People Haven’t Had Enough of Experts: Technocratic Attitudes among Citizens in Nine European Democracies

The forthcoming article “People Haven’t Had Enough of Experts: Technocratic Attitudes among Citizens in Nine European Democracies” by Eri Bertsou and Daniele Caramani is summarized by the author(s) below. 

In the run up to the UK’s referendum on EU membership in 2016, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, a leading figure in the “Leave Campaign” claimed that “people in this country have had enough of experts” in an effort to rebuke economic expert opinions regarding the repercussions of Brexit. The validity of his claim remains doubtful, especially in the light of experts’ role during the Coronavirus crisis. 

In this article, we assess the extent to which technocratic attitudes, that is, the public’s beliefs that an independent knowledge elite can provide effective and responsible governance based on expertise, exist among citizens and can be measured. We also investigate how technocratic attitudes oppose populist ones 

First, we conceptualize and confirm empirically technocratic attitudes at the mass level across nine European countries using a novel survey battery to measure dimensions of Elitism, Expertise and Anti-politics. 

Second, we investigate in what numbers there are citizens harbouring technocratic attitudes in established democracies. Using latent class analysis, we identify groups of citizens that follow a Technocratic, Populist or Party-democratic profile and show how they overlap and contrast. Across the nine European countries, approximately 12% of citizens fall into the Technocratic profileThis group can be found across Europe but is larger in Southern and Eastern European countries (13-20%). This finding adds force to the claim that the model of responsible party government, which has dominated in Western democracies in the second half of the 20th century, is challenged not only by populism but also by technocracy.  

We also find that technocratic and populist attitudes share a common Anti-politics stance, while they contrast on Elitismin line with our theoretic expectationsA surprising finding from our research concerns the Expertise dimension. We find that beliefs around the superiority of skillful, knowledgeable and scientific experts over politicians abound across countries. Citizens with technocratic attitudes register strong preferences for expertise and science in politics. At the same time, however, citizens with populist attitudes also showcase strong preferences for more expertise. In other words, there is no Populism without Expertise.  

Finally, we explore the differences among citizens who fall in the Technocratic, Populist and Party-democratic profiles in terms of demographic characteristics and attitudes. While citizens with technocratic attitudes are dissatisfied with current representative systems, they are distinct from citizens with populist attitudes; they are more educated and interested in politics, they have higher political trust, and they are not attracted to the extremes of the left−right ideological spectrum. 

Being able to distinguish between populist and technocratic attitudes vastly increases our ability to understand the current challenges faced by mainstream parties and governments in established democracies on the demand side. Given that, so far, no political force has tried to mobilize this segment of the electorate, the potential implications for political behaviour and party competition are considerable. 

About the Author(s): Eri Bertsou is Senior Researcher, Department of Political Science, University of Zurich and Daniele Caramani is Ernst B. Haas Chair of European Governance and Politics at the European University Institute. Their research “People Haven’t Had Enough of Experts: Technocratic Attitudes among Citizens in Nine European Democracies” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

The Divide Over Independence: Explaining Preferences for Secession in an Advanced Open Economy

The forthcoming article “The Divide Over Independence: Explaining Preferences for Secession in an Advanced Open Economy” by Maria Jose Hierro and Didac Queralt is summarized by the author(s) below. 

The number of states facing self-determination claims has increased steadily since 1960. Self-determination, common in the postcolonial world, regained momentum after the breakup of the USSR. In recent decades, referenda on independence have also reached advanced economies. Far from exceptional, demands for self-determination are expected to proliferate because international economic integration reduces the relevance of country size.  

