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.


Learning about Voter Rationality

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled Learning about Voter Rationality”.AJPS Author Summary - Learning about Voter Rationality

Are voters up to the job democracy hands them? Building on a recent empirical literature in political science, many observers have concluded: no! (See here and here.) A key piece of evidence underlying this conclusion is what Ezra Klein describes as “the well-established finding that voters punish incumbents for bad weather and natural disaster.” Klein is referencing an empirical literature that claims incumbent electoral fortunes suffer following events outside their control, e.g., shark attacks and droughts, sports losses, and economic downturns. If “voters consistently and systematically punish incumbents for conditions beyond their control”—as Achen and Bartels argue in their influential book Democracy for Realists (p. 128)—how can democratic accountability possibly produce good governance?

Our paper takes on this voter-irrationality critique of democracy, arguing that it misinterprets the empirical findings. The fact that incumbent electoral fortunes systematically decline following disasters does not imply that voters irrationally punish incumbents for events outside their control. Instead, disasters (natural or economic) shape the opportunities voters have to learn about the quality of incumbent politicians. We show how this effect on learning can, on its own, account for the effect of disasters on electoral fortunes. No irrational punishment required.

An example from our paper illustrates the basics of the argument. Imagine a city with an incumbent mayor. Voters think the mayor probably is of higher quality than the available challengers. So, absent new information, they will reelect her.

The mayor handles emergency preparedness for hurricanes. High-quality mayors prepare well, while low-quality mayors do not. If there’s no hurricane, the voters don’t have the opportunity to learn anything new about the mayor’s quality—so they reelect her. But if a hurricane does come, the voters get to learn about preparedness. This hurricane-generated information affects voting. If the city was well prepared, the voters reelect the incumbent. But if the city was poorly prepared, the voters—quite rationally—conclude the mayor is low quality and vote for a challenger.

In our story, the voters don’t punish the mayor for the hurricane. They simply use the information provided by the hurricane to further assess the mayor. Sometimes they learn good news and sometimes they learn bad news. But because, in our example, the mayor started out ahead of potential challengers, only the bad news matters. The mayor’s susceptibility to downside risk makes new information, on its own, systematically harmful to her electoral fortunes.

Now imagine an empirical political scientist studying a bunch of cities, all described by our example. Some cities randomly get hurricanes, others don’t. Cities that don’t get a hurricane all reelect their mayors. But in the cities that do get a hurricane, some mayors prove themselves low quality and, thus, lose the election. Hence, the empiricist will find that hurricanes systematically harm incumbent electoral fortunes. We might want to conclude that voters irrationally punish incumbents. But that interpretation is wrong—voters are, instead, rationally selecting high quality candidates.

The example is very stark: voters learn the incumbent’s quality perfectly following a hurricane, voters have no other sources of information, the mayor doesn’t take any action, etc. In the paper, we provide a more nuanced and complete picture of the relationship between disasters, voter information, and incumbent electoral fortunes. Common intuitions are wrong. Quite generally, we should expect incumbent electoral fortunes to respond to disasters, even when voters are rational enough to not blame incumbents for events outside their control. Disasters affect voter information, and that matters for electoral outcomes.

Our paper is one piece of a literature taking on the voter-irrationality critique of democracy. We show that if electoral fortunes respond to natural disasters, that is not evidence of voter irrationality. Others question the evidentiary foundations and the purported implications for democracy. Careful empirical scrutiny shows that there most likely is not, in fact, any systematic empirical link between electoral fortunes and either shark attacks or sports losses. (Studies here and here.) And a variety of studies (here, here, here, and here) show that, even if voters are irrational, this need not be bad news for democratic performance. It is clear, then, that the voter-irrationality critique of democracy is at best premature and, at worst, unwarranted.

