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

The following is part of a series of posts written by MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences and in the American Journal of Political Science.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Problem With Discretionary Philanthropy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources of Authoritarian Responsiveness: A Field Experiment in China

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Humanitarian Missile Attack? Responsibility to Protect (Redux)

MPSA blog - Humanitarian Missile Attack?

“There’s not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime…. regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria”  – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley (April 9, 2017)

As the ongoing and complicated intrastate war in Syria festers in the shadow of the tragedies in Cambodia, Rwanda, Somalia and Kosovo and the smoldering conflicts in South Sudan, Burundi and Ukraine (to name only a few), the latest action by the Trump Administration is worthy of examination. Ongoing calls for direct intervention to stop flagrant human rights violations have not yielded real results. It begs the questions 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 answers may indicate a reappraisal of the concept of sovereignty and internationalize the protection of human rights. 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). The debate around the issue of protecting of human rights juxtaposes interventions in support of universal human rights against the premium of national sovereignty (Booth). 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?

The state is a pillar of the international community where the sovereign state is the primary and most powerful actor in international relations (Mearsheimer). Others argue, however, that the state has lost some of its potency as a political variable and have elevated the role of non-state actors Keck & Sikkink. Further, the authority of the state “is, increasingly, being either shared with, sustained by, or constrained by these proliferating authorities” (Strange). Yet persuasiveness of either position is debatable. Following the Bush administration’s (mis)adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s reticence about direct involvement in regime change and nation building was understandable. Some suggest those were lessons too-well-learned leading to an overly hands-off policy. In the case of Syria, the Assad regime remains the de facto and de jure government of Syria with all the rights and responsibilities represented in part by its seat at the U.N. Recent developments under the Trump Administration is a pivot in this crisis. The firing of 59 missiles at a Syrian airbase by the U.S. Navy on April 7, 2017 should cause pause about the role of powerful states in the international community. The position of the Trump Administration is further complicated by the seemingly contradictory statements on Syria. First U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that the attack was a one-off event in response to the chemical attack on civilians by Syria’s Assad regime on April 5, 2017 and that the removal of President Assad is not the number one priority for the U.S. Then, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that peace is not possible in Syria while President Assad remains in power (Schulberg).

An examination of the U.S. policy developing out of the Kosovo intervention in 1999 may clarify the state’s criteria for supporting humanitarian intervention. Following President Clinton’s March 24, 1999 speech on U.S. involvement, then-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). It should be noted, however, that the commitment to act does not reflect any international commitment but primarily reflects U.S. interests. Using this as a benchmark, does the decision to Syrian attack satisfy these criteria? Clearly, there is genocide and the U.S. has the capacity to act. Establishing the validity of the third criteria is a bit more nebulous. Is the disaster in Syria a threat to U.S. national security? The debates continue on this issue.

This dynamic of intervention policy and use of force for humanitarian interventions, concerns some states. Smaller and weaker states are concerned that this trend makes them possible targets of “humanitarian intervention” by stronger states. A Reuters report on the North Korean response is exemplary of this concern. The unnamed North Korean spokesperson is reported as saying that the Syrian attack supported and justified its drive for nuclear weapons as a shield to any possible intervention. As a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group heads to the Korean Peninsula, Secretary Tillerson states that the North Korean nuclear missile program is dangerous and something must be taken to stop it. While the U.S. appeals to China to do more to rein in North Korea, the U.S. President tweets that the U.S. will deal with the Korean problem even without China’s help. Meanwhile, the North Koreans state they will respond to what it calls reckless aggressive actions by U.S. (Reuters). Further, Russia and Iraq who are allies of the Assad regime characterize the U.S. missile attack as aggression which crosses “red lines” (Reuters). Cynics may wonder if that is the same “red lines” President Assad crosses when he bombs and gases civilians. Finally,

Despite discussions about prevention and enforcement of international law (Wang; Damrosch), the focus continues to be on armed interventions (jus ad bellum or “right to war”) and the nexus between protection and international criminal tribunals (jus post bellum or “justice after war”). The 2011 removal of President Gadhafi and the ensuing chaos in Libya is a good case study for the disadvantage of not having an international agreement on guidelines and frameworks for interventions (Thakur). It is unclear, however, how far the Trump Administration is willing to go in Syria, North Korea or anywhere else based on the current mixed signals about its guiding policy or plan of action.

