Priorities for Preventive Action: Explaining Americans’ Divergent Reactions to 100 Public Risks

AJPS Author Summary of “Priorities for Preventive Action: Explaining Americans’ Divergent Reactions to 100 Public Risks” by Jeffrey A. Friedman

Priorities for Preventive Action: Explaining Americans’ Divergent Reactions to 100 Public Risks

The U.S. government spends over $100 billion per year fighting terrorism, a risk that kills about as many Americans as lightning strikes and accidents involving home appliances. President Trump has said that one of his primary objectives is reducing violent crime, even though this problem is at historic lows nationwide. Meanwhile, the looming threat of climate change could cause vast global harm. Extreme weather induced by global warming may already kill more Americans than terrorists do, yet preventing climate change consistently ranks near the bottom of voters’ policy priorities.

What explains Americans’ divergent reactions to risk? In particular, why do Americans’ priorities for reducing risk often seem so uncorrelated with the danger that those risks objectively present? Many scholars believe the answer to this question is that heuristics, biases, and ignorance cause voters to misperceive risk magnitudes. By contrast, I argue in a forthcoming AJPS article that Americans’ risk priorities reflect value judgments regarding the extent to which some victims deserve more protection than others and the degree to which it is appropriate for government to intervene in different areas of social life.

The paper backs this argument with evidence drawn from a survey of 3,000 Americans, using pairwise comparisons to elicit novel measures of how respondents perceive nine dimensions of 100 life-threatening risks. Unlike many studies which focus on understanding which risks “worry” or “concern” respondents to greater degrees, this survey explicitly distinguished between respondents’ perceptions of how much harm risks caused and respondents’ preferences for how much money the government should spend to mitigate these dangers. This survey produced two main findings.

First, the data show that respondents were well-informed about which risks cause more harm than others. The correlation between perceived and actual mortality across the 100 risks in the study was 0.82 – not perfect, but a far cry from voters’ limited grasp on other kinds of politically-relevant information. The data also show that respondents’ perceptions of how much harm risks cause explained little variation in their policy preferences relative to value judgments about the status of victims and the appropriate role of government. Both of these findings hold regardless of political party, education, and other demographics.

For example, even though respondents assigned terrorism the third-highest priority among risks covered by the survey, they did not see this problem as being particularly deadly. On this measure, terrorism ranked 51st out of 100 risks, around the same level as bicycle accidents and tornadoes. Instead, respondents said that terrorism was exceptionally unfair to its victims (ranked #2, behind only child abuse) and that governments have special obligations to protect citizens from this danger (again #2, behind only nuclear war). This reflects a broader pattern seen throughout the survey data: the main reason that voters support spending government funds to reduce risks is not because they think these problems are especially common, but because they say these problems are especially objectionable.

It is important to take these subjective beliefs seriously both in scholarly analyses and in policy debates. When people disagree in setting policy priorities, they often attribute their opponents’ positions to ignorance or misinformation. Thus many Democrats accuse Republicans of exaggerating the risk of terrorism while downplaying the threat of climate change. Republicans, for their part, often accuse Democrats of inflating the risk of gun violence while ignoring threats to national security. But my study indicates that Republicans and Democrats both hold relatively accurate perceptions of which risks cause more harm than others, and that neither party affords those judgments much weight when considering how to allocate public resources. The key to productive discourse on these issues thus likely lies with understanding voters’ values rather than contesting their factual beliefs.

The article also provides foundations for exploring how public opinion shapes government spending. In some cases – as with terrorism – federal expenditures appear to reflect voters’ demands. But that correlation is imperfect. Cancer and heart disease were the top two policy priorities for this survey’s respondents. Air pollution placed sixth. Warfare ranked 24th on respondents’ risk-reduction priorities, beneath prescription drug abuse, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. Thus to the extent that the U.S. defense budget crowds out government spending on health care, that does not appear to be a straightforward function of voters’ policy preferences. The article is therefore relevant not just to understanding the public’s risk priorities in their own right, but also for analyzing how and why the federal budget reflects some of these priorities more than others.

