Commitment Problems in Alliance Formation

The forthcoming article “Commitment Problems in Alliance Formation” by Brett V. Benson and Bradley C. Smith is summarized by the authors below. 

Why do adversaries react to anticipated alliance formation or expansion with aggression in some cases but not others? In some cases, such as the 1990 expansion of NATO that accompanied German unification, adversaries acquiesce to allow for peaceful implementation of a new alliance. In other cases such as the 2008 Russian invasion of NATO aspirant Georgia, adversaries respond to the prospect of a new or expanded alliance with military aggression.  

We provide a formal theory that explains this variation as the result of temporal dynamics. Our argument emphasizes that the benefits of a military alliance may not arrive immediately. Rather, prospective allies must coordinate efforts to fully implement the terms of an alliance before realizing its security benefits. In addition to the process of negotiating, signing, and ratifying an alliance, prospective allies must reconcile disparate military technologies and command structures before realizing the full military benefit of alliance membership. This creates a window of opportunity for adversaries to use military force to achieve their coercive goals or to block the alliance altogether before formation or expansion is complete.  

Our explanation rests on three findings. First, bargaining concessions can serve a pacifying role. Prospective allies may make concessions to compensate an enemy state for the future power shift that occurs once an alliance is implemented. This presents a novel explanation for why alliances rarely provoke preventive war: allies may “buy off” shared enemies prior to the implementation of otherwise provocative alliances.  

Our second finding details the conditions under which these peaceful bargains are possible. If the anticipated power shift is too large and the speed of implementation too fast, then allies may not be able to offer concessions sufficient to secure the target’s acquiescence. Consequently, preventive war results. Following this logic, we find that allies are often better off limiting the scope of an alliance’s military benefits or the speed of its implementation to avoid provoking an enemy. The costs of such limits are justified by the benefit of avoiding war.  

Our third finding is that the conditions favorable for preventive war also render it unlikely to occur. Preventive war is attractive when a large power shift from an alliance is expected to arrive rapidly due to quick implementation of an alliance. If an alliance is expected to be implemented rapidly, the window of opportunity for preventive war often closes before an attack can be carried out. Hence, while preventive war cannot be ruled out altogether, the conditions that make it most attractive also render it unlikely.  

Importantly, our findings extend to defensive alliances. Though they are designed to achieve peace through deterrence, anticipation of a new defensive alliance may provoke an enemy by foreclosing an enemy’s future coercive options. Though defensive alliances deter once they are implemented, anticipation of a new defensive alliance may be provocative. We find that this mechanism was present in a number of important historical cases, including instances of NATO expansion as well as the 1954 Taiwan Straits crisis. Overall, our analysis highlights temporal dynamics as a key and novel factor connecting alliance politics and war.  

About the Authors: Brett V. Benson is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University and Bradley C. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. Their research “Commitment Problems in Alliance Formation” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

State Support for Rebels and Interstate Bargaining

The forthcoming article “State Support for Rebels and Interstate Bargaining” by Xiaoyan Qiu is summarized by the author below.

Since the end of World War II, leaders have frequently supported rebel groups in other countries as a coercive strategy in international disputes. However, the strategic rationale by which rebel groups gain international support is non-obvious. Existing literature primarily conceptualizes such support as a cheaper and safer substitute for expensive and risky direct military confrontation. This suggests that sponsors should support strong rebel groups that share the sponsor’s preferences.  

However, these factors do not capture the fundamental force driving external support. States frequently support weak rebel groups in other countries with clearly unaligned preferences. Many recipient groups are too weak to viably win and are hostile to the sponsoring state’s goals. For example, Iran supported the leftist rebel group Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) during the Cold War when it was a close U.S. ally. At the time of support, the KDP was too weak to win against the Iraqi government and was ideologically divergent from Iran. Its success might also threaten Iran by empowering Kurdish rebellions inside Iran.  

Using a formal model, I explain that the fundamental objective of transnational rebel support is to gain bargaining leverage against a rival state. The bargaining advantage comes from the fact that such support significantly reduces the target’s total available budget to deal with internal and external threats. This subversive effect provides a sufficient incentive for sponsoring the rebels even when favorable conditions suggested by previous studies are absent.    