To date, the study of individual-level preferences for secession has largely focused on nonmaterial traits, including identity and language. This contrasts with aggregate analyses of secession demands that emphasize the importance of economic factors. Inspired by the latter approach, we examine here the leverage of material considerations in forging pro-secession preferences. We claim that exposure to anticipated trade, insurance, and fiscal shocks structure support for (and opposition to) independenceWe test our argument in Catalonia, an advanced economy deeply integrated in international marketsWe draw on an original online survey conducted before the December 2017 regional election, which followed the declaration of independence by the Catalan Parliament and the suspension of autonomy by the Spanish governmentThe election was read by many as a covert referendum on independence.  

Using different instruments of support for independence, we provide robust evidence showing that anticipated trade shocks following secession exert differential effects depending on market specialization. Respondents working in sectors and at firms exporting to the host country disproportionally oppose secessionBy contrast, respondents specializing in foreign markets show no aversion to independence. We offer three nonmutually exclusive explanations for the different effect of domestic and foreign trade relationshipsthe relative size of the host country and foreign markets, anticipated boycott by domestic consumers, and relatively low competitiveness of producers specializing in the domestic economy.  

Exploring material considerations further, we find no systematic relationship between income levels and preference for secession; however, we show that exclusion from welfare strengthens support for independence among the long-term unemployed, a result that sheds light on the upsurge of secession support during the harshest years of the economic crisis, 20082014.  We offer suggestive evidence that the long-term unemployed favored secession not because of reemployability considerations but in expectation of generous social insurance in the new state. 

Our analysis also reveals that support for independence increases with skill levels. We investigate further this result that seemingly challenges the expectations derived from the Heckscher-Ohlin trade model; that is, if secession is followed by (short-term) international economic disintegrationhigh-skilled individuals in capital-intensive economy should oppose secession. Wdismiss an explanation based on anticipated economic returns from independence. Instead, we find that education masks differences in “fiscal knowledge, namely understanding of the institutional design of interterritorial transfers. In a context of autonomy retractionshighly educated individuals show disproportional skepticism about the accommodation of regional demands and the fulfillment of central government promises.  

Our findings contribute to the literature of secession politics by uncovering individual-level economic drivers of support for and opposition to independence, holding nonmaterial considerations constantThe results speak to ongoing secessionist movements in open economies, including Quebec, Scotland, Flanders, New Caledonia, and arguably, Hong Kong. Likewise, our findings shed light on the connection between grievances derived from autonomy retractions and preference for secession. Provided that high-skill, high-knowledge individuals have disproportional access to and influence over regional political elitessustained autonomy retraction by the central government might leave little room for a negotiated solution.  

About the Author(s): Maria Jose Hierro is Lecturer, Department of Political Science, Yale University and Didac Queralt is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Yale University. Their research “The Divide Over Independence: Explaining Preferences for Secession in an Advanced Open Economy” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming article of the American Journal of Political Science. 

The Organizational Voter: Support for New Parties in Young Democracies

The forthcoming article “The Organizational Voter: Support for New Parties in Young Democracies” by Mathias Poertner is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Across much of the democratic world, political parties are experiencing a critical moment: trust in established parties has decreased in recent decades and new parties are emerging. While new parties arise even in many well-established, historic democracies, this happens even more frequently in young democracies. Whereas most of these new parties remain short-lived and disappear quickly, some manage to secure substantial electoral support surprisingly quickly and to maintain support over repeated elections.  

In order to understand the success and failure of new parties, this article explores how voters come to support them. This question is critical for understanding the quality and stability of democratic representation and accountability especially in young democracies, yet little studied in the literature, which tends to focus on well-established parties.  

While researchers have predominantly explained variation in success by focusing on direct ethnic or personalistic appeals that parties make to voters, I show that organizationally mediated appeals—those that engage voters through civil society organizations—can secure electoral support more effectively and durably. Locally organized, participant-based civil society organizations—such as neighborhood associations, informal sector unions, and indigenous movements—formed around a broad range of political identities and interests are particularly widespread in the developing world: in most Latin American countries, for example, about one third to one half of citizens regularly attend meetings of such organizations. 

