The Unequal Distribution of Opportunity: A National Audit Study of Bureaucratic Discrimination in Primary School Access

The forthcoming article “The Unequal Distribution of Opportunity: A National Audit Study of Bureaucratic Discrimination in Primary School Access” by Asmus Leth Olsen, Jonas Høgh Kyhse‐Andersen and Donald Moynihan is summarized by the author(s) below. 

We hope that public officials will treat us fairly, offering equal access to public services whatever our background. Whether bureaucrats meet such ideals in practice is another question. The discretion inherent in their jobs gives them the opportunity to discriminate across groups. We offer evidence that school officials in Denmark are likely to engage in such discrimination: they are less likely to offer positions in schools to families with a Muslim name less frequently than to their Danish peers.  

To understand patterns of bureaucratic discrimination we distinguish between two approaches: allocative exclusion and administrative burdens. Allocative exclusion refers to bureaucrats systematically providing some resources to some groups more than others. We test if officials engage in discrimination via allocative exclusion by offering school places to families with a Muslim name less frequently than to their Danish peers. We therefore examine actual decisions to allocate public resources, not just responses to requests for information.  

Second, bureaucrats can apply more indirect forms of discrimination, by imposing administrative burdens differentially across groups. Administrators might decline to share information with, be less welcoming toward, or demand more documentation from out-groups. The applicant might not receive a direct rejection, and still participate in the bureaucratic process, but under less favorable circumstances. We examine if bureaucrats impose greater compliance and psychological costs on Muslim families.  

We undertook a national field experiment where putative Muslim and Danish families sent an email requesting to transfer their child to a local school (n=1,698)School transfers requests are common in a Danish context. We examine access to primary education because it matters profoundly for later-life outcomes and is central to cultivating the civic skills needed for citizenship. Muslims in Europe often play a double out-group role, differentiated in both religion and ethnicity from predominantly Christian or non-religious natives. Muslim immigrants perform poorly in Danish elementary schools, contributing to later life socio-economic disparities. Furthermore, the risk of anti-Muslim bias has been exacerbated by the refugee crisis, which has encouraged anti-immigrant politics across Europe. 

The large differences in responses we find – 25% of those with Danish names were directly offered a spot at the school, compared to 15% of those with Muslim names – provides unambiguous evidence of discrimination via allocative exclusion. We also find that Danish bureaucrats discriminate in how they impose administrative burdens, seeking more information and offering a less welcoming tone to Muslims.   

About the Author(s): Asmus Leth Olsen is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Copenhagen, Jonas Høgh Kyhse-Andersen is an independent researcher, and Donald P. Moynihan is a Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. Their research “The Unequal Distribution of Opportunity: A National Audit Study of Bureaucratic Discrimination in Primary School Access” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Courting Informal Workers: Exclusion, Forbearance, and the Left

The forthcoming article “Courting Informal Workers: Exclusion, Forbearance, and the Left” by Germán Feierherd is summarized by the author below. 

Sixty percent of workers around the world, according to recent estimates from the International Labour Organization, are informally employed. These workers do not pay payroll or income taxes and are not covered by social security or labor regulations, including those regulating maximum working hours, severance pay, and payed vacations. Do left-leaning governments with strong links to organized labor extend job security protections to these workersThis article shows that far from simply tolerating labor informality, local leftist governments in Brazil systematically weaken the enforcement of labor contracts and instead work to improve conditions for workers in the informal sector.  

This choice, I argue, reflects an “intra-class” dilemma that leftist parties face, especially in countries with rigid labor codes and residual welfare states. Whereas formal workers benefit from more rigorous labor laws, informal workers lose out when job security is strengthened. Heightened enforcement can potentially hurt the employment of less-skilled informal workers. Some workers may even wish to work informally, to continue receiving mean-tested benefits or to avoid paying costly contributions. Once in office, the Left partly mitigates this dilemma by slowing down the enforcement of labor contracts in contexts in which inspections threaten jobs (e.g., among small firms and when labor-market conditions are bad) and improving incomes and conditions for workers in the informal sector. 

