Policy Implementation, Representation, and Democratic Governance

MPSA Blog - Policy Implementation, Representation, and Democratic Governance

At last year’s MPSA conference, Pamela McCann of USC Sol Price School of Public Policy was kind enough to ask me to participate in a roundtable discussion with other prominent scholars. The focus of the panel was “Why Do We Have No Theory of Policy Implementation?”. I agreed to participate and upon informing my friends in public administration and public management, many smiled quaintly and pondered whether we needed such a theory. Realizing I was serious, they wished me Godspeed as I was apparently about to descend from my own perch in regulatory policy and bureaucratic politics into the abyss.

Nevertheless, we do need a theory of policy implementation. For reasons I will note below, policy implementation is key to understanding policy change and outcomes broadly, and not just in the crevices left by public administration or public management. Policy implementation is fundamental to understanding enduring issues in American politics, such as representation, party governance, and democratic governance.

Let’s get to that question of importance first. Of the many things that scholars of political behavior have suggested drive voting behavior, one of these is the policies of the party in power—especially the party of the president. The assumption, sometimes heroic, is that voters sense when the party in power has moved too far left or right for their tastes, and in response, turn out the party in power. How do we understand this linkage in the context of administrative incompetence, or even more importantly, opposition party obstruction? If opposition parties are able to impede, or outright degrade, the quality of policy implementation, then citizens no longer judge policies, but their implementation. This leads to a quite different interpretation of representation and mass movements in party support.

In the United States, it is apparent that opposition parties are able to manufacture this dynamic. The Affordable Care Act, for instance, has suffered from day one due to decisions about implementation forced on the administration by the opposition. Similarly, as late as fall 2015, 20% of the regulations implementing the Dodd-Frank regulatory reforms of the financial sector were still unimplemented, confronting stiff opposition from the House Banking and Finance Committee. This phenomena works both ways. At the present, Democrats are holding out obstruction as one possible response to the recent election of Donald Trump.

For political scientists, this also opens up an avenue for studying party governance in a new way. Opposition influence does not end with the bargain struck in the legislative branch. Our recent past has shown, if nothing else, that debilitating the governing party’s attempts at implementation is a viable strategy for influence, and governing from the back. As for democratic governance, it emerges as a viable strategy for representation, even when out of power. In other words, credit-claiming and position-taking has both an affirmative, and preventative dimension relating to government action.

If I have convinced you that policy implementation might be important, why do we need a theory of policy implementation? After all, we have the prosperous fields of administration and management that bear heavily on many of the things bureaucracies do. It is difficult for research traditions built around the inner-workings of bureaucracies and administrative units to deal effectively with a problem that is inherently inter-institutional. The same could be said of bureaucratic politics with its focus on influence, the accumulation of power through reputation, and how bureaucracies navigate their political environment. Are these things important for understanding policy implementation? Of course they are, but they will never be theories of policy implementation.

Three characteristics of governance in American politics severely limit that ability of current research to speak to policy implementation. The first of these is the nature of the issues faced by government in the modern era. Issues like climate change, terrorism, and global economic interdependence are boundary-spanning (May & Jochim 2013) in nature—they cross many traditional substantive issues. As such, diverse interests and bureaucracies work within the same substantive area.

The second is bureaucratic competition in regulatory and implementation politics. My own work demonstrates that it is rare for one, and only one, bureaucracy to work within an issue area (Workman 2015). Bureaucracies compete to define policy problems, provide information, and steer the resulting policy debate with tremendous implications for policy implementation.

Third, federalism overlays the nature of these problems and the bureaucracies competing within them, adding an extra layer of consequences for policy implementation (McCann 2016). In many ways, the federalism components of the ACA’s implementation shaped resultant policy outcomes in the program for better and worse. Furthermore, there is ample evidence that legislators and parties were thinking about policy implementation when considering these choices.

If we understand policy implementation as important, and accept that a theory of policy implementation must move beyond our current approaches in management or bureaucratic politics, why now? The straightforward answer is that the problems and political dynamics we now face demand it if we are to understand policy change, outcomes, and how citizens intersect with governing structures. Beyond that, it is worth considering the history of policy implementation.

Policy implementation was born, grew, and expired long before the necessary conceptual and theoretical components necessary for understanding it where intellectually ripe. In other words, it was an important problem before its time. As Soren Winter, Christopher Barry and George Krause pointed out on the roundtable (Soundcloud audio above), many of our theories of politics today bear directly on policy implementation, including theories of delegation, the ecology of games, how governing systems process information, and how they accumulate expertise. None of this intellectual infrastructure existed when the concern for policy implementation burst onto the scene.

If not now, when? If not us, who? I hope that by connecting the study of policy implementation to larger concerns of democratic governance and representation, those in American politics, especially those studying legislators, parties, bureaucracies, and U.S. federalism, might forge a new line of research in policy implementation. The characteristics of modern governing structures, matched to modern policy problems demands it.

About the Author: Samuel Workman is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma, and author of The Dynamics of Bureaucracy in the U.S. Government. Workman served on the “Why Do We Have No Theory of Policy Implementation?” roundtable at the 2016 MPSA annual conference with Pamela Clouser McCann, University of Southern California, Chair; George A. Krause, University of Pittsburgh; Soeren C. Winter, The Danish National Centre for Social Research; and Christopher Robert Berry, University of Chicago.

Election 2016 Lesson for the Media: New Journalistic Norms Needed to Cover Elections

MPSA blog - New Journalistic Norms Needed to Cover Elections

The 2016 U.S. presidential election will stand out in the nation’s collective memory as a highly unusual event for many reasons. It featured two unique candidates, an election campaign that completely overturned the norms set by previous elections, a neglected voter base that showed an unexpectedly strong turnout at the polls, and a national media that missed a huge story.

The media, in particular, have received severe criticism for the role they played in promoting Donald Trump. Faced with a candidate who did not fit the traditional mold of a politician, mainstream media organizations struggled to come up with a plan that would help journalists inform the public while maintaining journalistic standards of accuracy, fairness and balance. Unfortunately, the existing rules of political journalism that favor controversy and poll-centric coverage did not help paint an accurate picture of Trump’s preparedness; instead they helped him win the presidency.

