Listening to Strangers, or: Three Arguments for Bounded Solidarity

The forthcoming article “Listening to Strangers, or: Three Arguments for Bounded Solidarity” by Nathan Pippenger is summarized by the author below. 

Does democracy need solidarity? Increasingly, political theorists are skeptical. Encouraging citizens to think of themselves as a “We” may threaten both a polity’s internal diversity and its peaceful relations with outsiders—hardly an abstract concern with far-right populism in worldwide ascent. And even if solidarity isn’t dangerous, it might be arbitrary: Why should we show special concern for someone simply because they happen to be a fellow citizen? Accordingly, some theorists conclude that democracies should drop the aspiration of cultivating solidarity on the scale of the state—which, they argue, is both too vast to serve as a meaningful site of identification and too parochial to include outsiders with compelling claims on our concern. 

In response, solidarity’s defenders make two main arguments. One is egalitarian: it claims that the welfare state needs the support of solidarity. The other is republican: it maintains that solidarity among citizens advances the ideal of nondomination. Yet I argue that strictly speaking, neither the welfare state nor nondomination require solidarity, and so these defenses leave solidarity vulnerable to the charge that democracies would comfortably survive its disappearance.  

Yet this by no means indicates that democratic states can forgo solidarity. For as my article argues, solidarity is a necessary epistemic condition for democratic self-determination, understood as collective self-rule on terms of equality.  

What does it mean to say that solidarity is epistemically necessary for democracy? For a demos to collectively rule itself, its members must together define the group’s problems and design corresponding solutions. This means that political problems are not already out there in the world, awaiting discovery; rather, they emerge from the citizenry’s collective perspective, which can be generated only when citizens demonstrate mutual concern by gathering each other’s views and assigning them special weight. No institutional mechanism of democracy can force this process to occur; it requires a form of solidarity, one that establishes the epistemic conditions of democracy. 

Therefore, I argue that solidarity is valuable not for the contingent reason that it might support some particular goal (such as the welfare state or nondomination) which could be achieved in its absence. Rather, solidarity is necessary in order to sustain those processes of democratic self-rule through which a citizenry defines problems and pursues goals in the first place. This interpretation suggests that it is mistaken to search for solidarity in a shared culture, rather than in the disposition of citizens to listen and deliberate. It further indicates that solidarity’s enhancement is linked to the improvement of a given society’s deliberative practices—the way its citizens acquire information, discuss public affairs, and weigh each other’s concerns. 

This democratic interpretation of solidarity clarifies what it is for and how it might be encouraged. Without solidarity, citizens may ignore or disregard each other’s views, obstructing the processes which, by generating a collective perspective, give public actions a democratic character they would otherwise lack. For that reason, I contend, we cannot dismiss bounded solidarity without also jettisoning a prominent and appealing understanding of democracy. 

About the Author: Nathan Pippenger is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at United States Naval Academy. His research “Listening to Strangers, or: Three Arguments for Bounded Solidarity” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Observational Equivalence in Explaining Attitude Change: Have White Racial Attitudes Genuinely Changed?

The forthcoming article “Observational Equivalence in Explaining Attitude Change: Have White Racial Attitudes Genuinely Changed?” by Andrew M. Engelhardt is summarized by the author below. 

Recent empirical work highlights White Americans’ shifting views of racial and ethnic minorities, and especially Black Americans. Further, White Democrats appear unique in the degree to which their attitudes have changed. That these attitudes contribute in important ways to Whites’ political thinking makes understanding these changes critical. 

In this article I call attention to how these observed trends face an important interpretational hurdle: observational equivalence. The same survey toplines that some scholars, myself included, have interpreted as evidence of genuine attitude change are consistent with three additional processes: social desirability, partisan expressive responding, and changing survey measures. This observational equivalence exists even in careful investigations of panel data. Understanding which of these four possibilities best explains observed trends matters because they differ in their substantive and methodological implications for studying White Americans’ racial attitudes. 

To overcome this observational equivalence I take advantage of a framework used to establish the validity of attitude measure comparisons across groups: measurement equivalence. Instead of exploring a specific racial attitude, the framework focuses on the link between the questions comprising a survey measure and the unobserved attitude they capture. Fortunately, the four attitude change explanations offer different testable implications regarding these links between survey item and latent attitude, allowing me to assess which explanation appears best able to account for observed trends. 