Meanwhile, wars smolder and rage in the hotspots around the world precipitating death, destruction of vital infrastructure, internal populations displacement, refugee crises, and economic pressure on neighboring states. Without clear international leadership, a seemingly paralyzed global community struggles with sporadic attempts at cease fires, limited humanitarian aid and now a 59 missile attack on a single target is characterized as a response to genocide.

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

The Loss Lab

“Trump was an alternative to interchangeable robots whose goal is to avoid saying anything interesting.” – Molly Ball, political reporter, The Atlantic

“If you wanted to write a playbook for how to lose an election, Trump did that and he won anyway.”  – Steve Peoples, AP reporter

What rotten luck for political scientists! We had just become established as purveyors of credible data analysis that can help real-world political campaigns target their resources, and then… Well, see the quotes above.MPSAblog-MediaRoundtable

The quotes came from this year’s MPSA roundtable on the media and the 2016 election, in which Ball and Peoples were joined by CNN reporter Nia-Malika Henderson and political scientists Jennifer Lawless of American University and Danny Hayes of George Washington University. The discussion was free-wheeling and wide-ranging, but a few themes did emerge. First, Democrats are in a world of hurt. Second, Trump mobilized voters that do not normally vote, both in the primaries and in the general elections. Third, Trump opponents should be on notice — his popularity among his base is rock-solid and the Democrats offer few alternatives right now, save the simple, unconvincing negation of being not-Trump. Fourth, the news media did not take Trump’s candidacy seriously and thus did not rigorously fact-check his claims until well after he became a serious contender. Fifth, regular folks, including women, do not take Trump’s offensive rhetoric regarding gender as seriously as do those of us in the establishment bubble.

Finally comes the theme that relates to Molly Ball’s quote above; one which will trouble political scientists. Trump ran against the very political establishment which our discipline helped to create. Unless Trump’s election is a pure aberration — which these reporters doubt — the data-driven political consultancies discussed in Sasha Issenberg’s seminal book The Victory Lab lie in shambles, and the future for political scientists in campaigns is unclear.

A very brief history: while the study of politics goes back to ancient civilizations, the modern-day discipline of political science emerged here in the United States. In the early twentieth century, the discipline was associated with scholars such as W.W. Willoughby, and Woodrow Wilson, who later became U.S. President. Early political science was largely descriptive, focusing on what we now call institutions — Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency (the office, that is, not just personal biographies of presidents, which are the bailiwick of our colleagues in History).

In the 1920s, scholars like Charles Merriam, who ran for mayor of Chicago, began to turn the discipline toward analysis of behavior. His classic book on non-voters was an early attempt to suggest that if the reasons why people don’t vote could be isolated, they could also be ameliorated. Happy days, and higher voter turnout, would surely follow. The belief that human behavior was subject to scientific analysis and “correction” was perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the times, where scholars in other disciplines promoted such approaches. Engineer Frederick Taylor, for example, believed that “scientific management” could bridge the gap between labor and management with a common goal of efficiency. In our discipline, public administration scholars like Wilson suggested similar goals for those working in growing bureaucracies: efficiency, not ideology. In practice, like Merriam’s failed bids for mayor, it didn’t quite work out as planned.

By the 1940s, the advent of early computers and spread of the telephone opened up new research avenues. Studies of voting behavior using polling proliferated at Columbia and Michigan, with Michigan’s iconic Institute for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) eventually emerging on top. Through the mid-to-late 20th century, data-based analyses of voting behavior were sobering, even cynical, with classic studies like The American Voter suggesting that most Americans had little understanding of political ideology, and that relatively well informed, strong partisans cancel out one anothers’ votes, leaving elections in the hands of the least informed, most fickle, undecided voters. By the 1970s, many political scientists went so far as to assert that campaigns had little impact, with fundamentals like the state of the economy and presidential approval telling us all we need to know, to predict the next election.

Next came rational choice theory, which rested on the assumption that individuals take rational actions in pursuit of goals (the goals themselves could not be judged as rational or irrational, only the actions; the goals simply were.) Rational-choice resembled economics and featured very sophisticated, mathematical models, some of which utilized no data and were purely theoretical. The goal was to make the study of human, political behavior more truly scientific, with rigor resembling the physical sciences — but then came the backlash.

