Introducing the New Editorial Team

As MPSA President Elisabeth Gerber announced on May 3, the Council voted to appoint me as Lead Interim Editor for June 2018-June 2019, in anticipation of a successful search for the next four-year editorial team. With previous editorial service to the American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) and the Journal of Politics, the challenge of a one-month transition period seemed less daunting in light of the expectation of working with a team of associate editors. In identifying potential associate editors, my first priority was to find leading scholars across subfields of the discipline, ones whose professional values were consistent with the scholarly goals of the AJPS—and who were able to make a commitment to the journal, over other academic obligations, on such short notice.

As that one-month transition period comes to a close, I am pleased to announce that Sarah M. Brooks of The Ohio State University, Mary G. Dietz of Northwestern University, Jennifer L. Lawless of the University of Virginia, and Rocio Titiunik of the University of Michigan have agreed to serve as associate editors.

Sarah M. Brooks is Professor of Political Science and 2018-2019 Huber Faculty Fellow at The Ohio State University. Her research and teaching interests center on comparative and international political economy, Latin American politics and social protection. Brooks is also co-director of the Brazil Working Group at the Center for Latin American Studies, and co-director of the Globalization Workshop at the Mershon Center. She is the author of Social Protection and the Market in Latin America and she has written extensively on the topic of social security and pension reform. Her research, which has been supported by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung Foundation and Fulbright, has appeared in numerous scholarly journals including International Organization, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, World Politics, Comparative Political Studies, and Latin American Politics and Society. Brooks received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Duke University.

Mary G. Dietz is the John Evans Professor of Political Theory and Professor of Political Science and Gender & Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University. Her areas of academic specialization are political theory and the interpretation of texts, with concentrations in feminist theory and politics; democratic theory and citizenship; the history of Western political thought, and contemporary political and social theory. Dietz is the author of Between the Human and the Divine: The Political Thought of Simone Weil and Turning Operations: Feminism, Arendt, and Politics; and editor of Thomas Hobbes & Political Theory. She has also served as editor of Political Theory: An International Journal of Political Philosophy from 2005-2012. Dietz received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley.

Jennifer L. Lawless is Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on political ambition, and she is the co-author of Women on the Run: Gender, Media, and Political Campaigns in a Polarized Era, co-author of Running from Office: Why Young Americans Are Turned Off to Politics, and author of Becoming a Candidate: Political Ambition and the Decision to Run for Office. She is also a nationally recognized expert on women and politics, and the co-author of It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office. Her research, which has been supported by the National Science Foundation, has appeared in numerous academic journals such as the American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, and the Journal of Politics. Lawless received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford University.

Rocío Titiunik is James Orin Murfin Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. She specializes in quantitative methodology for the social sciences, with emphasis on quasi-experimental methods for causal inference and political methodology. She is a member of the leadership team of the Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models (EITM) Summer Institute, member-at-large of the Society for Political Methodology, and member of Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP). She is also associate editor for Political Science Research and Methods. Her work appears in various journals in the social sciences and statistics, including the American Journal of Political Science, the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, Econometrica, the Journal of the American Statistical Association, and the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Titiunik received her Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of California at Berkeley.

Soon I expect an additional editor to join the team—more details when I have them. Until then, the five of us will be working to secure high-quality reviews promptly, and identify those manuscripts that satisfy our expectations of intellectual contribution and scholarly impact. Final manuscript publications decisions will be made jointly by the associate editor to whom the manuscript is assigned and myself, with no appeals accepted.

And so we’re off! The year will go by quickly, I’m sure—with thanks in advance to our reviewers (who do the real work) and to Rick Wilson and the rest of the Editorial Search Committee tasked with finding the next editorial team. I am also grateful to the many individuals on the MPSA Council, in the MPSA office, on the Wiley staff and on the MSU editorial staff for getting us going so quickly.

Hope that your summer is as fun and productive as I expect ours to be!