I explain why weakening rival governments is the core motivation for supporting rebel groups, and other prominent factors from the literature are neither necessary nor sufficient. Consistent with existing theories, states are indeed more likely to support rebel groups that share their ideological or ethnic preferences or are more skilled at combating the target governments. However, supporting groups that lack these characteristics can still satisfy the core motivation of weakening the rival government. Consequently, states are also willing to support groups with whom they share no ideological ties, whose goals they actively oppose, or who are less skilled at combating the target government than their own armies. I illustrate this logic using the example of Iranian support for the KDP. This and many other cases illustrate that the enemy of my enemy is my friend—ideological and ethnic concerns aside. 

Moreover, given the goal of destabilizing rival regimes, potential sponsors prefer to support weaker rebel groups and provide more support to them. While undercutting the sponsor’s own military strength by the same degree, support for weaker groups shrinks the target’s budget by a larger amount, motivating the sponsor to assist weaker groups. Extremely weak groups are hired not to win the war but to exhaust the target. External support delivers the most bang for the buck precisely when the rebels are weak. This novel result explains why states support extremely weak rebel groups incapable of winning.  

Overall, this article shows that absent favorable conditions for proxy warfare suggested by previous studies, external support’s subversive effect alone provides sufficient incentive to aid rebels targeting the sponsor’s international rival. 

About Author: Xiaoyan Qiu is an Assistant Professor at the School of Global and Public Affairs at IE University. Their research “State Support and for Rebels and Interstate Bargaining” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Does Criminalizing Torture Deter Police Torture?

The forthcoming article “Does Criminalizing Torture Deter Police Torture?” by Mark Berlin is summarized by the author below. 

What works to reduce police abuses? In a new article, I find that when it comes to the use of torture by police officers, criminalizing an offense of “torture” in national law can help deter some incidences of abuse. 

To understand why, it’s helpful to first understand the nature of police torture. Public attention on the issue of torture usually focuses on cases, like China, Egypt, or CIA black sites, in which torture is used by governments to combat perceived challenges to their political power or threats to national security. But research suggests that much torture that occurs daily around the world is motivated instead by non-political reasons, targeting individuals who pose little political threat. Think of the police officer who tortures a confession out of an ordinary criminal suspect to close a case and thus advance their career, or the immigration official who abuses a detained migrant for their own personal satisfaction. Unlike politically motivated torture, which is often directed or at least tolerated by political leaders, non-politically motivated torture is made possible by the fact that some state agents, like police officers, enjoy wide discretion and autonomy in their daily work. Even if political leaders prefer that police don’t torture, they are limited in their ability to constantly monitor and control the behavior of individual officers. 

Therefore, policies and interventions to reduce opportunistic abuses need to directly target the decision-making calculus of front-line agents, like police officers. Criminal law can help do that in two main ways. First, criminalizing torture helps close legal loopholes that may otherwise make it difficult to prosecute cases of police torture. While most countries have laws that criminalize ordinary offenses like assault, such laws are often too limited in their definition or scope to cover the full range of conduct that may constitute torture – gaps that a dedicated and well-defined torture statute is meant to close. Second, criminalizing torture can alter how individual officers perceive the moral and social acceptability of torture. Criminalization sends a message that what may have been previously taken-for-granted as acceptable conduct, such as physical coercion in interrogations, is in fact a grave offense of international concern. Whether this alters officers’ own personal views or their beliefs about the willingness of others to condemn their behavior, criminalization can nonetheless increase the perceived stigma of torture and thus raise the anticipated costs for a would-be torturer.   

My findings are based on statistical analyses of an original dataset I collected on the existence and content of torture laws around the world. Importantly, my findings suggest that it’s not merely any form of criminalization that produces a deterrent effect. Only torture laws that meet the standard codified in the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) are associated with reductions in police torture. Why? The definition of torture from the CAT is designed to fill the types of legal gaps I mentioned above, gaps which may normally hinder prosecutions or reinforce permissive views about police abuse.  

Though criminalization is certainly not a cure-all for state abuses, my findings suggest that it can contribute to efforts to reduce human rights violations, especially when it comes to those abuses that tend to arise from the independent initiative of frontline agents.  