Using a randomized experiment in Bolivia—one of the most unstable party systems in the regionpresenting voters with campaign posters, I demonstrate that endorsements by such organizations hold considerable sway over the vote preferences of organization members and other people in their wider social networks. Endorsements can even counteract policy and ethnic differences between candidates and voters. Finally, I find suggestive evidence that repeated endorsements for the same party have lasting effects and lead voters to become attached to party itself. 

The findings suggest an important, understudied route to partisan support in new democracies and have important implications for research on political accountability. The findings dovetail with other recent research that has highlighted that voters, even the most informed voters, typically make choices not on the basis of policy preferences or ideology” (Aachen and Bartels 2016, 4). At the same time, it expands on this work, by illustrating how group identities influence electoral politics outside the context of established democracies with stable party systems and by demonstrating how organized civil society groups can overcome diffuse group identities (e.g., ethnic identities). Finally, the article sheds light on how marginalized populations, such as indigenous people or informal sector workers, who in many developing countries have historically been largely excluded from representation through traditional parties, can achieve representation in electoral politics.  

About the Author: Mathias Poertner is Assistant Professor, Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University. Their research “The Organizational Voter: Support for New Parties in Young Democracies” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming article of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Gender Quotas and International Reputation

The forthcoming article “Gender Quotas and International Reputation” by Sarah Sunn Bush and Pär Zetterberg is summarized by the author(s) below.

“The RPF’s [Rwandan Patriotic Front] pro-women policies…give members of the diplomatic corps in Kigali liberty to overlook the regime’s authoritarianism and human rights abuses” (Burnet 2008, p. 371). 

Do authoritarian leaders successfully exploit gender equality policies to gain international recognition and enhance their chances for regime survival? We address this question by analyzing one of the most significant institutional developments of the last thirty years: the global spread of electoral gender quotas, which has transformed the composition of legislatures in more than 100 countries, including many non-democracies. A prominent explanation for autocracies’ embrace of quotas is that quotas and women’s political representation, by being intimately connected to democracy, enhance countries’ international reputations for democracy and therefore deflect external pressure to democratize 

Case studies from a range of non-democracies — including BangladeshCameroonEthiopiaJordanMoroccoRwanda, and Uganda — emphasize how political elites have sought to improve their countries’ international reputations for democracy, and leverage improved reputations into increased foreign aid, through quotas and women’s representation. Yet a key question has remained unanswered: Do electoral autocracies really improve their reputations through the adoption of gender quotas?  

Wanswered that question by conducting original surveys in Sweden and the United States. In both countries, we asked respondents to evaluate a hypothetical developing country that was an electoral autocracy. We varied two traits about the country: the presence or absence of a gender quota, and the proportion of women in the parliament. This design enabled us to identify the separate and combined effects of the existence of quotas and the level of women’s descriptive representation. We then asked people how democratic the country was and whether they supported giving it aid.  

Our findings support the idea that non-democracies secure benefits through reforms designed to increase women’s representationWomen’s descriptive representation increased support for aid in both Sweden and the United States, and the mere existence of a quota increased support for aid in the United States, though not in Sweden. This pattern suggests that for Swedes, it is an improvement in women’s representation, one desired effect of quotas, rather than the existence of quotas, that mattered. Women’s representation also enhanced perceptions of democracy in Sweden. This relationship did not hold, however, in the United States, perhaps reflecting the fact that less than 20% of representatives in the U.S. Congress are women but the country is widely considered (including by its citizens) to be democratic.  

Since an improved performance in terms of women’s political inclusion spills over to countries’ reputations for democracy, it may strengthen non-democracies and help them survive. Though the survival benefits may come in many forms, one clear example comes from the effects we identify in terms of support for foreign aid. As a consequence, international organizations and donor countries should be cautious when evaluating and engaging with these regimes.  

