Mobilizing the Public Against the President: Congress and the Political Costs of Unilateral Action

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Mobilizing the Public Against the President: Congress and the Political Costs of Unilateral Action”:

The Trump presidency began with a flurry of unilateral activity, ranging from Muslim bans, to border walls, to an assault on the Environmental Protection Agency.  For many, this burst has reignited fears of an imperial presidency.

Congress and the courts are at a distinct disadvantage when trying to reverse executive actions.  Any legislation overturning a presidential mandate can be vetoed by the president himself.  Courts need not worry about the veto; however, they must rely on the executive branch to enforce its rulings.  As a result, past scholarship has noted that the institutional constraints on the unilateral president are weak.

Perhaps the most important remaining check on presidential abuse is public opinion.  When contemplating executive action, presidents must weigh their near certain success against the political costs it might entail should it arouse popular anger.  We argue that other political actors – most importantly members of Congress – play a critically important role in shaping this popular response.

To explore Congress’ capacity to erode public support for unilateral action, we conducted a series of experiments embedded in nationally representative opinion surveys.  Across a range of issues in foreign and domestic affairs, we found that congressional criticism on both constitutional and policy grounds significantly decreases support for unilateral action.

One of our experiments explores public support for one of President Obama’s most important and polarizing executive actions: the Clean Power Plan.  All subjects were told that Obama had ordered the EPA to begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions to protect public health and combat climate change.  Subjects assigned to the baseline group received no further information.  Subjects assigned to the first treatment group were told that many congressional Democrats objected that the action threatened to increase energy prices and cost jobs, and that such a major change in energy policy required new legislation from Congress.  Subjects assigned to the second treatment group were told that many congressional Republicans objected to the action on the same policy and constitutional grounds.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Effect of Congressional Opposition on Support for Obama’s EPA Actions to Regulate CO2 Emissions


As shown in Figure 1, congressional criticism significantly eroded support for Obama’s action from its high baseline level.  Moreover, criticism from Democrats and Republicans were equally successful in turning public opinion against the executive action.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Effect of Congressional Opposition on Support for Executive Action in Foreign and Domestic Sphere

Additional experiments show that Congress’ power to erode support for unilateral action extends even to major questions of foreign policy and less polarizing domestic policy initiatives.  Figure 2 presents the results from an additional pair of experiments examining public support for Obama’s unilateral authorization of airstrikes against ISIS and for his executive action to cap student loan payments for many borrowers.  In both cases, congressional opposition significantly reduced support for executive action.

Our findings suggest that Congress may exercise a greater constraint on the unilateral president than previously thought.  Even when it cannot overturn an executive action legislatively, it can mobilize public opinion against the president.

About the Authors:  Dino P. Christenson is an associate professor of political science and the Director of Advanced Programs (Honors and BA/MA) at Boston University and Douglas L. Kriner is is a professor of political science and the Director of Graduate Studies at Boston University. Their article “Mobilizing the Public Against the President: Congress and the Political Costs of Unilateral Action” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.




Language Shapes People’s Time Perspective and Support for Future-Oriented Policies


Can the way we speak affect the way we perceive time and judge politics? Languages oblige speakers to distinguish grammatically between the present and future to varying degrees. A futured tongue like English directs speakers to use different grammatical tenses when talking about the future versus the present, as in “I will write tomorrow” versus “I write today”. But in a futureless language like Finnish, speakers simply say “kirjoitan” (“I write”), irrespective of whether they are talking about the future or the present.

These nuances matter politically, we claim, because they reinforce or blur the differences between today and tomorrow. Having to speak about the future using a present rather than future tense makes tomorrow seem more similar and less distant from today. As a result, speakers of futureless languages should be less likely than speakers of futured languages to discount the future, thereby increasing their support for long-range political initiatives.

