Policymaking with Multiple Agencies

The forthcoming article “Policymaking with Multiple Agencies” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12474) by Peter Bils is summarized by the author(s) below.
AJPS - FB Posts-Bils.png
Congress often delegates policymaking authority on similar issues to multiple government agencies. For example, financial products are regulated by both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Given this overlap, it is regularly proposed that authority should be consolidated into just one of the agencies. In this paper, I study when Congress should delegate to multiple agencies or consolidate authority within one agency.

For many policy issues that feature split authority effective regulation requires agencies to have detailed technical information. Furthermore, information relevant to one agency is often relevant to the other agency as well.  However, as agencies frequently have different policy preferences  it is important to understand how delegating to multiple agencies affects incentives to gather and communicate information. To study this problem, I analyze a game-theoretic model of policymaking with two bureaucratic agencies and Congressional delegation. In the model, Congress can consolidate authority within one agency or split authority between two agencies. To develop policy, agencies expend resources acquiring information that is relevant to both issues. Furthermore, if authority is split then the agencies may choose to share information with each other.

I show that greater divergence between the agencies’ ideal points distorts information sharing and policy choices, but may increase the amount of information acquisition. Congress achieves better policy outcomes by delegating authority to both agencies when the agencies have strong policy disagreements. If the agencies have similar policy preferences, however, then Congress may want to consolidate authority within one agency. This mitigates free-riding and takes advantage of returns to scale.

About the Author: Peter Bils is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. The research “Policymaking with Multiple Agencies” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12474) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Donors, Primary Elections, and Polarization in the United States

The forthcoming article “Donors, Primary Elections, and Polarization in the United States” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12477) by Jordan Kujala is summarized by the author(s) below.
AJPS - Kujala
In the United States, the ideological polarization of congressional candidates and members of congress is well known as Democrats and Republicans routinely take policy positions that substantially differ from one another. Recent studies have even found that congressional candidates and elected officials often hold more extreme preferences than their own primary electorate (Bafumi and Herron 2010; Barber 2016; Stone and Simas 2010).  

I argue that these extreme candidates are able to win nomination and office because of the influential role of donors in primary elections. The advantageous role of donors in primaries gives donors the ability to demand policy responsiveness in exchange for the resources necessary to run a successful campaign. While the influence of wealthy donors has often been suggested as a source for the success of extreme candidates, there is little evidence that donors and campaign contributions affect the policy preferences of congressional candidates or the roll-call votes of members of congress. 

To test the influence of donors in primary elections, I analyze 3,600 Democrats and Republicans that won primaries for the House of Representatives between 2002 and 2010. I construct a dataset that contains comparable ideological measures for House nominees, their partisan donor constituencies, and their primary and general electorates. 

Using this dataset, I find the strongest evidence to date that the influence of donors in primary elections substantially affects the district-level polarization of congressional candidatesThese findings suggest Democrats and Republicans that win congressional primaries are more responsive to the policy preferences of the partisan donors in their district than either their primary or general election constituency. As donors take more extreme ideological positions, primary winners take more extreme positions that are further from their district. 

These findings provide evidence that affluent Americans can use their wealth to influence outcomes of the political process. Democratic and Republican House nominees appear to respond inordinately to partisan donors, a group that is disproportionately wealthy and often holds extreme policy views. This unequal response may lead to policy outcomes that favor the wealthy over the middle class and the poor. 


Bafumi, Joseph, and Michael C. Herron. 2010. “Leapfrog Representation and Extremism A Study of American Voters and Their Members in Congress.” American Political Science Review 104(3): 519-42. 

Barber, Michael J. 2016. “Representing the Preferences of Donors, Partisans, and Voters in the US Senate.” Public Opinion Quarterly 80: 225-49. 

Stone, Walter J., and Elizabeth N. Simas. 2010. “Candidate Valence and Ideological Positions in U.S. House Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 54(2): 371-88. 