About the Author(s): Sarah Sunn Bush is Associate Professor on term at the Department of Political Science, Yale University and Pär Zetterberg is Associate Professor of Political Science at the Department of Government, Uppsala University. Their research “Gender Quotas and International Reputation” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 



Do Politicians Discriminate Against Internal Migrants? Evidence from Nationwide Field Experiments in India

The forthcoming article “Do Politicians Discriminate Against Internal Migrants? Evidence from Nationwide Field Experiments in India” by Nikhar Gaikwad and Gareth Nellis is summarized by the author(s) below. 

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The world is urbanizing at a lightening pace. This is especially true in developing countries, as migrants relocate from rural areas to towns and cities in search of jobs, education, and cosmopolitan lifestyles. Yet shifting to new destinations is challenging. Poorer migrants often find themselves consigned to urban peripheries, and rank among the most marginalized classes of citizens in developing countries globally.  

In our new paper, “Do Politicians Discriminate Against Internal Migrants?” we theorize and investigate the kind of treatment internal migrants receive when they move to new destinationsIn particular, we test whether elected urban politicians treat migrants’ requests for basic constituency services similarly or differently to requests from long-term city residents (city “natives, so to speak).  

We suspect there to be at least three reasons why urban politicians would be less solicitous of migrant versus local requests. First, politicians may harbor prejudice against migrant “outsiders.” Second, they might channel the nativist preferences of the bulk of their voting constituents: locals who fear that the arrival of waves of newcomers will depress job opportunities in the area, create competition for scarce state resources, and lead to ethno-cultural “dilution.” Third, politicians may think that migrants will be unlikely to take part in local elections, curtailing incentives to respond to this group’s interests. 

Our test case for these claims is India, the world’s largest democracy and home to a large and growing stock of internal migrants (325 million, by some estimates). We gathered contact details for sitting municipal councilors in 28 major Indian cities. We then ran an unobtrusive auditsending each politician a brief postal letter from a fictitious citizen asking for help with a basic yet potentially consequential task—one over which local politicians are known to have sway (e.g. getting an income certificate or setting up a local government dispensary). Various features of the letters were randomized, including whether the petitioner said they had just moved to the city from another state, or were local to the area and had lived there all their lives. Each letter asked the councilor to give the requester a callback at a local number provided. For each letter, we record whether a callback was received. By comparing average callback rates across the citizen types, we can assess how much discrimination is induced by those citizen-attributes.  

We find that urban politicians are indeed less responsive to migrants: a migrant letter is three percentage points less likely to get a reply than a near-identical letter from a city native. Note that the average response rate for all letters was just 14 percent, underscoring how difficult it can be to get hold of urban councilors in these settings and how significant the anti-migrant penalty really is proportionally (24 percent).  

But what explains such maltreatment? A pattern of auxiliary results in the letters experiment didn’t reveal any telltale signs that politicians were personally prejudiced toward migrants or that they were fixated on standard nativist concerns (jobs or ethnic identity) in deciding whom to helpMeanwhile, two additional studies we conducted suggest that politicians’ re-election considerations may be the driving factor. In a second audit experiment, conducted via SMS text messages to elected councilors, we found that migrants mentioning that they were registered to vote locally were just as likely to get a reply as locals mentioning that they were registered; that is, the migrant penalty disappeared once registration status was clarified. Migrants mentioning that they were not registered were disadvantaged vis-à-vis registered migrantsFurther, in an endline survey, councilors reported that they believed recent migrants were unlikely to be enrolled on the city voter registers whereas city natives were highly likely to be so. In short, the stack of evidence suggests that politicians mete out unequal treatment to migrants because they don’t view them to active members of their electorates 

As it turns outpolitical elites have good reasons for thinking this to be the case. Surveys repeatedly show a shortfall in migrant voter registration and turnout rates. India, along with a swath of other developing democracies, operates an onerous voter-initiated registration system that is especially hard to navigate for those who move across electoral boundaries. In a new set of studies, we theorize reasons why internal migrants struggle to integrate politically into cities and test feasible solutions.  