I use this framework and a validated approach for testing it to investigate the measurement equivalence of the racial resentment measure using American National Elections Studies data between 2000 and 2016. Racial resentment captures explanations for Black Americans’ social and economic status and features prominently in studies of the political import of White racial attitudes. Consequently, my analyses not only have immediate payoffs for understanding changing White racial attitudes, they also speak to the status of an important measure in public opinion research.  

Across several different tests I find little evidence that social desirability, expressive responding, or measurement change fully explain observed trends in White racial attitudes. While evidence manifests for these explanations, suggesting they may contribute some to observed trends, it is inconsistent and not substantively large enough to change these trends’ interpretations in meaningful ways.
These results have important substantive and methodological implications. Substantively, scholars should interpret changing racial attitudes as genuine. Methodologically, scholars can continue to validly gauge attitudes with explicit measures. Likewise, despite its formulation in a different context, the racial resentment measure still faithfully characterizes White partisans’ opinions. That’s not to say the measure cannot be improved; rather, its status as an important opinion measure need not necessarily change. 

About the Author: Andrew M. Engelhardt is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His research “Observational Equivalence in Explaining Attitude Change: Have White Racial Attitudes Genuinely Changed?” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Mobilizing the Underrepresented: Electoral Systems and Gender Inequality in Political Participation

The forthcoming article “Mobilizing the Underrepresented: Electoral Systems and Gender Inequality in Political Participation” by Øyvind Søraas Skorge is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

How can we design political institutions that bring marginalized citizens into politics?  An electoral system with proportional representation (PR)—instead of a winner-takes-all plurality system—has long been thought to be a key part of the answer. Using a quasi-experiment, I show that although PR does indeed help, its effect on the inclusion of marginalized citizens hinges more on the political and social environment than often thought. For women’s inclusion in voting, which is the focus of this study, the introduction of PR works best when elections were previously uncompetitive and women already possess strong social networks. 

Citizens have long been marginalized on the basis of their gender. Gender inegalitarian norms and opportunities meant that women were severely outnumbered by men at the voting booth in the early 20th century. Gender inequality in voting lasted well into the 1970s in most advanced democracies, and disparities in other forms of political participation, such as campaigning and representing political parties, continue to persist across the globe. 

Electoral systems are crucial for the inclusion of marginalized groups due to their effect on elites’ mobilization incentives. When one candidate is all but certain to win a district under plurality rule, there is no need to try to mobilize voters. Women thus remain marginalized and less likely to vote than men. In close plurality races, however, the fierce competition for votes means that party elites attempt to tap into the female pool of unmobilized voters. Thus, as elites have an incentive to mobilize across all districts under a PR system, replacing plurality with PR is likely to improve gender equality in voting in previously uncompetitive districts. 

Despite such incentives, however, party elites may struggle to access female voters if women are marginalized from the public sphere. PR may therefore particularly reduce gender disparities in voting where elites can gain access to pools of potential female voters through pre-existing women’s networks, formed for instance during petitioning activities or schooling. Electoral competition and pre-existing networks thus work in tandem.  

Our ability to examine the effects of electoral systems on underrepresented groups has been hampered both by PR’s close correlation with other socio-economic factors and the lack of voting records split by sex.  Studying the case of Norway addresses both of these challenges. Between the 1916 and 1919 elections, the Norwegian Parliament required 296 of the 688 municipalities to change their electoral system from plurality to PR. Using a difference-in-differences design, I find that replacing plurality with PR improved gender equality in voting: before the reform, every fifth voter was female; after the reform, every third voter was female. The effect is especially pronounced in previously uncompetitive districts and where women’s networks are present.   

Is this a peculiar historical case or a finding with more general applicability to other countries and time periods? I identify comparable associations between PR and gender equality in voting in three other settings: in the switch to PR at the national elections in Norway in 1919, in a sample of Western countries in the early 20th century (which have turnout split by sex), and in a sample of 55 countries globally in the 21st century.  The evidence therefore suggests the results travel far beyond the Norwegian case. 

PR’s mobilization effects may also apply to other underrepresented groups beyond gender. That said, women make up half of eligible voters, whereas that is clearly not the case for minority groups. The electoral impetus for their mobilization is thus weaker. The PR effect on gender equality is therefore likely to form an upper bound of the effect for minority groups. 