About the Author: Jordan Kujala is Visiting Assistant Professor at University of California Center Sacramento. The research “Donors, Primary Elections, and Polarization in the United States” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12477) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Measuring Trade Profile with Granular Product-level Data

The forthcoming article “Measuring Trade Profile with Granular Product-level Data” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12473) by In Song Kim, Steven Liao, and Kosuke Imai is summarized by the authors below.
AJPS - FB Posts_Measuring Trade Profile
This paper develops a new dynamic clustering method to effectively summarize two billion observations of product-level international trade data. The proposed method classifies a set of dyads into several clusters based on their similarities in the trade profile, i.e., the product composition of imports and exports. We show that typical dyadic trade relationships evolve from sparse trade to inter-industry trade and then to intra-industry trade while the specific timing for such transition varies significantly by dyads.  Furthermore, this paper develops two novel dyad-year level measures for International Relations research. First, the trade profile measure enables applied researchers to effectively account for changing trade relationships that manifest from product-level trade data. Second, we develop a measure of trade competition that incorporates the extent of competition that each country faces with 
all of its trading partners at the product level.  We apply these measures to examine the network effects of trade competition on the likelihood of signing Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). The open-source software, dynCluster: Dynamic Clustering Algorithm, is available as an R package for applying the proposed methods to various other dyadic panel data sets.

About the Author(s): In Song Kim is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Steven Liao is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of California, Riverside, and Kosuke Imai is Professor, Department of Government and Department of Statistics, Harvard University. Their research “Measuring Trade Profile with Granular Product-Level Data” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12473) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Why Underachievers Dominate Secret Police Organizations: Evidence from Autocratic Argentina

The forthcoming article “Why Underachievers Dominate Secret Police Organizations: Evidence from Autocratic Argentina” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12475) by Adam Scharpf  and Christian Gläßel is summarized by the author(s) below.

AJPS - FB Posts (8)

Who serves in secret police forces? Throughout history, units such as Hitler’s Gestapo, Stalin’s NKVD, or Assad’s Air Force Intelligence Directorate have been at the core of state repression. Secret police agents surveil, torture, and even kill potential enemies within the elite and society at large. Why would anyone do such dirty work for the regime? Are these people sadistic psychopaths, sectarian fanatics, or forced by the regime to terrorize the population? While this may be the case for some individuals, we believe that the typical profile of secret police agents is shaped by the logic of bureaucratic careers.

We develop a theory of careers within the regular security apparatus to understand which individuals have an incentive to join the secret police. Historically, many secret police forces have recruited personnel from the regime’s larger security apparatus—including the military, gendarmeries, the police, and conventional intelligence agencies. The hierarchic and pyramid-shaped structure of these organizations generates organizational bottlenecks. In competition with better qualified peers, officials with weak early performances have little chances of climbing up to the most lucrative positions at the top. For such underachievers the arduous nature of secret police work offers the opportunity to signal their value to the regime and get ahead of competitors for higher positions. We therefore expect that officials, threatened by grim career prospects, are willing to do the regime’s dirty work and become committed secret police agents in the hope that this will provide them with a competitive advantage in the struggle for promotions.

To test our theory, we dissect the clandestine organ of repression at the center of a dictatorship and scrutinize the individual agents who serve in it. Despite the importance and long-lasting consequences of secret police forces for political regimes and domestic societies, the systematic study of such organizations has been hampered by sparse and unreliable information. We draw on the case of autocratic Argentina (1975-83) and its Intelligence Battalion 601—one of the most notorious secret police units in the Western Hemisphere. Combining information from various archival sources, we collect and analyze original micro-level data on the profiles of more than 4,000 military officers who constituted the entire recruitment pool for the Argentine secret police.

We show that those officers who underperformed early on in their careers were indeed more likely to serve in the secret police. Our results also demonstrate why this was the case. Low performers at the academy were less likely to attain advanced training, stuck at middling ranks, and faced a much higher risk of discharge. The resulting career pressure produced the incentive for underachievers to join the secret police. In addition, we find that the Argentine regime willingly exploited these career concerns and placed the most pressured agents in the most repressive unit within the secret police. Finally, we show that secret police service indeed paid off. Agents attained higher ranks and stayed longer in the security apparatus. These career boosting effects were most pronounced for agents with the lowest early career performance.