We appraise these claims in two ways. First, we conducted a survey experiment in Estonia with bilingual adults (N=1,200) who speak a futureless (Estonian) and futured (Russian) language by randomly assigning their interview language. We find that in comparison to those assigned to interview in Russian, respondents assigned to interview in Estonian are more supportive of a green gas tax. We further show that this arises because speaking a futureless language makes one’s time perspective more future-oriented. For example, respondents assigned to interview in Estonian are less likely to state that “not completing things on time does not worry them” is characteristic of them; while they are more likely to state that to “keep working on uninteresting tasks to get ahead” and  “resist temptation when there is work to do” are more characteristic of them  Finally, we fail to uncover a difference by interview language in support for criminalizing prostitution – a placebo policy proposal with no obvious time referent.

We then gauged language’s impact cross-nationally using the latest wave of the World Values Survey. We analyzed respondents’ support for a future-oriented policy (protecting the environment) and engagement in a future-oriented behavior (saving money in the last year). Net of several political and socio-economic covariates, we find that in comparison to a person who speaks a futured language, a person who speaks a futureless language at home is 8 percent more likely to support environmental protection and 17 percent more likely to have saved money in the previous year.

In short, our results produce a simple punchline: the presence or absence of future tense in a language significantly affects the extent to which speakers discount the future and support future-oriented policies. Even as we write this, mass publics throughout the globe are considering political choices involving short-term costs for long-term gains. These are, without a doubt, complex decisions. Yet our results suggest a basic lesson: some people, some of the time, will find it harder to support such efforts simply because of the language they use to entertain those choices.

About the Authors: Efrén Pérez is associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. Margit Tavits is professor of political science at Washington University in Saint Louis. Their article “Language Shapes People’s Time Perspective and Support for Future-Oriented Policies” is forthcoming at the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.


Differential Registration Bias in Voter File Data: A Sensitivity Analysis Approach

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Differential Registration Bias in Voter File Data: A Sensitivity Analysis Approach”:

In recent years, voter files have become an important data source for research in American politics. These lists of registered voters, which are maintained by the states, usually include contextual information such as date of birth, address, and sometimes race. The files also include records of whether each registrant voted in each election, making it possible to conduct studies of voter turnout with extremely large sample sizes.

However, these new data sources also present new challenges. Our new article in AJPS identifies an important concern for studies that use voter files to analyze turnout. Because the voter file contains a comprehensive list of registered voters, researchers often treat registrants as the population of interest. However, the fact that people select into the voter file by registering to vote has the potential to cause inferential problems in many common research designs.

For example, imagine a researcher is studying whether people turn out to vote more frequently when their elected official shares their racial or ethnic background. The researcher might wish to compare a treatment group of people who were redistricted to have a coethnic representative with a control group of those who were not – a design that might seem to make it possible to estimate the causal effect of having a coethnic incumbent on voter turnout.

The potential problem is that the treatment of interest may affect registration as well as turnout. In this example, people who are redistricted to have a coethnic incumbent might be induced to vote more, but they might also register at higher rates. If a treatment causes people to participate more, it may affect registration in that group as well as turnout, leading to what we call differential registration bias.

For instance, consider a case in which 10,000 people are in the treatment group and 10,000 are in the control group. 2,500 people vote in each group, but 5,000 register in the treatment group and only 4,000 register in the control group. If we analyze voter file data and use registered voters as the denominator, it will seem like people in the control group were more likely to turn out to vote (62.5% compared to 50%). We must instead use the voting-eligible population as the denominator (which is often not possible) to correctly recover the true population-level effect of zero (25% versus 25%).

To demonstrate the implications of this problem, we return to an issue that several other scholars have studied previously – whether eligibility to vote in the year someone turns 18 affects future turnout. We first conduct an original analysis of voter file data from Catalist, a leading vendor in this area. We compare people who were born within a one-week window around a voting eligibility cutoff. Some of these people were narrowly eligible to vote in the general election in the year they turned 18, while others were narrowly ineligible.

When we compare turnout rates among registered voters in the voter file, our results are at odds with many other studies in the literature – people who were narrowly ineligible when they were 18 appear to turn out at higher rates in subsequent elections. As we show, however, this finding seems to be the result of higher registration rates in the just-eligible group than in the just-ineligible group. Once we adjust for this difference by using birth counts as the denominator (approximating the voting-eligible population), our results reverse. Consistent with other research, we instead find that people who were narrowly eligible to vote in the year they turned 18 turn out at higher rates in future elections. This finding shows that differential registration bias can affect results in meaningful ways.