Gender inequality in political participation is often portrayed as “sticky”, and subject to change mainly through intergenerational replacement. The results of this study give cause for a more optimistic appraisal, suggesting that institutional change can, quite rapidly, increase gender equality in electoral participation. 

About the Author: Øyvind Søraas Skorge is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations at Bjørknes University College. His research Mobilizing the Underrepresented: Electoral Systems and Gender Inequality in Political Participation” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Restoring Anáhuac: Indigenous Genealogies and Hemispheric Republicanism in Postcolonial Mexico

The forthcoming article “Restoring Anáhuac: Indigenous Genealogies and Hemispheric Republicanism in Postcolonial Mexico” by Arturo Chang is summarized by the author below. 

Political theorists have started looking toward the “non-western” world to reassess studies in political language, international law, nation-building, revolution, and citizenship, among other areas. While this “comparative” turn has proven useful for expanding the scope, lenses, and contexts studied, marginalized groups remain largely in the background of these efforts. It is more common to study elite actors, texts, and contexts as representative of the “non-west,” an approach that risks reinforcing the interpretive biases that political theorists seek to problematize. Working from the example of Indigenous insurgency in post-colonial Mexico, this article shows that scholars could better study the political innovations of marginalized peoples by drawing on popular discursive objects such as poetry, songs, and visual objects as well as collective practices specific to the group’s sites of theorization. This approach centers plural invocations and in turn problematize the interpretive priorities that currently undergird the archive of political theory.  

More specifically, this article underscores the formative role that Indigenous groups and Indigenous genealogies played in the development of republican revolutionary thinking during Mexico’s independence movement. I argue that, by drawing from Nahuatl genealogies, Indigenous insurgents instantiated a restorative revolution—a novel understanding of revolutionary change that prioritized collective memorialization over absolute foundation. This restorative frame emerged through appeals to the return of the “Anáhuac Empire,” a narrative that connected legacies of Indigenous self-rule among the Nahuatlaca peoples with the rise of popular insurgency against the Spanish colonial state. Further, I show that the Anáhuac movement transformed the principles of republicanism in at least three ways. First by organizing around Catholic identities and thus defining republican fraternity as characteristically religious. This is especially apparent via Indigenous coalitions that formed around mestizo-religious symbols like the Lady of Guadalupe. Second, by centering plebeian demands for the redistribution of property, abolition of racial inequalities, and the protection of Indigenous rights of belonging to the land. And third, by defining citizenship in hemispheric terms—as a project by and for all Americanos born in the New World. These commitments to hemispheric republicanism appeared formally in the 1814 Constitution of Apatzingán, the first document to declare Mexican independence and which offered equal citizenship to all people born in the Americas. Thus, the Anáhuac project problematizes dominant interpretations of foundation as a secular, national, and elite-oriented enterprise. Tracing Indigenous insurgency in post-colonial Mexico offers an important example of the ways popular thinking and marginalized actors in the Americas transformed the politics of republican revolution usually attributed to Europe and the “western tradition.”   

About the Author: Arturo Chang is an Assistant Professor of Political Theory at the University of Toronto. His research “Restoring Anáhuac: Indigenous Genealogies and Hemispheric Republicanism in Postcolonial Mexico” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Censorship and the Impact of Repression on Dissent

The forthcoming article “Censorship and the Impact of Repression on Dissent” by Grigore Pop–Eleches and Lucan A. Way is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Authoritarian repression can suppress dissent. But it can also backfire and lead to greater opposition. Studies of repression and opposition have yielded contradictory results. On the one hand, some research suggests that coercive measures reduce popular resistance.  Violence may even enhance incumbent popularity when opposition is viewed as a threat. At the same time, other research indicates that repression creates backlash and more opposition. Attacks on opposition often violate community norms and create additional grievances and outrage against the government.     

This article provides one explanation for these divergent findings. We argue that the impact of repression hinges on the degree of censorship. Where alternative media is present, violence is more likely to increase support for opposition; where it is absent, repression has a greater probability of quashing dissent. The availability of alternative sources of information increases the population’s exposure to information that portrays government actions in a bad light. In such cases, violence is more likely to generate backlash. By contrast, effective censorship limits the spread of information about violence and makes it easier for governments to stigmatize opposition.  In such cases, repression will be less likely to backfire against and may even enhance support for the incumbent. 