About the Authors: Scott Ashworth is a Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago. Ethan Bueno de Mesquita is the Sydney Stein Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago. Amanda Friedenberg is an Associate Professor of Economics, at the W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University. Their article titled, “Learning about Voter Rationality” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

AJPS Author Summary: Do Rural Migrants Divide Ethnically in the City?

By Tariq Thachil

AJPS - Do Rural Migrants Divide Ethnically in the City?Across the globe, poor villagers are increasingly moving to cities. Yet we continue to know little about the political and social attitudes of burgeoning urban migrant populations. Do village-based ethnic identities continue to divide poor migrants in the city? Or are such differences obscured by shared poverty and class status?

Existing scholarly opinion is sharply divided. Classical theories of modernization expect migrants to quickly break ties with their parochial homelands, and adopt more modern attachments in cosmopolitan cities. Skeptics counter that intense competition between poor migrants for urban jobs and housing will harden ethnic divisions between them. Between these two poles lie arguments predicting intra-class ethnic divisions will neither be uniformly inconsequential nor entrenched. Instead, these divisions will be muted in contexts that trigger a shared identity among poor migrants, but remain salient otherwise.

This paper tests these disparate predications among a large sample of over 3000 poor migrants in urban India. Constructing a large sample of migrants is challenging, given they are mobile, lack fixed urban addresses, hold informal jobs, and circulate between village and city. To overcome these obstacles, I develop a unique worksite-based sampling strategy for surveying migrants at informal labor spot markets at which they assemble to find work.

A vignette-experiment embedded in this survey assesses the salience of intra-class ethnic divisions. Respondents were presented with three vignettes, each centered on a fictitious migrant, whose ethnicity was randomly varied. Respondents were asked to evaluate this migrant with respect to a specific type of interaction: competing with them for work, cooperating with them in sharing housing, and deciding whether to support them as an informal labor market leader. A fourth vignette assessed migrant support for a fictitious local candidate in a destination city election. To ground each vignette in the words and experiences of my informants, I drew on extensive ‘street-ethnography’ conducted at specific migrant labor markets.

Across these arenas, I find intra-class ethnic divisions are neither uniformly irrelevant nor uniformly salient. Instead, ethnic divisions are muted when migrants come into contact with urban political and economic elites who perceive and treat them in shared class terms. However, ethnic divisions remain highly salient when migrants interact away from this unifying elite presence. For example, migrants divide ethnically in their support for an informal migrant leader at their labor market, but not in their support for an urban political candidate.

Theoretically, the situationally variable salience of ethnicity cautions against sweeping portrayals of poor migrant communities as cosmopolitan utopias or hotbeds of ethnic strife. Instead, my study suggests these communities are open to both ethnic and class-based mobilizing strategies in the city. The comparative potential of the framework and findings presented here are aided by the fact that the conditions my informants face – poverty, informality, and spatial concentration into diverse worksites and settlements- are hardly unique to Indian cities. Yet much more must be done. Indeed, this paper concludes by calling for broadening our focus from nativist attitudes towards migrants to the understudied attitudes of migrants themselves.

About the Author: Tariq Thachil is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. His article, “Do Rural Migrants Divide Ethnically in the City?” in now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


AJPS Author Summary: How Do We Know Terrorism When We See It?

By Connor Huff and Joshua Kertzer

Charleston, South Carolina, USA - January 6, 2016: Memorial flowers placed at Emanuel AME Church.

On June 17th, 2015, Dylann Roof killed nine African American churchgoers at an Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, with the intent of starting a race war throughout the United States. Following the shooting, FBI Director James Comey stated that the shooting in Charleston was not terrorism, asserting that “Terrorism is [an] act of violence…to try to influence a public body or citizenry, so it’s more of a political act. And again based on what I know so far I don’t see it as a political act.” His assessment was condemned from across the political spectrum, from critics on both the left (including then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and former Attorney General Eric Holder) and right (including then GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum). Similar public debates have erupted followed other violent incidents, including the bombing at the Boston Marathon and shooting in Orlando, Florida. These debates not only highlight the contentiousness of classifying terrorism, but also the stakes involved in doing so, for policymakers, academics, and members of the public alike.