Jan Leighley, Interim Editor

AJPS Author Summary: Issue Voting as a Constrained Choice Problem

Author Summary by Mert Moral and Andrei Zhirnov

Issue Voting as a Constrained Choice ProblemDo all voters consider same parties when they make their vote choices? And if not, how does such variation in their “choice sets” matter for the electoral process?

Although these questions are of crucial importance for our understanding of voting behavior, spatial competition, and democratic representation, previous research on issue voting –the empirical investigation of how voters respond to party policies in distinct issue domains– rarely tackles with them and, instead, assumes a common and fixed choice set composition.

We suggest that voters’ effective choice sets vary widely, and many of them are different from the ones imposed by researchers. Some voters may disregard certain parties. Others may take into consideration larger numbers of party alternatives when making their vote decision. If this is the case, conventional empirical models of issue voting might produce biased estimates of the effects of voters’ policy considerations on their vote choice.

To address this problem, we present the so-called “Constrained Choice Conditional Logistic Regression” (CCCL) — a random utility model that builds on the conditional logistic regression and the constrained multinomial logistic regression. CCCL treats the observed vote choice as a product of two interrelated but distinct processes –the formation of individuals’ choice sets and the choice among the parties in such choice sets. We assume that party identification, and parties’ electoral viability and policy extremity determine choice set formation. Along with the prominent spatial theories of issue voting, we inform our theoretical expectations from the literatures on strategic voting and party identification.

The main text presents an application of the CCCL, as well as competing models, to the data from the 1989 parliamentary election in Norway (in online appendices we present several additional cases). The CCCL has a better fit to the data than the conditional logistic regressions even when the latter includes the same set of non-spatial covariates (CCCL corrects 20 to 25% of its wrong predictions).

The examination of parameter estimates confirms that voters do consider different sets of parties in their choice sets. It also shows that non-spatial factors do not simply compete for influence with policy considerations. Rather, they shape individuals’ choice sets, and thus condition the effects of their policy considerations on vote choice. Under certain conditions, these factors may render the policy positions of political parties irrelevant for the vote choice of particular voters and political outcomes in general. This result also suggests that, as parties choose their policies, they do not always need to pay attention to all voters’ policy preferences but only to those whose choice sets include them.

Our results offer a number of methodological and theoretical takeaways. First, one should not simply ignore the variation in voters’ choice set compositions. Second, arbitrary exclusion of parties from empirical analyses of voting, as often done in previous literature, may harm the validity of our inferences regarding the weights of particular policies in individuals’ voting calculus and parties’ position-taking incentives. Finally, the use of the CCCL model is not limited to the literature on voting behavior. Along with its flexibility to employ chooser-, choice-, and chooser-choice dyad-level variables, this constrained decision-making model, which we present in our forthcoming article in the American Journal of Political Science, can be of use to researchers who seek to separate the process of choice set-formation from the choice process.

About the Authors:  Mert Moral is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Sabancı University and Andrei Zhirnov is a Ph.D. candidate at Binghamton University. Their article, “Issue Voting as a Constrained Choice Problem” is now available in Volume 62, Issue 2 of the Amerian Journal of Political Science.  

AJPS Author Summary: Credible Commitment in Covert Affairs

Author Summary By William Spaniel and Michael Poznansky

AJPS - FB Posts (5)Is it possible to prevent political leaders from undertaking questionable covert actions? At first blush, the prospects don’t look good. Convincing actors to behave contrary to their narrow self-interest is difficult even in domains characterized by relative transparency. Covert operations are notable for their opacity. Such actions are by their very nature hidden from public scrutiny.

And yet, actors often consent to regulations of secret activities anyway. In the 1970s, for example, Gerald Ford outlawed political assassinations and created an Intelligence Oversight Board to ease whistleblowing. More generally, states routinely sign treaties proscribing activities that are often carried out behind closed doors (e.g., torture). What remains unclear is whether these prohibitions matter given that detection is a prerequisite for punishment.