We test and confirm these expectations with an original dataset that combines the results of a panel survey that spanned the authoritarian repression of electoral protests in Moldova in 2009 and geo-coded data on the subnational variation in repression and alternative information availability. Citizens with access to independent television responded to the repression of protesters by disproportionately rejecting the government interpretation of events, supporting opposition candidates, and expressing a slightly higher willingness to engage in electoral protest. By contrast, in parts of the country lacking access to independent TV, attacks on opposition failed to generate backlash, and in fact enhanced support for the government. In such areas, repression was associated with greater adherence to the government framing of the crisis, greater electoral support for the ruling party, and lower willingness to engage in protests.  The hypothesized interaction between repression and censorship is corroborated in cross-national analysis of repression, censorship and government support. Survey evidence from 134 countries over more than a decade (2004-2016) to suggests that the impact of repression on popular support for the incumbents is moderated by the degree of alternative information availability.  

Our findings suggest that repression is particularly risky for autocrats in more open media environments (as in Ukraine in 2013-14). In such cases, violence is likely to rebound to the advantage of the opposition, rather than keep the incumbent in power. By contrast repression has a greater chance of suppressing protest in countries with greater information control (such as China in 1989, Belarus in 2006; Iran in 2009; and Russia in 2011).  

 About the Author(s): Grigore Pop–Eleches is Professor, Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and Lucan A. Way is Professor, Political Science at University of Toronto. Their research “Censorship and the Impact of Repression on Dissent” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Strategic Authoritarianism: The Political Cycles and Selectivity of China’s Tax-Break Policy

The forthcoming article “Strategic Authoritarianism: The Political Cycles and Selectivity of China’s Tax-Break Policy” by Ling Chen and Hao Zhang is summarized by the author(s) below. 

The study of political business cycles has in the past mostly focused on democracies. In these countries, politicians and parties manipulate economic policies in order to cater to their voters when they compete in elections. Hence, policies benefiting voters such as the expansion of budgetary spending or reduction of taxes often fluctuate according to their electoral cycles. Such strategic behavior is typically not expected for autocracies due to the lack of real elections and the arbitrary grants of beneficial policies to their cronies.  

We find, however, that in autocracies like China, where there are strong, systematic bureaucratic institutions, the pressure from evaluation and promotion has also generated political cycles of tax break policies. Chinese bureaucrats are governed by the cadre evaluation system that consists of performance indicators, among which economic indicators occupied the top position. Mayors who are evaluated have no more than five years to build their record before moving to the next position. They tend to push departments to build up indicators, and we show that offering tax breaks is effective for doing so. 

The tax breaks granted to industrial firms 1995-2007 fluctuated according to mayor tenures, based on our analysis of 1.5 million micro-level data points. The majority of firms experienced significantly fewer tax cuts in the first and last year of the mayor tenure, while tax cuts peaked in the middle years. The first year was the “busy year” when mayors had to set up and learn the ropes in the city, whereas the last year was the “dust settled” year when they already know whether the promotion would take place. For mayors beyond 55 years old who are nearing retirement and no longer eligible for promotion, the drops are even more significant.  

Our analysis also reveals heterogeneous cycles across different types of firms. We found that large firms and especially large foreign firms are not subject to a cyclical drop in the first year of a mayor’s tenure. In fact, they have a significant rise in tax cuts. This shows that the mayor prioritized these firms that carry more weight in their evaluation system, due to their contribution to GDP, foreign investment, and brand name multinationals. It is mostly smaller, private firms that are bearing the cost of the cycles. When it comes to the last year, however, even these large firms cannot attract mayors’ attention.  

The implications of our study go beyond China and contribute to the understanding of state-business relations in authoritarian countries. We highlight the role of institutions govering bureaucratic incentives. Where these institutions are strong (such as Vietnam and Singapore) as opposed to countries ruled by individual dictators, political considerations can influence economic policies in a systematic pattern. But instead of using tax breaks to earn business support for political campaigns, like in democracies, these bureaucrats are incentivized to grant tax breaks in a strategic and selective manner. When the embedded incentive structure for bureaucrats change, such as in the current Xi era, the political cycles also start to weaken.  