Researchers can sometimes circumvent this problem by using a design that avoids conditioning on registration or by approximating the voting-eligible population using U.S. Census data. In many cases, however, these approaches are not feasible. We therefore develop a simple sensitivity analysis that allows researchers to assess how vulnerable their results are to differential registration bias. Using our approach, researchers can calculate the extent of differential registration under which the observed difference in turnout among registrants would result in no difference in true turnout (i.e., among the voting-eligible population).

We hope this research will encourage scholars using voter file data to avoid differential registration bias in their research designs whenever possible and to report the sensitivity of their results to potential bias otherwise.

About the Authors:  Brendan J. Nyhan is a Professor of Government at Dartmouth College, Christopher Skovron is a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan, and Rocío Titiunik is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan. Their article “Differential Registration Bias in Voter File Data: A Sensitivity Analysis Approach” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.


The Majority-Minority Divide in Attitudes toward Internal Migration: Evidence from Mumbai

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “The Majority-Minority Divide in Attitudes toward Internal Migration: Evidence from Mumbai”: 

The freedom to move and settle anywhere within one’s country of citizenship is a right enshrined in numerous constitutions, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By efficiently allocating labor, rural-to-urban migration has served a key economic role historically. Across the world, at least 763 million people are estimated to be internal migrants. Yet migrants often encounter hostility upon entering urban areas. Cities’ long- term residents employ various strategies – including violence and intimidation – to discourage potential migrants from coming, and to withhold opportunities from outsiders on arrival.

Our paper asks: What causes discrimination against internal migrants in fast-urbanizing contexts? Economic arguments suggest that long-term city residents will resist in-migration by individuals who put pressure on public goods and services and who compete for natives’ jobs. Meanwhile, cultural theories imply that natives wanting to safeguard the ethnic status quo will oppose migrants belonging to ethnic “out groups.”

We explore the determinants of anti-migrant hostility in Mumbai: a magnet for migrants, and home to 20 million people – more than the combined populations of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The city has been a hotbed of nativist agitation instigated by political parties like the Shiv Sena.

We carried out a survey on a representative sample of the city’s long-term residents. It included a vignette experiment in which each respondent was presented with a fictitious migrant wanting to come to the city to live and work. We randomly varied the migrant’s skill level and religion. By seeing how favorable respondents felt on average toward migrants of different religions and skill types, we are able to put our theoretical expectations to the test.

What do we find? Overall, there is a strong preference for highly-skilled migrants. But this preference is concentrated entirely among lower-income respondents. It seems that low-income respondents worry that low-skilled migrants will generate competition both over jobs and over scarce public resources. High-income natives may worry about the fiscal threat, but they also anticipate benefiting from abundant cheap labor, without any attendant labor-market threats.

Our findings on religion are striking. Hindu respondents – those who belong to Mumbai’s majority ethnic group – are indifferent toward the religious background of the hypothetical migrant. Minority Muslim natives, on the other hand, strongly prefer co-ethnic migrants. In fact, Muslim respondents only discriminate on the basis of skills when migrants are Hindu; Muslim migrants get a free pass, regardless of their skill attributes. Testing a variety of possible explanations for this divergence in minority and majority attitudes, we show that politics are key. As a disadvantaged minority group, Muslims see in-migration by co-ethnics as a way to boost their electoral and social standing in the city, thereby achieving “safety in numbers.”

Mumbai is representative of a large set of cases in the global south – from São Paulo to Cape Town to Kuala Lumpur – where faced-paced urbanization is occurring within charged political and social environments. When it comes to native preferences, we show that economic concerns are crucial, but these are conditioned by ethnic-group dynamics, specifically, majority/minority group status. In a larger sense, our insights can help guide states endeavoring to mitigate social dislocation in the wake of rapid urban growth, and may help protect the rights and well-being of migrants, who count among the world’s most marginalized population groups.

