes for both individuals to engage in public posturing instead of substantive discussions.

Our paper injects a new theoretical and empirical perspective to the study of signaling. Not only do we highlight the importance of private diplomatic activity, but we demonstrate how contemporary computational methods can be harnessed to explore the dynamics of crisis diplomacy. We look forward to extending this line of research in the future.

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About the Authors: Azusa Katagiri is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Global Affairs at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. His other research focuses on the micro-foundations of state behavior, and bureaucratic decision-making in conflict, and US-Japan relations. He can be reached at
azusak@ntu.edu.sg.

Eric Min is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and will be an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles starting in the fall of 2018. His broader research applies new data and methods to analyze the strategic interaction of fighting and negotiating during war. He can be reached at ericmin@stanford.edu and is also on Twitter.

Their research “The Effectiveness of Public and Private Signals: A Document-Based Approach, presented at the 2017 MPSA conference, received the Robert H. Durr Award which recognizes the best paper applying quantitative methods to a substantive problem.

Foster Care Privatization: How an Increasingly Popular Public Policy Leads to Increased Levels of Abuse and Neglect

MPSA blog - Eatough - Foster Care Privatization

Foster care in the United States is dramatically influenced by federal and state legislation. Since the late 1990s policies establishing privatized foster care have become increasingly popular throughout the country. The privatization of foster care, much like the privatization of other government services, has been favored because of perceived increases in efficiency and economic effectiveness by private providers. However, opponents of foster care privatization suggest that by prioritizing efficiency and cost-effectiveness over the quality of placements children in the system receive there is an increased potential for abuse and neglect in the system.

My project, Foster Care Privatization: How an Increasingly Popular Public Policy Leads to Increased Levels of Abuse and Neglect, evaluates how differentiation in foster care privatization policies may influence the quality of care received by children in the system – specifically focusing on the incidence of abuse and neglect – by measuring potential effects of privatization through three analyses:

  • Whether changes in foster care policies have an immediate effect on the privatization level or incidence of abuse or neglect in a state.
  • Whether there are differences in placement goals by privatized and non-privatized agencies that reflect the hypothesized cost-effectiveness of privatization.
  • Whether children in privatized placements are more likely to experience abuse or neglect than children in non-privatized placements.

To measure each of these effects I used a dataset of each foster care placement and removal in the United States from 2000 to 2014 (from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System or AFCARS). This dataset is the most comprehensive set of information about children in foster care in the United States and includes demographic and placement/removal information for each child.

The first analysis, a set of 86 time-series models, showed that changes in foster care legislation have the potential to cause an immediate effect on the privatization level and quality of placements received by children in the foster care system. While privatization legislation did not indicate an immediate change in the privatization level or incidence of abuse in every state, the immediate changes seen in half the states with major privatization policies passed indicates that privatization policies may have a direct and immediate influence on the lives of children in the foster care system.

The second analysis, a substantive comparison of placement goals for foster children based on placement privatization, showed that privatized placement agencies favor case goals that make placements efficient and less expensive. Most notably, a significant decrease is seen in the probability of a child being adopted from a privatized foster care placement when compared to placements by non-privatized agencies.

The third analysis, a set of proportional hazard models, showed that increased levels of privatization lead to an increase of unfit placements in the form of an increased risk of abuse and neglect of children. Figure 1 below shows the variation in the risk of physical abuse over time based on system privatization level (similar results were seen in models determining the risk of sexual abuse, neglect, and abandonment). Significant differences are seen between the risks of abuse and neglect the longer children have been in the foster care system, with the greatest differences seen when children remain in the system for eighteen years.

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Figure 1. Risk of Physical Abuse Over Time

Each of these outcomes indicates that as privatization in foster care increases, the quality of placements for foster care children has the potential to decrease. These results show that foster care privatization, an increasingly popular public policy, increases the risk of abuse and neglect for children in foster care. The political debates surrounding the privatization of foster care have relied heavily on anecdotal evidence that makes it nearly impossible to identify actual policy outcomes.

This project uses data that has been widely underused to address this highly politicized debate. I think that as social scientists it’s incredibly important to consider what data may be available in other disciplines (in the case of this project using a dataset predominantly used by social workers and child abuse experts) to address questions that we have. Looking for political data from the outset as a means of addressing political issues limits our ability to address important political issues. The AFCARS dataset isn’t framed as political, but it can be used to address important questions about privatization policies.

While this project focuses primarily on the anti-privatization arguments, I’m continuing work on this project to identify whether there are differences in cost-effectiveness and efficiency between privatized and non-privatized foster care placements. My hope is that this project encourages further research on the effect of public policies on those who they impact most, particularly the impact of the privatization of social services on the lives of those who rely on them. Policies that change the way individuals access or are provided services from the government are particularly important to evaluate because of the potential for immediate and detrimental outcomes for those who rely on the service.

This project has critical implications for the policy debate about the privatization of foster care both in terms of the outcome of implemented policies and the way privatization should be evaluated going forward. The identification of increased levels of abuse and neglect in privatized foster care placements suggests that if privatization is to remain the goal of American foster care, it must be improved upon. Foster care is a system that is meant to keep children from being in unsafe and unhealthy environments, it is up to the policies implemented by legislators about how the system is run to ensure that children are not being moved from one abusive situation to another.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Author: Mandi Eatough recently graduated from Brigham Young University with a B.A. in Political Science and will soon begin working toward earning a Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Michigan. Eatough received the Best Undergraduate Paper Presented in a Poster Format for her research, “Foster Care Privatization: How an Increasingly Popular Public Policy Leads to Increased Levels of Abuse and Neglect “, presented at the 2017 MPSA conference.