To test this argument, I combine fine-grain data on labor inspections and informal-sector workers and organizations with qualitative interviews and the content analysis of policy documents. Using a regression-discontinuity design, I show that mayors from the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, or PT) reduce the frequency of labor inspections among small firms and in municipalities that suffer upward shocks in unemployment. These mayors also increase the number of worker cooperatives where jobs remain informal, but laborers enjoy better working conditions. I also find suggestive evidence that by the end of a PT mayor’s term, the share of informal and cooperative workers increases.  

This article contributes to discussions about the political causes of pro-poor forbearance and persistent levels of informality in developing countries. The “intra-class” dilemma that I describe explains why politicians may choose at times to undermine regulation through forbearance instead of changing the law. This article should also interest scholars examining the politics of labor market adjustment. Around the world, leftist parties have been torn over advancing the interests of labor “insiders” by strengthening job security rules or upgrading the position of “outsiders” by embracing market promoting reforms. The forbearance strategy vis-à-vis informal workers that I identified allows left-leaning parties to balance in part the competing interests of a divided working class. 

About the Author: Germán Feierherd is Assistant Professor at Universidad de San Andrés. His research “Courting Informal Workers: Exclusion, Forbearance, and the Left” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Partisan Procurement: Contracting with the United States Federal Government, 2003–2015

The forthcoming article “Partisan Procurement: Contracting with the United States Federal Government, 2003–2015” by Carl Dahlström, Mihály Fazekas and David E. Lewis is summarized by the author(s) below. 

In May 2020, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the former Health Department Official Dr. Rick Bright blew the whistle. He said that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is a unit within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), was pressured to award lucrative contracts to politically connected firms and, furthermore, to prioritize political concerns over scientific judgements when setting timelines and deciding on projects intended to improve the health of the American people. Dr. Bright was ousted for speaking up against this practice.  

In our forthcoming article “Partisan Procurement. Contracting with the United States Federal Government, 2003–2015”, due to be published in the American Journal of Political Sciencewe show that Dr. Bright’s story fits into a larger pattern. The United States spends over one quarter of its budget buying goods and services from suppliers outside the public sector, with contracts typically set up between agencies and private firmsThe huge sums that the federal government spends on buying goods and services from outside of the public sector provides the president and his administration with powerful political tools. We suggest that the incumbent administration sometimes uses these sums for strategic government purchasing, which can, in turn, have electoral consequences. 

But aillustrated by Dr. Bright’s story, not all government officials would accept that favoritism and other political considerations play decisive roles in procurement processes. The president needs appointees from his administration inside agencies to create political pressure and more politicized agencies should therefore show favoritism to businesses in key electoral constituencies and to firms connected to political parties. 

And indeed, using new data on United States government contracts between 2003 and 2015, we find that executive departments, particularly more politicized department-wide offices, are the most likely to have contracts characterized by non-competitive procedures and outcomes, indicating favoritism. Politically responsive agencies – but only those – give out more non-competitive contracts in battleground states. We also observe greater turnover in firms receiving government contracts after party change in the White House, but only in the more politicized agencies. 

We conclude that agency designs that limit appointee representation in procurement decisions reduce political favoritism. The pressure Dr. Bright felt came from “…the senior leadership within the HHS”. To the extent these managers substitute professional with political criteria, procurement will be partisan.  

About the Author(s): Carl Dahlström is Professor, Department of Political Science at University of Gothenburg, Mihály Fazekas is Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy at Central European University and David E. Lewis is Rebecca Webb Wilson University Distinguished Professor, Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. Their research “Partisan Procurement: Contracting with the United States Federal Government, 2003–2015” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Ideology, Not Affect: What Americans Want from Political Representation

The forthcoming article “Ideology, Not Affect: What Americans Want from Political Representation” by Mia Costa is summarize by the author below. 

Research shows that partisan affect, or how Democrats and Republicans feel about one another, drives polarization more than ideology. Scholars suggest that the increasing loathing between partisans leads voters to desire representatives who inflame their partisan animusIndeed, President Trump often attacks the other side and some voters respond favorably to his brazen, affective rhetoric. Other politicians denigrate their opposition with name-calling and party-polarizing language on social media. If voters did not support this behavior, then why would politicians engage in it?  