About the Author(s): Nikhar Gaikwad is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Columbia University and Gareth Nellis is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego. Their research “Do Politicians Discriminate Against Internal Migrants? Evidence from Nationwide Field Experiments in India” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Winning Hearts and Minds in Civil Wars: Governance, Leadership Change, and Support for Violent Groups in Iraq

The forthcoming article “Winning Hearts and Minds in Civil Wars: Governance, Leadership Change, and Support for Violent Groups in Iraq” by Christoph Mikulaschek, Saurabh Pant and Beza Tesfaye is summarized by the author(s) below. 

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The “hearts and minds” model of combating rebellions indicates that civilians in civil war theaters are less likely to support armed opposition groups if they are satisfied with the provision of public services and security by the government. If the government effectively signals that it will address the grievances of a certain displeased group, then this group will reward the government with support in return; and simultaneously, this group will reduce support for the rebels. Building on this model, we argue that a political event that increases a group’s expectation of future security and public service delivery by the government will increase support for the government and will decrease sympathy for violent opposition groups. Attitudes toward the government and its opponents will change as soon as the displeased group’s expectations of future public service and security provision rise. Therefore, a leadership transition that affects these expectations can shift public support away from insurgents and toward the government even before the new government implements policy changes. 

To test our argument, we leverage original data from a large national survey in Iraq and a unique research design opportunity that stems from the unforeseen announcement of the resignation of divisive Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in the summer of 2014 while the survey was in the field. This leadership transition to a successor viewed as relatively less sectarian, Haider al-Abadi, occurred at the height of the ISIS insurgency. We demonstrate that the characteristics of respondents who were interviewed before the leadership transition was announced were not systematically different from those of respondents who took our survey afterwards, and that the timing of each interview was unrelated to the leadership transition. Thus, we can estimate the effect of this event on the attitudes of Iraqi citizens by comparing survey responses provided immediately before the announcement of the leadership transition to those given shortly thereafter.  

We find that the announcement of the leadership transition had a large effect on the attitudes of Iraq’s displeased Sunni Arab minority. We show that this minority group shifted support from the violent opposition to the government. In fact, Sunni Arab support for violent opposition groups dropped by almost 20 percentage points over just a few weeks after the announcement of the leadership transitionIn line with our argument, we provide evidence that this realignment was due to rising optimism among Sunni Arabs that the new government would provide services and public goods—specifically security, electricity, and jobs. 

We can rule out three plausible alternative explanations of our findings. First, the results do not merely reflect a transitory “honeymoon effect” that is often observed when a new leader is elected. Second, it is highly unlikely that the realignment of Sunni Arab attitudes was due to changing expectations of which side was going to win the civil war. Third, and finally, the findings do not support an explanation grounded in zero-sum sectarianism where one group’s gain comes at the expense of another group’s welfare. 

These results have several major implications. First, support for militancy is not simply a reflection of primordial sectarian animosity. Iraqi Sunni Arabs are willing to support a Shia Arab-led government if they expect the government to improve their plight. Second, leadership change in civil war countries with a history of personalized dictatorship can drastically shift mass political attitudes even when the new head of government is a member of the same sect, political party, and ruling coalition as his predecessor, as long as the transition improves public perceptions of future service delivery to aggrieved communities. Third, while the recent literature shows that leadership transitions in weakly institutionalized regimes alter public goods and service provision, this study indicates that the public’s expectation of such changes triggers a realignment of popular support from violent opposition groups to the government. Thus, effective signals about future public service delivery start to at least temporarily win over hearts and minds even before any concrete policy change.  