Our article, “Credible Commitment in Covert Affairs,” provides an answer. We develop a model that captures the incentives executives, whistleblowers, and watchdogs face in the covert sphere. We show that even when executives would otherwise like to pursue covert action, they may, under certain conditions, endogenously adopt institutional reforms to increase the costs of getting caught and promote whistleblowing.

To understand why, consider the following auditing problem. If watchdogs believe that an executive may have undertaken a questionable covert action, they may invest effort to investigate. This taxes the executive’s resources and erodes their political capital—regardless of whether the executive actually did anything. Additionally, the optimal level of watchdog effort implies a risk of revelation. Combined, these two factors may mean the executive is better off committing to inaction than sometimes taking covert action and getting away with it.

But how can the executive make such a commitment credible? This is where the whistleblower comes into play. Even if the watchdog doesn’t exert effort, high costs of punishment for getting caught and a reduction in the barriers to whistleblowing are sufficient to deter the executive from pursuing questionable covert actions. In turn, the executive may prefer circumstances with these high costs and low whistleblowing barriers to cases where he or she would otherwise be tempted to take covert action. We therefore expect the executive to promote institutional reform under these circumstances.

The article illustrates the mechanism by exploring the road to Gerald Ford’s intelligence community reforms in the mid-1970s. From 1947 to roughly 1974, executives enjoyed wide latitude in the covert sphere. There were few penalties stemming from Congress, the media, or the public for getting caught pursuing questionable covert operations. As such, executives displayed no desire to pursue reform. The Watergate scandal, combined with allegations of political assassinations and domestic spying, ended the era of deference. In response, Ford championed reforms to the intelligence community to credibly commit to refraining from engaging in questionable secret activities in the future.

About the Authors: William Spaniel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Michael Poznansky is an Assistant Professor of International Affairs and Intelligence Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Their article titled, “Credible Commitment in Covert Affairs “ is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

AJPS Author Summary: The Trade Origins of Economic Nationalism

The Trade Origins of Economic Nationalism: Import Competition and Voting Behavior in Western EuropeAuthor Summary by Piero Stanig and Italo Colantone

Western democracies are witnessing a revival of nationalism. The outcome of the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States are two major manifestations of this tendency. In Europe, this trend had already started in the 1990s, and it has been associated with an increasing support for radical-right parties. In our study, we show that globalization is a key determinant of this phenomenon.

We focus on the competitive shock brought about by the surge in imports from China, between 1988 and 2007. This shock has had a heterogeneous impact across European regions, depending on their historical employment composition. Specifically, the displacement effect of Chinese imports has been stronger in areas where a larger share of workers was historically employed in manufacturing industries in which China has later acquired a prominent role, e.g. textiles.

Our empirical strategy involves regressing summaries of regional electoral outcomes and individual-level vote choices against the exposure to the Chinese import shock. We use data on 76 legislative elections in fifteen Western European countries and find that a stronger regional exposure to the import shock determines an increase in support for nationalist, isolationist, and radical-right parties, and a general shift to the right in the electorate.

The main message of our paper is that globalization might not be sustainable in the long run in the absence of appropriate redistribution policies aimed at compensating the so-called “losers” of globalization: those segments of society that bear most of the adjustment costs of international trade.

The unequal sharing of the welfare gains brought about by globalization has resulted in widespread concerns and a general opposition to free trade. Such a sentiment is interpreted and promoted especially by nationalist and radical-right parties, whose policy proposals tend to bundle support for domestic free market policies with strong protectionist stances. A policy mix often referred to as the “economic nationalism” bundle. As parties offering such a policy platform become increasingly successful across countries, we might see the end –and possibly even a reversal– of globalization.