Throughout the campaign, Trump proved to be too much for the media to handle. Right from the primaries season, he made one outrageous comment after another. Given the lack of precedent for inserting commentary into straight news stories, the media simply reported his quotes as facts. Each comment drew enormous amounts of press attention, and when Trump drew criticism for his comments, his campaign issued denials, sparking off another deluge of press coverage. This strategy was hugely successful. During the 2015 campaign season, Trump’s media coverage translated into the equivalent of $55 million worth of ad value for his campaign. In contrast, he spent less than $15 million in ad buys in all media throughout 2015.

Another factor that favored Trump’s campaign was the media’s propensity to cover elections using horserace and game frames. Stories using these frames focus on candidates’ poll numbers and have little accompanying commentary. They are popular because they are less expensive and easier to produce than investigative or long form journalism pieces, but their inclusion comes at the expense of stories focusing on candidates’ issue positions. Given the media’s preference for horserace coverage and with Trump winning primaries and surging ahead in the polls, the resulting media coverage focused almost entirely on Trump and was either positive or neutral in tone throughout 2015. Between June and December of last year, Trump received 34 percent of media coverage, while all other GOP candidates received half this amount or lesser coverage.

After Trump won the Republican nomination in the summer of 2016, several media organizations began looking into his personal and business affairs in greater depth. The result was a series of articles on his failed business ventures, fraud allegations, racism, and his appalling attitude towards women. However, fearing they would be perceived as partisan and biased, the media tried to create a balance in coverage by publishing equal amounts of criticism on the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. They focused on one particular flaw—her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state. The result was a flood of media coverage on this issue, which created a false equivalency between the two candidates and portrayed them as equals, though they differed vastly in terms of temperament and experience.

Looking back at the media’s role in the election year, critics have made several suggestions to improve political reporting. First, given the unconventional nature of the Trump candidacy, the media should invest heavily in fact checking and run these as part of daily news coverage on the White House. Second, newspapers should make a consistent effort to include diversity of race, gender, and class in their newsrooms. This will help counter the “coastal bias,” which was a huge factor in causing the media to miss the surge among white working class Trump supporters. Finally, the media should gear up to report on what the president is actually trying to do, rather than focus on his populist tweets, and rally together to resist efforts to delegitimize the press. 

About the Author: Newly Paul is Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University. Her research focuses on political advertising, political communication, and race and gender in politics. Her website is newlypaul.weebly.com.


Recommended Reading: Themes from Election 2016

In the week since the election of Donald Trump, many citizens and political scientists are trying to understand both the underlying causes of the win while thinking about the implications for the citizenry and policy going forward. Here, we do not offer a full accounting of the election, but rather, outline three major themes about voters from this election and make some reading recommendations. These books and articles can both help illuminate this election as well help us think through what we need to know more about as a discipline.

The Enduringness of Partisanship

For all the many ways that this election was unusual, it was quite usual in the importance that partisanship play in people’s vote. As in most elections, the people who decided to turn out on Election Day 2016 identified with a political party and chose candidates based on this political identity. According to exit polls, upwards of 89% of Democratic voters voted for Hillary Clinton and 90% of Republican voters voted for Donald Trump. Politics is complicated and abstract, most people pay little attention to it most of the time, and rely on the relatively easy cue of partisanship to tell them which candidate to choose. Partisanship is a long-standing, durable identity that people develop through socialization and is now more central to social identity in a political environment that is more deeply polarized by party than in the past. Partisanship allows citizens to make relatively easy choices in the voting booth, but also shapes how they filter information about not only the candidates and the state of the world. Partisans see the economy and the state of the world as better when their preferred party is in the White House and worse when they do not hold political power.

Here, it is worth revisiting some classics on the formation and maintenance of partisanship, including The American Voter (1960), where Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes use survey data that are now the American National Election Study to show the importance of partisanship as an enduring identity that shapes our views of particular candidates and policies.

Philip Converse’s 1964 chapter, “The Nature of Belief Systems in the Mass Public” on the lack of ideology and ideological constraint in the public reminds us that while many voters have a partisan identity that does not always translate into a well-formed or coherent ideology. Strong partisans, then, are likely to engage in a variety of ways to reconcile disagreements between their partisanship and issue positions, meaning that partisans are more likely to switch their positions on issues to conform with their partisanship than the other way around. Here, we’d recommend Gabriel Lenz’s book  Follow the Leader: How Voters Respond to Politicians’ Policies and Performance and Milton Lodge and Charles Taber’s The Rationalizing Voter.

While we will not weigh on the issue of mass polarization here, there is ample evidence that party loyalty and straight-ticket voting has increased dramatically in recent decades. Gary Jacobson provides an overview of this trend in a recent article in the Journal of Politics (“It’s Nothing Personal”). Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster similarly highlight a growing connection between the results of presidential elections and the results of House and Senate elections (“The Rise of Negative Partisanship and the Nationalization of US Elections in the 20th Century,” Electoral Studies). They find that from 1960 to 1980, Republican House candidates won just under 60 percent of the districts where Republican presidential candidates did well. By 2012, party-line voting was so strong that Republicans had won 95 percent of contests in Republican-leaning districts while Democrats won 93 percent of contests in Democratic-leaning districts.

Abramowitz and Webster suggest the rise in partisan behavior reflects a change in the nature of partisan identity in American politics, what they call the rise of “negative partisanship.” Negative partisanship develops when the partisan identities of voters are bound up within other salient social and political identities, detailed further below. The effect is that supporters of each party view those in the opposing party as very different from themselves in terms of their social characteristics and values. Possibilities for split-ticket voting diminish as partisan divides increase, even when the party nominee is as unconventional as Donald Trump.

