Racial Identity, Group Consciousness, and Attitudes: A Framework for Assessing Multiracial Self-Classification

The forthcoming article “Racial Identity, Group Consciousness, and Attitudes: A Framework for Assessing Multiracial Self-Classification” by Lauren D. Davenport, Shanto Iyengar  and Sean J. Westwood is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Multiracial Americans are the fastest-growing racial demographic in the U.S. Their swift rise suggests shifting patterns of the social and political meanings associated with race. In this article, we provide the first large-scale assessment of the racial identities, consciousness, and attitudes of multiracial self-classifiers, focusing on the two biggest groups in the population: White-Blacks and White-Asians. In doing so, our work provides important insights into how identity is politicized in a diversifying America.  

Drawing on psychological theories of group dynamics, we formulate three models of multiracial political identity: a minority solidarity model, which predicts that multiracials feel most strongly attached to and express attitudes more closely aligned with their minority race; a hegemonic model, which predicts that multiracials feel more closely aligned with Whites; and an emerging identity model, which contends that multiracials’ attachments and attitudes consistently deviate from both of their constituent backgrounds.  

From these models, we generate a set of hypotheses that we test using a rich battery of items embedded into the largest national political survey of multiracial adults to date (n=1229). We compare multiracial White-Blacks and White-Asians to those of their component monoracial groups: Whites, Blacks, and Asians. We assess racial group identity and consciousness with three measures: relative salience of race to one’s identity, racial group closeness, and linked fate. We estimate multiracials’ affinity (or lack thereof) toward their constituent racial groups with both explicit and implicit racial attitude measures, including the implicit association test.  

All told, we find no support for the hegemonic model, that multiracials principally align themselves with Whites. On balance, our results indicate that self-classification as White-Black or White-Asian does not reflect an equal connection to and affinity for both constituent racial groups, but relatively greater alignment with the minority race. Both consciously and subconsciously, White-Asians assert a stronger affiliation with Asians than with Whites, and White-Blacks are akin to Blacks on linked fate and stereotypes. But we also show that, relative to their monoracial minority group, multiracials express lower levels of group closeness, and, in the case of White-Blacks, some implicit bias against Blacks—suggesting that White-Blacks may hold some prejudices of which they are unaware. Taken together, this indicates a complexity to multiracials’ identities and underscores a need to understand when and how multiracials’ differing attitudes affect their political behavior and preferences. 

We also find some differences in multiracials’ attitudes that are tied to their particular background. Compared to White-Blacks, White-Asians express relatively greater linked fate to Whites and markedly higher levels of anti-Black stereotyping and resentment. Because minority group consciousness has been shown to result in more progressive political attitudes, greater political participation, and a commitment to minority coalition building, we argue that White-Blacks’ relatively stronger sense of minority group linked fate (compared to White-Asians) may induce them to engage with and support issues pertinent to their minority community to a greater degree. 

These findings suggest that members of these multiracial populations are likely to align themselves relatively more with their minority background than with Whites on political issues that are racial in nature. All things considered, we argue that the rise of these multiracial populations is likely to strengthen rather than weaken the longstanding bond between self-identified minorities and the Democratic Party.  

About the Author(s): Lauren D. Davenport is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science at Stanford University, Shanto Iyengar is Professor, Department of Political Science at Stanford University and Sean J. Westwood is Associate Professor, Department of Government at Dartmouth College. Their research “Racial Identity, Group Consciousness, and Attitudes: A Framework for Assessing Multiracial Self-Classification” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Sleeping with the Enemy: Effective Representation under Dynamic Electoral Competition

The forthcoming article “Sleeping with the Enemy: Effective Representation under Dynamic Electoral Competition” by Anderson Frey, Gabriel López-Moctezuma and Sergio Montero is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Growing discontent with democratic politics in recent years has revitalized research into the signs and origins of well-functioning democracy.  Democratic stability, scholars have long argued, largely depends on voters finding acceptable alternatives at the polls.  When political parties pursue unconventional electoral strategies or compete for voters on non-programmatic grounds (e.g., through vote-buying or clientelism) effective representation and the link between elections, public policy, and government accountability may be threatened, fueling distrust of democratic institutions. 

Electoral coalitions between ideologically incompatible parties constitute a stark example of such unconventional strategies.  They pose a puzzle: if competition is fundamentally based on contrasting coherent policy agendas and values, what do parties on opposite ends of the ideology spectrum have to gain from joining forces against more centrist rivals?  