About the Authors: This author summary was written by Nikhar Gaikwad of Columbia University and Gareth Nellis of Yale University. Their article “The Majority-Minority Divide in Attitudes toward Internal Migration: Evidence from Mumbai” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

Does this really cause that?

How do you learn about cause and effect without randomized experiments? We provide a dramatically improved method of inferring causality even when randomization is impossible. We also invented a computational approach that makes our technique approximately one million times faster than previous approaches, meaning it will usually take only a few minutes to run for most commonly sized data sets, and opening up new ways of conducting empirical analyses. The result is an easy-to-understand statistical technique, along with free and easy-to-use open source software, that researchers can use to learn about cause and effect without experiments. Correlation is still not causation, but we show how observational correlations, when used appropriately, can teach us a great deal about causation.

Although randomization is obviously impossible for numerous crucial questions in political science, the social sciences, the sciences, medicine, education, government, public policy, and business, we often have no choice but to draw some type of causal conclusion in these areas. For example, no one has ever conducted a randomized experiment on tobacco consumption in humans, but we know that smoking kills half a million people a year in the US alone. Similarly, on one has ever randomized incumbency status to members of congress, and yet we have learned that voters are more likely to cast their ballots for incumbents than challengers. Much hard work has gone into solving these problems; our article offers a way to make such generalizations easier, faster, and more reliably.

Our approach builds on a highly intuitive technique called matching. The idea is sophisticated, but the basics are simple. Suppose we want to know whether renovating school buildings improves educational outcomes. As generous as NSF grants are, no researcher will be able to randomly assign new buildings to school districts. So instead, we can compare school districts which choose to build new buildings with those that do not, but we will have to avoid the bias that would occur if those districts differ in other ways. For example, districts with new buildings might also be areas with lots of wealth and parental involvement in their children’s education. So a simple version of matching in this case would be to find a sample of school districts which recently built new buildings. Then for each one, find a very similar (“matched”) district that chose not to renovate its buildings. We can define “very similar” according to wealth, parental involvement, the conditions of the school buildings, teaching styles, and many other factors. If we can find these matched pairs, then we might be able to approximate a randomized experiment from purely observational data.

In practice, no two school districts are exactly the same, and so a large number of matching methods have been developed, each which works best in different circumstances at making the treated group (the one with the new schools) as similar as possible to the control group (those without the new schools). In contrast, our American Journal of Political Science articlenow available here for early view, introduces new methods for matching that result in the optimal matched sample, without having to choose a matching method.

In particular, every matching method begins with a data set and prunes non-matches in order to try to improve the similarity between the remaining data in the treated and control groups. For any number of pruned observations, there exists a subsample of the original data that has highest level of similarity, but the number of possible subsets that need to be checked to find the optimal one is gargantuan (usually larger than the number of elementary particles in the universe) and so previous matching methods try to approximate this optimum. Our algorithm quickly identifies the best possible subset, without running any matching algorithm. Given these criteria, we have proven mathematically that no matching method in existence, or which could be invented, can produce higher levels of similarity between the treated and control groups than our algorithm. The algorithm is so fast that we are able to recommend computing it for all possible numbers of observations pruned and presenting the full results for the analyst to choose, without tradeoffs or compromises. Please see our software at

Written by Gary King of Harvard University, Christopher Lucas of Harvard University, and Richard Nielsen of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their article “The Balance-Sample Size Frontier in Matching Methods for Causal Inference” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

Gone with the Wind: Federalism and the Strategic Location of Air Polluters

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Gone with the Wind: Federalism and the Strategic Location of Air Polluters”:AJPS - Gone with the Wind: Federalism and the Strategic Location of Air Polluters

States have strong incentives to encourage major air polluters to locate near their downwind borders. This allows them to reap the benefits of economic development while making their neighbors shoulder the resulting environmental and health costs. Although there are provisions in the U.S. Clean Air Act designed to mitigate interstate air pollution, they have historically been ineffective. And, there is some evidence that air pollution levels are heightened near downwind state borders. However, prior research has produced little evidence that this is the result of government behavior, such as weaker enforcement of environmental laws.