About the Author: Jeffrey A. Friedman is an Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College and is also Visiting Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse. Friedman’s research “Priorities for Preventive Action: Explaining Americans’ Divergent Reactions to 100 Public Risks (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12400)” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

 

 

 

 

No Harm in Checking: Using Factual Manipulation Checks to Assess Attentiveness in Experiments

AJPS Author Summary of “No Harm in Checking: Using Factual Manipulation Checks to Assess Attentiveness in Experiments” by John V. Kane and Jason Barabas

No Harm in Checking: Using Factual Manipulation Checks to Assess Attentiveness in Experiments
There have been two notable trends within the social sciences in recent decades: (1) the use of experiments to test ideas, and (2) utilizing samples collected online (rather than in-person or via telephone). These concurrent trends have greatly expanded opportunities to conduct high-quality research, but they raise an important concern: are the people taking these online experiments actually paying attention?

This question is vitally important. Fielding experimental studies is costly and requires substantial preparation, and the validity of an experiment’s outcome hinges upon respondents’ willingness to attend to the information they are given. Specifically, if subjects are not paying attention to the study, this will likely bias experimental effects toward zero, potentially leaving the researcher to conclude that the underlying theory is wrong and/or that the design of the experiment was defective.

Researchers can gain leverage on this problem by including a so-called “manipulation check” (MC). MCs can be used to confirm whether an experimental treatment succeeded in affecting the key causal variable of interest or, more generally, whether respondents were attentive to information featured in a survey. However, in practice, researchers rarely report having implemented an MC in their experiments. Moreover, even when MCs are used, they differ markedly in terms of form, function, and placement within the study.

Our article attempts to clarify how MCs can be used in experimental research. Based upon content analyses of published experiments, we identify three main categories of MCs. We then highlight the merits of one such category—factual manipulation checks (FMCs). FMCs ask respondents factual questions about content featured in an experiment which, unlike Instructional Manipulation Checks (IMCs) and (what we refer to as) Subjective Manipulation Checks (SMCs), enables researchers to identify individuals who were (in)attentive to content in the experimental portion of a study. Such information can help researchers understand the reasons underlying their experimental findings. For example, if a researcher found no significant effects for the experiment, but also found that only a small share of the sample correctly answered the FMC, this would suggest that the result has less to do with the underlying theory, and more to do with respondents’ attentiveness to the key information in the study (or lack thereof).

Replicating a series of published experiments, we then demonstrate how FMCs can be constructed and empirically investigate whether the placement of an FMC (i.e., immediately before versus after the outcome measure) is consequential for (1) treatment effects, and (2) answering the FMC correctly. We find little evidence that placing an FMC before an outcome measure significantly distorts treatment effects. However, we also find no evidence that placing an FMC immediately after an outcome significantly reduces respondents’ ability to answer the FMC correctly. We therefore conclude that researchers stand to benefit from employing FMCs in their studies, and placement of the FMC immediately after the outcome measure appears to be optimal. Such practices will equip researchers with a greater ability to diagnose their experimental findings, accurately assess respondents’ attentiveness to the experiment, and avoid any possibility of biasing treatment effects.

About the Authors: John V. Kane is an Assistant Professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University and Jason Barabas is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University, Social & Behavioral Sciences. Their research, “No Harm in Checking: Using Factual Manipulation Checks to Assess Attentiveness in Experiments (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12396)” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

 

Territorial Representation and the Opinion-Policy Linkage

AJPS Author Summary of “Territorial Representation and the Opinion-Policy Linkage” by Christopher Wratil 

Territorial Representation and the Opinion-Policy Linkage

A central promise of democracy is that government will follow the wishes and opinions of the people. A large body of literature in American and comparative politics has demonstrated that in many situations governments react to shifts in mean public opinion and enact policies that are supported by the majority of citizens across the country. However, the idea that policy-makers follow country-wide mean opinion to get re-elected is most straightforward in political systems where policy-makers are elected by ‘the people’ as a whole. But many political systems elect policy-makers in sub-national constituencies: from U.S. Senators elected only by the citizens in each of the 50 constituent states to national governments in the European Union elected only by the citizens of each of the 28 member states. How do these arrangements of ‘territorial representation’ influence whose preferences will be reflected in policy output in case citizens in different states or territories disagree over policy change?

To answer this question my research uses the case of the EU, where national governments are major policy-makers accountable only to their national publics which have varying opinions on EU policies. I argue that governments will focus on achieving policy change on those issues their national citizens at home care intensely about and have a uniform view on, and potentially make concessions to other governments on issues their citizens’ opinion is ambivalent and less salient. The analyses show that measures weighting opinion across member states by how much national citizens care about an issue rather than by population sizes better explain EU-level policy change than mean opinion across the EU. Moreover, when a national public views an issue as particularly salient, the probability that EU policy on this issue will be in line with majority opinion in this member state increases the more clear-cut public opinion on the matter.