The ‘90s saw Green and Shapiro’s Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory achieve great popularity by skewering “rat choice” as un-useful in predicting real-world outcomes. Meanwhile the discipline’s perestroika movement took its name from the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev and sought to re-establish traditional approaches like area studies in comparative politics. They even ran rival candidates for the boards of political science associations, and won enough seats to make their point.

By the early 2000s, the new trend was experimental research. In particular, Yale’s Alan S. Gerber and Donald Green conducted field-based research on what approaches and messages were most effective at mobilizing voters (they concluded that old-fashioned, in-person canvassing worked best). As documented by Issenberg, political campaigners began to notice. While initially skeptical, political campaigns began to hire political scientists as consultants. Gerber and Green helped out on Rick Perry’s bid for Texas Governor, where they targeted media buys and candidate appearances. Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s right-hand man, was also a fan. Democrats noticed, too. In 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign invested heavily in these political-science-based approaches, making very precise, precinct- and even voter-level predictions and targeting appeals accordingly. Obama’s victory only encouraged them, and the consultants were back in 2012, this time working for both campaigns.

As documented by Issenberg, the data-driven revolution in campaigns was nearly complete, old political hacks having to share the back rooms with these new number-crunchers. Targeting displaced market-share-based TV ad buys as the go-to strategy for serious candidates.

And then… Trump.

As Peoples notes in the quote above, Trump’s campaign used none of these insights. There were no political scientists on staff. There was no targeting. Trump’s preferred and often his only strategy was campaign rallies, widely dismissed by our discipline as only mobilizing those who already, enthusiastically support the candidate and having no effect on undecideds or those needing mobilization. Peoples points out that Trump campaigned as if bound and determined to do the opposite of everything detailed so carefully in The Victory Lab. And he won.

Now what?

Granted, political scientists pushing for renewed relevance in our discipline did not put all of our eggs in the Victory Lab basket. The popular Monkey Cage blog features well-respected scholarship that speaks in real time to policy challenges, and serves as an inspiration to this and other political science blogs that have sprung up in its wake.

Yet, if Trump’s win is not idiosyncratic–time will tell–the data-driven microtargeting that had just emerged is now called into serious question. The approach may still work for down-ballot races, but we can only use trial and error to determine that. The first order of business, of course, is for our discipline to deploy our formidable skills to determine why we did not see this coming.

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.

 

Four Stormy Days – #MPSA17

This year’s MPSA has been an interesting experience as opposed to other years. That is due to a near perfect storm of political events in the last few months. Add to this already interesting mix the fact that, due to inclement weather and flight cancellations, we end up with a more intimate conference with content that barely fits into four days.

The centerpiece to the conference, as always, are the expert roundtables and late-breaking sessions that for once are discussing critical issues like the executive order on travel and immigration, rise of populism, need for civic engagement, and the role of media in today’s world. But that is not all, this year one of the most awesome things is how much of a difference #WomenAlsoKnowStuff has made. The panels look and feel different. The voices and issues being discussed are of academic and public interest. It is refreshing to see an environment where one is encouraged to speak up and present their ideas without fear of being shut down or critiqued without logic.

I was fortunate enough to attend several panels during the first two days including two round tables; civic engagement of academia and media’s role pre-and post-election 2016. The civic engagement panel was phenomenal because for once academics are speaking up and having conversations about how to engage with the larger audience and not just an epistemic community. Matthew Lebo of Stony Brook University and Jennifer Victor of George Mason put in to words what I have been feeling for a while; we (academics) need to start engaging with a public at a very basic level. What this means is, we need to engage at school level, university level, and mass media. For a while now, there has been a heated debate in academia about the use of social media by academics to push their work and ideas. I have always been a proponent of this approach because how would we let the rest of the world know what amazing work we are doing given that majority of this planet does not have journal subscriptions but probably has twitter or snapchat.

This ties in to the next point I want to make that I observed in the panel on media’s view of the Election 2016 campaign with guests like Molly Ball from the Atlantic, Nia Henderson from CNN and Steve Peoples from the AP. During the discussion, the panelists were asked why the media allowed abundant free press coverage to now-President Trump. The answer by all three media persons was that he was interesting. When asked to elaborate, the unanimous reply was that he was always available and he was saying weird stuff that gets attention. This naturally opens the discussion on why academics need to be more involved in public engagement. For media in general, profits and numbers of viewers are far superior to facts and critical analysis. In absence of true experts, we are left with glorified media personalities who everyone assumes can talk policy. For instance, consider the level of know-how about the middle east or even health care that Alex Jones does compared to literally any middle east expert at the MPSA conference right now.  The difference is that Alex Jones has spent his life engaging with the public about his views, as outlandish as they are. So it only makes sense that in an environment where media is more interested in getting a fun story rather than a factual one, as academics we must step up and take the responsibility of protecting facts and logic.