About the Authors: Piero Stanig is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management at Universita Bocconi in Milano, Italy. Italo Colantone is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management at Universita Bocconi in Milano, Italy. Their article titled, “The Trade Origins of Economic Nationalism: Import Competition and Voting Behavior in Western Europe” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Off-Cycle and Over-the-Hill: How Election Timing Affects Voter Composition and Policy Outcomes

Author Summary by Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, and Zachary Peskowitz

AJPS-Author Summary-Election Timing Electorate Composition Policy OutcomesTheir research “Election Timing, Electorate Composition, and Policy Outcomes: Evidence from School Districts” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Even casual observers of American politics know that voter turnout varies considerably, depending on when elections are held. Turnout peaks during presidential elections, drops considerably during midterm congressional elections, and bottoms out in elections limited to state and local contests. However, there remains considerable debate — among both scholars and practitioners — about the consequences of election timing for public policy. Some believe that lower turnout produces a more conservative electorate, while others are convinced that it advantages special interest groups with a large stake in public policy. Our study suggests both camps may be missing the point.

Two recently adopted laws help illustrate these popular but competing conventional wisdoms. California’s “Voter Participation Rights Act” (Senate Bill 415) requires some California local governments to hold their elections in November of even years, so that they take place concurrently with state and federal contests. Iowa’s House File 566 similarly requires Iowa school districts to hold their elections concurrently with municipal elections. Ostensibly, both laws were motivated by the goal of holding elections when turnout is higher. However, very different partisan coalitions were responsible for enacting each bill. The California law was adopted overwhelmingly by Democrats; indeed, not a single Republican voted in favor. By contrast, Republicans were unified in support of the Iowa law, while 70 percent of the Democratic caucus opposed it.

These partisan differences were driven by conflicting expectations among the legislators about how the bills would affect who votes in local elections. California’s law was motivated by a belief that more Democrats would participate in high-turnout November elections. As one political consultant noted, “Democratic turnout swells in November. Any measure that appeals to this electorate will fare better in November than it would have in June.” In Iowa, by contrast, both parties considered the law in terms of its expected impacts on teachers unions. With turnout in Iowa’s off-cycle school board elections typically in the single digits, there was widespread belief that the only people who bother to vote are school employees — individuals who have a clear personal (and financial) stake in the outcome of the election.

Our study examines these competing logics by estimating the extent to which low-turnout elections advantage conservatives or public school employees. Specifically, we examine more than 10,000 school tax and bond referenda in California, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin that have appeared on the ballot since 2000. Using school district fixed-effects models, we estimate the extent to which the composition of the electorate and policy outcomes vary depending on when elections are held. Our empirical strategy entails comparing the probability that a district obtains voter approval for tax or bond measures depending on whether they appeared on the ballot during a November presidential election, a midterm election, or an odd-year or special election. We also make such comparisons with respect to the characteristics of voters participating in these elections, including their demographics, likely partisanship, and whether each voter is licensed to work in public schools (a proxy for school employment) using data we obtained from Catalist, a national vendor that works with campaigns on microtargeting efforts.

Our results provide some support for both sets of conventional wisdoms. The electorate becomes more conservative as turnout declines, and school employees also represent a larger share of voters. However, both sets of effects are small and likely offset one another. For example, compared to a high-turnout presidential election, the Democratic share of the electorate declines by 4 points (at most) during a special election in the average district, while the share of school employees increases by a point or two at the most. Rarely do we observe an election in which school employees make up more than one tenth of the electorate, even if overall turnout is quite low. Although potentially consequential in a very close election, these effects are unlikely to affect the vast majority of the referenda we study because they were typically decided by much larger margins.

Our study indicates that theories of turnout centered around teachers unions are missing the biggest factor of all: voter age. Seniors make up a considerably bigger share of the electorate in low-turnout elections. Indeed, older voters account for nearly half of all voters in the typical off-cycle special election in our dataset, which corresponds to a 20 to 40 percent increase in their share of the electorate as compared to November presidential elections.