The results do not only highlight that political systems that elect key policy-makers territorially, such as the EU or federal systems, may reallocate influence to citizens in certain parts of the political system depending on how much they care about an issue and how malapportioned the legislative power of policy-makers is compared to voter populations. But they also provide the first quantitative assessment of the responsiveness and congruence of EU-level policy outputs with public opinion on specific issues. The findings challenge the widely-held belief that the EU system is largely insulated from public opinion. Instead, they pose the question of how exactly we should normatively assess the quality of democracy in systems that may not react most strongly to mean opinion but to opinion in different territories depending on the distributions of salience, opinion, and power.

About the author: Christopher Wratil is a John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellow at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University. His research, “Territorial Representation and the Opinion-Policy Linkage: Evidence from the European Union (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12403)” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Urbanization Patterns, Information Diffusion and Female Voting in Rural Paraguay

 AJPS Author Summary of “Urbanization Patterns, Information Diffusion and Female Voting in Rural Paraguay” by Alberto Chong, Gianmarco LeónCiliotta,  Vivian Roza, Martín Valdivia, and Gabriela Vega

AJPS-EarlyView-Chong

While the role of social interactions as a vehicle to boost the impact of information campaigns is not a new one, evidence on whether information spreads through social networks and is able to generate behavioral changes is mixed, and this is particularly the case for interventions seeking to boost electoral participation (Sinclair et al 2012, Fafchamps et al. 2018, Gine and Mansuri 2017.) Understanding how social interactions help spread information and generate behavioral change provides insights on the relevance of social networks in the design of public policies. Information exchanges among friends and neighbors, or through role models may help spread the information within a locality, and the quality of such interactions is in turn affected by cultural or ethnic similarities or spatial proximity.

In Chong et al (2018), we present evidence of the relevance of urbanization patterns in mediating the effects of two distinct get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaigns to boost registration and turnout among women in rural Paraguay. We use individual-level administrative registration and voting data, survey information, and satellite images, and exploit a particularity in urbanization patterns in rural Paraguay: some localities have a clear center, surrounded by houses and agricultural land in the outskirts (non-linear localities), while others are long lanes, along which houses are sparsely distributed with agricultural land as backyards (linear localities).

Prior to the 2013 presidential elections, we randomly assigned rural localities to one of two commonly used methods for running information and political campaigns: non-partisan public rallies (PR) and door-to-door (D2D) canvassing. PRs are a relatively inexpensive way to reach large audiences, and while somewhat impersonal, are an appealing option and are widely used in political and information campaigns. Despite their popularity, very few studies have assessed their impact. On the other hand, D2D campaigns, while more capital and labor intensive, may be more effective due to the closer human contact and the possibility that they generate information spillovers. The trade-off between a mobilization campaign that involves a more impersonal approach, which allows higher reach at a relatively lower cost, and one that is a more personal and interactive one, but has less coverage and is more expensive, is at the core of our research and sheds light on the conditions affecting mobilization efforts’ effectiveness.

In both treatments, we provided information related to registration and the importance of voting. The experiment was designed to estimate spillover effects by randomly varying the intensity of the D2D treatment. We find that neither intervention led to increases in voter registration, but while PRs show small and insignificant effects on voting, face-to-face interactions significantly increased turnout among treated women. Interestingly, we find evidence of spillover effects that leads to higher turnout only in localities with urbanization patterns that appear to favor social interactions and information diffusion (linear localities). These spillover effects are more important for treated women (reinforcement effect) than for untreated women (diffusion effects.) Overall, our results suggest that the design of GOTV campaigns should consider the spatial constraints that affect the frequency and quality of social interactions within a locality, and therefore could limit the extent of spillovers effects.

About the Authors: Alberto Chong is a Professor in the Department of Economics at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies and holds a joint appointment with the College of Education and Human Development; Gianmarco LeónCiliotta is an Associate Professor at the Department of Economics and Business at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, an Affiliated Professor at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics and at IPEG-Barcelona, and a Research Affiliate at CEPR; Vivian Roza is a Program Coordinator at Inter-American Development Bank; Martín Valdivia is a Senior Researcher at the Group for the Analysis of Development; Gabriela Vega is the Social Development Principal Specialist at the Gender and Diversity Division of the Inter-American Development Bank. Their research “Urbanization Patterns, Information Diffusion and Female Voting in Rural Paraguay (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12404)” is now available online in Early View and will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

References

Chong, Alberto , Gianmarco León, Vivian Roza, Martín Valdivia, and Gabriela Vega (2018) “Urbanization Patterns, Information Diffusion and Female Voting in Rural Paraguay,” American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming.