About Author: Mark S. Berlin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Marquette University. Their research “Does Criminalizing Torture Deter Police Torture?” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Carl Schmitt Reads Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: Archival Perspectives on Convergences and Divergences

The forthcoming article “Carl Schmitt Reads Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: Archival Perspectives on Convergences and Divergences” by Sinja Graf is summarized by the author below. 

Israel’s prosecution of Otto Adolf Eichmann in 1961 was one of the most important and iconic trials of Nazi criminals. Scholarship on Eichmann’s trial can hardly avoid grappling with Hannah Arendt’s now-canonical Eichmann in Jerusalem. A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). The book is part of her voluminous oeuvre that is formative of 20th century Western political philosophy. Carl Schmitt remains a highly divisive figures in 20th century Western political thinking, not least because his critique of political liberalism sits very uneasily with his public career under the Nazi dictatorship. Given their respective philosophical stature, it is unsurprising that scholars have analysed similarities and tensions between Arendt and Schmitt’s political philosophies. Such discussions have mostly proceeded without evidence of their reading of one another. The exception is an analysis of archival materials disclosing Arendt’s reading of Schmitt (Jurkevics 2017). However, Schmitt’s engagement with Arendt has remained understudied.  

Nonetheless, unpublished archival documents in the Carl Schmitt Nachlass demonstrate Schmitt’s long-standing interest in Arendt’s life and work and his keen attention to the Eichmann trial. Importantly, Schmitt closely read Eichmann in Jerusalem. The archival materials enable a first-time interpretation of Schmitt’s perspectives on Arendt’s book and his views on Eichmann’s trial. An analysis of Schmitt’s copies of Eichmann, of archival documents and Schmitt and Arendt’s published works focalizes convergences and divergences in their assessments of elemental political and legal questions. His attention to Eichmann is therefore of significance to scholars of politics and law. 

Schmitt’s engagement with Eichmann highlights his and Arendt’s theorizations of the capacity of law to capture mass violence and of the character of political community as a spring of law. Across these issues, Schmitt’s attention to Arendt’s conceptualizations of ‘humanity’ and ‘territory’ is especially salient, which is explained by the fact that they developed rival approaches to these foundational terms. As for ‘humanity, Schmitt closely attended to Arendt’s understanding of ‘crimes against humanity’. The latter she sourced from her conception of ‘humanity’ as the irreducible plurality of individual human beings who create mutually shared, lived-in worlds by acting in concert. Based on her understanding of the Holocaust as a crime against the human status, perpetrated on the body of the Jewish people, Arendt defended the legitimacy of Eichmann’s capital punishment. Schmitt, by contrast, argued that Nazi atrocities exceeded law and legal punishment altogether. He also thought of ‘humanity’ as an empty, abstract universal, political mobilizations of which disavow the political principle of enmity and thus enhance pernicious escalations of violent conflict.  

Schmitt’s engagement with Arendt’s analysis of Eichmann’s case compounds the philosophical significance of the trial, which in itself is an exceedingly important historical event. Furthermore, a close reading of Schmitt’s attention to Arendt’s book invests Eichmann with the coordinates of a unique philosophical landscape that remains inaccessible to analyses of their published works.  

About Author: Sinja Graf is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at London School of Economics and Political Science. Their research “Carl Schmitt Reads Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: Archival Perspectives on Convergences and Divergences” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Reference Points and Democratic Backsliding

The forthcoming articles “Reference Points and Democratic Backsliding” by Edoardo Grillo and Carlo Prato is summarized by the author(s) below. 

The article asks: if citizens value democratic norms, why don’t they electorally punish incumbents who violate them? Using insights from psychology, we formally show that incumbents can use backsliding early in the cycle to manipulate the standards to which their voters will hold them to—their reference points. Challenging democratic norms hurts voters, but also lowers their reference points by making them pessimistic about subsequent violations. Because challenging democratic norms moves the goal post in the incumbent’s direction, democratic backsliding can arise even when the incumbent and most voters intrinsically dislike it. Contrary to existing accounts, our theory suggests that mass polarization should not only increase the frequency of severe violations of democratic norms, but also decrease the frequency of milder violations.  