The dialogue and behavior of political elites are certainly contributing to these trends. Frances Lee’s new book Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign examines how competition for government control compels members of Congress to promote their own party’s image and attack that of the opposition party. (See also Sean Theriault’s Party Polarization in Congress and Barbara Sinclair’s Party Wars for additional insights into institutional changes that have spurred elite polarization.) Matthew Grossman and David Hopkins’ recent book Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats is helpful for grappling with differences between the two parties and the distinct policy agendas they are likely to embrace.

Social Identities Matter more than Policy

Partisanship is perhaps the most important social identity that people use to help guide their vote choice, but this election showed the power of other identities to which political scientists are just beginning to pay serious attention. Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels’s new book Democracy for Realists argues forcefully that it is identity, rather than policy, that drives political behavior.

Two intertwined identities that were activated and important this election cycle were rural consciousness and white identity. Two recent books, Katherine Cramer’s, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right help explain the importance of rural identity and how it undergirds anti-elite sentiment and opposition to government programs. Both Cramer and Hochschild use ethnographic methods to listen carefully to how people talk about their economic and social situations and their isolation from a government they believe has ignored and abandoned the places they call home.

Race is a consistent theme in American politics and attitudes about racial groups shape the types of policies that Americans support or oppose. Philip Klinkner and Rogers Smith’s The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America, Richard Valelly’s The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisements, and Daniel Tichenor’s Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America provide historical perspectives on how race and immigration structure our parties, institutions, and public policy. There is an extensive literature on attitudes about out-groups, such as racial resentment, or the belief that African-Americans undercut basic norms of hard work and are thus less deserving of government help. For examples, see Donald Kinder and Lynn Sanders book Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals and Martin Gilens Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Anti-Poverty Programs. There is also a literature about the development and mobilization of racial identities into politics, for example, Michael Dawson’s Behind the Mule on African-American political identity and Lisa Garcia Bedolla Fluid Borders: Latino Power, Identity, and Politics in Los Angeles on Latinos in American politics.

One identity that was clearly more prominent in this election cycle is white identity. One of the consequences of the presidency of Obama has been a consolidation of identities of what it means to be “white”. Changing demographics in the country, increase in immigration from non-European sending countries and the election of an African-American president are perceived to be a threat to the social hierarchy and have created a sense of loss and an identity that can serve as a mobilizing force. Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan Hajnal’s book White Backlash: Immigration, Race, and American Politics, argues that fears about immigration shape white American’s identities and these concerns drive whites away from the Democratic party and toward the Republicans. Ashley Jardina’s work argues that white identity is an important determinant in political behavior. One of the other questions raised by the overtness of appeals to white identity is whether the norm of racial equality that drove racial appeals to be more implicit in previous elections has now been eroded for good. See Tali Mendelberg’s The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality for a discussion of implicit messages.

Gender continues not to be a potent force in driving women toward solidarity; gender was a major theme in the election (both masculinity and what it means to be a female leader) but wasn’t enough of a threat to make white women abandon their partisanship to vote on gender solidarity. Despite some expectations that 2016 would produce the largest gender gap in recent history, the gap between the percentage of men and women voting for the winning candidate remained virtually unchanged from that in 2012 (10 percentage points in 2012 and 11 points in 2016). Kathleen Dolan’s work—Voting for Women: How the Public Evaluates Women Candidates–has long suggested that variables such as party and incumbency matter more for voting behavior than candidate gender, which we saw in this election, as well.

Although there are well-known examples of sexism in American elections (men shouting “Iron My Shirt at Hillary Clinton in 2008”, for instance), the evidence is mounting that women candidates do not suffer different electoral fates than their male counterparts. Deborah Brooks’ He Runs, She Runs: Why Gender Stereotypes Do Not Harm Women Candidates also challenges the conventional wisdom that women candidates are held to a different standard than male candidates. A recent article in Perspectives on Politics by Danny Hayes and Jennifer Lawless shows that candidate sex does not affect media coverage or voter attitudes toward candidates, and that partisanship, ideology, and incumbency weigh more heavily in the eyes of journalists and citizens alike. Of course, there is not enough data to systematically examine whether voters are biased against female presidential candidates. It is quite possible that something gendered is going on at the highest rungs of the political ladder, but with an N of 1, it is too early to know.

The Emotional Substrates of Politics

Emotions get citizens involved in politics – compelling people to pay attention, to leave their house on election day, to contribute their time and their money to campaigns. Anxiety, enthusiasm, and anger are some of the most common emotions in political life (see George Marcus, Michael MacKuen, and W. Russell Neuman’s Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment). These emotions affect what people know about politics, how they make decisions, and what policies they prefer. Election 2016 focused on multiple types of anxiety – economic anxiety, racial anxiety, immigration anxiety, anxiety about the character of both major party candidates. Anxiety leads people to seek protection, and immigration anxiety, which was a major theme of Donald Trump’s campaign tends to benefit the Republican party, since the Republicans are seen as better on the issue of immigration (see Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World by Bethany Albertson and Shana Kushner Gadarian).

While anxiety can shape opinion, it is anger and enthusiasm that affect the decision to participate in politics. Campaigning for Hearts and Minds by Ted Brader demonstrates that enthusiasm is a motivator of turn-out, but enthusiasm for Clinton did not appear to have enough steam, at least in the Midwest states where changes in turn-out may have turned the tide for Trump. One of the most prominent emotions this election cycle was anger – anger at elites, anger at the press, anger at China for trade practices, anger at immigrants. Anger is a powerful motivator of action – in “Election Night’s All Right for Fighting,” Nicholas Valentino and colleagues show that anger can bring people to the polls, and in 2016 anger appears to have driven many citizens who had not voted recently to the ballot box.

There are many more themes from this election that deserve more attention, including the alignment and potential realignment of the political parties, polarization, populism, and authoritarianism. Americanists have much to learn from our colleagues who study the rise of right-wing parties in comparative politics as well as our colleagues in sociology, history, and psychology to understand both the decisions of voters in November as well as some of the consequences of that vote in the months and years to come.


About the Authors: Shana Kushner Gadarian is associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University. She studies American politics with a focus political behavior, political psychology and political communication. She is co-author of Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World .

