The theme of the roundtable presented on April 8, 2021, was “Can Democracy Survive?” Ken Kollman introduced the event, noting that the survival of democracy was a question that Miller and Converse worried about. Their ambition was to study survey respondents and political parties and candidates much like other scientists studied cells and atoms and planets, but they cared about the fate of democracy. Their legacy of scientific inquiry into politics and society continues at ISR and CPS. A recording of the event is available below.
Ken Kollman: Moderation and Extremism in American Political Parties
Political parties are changing and adopting new issue positions, says Kollman, and the mass public pays attention to these movements. Both partisanship and voting decisions respond to the people’s evaluations of these partisan positions relative to their own interests.
Kollman makes the case that both major parties in the United States are perceived to have moved away from the center since 2008. These patterns include a continuation of the shift of the working class towards the right and the Republicans the shift of more educated voters to the left and the Democrats. These shifts have consequences for politics and for the survival of democratic processes.
Most people in the US hold their partisanship for life, but notable portions of the electorate change over the course of their lifetime. The most common reason they change is that they perceive the major parties as moving away from them or toward them on issues of fundamental importance, including economics and racial liberalism. They change much less often because of the performance of a party in office or because they change their ideology or issue preferences.
In The American Voter, Miller and Converse wrote about partisanship as a result of socialization; they argued that partisanship shapes the perceptions of events, of candidates, and the vote. Kollman and Jackson don’t necessarily argue with this. The American Voter portrayal of partisanship remains robust and is good at predicting the vote. In contrast, Kollman and Jackson focus on the dynamics of partisanship and how partisanship changes. Group memberships based on interests and elements of socialization determines partisanship. It’s malleable and they model it as a form of what’s called Bayesian updating, a method of modeling how people incorporate new information in their decisions.
Kollman and Jackson are continuing to analyze the patterns from the past to predict what’s going to happen in the future if the two parties take different positions. The chart below shows how different groups of voters would respond if the Democratic Party moved to the left. What they find, first, is that partisanship becomes more Democratic for every group as the Republicans become more extreme. African Americans are complex in that they prefer the state of the Democratic Party in 2016, but their partisanship actually drops away if the Democratic Party moves to the left or moves to the right. Among white voters, the Democratic Party would lose partisans (and votes) if it moved to the left.
The trends of both parties away from the political center are worrisome for many people. Extreme party positions, including the pursuit of extralegal strategies to either pass policies or hold and maintain power, could become more likely as parties become more extreme.
Rob Franzese: What Causes People to Become Political Extremists?
What explains the rise of far-right nationalist-xenophobic and rightwing populism in the United States and other developed demoocracies? Robert Franzese presented research to address this question.
Scholars have noted that the rise of anti-immigrant, anti-globalization, anti-elite, anti-government sentiments correspond to a sea-shift of white working class voters to the right. One explanation for this shift is the notion that people have been left behind socioeconomically, and experience angst as a result. While support for parties farther to the right increased everywhere, it is especially notable in regions experiencing economic hard times, demonstrating support for these economic explanations of voting behavior.
Surveys have examined whether the shift to the right was attributable to socioeconomic malaise and decline, or whether it was due to cultural status threat. The data from these surveys seem to suggest that the political shift resulted from preceved xenophobic threats and it doesn’t have anything to do with the economic conditions.
However, Franzese contends that this conclusion is both wrong and wrong-headed. Instead of either/or explanations for political shifts, he suggests that we think in terms of both/and. Both neighborhood socioeconomic malaise and xenophobic anxiety associated with cultural change are both part of a broader sense of socioeconomic and cultural threat, as described in the graphic below. Franzese emphasized the importance of heterogeneity of perceptions. Some people are more susceptible to demagogic railing against the elite, the media, and foreigners. Other people will be immune, and may even become more repulsed by populist appeals.
This approach shows that the socioeconomic conditions the individual experiences are partly contributing to social-cultural threat perceptions that produce support for extremism. It’s not just economic hardship that creates the response, but economic hardship contributes to the sense in some respondents that their group is being left behind.
Extremism, especially far-right extremism, is a rising threat to democratic society. Therefore, understanding better the provenance of this rising far-right extremism and concomitant rise in rightwing populism is urgently essential. Casting the possible causal processes as some xenophobic or socioeconomic threat perception is unhelpful. These processes are better understood as complementary.