In our forthcoming article in the American Journal of Political Science, we turn to experimental methods to explain the tenor of these public debates. We investigate terrorism in a public opinion context not because we believe that the mass public’s intuitions can necessarily resolve normative debates about what should or should not be considered terrorism, but rather because of the central role that public opinion plays in our understanding of how terrorism works. In a vast array of prior research, terrorism is understood as a form of violence that functions by attracting public attention. It is because terrorism hinges on public reaction that Margaret Thatcher suggested terrorists depend on “the oxygen of publicity,” that Carlo Pisacane declared terrorism to be “propaganda by deed,” and that Ayman al-Zawahiri suggested that for al-Qaeda, media coverage is “more than half” the battle.  If the responses of ordinary citizens thus constitute a central means through which terrorism operates, it logically follows that understanding what ordinary citizens think terrorism is is a crucial prerequisite to understanding how they react to it.


AJPS Early View - How the Public Defines TerrorismOur approach is a simple one. First, we field a conjoint experiment on 1400 American adults, the results of which show how ordinary citizens classify terrorism based not only on relatively objective facts on the ground, but also on fairly subjective considerations about the perpetrator. On the one hand, considerations about the type and severity of violence matter—though interestingly, not the distinction between civilian and military targets that plays a central role in contemporary legal definitions.  On the other hand, our respondents are also heavily influenced by relatively subjective descriptions about the perpetrator’s identity and motivations, considerations about which the media has considerable latitude in the language it uses to cover incidents. In this sense, because actions do not always speak louder than words, the media has considerable power based on how it chooses to frame incidents.

We then demonstrate the implications of our typology using machine learning techniques, allowing us to (i) code a range of prior incidents that have occurred in the real world to predict the likelihood that individuals will classify each event as terrorism, and (ii) exploit the subjectivity of many of these coding decisions to show how we can construct a number of different, equally plausible narratives about the same event, leading to sizable differences in the likelihood individuals will understand the event as terrorism or not.

For example, using predictive models derived from our experimental results, we show how the estimated likelihood Americans will classify incidents with the characteristics of the attacks in San Bernardino, California, for example, can vary from around 30% to 82%, depending on the narrative constructed about the perpetrators’ identity and motivations (were they acting alone, or does pledging allegiance to ISIS in a Facebook post constitute foreign ties? Were they motivated by political goals, or was the motivation behind the shooting unclear? Is a family history of mental illness sufficient to conclude that mental illness played a role in this attack as well? How relevant is the attackers’ religion?) In doing so we empirically demonstrate the ways in which terrorism can be socially constructed.

About the Authors: Connor Huff is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Government at Harvard University and Joshua D. Kertzer is Assistant Professor of Government at Harvard University. Their article, “How the Public Defines Terrorism” in now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


Author Summary: Disloyal Brokers and Weak Parties

By Lucas M. Novaes 

AJPS - Disloyal Brokers and Weak PartiesMost parties in the developing world are weak. Even after more than three decades after the Third Wave of Democratization, many parties still lack partisans, stable local outposts, or a clear policy platform. To understand why parties are fragile, I conduct an analysis of one fundamental piece of the party machinery, the political broker, and hypothesize that when they act as free agents parties are electorally fragile.

Parties may not have means to establish a connection to voters, but in many places parties can “hire” community organizers, ethnic chiefs, local bureaucrats, neighborhood leaders, patrons, caciques, local politicians, and other notables to act as brokers and close the gap between party politicians and voters. Throughout the years, these agents cultivate a private and non-partisan network of voters which they can influence, or a module of individuals that can be electorally mobilized to vote or not for a particular party. Parties can give these notables resources, money, or nominations, and in exchange receive an entire constituency supporting party candidates at the election day. Thus, even without direct linkages to voters, politicians running for offices above the local level can acquire enough votes to win the election by building a modular party with modules of several different brokers.