The solution to this paradox may lie in industrial location itself.  We argue that both state governments and firms have incentives to strategically locate polluting facilities near a state’s downwind borders.  We test this idea with a method that is novel to political science—point pattern analysis. This technique is common in fields like epidemiology, which models where disease cases emerge relative to the broader population at risk. We use the method to analyze where major air polluters emerge in latitude and longitude in the continental 48 states. We compare air polluters to a control group of other industrial facilities: large quantity generators of hazardous waste. Hazardous waste polluters are a good comparison group because they have similar locational needs as air polluters, but the wind cannot carry away the pollution they produce. Hence, a key reason we might observe any difference in the location of these sites is because of attempts to export air pollution to downwind neighbors. As an illustration of our data, the above figure shows air polluters and hazardous waste polluters in the state of Georgia.

We find that major air polluters are significantly more likely to be located near a state’s downwind border than hazardous waste generators.  Our baseline model suggests that moving from a site on a state’s downwind border to the site that is farthest upwind diminishes the odds of a major air polluter relative to a hazardous waste generator by a substantial 22.4%.  This effect is even stronger for facilities that produce highly toxic air emissions.

Our results also indicate that the pattern of industrial location varies systematically across states.  States with stronger environmental programs, for instance, evidence weaker propensity to have air polluting firms locate near downwind borders, while states that make greater use of “smokestack chasing” economic development incentives show the opposite configuration.  This suggests that air polluter location is responsive to public policy.

About the Authors: This author summary was written by Jamie Monogan of University of Georgia, David Konisky of Indiana University, and Neal Woods of University of South Carolina. Their article “Gone with the Wind: Federalism and the Strategic Location of Air Polluters” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

Informed Preferences? The Impact of Unions on Workers’ Policy Views

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Informed Preferences? The Impact of Unions on Workers’ Policy Views“. This post originally appeared on the MPSA blog and is reposted here with permission. 

What is the impact of labor unions in shaping the political preferences of workers? More specifically, to what extent can we trace the anti-trade sentiment we are now seeing among many U.S. workers to the influence of their unions? Due to their shrinking memberships, unions are often dismissed as a spent force in contemporary politics. Yet such a view overlooks an important point: Even after years of membership decline, unions still represent a sizable share of many electorates: a quarter of all workers in Britain, a third in Italy, and over half the workforce in countries such as Norway or Belgium. Even in the U.S., union members still account for about 11 percent of the workforce—a conservative figure that excludes non-members working under union agreements and family members whose livelihoods often depend on a unionized wage earner. A key question is whether and how unions’ access to a large swath of the electorate translates into political influence.

To understand the role that unions play in shaping the political views of their members is, however, a challenging empirical task.  Even in instances where union members are found to hold systematically distinct views from non-members, the cause is not an obvious one: Is it the result of a union’s direct influence on workers’ policy views, or is it that workers who choose to join a union differ from non-members to begin with?

Our article seeks to provide answers to these questions by utilizing an original survey of more than 4,000 American workers that was administered across 12 industries selected to provide the full range of exposure to various aspects of globalization. The dataset provides sizable samples of both union members and non-members within each industry, allowing for comparisons with a meaningful control group. Another key advantage is the availability of detailed information on pertinent aspects that are often missing from standard surveys: the exact union to which the worker belongs, the intensity of communication initiated by their unions on a range of policy issues, and the degree to which a worker is aware of her union’s policy positions. To assess how accurately workers know their union’s position, we devise a new measure of a union’s position on trade policy (what we call the “protectionism score”). This measure is based on a union’s ‘revealed preference’, namely through their lobbying activity and official statements given on a wide range of trade bills.