Pauline Jones: Democratic Survival, Using Lessons from the Muslim World
Pauline Jones notes that many people think that democracy is either unlikely or impossible and due to familiar tropes that Islam and democracy are somehow incompatible.However she contends that democracy and Islam are not incompatible at all. Muslim democracies exist all around the world. Several Muslim-majority countries have transitioned to democracy in the latter half of the 20th cenury, and there are Muslim-majority democracies in multiple diverse regions across the world.
Survey research shows popular support for democracy among Muslims, and that Muslims are mostly supportive of democracy as a form of government, and they do not view democracy as incompatible with their religious principles or institutions. Furthermore, democracy itself is in a constant state of struggle to survive. Jones describes democracy not as an outcome, but a process toward resilience. Democracies are constantly undergoing a test of vitality.
There are two key dimensions to typologizing varieties of democratic vitality. The first is duration: the length of time that a country maintains a certain level of democracy since its initial transition to democracy. Both geographically and temporarily, it’s important to consider the context of that particular democratic state. The second dimension is trajectory: the overall trend in a country level of democracy since its initial transition to democracy. Trajectory measures how consistently a country has improved or maintained the level of democracy over time, since its transition.
To measure the level of democracy, Jones uses the Varieties of Democracy Electoral Democracy Index (DDI). This score focuses on the role of elections as the core feature of democracy, and includes aspects of the political system that increase the likelihood that elections will result in democratic outcomes. She then created a typology based on the dimensions of duration and trajectory, which describes four modes of democratic survival, depicted in the graphic below. Democracies are grouped into categories including striving, thriving, waning, and backsliding.
Striving democracies have short duration, but an upward trajectory. The thriving category is the best case scenario: long duration and upward trajectory. In the waning category there is neither duration, nor trajectory. Democracy is just not taking hold, and this is where you might see the transition away from democracy. Democracies in the backsliding category have long duration, but have a downward trajectory.
Jones investigated eight Muslim majority countries and fit them to these modes: Albania, Malaysia, Mali, Tunisia, Indonesia, Senegal, Kyrgystan, and Turkey. She found, surprisingly, that for that most of the Muslim-majority countries in the sample were striving are thriving.
The key takeaway from this research is that democracy is an ongoing struggle to survive. Jones challenged the audience not to think about democracy as meeting some threshold, but rather as a sort of ongoing struggle, and to think about it as varying degrees of vitality, as opposed to focusing on the mortality of democracy. This, she concludes, allows us to have some degree of cautious optimism. Democracy faces constant challenges; survival is just a matter of the degree of the threat and the strength of the institutions meeting that threat.
Post developed by Katherine Pearson and Mai Hassan.
States can exert powerful social control over citizens. In her newly-published book, Regime Threats and State Solutions, Mai Hassan demonstrates how leaders use their authority to manage bureaucrats to advance their policy and political goals.
By controlling which bureaucrats are hired, where they’re posted, how long they stay in a post, and who gets fired or promoted, leaders can induce the bureaucratic behaviors that will help keep them in power.
Focusing on Kenya since independence, Hassan uses qualitative and quantitative data gleaned from archival records and interviews to show how the country’s different leaders have strategically managed the public sector. The data show that the strategic management of bureaucrats existed under the one-party authoritarian regime beginning with Kenya’s independence in 1963, and continued after Kenya’s transition to an electoral regime in 1991. Under both regime types, leaders were able to co-opt societal groups that are needed for support and coerce the groups most likely to challenge the regime.
Haasan examines how leaders rely on bureaucrats to manage popular threats against the leader such as protests and strikes. First, she argues that leaders assign bureaucrats with deep social bonds to those areas where the leader needs to co-opt the local population. These deep social bonds compel bureaucrats to work on behalf of the area. But in areas that need more coercion, the leader tends to prevent the posting of bureaucrats with deep local roots because those who have deep roots will be unwilling to coerce locals.
Second, she finds that the parts of the country that are most strategically important for the leader — and thus, the areas of the country where bureaucratic compliance is needed most — are staffed by the most loyal bureaucrats, those who are most willing to help keep the leader in office. Leaders can also neutralize the risks of disloyal bureaucrats by carefully managing where potentially disloyal officers are posted and how long they stay in their posts.