The problem of the modular party is that brokers can be disloyal. Since modules and brokers are non-partisans, and there may be more than one party that needs brokers to mobilize voters, agents are free to switch allegiances whenever they receive a more profitable proposal for the brokerage they perform. The article shows that broker disloyalty undermines party performance. Using the fragmented Brazilian party system as testing ground, I find that disloyalty in the form of party switching of mayoral candidates, who act as brokers for party candidates, causes parties to receive less votes for their deputies. Natural experiments and an unexpected, temporary institutional reform that discouraged disloyalty for brokers demonstrate this relationship.

The results stress that studying brokers is important to understand why parties in the developing world remain weak. How can parties establish a brand, invest in party organization, or create partisans when their point of contact to voters may change parties, and offer a bloc of former supporters to the competition? Making disloyalty less advantageous to brokers may be a necessary first step towards building strong parties.

About the Author: Lucas M. Novaes is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France. Novaes’ article “Disloyal Brokers and Weak Parties” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

The Legacy of Political Violence across Generations

By Noam Lupu and Leonid Peisakhin

AJPS - The Legacy of Political Violence across GenerationsPolitical violence has profound political and psychological effects on its victims. Under some circumstances, victims withdraw from politics, but in other settings they seem to become more politically active. In our study, we ask what effect violence has on victims’ descendants, who themselves were not subject to political persecution.

We come at this question by studying the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim minority that currently resides in Crimea. In May 1944, Soviet authorities summarily deported Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. Like other Soviet deportations, the lengthy journey to Central Asia was grueling for all and deadly for many. Overall, 20-46% of the whole Crimean Tatar community perished either in transit or during the first year in exile. Most of those who perished died from illness and malnutrition. The Crimean Tatars were finally permitted to start returning to their ancestral homes in Crimea in 1989, and almost all have returned.

Our paper studies the effect that the loss of family members during the deportation has on the descendants of the survivors. In late 2014, we interviewed three generations of respondents in 300 Crimean Tatar families. Our survey includes 300 survivors who experienced the deportation, 600 of their children who were born in exile, and 1,004 of their grandchildren who themselves had no direct experience of the Soviet state. Because all Crimean Tatar families had been deported but some lost more relatives than others, we are able to estimate the impact of additional family deaths on the grandchildren’s political identities, attitudes, and behaviors.

We find that with each additional death in the survivor generation, grandchildren tend to identify more strongly as Crimean Tatar and as victims, and they are more likely to perceive Russia as a threat. The young Crimean Tatars who come from more victimized families are more likely to participate in politics. Interestingly, they were more likely to vote in the referendum in early 2014 on Russia’s annexation of Crimea and in the local elections later that year. However, they turned out in order to express their opposition to Russia by voting against the annexation and against Russia’s ruling party.

We find that what is transmitted across generations is identities—victim identity, a heightened threat perception, and strong in-group attachment. Once engrained through family socialization (sometimes through direct conversations about the family’s experiences), these core attitudes shape responses to political events and motivate behaviors such as political participation or choices at the voting booth.

Our study demonstrates that victim identities are extremely persistent and can be transmitted within families across at least three generations. At least some of the strong anti-Russian sentiment among younger Crimean Tatars today is a direct result of Soviet-era victimization of their ancestors some 80 years ago. These results help to explain why reconciliation between victims’ descendants and perpetrators’ successors is often so elusive.

About the Authors: Noam Lupu is Associate Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of the Latin American Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University; Leonid Peisakhin is Assistant Professor of Political Science at New York University – Abu Dhabi. Their article “The Legacy of Political Violence across Generations” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Who voted (and didn’t) for Hitler, and why?