The other set of panels that I was fortunate enough to attend included the Author Meets Critics session for the awesome new book by Christina Wolbrecht and Kevin Corder that talks about the women’s suffrage movement and incidents after 19th amendment came in to force. The excellent book not only details cases at the state level, it provides a set of answers to the question, “What happened to women voters after the 19th amendment?” Did the turnout shift the political power balance? How did voting patterns change over time? All these questions and others are answered in this book as it sets up a wider discussion for future work in the field.

So far, the MPSA conference has been fantastic and I hope the kind of discussions we are having this year will translate into work that reaches a wider audience. The blogs, social media presence, and op-eds help expose our research to a wider audience. We need that in these post-truth times.

About the Author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science, Georgia State University. He is also a Student Innovation Fellow at Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CETL) at GSU and Taiwan Fellow 2017 at National Sun Yat Sen University, Kaohsiung (Taiwan). His research focuses on role of bureaucracies in democratization and populist clientalistic appeal in new democracies. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and his website.

Election 2016: Did New Voting Laws Tip the Balance?

Since the early 2000s, a flurry of new voting laws have passed in the states. There is a marked Democrat-Republican divide.  Democratic-leaning states, such as California, Oregon, and Massachusetts, have passed laws making access to the ballot easier.  Oregon now automatically registers citizens to vote any time they do business with the state.  California does the same for those getting driver’s licenses — a must in many parts of a car-crazy state. Massachusetts joins a few other states in allowing pre-registration of 16 year-olds, who then automatically enter the voting rolls upon turning 18: a policy that North Carolina also has, for now, depending on court rulings.

Republican-leaning states, meanwhile, have taken a different turn.  Under the auspices of curbing voter fraud, GOP legislators and governors have passed a flurry of new restrictions.  Critics, myself included, are quick to point out the dearth of evidence for those voter fraud claims. Yet the theoretical possibility, anecdotes, and research by Richman, et. al. indicating that some fraud may go undetected, all combine to make a case for new laws requiring state-issued Photo ID at the polls, proof of U.S. citizenship to register, limiting early voting, complicating third-party voter registration drives such as those once undertaken by the controversial ACORN, and so forth.

Critics, again myself included, argue that these restrictive new laws are not neutral in their effects.  Research by scholars such as Matt Barreto (.pdf) indicate that African-Americans, Latinos, the poor, the disabled, and the elderly are more likely to lack photo ID.  Stories, admittedly anecdotal, circulate about voters having trouble getting birth certificates.  Some were not born in hospitals and were never issued birth certificates, while others contain clerical errors requiring a Kafkaesque legal labyrinth to untangle.  One thing most of these voters seem to share: a tendency to vote for Democrats;  that is, they if are able to vote at all. The popularity of these new restrictions in Presidential and Senatorial battleground states like Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin, heightens worries.

What was the bottom line in 2016?  Did the laws put a thumb on the scales and ensure Donald Trump’s victory?

I dove into this question for our roundtable, “Did It Matter in the End? Restrictive Voting Laws and the 2016 Election,” presented at this year’s MPSA conference in Chicago. Using ArcGIS mapping and multivariate regression, I traced the shift in voter turnout in each county in the U.S. I also considered the impact of various independent variables, such as percentage of white residents in a county, economic growth or decline, population (an urban-rural measure, since rural counties have smaller populations), and other factors as controls to explain vote changes between 2012 and 2016.  In addition, I put in the new voting laws.  After controlling for the “usual suspects” which explain partisan shifts and turnout change, is there anything left for these new voting laws to explain?  In other words, did they have an impact?

In terms of turnout, the evidence does suggest that restrictive new laws may have had an impact, at least in certain regions.  The most dramatic contrast is between Ohio and Pennsylvania, two states that “flipped” from Democrat to Republican in 2016.  Ohio shows marked turnout decline relative to the Keystone State. However, there is no clear partisan impact resulting from this.