Danielle Thomsen is an assistant professor of political science at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University. She studies American politics, U.S. Congress, and gender and politics. Her book, “Opting Out of Congress: Partisan Polarization and the Decline of Moderate Candidates” is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

MPSA Member Interview: Emily Kalah Gade

Emily Kalah GadeEmily Kalah Gade is a PhD Candidate at the University of Washington at Seattle and has recently been awarded a Moore/Sloan Data Science and Washington Research Foundation Innovation in Data Science Postdoctoral Fellowship. She also competed at the 2012 Olympic Trials (rowing) in the lightweight double sculls and placed second in that same event at the 2013 US National Team Trials. Gade is also the two-time champion and current course record holder in the lightweight women’s single scull at Henley Women’s Regatta (UK). Here we ask her a few questions about her experience and perspective:

Congratulations on your Moore/Sloan and WRF Innovation in Data Science Postdoctoral Fellowship! What do you wish non-academics knew about civilians in conflict zones, political violence and nonviolent resistance?
Thanks! Well, given all the talk about terrorism in the context of the presidential election, I’d say this: it’s hard to conceive of a civilian experience in a conflict zone from most of the West, or to hold space in our daily lives to empathize with the darkness that mars certain human experiences. I think that makes it hard to understand the choices people make when they are soaked in the deep horror of those circumstances – including turning towards violence. Political violence or insurgency are often conflated with “terrorism”, effectively vilifying people who stand against a state. While denoted definitions of terrorism vary, the connotation of terrorism seems to be using violence against civilians for a loosely defined political aim, which in my view is never justified. Some people who stand against a state should be vilified, but others have legitimate grievances and few alternatives. In some cases, people using violence against a state are not the only ones committing grievous crimes, and indeed may not be committing the most grievous crimes. Many of these movements are victims in their own right, and use nonviolence as well, which often goes unnoticed in the West. State abuses of human rights are underreported, especially when compared with the amount of press non-state actors’ violence receives. I think it is easy to forget about the power disparities between even governments we think of in a positive light and the people they govern, or to forget that America too was born of revolution (and terrorism) against the British Crown.

Mixed up somewhere in all of that, stories of suffering from these conflict zones have become almost titillated, like slowing down to look at a car crash on the freeway, and I think they voyeurism of that helps us remove ourselves from those experiences. It’s hard to remember that there are positive things happening in conflict torn places too, that people have babies and get married and fall in love in all but the most extreme situations, and I think that helps construct people who live in those areas as “other”. When people are conceived of as “the other”, “the victim”, or especially “the radical”, their lived experiences in those spaces, and the human quality of each interaction, is sanitized or distorted, and the soul of each person’s story, its humanity, is gone.

Who has had the greatest influence on your research and/or career?
Mary Kaldor. I read her book when I was a Masters student at the London School of Economics and immediately signed up for her class. She ended up being (albeit briefly) a wonderful mentor. I really admired her scholarship, she gave me great feedback on my Master’s thesis, told me to try to publish it, and her belief in my project gave me confidence I hadn’t had before. It doesn’t hurt that she is a truly sweet human being. Afterwards, I switched from studying sustainable ag/development to conflict/political violence and haven’t looked back!

What are the similarities between sculling and political science, if any?
I’m not sure how similar they are, but I think I approach them in almost exactly the same way. I would say I learned the following from being an elite athlete:

  1. How to take big goals and break them down into manageable daily activities
  2. How to find ways around seemingly insurmountable obstacles
  3. How to deal with sometimes scathing criticism, learn from failure, and endure pain/ discomfort
  4. How to hone self-control and self-discipline
  5. The importance of good self-care and recovery habits (!!), and,
  6. Above all, just keep going!

I think almost all of that applies to getting a PhD or to writing an article/book.

Do you have a favorite writing resource or process to keep you motivated?
Having a writing schedule. Working out before starting!  Keeping work out of my personal life and personal time (don’t work in bed, don’t work in designated “relax”/social times). Making sure to take breaks (even just to stand up and walk around) every 45/hour or so.

What would you tell undergraduate students considering a career in political science?
Sky’s the limit! Political science is the study of why people do what they do, basically. That means you have a lot of freedom to study whatever it is that makes you tick. I think the whole area is fascinating, but if you aren’t into research and writing than might not want to make it a career!

What are the top three things on your bucket list?

What book are you currently reading for leisure? Are you enjoying it?
Ghost Fleet – Sci-fi by a political scientist! It’s great. 🙂

This post is part of a series of interviews with our members. Read more MPSA Member profiles.

MPSA - Emily Kalah Gade

Supranational Courts: Are they the New Legal Titans?

The International Court of Justice
The Hague, Netherlands – August 2, 2016: The International Court of Justice is the primary judicial branch of the United Nations. Seated in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands.

In October 2016, South Africa followed Burundi in withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC) asserting bias by the United Nation’s Security Council in its case referrals (Duggard, 2013; Strydom, 2015; The East African, 2016). They point out that the United Nations Security Council has referred cases from Sudan and Libya with only black Africans brought before the court (BBC, 2015). South Africa and other African states charge that the ICC has “lost its direction” (Strydom, 2015). Established in 1959, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is another exemplary supranational court. The United Kingdom’s (UK) Conservative Party pledges to sever ties with the ECtHR (Travis, 2015) as it impinges on British sovereignty (Watt, 2015). The previous Labour Party government was supportive of the ECtHR and continues to support it while in opposition (Hansard, April 26, 2016). During the last half century, there has been a marked increase in the number of supranational courts and the number of acceding states. Having acceded, however, why do states sever ties with supranational courts?