For school districts seeking to raise taxes, seniors are often thought to be bad news. They are unlikely to have school-aged kids at home and may be particularly averse to raising school taxes. Indeed, this is what we find in three of the four states we examine. School tax and bond measures fail at higher rates during special elections, when older voters account for a dominant share of the electorate. However, we find that the opposite is true in Texas. We suspect that tax and bond referenda appearing on the ballot during off-cycle elections are more likely to pass in Texas due to that state’s generous property tax breaks for seniors, which permanently freeze school-related property taxes once property owners turn 65.

Overall, our analysis documents how election timing can have important consequences for policy outcomes, but it also reveals that the nature of these impacts may depend significantly on the political and institutional context.

About the authors: Vladimir Kogan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Ohio State University, Stéphane Lavertu is an Associate Professor at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University, and Zachary Peskowitz is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Emory University. Their research “Election Timing, Electorate Composition, and Policy Outcomes: Evidence from School Districts” will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is now available for Early View.

AJPS Author Summary: Electoral Effects of Biased Media

Author Summary by Leonid Peisakhin and Arturas Rozenas

Their article titled “Electoral Effects of Biased Media: Russian Television in Ukraine” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Author Summary - Electoral Effects of Biased Media

There is a great deal of interest in the political effects of biased media. Observers in the U.S. and Europe worry that exposure to biased media, foreign or domestic, might have a substantial and wide-ranging impact on politics, including on voting results. Critics respond that media with a conspicuous bias is largely ineffective and might even backfire against the source. Furthermore, the understanding of mechanisms by which biased media might affect its audience remains incomplete: we are not sure whether biased messages mobilize their target audience without affecting their beliefs or whether these messages change consumers’ attitudes.

In this paper, we explore the effectiveness of biased media in the context of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.  The Russian government has made headlines in recent years for strategic use of politically biased messaging purportedly to change electoral outcomes in the U.S. and Europe. In the context of Ukraine, we make use of the fact that Russian analog television signal spills over into Ukraine along the Russian-Ukrainian border. Because of variation in geographic features, some Ukrainian settlements in the vicinity of the Russian border receive high-quality Russian analog signal, whereas neighboring settlements do not receive Russian television at all. As a result, some Ukrainians have ready access to Russian messaging on political events in Ukraine, whereas their neighbors do not. We study the impact of the potential availability of Russian television on voting behavior in Ukraine’s 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections, which took place shortly after president Yanukovych abandoned office, Russia annexed Crimea, and while the Russia-backed separatist conflict was brewing in eastern Ukraine. To enhance the validity of the findings we make use of both precinct-level electoral returns and individual-level data on patterns of television consumption, political attitudes, and voting behavior.

We find that the effect of exposure to Russian media is highly heterogeneous. Voters who are already predisposed toward Russian messaging—measured as support for pro-Russian candidates in the past—are more likely to be swayed by biased messages. Those who are a priori negatively predisposed toward Russia are either not affected by biased messaging or are altogether dissuaded by it. On balance, because the area under study historically supports pro-Russian candidates, exposure to Russian media messaging there results in higher aggregate support for politicians who are in opposition to Ukraine’s current government. This effect holds both at the level of precincts and individual voters. Notably, we use survey data to demonstrate that Russian media changes attitudes and does not just have a superficial mobilizing effect.

On balance, our finding suggests an important corrective to current debates on the effectiveness of biased media. The same biased source affects different individuals differently: those predisposed toward the source are persuaded by it, but those opposed to the source are either not affected or dissuaded. In the aggregate, exposure to biased media brings about greater political polarization as individuals with different priors move further to the ideological extremes. Therefore, in assessing the potential impact of biased media we must take stock of the distribution of political preferences in the affected population.