About the Author(s): Ling Chen is Assistant Professor, School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and Hao Zhang is PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their research “Strategic Authoritarianism: The Political Cycles and Selectivity of China’s Tax-Break Policy” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Congressional Representation: Accountability from the Constituent’s Perspective

The forthcoming article Congressional Representation: Accountability from the Constituent’s Perspectiveby Stephen Ansolabehere and Shiro Kuriwaki is summarized by the author(s) below.  

Does voting against your constituents on a bill jeopardize a representative’s re-election prospects? Recent party polarization seems to cast some doubt. Perhaps party attachments have become so entrenched that a co-partisan voter will support their member’s re-election regardless of how the representative votes on the issues. And how much do voters know about member’s specific issue stances in the first place? 

Our AJPS article is a novel 14-year study conducted as part of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). We use a mix of observational analysis and two survey experiments.   The innovation in this study was to ask citizens their preferences about issues that Congress voted on and how they thought their members voted on those issues. 

Three findings stand out: 

  1. At the individual level, constituents hold legislators accountable for their roll call votes.  A representative’s roll call vote in agreement with a constituent’s preference leads to an increase in that constituent’s approval for the representative by 11 percentage points.  This number accounts for the fact that 4 out of 10 constituents know how their representative voted on an average roll call (the other 4 out of 10 are not sure; only 2 out of 10 are incorrect). Among respondents who correctly update their perceptions due to a rollcall vote, the effect is about three times larger.
  2. This association is substantively meaningful. An effect of 11 percentage points on approval is comparable to the effect of having a copartisan representative. When it comes to vote choice rather than an approval of an incumbent, partisanship weighs larger than specific votes (17 points) but agreement on issues is still important (10 points).
  3. But at the congressional district level rather than an individual constituent’s level, a more muted picture of accountability arises.  Districts are mixed in issue preferences and party identification. On any vote, there are many people in a typical district who support one side and many who support the other. In the average congressional district, the two parties split their support 60 – 40, rather than clump into entirely Democratic and entirely Republican districts. As a result, most individual accountability cancels out and the shift of vote share on elections is about 2 percentage points. 

This last finding is consistent with studies of the responsiveness of election results to shifts in legislators’ roll call voting patterns.  Those studies, using aggregate data, might imply that individual voters are not strongly moved by issues. Our study, thus, resolves a puzzle – how is it that individual citizens care deeply about issues but aggregate correlations between election results and legislative voting are modest?  Voters are attentive and issue-oriented, as well as partisan, in their behavior.  The modest effect of issues (and partisanship) at the district-level reflects the diversity of opinion in the typical congressional district in the United States.  If legislators were to change their votes on key pieces of legislation, they will lose support among some constituents but gain among others.  Aggregate representation reflects the share of people who support the legislators’ decisions net those who oppose those decisions.  Our study, then, provides the micro-foundations of aggregate representation.    

Our analysis reveals both the power of democratic accountability and its blind spots. Obfuscation can dampen accountability, as we see in our data in the 2014-2015 Congress where Congressional stalemate led to few key votes getting a vote. What this means for Congressional policymaking and how opinions get aggregated into districts is the subject of our ongoing work. There we comprehensively studies how issue preferences are aggregated and acted upon by Congressional representatives, the single member district (FPTP) electoral system, and the Congressional agenda. 

About the Author(s): Stephen Ansolabehere is Frank G. Thomson Professor, Department of Government at Harvard University and Shiro Kuriwaki is Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Political Science at Stanford University. Their research Congressional Representation: Accountability from the Constituent’s Perspectiveis now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Measuring Attitudes towards Public Spending using a Multivariate Tax Summary Experiment

The forthcoming article “Measuring Attitudes towards Public Spending using a Multivariate Tax Summary Experiment” by Lucy Barnes, Jack Blumenau and Benjamin E. Lauderdale is summarized by the author(s) below. 

What do citizens want to spend public money on? How much do they want to spend, if the consequences are increased taxes? Given the size and centrality of public budgets in contemporary western post-industrial democracies, these questions are of crucial importance.  

However, measuring public opinion on these preferences is difficult. There is a tension between the complexity of budgetary realities and the limits of citizens’ engagement with public policy detail. How much information can we extract about public views on taxation and government spending, when few people have ever considered their ideal budget? Existing surveys often ask simple questions which make life easy for respondents, but neglect real and complex budget constraints. This risks eliciting unrealistic demands. Alternatively, we might ask respondents to describe a comprehensive spending allocation while imposing budgeting constraints. However, such a task is likely to be extremely difficult for the average respondent, and diverges from the way real budget proposals are experienced by voters. 