About the Author(s): Edoardo Grillo is Assistant Professor at Collegio Carlo Alberto and Carlo Prato is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at Columbia University. Their research “Reference Points and Democratic Backsliding” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Racial Identity, Group Consciousness, and Attitudes: A Framework for Assessing Multiracial Self-Classification

The forthcoming article “Racial Identity, Group Consciousness, and Attitudes: A Framework for Assessing Multiracial Self-Classification” by Lauren D. Davenport, Shanto Iyengar  and Sean J. Westwood is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Multiracial Americans are the fastest-growing racial demographic in the U.S. Their swift rise suggests shifting patterns of the social and political meanings associated with race. In this article, we provide the first large-scale assessment of the racial identities, consciousness, and attitudes of multiracial self-classifiers, focusing on the two biggest groups in the population: White-Blacks and White-Asians. In doing so, our work provides important insights into how identity is politicized in a diversifying America.  

Drawing on psychological theories of group dynamics, we formulate three models of multiracial political identity: a minority solidarity model, which predicts that multiracials feel most strongly attached to and express attitudes more closely aligned with their minority race; a hegemonic model, which predicts that multiracials feel more closely aligned with Whites; and an emerging identity model, which contends that multiracials’ attachments and attitudes consistently deviate from both of their constituent backgrounds.  

From these models, we generate a set of hypotheses that we test using a rich battery of items embedded into the largest national political survey of multiracial adults to date (n=1229). We compare multiracial White-Blacks and White-Asians to those of their component monoracial groups: Whites, Blacks, and Asians. We assess racial group identity and consciousness with three measures: relative salience of race to one’s identity, racial group closeness, and linked fate. We estimate multiracials’ affinity (or lack thereof) toward their constituent racial groups with both explicit and implicit racial attitude measures, including the implicit association test.  

All told, we find no support for the hegemonic model, that multiracials principally align themselves with Whites. On balance, our results indicate that self-classification as White-Black or White-Asian does not reflect an equal connection to and affinity for both constituent racial groups, but relatively greater alignment with the minority race. Both consciously and subconsciously, White-Asians assert a stronger affiliation with Asians than with Whites, and White-Blacks are akin to Blacks on linked fate and stereotypes. But we also show that, relative to their monoracial minority group, multiracials express lower levels of group closeness, and, in the case of White-Blacks, some implicit bias against Blacks—suggesting that White-Blacks may hold some prejudices of which they are unaware. Taken together, this indicates a complexity to multiracials’ identities and underscores a need to understand when and how multiracials’ differing attitudes affect their political behavior and preferences. 

We also find some differences in multiracials’ attitudes that are tied to their particular background. Compared to White-Blacks, White-Asians express relatively greater linked fate to Whites and markedly higher levels of anti-Black stereotyping and resentment. Because minority group consciousness has been shown to result in more progressive political attitudes, greater political participation, and a commitment to minority coalition building, we argue that White-Blacks’ relatively stronger sense of minority group linked fate (compared to White-Asians) may induce them to engage with and support issues pertinent to their minority community to a greater degree. 

These findings suggest that members of these multiracial populations are likely to align themselves relatively more with their minority background than with Whites on political issues that are racial in nature. All things considered, we argue that the rise of these multiracial populations is likely to strengthen rather than weaken the longstanding bond between self-identified minorities and the Democratic Party.  

About the Author(s): Lauren D. Davenport is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science at Stanford University, Shanto Iyengar is Professor, Department of Political Science at Stanford University and Sean J. Westwood is Associate Professor, Department of Government at Dartmouth College. Their research “Racial Identity, Group Consciousness, and Attitudes: A Framework for Assessing Multiracial Self-Classification” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Sleeping with the Enemy: Effective Representation under Dynamic Electoral Competition

The forthcoming article “Sleeping with the Enemy: Effective Representation under Dynamic Electoral Competition” by Anderson Frey, Gabriel López-Moctezuma and Sergio Montero is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Growing discontent with democratic politics in recent years has revitalized research into the signs and origins of well-functioning democracy.  Democratic stability, scholars have long argued, largely depends on voters finding acceptable alternatives at the polls.  When political parties pursue unconventional electoral strategies or compete for voters on non-programmatic grounds (e.g., through vote-buying or clientelism) effective representation and the link between elections, public policy, and government accountability may be threatened, fueling distrust of democratic institutions. 