About the Author(s): Christoph Mikulaschek is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University, Saurabh Pant is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse and Beza Tesfaye is a Senior Researcher at Mercy Corps. Their research “Winning Hearts and Minds in Civil Wars: Governance, Leadership Change, and Support for Violent Groups in Iraq” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Observed without Sympathy: Adam Smith on Inequality and Spectatorship

The forthcoming article “Observed without Sympathy: Adam Smith on Inequality and Spectatorship” by Kristen R. Collins is summarized by the author below. 

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Inequality is increasingly becoming central to studies of American politicsAs socioeconomic inequality has grown, democratic participation has declined, particularly among people making the least amount of money. Using the concept of “spectatorship,” democratic theorists have highlighted how most people observe politics unfolding, even if they do not vote. But, at the same time, people are observed themselves, affecting how they experience American democracy. Due to intrusive surveillance practices, some government programs intended to alleviate poverty and inequality can end up discouraging political participation 

To examine how inequality shapes how we observe and are observed by each other, I turn to the moral philosophy of Adam Smith. Social spectatorship is central to his account of how we develop moral judgmentsinequality is a major factor that warps these judgmentsAccording to Smith, people disproportionately attend to, trust, and admire people who are wealthy and socially distinguished. Conversely, not only do spectators tend to ignore people living in poverty, but when spectators do deign to look at them, they assume them to have inferior moral qualities, such as being craven and dishonest.  

Although Smith focuses his criticisms on how these tendencies cause moral decay in the community at large, he also acknowledges the problems posed by mistaken public judgments in general. By analyzing his account of unearned social censure, I show how harsh public judgments can harm a person’s self-imageEven people who have a strong sense of moral judgment, who know they are good people, can nevertheless be severely demoralized by the mistaken judgments of others. 

In order to build a bridge between Smith’s time and ours, I extend his insights about the harmful effects of obligatory public exposure to an example he suggests but does not discuss in detailthe experience of a survivor of rape. Smith’s criticisms of casuists, who too harshly rebuke a man who breaks a promise made under coercion, which he compares to the socially induced shame experienced by survivor of rape, shows how the problems posed by mistaken judgments can arise within intimate settings. 

By connecting Smith’s insights to contemporary studies of the experiences of people using public assistance, I highlight the moral dimension of social and state surveillance. Disparaging rhetoric perpetuated by politicians and other members of the community regarding people living in poverty evoke the English discourse that Smith challenges. Participants in public assistance programs cite obligatory questions about sexuality and experiences of violence as particularly demeaning. In contemporary democracy, many people may be subject to gazes more scrutinizing than those experienced by politicians, transforming socioeconomic inequality into political inequality 

Smith’s approach to spectatorship illuminates how people’s experiences of watching and being watched interactEngaging with his work brings to mind the perennial nature of the consequences of inequality, through which society is stratified and individuals are disempowered 

About the Author: Kristen R. Collins is a senior fellow in the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, Mercatus Center, George Mason University. Their research Observed without Sympathy: Adam Smith on Inequality and Spectatorship” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Adjusting for Confounding with Text Matching

The forthcoming article “Adjusting for Confounding with Text Matching” by Margaret E. Roberts, Brandon M. Stewart and Richard A. Nielsen,  is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Adjusting for Confounding with Text Matching

We propose a family of methods for conditioning on text when it confounds the relationship between treatment and an outcome.   

Does being censored once make Chinese citizens more likely to be censored online in the future?  Is there gender bias in the reception of academic scholarship?  Do jihadist preachers get more popular when they are killed in counterterrorism operations?  These are questions we have tackled in our research because we believe the answers are important to society.   

However, they are also questions that are difficult to answer.  Gold-standard experimental evidence isn’t possible on these questions because experimentation with censorship, gender bias, and terrorism is usually unethical and infeasible.  Instead, we have to use non-experimental data, but then face the challenge of confounding factors.   