I use three unique survey experiments to answer whether Americans prefer a representational style based in affective partisanship rather than substantive representation. The conjoint approachwhere multiple information is randomized at once, allows me to examine the relative impact of expressions of negative (or positive) partisan affect and policy (in)congruence on legislator evaluations. Across three studies, I find that affective partisan rhetoric is not rewarded and, in most cases, significantly harms citizens’ evaluations of legislators. Overall, people rate representatives the highest when they share their issue positions and priorities.  

In Study 1, people were asked to choose between two fictional members of Congress five times for who they would prefer to have as their representative. Each time, information about each legislator was randomized, such as whether they expressed out-party affect or agreed/disagreed with the respondent on a policy issue. I found that out-party affect was penalized; if a member expressed negative animus against the other party, they were significantly less likely to be selected than if they disagreed with the respondent on policy 

In Study 2, people were simply asked to rate their approval of a fictional legislator instead of choosing between two. An additional component was randomized: whether the legislator expressed negative or positive partisan affectPrevious research demonstrates that loathing towards one’s out-party is stronger than positive affect towards the in-party, suggesting that out-party rhetoric should be evaluated more favorably than in-party rhetoricHowever, I find that people rated legislators less favorably when they expressed out-party negativity than in-party cheerleading. Moreover, as in Study 1, policy agreement had a very large, positive effect compared to partisan affect and policy disagreement. This remains true even when people evaluate a legislator of their own party and even among primary voters.  

Finally, in Study 3, I take into account policy issue priorities rather than positions. The policies used in Study 1 and Study 2 (immigration, health care, gun control, income tax) were varied enough to provide some level of generalizability, but what happens if the issues prioritized by the legislator are more or less important to the respondent? The results indicate that respondents still care about policy issues over partisan affect. If legislators listed an issue priority, even if it was not the respondent’s top issue priority, their approval increased more than prioritizing an electoral loss for the other party. 

Overall, the paper demonstrates that affective polarization does not extend to preferences for representation. If policy issues form the basis of ideology, then voters indeed want representation based on ideology, not partisan affect. Concerns that Americans are only (or even primarily) driven by partisan animus when evaluating political leaders are overblown. And politicians who often take part in expressive partisanship may thus be out of line with what their constituents want.  

About the Author: Mia Costa is Assistant Professor at Dartmouth College. Her research “Ideology, Not Affect: What Americans Want from Political Representation” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Bringing War Back in: Victory and State Formation in Latin America

The forthcoming article “Bringing War Back in: Victory and State Formation in Latin America” by Luis L. Schenoni  is summarized by the author below. 

The notion that warfare and state formation are intimately linked is widely held across the social sciences and humanities, although the specific way in which they are connected is still contested.  

Two mechanisms have gathered attention recently. On the one hand, an evolutionary understanding of bellicist theory posits war acts mainly by out-selecting weaker states. On the other hand, an account that focuses on extraction and mobilization contends that war boosts state capacity as states prepare for it, independently of the war outcome. These two mechanisms, however, overlook classical bellicist theorists who pictured war outcomes as having enduring effects into a post-war phase. Scholars like Otto Hintze, Max Weber, and Franz Oppenheimer, used to emphasize how institutions were shaped by success or failure in the battlefield, and had lasting effects afterwards. 

In “Bringing War Back In: Victory and State Formation in Latin America” I set out to test the hypothesis that war outcomes produce effects on state capacity that linger on into a post-war phase. While most applications of bellicist theory build on the European experience, I note this region is far from an ideal testing ground for this particular argument for the simple reason that European states systematically died as a cause of war, causing selection bias. To compare post-war effects on both victors and losers it is necessary to look at environments where most or all losers survived. 19th century Latin America provides a much better laboratory, with no out-selection going on despite frequent and severe warfare. 