Electoral coalitions between ideologically incompatible parties constitute a stark example of such unconventional strategies.  They pose a puzzle: if competition is fundamentally based on contrasting coherent policy agendas and values, what do parties on opposite ends of the ideology spectrum have to gain from joining forces against more centrist rivals?  

Consider the case of Mexico.  For almost its entire democratic history, the three main contenders in elections at all levels of government have been the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the National Action Party (PAN).  Voters and experts widely agree that, at the federal level, PRD and PAN are respectively located to the left and right of PRI on the ideology spectrum.  Yet, since the 1990s, PAN and PRD have nominated common candidates against PRI in several subnational elections. 

Given Mexico’s well-documented history of electoral fraud, vote-buying, and clientelism, it is tempting to conclude that PAN-PRD coalitions reveal a dilution of party brands at the local level and electoral competition based on the distribution of political favors rather than on well-defined policy preferences.  However, using a regression discontinuity design (RDD) on close elections, we demonstrate that Mexican mayors enact policies 

that are consistent with their party’s ideology.  Furthermore, we find that coalition and non-coalition mayors from the same party are indistinguishable with regard to policy choices, which rules out policy compromises as a cornerstone of the PAN-PRD alliance. 

To understand the implications of seemingly unconventional electoral strategies, we argue that parties’ and voters’ dynamic considerations must take center stage.  We propose and estimate a model of dynamic electoral competition that allows for strategic coordination by way of common candidate nominations.  In our model, holding office over time enables the incumbent party to (potentially) build an electoral advantage.  Opposition parties and voters then face a stark dynamic tradeoff: a short-term ideology compromise, via an electoral coalition, offers the opportunity to remove the incumbent from office, deplete its electoral advantage, and thus level the playing field in the future.  This tradeoff provides a rationale for coalition formation in elections previously unrecognized in the literature. 

We estimate our model using data from Mexican municipal elections between 1995-2016.  In line with our RDD evidence, we report structural estimates of Mexican parties’ policy preferences at the municipal level, which coincide with their national profiles.  More importantly, we show through counterfactual experiments that the PAN-PRD alliance has served as an instrument of democratic consolidation, opening the door to effective electoral competition.  Our results should shed light on recent similar attempts worldwide to oust populist leaders. 

About the Author(s): Anderson Frey is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at University of Rochester, Gabriel López-Moctezuma is Assistant Professor, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences at California Institute of Technology and Sergio Montero is Assistant Professor, Departments of Political Science and Economics at University of Rochester. Their research “Sleeping with the Enemy: Effective Representation under Dynamic Electoral Competition” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Retribution or Reconciliation? Post-Conflict Attitudes toward Enemy Collaborators

The forthcoming article “Retribution or Reconciliation? Post-Conflict Attitudes toward Enemy Collaborators” by Kristen Kao and Mara Redlich Revkin is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Armed groups such as rebels or foreign occupiers often seek to govern territory, requiring the cooperation of large proportions of the civilian population. These civilian “collaborators” serve in a variety of non-combat roles as taxpayers, cleaners or clerks in governance institutions, or wives of fighters; they are often widely perceived as enemy collaborators after conflict ends. Although most of the people who support and enable insurgencies are civilians—both men and women who serve in these diverse non-combat roles—the bulk of the literature on attitudes toward post-conflict justice and reconciliation focuses heavily on male fighters. As a result, there is a need for more research on how individuals in post-conflict societies perceive the culpability not only of fighters but of the many civilian collaborators with economic and social ties to the insurgency.  