Fafchamps, Marcel, Pedro Vicente and Ana Vaz (2018) “Voting and Peer Effects: Experimental Evidence from Mozambique.” Economic Development and Cultural Change, forthcoming.

Gine, Xavier, and Ghazala Mansuri (2017). “Together we will: experimental evidence on female voting behavior in Pakistan.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

Sinclair, Betsy, Donald Green and Margaret McConnell (2012). “Detecting Spillover Effects: Design and Analysis of Multilevel Experiments,” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 56 (4): 1055–1069

Building Cooperation among Groups in Conflict: An Experiment on Intersectarian Cooperation in Lebanon

Building Cooperation among Groups in Conflict: An Experiment on Intersectarian Cooperation in LebanonAJPS Author Summary of “Building Cooperation among Groups in Conflict: An Experiment on Intersectarian Cooperation in Lebanon” by Han Il Chang and Leonid Peisakhin

Across much of the Middle East, relations between Shiites and Sunnis are strained.  In some cases, the two Muslim sects have a long history of grievances, and they cohabit in the region’s hotspots (e.g., Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain).  In this paper, we test several interventions designed to improve cooperation across sectarian lines.

The study – a laboratory in the field experiment – took place in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, where we asked a representative sample of Beirut’s residents to engage in a series of tasks designed to measure conditional and unconditional cooperation.  Conditional cooperation – a type of cooperation that entails strategic considerations about reciprocity – was measured by observing contributions in a public goods game.  Unconditional cooperation – a type that implies selfless other-regarding behavior – was observed in a standard other-other allocation game and also in a series of simulated elections.

The aim of the study was to test the effectiveness of a pro-cooperation appeal by experts and, separately, of a cross-sectarian group discussion on improving cooperation levels by comparison to a baseline.  The expert appeal followed the format of a short televised debate where prominent Shia and Sunni journalists discussed the problems associated with sectarianism and encouraged the shedding of sectarian identities in favor of a national Lebanese identity.  Group discussions centered around participants’ experiences with sectarianism and possible remedies to the problem.  To the best of our knowledge, ours is the first study to test the effectiveness of expert appeals on cooperation in a conflict setting.

We found that the expert appeal increased unconditional cooperation across sectarian lines as expressed.  Levels of conditional cooperation remained unchanged, and observational evidence suggests that lack of an effect was due to the fact that the expert appeal intervention failed to increase cross-sectarian trust.  Contrary to expectations, we found that group discussions had no sizeable effect on cooperation levels, although there was suggestive evidence that highly substantive discussions might, in fact, lead to greater cooperation.  We also established that when participants were offered money to support a member of their own sect – a proxy for clientelism in our study – the positive effects of the expert appeal intervention on unconditional cooperation were canceled out.

All in all, this study suggests that certain types of cross-group cooperation can be improved even in settings as divided as contemporary Lebanon.  Surprisingly, it is the top-down intervention (expert appeal) that, on average, appears to be more effective than a bottom-up one (group discussion).  What is unfortunate is that clientelism seems to negate the effects even of top-down appeals by experts.

About the Authors: Han Il Chang is a Research Associate at New York University–Abu Dhabi and Leonid Peisakhin is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at New York University–Abu Dhabi. Their research “Building Cooperation among Groups in Conflict: An Experiment on Intersectarian Cooperation in Lebanon (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12397)” is now available online in Early View and will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

 

 

 

 

Public-Sector Unions and the Size of Government

AJPS Author Summary by Agustina S. PaglayanPaglayan.jpg

Liberals and conservatives in the U.S. seem to agree on at least one thing: collective bargaining with public-sector unions leads to increases in public spending—which liberals think is good, and conservatives bad. This article challenges the widespread conventional wisdom about collective bargaining. It shows that the introduction of collective bargaining rights for teachers in the 1960s and 70s led to higher public spending on education only in states where teachers could credibly threaten to go on strike; but it shows also that, in most states where teachers were given the legal right to engage in collective bargaining, these rights came bundled with provisions that made it more difficult for teachers to resort to strikes as a weapon during collective negotiations. As a result, on average, the introduction of mandatory collective bargaining with teachers did not lead to increases in the level of resources devoted to education. When collective bargaining did increase education spending, the magnitude of the effect was small and cannot explain the bulk of the differences in education spending levels that exist across states today. In fact, most of these differences in spending precede the formation of modern teacher unions.