We thus propose a strategy for inferring coherent budget preferences from accessible questions about spending – specifically, a multivariate forced choice task. In our experiment, respondents are asked to choose between the status quo spending allocation and an alternative which maintains budget balance. These alternatives include proposals for re-allocations of spending across different areas (such as health, welfare, criminal justice), and changes to the overall level of spending and taxation. We combine the results of these choices with a model of the respondents’ decisions to infer the distribution of underlying preferences which is consistent with these choices, made under the strict budget constraint.  

We apply this method to data from the UK in 2018. British taxpayers receive annual summaries indicating how their taxes are allocated across a variety of spending categories, which we use to describe the status quo. The results indicate that the British public endorse spending increases in many areas, including some of the most expensive (pensions, education, and health). In only a few, small, spending areas do UK respondents favour cuts (overseas aid, contributions to the EU budget). This snapshot of preferences suggests that British taxpayers would accept tax increases of 7% to support these spending increases.  

Our model also allows us to estimate average preferences as a function of individual-level covariates, with three central results. First, we recover sensible partisan differences on the level and allocation of spending. Second, we confirm the fiscal conservatism of younger voters. In line with recent scholarly work but cutting against popular descriptions of “millennial socialists”, younger people endorse lower spending in all categories except culture, overseas aid, and the EU budget. Finally, we recover a multidimensional structure within spending preferences: support for greater spending on areas except defence, business, pensions and justice describes a dimension oriented from Conservative-Leave to Labour-Remain voters, while support for spending on areas excluding the EU budget, culture, and overseas aid constitutes a second dimension oriented from Conservative-Remain to Labour-Leave. 

We validate our approach by using our results to generate a proposal for the average preferred level of taxation and spending across categories, and to predict levels of support for this proposal versus the status quo. We evaluate this prediction in a validation experiment, asking respondents to directly compare status quo taxation and spending levels to the proposal generated by our model. Our model indicates that 73% of respondents should support the proposal; in fact, 58% of the new survey respondents do. By our pre-registered criteria, we count this as a “moderate success.” We also show that the demographic groups predicted to be more supportive of the proposal are indeed more likely to support it in the validation experiment.  

Beyond our substantive UK results, the approach to measurement should be useful in many other applications. For example, our improvements to the trade-off between real-budget complexity and respondent task difficulty can be implemented across other complex budget-preference measurement tasks. The method also generates data suitable for other important research questions, such as social choice analyses to identify winning proposals, or welfare analyses to assess which groups are best served by particular proposals. 

About the Author(s): Lucy Barnes is Associate Professor in Comparative Politics, Department of Political Science at University College London, Jack Blumenau is Lecturer in Political Science and Quantitative Research Methods, Department of Political Science at University College London and Benjamin E. Lauderdale is Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science at University College London. Their research “Measuring Attitudes towards Public Spending using a Multivariate Tax Summary Experiment” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Rebel Strategies and the Prospects for Peace

The forthcoming article “Rebel Strategies and the Prospects for Peace” by Xiaoyan Qiu is summarized by the author below. 

Rebel groups often change the way they fight during a civil war. For example, ISIS initially relied on irregular tactics such as suicide bombings, ambushes, and hit-and-run attacks. As the war proceeded, it clashed head-to-head with the Iraqi military and even took over major cities. However, rebels’ wartime military strategies have received little attention from political scientists. This article presents a formal model to explain why rebels change tactics within rebellions over time and how this transition affects negotiations to settle the civil war.  

Military strategies affect battle outcomes by influencing how decisive fighting is. Guerrilla tactics, a powerful “weapon of the weak,” can help vulnerable rebels escape state repression and avoid outright defeat. Conventional warfare, by contrast, is more decisive and favors the party with superior power. 

Therefore, a rebel group’s strength vis-a-vis the government is crucial for explaining its military tactics. Rebels choose guerrilla tactics when weak and prefer conventional warfare after growing strong. The expectation of gaining strength delays when rebels choose to transition to conventional tactics. Guerrilla tactics can increase rebels’ chance of survival until the more promising future comes. To realize their growth potential, rebel groups sometimes fight a guerrilla war even when they have the capability or weaponry to engage the government directly.  