To get the intuition for why non-experimental data is problematic in these settings, consider our investigation of the effects of gender on citation counts in International Relations, a subfield of Political Science.  We want to know whether the author’s perceived gender influences the number of citations the paper ultimately receives.  Understanding this would allow us to better understand the obstacles certain groups face in academia.  If we could run an experiment, we could randomly assign names to papers and then see how the effect of having a female name on a paper influenced downstream citation counts.  However, we can’t do this for ethical and logistical reasons.  What we can do is collect academic papers in International Relations and compare the citation counts of those written by men and those written by women.  But this approach is also flawed.  Women tend to write about different subject matter than men, and we wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not the differences in citation count are due to these different topics, or due to their gender, a classic case of the old adage “correlation does not equal causation.” 

Modern statistical methods offer principled ways for trying to move from correlation to causation when we believe that experimental intervention is as good as randomly assigned within units with similar confounders.  However, we couldn’t use existing techniques because in each of these examples, we were working with confounders that were measured with text data. To make progress, we developed a new family of methods that we call “text matching.” 

To detect whether there is a gender citation gap, we start with the articles written by women and then use text matching to find a comparison set of articles written by men that are very similar in terms of subject matter and approach.  Comparing the downstream citation counts of these matched comparison sets gives us a plausible estimate of the causal effect of perceived gender on citations.  Consistent with previous studies, we find large negative effects of female authorship on citation count. 

Text matching is a family of statistical tools, not a single technique.  This paper describes our favorite approach, which we have given the unwieldy name of Topical Inverse Regression Matching, or TIRM for short.  However, there are now other options to choose from.  Since we first proposed text matching in a 2015 working paper,1 other research groups have suggested alternative techniques that might be better for some research questions.2  We urge readers of this paper to also learn about the exciting developments in the growing literature. 

About the Author(s): Margaret E. Roberts is an Associate Professor, Department of Political Science at University of California, San Diego, Brandon M. Stewart is an Assistant Professor and Arthur H. Scribner Bicentennial Preceptor, Department of Sociology at Princeton University and Richard A. Nielsen is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science at Massachusetts Institute for Technology. Their research “Adjusting for Confounding with Text Matching” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Judicial Reshuffles and Women Justices in Latin America 

The forthcoming article “Judicial Reshuffles and Women Justices in Latin America” by Ignacio Arana Araya, Melanie M. Hughes and Aníbal Pérez‐Liñán is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Judicial Reshuffles and Women Justices in Latin America

Can weak institutions facilitate access of excluded groups into positions of power? Weak institutions arguably have negative consequences for developing countries, but a research stream has linked institutional disruptions to women’s advancement to positions of power. We inquire into the relationship between de-institutionalization and gender equality by analyzing political reshuffles of the judiciary in Latin America.  

Judicial reshuffles are episodes in which a majority of justices in the Supreme Court or Constitutional Tribunal are forced to leave office. Latin America presents wide variation regarding judicial purges, and the number of women justices has increased dramatically, going up from 3% of all justices in high courts in 1980 to 19% in 2010. 

Gender equality can improve the quality of legal decisions by increasing the diversity of ideas, values, and legal styles. Women jurists are more likely to make decisions that promote gender equality, and may decide differently across cases. Their presence also brings institutional legitimacy to courts. At the same time, women justices can only exercise power if courts are independent. 

We argue that institutional disruptions facilitate the appointment of women justices, but only when left parties control the nomination process. Leftist governments have stronger motivations to diversify the courts than other administrations at least for two reasons. First, judicial reshuffles give leftist parties an opportunity to prove their ideological commitment to gender equality. Second, left governments may appoint women justices for strategic reasons. The appointment of women allows leftist governments to bring legitimacy to a power grab, enables them to control the narrative, and diverts attention from their efforts to limit the independence of the judiciary.  

We test this argument using difference-in-differences and dynamic panel models for Supreme Courts and Constitutional Tribunals in 18 Latin American countries between 1961 and 2014. The analysis offers support for our hypothesis, but gains in gender diversification are modest in size and hard to sustain over time. Political reshuffles may produce short-term advances for women in the judiciary, but do not represent a path to substantive progress in gender equality. 