The findings of this study are at odds with the conventional wisdom because of two major improvements over prior research. First, this study pays attention to the political history behind the emergence of collective bargaining rights for public employees, showing that these rights were not introduced by an unambiguously pro-labor coalition, and that they were often accompanied by anti-labor provisions. In the U.S., public employees gained the right to engage in collective bargaining in the 1960s and 70s. By 1990, 33 states had ended long-standing prohibitions on teachers’ collective bargaining, instead establishing that school districts had an obligation to bargain with teacher unions. The introduction of these mandatory collective bargaining state laws led to a rapid increase in teacher unionization rates, which climbed from 6% in the late 1950s to 60% in the early 80s. It is common to assume that these were pro-labor laws introduced by pro-labor politicians, but a look at history shows these assumptions are wrong. The laws were shaped by counterbalancing interests with ample support from both Democrats and Republicans, and represented a mixed change in unions’ power. Yes, they gave unions collective bargaining rights, but they also introduced costly strike penalties designed deliberately to deter striking. Lawmakers realized that threatening to dismiss striking teachers was not effective to dissuade them from striking, because teachers knew that no politician wanting to ensure the smooth provision of public education would dare fire everyone who went on strike. Instead, to prevent strikes, most mandatory collective bargaining laws established strike penalties that could be enforced. If they went on strike, union members could lose two days of pay for every day on strike, the union could be heavily fined, decertified, and/or no longer enjoy automatic deduction of union dues from districts’ payroll. With striking capacity curtailed, collective bargaining did not have the bite to increase resources for education.

The second feature that sets this study apart from previous research is the data and methods it uses to quantify the effect of mandatory collective bargaining laws on the size of government. The study uses a new and publicly-available dataset that tracks the evolution of teacher salaries, student-teacher ratios, per-pupil education spending, and per-pupil non-wage education spending (including employer contributions to pensions, administrative costs, etc.) in all 50 states in the U.S. from 1919 on. This unprecedented breadth of data on public education in the U.S. confirms, as lay observers often note, that governments that engage in collective bargaining tend to pay higher salaries and spend more than those that don’t; but it also shows that collective bargaining is not the reason why they spend more. In 1919, when there was no collective bargaining with teachers anywhere, the states that would later introduce collective bargaining rights for teachers were already devoting considerably more resources to education than states that would not. On average, these historical differences in spending did not become wider after collective bargaining rights were introduced by some states but not others.

The evidence presented in this article revises our understanding of what public-sector unions do and where their power stems from. It highlights that, in most U.S. states, public-sector unions remain considerably constrained in their ability to exert pressure through collective bargaining, either because they don’t have the right to bargain to begin with, or because they have collective bargaining rights but not the ability to strike.

Liberals and conservatives may still have thoughts about public-sector collective bargaining. But the article sets the record straight: whether they support it or oppose it, their position cannot be based on the belief that collective bargaining rights per se lead to higher public spending.

About the Author: Agustina S. Paglayan is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and School of Global Policy and Strategy at University of California San Diego. Paglayan’s article “Public‐Sector Unions and the Size of Government (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12388)” is now available online in Early View and will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

All Male Panels Erode Citizens’ Perceptions of Democratic Legitimacy

Author Summary of “All Male Panels? Representation and Democratic Legitimacy” by Amanda Clayton, Diana Z. O’Brien, Jennifer M. Piscopo

All Male Panels Erode Citizens' Perceptions of Democratic LegitimacyAll-male panels increasingly face public scorn, especially when their topic addresses matters connected to women’s experiences. Backlash against all-male panels suggests that women’s presence matters for citizens. Our research explains whether, when, and for whom the makeup of political institutions affects perceptions of democratic legitimacy.

We asked a representative sample of Americans to read a hypothetical newspaper article about an eight-member state legislative committee evaluating sexual harassment policies. Our experimental design varied both the gender makeup of the panel (all-male vs. gender-balanced) and the decision reached (increasing or decreasing penalties for those found guilty of harassment).

We asked respondents their feelings about the legitimacy of the decision itself (what we term substantive legitimacy), as well as their attitudes towards the decision-making process, willingness to acquiesce to the decision, and trust in the political institutions that made the decision (what we term procedural legitimacy).