About the Authors: Leonid Peisakhin as Assistant Professor of Political Science at New York University—Abu Dhabi. Arturas Rozenas is Assistant Professor of Political Science at New York University. Their article titled “Electoral Effects of Biased Media: Russian Television in Ukraine” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AJPS Author Summary: Making Austerity Popular: The Media and Mass Attitudes toward Fiscal Policy

Author Summary by Lucy Barnes and Timothy Hicks

Their article titled, “Making Austerity Popular: The Media and Mass Attitudes Towards Austerity” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

AJPS-AuthorSummary-MakingAusterityPopularThe Financial Crisis forced public debts and deficits to the forefront of the political agenda across the advanced economies. The conventional wisdom is that reductions in benefits and increases in taxation should be deeply unpopular with electorates. Despite this, the near-decade since 2010 has seen huge fiscal consolidation: it’s the age of austerity. This poses a puzzle: how has popular acquiescence for a political project with adverse material effects been sustained?

While there have been notable scholarly treatments of austerity from an elite perspective, there has been far less work studying how this phenomenon has become accepted (or not) amongst the mass public. This is a rather surprising omission in the literature, and one that our article seeks to partially rectify.

We have two theoretical starting points. First, on the back of the generation-long Great Moderation, the issue of fiscal balance has been of relatively low salience in most developed democracies for quite some time. As a consequence, its (re-)emergence in the aftermath of the Financial Crisis of 2007/8 was into an environment in which citizens had relatively weak prior commitments. Second, the question of what is the appropriate fiscal stance at any given point in the economic cycle is challenging to reason through. Without a reason to think much about fiscal balance before, and little ability to reason through policy options to their own or the wider economy’s material interest, the mass public is particularly susceptible to suasion as to the appropriate policy. In addition, dissensus on the part of technocrats in this area provides multiple credible expert positions for the news media to exploit. This is exactly the set of circumstances that we should expect the news media (and other elites) to be able to strongly influence policy attitudes.

From this starting point, we demonstrate three empirical regularities about the British case in the period 2010-2015. First, using data from the British Election Study (BES), we show that which newspaper people read is a very strong predictor of responses to a question asking about the necessity of “eliminat[ing] the deficit over the next 3 years.” This is true even after controlling for a range of demographic features, household income, attitudes about redistribution, and party identification.  Indeed, the magnitudes of the newspaper effects are similar to those for party identification.

Observationally, then, it seems to matter where people read their news.  But does this change what they read? Media coverage can only matter in a meaningful way if the content of what is being read varies across news outlets. Given that, our second empirical step is to analyze the content of all articles in each of The Guardian and The Telegraph during the 2010-2015 parliament that mention the word “deficit.” These are leading broadsheet newspapers that are at opposite poles ideologically whose readers have very distinct deficit attitudes according to the BES data.

Using a Structural Topic Model, we are able to show that there are three distinct topics used by these two newspapers that directly relate to fiscal policy. Importantly, there are notable, and readily explicable, differences in the way that these two leading broadsheet newspapers wrote about fiscal policy during this period. The Guardian tended to focus on what was being cut (i.e. public services) while The Telegraph focused on taxation and debt magnitudes. In that light, it should be unsurprising that the readers of these two newspapers could come to different views about the necessity of austerity.

The third and final step of our empirical analysis is to demonstrate that the kinds of distinct news reporting that we uncover really can have causal effects on attitudes. We ran two survey experiments in which we randomly assigned respondents to a read a short paragraph about fiscal policy that was inspired by content from either The Guardian or The Telegraph.  The results show that respondents are indeed affected by the distinct presentations of the topic, with Guardian-assigned respondents notably more comfortable with deficit spending than those shown Telegraph-content.

About the Authors: Lucy Barnes is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University College London. Timothy Hicks is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University College London. Their article titled, “Making Austerity Popular: The Media and Mass Attitudes Towards Austerity” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

AJPS Author Sumary: Partisan Elites as Culprits? How Party Cues Shape Partisan Perceptual Gaps

Author Summary by Martin Bisgaard and Rune Slothuus

AJPS-AuthorSummary-Partisan Elites as Culprits? How Party Cues Shape Partisan Perceptual GapsTheir article “Partisan Elites as Culprits? How Party Cues Shape Partisan Perceptual Gaps” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

With American politics deeply polarized along partisan lines, and much debate revolving around fake news and alternative facts, many political observers are concerned that citizens are too deeply divided in their perceptions of reality. When survey researchers ask citizens about political reality, a typical finding is that partisans supporting the incumbent party offer a rosier view of real world conditions—such as the state of the economy—than supporters of the opposition do. Such partisan gaps in perceptions are evident in many different countries.