Through a survey experiment conducted in an Iraqi city that was controlled by the Islamic State for three years, we find that variation in the type of collaboration an actor engages in signals culpability, strongly determining preferences for punishment and forgiveness among the population at-large. For example, Islamic State taxpayers receive, on average, punishments that are nearly three levels less harsh compared to those desired for fighters, which on our five-point scale is the difference between six months of community service and capital punishment. Substantively, this means that voluntary tax payment to the Islamic State is treated as harshly as involuntary participation in acts of collaboration that directly support fighters (such as cooks for or wives of fighters). In line with some previous research in other contexts, respondents who were exposed to violence by the Islamic State tend to have a greater desire for retribution and revenge than those with fewer grievances. However, perceived volition behind an act—a relatively unstudied factor—is even more important.  

By widening our analytical lens to consider a more realistically broad spectrum of enemy collaboration, we avoid affirming a false dichotomy between victims and perpetrators that is commonly assumed in post-war settings. This research offers novel insights into the microfoundations of enemy collaborator culpability, which is a necessary first step toward reconciliation. Moreover, our results reveal a significant gap between public opinion, which was on average more forgiving of Islamic State collaborators than the harsh, one-punishment-fits-all approach currently taken by the Iraqi government. This mismatch between policy and public opinion suggests that policymakers should consider lighter sentences as well as non-carceral restorative justice mechanisms such as rehabilitation programs, community service, or sponsorship by tribal and religious leaders. 

We encourage other scholars to replicate and extend our experimental design in other post-conflict settings that differ from Iraq in important ways including regime type, culture or religion, duration and recency of conflict, as well as patterns of violence. And we hope that this research agenda will contribute to the development of better models for understanding the determinants of preferences for justice and reconciliation that can inform the design of evidence-based policies and programming for securing peace in post-conflict settings.  

About the Author(s): Kristen Kao, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Political Science at University of Gothenburg and Mara Redlich Revkin, National Security Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center. Their research “Retribution or Reconciliation? Post-Conflict Attitudes toward Enemy Collaborators” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Who Rallies Around the Flag? Nationalist Parties, National Security, and the 2019 Indian Election

The forthcoming article “Who Rallies Around the Flag? Nationalist Parties, National Security, and the 2019 Indian Election” by Jamie Hintson and Milan Vaishnav is summarized by the author(s) below. 

A well-developed literature suggests that national security crises often generate electoral rewards for incumbents. Across a range of democracies, voters often “rally around the flag” to support the ruling party in the face of an external threat. Right-wing nationalist governments appear especially well placed to exploit security crises, as they typically possess hawkish national security policy views. However, we know relatively little about who within the electorate rallies behind incumbents. One important potential source of variation is exposure to the crisis itself. This article asks whether rallying behavior is driven by those most exposed to a crisis or by those for whom the consequences of a crisis are more removed.

Existing scholarship could support either prediction. On the one hand, exposure to a crisis could amplify rallying behavior by diverting attention away from everyday governance concerns. On the other hand, exposed voters may be the most critical of the government and its crisis response. We argue that the latter might be especially true when social commemoration—rallies, funerals, or processions—highlights the severity of an attack. Increasing voters’ exposure to a crisis could dampen a rallying effect for several reasons. First, exposed voters may assign greater responsibility to the government for the attack (blame). Second, exposed voters may criticize the government for not sufficiently retaliating against the perpetrators of the attack (revenge). Third, exposed voters may punish the incumbent if they believe the ruling party is exploiting casualties for political gain (backlash).

To test our argument, we focus on a difficult case: a deadly terrorist attack on Indian soil that occurred just months before that country’s 2019 general election. At a macro-level, the attack transformed the political discourse and created a national-level rallying behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the right-wing, nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

At a local level, however, tens of thousands of residents attended the funeral processions that returned each soldier’s remains to his home, paying their respects and expressing patriotic sentiments. We estimate the effects of exposure to these processions—measured by voters’ proximity to the soldier’s hometown—on support for the BJP, focusing on India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh.

We find that the BJP’s vote share decreases with proximity to the funeral processions in constituencies where the party is incumbent. Our effects cannot be explained by prior electoral behavior or spatial correlation alone, and they are too large to be driven by those with direct ties to the deceased. We find some qualitative support for all three of our proposed mechanisms, but the preponderance of available evidence points to anti-incumbent blame as the principal mechanism at play. Villages with weak pre-existing BJP support saw the largest procession effects, and exposed voters disproportionately supported the Indian National Congress, the only opposition party with national security credentials.