Why would a leader hire or promote disloyal bureaucrats in the first place? Hassan addresses this question by showing that most state bureaucracies are not actually packed with the leader’s in-group members, who tend to be the most loyal. Elite threats, such as coups, tend to be more pressing than popular ones. Leaders can appease rival elites by hiring and promoting bureaucrats who are loyal to elites other than the leader. Strategically posting and shuffling bureaucrats allows the leader to recruit potentially disloyal bureaucrats in order to temper elite threats, while still relying on loyal bureaucrats to prevent popular threats where they are most likely to emerge.
Overall, Hassan’s analysis shows how even states categorized as weak have proven capable of helping their leader stay in power. Her work demonstrates how the strategic management of bureaucrats solves both elite and popular threats, and in doing so, highlights why bureaucrats must be taken seriously. States may assert power, but states do not act: bureaucrats do.
Post developed by Katherine Pearson and Diana Mutz
Foreign trade is a complex issue, but the public still has strong opinions about the issue. Diana Mutz demonstrated that social psychology can help to understand attitudes about trade when she delivered the 2019 Miller Converse lecture. A recording of her talk “Winners and Losers: The Psychology of Attitudes Toward Foreign Trade” is available below.
Most people rely on small-scale social experiences to understand large-scale interactions such as international trade. From this understanding, people tend to embrace beliefs about trade that are not necessarily accurate. For example, folk beliefs suggest that impersonal transactions are more dangerous than personal ones, that trade is zero-sum, and that trade “deficits” mean that a country is losing more jobs as a result of imports than it gains due to exports. These beliefs are inaccurate, yet understandable, generalizations from the world of face-to-face social exchange.
Contrary to popular wisdom, trade preferences do not reflect people’s economic self-interest. Mutz demonstrates that, surprisingly, these attitudes are not influenced by a person’s occupation, industry of employment, community job loss, geographic location, or individual job loss. Instead, perceptions of what is in the collective economic interest determine attitudes toward trade. Coverage of trade in the media has a large influence on these perceptions. Media coverage of foreign trade was mostly negative until 2016. As media coverage of trade has become more balanced since 2016, support for trade has also increased.
Politicians from all parties have been unwilling to champion trade when running for office because foreign trade is seen as a political liability in the United States. As the world economy changes, Mutz asserts that leaders will need to advocate for trade and for safeguards against its negative effects. She cautions that it’s unhelpful to leave the public out of that conversation altogether as has been common in the past.
For an additional perspective, Mutz compares attitudes about trade in the United States and Canada. She finds that attitudes about trade in the two countries are different due to differing attitudes toward competition. Americans value competition more, and believe in the fairness of unequal outcomes. In the U.S., nationalism reduces support for foreign trade, but in Canada the opposite is true. Canadians who hold the strongest beliefs about national superiority want to promote more trade and immigration.
Differing perspectives on trade in these countries can be explained by variation in two different types of ingroup favoritism. First, Americans in Mutz’s studies systematically preferred trade agreements in which their fellow Americans benefited more than trading partners. In fact, there was no level of job benefits to foreign countries that would justify the loss of even a single American job. This was not the case among Canadians. In addition, Americans demonstrated their competitive attitudes toward trade by demonstrating greater support for trade agreements that not only benefit their country but also disadvantage the trading partner. Canadians, in contrast, preferred the kind of “win-win” trade agreement that economists suggest benefits all countries involved.
Attitudes about race drive attitudes about trade and Mutz finds that the reverse may also be true. In a study that asked respondents to select which students should be admitted to college, participants who had just watched an ad against foreign trade were less supportive of admitting Asian-American students, as well as students from Asia.
Mutz concludes that, while many of these results are distressing, attitudes remain malleable. Efforts to change opinions toward trade that emphasize similarity and shared values are more effective than efforts emphasizing pocketbook gains. Since 2016, her data shows that there has been an increase in support for foreign trade and a realization that it comes with benefits as well as negative consequences.
As a country grows and develops economically, most experts expect political behavior to develop as well, becoming more policy-oriented and programmatic and moving away from clientelism that characterizes less developed countries. However, this has not been the case in Ghana. In his new book, Electoral Politics and Africa’s Urban Transition, Noah Nathan traces the unexpected political patterns that are emerging in urban Ghana. Despite a growing middle class and increasing ethnic diversity, clientelism and ethnic voting persist in many urban neighborhoods.