Consider the case of Mexico.  For almost its entire democratic history, the three main contenders in elections at all levels of government have been the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the National Action Party (PAN).  Voters and experts widely agree that, at the federal level, PRD and PAN are respectively located to the left and right of PRI on the ideology spectrum.  Yet, since the 1990s, PAN and PRD have nominated common candidates against PRI in several subnational elections. 

Given Mexico’s well-documented history of electoral fraud, vote-buying, and clientelism, it is tempting to conclude that PAN-PRD coalitions reveal a dilution of party brands at the local level and electoral competition based on the distribution of political favors rather than on well-defined policy preferences.  However, using a regression discontinuity design (RDD) on close elections, we demonstrate that Mexican mayors enact policies 

that are consistent with their party’s ideology.  Furthermore, we find that coalition and non-coalition mayors from the same party are indistinguishable with regard to policy choices, which rules out policy compromises as a cornerstone of the PAN-PRD alliance. 

To understand the implications of seemingly unconventional electoral strategies, we argue that parties’ and voters’ dynamic considerations must take center stage.  We propose and estimate a model of dynamic electoral competition that allows for strategic coordination by way of common candidate nominations.  In our model, holding office over time enables the incumbent party to (potentially) build an electoral advantage.  Opposition parties and voters then face a stark dynamic tradeoff: a short-term ideology compromise, via an electoral coalition, offers the opportunity to remove the incumbent from office, deplete its electoral advantage, and thus level the playing field in the future.  This tradeoff provides a rationale for coalition formation in elections previously unrecognized in the literature. 

We estimate our model using data from Mexican municipal elections between 1995-2016.  In line with our RDD evidence, we report structural estimates of Mexican parties’ policy preferences at the municipal level, which coincide with their national profiles.  More importantly, we show through counterfactual experiments that the PAN-PRD alliance has served as an instrument of democratic consolidation, opening the door to effective electoral competition.  Our results should shed light on recent similar attempts worldwide to oust populist leaders. 

About the Author(s): Anderson Frey is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at University of Rochester, Gabriel López-Moctezuma is Assistant Professor, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences at California Institute of Technology and Sergio Montero is Assistant Professor, Departments of Political Science and Economics at University of Rochester. Their research “Sleeping with the Enemy: Effective Representation under Dynamic Electoral Competition” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Retribution or Reconciliation? Post-Conflict Attitudes toward Enemy Collaborators

The forthcoming article “Retribution or Reconciliation? Post-Conflict Attitudes toward Enemy Collaborators” by Kristen Kao and Mara Redlich Revkin is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Armed groups such as rebels or foreign occupiers often seek to govern territory, requiring the cooperation of large proportions of the civilian population. These civilian “collaborators” serve in a variety of non-combat roles as taxpayers, cleaners or clerks in governance institutions, or wives of fighters; they are often widely perceived as enemy collaborators after conflict ends. Although most of the people who support and enable insurgencies are civilians—both men and women who serve in these diverse non-combat roles—the bulk of the literature on attitudes toward post-conflict justice and reconciliation focuses heavily on male fighters. As a result, there is a need for more research on how individuals in post-conflict societies perceive the culpability not only of fighters but of the many civilian collaborators with economic and social ties to the insurgency.  

Through a survey experiment conducted in an Iraqi city that was controlled by the Islamic State for three years, we find that variation in the type of collaboration an actor engages in signals culpability, strongly determining preferences for punishment and forgiveness among the population at-large. For example, Islamic State taxpayers receive, on average, punishments that are nearly three levels less harsh compared to those desired for fighters, which on our five-point scale is the difference between six months of community service and capital punishment. Substantively, this means that voluntary tax payment to the Islamic State is treated as harshly as involuntary participation in acts of collaboration that directly support fighters (such as cooks for or wives of fighters). In line with some previous research in other contexts, respondents who were exposed to violence by the Islamic State tend to have a greater desire for retribution and revenge than those with fewer grievances. However, perceived volition behind an act—a relatively unstudied factor—is even more important.  

By widening our analytical lens to consider a more realistically broad spectrum of enemy collaboration, we avoid affirming a false dichotomy between victims and perpetrators that is commonly assumed in post-war settings. This research offers novel insights into the microfoundations of enemy collaborator culpability, which is a necessary first step toward reconciliation. Moreover, our results reveal a significant gap between public opinion, which was on average more forgiving of Islamic State collaborators than the harsh, one-punishment-fits-all approach currently taken by the Iraqi government. This mismatch between policy and public opinion suggests that policymakers should consider lighter sentences as well as non-carceral restorative justice mechanisms such as rehabilitation programs, community service, or sponsorship by tribal and religious leaders. 