Building on a panel of Latin America during the height of state building (1865-1913) I use a difference-in-differences design to show that losing a war had long-term negative effects on two indicators of state capacity – revenue extraction and railroad extension – which in time overwhelmed the wartime state-building effortI then delve into the two major wars between Latin American states in the 19th century: the Paraguayan War (1864-1870) and the War of the Pacific (1879-1884). Original archival material and further statistical analyses using the synthetic control method show that, although contenders were matched in state strength, the gap between losers and winners expanded significantly and consistently after these wars. 

This article puts into question a conventional wisdom according to which variation in state capacity across Latin America is unrelated to inter-state warMy findings suggest that the relative absence of war during the 20th century might account for the rigidity of the state capacity ranking in this region, which was much more fluid at the time of these early martial experiences. These conclusions make bellicist theory ever more enticing for scholars interested in contemporary world politics, yet another environment where wars almost never kill states. By incorporating war outcomes into the analysis future researchers should find war makes states in most regions of the world and well into the 20th century. 

About the Author: Luis L. Schenoni is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Chair of International Politics, Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz. His research “Bringing War Back in: Victory and State Formation in Latin America” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Mutual Optimism and War, and the Strategic Tensions of the July Crisis

The forthcoming article “Mutual Optimism and War, and the Strategic Tensions of the July Crisis” by Alexandre Debs is summarized by the author below. 

Is mutual optimism a rationalist explanation for war?  

Leaders routinely express confidence in their odds of victory on the eve of battle. When Russia ordered the general mobilization of its troops during the July Crisis of 1914, a move which would certainly trigger a European war, both its French allies and its German enemies celebrated.  

It seems reasonable that if enemies are mutually optimistic, they may not find a peaceful compromise. But it is not clear how rational countries could be mutually optimistic in the first place. If a country attacks only when it receives a favorable signal about the balance of power, then a country’s enthusiasm for war should temper its enemy’s preference for conflict. It doesn’t seem possible for both countries to be optimistic about their odds of winning, while being aware of their enemy’s preference for war.  

Whether mutual optimism stands as a rationalist explanation for war has been hotly contested among International Relations scholars, with some of the seminal work published in the pages of the American Journal of Political Science (Fey and Ramsay 2007; Slantchev and Tarar 2011).  

I argue that a key solution to this strategic tension is to recognize that there are multiple reasons for a preference to attack: favorable information about the balance of power as well as a high resolve. A country may find it optimal to attack because it has a high resolve, even if it believes that it is unlikely to prevail. Because of these multiple motivations for an attack, countries cannot infer from their enemy’s eagerness to fight that they received favorable intelligence. Countries would also have reasons to discount their enemy’s public statements predicting a quick victory. Of the two reasons to fight, favorable information about the balance of power is politically more expedient, helping to preserve a leader’s honor and motivate troops. Countries may even celebrate the news of their enemy’s decision to attack, if it helps justify their own decision to attack. 

I present this logic in a game-theoretic model, and I argue that it captures important features of the July Crisis, shedding new light on the causes of the First World War. Russian officials arguably lacked confidence in their odds of victory, but they still preferred war due to their high resolve. German and French decisionmakers celebrated their enemy’s decision for war, convinced that it justified their offensive plans. 

In sum, mutual optimism does stand as a rationalist explanation for war, if we recognize the difficult inference problem that countries face when divining their enemy’s motivations. Looking ahead, there is great value in further investigating the complex strategic calculations that leaders make when choosing whether to go to war. When do leaders on opposite sides of a crisis both conclude that their enemy’s actions amount to a declaration of war, justifying their own aggressiveness? This is an important question for future research.  

About the Author: Alexandre Debs is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science at Yale University. Their research “Mutual Optimism and War, and the Strategic Tensions of the July Crisis” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

What Motivates Reasoning? A Theory of Goal‐Dependent Political Evaluation

The forthcoming article “What Motivates Reasoning? A Theory of Goal‐Dependent Political Evaluation” by Eric Groenendyk and Yanna Krupnikov is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Political science has long struggled with the question of motivation.  In the economic sphere, sound decisions pay off, so individuals have a clear incentive for accuracy. But, within the political sphere, decision-making occurs collectively, undermining democratic citizens motivation to devote effort to accurate evaluation (Downs 1957). To address this problem, scholars often look to motivated reasoning theory (Kunda 1990), but what we really need is a theory of what motivates reasoning in politics.   