To most public opinion scholars, perceptual gaps between opposing partisan groups only seem to reaffirm the idea that an individual’s identification with a political party raises a “perceptual screen;” that partisanship sparks an inescapable motivation to process information in ways that reflect well on one’s own party. By this view, the culprit behind partisan perceptual gaps is individual-level motivation.

In our article, we propose a different possibility. We highlight a crucial driver of partisan perceptual gaps that does not feature prominently in existing work: partisan elites. Citizens rarely face neutral facts about reality, and partisan elites are often eager to portray real world conditions in ways that serve their electoral interests. If citizens listen to messages from their own party—and ignore the out-party’s message—then changes in how party leaders talk about reality could shape the perceptual gaps between opposing partisan groups. Under such circumstances, the “culprit” behind partisan perceptual gaps could be partisan elites at least as much as ordinary citizens.

Our study offers the first direct test of how elite partisan rhetoric influences the perceptual divides between partisans. We use two types of data. First, we analyze on a closely spaced five-wave panel survey surrounding a sudden shift in how the Center-Right government in Denmark changed its portrayal of the public budget deficit. Second, in addition to this quasi-experiment we present two randomized survey experiments from the same country.

Our findings reveal that when a major incumbent party suddenly advances a more dire interpretation of the budget deficit, incumbent partisans follow suit, whereas out-partisans reject the message. Thus, changing party cues about how to interpret the macro-economic facts at hand can effectively narrow, and even cancel out, partisan perceptual differences. The gulfs of disagreement between partisans are not a stable, inevitable pattern, but depends, in part, on how political elites communicate.

About the Authors: Martin Bisgaard is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University, and Rune Slothuus is Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University. Their article “Partisan Elites as Culprits? How Party Cues Shape Partisan Perceptual Gaps” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Author Summary: Sectarian Framing in the Syrian Civil War

Author Summary by Daniel Corstange and Erin A. York

AJPS-AuthorSummary-Sectarian Framing in the Syrian Civil WarTheir article “Sectarian Framing in the Syrian Civil War” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Civil war narratives are not just window dressing. Governments and rebels go to great lengths to win the battle for hearts and minds, since a sympathetic portrayal of their side of the conflict can attract domestic and international support. But are their efforts to frame the narrative effective in altering public perceptions of the civil war?

We study the effects of different conflict narratives in the Syrian civil war — particularly the one about sectarianism. The Syrian conflict is notable for its intensity and complexity. It began with Arab Spring-inspired calls for political reforms, but then ballooned into a destructive, multifaceted contest that has sucked in Syria’s neighbors and other foreign powers.

Explanations for the war have proliferated, one of which is that the conflict is sectarian at its core: a dispute between a regime dominated by religious minorities pitted against a Sunni majority. But this characterization competes with alternatives, including a fight for democracy over dictatorship, and accusations of foreign meddling. Both the government and the rebels have tried hard to pitch the war in terms favorable to their own side while casting their opponents in an unfavorable light.

We examine how well people respond to the different civil war narratives with a framing experiment embedded in a survey of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. To do so, we vary both the narrative invoked as well as whether or not it competes against an alternative explanation of the war. So, for example, we can see if people change how they think about the fighting if we pitch it to them as a sectarian dispute, as a fight for democracy, or a competition between these visions of what the war is about.

Do the narratives affect how people understand the fighting? Of the different pitches we gave them, only the sectarian explanation moved anyone to revise what they thought the fighting was all about. Even then, it only swayed government supporters, and only when they heard the sectarian narrative in isolation. When we presented it alongside a competing explanation for the war, such as a fight between democracy and dictatorship, the effect of the sectarian narrative evaporated.