In acceding, states delegate legal decision-making authority to supranational courts (Helfer and Slaughter, 1997).  As the highest court in the judicial system, the final appellate court is the last judicial forum reviewing legal challenges. A central issue for all states, therefore, is the organization of the judiciary and its role in furthering “peace, order and good government” (POGG) as a feature of constitutional rule (Yusuf, 2014).  The final court lends legitimacy to the policies of the governing coalition, which Dahl (1957) describes as the congressional “lawmaking majority” (284). This legitimizing role makes the judiciary an important participant in the national decision-making process (Dahl, 1957) as governing coalitions pursue their visions of POGG. It is itself, therefore, a “national policy maker” (Dahl, 1957). Shapiro (1964) refers to this notion as “political jurisprudence” (16). As challenges to policies percolate up the judicial hierarchy, legitimization of those policies by the judiciary is an important issue (Dahl, 1957). Reliance upon a supranational court as the final appellate court is seemly incompatible with the modern notion of sovereignty (Swinfen, 1987). I suggest, therefore, that the governing coalitions will seek to remove the supranational court if it perceives a disconnection with the court. This perception is influenced by changes in the political environment that make the state more sensitive to a court over which it has no direct control. If the governing coalition perceives a disconnection with the court, the remedy is to replace it with a national court. I suggest that states sever ties when they perceive the court as incompatible with the policies goals of the governing coalition. This potential juncture is a function of a change in the political environment that increases the disconnection between the governing coalition and the supranational court.  At that juncture, it is more likely that the governing coalition will abandon the court. The importance of the political will to effect change was summarized by the former President of the New Zealand Court of Appeal, Sir Thaddeus McCarthy. He stated in 1976 that he had no doubt that the questions surrounding severing ties with the JCPC “are ultimately political questions” (Richardson, 1997).

International Criminal Court
The Hague, Netherlands – July 5, 2016: The International Criminal Court forecourt, entrance and sign at the new 2016 opened ICC building.

I assert that the political environment can be captured in three categories – drastic change, subtle change, and no change. I define the categories as follows: (1) no change – the state does not experience any change in the political environment when a new governing coalition comes to power with a commitment to the constitution and the continued good governance of the state. This does not preclude law reform, but does not fundamentally change the relationship between the state and its citizens. While there may be a new governing coalition after an election cycle, the basic tenets of a free political environment continue. The new coalition basically pursues the same broad policies but pledges to do a better job; (2) subtle change – the election of a governing coalition with a new vision that underpins new domestic and international policies (Elordi, 2000). These are pursued without fundamental systemic changes to the governing institutions or the rights and liberties of the citizens of the state. While this may also involve constitutional changes, the changes do not fundamentally change the governance landscape (Grace, 2015); and (3) drastic change – includes the promulgation and adoption of a new constitution that fundamentally changes the governing institutions, as well as the rights and liberties of the citizens of the state. In other words, these changes generally alter the relationship between the citizens and the state, or they expand or reduce the range of fundamental constitutional rights (Grace, 2015; Thoburn v Suderland City Council, 2003). Though the process may differ, drastic and subtle changes increases the likelihood that ties with the supranational court will be severed but no change maintains the status quo.

There is evidence that supranational courts will continue emerge in the world community (Specht, 2015). As supranational courts such as the ICC, the ECtHR, the International Court of Justice, the Caribbean Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights continue to adjudicate and other courts emerge around the proliferation of international law, understanding the dynamic relationship with states is crucial. Ultimately, ties with supranational courts depends much less on the performance of the court. It is the governing coalition’s emergent political will in a changed political environment that drives the relationship with the court. The future of supranational courts, therefore, depends on the domestic political environment that influences governing coalition commitment to development and vibrancy of supranational courts.

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. In his previous lives, he was a social worker, a health communications project manager and an attorney-at-law. He can be reached via email at youngh@apsu.edu.


Political Science: The Cure for Election Anxiety

Reporters are discovering a new phenomenon this year: election anxiety.  This year’s contests, particularly the one for President, have Americans worried and minds racing.

The cure is right here: political science. It is the key to calming mental chatter, reducing stress, re-centering energy, and living in the now.

According to advocates of mediation and mindfulness, just sitting still and breathing deeply can bring everything from feeling slightly more peaceful to pure joy. As mindfulness advocate Eckhart Tolle would say, there is only the present moment. It’s always now.

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”

In this particularly bizarre election year, it can be hard to breathe.  Political news (or “news”) can be a major source of angst. Just think of the worries cascading through politically-informed Americans’ heads right now — Tolle could easily use them as examples in his next book. When we’re worried about politics, we’re not living in the present moment.

Did you see the latest polls?  What if the candidate I don’t favor wins the election? Why are voters so angry? What about the latest scandals/revelations/stories/rumors and how will they affect the outcome? How about all those undecided voters? I read some really bad things on the Internet about some of the people supporting my candidate’s opponent. I don’t like any of the candidates–what do I do?

And on, and on, and on.

Tolle writes, “Most people are still completely identified with the incessant stream of mind, of compulsive thinking, most of it repetitive and pointless.” (Tolle, 2005)

Sound familiar, political junkies?

One of political scientists’ favorite pastimes is debunking these racing thoughts. Larry Bartels’ famous takedown of Thomas Frank (of What’s the Matter with Kansas? fame), is a case in point. In 2016, political science offers a reminder that fundamentals generally drive voting behavior, and that is just as true in a year when a politically untested, anger-spewing real-estate developer faces a former First Lady with an e-mail problem, as it would be in a more normal election cycle.

Consider the following insights: calming thoughts offered by political science to calm the endless, often pointless stream of thoughts cascading through our heads as Election Day, 2016 approaches.

1. There are hardly any undecided voters.

If the news media has a favorite theme, it is all the drama, worry, and suspense about undecided voters. Even the normally-sober Economist got into the act at one point, joining the usual suspects in fretting that vast legions of Americans have absolutely no idea whether they will vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton this November, and the election is in their indecisive hands. So much to worry about!

Relax: it’s mostly nonsense. As John Sides points out, there are hardly any true undecideds. Those appearing in polls as undecideds are generally partisans or “independent leaners” who are waiting for the candidate whom they will probably support to close the deal. The Nation’s Jon Wiener notes that the vast majority of Donald Trump’s supporters voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, and the vast majority of Hillary Clinton’s supporters backed Barack Obama that year. Little wonder that Nate Silver’s famously accurate state-by-state predictions now look nearly identical to the 2012 red-and-blue map. For the most part, the same voters are voting the same way in the same places.