AJPS Author Summary By Jörg L. Spenkuch and Philipp Tillmann

Few historical events have been more consequential and, therefore, more scrutinized than the failure of Germany’s first democracy and Adolf Hitler’s ensuing rise to power. Even contemporaries had known that support for the Nazis was by no means uniform. At the height of the World Economic Crisis, majority Catholic regions remained strongholds of democratic parties, while voters in predominantly Protestant areas abandoned their traditional allegiances and flocked toward the NSDAP.

Elite Influence? Religion and the Electoral Success of the Nazis

Our analysis confirms that religion is the single most important empirical predictor of NSDAP vote shares. In fact, constituencies’ religious composition explains a greater share of the geographic variation in Nazi vote shares than all other available variables, either individually or combined.

Why did the NSDAP perform poorly in Catholic regions? Did the party’s agricultural policies hold little appeal to farmers? Were majority Protestant constituencies more likely to back the Nazis because they were hit harder by the economic depression? Or, did, as Hitler himself believed, ordinary Catholics refrain from supporting the Nazis because they were instructed to do so by the clergy?

In the last phase of the Weimar Republic, nobody of public standing opposed the Nazis more vehemently than the Catholic Church and its dignitaries. We provide direct evidence in support of the idea that the Church’s influence contributed to the resistance of ordinary Catholics. To do so, we draw on a novel data set that allows us to geographically locate members of the clergy who ignored the directives of their bishops and instead openly sympathized with the Nazis. We show that Catholics and Protestants voted much more alike in settings where such a “brown priest” directly contradicted the Church’s official warnings about the dangers of National Socialism. We further find that after the Catholic bishops gave up their opposition and took a position that was favorable to Hitler, parishioners’ relative resistance crumbled as well.

At the same time, we show that attempts by the clergy to immunize Catholics against the radical left failed to achieve the desired result. To explain the puzzling asymmetry in the Church’s influence at the ballot box, we develop a simple theoretical framework of elite influence in electoral politics, which also offers some lessons for dealing with radicalized electorates today.

About the Authors: Jörg L. Spenkuch is an Assistant Professor of Managerial Economics & Decision Sciences at Northwestern University, and Philipp Tillmann is an Associate at Analysis Group. Their article “Elite Influence? Religion and the Electoral Success of the Nazis” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Making Washington Work: Legislative Entrepreneurship and the Personal Vote from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression

By Charles Finocchiaro and Scott A. MacKenzie

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled  “Making Washington Work: Legislative Entrepreneurship and the Personal Vote from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression”.

The modern Congress is often characterized as an institution comprised of legislators motivated primarily by the desire to be reelected.  Much scholarship documents the ways in which senators and representatives cultivate a “personal vote”— relationships with constituents based on accessibility and trust rather than partisan or ideological affinity—in pursuit of this goal.  These tools range from the franking privilege, which is used to advertise their names and services, to plum committee assignments that allow them to build reputations for attending to constituents’ interests.  Another tool in the congressional arsenal is bill sponsorship, which unlike roll-call votes, is unencumbered by limits on floor time, committee access, etc.

Making Washington Work: Legislative Entrepreneurship and the Personal Vote from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression

While research on the modern Congress has a great deal to say about the incentives that drive the institution both internally and with respect to the broader electoral and political landscape, much of what we know is constrained by the relative stability of several factors that give rise to the electoral connection.  For example, the candidate-centered electoral politics of the post-World War II era offers little variation in the electoral rules governing elections, with nearly all members of Congress elected via direct primaries and general election contests that use official ballots that voters cast in secret.

In this article, we leverage the variation in electoral rules and other contextual factors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to explore bill introduction patterns in the pre-modern U.S. House of Representatives.  Focusing on bill introductions in the pre-modern House is particularly useful because of the extent to which private claims that today are referred to legislative staff and the bureaucracy spilled onto the legislative agenda.  In addition to addressing pressing national challenges, bill introductions were used to resolve the individual concerns of Civil War pensioners and others.  Thus, bill introductions in the pre-modern House offer a more complete picture of members’ time and resource allocation.