Our argument suggests that even nationalist governments face a real tradeoff in exploiting security crises for political gain. Opposition parties may be able to mitigate rallies around nationalist incumbents by emphasizing the human costs of an attack.

About the Author(s): Jamie Hintson is PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science at Stanford University and Milan Vaishnav, Senior Fellow and Director, South Asia Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Their research “Who Rallies Around the Flag? Nationalist Parties, National Security, and the 2019 Indian Election” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Democracy by Deterrence: Norms, Constitutions, and Electoral Tilting

The forthcoming article “Democracy by Deterrence: Norms, Constitutions, and Electoral Tilting” by Gretchen Helmke, Mary Kroeger and Jack Paine is summarized by the author(s) below. 

In contemporary democracies, backsliding typically occurs through legal machinations and electoral distortions, rather than via military coups, mass repression, or cancelling elections outright. Despite circumscribing legally acceptable actions, formal constitutions are inherently incomplete contracts. Self-enforcing democracy requires that political parties refrain from exploiting legal opportunities to tilt electoral rules. Absent well-established norms of mutual constraint and forbearance against playing “constitutional hardball,” words on paper cannot save democracy from unscrupulous politicians. Instead, incumbents can gradually subvert electoral competition while using a constitution to provide a veneer of legality. 

Rich descriptions of the descent into constitutional hardball within the United States and other democracies abound, yet we know far less about the strategic underpinnings of mutual forbearance and its breakdown in the face of constitutional opportunities for democratic retrogression. Using a formal model, we argue that informal norms of mutual forbearance and formal constitutional rules are fundamentally intertwined via a logic of deterrence. By circumscribing how far each party can legally bend the rules, legal bounds effectively create reversion points if mutual forbearance breaks down. If legal bounds are symmetric between parties, they deter electoral tilting by making credible each party’s threat to punish transgressions by the other. If legal bounds become sufficiently asymmetric, however, such deterrence collapses and the foundations for forbearance crumble. Asymmetries emerge when (a) some social groups are more vulnerable than others to legally permissible electoral distortions and (b) favored and disfavored groups sort heavily into parties.

We apply this mechanism to understand the erosion of forbearance in the United States in the post-Civil Rights era, specifically analyzing gerrymandering and voting rights. This case meets a key scope condition of our formal model—high fidelity to an established, albeit still evolving, constitutional order—while also featuring relatively permissive legal scope for tilting electoral rules. Unlike many modern constitutions, the U.S. constitution was not founded to deliberately favor a particular party. Yet the contemporary American constitutional order fails to proscribe certain undemocratic practices that disproportionately restrict the electoral clout of certain social groups. For example, contemporary constitutional law prohibits parties from writing statutes that explicitly target individuals based on their partisan affiliation, but allows for gerrymandering, which effectively undermines the collective voting influence of urban voters. Similarly, parties cannot directly target voters based on race or income, but can disenfranchise ex-felons and pass voter ID laws, which disproportionately reduce voting access for minorities and poorer voters.  

Asymmetries at the level of social groups have engendered legal asymmetries between the major parties because of the extreme sorting of racial, economic, and other demographic groups into the Democratic and Republican parties in recent decades. Thus, we explain how the widely studied phenomenon of sorting transforms an ostensibly party-neutral constitution into one that simultaneously blesses one party with more leeway for manipulation and less exposure to retaliation. These are precisely the conditions that make mutual forbearance against democratic backsliding difficult to sustain. We combined and extended state-level data to document the emergence of asymmetric legal opportunities to tilt the electoral playing field between the Republican and Democratic parties and the divergence in partisan strategies in recent decades. Our goal is not to rule out all alternative mechanisms, but instead to highlight an underappreciated strategic dynamic that helps to explain why, when, and how the two major parties’ support for basic democratic principles has diverged. 

About the Author(s): Gretchen Helmke, Professor, Department of Political Science at University of Rochester, Mary Kroeger, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Jack Paine, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science at University of Rochester. Their research “Democracy by Deterrence: Norms, Constitutions, and Electoral Tilting” 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.