Oh — and about those “independent” voters: they’re not really so independent. The vast majority of independents are independent leaners, who vote nearly as partisan as do strong partisans.

The bottom line? There are no vast legions of indecisive, uncommitted voters waiting to sway the election.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in…

2. This is not the year of the angry white male.

If there’s any truism (besides the undecided voters) that obsesses reporters these days, it’s the angry white males backing Donald Trump. This idea is intuitive. And, for the most part, it is wrong.

On the surface, some voters’ resolve to stick with Trump despite his impulsive statements and raucous supporters seems to support this meme. Easier to forget, is that we have been down this road before. There have been numerous years of the angry Caucasian man before now, going back at least to 1968. A case in point is the first term of the George W. Bush Administration, when journalist David Brooks informed his readers of a major, sociological split between Republican-voting “red” and Democratic “blue” states, regions, and counties — fundamentally different cultural values cleaving the nation. (This year’s angry white male would be analogous to the red-state values identified by Brooks.)

Brooks’ analysis gave his politically-curious readers a treasure trove of speculations — grist for the mill, material to mull. Not all of it stands up to strict scrutiny. Morris Fiorina rebutted many of Brooks’ claims, showing through rigorous data analysis that most Americans are not politically polarized, only political elites are. Most Americans are political centrists even on divisive issues like abortion rights, on which they favor certain restrictions but not a complete ban. Of course, most Americans also hate politics.

Sorry, no “red America” and “blue America” here… and no legions of angry voters, either. Instead we have Democrats, who tend to be urban, younger, more secular, and less likely to be married or white, and Republicans, who tend to be rural or outer-ring suburban, middle-aged or older, white, married, and religious (particularly Evangelicals). Except for political elites (who can make a lot of noise) the two groups are not as far apart on the issues as Brooks may think they are.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out…

3. Third party candidates are unlikely to swing the election.

Another thing that keeps brains burning all night is the worry that third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will throw the election. In particular, what appears to be lackluster support for Hillary Clinton by former Bernie Sanders supporters has observers wondering. Yet, hard data suggest that the vast majority of voters in both parties’ primaries will support the final nominee, even if they were not that voter’s first choice. Like the vocal elites creating the impression of “red” and “blue” Americas, the handful of angry Bernie supporters walking out of the Democratic National Convention created a lot of heat — but few votes. It does appear that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore Florida and the presidency in 2000, but only due to the absurdly-close margin by which Florida was decided. If the difference between the two candidates is larger than Florida’s 0.009% was in Y2K, third-party candidates are unlikely to throw the election.  As that hyperlinked article above by Herron and Lewis notes, had Nader not been in the race, about 60% of his supporters would have voted for Gore, about 40% for Bush. The difference does produce a number large enough to have tipped the outcome–but not by much.

4. Debates, game changers and gaffes rarely make a difference

Here’s a radical idea: don’t watch the final presidential debate on Wednesday. Presidential debates contain little information and are not true debates.

Political junkies and journalists love to recall the famous “gaffes” of years gone by, particularly those made during Presidential debates. Richard Nixon had a five o’clock shadow. Gerald Ford didn’t think Poland was under Soviet domination. Jimmy Carter let his 13-year-old daughter name the nation’s top foreign policy priority. Michael Dukakis had no emotional reaction to the thought of his own wife being raped and murdered. George H.W. Bush looked at his watch.

It did not matter.

Comprehensive analyses of public opinion data before and after these debates and gaffes shows little long-term shift in public opinion as a result. Gaffes may give the chattering mind something to sink its teeth into, but that’s about all they do. Elections are still determined by fundamentals, particularly deep partisan ties (including those held by independent leaners) and the state of the economy. There aren’t many “game changers.”

So it goes, on and on. We could toss in a few other observations, too, such as noting that vice-presidential nominees have almost nothing to do with election results.

Political science reminds us that this year’s election will be decided by the fundamentals: partisan ties and the economy, just as were previous elections. All the heat and noise that unsettles us, from polls to angry voters to gaffes to vice-presidents, serve primarily to give the chattering class — and chattering minds — something to do instead of living in the now. It is not necessary nor particularly productive to speculate about these things, and we might all be better off just sitting still.

Turn off the TV and the computer.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in…. breathing out, I know I am breathing out…

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.



One PhD Candidate’s Roadmap for Successful Co-Authorship

All of us at one point or another have either considered or have been involved in a co-authored project. With the way academia is evolving, co-authorship is not only encouraged but it is fast becoming the norm especially in Political Science. But we hardly see discussions on how it works and the challenges that one faces while working on a project with others.

And this is what I want to talk about in this post; experiences and lessons of working on co-authored projects. Below I discuss the four major lessons and approaches that I have picked up while working with my co-authors. My intention is to share my experiences in an effort to start a discussion as learning to work with co-authors is beneficial especially to grad students who are just starting out in the field.

Work with People You Get Along With

This advice sounds straightforward enough but a large number of people never end up following this. First, let me clear up what I mean with the phrase – “get along with”. If you do not like someone or have a friendship with the next person at a human level, please do not work with them. This stands true for your professors, fellow grad students or any other academic. Co-authorship is a stressful process as it demands two or more people come together and put in to the work to create a good product. There is a balance that needs to be maintained in order for that product to be created. In academia that product could be the paper or the book you are all working on. With people you actually like at the personal level, you have the rapport to speak your mind and have open discussions because sometimes you need to be blunt about issues such as division of work and admitting mistakes in models or data. That has to be done in a manner where the next person or persons do not feel that they are being blamed or accused.

That relationship at the person level, helps you have those honest discussions without actually breaking the team or adding an air of hostility. I am not saying be best buddies with your co-authors but at least know them enough to know how to have honest conversations with them. For instance, one of the papers I am hoping to present at the upcoming MPSA is a co-authored paper with a close friend and colleague. The discussion on whose name should go first lasted about 15 seconds because I knew she had experiences in the past where people practically brought a project to a halt because of arguments over this. Even something so basic becomes a big deal if you do not have the rapport with the next person.