We find that citizens, both men and women, strongly prefer gender-balanced decision-making bodies. At the same time, we also show important differences related to the decision reached and respondent gender.

Regarding the legitimacy of the decision itself, we find that aversion towards male-only panels is observed only when the committee rolls back women’s rights. Further, men respondents in particular respond especially positively to women’s presence when the all-male panel makes a decision that harms women. Yet, changing from an all-male to a gender-balanced panel does not affect the perceived legitimacy of decisions that expand women’s rights, for either men or women respondents.

Moving to the legitimacy of decision-making procedures, we find that citizens view decision-making as more legitimate when women are present. This finding holds for both men and women, no matter the decision reached. Even in cases in which all-male panels advance feminist policies, citizens report lower average levels of procedural fairness, institutional trust, and acquiescence as compared to the gender-balanced panel.

Our findings hold across citizens’ party identification, indicating that both Republicans and Democrats prefer gender-balanced panels.

Importantly, our results concerning the legitimacy of decision-making procedures also hold in policy areas that do not affect women’s rights. A separate group of respondents saw a news story in which an all-male or gender-balanced panel could raise or lower penalties for the mistreatment of farm animals. In this experiment, women’s presence does not affect attitudes about the substance of the decision. Yet, respondents report higher average levels of perceived fairness, institutional trust, and acquiescence when the decision is made by a gender-balanced panel. Again, citizens prefer inclusion.

Our findings demonstrate the profound importance of inclusion. Women’s presence in elected office is necessary in order for political institutions to be seen as wholly legitimate. Women’s descriptive representation matters across policy areas, and even when decisions expand women’s rights. Politicians should recognize that opprobrium against all-male panels is not just a social media trend, but a genuine grievance. Having only men as policymakers erodes citizens’ beliefs in the democratic legitimacy of their political institutions.

About the Authors: Amanda Clayton is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, Diana Z. O’Brien is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University, and Jennifer M. Piscopo is Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Occidental College. “All Male Panels? Representation and Democratic Legitimacy (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12391)” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

 

Peer Review Week at AJPS: Better Late than Never (Just like Reviews!)

By the AJPS Editorial Team

Who knew that September 10-15 was “Peer Review Week,” a celebration held in honor of the essential role of peer review in the academy and scholarly publications? We didn’t, until the week-long celebration was nearly over. Nonetheless, we made it a memorable week on the AJPS reviewer front by updating the “reviewer guidelines” at www.ajps.org. Please take a quick look at those details before submitting your next review.

Here, we offer some additional thoughts about doing reviews. Doing reviews often feels like a thankless task, one that takes time away from the more pressing matters in academic life. But we are keenly aware that, without able and willing reviewers, the entire peer-review enterprise would collapse. While some of these comments reflect our take on reviews and reviewing, we suspect that they might be shared by other editors in the discipline.

Why should I review? Participating in the peer review of research articles contributes to your scholarly community. It is a way to keep abreast of new ideas and new approaches. It offers an opportunity to use the expertise you’ve developed, via years of study and authoring papers, to advance our collective knowledge. And if the collective, altruistic view of reviewing doesn’t strike a chord, then how about this: it’s a great way to learn something—about substance, method or writing, to name a few.

For whom should I review? Many of us receive more review requests than we could ever accept, and sometimes from journals that seem a bit outside of our usual purview. Review for the journals where you want to publish, and for the journals you regularly read. Reviewing for and publishing in more general journals allows you to have a voice in the leading scholarship in your field. And whatever the impact factor, reviewing for more specialized journals usually shifts the focus to greater in-depth material and may benefit your own work even more.

How many reviews should I do? People sometimes don’t have a sense of how often they should review. Often Editorial Board members are expected to review more than others; we try to not ask for reviews from others more than a couple times a year. But it varies a lot, both here at AJPS and at other journals, and we as a discipline don’t coordinate on counting up the number of reviews across journals (although Publons may help a tiny bit with this). Data on the peer review process suggests that the burden of reviewing is unevenly distributed. In fact, one reason reviewers decline our invitations is that our “ask” has arrived when the potential reviewer already has committed to reviewing multiple papers, and they can’t add ours to the list.

