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.

Gender, Political Knowledge and Descriptive Representation: The Impact of Long-Term Socialization

Author Summary by Ruth Dassonneville and Ian McAllisterAJPS-Author Blog Post - Gender, Political Knowledge, and Descriptive Representation - Dassonneville - McAllister

With the exception of a small number of countries, women are under-represented—sometimes very significantly—in parliaments around the world. One consequence of this under-representation is that women engage less and take less interest in the political world. This article deals with one aspect of the problem—political knowledge. For as long as public opinion surveys have asked about political knowledge, women have been found to have lower levels of knowledge when compared to men. Various explanations have been advanced to account for this persistent gender gap, ranging from gender differences in income and education, to differences in political interest and media attention. Others have argued that the gender gap in political knowledge is a result of measurement and questionnaire design issues. However, even when these differences are taken into account, they have not explained the gender gap in political knowledge around the world. Another explanation is needed.

One promising line of recent enquiry has been descriptive representation. More precisely, this predicts that the more women there are in politics, then the more attention women will pay to politics and hence the more knowledge they will accumulate. However, this approach has also failed to account for the gender gap in political knowledge. In this article we show that having more women elected representatives does matter in increasing women’s political knowledge, but only among those who have just begun to vote. Our findings are based on comparative analyses of the gender difference in knowledge in two large-scale comparative datasets, and our results appear robust to different operationalizations of political knowledge and to controlling for other indicators of gender equality.

Our finding, that women elected representatives only matter among the young, is in line with political socialization, which predicts that the impact of political context will be greatest during young adulthood. The results show that as the proportion of women elected representatives increases, the gender gap in knowledge will decline, as women pay more attention to politics. However, such a change in political knowledge will take much longer than many have supposed since the impact is limited to the young.

About the Authors: Ruth Dassonneville is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Montreal. Ian McAllister is Distinguished Professor of Political Science in the School of Politics and International Relations at the Australian National University.  Their article, “Gender, Political Knowledge and Descriptive Representation: The Impact of Long-Term Socialization” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


Author Summary: Political Stability in the Open Society

By John Thrasher and Kevin Vallier Political Stability in the Open Society

In “Political Stability in the Open Society,”  we argue that Rawls’s model of a well-ordered society—as an account of a realistic utopia—is defective for two reasons. First, the well-ordered society model wrongly excludes the deep disagreement and diversity that we find in contemporary political life from figuring into a model of liberal order. Second, when deep disagreement and diversity are integrated into the model, discovery becomes an important part of modeling a stable liberal order. A liberal society is one where people are free to experiment with different approaches to the good life and justice given that we know much less than we might about how to live together.

If we are committed to recognizing deep diversity and the need for social discovery in modeling a stable liberal order, we must modify the idea of a well-ordered society and the ideas most closely associated with it in a liberal theory of justice. In particular, a more dynamic notion of stability for the right reasons is required for a new model that we call an open society. An open society is a liberal society that allows for deep disagreement about the good and justice and which sustains institutions that can adapt to new discoveries about what justice requires.

Our goal is to explain the idea of stability appropriate for an open society. The challenge is that, given the importance of respecting diversity and openness to social change, stability for the right reasons now seems to have a cost; stable rules are hard to replace with better rules. On the other hand, some rules need to remain stable to support productive social change and experimentation.

Given these challenges, we distinguish two different kinds of stability that apply at different levels of social organization. The first kind of stability applies to constitutional rules that set out the general legal rules within which our lower-level institutional rules operate. These constitutional rules must remain in equilibrium despite challenges and threats in order to preserve the social conditions that foster experimentation. But we reject a similar form of stability for lower-level legal and institutional rules. Experimentation at that level can be productive in ways that constitutional experimentation is not. Instead, lower level legal and institutional rules need to be robust in the sense that, when challenged, old rules can be replaced by stable new rules without undermining the system of rules as a whole.

One important implication of our analysis is that, in the open society, a shared conception of justice is less important than a stable constitutional framework where many aspects of the open society, including justice, are open for debate. Rather than focusing on the particular principles of justice that are most reasonable for a well-ordered society, theorists should focus on the properties of different constitutional orders that encourage productive social evolution and experimentation. A second implication of our analysis is that open societies may turn out to be substantially different from one another. There will likely be no single type of social order that suits any given open society. This is all to the good because these diverse orders can learn from each other’s experiments.

About the Authors: John Thrasher is Lecturer in Philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and Kevin Vallier is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University.  Their article “Political Stability in the Open Society” which will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science is now available for Early View. 


Defending the Realm: The Appointment of Female Defense Ministers Worldwide

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Defending the Realm: The Appointment of Female Defense Ministers Worldwide”.AJPS Early View - Barnes O'Brien

With every passing year, women’s presence in politics continues to grow. Though there are now more women in elected and appointed office than ever before, the most powerful and prestigious political posts remain male-dominated. In Defending the Realm: The Appointment of Female Defense Ministers Worldwide we seek to explain women’s access to the most traditionally masculine political post: the ministry of defense.

Women were virtually absent from the defense ministry prior to the end of the Cold War, and the position remains exclusively male-led in 75% of the world’s countries. Yet, in recent years a growing number of governments have selected female defense ministers. Women have been appointed to this portfolio in every region of the world except for the Middle East, and countries as varied as Ecuador, Japan, the Netherlands, and Bangladesh have each nominated a woman to this position.

These appointments raise important questions about the factors that both perpetuate men’s dominance of the defense ministry and predict women’s nomination to these important posts. Our work offers three sets of hypotheses concerning women’s continued exclusion from—and initial inclusion in—these portfolios. We posit that women are likely to remain absent from the post when its remit reinforces traditional beliefs about the masculinity and prestige of the position. Alternatively, women gain access to the ministry when beliefs about women’s role in politics have changed and when its meaning diverges from our traditional conceptions of the portfolio.

We test our claims using an original and comprehensive dataset examining 166 countries over a 20-year period. As predicted, women remain excluded from the defense ministry when the position retains its stereotypically masculine remit. States that invest significantly in their military are less likely to first select a female defense minister. Likewise, only once has a military dictatorship appointed a woman to this role. And, across the entire time period under study there are no cases in which a country that experienced even a single battle death appointed its first female defense minister in the subsequent year.

By contrast, women first come to power when traditional expectations about women’s role in politics have changed.  States with large numbers of female parliamentarians are more likely to place a woman in the role. Argentina, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden have all selected female defense ministers. In the year preceding appointment, each of these countries ranked among the top ten states in the world in terms of the percentage of women in parliament.

Beyond women’s presence in politics, female defense ministers emerge when the remit of the position itself also changes. Women are more likely to first be selected as defense ministers in states that participate in peacekeeping operations.  Former military states governed by left-leaning parties—including several Latin American states—are also especially likely to appoint women.

Together, we believe that our results provide cause for optimism and pessimism alike. On the one hand, the feminization of politics will likely erode traditional patterns of male dominance in many arenas. As more women are elected to national legislatures, we expect to see more female appointees to powerful posts. On the other hand, women’s appointment may not always represent the breakdown of male power, as much as the shifting of power to other realms.

About the Authors:  Tiffany D. Barnes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Kentucky and Diana Z. O’Brien is now an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University. Their article titled, “Defending the Realm: The Appointment of Female Defense Ministers Worldwide” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


The Editor of the AJPS is at Michigan State University and the Editorial Office is supported by
the Michigan State University Department of Political Science and the School of Social Sciences.

  Michigan State University