Regime Threats and State Solutions

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. 

Winners and Losers:
 The Psychology of Attitudes Toward 
Foreign Trade

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.

New Book Examines Ghana’s Political Trap

Post developed by Katherine Pearson

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.

political trap

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. 

When Does Online Censorship Move Toward Real-World Repression?

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “When Does Online Censorship Move Toward Real-World Repression?” was a part of the Chinese Politics Mini-Conference on Thursday, August 30, 2018.

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.

Top 10 Most-Viewed CPS Blog Posts in 2017

post developed by Catherine Allen-West

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. 


What makes a political issue a moral issue? by Katie Brown and Timothy Ryan (2014)

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.

 


 

The Spread of Mass Surveillance, 1995 to Present by Nadiya Kostyuk and Muzammil M. Hussain (2017)

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. 

 


 

Why do Black Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat? by Vincent Hutchings, Hakeem Jefferson and Katie Brown (2014)

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?

 


 

Measuring Political Polarization by Katie Brown and Shanto Iyengar (2014)

Both parties moving toward ideological poles has resulted in policy gridlock (see: government shutdowndebt 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.

 


 

Is policy driven by the rich, or does government respond to all? by Catherine Allen-West (2016)

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.

 


 

Crime in Sweden: What the Data Tell Us by Christopher Fariss and Kristine Eck (2017)

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.

 


 

Moral conviction stymies political compromise by Katie Brown and Timothy Ryan (2014)

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.

 


 

Does the order of names on a ballot affect vote choice? by Katie Brown and Josh Pasek (2013)

Ballots list all candidates officially running for a given office so that voters can easily choose between them. But could the ordering of candidate names on a ballot change some voters’ choices? 

 

 

 


 

Inside the American Electorate: The 2016 ANES Time Series Study by Catherine Allen-West, Megan Bayagich and Ted Brader (2017)

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. 

 

Empathy Trumps Fear? The Role of Group Empathy Theory in Shaping U.S. Foreign Policy

Post developed by Catherine Allen-West

There is a long, documented history of large opinion gaps along racial/ethnic lines regarding U.S. military intervention and humanitarian assistance. For example, some research suggests that since minorities are most likely to bear the human costs of war, African Americans and Latinos might be more strongly opposed to foreign intervention. Additionally, research conducted during the Iraq war found that the majority of African Americans didn’t support the war effort because they believed that they would be the ones called upon to do the “fighting and dying” and that the war would tie up resources typically used for domestic social welfare programs, programs upon which the group depends.

One obvious explanation for these opinion gaps is simple group interest. Americans are more likely to intervene to protect the lives and human rights of victims of humanitarian crises or genocides when the victims are “like us” and this narrow racial or ethnic group interest may be what drives racial/ethnic differences in support for foreign intervention or immigration policy in the U.S. This is important because public support for military and humanitarian interventions is crucial to not only the quantity of aid but also its quality and effectiveness.

But this simple in-group, material interest explanation doesn’t always hold up empirically. African Americans were more protective of the rights of Arab Americans after 9/11, even though they perceived themselves to be at higher risk from terrorism.

In a new paper, presented at the 2017 APSA annual meeting, Cigdem V. Sirin, Nicholas A. Valentino, and José D. Villalobos examine variations in political attitudes across three main racial/ethnic groups — Anglos, African Americans, and Latinos — regarding humanitarian emergencies abroad. The researchers tested these differences using their recently developed “Group Empathy Theory” which states that “empathy felt by members of one group for another can improve group-based political attitudes and behavior even in the face of material and security concerns.” Essentially, the researchers predict that a domestic minority group can empathize with an international group experiencing hardship, even when the conflict doesn’t involve the domestic group at all and when extending help oversees is costly.

The researchers tested their theory with a national survey experiment that assessed support for pre-existing foreign policy attitudes about the U.S. responsibility to protect, foreign aid, the U.S. response to the Syrian civil war, as well as the Muslim Ban proposed by Donald J. Trump.

First, they measured levels of group empathy and found that African Americans and Latinos both display significantly higher levels of general group empathy and support for foreign groups in need.

Next, to measure opinions about the U.S. ability to protect, they provided participants with a pair of statements about the role the U.S. should plan in international politics. The first statement read: “As the leader of the world, the U.S. has a responsibility to help people from other countries in need, especially in cases of war and natural disasters.” The second statement was the opposite — denouncing such responsibility to protect. Their results show that African Americans and Latinos are likely to attribute the U.S. higher responsibility to protect people of other countries in need as compared to Anglos. Furthermore, when asked about their opinion on the amount of foreign aid allocated to help countries in need, Latinos and African Americans were more strongly in favor of increasing foreign aid and accepting Syrian refugees than were Anglos.

The researchers further examined potential group-based difference in policy attitudes regarding Trump’s controversial “Muslim ban” which called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Again, both Latinos and African Americans exhibited significantly higher opposition than Anglos to the exclusionary policy targeting a specific group solely based on that group’s religion.

Further analyses also supported the researchers’ claims that group empathy is a significant mediator of these racial gaps in support for humanitarian aid and military intervention on behalf of oppressed groups oversees.

This research brings into focus some of the dynamics that shape public opinion of foreign policy. Given the role of the public in steering U.S. leadership decisions, especially as the current administration seeks to implement deep cuts to foreign aid, investigating the role that group empathy plays in public responses to humanitarian emergencies has important broader implications, particularly concerning U.S. foreign policy and national security.