Start on a Brand New Project

When you are going to work on a co-authored project with someone, please start a brand new project. It can be an iteration of the work you have done in the past but it cannot be literally the work you have done in the past added to someone else’s past work. What I mean to say is, do not try to lump two similar projects together to create a new piece of work. That does not work out well because then there are arguments over who takes credit for what. Instead, build a new project with a new research question where you can each bring enough to the table to qualify as a competent co-author. For example, recently I have been doing field work in Turkey. I have been studying the bureaucracy and how it responded after the failed coup attempt. My colleague and friend has done work on Turkey but from the perspective of party structures and populist parties. Instead of just lumping our work together or tagging on to each other’s work, we decided to work on a whole new question that we could tackle from multiple angles. This way we do not have to fight over who gets more credit or who is going to write what portion. We can take a stab at writing different portions of it while having active discussions on them. And this leads in to the next point I wish to make. Have regular meetings.

Take Out Time, Have Regular Meetings

Even if you work together or hang out regularly, when you are working as co-authors it is a great idea to find specific time to meet. This professionalizes the whole process and it actually helps you to focus on the task at hand. All of us are busy with a number of different projects at most times, so it makes sense to dedicate time to work on a project that you are doing with someone else. Most importantly it signals how serious you are about the work and you respect the next person’s time. Plus, when you dedicate time to work and brainstorm on a project together, you normally end up coming with great new ideas and approaches that you can discuss on the spot and build upon instead of working on them separately. The key here is to remember that this is not two individuals working on the same thing, you are a team that is working together to create something.

I am currently working with a professor of mine on a paper that is out of our comfort zones. The reason we chose to do that was because we wanted to build on something new by bringing together our expertise and understanding. So once a week, we block off a 3-hour slot to just sit and work on our paper. Because there is a rolling deadline every week, it is easier to establish milestones and then follow up on them.

Have Clear Milestones and Deadlines

One of the biggest issues with producing any kind of work is having a timeline and sticking to it. But in co-authored projects timelines become a critical issue and determine either the success or failure of a partnership. Having regular meetings helps you establish dedicated time to work on the project together but it also allows you to set up milestones and establish deadlines based on those milestones. Dividing up work in a manner where those deadlines can be met helps all those involved be on the same page. Additionally, it also sets up a work division where everyone feels they are doing their part of the lifting. This also cuts down on false credit claims and arguments over doing or not doing the required work. Point being, deadlines and milestones need to be established early on as they are fundamental to getting the project off the ground and then eventually finishing it off.

As I mentioned in the beginning, these are some of the lessons and experiences I have understood while working on co-authorships. I strongly believe that doing work in such a setting is a great idea and helps us all work on different things simultaneously but it requires a certain kind of discipline. The ideas I discuss above help establish that discipline and simplify the process that can sometimes be very tricky.

About the author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate, a Graduate Research Assistant and Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures.

7 Keys to a Successful MPSA Proposal Submission

Editor’s Note: Since this blog post has been published, MPSA’s proposal deadline for papers, complete panels, and roundtables has been EXTENDED to Tuesday, October 18, 2016.

Knowing that political science scholars and students are deadline-driven, we anticipate that traffic to the MPSA website will increase as we approach the October 6, 2016 conference proposal deadline. If you intend to submit a proposal for the upcoming conference, this post is for you! The following tips will help you reduce stress as you face the upcoming proposal deadline:

Activate Your MPSA Account. Over the summer, we upgraded our website to integrate with an enhanced conference proposal submission system. The two systems will allow seamless access to your MPSA accounts and an easier conference proposal submission process, though this improvement requires each returning site user to create a new username and password. If you haven’t, we recommend taking a few moments today to activate your MPSA account. (Learn how to activate your existing account.)

Review this year’s Submission Guidelines. The MPSA Submission Guidelines have been revised to account for updates to our proposal management software. Please take a moment to review the new guidelines before submitting your proposal to avoid surprises.

Consider the best format for your research: Session formats for 2017 include (1) Panel, (2) Lightning Talk, (3) Poster, (4) Lecture, (5) Roundtable, (6) Junior Scholar Symposium, and (7) working group. Find more detail on the Session Formats and Role Descriptions page.

Choose (up to) two sections. In most cases, you may submit your proposal in up to two of over 80 sections. First year graduate students are only eligible to present in a poster or Lightning Talk format.

Write it out. We recommend that you write your overview and abstract in your favorite software before you log into the system, then copy and paste it into the text boxes.

Remember to keep it short. Be prepared to encounter these character limits (includes blank spaces and punctuation):

Title = Maximum 250 characters
Brief Overview = Maximum 250 characters
Abstracts = Maximum 1,250 characters

The new proposal system does not have a built-in word counter, so be sure to check in your word processing program or on an online site like Word Counter Tool.

Submit early and stress less. By preparing and submitting your proposal in advance of the deadline, you remove the potential for the self-imposed stress that can surround the hours before a deadline.

Once you receive confirmation of your submission, mark your calendar for important MPSA conference deadlines including the dates when notifications begin, scholarship and registration deadlines. Follow @MPSAnet and #MPSA17 on Twitter for the latest on the 75th annual conference.

If you have questions, just ask!  Please contact MPSA membership staff at mpsainfo@mpsanet.org with questions about account activation and MPSA conference staff at conf@mpsanet.org with your questions about the conference. 