Using this data, we begin to explore whether unions indeed serve as information providers for their members. The evidence decidedly shows that they are. (See Figure 1;  unions are sorted along the vertical axis by their protectionism score.) As the left-panel indicates, unions indeed discuss the issue of trade with their members, and, not surprisingly, the more protectionist the union, the more likely it is to impart such information to their members. We can also see that the intensity of the communication is associated with how familiar members are with their union’s position (center panel). Members of protectionist unions not only tend to express greater familiarity with their union’s stance on trade, but also to correctly describe their union as protectionist (right panel).


Figure 1


In short, unions clearly operate as information providers. Moreover, workers also seem to ‘get’ their union’s message. Yet to what extent do members tend to be influenced by this message and adopt their union’s position? As an initial step, we examine the association between members’ own attitudes on trade and the protectionism score of their unions. We find a clear alignment between the two. Notably, such positive association is not found among non-unionized workers who are employed in the same industry (see Figure 2). Still, the key empirical task here is to assess the possibility of a self-selection process: If workers decide to join a union because of the union’s policy position, the findings could simply be an outcome of a reverse causal process. We address this possibility by exploiting two sources of variation, as detailed below.


Figure 2


First, we leverage the fact that there are state-level differences in laws with respect to union membership, or so-called the “Right-to-Work” (RTW) laws. In states that adopt the RTW provision, labor unions cannot legally require workers to pay union dues as a condition for employment. Union membership in RTW states therefore depends much more on individual workers’ own discretion, and is less a function of an institutional requirement to become members. This difference allows us to test the self-selection question: If self-selection accounts for members’ preferences, we should expect to see unions have much more of an influence on members in states in which membership is entirely voluntary.

Our analysis provides very little support for the self-selection account. We find that union membership itself is associated with a clear effect on the trade policy views of workers, and that this effect is conditional on how strong the union’s position is with respect to trade. Significantly, we find no systematic difference between members in RTW and non-RTW states. This is clearly inconsistent with the selection mechanism being the prominent factor.

Second, we wanted to assess what happens to the views of members when their union takes a different stance on a given policy: do workers follow suit? If so, that would be a strong indication of the unions’ influence. To do so, we exploit the case of a sudden and dramatic shift in the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) position toward a major trade liberalization deal. For many years, the UAW had been strongly opposed to the signing of a trade agreement with Korea, which, according to its statement, would be “worsening our lopsided auto trade deficit and threatening jobs of tens of thousands of American workers.” Yet after a set of changes had been incorporated into the agreement, the UAW announced a reversal of its position. “We believe an agreement was achieved that will protect current American auto jobs, [and] that will grow more American auto jobs,” its statement now read.

How did this shift in the UAW’s position influence the views of the autoworkers on trade? Figure 3 below provides a striking answer: While union members working in the auto industry had been significantly more protectionist than non-members before the shift, the level of support for trade restrictions significantly decreased after the UAW endorsed the free trade agreement. Notably, this change in attitudes toward trade liberalization had not been observed among non-members working in the same auto industry. This finding remains intact even when we control for potential confounding factors.



Figure 3


Taken together, our findings provide compelling evidence that unions exert influence on their members in a clear and systematic manner. The analysis points to the important role of unions as information providers. While previous studies have highlighted the role of unions as the “voice of workers,” via campaign contributions or lobbying, we have demonstrated an underexplored yet important source of union influence: communication with, and dissemination of information to members. This influence can be significant, given unions’ breadth and reach. In other words, unions should be thought of not only as institutions that channel the political preferences of their members. Instead, they should also be understood as institutions that shape and influence the views of many workers.

About the Authors: Sung Eun Kim is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore.  Prof. Yotam Margalit is an Associate Professor at the Political Science Department in Tel-Aviv University. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. Their paper “Informed Preferences: the Impact of Unions on Worker’s Policy Views” was awarded the Best Paper by an Emerging Scholar at the 2016 MPSA Conference.


AJPS Author Summary – Inside Irredentism: A Global Empirical Analysis


In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Inside Irredentism: A Global Empirical Analysis“:

Russia justified its 2014 annexation of Crimea by pointing to the failure of the Ukrainian government to safeguard the rights of the ethnic Russians. For Russia, this created a legitimate demand for unification, but others regarded this argument as thinly veiled realpolitik. This is a classic case of irredentism, defined as a state’s use of military force to advance a claim over territory in a neighboring state by creating more congruence between the ethnic group and the state. Unlike secession– a decision to leave one state and to establish another one on grounds of an ethnic difference–irredentism is a governmental decision that appropriates territory from one state and adds it to another on the basis of shared ethnicity.