We theorize that information processing is motivated by the goals salient in a given context.  What goals, then, are salient in the context of politics?  We argue that, if politics feels conflictual, like debate, the goal will be to “win” by counterargue against the opposition in defense of one’s own position. But, if politics feels cooperative, like deliberation, the goal will be to find consensus through open-minded discussion.   

We test our theory through three experiments. In the first experiment participants were each asked to describe what came to mind when they thought of a randomly assigned treatment word: politics, disagreement, debate, deliberation, democracy, or sports.  We find that, like disagreement and debate, and unlike deliberation and democracy, people associate politics with conflict and not consensus.  

While it may be common for people to defend their prior opinions in the context of politics, our theory suggests this motivation is not inherent to politics, but rather conditioned on this association between politics and conflict. Our second experiment tested this hypothesis by manipulating whether policy statements were labeled as potentially disagreeable information“political” information, or simply “additional” information.  In the first two conditions, study participants argued against information that conflicted with their prior attitudes.  But, absent an expectation of conflict, participants in the third condition displayed no such effort.    

Given the lack of incentive to reach accurate evaluations in the political sphere, we designed our third experiment to test whether it is possible to motivate open-minded reasoning as an end unto itself, not simply as a means to achieve accuracy.  In our treatment group, participants were told about a (fictitious) study linking open-mindedness with various measures of life success, thereby providing a psychological incentive to want to believe they were open-minded.  The control group received no such information. Compared to the control group, participants told of the link between open-mindedness and life success devoted more effort to open-minded evaluation of counter-attitudinal information.  At the same time, however, theshowed no increase in their ability to discern between strong and weak arguments, suggesting their goal was open-mindednessnot accuracy.      

These findings suggest that, while accuracy-motivated reasoning may not be common in politics, directional motivations need not lead people to reject counter-attitudinal information.  Rather, there is an important role for context: how people respond to new information depends on what they imagine politics to be.    

Works Cited
Downs, Anthony. (1957)An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper Row.
KundaZiva. (1990). “The case for motivated reasoning.” Psychological Bulletin 108 (3):480-98. 

About the Author(s): Eric Groenendyk is an Associate Professor at University of Memphis and Yanna Krupnikov is an Associate Professor at Stony Brook University. Their research “What Motivates Reasoning? A Theory of Goal‐Dependent Political Evaluation” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Earned Income and Women’s Segmented Empowerment: Experimental Evidence from Jordan

The forthcoming article “Earned Income and Women’s Segmented Empowerment: Experimental Evidence from Jordan” by Carolyn Barnett, Amaney A. Jamal and Steve L. Monroe is summarized by the author(s) below.  

Though international development agencies champion women’s economic participation as a means to promote gender equality, the link between women’s employment and women’s empowerment is neither simple nor inexorableSome research demonstrates that earning income can empower women in the public and private sphere.  Other research proposes that patriarchal norms can suppress, constrain, or reverse the empowering effects of paid labor, and inhibit women’s access to income-earning opportunities.   

We examine the relationship between earned income and women’s empowerment in Jordan, a country with one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world. We conducted two original experiments that reveal how patriarchal norms can constrain the empowering effects of earned income on women’s bargaining power, and their preferences for paid employment opportunities.  

The first experiment was a lab experiment where we randomized participants’ relative earned income and measured its effect on female participants’ efficacy and influence—two behavioral dimensions of empowerment—in bargaining games involving same-sex and mixed-sex pairs. Our lab experiment demonstrates the complex relationship between earned income and women’s empowerment. We find that while earning more than one’s partner promotes women’s efficacy in bargaining situations, it has no effect on women’s influence over bargaining outcomes when they are paired with men as opposed to women. 