Some editors like to remind their colleagues that, if they are getting three reviews every time they submit a piece, then they need to be doing three times their number of journal submissions/re-submissions in a given year. At AJPS, we now ask anyone who submits an article to commit to doing two reviews during the coming year. We appreciate that review requests sometimes come at inopportune times (whether or not you have other review commitments in line ahead of AJPS). In other cases, potential reviewers do not feel as expert as they might like. We (and most) editors appreciate why reviewers may need to decline in these situations. But every editor loves it when a declined reviewer invitation is accompanied by suggestions of potential alternate reviewers. Our reviewer database is a work in progress, and we certainly do not know people in every nook and cranny of the profession. Adding new reviewers to our database is critical to the editorial process, so making reviewer recommendations is incredibly helpful. You might also think of making recommendations as an opportunity to share the love with your friends, colleagues, and co-authors!

Why was I invited to review? The peer review process is one that is premised on expertise: you are invited to review because the editors believe you have the expertise to evaluate the argument, claims, and methods used in the paper. That said, you may not be an expert on every aspect, and do not need to address each of these aspects. You can focus your comments on the issues you believe to be most important as a basis for making a recommendation. Often editors will invite reviewers who have published research on similar—but not the same exact—questions to provide some diversity across reviewers. This is especially true at less specialized journals, where editors might want to know what scholars in the same subfield—but with different research expertise—think about the paper’s argument, importance, or potential (broader) impact.

What if I know who the author is? Convey this information to the editorial office immediately. It is helpful to explain for how long, and in what capacity, you have known the author and how you know the paper. Some editors will immediately release you from the review invitation (and appreciate being able to do this); others will judge whether the circumstances are sufficiently compromising that they need to find another reviewer. Or the editors may ask the invited reviewer to complete the review if they feel that they can offer an unbiased, serious review independent of knowing the author’s identity.

What if I’ve reviewed the manuscript for another journal? Convey this information to the editorial office as well. Many editors will leave the decision up to the reviewer; some will release you from the review. The basic principle here is that the reviewer and editor should be in agreement as to whether doing the review is the right thing.

What should I include in the review? Many journals will describe what they want in a review when they invite you, or post these details on the journal’s website. Oftentimes this comes in a series of questions that might structure the review: what is the paper’s theoretical motivation? Its theoretical or empirical contribution? Is the method appropriate to question? How persuasive is the empirical evidence? Is the author’s interpretation of the evidence accurate? Is it appropriate? What are the paper’s strength and weaknesses? Can the weaknesses be addressed? While providing a summary of the paper (from a few sentences to a lengthier paragraph) can help set the stage for the review, the more important details are your answers to the questions posed by the editors.

In addition, if you are really impressed by a paper, please tell us why. Sometimes reviewers are quicker to criticize than to praise. While we understand (and often share) that urge, keep in mind that we are seeking reasons to accept or advance a piece, as well as reasons to decline it. If you love a manuscript, don’t be afraid to advocate for it. You may find this piece, written by Sara Mitchell (an AJPS Editorial Board member) to be useful.

Will the editor follow my recommendation? Sometimes they will; sometimes they won’t. At most journals, reviews are advisory to the editor. And it is important to remember that, regardless of the time invested in the review, the editor has more information than what any single reviewer has. She knows who the members of the review panel are and what their review histories are (some reviewers inflate their grades, whereas others do not!). She also often receives private “to the editor” comments from reviewers, which sometimes emphasize certain points made in the review. Moreover, the editor sees reviews for dozens or even hundreds of manuscripts per year. While each manuscript decision is dependent on the reviews that are submitted, the editors have some experience to assess what good and bad reviews look like; and what a reasonable amount of work for a revision would be.

With all that said… We now declare this week as Peer Review Week at AJPS! So send in those reviews (early, late or on deadline). And take a few minutes to update your contact details and research interests in our Editorial Manager database, so that we know how (and for what) to invite you to review. If you do not have an existing Editorial Manager profile and want to review, begin one—and send along your C.V. to the editorial office at ajps@mpsanet.org so we can learn more.

Making Bureaucracy Work: Patronage Networks, Performance Incentives, and Economic Development in China

AJPS Author Summary by Junyan Jiang

Patron-client networks are widely found in governments of transitional societies. Most researchers view them as a threat to government performance. In this article, I advance an alternative view that emphasizes the positive roles of patron-client networks in political organizations. I argue that, by fostering mutual trust and raising the value of long-term cooperation, these informal relations can help align the interests between government agents and their principals, and discourage short-term, opportunistic behaviors. When formal incentive schemes are weak or incomplete, these personal ties can serve as an alternative mechanism for principals to mobilize agents to accomplish important but challenging governing tasks.