Although less common than secession, there are many examples of irredentism, since numerous ethnic groups have kin groups in adjacent countries. The mismatch between cultural and political boundaries is pervasive, but the international community does not condone irredentism. To mitigate international censure, irredentist states often frame their actions as humanitarian intervention to protect discriminated ethnic kin. Hitler’s irredentist action towards the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, Armenia’s intervention in Nagorno-Karabakh, Serbia’s invasion in Croatia, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea all used similar rationalizations – blending realpolitik with jus bellum iustum (just war) logic and humanitarian justifications.

Irredentism poses significant danger to international order and human security. While previous studies offer various reasons for irredentism, Inside Irredentism tests several rival arguments and proposes a novel explanation using new data on all actual and potential irredentist actions between states around the world from 1946 to 2014. The analysis indicates that irredentism is more likely when

There is an ethnic group that has a large demographic majority but relatively weak economic standing when compared to other ethnic groups in the country. This fosters grievances within the dominant ethnic group. These grievances are more likely to find an outlet (and are less likely to be countered by other groups) under “winner-take-all” electoral systems in more ethnically homogeneous irredentist states. This creates an opportunity for the kin group to pursue an explicitly irredentist foreign policy agenda. Where these grievances and opportunities intersect, irredentism is most likely because political elites, responding to their electoral incentives, seek to divert attention away from status inconsistency through the promise of ethnic unification.

Although claims of “protecting discriminated ethnic brethren” may help mobilize citizens to rally around the flag and justify actions, differences in discrimination appear to play little role in explaining irredentism, except rhetorically. The study shows that irredentist foreign policy is most likely when economic and political interests are at play in the kin state. Ethnicity is sometimes viewed as a problem in itself, but our results suggest that its effect on irredentism depends on how it maps on to economic competition and the political system. Policymakers would therefore do well to address the domestic sources of irredentism in the initiating state, in addition to the conditions of the co-ethnic enclave in the target state.

About the Authors: David S. Siroky is an Associate Professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University and Christopher W. Hale is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at The University of Alabama. Their article “Inside Irredentism: A Global Empirical Analysis” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.






Mining Increases Local Corruption

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Mining and Local Corruption in Africa“: 

AJPS Early View: Mining and Local Corruption in Africa

Figure 1: Light in 2010 and 50 km buffers around mines

Is natural resource wealth a curse or a blessing? Many scholars contend that resource extraction is associated with outcomes such as armed conflict, corruption and, more generally, bad governance. The general story goes as follows: A poor country discovers valuable natural resources, providing politicians with an easy source for rents, whereupon institutional “rot” sets in and governance is worsened. In Africa, with its vast mineral endowments, the mining industry is thus one main suspect behind poor governance outcomes.

Still, the empirical evidence for such proposed resource curses is not clear-cut due, for example, to problems of omitted variable bias in cross-country regressions and limited variation in (national-level) time series of resource measures. We tackle these methodological issues by using a different design and data than most previous studies, and ask whether mining has a causal effect on local-level corruption, a central feature of bad governance.

More specifically, we geocode and merge answers from over 100,000 Afrobarometer survey respondents with data providing the exact location and production characteristics of industrial-scale mines. This allows us to compare bribe payments in areas with a still unopened mine to areas where extraction activities are ongoing.

Our main finding is that mining substantially increases corruption in nearby villages. For example, an individual within 50 kilometers of a recently opened mine is 33% more likely to have paid a bribe the past year than a person living within 50 kilometers of mines that will open in the future. The former also pay bribes for permits more frequently, and perceive their local councilors to be more corrupt.