We encourage other scholars to replicate and extend our experimental design in other post-conflict settings that differ from Iraq in important ways including regime type, culture or religion, duration and recency of conflict, as well as patterns of violence. And we hope that this research agenda will contribute to the development of better models for understanding the determinants of preferences for justice and reconciliation that can inform the design of evidence-based policies and programming for securing peace in post-conflict settings.  

About the Author(s): Kristen Kao, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Political Science at University of Gothenburg and Mara Redlich Revkin, National Security Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center. Their research “Retribution or Reconciliation? Post-Conflict Attitudes toward Enemy Collaborators” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Who Rallies Around the Flag? Nationalist Parties, National Security, and the 2019 Indian Election

The forthcoming article “Who Rallies Around the Flag? Nationalist Parties, National Security, and the 2019 Indian Election” by Jamie Hintson and Milan Vaishnav is summarized by the author(s) below. 

A well-developed literature suggests that national security crises often generate electoral rewards for incumbents. Across a range of democracies, voters often “rally around the flag” to support the ruling party in the face of an external threat. Right-wing nationalist governments appear especially well placed to exploit security crises, as they typically possess hawkish national security policy views. However, we know relatively little about who within the electorate rallies behind incumbents. One important potential source of variation is exposure to the crisis itself. This article asks whether rallying behavior is driven by those most exposed to a crisis or by those for whom the consequences of a crisis are more removed.

Existing scholarship could support either prediction. On the one hand, exposure to a crisis could amplify rallying behavior by diverting attention away from everyday governance concerns. On the other hand, exposed voters may be the most critical of the government and its crisis response. We argue that the latter might be especially true when social commemoration—rallies, funerals, or processions—highlights the severity of an attack. Increasing voters’ exposure to a crisis could dampen a rallying effect for several reasons. First, exposed voters may assign greater responsibility to the government for the attack (blame). Second, exposed voters may criticize the government for not sufficiently retaliating against the perpetrators of the attack (revenge). Third, exposed voters may punish the incumbent if they believe the ruling party is exploiting casualties for political gain (backlash).

To test our argument, we focus on a difficult case: a deadly terrorist attack on Indian soil that occurred just months before that country’s 2019 general election. At a macro-level, the attack transformed the political discourse and created a national-level rallying behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the right-wing, nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

At a local level, however, tens of thousands of residents attended the funeral processions that returned each soldier’s remains to his home, paying their respects and expressing patriotic sentiments. We estimate the effects of exposure to these processions—measured by voters’ proximity to the soldier’s hometown—on support for the BJP, focusing on India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh.

We find that the BJP’s vote share decreases with proximity to the funeral processions in constituencies where the party is incumbent. Our effects cannot be explained by prior electoral behavior or spatial correlation alone, and they are too large to be driven by those with direct ties to the deceased. We find some qualitative support for all three of our proposed mechanisms, but the preponderance of available evidence points to anti-incumbent blame as the principal mechanism at play. Villages with weak pre-existing BJP support saw the largest procession effects, and exposed voters disproportionately supported the Indian National Congress, the only opposition party with national security credentials.

Our argument suggests that even nationalist governments face a real tradeoff in exploiting security crises for political gain. Opposition parties may be able to mitigate rallies around nationalist incumbents by emphasizing the human costs of an attack.

About the Author(s): Jamie Hintson is PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science at Stanford University and Milan Vaishnav, Senior Fellow and Director, South Asia Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Their research “Who Rallies Around the Flag? Nationalist Parties, National Security, and the 2019 Indian Election” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Democracy by Deterrence: Norms, Constitutions, and Electoral Tilting

The forthcoming article “Democracy by Deterrence: Norms, Constitutions, and Electoral Tilting” by Gretchen Helmke, Mary Kroeger and Jack Paine is summarized by the author(s) below. 

In contemporary democracies, backsliding typically occurs through legal machinations and electoral distortions, rather than via military coups, mass repression, or cancelling elections outright. Despite circumscribing legally acceptable actions, formal constitutions are inherently incomplete contracts. Self-enforcing democracy requires that political parties refrain from exploiting legal opportunities to tilt electoral rules. Absent well-established norms of mutual constraint and forbearance against playing “constitutional hardball,” words on paper cannot save democracy from unscrupulous politicians. Instead, incumbents can gradually subvert electoral competition while using a constitution to provide a veneer of legality. 