Our findings connect to four bodies of literature. First, by showing that institutional disruptions may benefit women jurists, we have extended prior arguments about the gendered effects of institutional disruption. Second, our study connects to research that has assessed the role of leftist political parties in promoting womenThird, we contribute to the scholarship that has unveiled how anti-democratic forces nominally advance women’s rights and representation to distract from democratic failures. Finally, our study relates to the nascent literature on weak institutions showing that, under certain conditions, they facilitate the entrance of new players into power. However, institutional weakness may also undermine these gains over the long run. In the absence of deeper social transformations, women’s gains in the higher courts may be limited and hard to sustain. Therefore, there is still work to do to identify the circumstances in which the advancement of women justices reflects a progression that is likely to hold over time. 

About the Author(s): Ignacio Arana Araya is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, Melanie M. Hughes is a Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Pittsburgh and Aníbal Pérez‐Liñán is a Professor of Political Science and Global Affairs, University of Notre Dame. Their research “Judicial Reshuffles and Women Justices in Latin America” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Media Influence on Vote Choices: Unemployment News and Incumbents’ Electoral Prospects

The forthcoming article “Media Influence on Vote Choices: Unemployment News and Incumbents’ Electoral Prospects” by Marcel Garz and Gregory J. Martin is summarized by the author(s) below. 

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Our paper investigates a subtle but important form of media influence on electoral politics. We ask not if media coverage influences what people think, but if it influences what they think about. There are simply too many possible stories happening at any given time for news sources to cover them all, and editors must therefore make choices about which to emphasize and which to de-emphasize in their coverage. Political scientists have long recognized the possibility that this “agenda setting” function of media might have important electoral consequences. A corruption scandal, for example, can’t hurt an incumbent if media outlets opt not to cover it. 

The difficulty in testing for this form of influence is that editorial choices respond to and anticipate reader interest. Imagine that media coverage in some campaign focuses on candidates’ personality traits and ignores their policy proposals. Are news outlets shaping the public’s choices, inducing citizens to focus on personality differences over policy? Or are they simply anticipating that voters care more about the personality dimension, and providing voters with the type of information for which they have more interest? 

Our solution to this challenge focuses on a category of news for which new information arrives at regular intervals: the US government’s monthly unemployment reports. We show that media attention to these reports is higher when unemployment numbers cross a round-number threshold, or “milestone.” Milestone events are an example of a phenomenon that psychologists call left-digit bias. A report that the unemployment rate has just hit 6 percent tends to get much more media coverage than a report showing the rate rose to 5.9 percent, even though the underlying conditions in the economy are nearly the same in both cases. 

 This difference in coverage allows us to measure the effect of media attention to unemployment on voting, holding constant the actual economic conditions on the ground. We look at gubernatorial elections, and compare the election results of incumbent governors in states with very similar economic conditions at election time, but where one state has just experienced an unemployment milestone and one has not. We show that good milestones – where unemployment dips below a round number threshold – help incumbents, and bad milestones – where unemployment rises above a round number – hurt them. The effects are large in both cases, but they are strongly asymmetric: bad milestones hurt about twice as much as good milestones help. 

Our results demonstrate that media outlets collectively have substantial influence over election outcomes, deriving from their ability to emphasize or de-emphasize economic performance in news coverage. Citizens can only hold incumbents accountable for their economic performance if they are aware of it. Milestone events dramatically increase voters’ sensitivity to incumbent governors’ economic records, and thereby reveal an otherwise hidden form of media influence. 

 About the Author(s): Marcel Garz is Assistant Professor of Economics, Jönköping International Business School and Gregory J. Martin is Assistant Professor of Political Economy, Stanford Graduate School of Business. Their research “Media Influence on Vote Choices: Unemployment News and Incumbents’ Electoral Prospects” 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.