Stepping outside the lab, we then investigated whether patriarchal norms affect Jordanian women’s preferences toward income-earning opportunities. We presented hypothetical job opportunities to a separate sample of Jordanian women in a conjoint survey experiment. We find that though a range of material and socio-cultural factors influence women’s employment preferences, working alongside men is a particularly strong deterrent to women’s interest in paid employment opportunities. Jordanian women are 19% less likely to accept a job if it involves working alongside men. Our analysis suggests that mixed-sex work spaces are a stronger deterrent to accepting a hypothetical job opportunity for Jordanian women than below-average wages.  

Our experiments expose two ways patriarchal norms segment the empowering effects of earned income: by constraining the influence of relatively higher-earning women, and by rendering many paid employment opportunities unattractive to women. Together, these findings add new empirical support to research that questions the prospects for women’s empowerment via employment in contemporary societies with strong patriarchal norms.  

These findings invite further analysis on the policy implications of women’s strong preference for and greater assertiveness in same-sex settingsOn the one hand, policies that promote same-sex work spaces may lower barriers to women’s employment in patriarchal societies. By facilitating employment, same-sex work spaces can help women acquire new skills, gain confidence and autonomy, and earn income. On the other hand, female empowerment through same-sex work spaces may remain confined to same-sex spaces that may disadvantage women in the long run. Given that most economic, social, and political power remains male-dominated, female empowerment that is bound to same-sex settings risks preserving gender inequalities beyond the realm of work. 

About the Author(s): Carolyn Barnett is a Ph.D Candidate at Princeton University, Amaney A. Jamal is the Edwards S. Sanford Professor at Princeton University and Steve L. Monroe is an Assistant Professor at Yale‐NUS College. Their research Earned Income and Women’s Segmented Empowerment: Experimental Evidence from Jordan” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Does Transparency Inhibit Political Compromise?

The forthcoming article “Does Transparency Inhibit Political Compromise?” by Jeffrey J. Harden and Justin H. Kirkland is summarized by the author(s) below. 

The public’s ability to see the workings of its government has a surprisingly short history in the United States. The open government debate was not a central element of early American institutional discussion, and several Framers suggested that many of the compromises reached to help ratify the Constitution would have been impossible with open meetings and transparent deliberation. Beginning in the early 20th Century, however, institutional reformers began to push for greater transparency in policymaking across the country, leading to a variety of “sunshine laws. Much like the Framers’ arguments about transparency, opponents of these reforms suggested then, and continue to suggest now, that excessive public oversight of legislative business makes compromise between political parties much more difficult, and entrenches disagreements. The implication is that transparent deliberation rules like open meetings laws lead to break downs in legislatures’ capacity to negotiate compromise and ultimately relieve policy gridlock.  

We set out to test these arguments by delving into state legislative histories in the U.S., focusing specifically on when statefirst passed open meetings laws for state governments. Importantly, in the years following the passage of those open meetings laws, several state legislatures granted themselves (and only themselves) exemptions from the laws. That is, these exemptions required all other legislative bodies in a state (e.g., city councils, county commissions, school boards) to conduct opendoor meetings, exposing their deliberations to public attendance and oversight, but allowed all or some of the state legislature to hold closeddoor meetings. We then pair the timing of the adoption of these laws and their exemptions with several measures of policy gridlock and compromise in state legislatures. 

Using a variety of methods to examine panel data, we find virtually no meaningful effects of open meetings laws on compromise or policy production in state legislatures. These negligible effects are precisely estimated and consistent across multiple measures and models. Moreover, we find little evidence of heterogeneity in the effects across states. Said simply, we find essentially no empirical support for the arguments of opponents of open meetings laws. States with open meetings are no more or less likely to pass budgets on time than they were before passing those laws, are no more or less polarized or bipartisan, and pass roughly the same number of bills before and after the institutional reforms.  

Opponents of open meetings laws paint something of a dire picturethat the public must choose between an effective government and a transparent one. The public can either monitor the behavior of its representatives and hamstring their efforts to produce policy, or it can leave representatives to their own devices and trust that representatives are working for the common good behind closed doors. Our work suggests that this pessimistic view is an overstatement. Open meetings laws may have a variety of effects on the policymaking process, but we have little reason to suspect that they create an excessively difficult policymaking environment.   