3 Questions for MPSA Member Emil Ordukhanyan


Emil Ordukhanyan is Senior Lecturer at UNESCO Chair on Human Rights, Democracy and European Studies at Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences-Armenia. Ordukhanyan is also the founder of the Armenian Political Science website. Here we ask him a few questions about his experiences:

  • What projects are you currently working on? 
    Currently I work with my research group on the following project: Consociational Democracy: Political Morphology and Potential of Realization in Post-Soviet South Caucasus Countries. In our research we found out consociational democracy is one of the most actual theories of democratization for post-soviet societies, especially for those in South Caucasus region. My research group is convinced the model of consociational democracy is a real tool to face the challenges to democracy in post-soviet South Caucasus societies. I really believe our research will be the rebirth of this concept for post-soviet South Caucasus changing societies, because otherwise the variations of democracy which are built in these countries are a direct way to pseudo democracy or even ethnocracy.
  • What is the one thing that you wish everyone knew about your research?
    I am convinced the concept of Consociational Democracy, being always actual for political science, is especially vital for South Caucasus plural societies which are aiming democratic values as priority. This is the only way to build democracy, rule of law and peace in this region.
  • Who has had the greatest influence on your research and/or career?
    In my very first research I was deeply influenced by the following work of Samuel Phillips Huntington “Political Order in Changing Societies” because this work helped me to understand and to analyze political order with its peculiarities in post-soviet Armenia as changing society. I’m sure this work of the eminent professor is always actual and irreplaceable for the world political science.For my current research the works of the honorable professor Arend Lijphart on democracy and democratization are very useful. His concept of Consociational Democracy is the keystone for my research.As for my career, I’m very grateful to my PhD supervisor, Academician Dr. Gevorg A. Poghosyan and I’m also thankful to Dr. Levon Gh. Shirinyan to help me in my current research.

This post is part of a series of interviews with our members. Read more MPSA Member profiles.

In the Shadow of Tragedies: Our Responsibility to Protect

MPSA Blog - In the Shadow of Tragedies: Our Responsibility to Protect

“State sovereignty, in its most basic sense, is being redefined-not least by the forces of globalisation and international co-operation. States are now widely understood to be instruments at the service of their peoples, and not vice versa.”
     – Kofi Annan (1999), Former Secretary General of the United Nations

In the shadow of the tragedies in Cambodia, Rwanda, Somalia and Kosovo, the world is witnessing the horror of the ongoing and complicated intrastate war in Syria and the smoldering conflicts in Burundi and Ukraine (to name only a few). Calls for intervention to stop flagrant human rights violations have not yielded real results. It begs the question of the responsibilities of the state for the welfare of its citizens and what responsibilities other states have to those impacted by intrastate wars.

The modern state is generally recognized as having emerged in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Year War (1618-1648). The state is a pillar of the international community where the sovereign state as the primary and most powerful actor in international relations (Mearsheimer 2001). Keck and Sikkink (1998) argue, however, that the state has lost some of its potency as a political variable and have elevated the role of non-state actors. Further, the authority of the state “is, increasingly, being either shared with, sustained by, or constrained by these proliferating authorities” (Strange 1995, 67). The growth and thickening of international law, therefore, is an important issue as the role the state plays in global politics evolves.

The effects of these changes indicates a reappraisal of the concept of sovereignty and internationalizes the protection of human rights. This may be opening the door for more internationally sanctioned humanitarian intervention particularly when the state is experiencing intrastate conflict. Humanitarian intervention can be defined as the threat or use of force by a state, group of states, or international organization to protect people in the target state (Murphy 1996). Humanitarian intervention also includes those state interventions whose declared goal is to stop or prevent human suffering though the intervening state(s) may have unrelated and/or underlying motives for intervening (Voon 2002). The debate around the issue of protecting of human rights, therefore, juxtaposes the support of universal human rights against the premium of national sovereignty (Booth, 2001). Further, the idea of international human rights law departs from the concept of state sovereignty and the state-centric approach to international law (Brown 1999). Finnemore’s (2003) assertion that post-cold war intervention in states are legitimized when based on humanitarian grounds, not only changes the purpose for which interventions are used but possibly rearranges the concept of sovereignty (see also Ling 2013; Hopwood 2013).

This issue of a third party state(s) intervention can be examined through the prism of two questions. First, what is the status of ‘sovereignty’ if a government exercises authority or acquiesces to actions detrimental to the citizens? Second, can a new paradigm of legitimatized humanitarian interventions be reconciled with the asymmetry of power between states? An examination of the U.S. policy developing out of the Kosovo intervention in 1999 may be helpful in understanding the state’s criteria for supporting humanitarian intervention. Following President Clinton’s speech on U.S. involvement, National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, offered three criteria underpinning the policy: (a) there must be genocide or ethnic cleansing; (b) the U.S. must have the capacity to act; and (c) a U.S. national interest must be at stake (Brown 1999). It should be noted, however, that the commitment to act does not reflect any international commitment but primarily reflects U.S. interests.

This combination of state foreign policy doctrine and use of force for humanitarian interventions, concerns some states. Smaller and weaker states are concerned that this trend makes them possible targets under the ruse of a ‘humanitarian intervention’ by stronger states (Hall 2013). This dampens clamors for intervention in other troubled states as leaders wonder if they could be next. Even more powerful states have reservation as was seen with Russian opposition the intervention in Kosovo although that did not preclude their intervention on the Crimean Peninsula. In reality, condemnation of or action in support of human rights are not distributed equitably to suspected and known violators (Schachter 1995).

The literature is not short on suggested ways forward. Despite discussions about prevention and enforcement of international law (Wang 2004; Telhami 1995; Damrosch 1993), the focus continues to be on armed interventions (jus ad bellum) and the nexus between protection and international criminal tribunals (jus post bellum). Former U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan (Annan 2012), calls for the international community to “devote our energies to strengthening and using those measures short of the use of force. These must include more effective and enforced use of targeted financial, travel, and economic sanctions on the leadership” (para 28). I suggest, therefore, that the primary goals should be twofold. First, preventing the crisis in the first place thereby retaining the integrity of the individual, the state, the U.N. and international law system. Second, building the political will to respond to crisis thereby upholding the world community’s commitment to human rights and international law with force as a last resort. Meanwhile, wars rage and smolder in the hotspots around the world as a seemingly paralyzed international community struggles with sporadic attempts at cease fires and humanitarian aid to victims.

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. In his previous life he was a health communications project manager, a social worker and an attorney-at-law. He can be reached via email at youngh@apsu.edu.