Our analysis employs original data on more than 417,000 House bills introduced from 1881 to 1931 and illuminates the various factors driving bill sponsorship in this era.  Much like their modern counterparts, members of the pre-modern House with prominent positions of institutional power and greater political experience introduce more policy-oriented bills dealing with salient national issues. Across a range of issue areas, the characteristics of members’ constituencies also influence the number and type of bills they introduce.

Of primary interest to us, however, is the finding that two major reforms to the electoral system—the Australian (secret) ballot and the nominating primary—are crucial in explaining the uptick in private bills serving individual constituents and public works legislation targeting local constituencies.  We believe that these findings shed light on the origins of many behavioral hallmarks of the modern Congress and address debates over its institutional development and performance.  In particular, they highlight the importance of these two reforms in shaping the legislative orientation of Congress, and with it, the nature of contemporary representation.

About the Authors: Charles Finocchiaro is an Associate Professor in the Carl Albert Center and the Department of Political Science at University of Oklahoma, and Scott A. MacKenzie is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of California, Davis. Their article “Making Washington Work: Legislative Entrepreneurship and the Personal Vote from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

No Need to Watch: How the Effects of Partisan Media Can Spread via Interpersonal Discussions

By James N. Druckman, Matthew S. Levendusky, and Audrey McLain

No Need to Watch: How the Effects of Partisan Media Can Spread via Interpersonal DiscussionsMedia in the U.S. has changed. Over the last quarter-century, there has been a proliferation of media outlets, as well as a rise in partisan media—outlets that eschew journalistic norms of objectivity and present a particular partisan/ideological viewpoint on the news. Today’s citizens are not limited to just mainstream news, but can watch Fox News, MSNBC, listen to talk radio, or visit a wide number of partisan websites.

At first glance, it might seem like the influence of these websites would be quite limited. After all, their audience is quite modest: most estimates suggest that no more than 10-15 percent of the population regularly consume partisan media (of any sort). So even if they matter to their audience (and prior evidence suggests that they do), their limited reach suggests that their overall effect will be small.

But we argue that this view is too limited. Those who consume partisan media can spread its effects via inter-personal discussion. So if I watch partisan media, and then talk to my parents, the effect of me watching can spread to them. This is an example of the canonical two-step communication flow model, which posits that media may affect a small group of watchers who then, in turn, pass that influence along to non-watchers via inter-personal discussion. We update this idea for the partisan media age, and argue that the same principle explains why interpersonal communication amplifies the power of partisan media outlets.

We test this general prediction via a laboratory experiment. In the experiment, subjects were randomly assigned to two factors: to either watch partisan media (or not), and to discuss the issues raised in their partisan media segments (the debate over expanding oil/natural gas drilling in the U.S.) or not. So our experiment allows us to compare four groups of individuals: those who neither watch partisan media nor discuss the issue (the control), those who simply watch partisan media, those who discuss the issue in small groups, but do not themselves watch any partisan media, and finally those who both watch partisan media and discuss it.

Our experiments show clear evidence of a two-step communication flow – those who did not watch partisan media but talked with those who did end up holding opinions that resemble those who watched. Indeed, we show that discussion (especially in partisan homogeneous groups) can produce effects that are even larger than just watching these outlets. This highlights that discussion can not just transmit partisan media messages, but it can also amplify them. While the extent to which these processes occur outside the laboratory is not clear, what is clear is there is a strong potential that partisan media effects may extend well beyond its viewership. Interpersonal discussion—and social networks more generally—help to spread and amplify partisan media’s messages.

About the Authors: James N. Druckman is Payson S. Wild Professor (also Associated Director, Institute for Policy Research) at Northwestern University, Matthew S. Levendusky is Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Pennsylvania, and Audrey McLain is at Temple University. Their article “No Need to Watch: How the Effects of Partisan Media Can Spread via Interpersonal Discussions” is now available for 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