Beyond the immediate battlefield implications, the switch between different fighting strategies hurts the prospects for peace. Because of how they fight, rebels and the government cannot strike a peace deal no matter how hard they try. This logic explains why guerrilla wars last so long and why rebels and the government rarely negotiate early on. 

What causes the bargaining failure? Weak rebels fight an indecisive guerrilla war. This creates the possibility that, in the future, rebels gain strength and strike back decisively. As a result, patient rebels discount current weakness and have a high value for fighting. For this reason, weak rebels may bargain as if they are strong, thereby requiring a large concession to settle the war. The government wants to buy off weak rebels to avoid a destructive war and prevent them from growing further. However, by cutting a deal, the rebels come under close government supervision and lose the legitimacy to mobilize, recruit, and expand. And then, once the rebel group is incapacitated after the war ends, the government’s promise to honor a generous peace agreement is no longer credible. Consequently, when rebels’ growth potential while fighting is too large, the government cannot compensate the rebels for their current weakness. This leaves the rebels with no choice but to continue fighting. 

Overall, this article contributes to a better understanding of rebels’ wartime military strategies and their dire challenges for peace. It also has important implications for more effective counterinsurgency measures and how to overcome barriers to settle civil wars peacefully. 

About the Author: Xiaoyan Qiu is Assistant Professor, School of Global and Public Affairs at IE University. Her research “Rebel Strategies and the Prospects for Peace” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Making Unequal Democracy Work? The Effects of Income on Voter Turnout in Northern Italy

The forthcoming article “Making Unequal Democracy Work? The Effects of Income on Voter Turnout in Northern Italy” by Jerome Schafer, Enrico Cantoni, Giorgio Bellettini and Carlotta Berti Ceroni is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Our paper investigates the income skew in voter turnout. It is well-established that, in most western democracies, the rich vote more than the poor. Yet, it is unclear from the prior literature whether this is driven by income rather than other correlated factors like education or residential stability. A recent meta-analysis shows that, although many studies find a positive effect of income while controlling for other theoretically-important predictors of turnout, many others find no significant effect (Smets and Van Ham, 2013).We argue that this decidedly mixed evidence likely stems from three sources of bias in conventional research designs: survey misreporting, confounding, and ecological bias. Fortunately, however, leveraging administrative records can provide more reliable and credible estimates of the income-turnout relationship.

In the empirical analysis, we leverage a unique administrative panel data set matching individual tax records with voter rolls over four elections (2004-2013) in a large municipality in northern Italy. We estimate difference-in-difference models showing that within-individual changes in income lead to changes in turnout. Although these effects are modest on average due to diminishing marginal returns, we find that they can significantly impact participation among the poor, and that negative income changes tend to be more consequential than positive ones. Moreover, our aggregate-level findings reveal that that the income skew in electoral participation has increased following the Great Recession, likely as a result of the effects of income on turnout, a process that was facilitated by a crisis of mainstream political parties.

These results have important implications for theory and policy. They support the notion that individual income plays a greater a role for electoral participation in political contexts where the level of party mobilization is lower. They also lend credence to the theory that if income has an independent effect on turnout in western democracies, then rising income inequality should lead to rising turnout inequality. This may in turn reduce the political incentives for redistribution, thus suggesting that income inequality and turnout inequality may reinforce each other.

Finally, our focus on northern Italy provides a prologue to Putnam, Leonardi and Nanetti’s classic study on the region (“Making Democracy Work”, 1994). Our results show that strong civic traditions and low barriers to voting can only take us so far in explaining political participation. Even in a context such as northern Italy, where documenting an effect of income on participation will likely be hard, we find that income shocks affect turnout and broader levels of social capital. This suggests that many of our insights travel to other democracies.

About the Author(s): Jerome Schafer, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at LMU Munich, Enrico Cantoni, Foscolo Europe Research Fellow, Department of Economics, at University of Bologna, Giorgio Bellettini, Professor, Department of Economics at University of Bologna Carlotta and Carlotta Berti Ceroni, Professor, Department of Economics at University of Bologna. Their research “Making Unequal Democracy Work? The Effects of Income on Voter Turnout in Northern Italy” 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.