About the Author(s): Jeffrey J. Harden is Andrew J. McKenna Family Associate Professor at University of Notre Dame and Justin H. Kirkland is Associate Professor, at University of Virginia. Their research “Does Transparency Inhibit Political Compromise?” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Multidimensional Representation

The forthcoming article “Multidimensional Representation” by Fabio Wolkenstein and Christopher Wratil is summarized by the author(s) below. 

It is widely thought that the quality of democracy is closely bound up with the quality of representation. This is why generations of political scientists have studied representation empirically. Broadly speaking, the quantitative political science literature that has emerged over the last three decades has engaged with two different concepts of representation that are typically associated with the canonical theoretical work of Hanna Pitkin––substantive and descriptive representation. 

Important though this scholarship is, political representation is not limited to its substantive and descriptive forms. Cutting-edge research in political theory, notably the work of Jane Mansbridge, Andrew Rehfeld and Michael Saward, has recently uncovered additional dimensions of representationUsing a bibliometric analysis, we show that these have, however, made virtually no inroads into quantitative empirical political science. This is a missed opportunity to better understand the complex representative processes that are central to our democracies. Reacting to this, our article aims at translating the theoretical insights of MansbridgeRehfeld and Saward into operationalizable conceptions of representation that are both faithful to political theorists’ impulses and useable for quantitatively-oriented empiricists. By empiricizing and further systematizing some key ideas in recent theoretical research, we also make a contribution to representation theory more generally. 

In a first step, we identify four “dialogue stoppers for why the new theoretical work on political representation by MansbridgeRehfeld and Saward is notoriously difficult to operationalize for empiricists. The first is what we call “expansionism,” meaning a tendency among theorists to argue for an all-encompassing understanding of representation that goes way beyond traditional electoral representation. This, we suggest, creates enormous data demands, as well as difficulties regarding sampling strategies. A second dialogue stopper are problems with the observability of some of the more central phenomena representation theorists describe. As we show, some of these phenomena can neither be observed directly nor generate clear observable implications, creating insurmountable obstacles for quantitative research. The third impediment for quantitative scholars is theorists’ focus on constructing ideal types of representative relationships or practices. This is problematic because those ideal typeswhile useful for purposes of illustration, tend to be over-specified and hence less useful empirically. Finally, some of the more influential theoretical concepts are shaped primarily by the distinctive political realities of the U.S. and its single-member district electoral systemThis considerably limits how far theorists’ conceptual apparatuses can travel, and are received as helpful by scholars. 

In a second step, we develop four conceptions of representation that are not plagued by these problems but remain sensitive to MansbridgeRehfeld and Saward’s key innovations. We call these (1) surrogation (claiming and choosing constituents and representatives); (2) justification (providing and demanding reasons for actions); (3) personalization (viewing the representative role as that of an individual vs. party agent); and (4) responsiveness (acting out of and expecting sensitivity to electoral sanctions). These depart from conventional conceptions that are used in quantitative scholarship (e.g. ideological congruence, policy responsiveness, or descriptive representation), in that they do not compare citizens’ policy-related wishes or their descriptive characteristics with representatives’ actions or characteristics, but focus on how citizens want to be represented and whether representatives meet these expectations. This relational understanding of representation takes heed of the constructivist turn in representation theory, which encourages us to re-think the representative-represented relation as co-constituted by both sides. We discuss how these novel conceptions of representation can be measured using quantitative methodologies and illustrate the feasibility of such research designs with findings from a “proof-of-concept” study conducted in the context of the 2019 United Kingdom general election.  

In sumwith our paper, we hope to provide the basic conceptual toolkit for a refined research agenda on representation that does greater justice to the full complexity of representative practices.  

About the Author(s): Fabio Wolkenstein is Associate Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University and Christopher Wratil is Lecturer in European Politics at University College London. Their research “Multidimensional Representation” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 


The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.