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In the map above: darker green=higher turnout relative to 2012, lighter = lower turnout

To the north and west of these states lies a region containing three states which flipped from Obama to Trump (Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin) and one where Trump made major gains but did not win (Minnesota). In the northern Midwest, only Wisconsin had new, restrictive voting laws take effect between 2012 and 2016.  Sure enough, turnout dropped in diverse, urban, Democratic-voting Milwaukee County, by 0.3%.  Problem is, it also shifted in other area urban counties. In fact, the 3% drop in Hennepin County (Minneapolis), and 2% drop in Polk County (Des Moines) were both greater than that in Milwaukee—and Minnesota and Iowa had no new voter ID laws.  Wayne County (Detroit) and Cook County (Chicago), also in states with no new restrictive voting laws, had smaller drops at 0.2% and 0.01%, respectively.  Again, it is important to note that I am computing turnout as a percentage of the country’s adult population, as per U.S. Census population estimates from the year before the election.  Furthermore, the turnout drop in Milwaukee did not come with a Republican shift—if anything Milwaukee shifted to being more Democratic—more so than Detroit or Minneapolis.


In the map above, red=Republican shift, blue = shift away from Republican. Milwaukee is the southernmost blue county on Lake Michigan, in eastern Wisconsin

 

In other words, the results did not fit the prediction that restrictive new laws would hinder Democratic vote share.
The results were even more startling with my regression analysis.  Regarding turnout, the imposition of other new restrictions (limiting early voting days, reigning in organized voter registration drives, etc.) correlates with higher voter turnout — evidence of a possible “backlash” effect.  Democrats in affected states may use the presence of these laws to mobilize constituencies that feel targeted by the laws, a sort of “don’t let them take your vote away” message, which colleagues and I found may have boosted Democratic turnout for Pennsylvania in 2012, when that state did try to implement new voter restrictions. It probably didn’t help that a Republican leader in the state legislature boasted that the law would deliver Pennsylvania to Mitt Romney.

Even more startling was my regression for Republican vote share. Even when controlling for other factors (% white, job loss, urban-rural, etc.), there is a strong, negative relationship between the imposition of these new laws and Republican vote share.

That’s right: it appears that restrictive new voting laws hurt voter turnout for Trump.

How can this be?  A thoughtful, post-election analysis by two reporters at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests an answer.  Journalists Kristina Torres and Jennifer Peebles secured the entire voter file for Georgia and analyzed it for patterns.  Their findings: counties that showed strong increases in support for Trump, mostly rural, also showed significant increases in ballots cast by new and infrequent voters in 2016.  Meanwhile, some of the voters from 2012 did not vote this time.  The result was an older, whiter, more-rural electorate.

New voting laws are likely to have the greatest impact on new and infrequent voters.  Those who vote regularly will adjust to a photo ID or proof-of-citizenship requirement, while those that do not may not be prepared for the changes.  Given that Trump appears to have mobilized new and infrequent voters, it makes sense that those voters would be the most “thrown” by new requirements.

Thus the impact of new restrictions appears to be greatest on those who are new to voting–one of Democrats’ biggest fears, but with a twist, in that it was the Republican, not the Democratic candidate, that mobilized such voters in 2016.  This is not to say that the laws won’t hurt Democrats next time, as they are the party that typically tries to bring in new voters through registration drives, election-day canvassing, “souls to the polls” drives for Sunday early voting at predominantly African-American churches, and so forth.  Yet it appears to be Trump that took the brunt this time – and it did not prevent his Electoral College victory.

Finally, a personal note: I dislike these laws.  I find scant evidence for the voter fraud claims used to substantiate them, and I see little rationale (.pdf) for them other than for the purpose of hindering those who do have a right to vote, from exercising that right.  I also think these laws, passed with few exceptions by Republican state legislatures, clearly are meant to target Democrat-leaning voters. At the same time, I am a political scientist, and facts are facts.  The fact that these laws appear to have hindered vote shifts to a (quirky, unexpected) Republican candidate this year does not mean they will do the same in the future. More importantly, it does not justify the laws. The voter-fraud premise remains as flimsy as before, while evidence of disparate impact on society’s most vulnerable remains credible.

The suggestion that the laws hinder Democratic vote share has always been an understood supposition in the debate over them, but it is not part of the actual, legal case against them. Most importantly, as political scientists we must go where the data take us. These laws do appear to be affecting elections – just not in the direction predicted… at least, not this time.

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.