Making Bureaucracy Work: Patronage Networks, Performance Incentives, and Economic Development in China

My empirical analysis focuses on China, a country where the practice of political patronage is both long-standing and pervasive. I build a new database consisting of fully digitized resumes for over 4,000 city, provincial, and central officials, and develop a new strategy that infers patron-client ties by linking lower-level officials with senior leaders who promoted them at critical career junctures. Exploiting variations in connections between cities and provinces induced by the constant reshuffling of officials at both levels, I find those city leaders with informal ties to the incumbent provincial secretary, the de facto leader of a province, deliver significantly better economic performance than those whose patrons have either retired or left the province. The performance premium of connected agents is estimated to be about 275 million yuan (~42 million U.S dollars) per year for an average city.

I address several alternative explanations, such as clients’ greater propensity to falsify data, distributive favoritism, and heterogeneity in personal or career backgrounds. While all three are plausible explanations for the observed performance premium, the empirical results suggest that they are not the main causal channels through which connection affects performance. I also provide additional direct and indirect evidence on the incentive-enhancing role of connections, drawing on several other data sources.

Findings from this study contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between states’ organizational characteristics and governance outcomes. While the prevailing view in the literature is that effective governance requires the presence of strong, well-functioning political and bureaucratic institutions, my analysis suggests that momentum for development can also be created in a less-than-ideal institutional environment where personal connections remain an influential aspect of politics.

Moreover, this study also speaks to a burgeoning literature on the sources of durability in authoritarian regimes. Just as Robert Putnam has argued in his influential book, Making Democracy Work, that social capital, which refers to “trust, norms, and networks” among citizens, is key to the performance of democratic institutions, this study suggests that social capital among the political elites can also be a valuable asset for the proper functioning of regional bureaucracies in a large, multi-layered autocratic regime. Instead of regarding them as merely a source of inefficiency or corruption, therefore, future researchers should pay greater attention to the enabling effects of these networks in studying both persistence and changes of nondemocratic systems.

About the Author: Junyan Jiang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government and Public Administration at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Making Bureaucracy Work: Patronage Networks, Performance Incentives, and Economic Development in China” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12394) is now online available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

AJPS Author Summary – Compulsory Voting and Parties’ Vote Seeking Strategies

Compulsory Voting and Parties’ Vote‐Seeking StrategiesAuthor Summary by Shane P. Singh

Compulsory voting is used in around 30 countries, many of which have only recently adopted the requirement to vote. Meanwhile, a number of countries have switched from mandatory to voluntary voting in recent years. In the run-up to these changes, politicians and commentators regularly deliberated over the putative advantages and drawbacks of compulsory voting.

To this end, it is important that compulsory voting’s consequences are well understood. It is well known that it increases turnout and generally makes voters more reflective of the entire electorate. There is also a burgeoning literature on the effects of compulsory voting on vote choices, the success of the left and right, political sophistication, and attitudes toward democracy. But, little is known about how compulsory voting shapes the behavior of political parties.

In my article, I advance a theory about compulsory voting’s effects on parties’ vote seeking strategies. I argue that, due to their beliefs about the character of compelled voting populations, parties see more value in emphasizing their issue stances and ideological positions where voting is mandatory than where it is not. As a result, I predict that parties will pivot toward programmatic vote seeking strategies and away from clientelistic tactics, such as vote buying, under compulsory voting.

I test my predictions with three separate studies. In Study 1, I show that, across countries, compulsory voting is positively associated with programmatic vote seeking and negatively associated with vote buying. In Study 2, I show that Thailand’s adoption of compulsory voting boosted programmatic vote seeking. And, in Study 3, I show that compulsory voting in Argentina leads parties to avoid certain vote buying tactics. Taken together, the findings of the three studies indicate that compulsory voting leads parties to place more emphasis on issues and ideology when seeking votes.

While my findings update the understanding of the effects of compulsory voting beyond turnout, they may also help to inform debates over compulsory voting’s impact on electoral integrity. Proponents of compulsory voting often argue that it is linked to cleaner elections. In recent deliberations in Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, for example, some political leaders argued that mandatory voting reduces vote buying. In line with these arguments, my finding of a link from compulsory voting to programmatic, as opposed to clientelistic, vote seeking suggests that compulsory voting could indeed enhance the integrity of elections.

About the Author: Shane P. Singh is Associate Professor in the Department of International Affairs within the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. Singh’s research “Compulsory Voting and Parties’ Vote‐Seeking Strategies” 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.