There are many potential reasons why having mineral extraction nearby increases corruption. First, mining could serve as a “honey pot” in attracting corrupt officials. However, we do not find any evidence of an increased influx of officials after mining starts. Second, mining might increase corruption through increasing economic activity (we establish this by using satellite images of nighttime lights to capture local economic output, see Figure 1), and increased economic activity may, more generally, increase bribe payments. However, we show that economic activity does not increase corruption in general; only in active mining areas. Hence, it seems as if mining-related economic activity—which is immobile in nature and associated with high rents—enables officials to stuff their pockets with bribes to an extent that other economic activities do not.

Our results highlight that the mining industry in Africa is a double-edged sword: It creates increased prosperity for mineral rich areas, at least in the short term. But this comes with deteriorating institutional quality. This suggests that transparency, monitoring and regulatory efforts may need to accompany expansions in the mining sector for mineral extraction to be an unambiguous blessing rather than a curse.

About the Authors: Carl Henrik Knutsen is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Oslo; Andreas Kotsadam is a senior researcher at The Frisch Centre and Affiliated researcher at the Department of Economics at the University of Oslo; Eivind Hammersmark Olsen is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Economics at the University of Oslo; and Tore Wig is a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Political Science at the University of Oslo.  Their article “Mining and Local Corruption in Africa” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

Unlikely Democrats: Economic Elite Uncertainty under Dictatorship and Support for Democratization

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled Unlikely Democrats: Economic Elite Uncertainty under Dictatorship and Support for Democratization”:

This paper puts forth a novel and generalizable causal mechanism that can help to explain a range of cases of democratization that are puzzling under existing theory. Our mechanism centers on the critical role of uncertainty on the part of economic elites over the future actions of “dictator candidates” that aspire to seize power under dictatorship.

Economic elites are typically thought of as playing an anti-democratic role in political regime outcomes: because they are better off when they can play by their own rules rather than those set by average citizens, they seem a priori unlikely to prefer democratic rule. At the same time, they are often critical to autocratic regime survival through their control of the levers of the economy. As a result, recent scholarship has assumed that authoritarian rulers act as perfect agents of economic elites.

Autocracies, however, can pose grave dangers for economic elites. Indeed, autocracies are associated with fewer institutional constraints than democracies, enabling autocratic rulers to violate property rights more easily. Once in power, dictators often have incentives to renege on the promises made to economic elites during their rise to power and exclude economic elites from their ruling coalition in order to build loyalty among insiders, enhance their autonomy, and eliminate threats to their rule. History is replete with examples: Marcos in the Philippines, Velasco in Peru, Suharto in Indonesia, and Ataturk in Turkey.

Building from these insights, we relax the assumption that economic elites will support dictatorship first and foremost, and explore the implications this holds for democratization. We argue that in the face of uncertainty regarding the future actions of potential autocratic rulers, economic elites may play an important role in spurring democratization. We construct a noisy signaling model in which a potential autocrat attempts to persuade economic elites that he will be a faithful partner should the elites install him in power. This allows us to generate clear predictions about how elite uncertainty affects elites’ incentives to democratize. In particular, we demonstrate that higher uncertainty over a potential autocratic successor’s policies – generated  by variance in the pool of potential autocrat types, as well as uncertainty in the truthfulness of a potential autocrat’s policy promises generated by a noisier informational environment – increases the likelihood that economic elites will seek to abandon dictatorship altogether and instead push for democratization.

We then provide an illustrative overview of cases in which the uncertainty mechanism we propose has likely operated, and provide key details of some of these cases: Colombia, Thailand, Pakistan, Peru, Central Africa, Madagascar and South Africa. Finally, we demonstrate in detail how the two chief mechanisms in the model that underpin elite support of democratization – uncertainty in the pool of potential dictators and uncertainty in the informational environment – manifested themselves concretely in the jockeying between elites and dictator candidates in the lead-up to Bolivia’s transition to stable democratic rule in 1982.

About the Authors: Michael Albertus is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago.  Victor Gay is also at the University of Chicago.  Their articleUnlikely Democrats: Economic Elite Uncertainty under Dictatorship and Support for Democratizationwill be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

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