Nathan focuses his research on Accra, Ghana, a diverse and growing metropolis of four million people. Not only is the population of the city growing, but it is becoming wealthier and better educated: data show that the middle class in Accra has tripled in size since Ghana democratized in 1992. The trend toward urbanization has also led to more diversity and contact between members of different ethnic groups in the city. Experts usually expect that higher incomes and levels of education will shift voter preferences away from politicians offering patronage and toward more policy-oriented candidates.
Political practices in Ghana have not transitioned as rapidly as the demographics have. Instead, Nathan shows, Ghanaian politics have become stuck in a trap. The trap is a cycle wherein voters expect goods and favors, which politicians deliver in the form of patronage. As a result, the government performs poorly and elected officials are seen as less credible. Policy-oriented citizens are left without programmatic candidates, and become more likely to decide to opt out of voting entirely. With those voters increasingly out of play, politicians face strong incentives to continue engaging in clientelism, sometimes creating ethnic competition.
Nathan, Noah L. Electoral Politics and Africa’s Urban Transition: Class and Ethnicity in Ghana. Cambridge University Press, 2019.
The key to understanding the political trap of clientelism is the neighborhood-level variations within cities. Voters with similar levels of wealth and education do not all vote alike across the city; voting behaviors differ greatly by neighborhood. Voters in poorer neighborhoods still expect favors from politicians, who respond accordingly. Taking this into account, many middle-class voters, those who are most likely to support a programmatic transition, opt out of voting because they view politicians engaging in patronage as lacking credibility.
Certain features of developing cities give further context to explain politicians’ and voters’ incentives. Developing countries have lower capacity to provide services and infrastructure to their citizens as a whole. The rapid pace of growth creates a scarcity of resources to go around. Without the credibility to promise broad improvements, politicians rely instead on promises to select groups. Cities tend to be comprised of neighborhoods that differ widely in their wealth and diversity, often within the same electoral district. Understanding these realities help explain why clientelism prevails, even as the electorate becomes wealthier, better-educated, and more diverse.
Nathan concludes his analysis of the political patterns in Ghana by drawing parallels with political systems seen in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as in Latin American cities. In these cases the shift to more programmatic politics occurred politicians could no longer distribute government resources selectively. The rise of civil service reforms and broad social welfare programs supported the shift to policy-oriented systems. These parallels to similar transitions over time and in other developing countries may point the way to more policy-oriented political systems in the future.
The Chinese government asserts power and control through strict management of online information. Often, this comes in the form of censorship of online content, which is handled by private internet content producers, large companies like Sina Weibo and Tencent. However, in certain cases these companies report users and content back to the government rather than simply censoring it.
What content, and which users, are being targeted for handling by the state? Researchers Mary Gallagher and Blake Miller analyzed leaked documents from Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like social networking site, to find out why certain cases were moved back to government handling.
Control dynamics over time
Throughout the 1990s, the Chinese government became more tolerant of people protesting the socio-economic effects of market reforms. The government became more selective about its tactics, focusing on preempting major challenges, while allowing reasonable grievances to be aired, especially those aimed at lower-level local officials.
Gallagher and Miller point out that this apparent rise in tolerance does not mean that repression has disappeared. Rather, the state has moved into a period of “responsive authoritarianism” in which repression is harder to detect, more pre-emptive, and more sophisticated.
An evolving approach to censorship
The rise of social media has been a game-changer for both the state and social movements. As technology makes it easier to share information and express grievances, the government is able to track and repress public opinion and outcry in a more precise way. Discussions of topics such as environmental degradation, food safety, or lapses in public safety can be shared more widely, building support for reforms.
As online groups gain popularity, there has been a shift in government behavior to shutting down these groups, not necessarily because they are expressing subversive ideas, but because they may develop the power to persuade. The state uses a “scalpel, not a hammer” to censor, targeting groups that may become influential. This gives the perception that speech is more free, while quashing groups before they can influence public opinion, potentially disrupting order.
Managing influencers and controversies
By analyzing a leaked dataset of internal censorship logs from Sina Weibo, Gallagher and Miller were able to explore patterns in the types of content and users reported back to the security bureaus.