Rich descriptions of the descent into constitutional hardball within the United States and other democracies abound, yet we know far less about the strategic underpinnings of mutual forbearance and its breakdown in the face of constitutional opportunities for democratic retrogression. Using a formal model, we argue that informal norms of mutual forbearance and formal constitutional rules are fundamentally intertwined via a logic of deterrence. By circumscribing how far each party can legally bend the rules, legal bounds effectively create reversion points if mutual forbearance breaks down. If legal bounds are symmetric between parties, they deter electoral tilting by making credible each party’s threat to punish transgressions by the other. If legal bounds become sufficiently asymmetric, however, such deterrence collapses and the foundations for forbearance crumble. Asymmetries emerge when (a) some social groups are more vulnerable than others to legally permissible electoral distortions and (b) favored and disfavored groups sort heavily into parties.

We apply this mechanism to understand the erosion of forbearance in the United States in the post-Civil Rights era, specifically analyzing gerrymandering and voting rights. This case meets a key scope condition of our formal model—high fidelity to an established, albeit still evolving, constitutional order—while also featuring relatively permissive legal scope for tilting electoral rules. Unlike many modern constitutions, the U.S. constitution was not founded to deliberately favor a particular party. Yet the contemporary American constitutional order fails to proscribe certain undemocratic practices that disproportionately restrict the electoral clout of certain social groups. For example, contemporary constitutional law prohibits parties from writing statutes that explicitly target individuals based on their partisan affiliation, but allows for gerrymandering, which effectively undermines the collective voting influence of urban voters. Similarly, parties cannot directly target voters based on race or income, but can disenfranchise ex-felons and pass voter ID laws, which disproportionately reduce voting access for minorities and poorer voters.  

Asymmetries at the level of social groups have engendered legal asymmetries between the major parties because of the extreme sorting of racial, economic, and other demographic groups into the Democratic and Republican parties in recent decades. Thus, we explain how the widely studied phenomenon of sorting transforms an ostensibly party-neutral constitution into one that simultaneously blesses one party with more leeway for manipulation and less exposure to retaliation. These are precisely the conditions that make mutual forbearance against democratic backsliding difficult to sustain. We combined and extended state-level data to document the emergence of asymmetric legal opportunities to tilt the electoral playing field between the Republican and Democratic parties and the divergence in partisan strategies in recent decades. Our goal is not to rule out all alternative mechanisms, but instead to highlight an underappreciated strategic dynamic that helps to explain why, when, and how the two major parties’ support for basic democratic principles has diverged. 

About the Author(s): Gretchen Helmke, Professor, Department of Political Science at University of Rochester, Mary Kroeger, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Jack Paine, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science at University of Rochester. Their research “Democracy by Deterrence: Norms, Constitutions, and Electoral Tilting” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Can Democratic Principles Protect High Courts from Partisan Backlash? Public Reactions to the Kenyan Supreme Court’s Role in the 2017 Election Crisis

The forthcoming article “Can Democratic Principles Protect High Courts from Partisan Backlash? Public Reactions to the Kenyan Supreme Court’s Role in the 2017 Election Crisis” by Brandon L. Bartels, Jeremy Horowitz and Eric Kramon is summarized by the author(s) below. 

In September 2017, Kenya’s Supreme Court invalidated the country’s presidential election on procedural grounds, ruling that the electoral commission had failed to conduct the race in accordance with constitutional requirements. Elsewhere in Africa, judiciaries are also playing more assertive roles. In a similar case, Malawi’s high court annulled the county’s 2019 election, calling for a re-run in which the incumbent subsequently lost to the opposition candidate. South Africa’s high court ruled in 2017 that the president was not immune from prosecution on corruption charges while in office. And in Kenya, the Supreme Court recently blocked the government’s plans to close two large refugee camps. These rulings reflect the growing independence of African judiciaries on a continent where high courts have traditionally been subservient to powerful executives and provide important precedents for courts struggling to assert their powers throughout the region. 

This paper examines the popular foundations of judicial authority by investigating public reactions to the Kenyan Supreme Court’s 2017 rulings. High courts play an indispensable role in buttressing the rule of law and consolidating democracy, particularly in newer democracies and electoral authoritarian regimes. Yet, rulings on contentious issues risk backlash, which can undermine the public support upon which their power ultimately depends. We leverage data from a multi-wave panel survey conducted in the midst of Kenya’s election crisis to test competing views of public support. Conventional wisdom holds that citizen commitment to democracy and the rule of law sustains public support for high courts, even among those whose partisan or policy interests are harmed by major rulings. This view, however, remains largely untested and has been challenged by those emphasizing the partisan foundations of judicial support.  