So what? In Syria, the experiment suggests that government efforts to scare its supporters with sectarian rhetoric can work, but only to the extent that it can keep alternative narratives out of the public discourse. It also reveals an important distinction between the support bases for the warring factions. In particular, we could not budge opposition supporters from their pro-democracy narrative, no matter what we told them. It is perhaps a small consolation, but it implies that extremist groups such as ISIS have not deflected ordinary opposition sympathizers from the uprising’s original narrative.

More broadly, this experiment suggests that elites are more limited in their ability to control the civil war narrative than we might otherwise imagine. They can’t offer up any old explanation they like and expect people to parrot it back to them (we tried — it didn’t work). It may be more effective to pitch a conflict in ethnic or sectarian terms, yet even these narratives can be countered by opposing arguments — and the opposition surely has the incentive to get those arguments out in the open. Ultimately, elites are limited by the pitch they try to make, the audience to whom they make it, and the environment in which they operate.

About the Authors: Daniel Corstange is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University; Erin A. York is a Ph.D. student at Columbia University with a focus on comparative politics of the Middle East and additional interests in quantitative methods and political economy. Their article “Sectarian Framing in the Syrian Civil War” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Prominent Role Models: High-Profile Female Politicians and the Emergence of Women as Candidates for Public Office

AJPS Author Summary by Christina Ladam, Jeffrey J. Harden, and Jason H. Windett 

Their article “Prominent Role Models: High-Profile Female Politicians and the Emergence of Women as Candidates for Public Office” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

AJPS Author Summary - Prominent Role ModelsWhy are women less likely than men to run for office? Women’s presence in American government has grown considerably over the last several decades, and a great deal of research shows that women and men face similar electoral favorability. The political climate appears to be favorable for women candidacies. Nonetheless, men still dominate many political institutions–women hold only 19% of seats in the U.S. Congress and 25% in state legislatures.

Scholarship addressing this question offers many answers, from differences in socialization to contextual and institutional factors. Here we consider the role played by prominent female officeholders on other women’s decisions to enter the political arena as candidates themselves. Studies find that female officeholders help other women better see themselves as part of the political system, but those studies are limited to individual political behavior. We extend this idea, asking if prominent female officeholders produce more female candidates.

We theorize that prominent female officeholders in this role model position encourage more women to run for office. We consider two pathways for this effect: through symbolic inspiration and motivation or through practical efforts in recruitment. To what extent does a female role model in office inspire women to run themselves?  To what extent does a woman in a prominent office act as a party leader in recruiting additional women for office?

We look to the American states to examine these questions, estimating the causal effect of a woman holding the position of governor or U.S. senator in a state on the proportion of women who subsequently run for the state’s legislature. Using a dataset spanning 1978-2012, we find that a prominent female officeholder exerts a substantively large positive effect. We demonstrate that, for an average election, a female governor or senator adds about 7 female candidates for state legislative office.

In order to better understand the causal mechanism, we also look at whether a female officeholder in a neighboring state may serve as a role model for women to run for office. This separates the two mechanisms proposed, as female officeholders in a neighboring state can serve a symbolic role but do not likely recruit additional female candidates in that other state. We find evidence that female officeholders in neighboring states do have a positive effect. Though probably not definitive, this finding does suggest greater support for the symbolic role model effect.

Our work contributes to scholarly understanding of political representation of women as well as normative assessments of the quality of democracy. We find that, on top of their influence on the political behavior of women in the mass public, female officeholders can also serve as role models for other women to enter the political arena directly. Thus, we contend that women serving in prominent political offices are crucial to the goal of improving women’s political representation.

About the Authors: Christina Ladam is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder; Jeffrey J. Harden is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame; Jason H. Windett is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Their article “Prominent Role Models: High-Profile Female Politicians and the Emergence of Women as Candidates for Public Office” 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.