They found that the party is primarily concerned with limiting alternative voices and influence, and they do that by inhabiting and dominating social media platforms. The government is intolerant of topics once they go viral. To prevent sensitive topics from going viral in the first place, the party looks closely at influential opinion leaders. As Gallagher and Miller note, “the content of the post is less important than who is posting it.” The state seeks to head off the threat of the “butterfly effect” by containing a small incident quickly before it can grow in influence over time.
Online opinion leaders are seen as a threat to the government that must be handled carefully. because they stand between the mass media and the public. Most often, the state response to these influencers is not to censor them immediately, but to report them back to the government. This way, the party cultivates opinion leaders to identify with the party, so that they may be able to shape public opinion favorably in the event of a “public opinion emergency.”
Censors allow a great deal of online discussion to take place, while at the same time targeting users who are believed to have enough influence to cause real damage. By allowing more speech, the state gains a window into public opinion. However, when discussions pick up momentum, or begin to criticize the government, censors will work to guide discussions and report users and content back to the state.
Since its establishment in 2013, a total of 137 posts have appeared on the Center for Political Studies (CPS) Blog. As we approach the new year, we look back at 2017’s most-viewed posts. Listed below are the posts that you, our dear readers, found most interesting on the blog this year.
There are political issues and then there are moral political issues. Often cited examples of the latter include abortion and same sex marriage. But what makes a political issue moral?An extensive literature already asserts a moral vs. not moral issue distinction. Yet, there is no consensus in how to distinguish between moral and non-moral political issues. Further, trying to sort issues into these categories proves challenging.
By closely investigating all known cases of state-backed cross-sector surveillance collaborations, our findings demonstrate that the deployment of mass surveillance systems by states has been globally increasing throughout the last twenty years. More importantly, from 2006-2010 to present, states have uniformly doubled their surveillance investments compared with the previous decade.
In 2012, Barack Obama received 93% of the African American vote but just 39% of the White vote. This 55% disparity is bigger than vote gaps by education level (4%), gender (10%), age (16%), income (16%), and religion (28%). And this wasn’t about just the 2012 or 2008 elections, notable for the first appearance of a major ticket African American candidate, Barack Obama. Democratic candidates typically receive 85-95% of the Black vote in the United States. Why the near unanimity among Black voters?
Both parties moving toward ideological poles has resulted in policy gridlock (see: government shutdown, debt ceiling negotiations). But does this polarization extend to the public in general? To answer this question, Iyengar measured individual resentment with both explicit and implicit measures.
The enthusiasm for both Trump and Sanders’ messages about the influence of money in politics brings up an important question: Is policy driven by the rich, or does government respond to all? Political scientists have long been interested in identifying to what degree wealth drives policy, but not all agree on it’s impact.
Exploring the Tone of the 2016 Election by U-M undergraduate students Megan Bayagich, Laura Cohen, Lauren Farfel, Andrew Krowitz, Emily Kuchman, Sarah Lindenberg, Natalie Sochacki, and Hannah Suh, and their professor Stuart Soroka (2017)
Political economists often theorize about relationships between politics and macroeconomics in the developing world; specifically, which political or social structures promote economic growth, or wealth, or economic openness, and conversely, how those economic outcomes affect politics. Answering these questions often requires some reference to macroeconomic statistics. However, recent work has questioned these data’s accuracy and objectivity. An under-explored aspect of these data’s limitations is their instability over time.
In a recent piece in the Washington Post, we addressed some common misconceptions about what the Swedish crime data can and cannot tell us. However, questions about the data persist. These questions are varied but are related to two core issues: (1) what kind of data policy makers need to inform their decisions and (2) what claims can be supported by the existing data.
Ryan’s overarching hypothesis boils non-compromise down to morals: a moral mindset orients citizens to oppose political compromises and punish compromising politicians. There are all kinds of issues for which some citizens seem resistant to compromises: tax reform, same-sex marriage, collective bargaining, etc. But who is resistant? Ryan shows that part of the answer has to do with who sees these issues through a moral lens.
Since 1948, the ANES- a collaborative project between the University of Michigan and Stanford University- has conducted benchmark election surveys on voting, public opinion, and political participation. This year’s polarizing election warranted especially interesting responses.