The Kenyan Supreme Court’s historic 2017 elections rulings provide an unusual opportunity to test alternative expectations. After annulling the incumbent president’s victory, the Court upheld his controversial repeat-election win. With data from a national panel survey—conducted before and after the repeat election—we find important partisan-based withdrawals/increases in judicial-power support. We find no evidence that democratic principles attenuated partisan backlash; some were associated with its amplification. 

Our results show that partisan reactions can influence diffuse forms of court support, which is significant given the literature’s emphasis on apolitical drivers of diffuse support. The findings complement research showing that citizens often privilege partisan interests over the protection of democratic and rule-of-law institutions. While these results are discouraging in normative terms, we show also that partisan losers maintain moderately high support despite backlash in this case. Finally, the article extends scholarship on public support for judiciaries to Africa by examining one of the most important judicial decisions in Africa’s recent history. Given courts’ increasing role in adjudicating election disputes and these cases’ centrality in battles surrounding democratization, such an analysis is critical to understanding the development of judicial power and democratic consolidation in such contexts. 

About the Author(s): Brandon L. Bartels is Professor, Department of Political Science at George Washington University, Jeremy Horowitz is Assistant Professor, Department of Government at Dartmouth College and Eric Kramon is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Their research “Can Democratic Principles Protect High Courts from Partisan Backlash? Public Reactions to the Kenyan Supreme Court’s Role in the 2017 Election Crisis” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Can Descriptive Representation Help the Right Win Votes from the Poor? Evidence from Brazil

The forthcoming article “Can Descriptive Representation Help the Right Win Votes from the Poor? Evidence from Brazil” by Zuheir Desai and Anderson Frey is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Right-wing parties represent the interests of the wealthy and yet often win elections in many developing democracies that have a preponderance of poor voters. Not surprisingly, existing research discounts the use of descriptive representation, i.e. nominating a representative that mirrors the characteristics of the poor, as a potential explanation for this pattern. If voters value class-based descriptive representation, it is implicitly assumed to be the mainstay of the Left. In this article, we present a novel theory that defies this conventional wisdom, supported by empirical evidence from Brazil. 

Our model combines four elements. First, poor voters prefer the ideology of the Left-wing party, while wealthy voters are aligned with the Right. Second, when parties care about policy, any deviation from their ideological brand is not believable in the eyes of the voters. Third, any policy deviation from the party brand may be believable if the party nominates a candidate that is descriptively similar to the opposing class. Fourth, candidates that are descriptively closer to the poor, and thus less educated, are more costly to nominate.  

The theory implies the following: when ideological brands are recognized by voters, the Right chooses to reduce policy differentiation with the Left where the electorate is extremely poor. Since voters recognize party brands, the Right cannot simply commit to pro-poor policies. In order to demonstrate such commitment, they nominate candidates that descriptively represent the poor. As the electorate becomes wealthier, the policies offered by the parties diverge, in line with their ideological positions, and candidate profiles converge. It is necessary that both parties and voters know and care about programmatic brands for these results to hold. When programmatic labels have little meaning, both policies and candidate profiles converge everywhere. 

We test these predictions using data from Brazilian municipalities. Brazil offers a suitable environment to test our theory given the unequal distribution of income across municipalities, and a consensual Left-Right divide between the main parties. Our measure of pro-poor policy at the municipal level is the share of the municipal budget devoted to health, sanitation, education, and housing, while our measure of descriptive representation of the poor is the education level of the mayoral candidates. 

Our results support the theoretical claims. In low-poverty municipalities, Right-wing mayors spend significantly less on pro-poor categories than the Left, as one would expect, and both parties field highly educated mayoral candidates. In high-poverty areas, policy differences disappear, as both Right and Left-wing mayors increase their pro-poor spending to similar levels. However, Right-wing candidates are significantly less educated than their Leftist competitors. Furthermore, these patterns of policy differentiation and candidate selection are stronger in races where local party coalitions are highly aligned with national party brands, and all but disappear in ideologically diffuse races. 

Overall, these findings have significant implications for the study of electoral politics in developing democracies. First, we show that descriptive representation of the poor is an important electoral tactic in this context. Furthermore, given the relative paucity of descriptive representation of the poor around the world, we find that it is surprisingly the Right that capitalizes on this shortage. Second, we show that there is more to descriptive representation than its effect on substantive representation, i.e. its effect on policy advocacy by representatives. In particular, we find that parties could also use it as a tool to convey their commitment to off-brand policy shifts. 

About the Author(s): Zuheir Desai, Assistant Professor, School of Global and Public Affairs at IE University and Anderson Frey, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Rochester. Their research “Can Descriptive Representation Help the Right Win Votes from the Poor? Evidence from Brazil” is now available in Early View and Will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

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. 


The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.