Judicial Review, Federalism, and Representation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Ruling by Distraction

MPSAblog-Rasool-RulleByDistraction

To rule by distraction is a time-tested tool of autocratic and authoritarian regimes. It is a go-to move for non-democratic regimes when faced with a challenge, domestic or international. As the name suggests, this approach is simple but effective. The idea is to create enough chaos and distraction that all eyes remain on that. The key is to make “normal” a moving target (i.e. change what it means to be normal on a regular basis). Doing so allows for drastic steps to take place behind the smoke screen and distractions.

A simpler way to understand this is to consider how bot net attacks work. Essentially when hackers bring down a website or a cyber system, what they do is simply overload the system with bot net queries. If a system is built to handle a million queries a minute, the system crashes when it is hit with 2 million queries. And while everyone focuses on the system crashing, no one notices the data stolen or traffic diverted.

Now let’s employ this to what happens every day in Washington these last few days. The morning starts with denials of Russian involvement, Rep. Nunez’s collusion with the White House, intelligence community up in arms and the latest Executive Order on immigration and visas being put on hold by courts in Hawaii. The average viewer/consumer of current affairs knowledge is already overloaded to take in all of this. Their focus moves beyond the fact that the proposed American Health Care Act (aka Trumpcare) failed miserably in Congress even though the GOP controls both houses. The average viewer has also forgotten that the President tweeted a baseless claim about wiretapping a couple of weeks ago. He was widely-assailed for that at the time, but the story did not stick. By overloading the attention span of the average person, the administration can push past any governance disasters. Because the news cycle is so small and there is so much “news” nothing sticks long enough to make an impact.

Why This is Dangerous for Democracy

A democracy relies on checks and balances in the system. Transparency through checks and balances allows people to continue trusting the governance institutions. Unless the people trust the governance institutions, they will not trust the democracy.

In a “rule by distraction” situation, the survival of the administration depends on people not being able to process the complete information. By creating multiple simultaneous distractions, the administration overloads the attention of its citizens. In essence, then, they are not lying to the people, they are just creating enough alternative explanations that “truth” becomes debatable. Add political polarization to this and consistent bashing of the “other” side and you have a loyalist following locked up that will disregard anything that questions the government.

To have some context on this – consider the example of Turkey in the recent weeks and months. Turkey will have a referendum in mid-April to determine whether it will effectively crown President Erdogan, the king by giving him sweeping powers but not the title. In run up to the referendum, the Turkish government has successfully changed the major news story every day. They picked a fight with Netherlands and Germany that escalated in to a fight with the EU all within a space of three days while they were losing soldiers in the Syrian incursion. Government ministers were slamming the US and its refusal to turn over Gulen while the U.S. Secretary of State was visiting Turkey this week.

Through perpetually distracting the viewers, AKP has successfully taken the focus away from the question of whether it was Gulenists who were behind the coup attempt or if it was some other group. The distraction has also helped take away focus from the fact that thousands of academics and journalists are languishing in jails under exaggerated charges while more than one hundred thousand people have lost their jobs. Because the distraction of a showdown with the European Union is more newsworthy, these smaller news stories have gone under the radar. Plus, through polarization, there are two groups of people in Turkey now, those who will vote yes and those who will vote no on the referendum. The only loser in this process is democratic norms of checks and balances through transparency.

Act Not Distract

The reason rule by distraction has worked so well in the U.S. so far is because the media is struggling to disaggregate news and distraction when the same authority is creating both. In this scenario, it is our responsibility as scientists, academics, and intellectuals to keep the focus on facts. We cannot fact check everything; what we can do is fact check our domain. What we can do is explain to our students, friends, and family how this cycle works. The news cycle needs to be slowed down, and we need to be a party to that.

We often discuss standing up for science; we hardly go in to details of how to do that. One way to do that is slowing down the news cycle by unpacking stories and issues. More crucially, we need to teach the society how to do that. Unless we focus on specifically doing this, we can expect the malicious cuts to arts and sciences that we have witnessed in the last few months. If the public does not know the value of our work i.e. proving and disproving ideas as facts through evidence, they will see no need to support it. Rule by distraction puts democracy at risk, as political scientists we have a duty to push back and reclaim space for facts.

About the Author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science, Georgia State University. He is also a Student Innovation Fellow at Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CETL) at GSU and Taiwan Fellow 2017 at National Sun Yat Sen University, Kaohsiung (Taiwan). His research focuses on role of bureaucracies in democratization and populist clientalistic appeal in new democracies. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and his website.