Taken together, our study identifies mundane but universal career concerns as the prime motivation to engage in arduous secret police work. This has important implications. Career pressures serve as the lubricant of repressive machines in autocracies. Leaders can exploit these incentives to maximize bureaucratic compliance. Institutionalized, meritocratic bureaucracies therefore do not contradict autocratic longevity. Likewise, governments can accomplish swift autocratic turns without major bureaucratic resistance. Officials facing career pressures are likely to serve as willing executioners, while their well-placed peers remain silent bystanders. Finally, our study also points to potential problems with international sanctions and transitional justice. Looming risks of discharge or incarceration are unlikely to deter the least competent agents with the lowest career prospects. To the contrary, external threats of legal punishment might even strengthen the dominance of underachievers with doubtful consequences for the production of violence.

About the Author(s): Adam Scharpf  is Postdoctoral Research Fellow, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies and Christian Gläßel is PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, and Researcher, Collaborative Research Center, University of Mannheim. Their research “Why Underachievers Dominate Secret Police Organizations: Evidence from Autocratic Argentina” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12475) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

For Safety or Profit? How Science Serves the Strategic Interests of Private Actors

The forthcoming article “For Safety or Profit? How Science Serves the Strategic Interests of Private Actors” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12450) by Rebecca Perlman is summarized by the author below.
AJPS - FB Posts (7)
In 2002, the chemical corporation, Syngenta, sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ban a pesticide that it claimed posed too great a risk to the environment. The catch? Syngenta had previously been the patent-holder and sole-seller of the product. What would lead a company to suddenly disavow its own invention? Was this simply an example of corporate responsibility? 

The paper, “For Safety or Profit? How Science Serves the Strategic Interests of Firms,” shows that companies routinely seek to use public interest regulation to eliminate their own current and discontinued products. The motivation is less altruistic than strategic. By acquiring regulations that ban older, out-of-patent products, innovative companies can make room for their more expensive, patented alternatives. 

Using data on U.S. agrochemical regulations across two decades, as well as data on company-level petitions for regulatory change, the article demonstrates not only that regulations have routinely become stricter on older, less lucrative products but also that companies have actively lobbied for stricter standards on their own less profitable products. An investigation of the history of pesticide regulation in the United States reveals that in addition to requesting stricter standards on a case-by-case basis, innovative companies historically sought regulatory institutions that—while seemingly intended to protect the public from dangerous pesticides—also made it easier for these companies to eliminate the generic competition on a more systematic basis.

About the Author(s): Rebecca Perlman is Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. The research “For Safety or Profit? How Science Serves the Strategic Interests of Private Actors” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12450) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Peacekeepers Against Criminal Violence – Unintended Effects of UN Peacekeeping Operations?

The forthcoming article “Peacekeepers Against Criminal Violence – Unintended Effects of UN Peacekeeping Operations” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12451) by Jessica Di Salvatore is summarized by the author(s) below.
Copy of AJPS - FB Posts (3)
One keyword currently dominates the debate around UN peacekeeping: effectiveness. There has been an increasing number of studies showing that United Nations’ peace missions, when sizeable, save lives and contain conflict violence successfully. With mandates largely focused on actors involved in the political struggle, conflict reduction is certainly a valid benchmark to evaluate peace operations. Nonetheless, most conflict and post-conflict societies are plagued by high levels of criminal violence oftentimes perpetrated by actors that escape the attention of UN blue helmets, but that all the same have a detrimental impact on international efforts for stabilization. On the ground, UN missions have repeatedly confronted the problem of rising criminal violence in host countries, and occasionally adapted their mandates with exceptional measures, as UNMIK in Kosovo. The UN is aware of the challenged posed by crime and criminal actors, not only because homicides keep the level of insecurity high but also because of the long-term effects of crime pervasiveness on political and economic development. But can peacekeeping missions contribute not only to reduce conflict but also contain criminal violence? On the one hand, one would expect large international military deployment to deter any form of violence and bring order; on the other hand, mandates neglect criminal actors, which are regarded as a “distraction” and, ultimately, governments’ responsibility.

In the last decade, UN personnel differentiated their roles within missions significantly. Both personnel types are deployed alongside but their functions differ. UN police (UNPOL) is actively involved in capacity building of national counterparts, community patrolling, joint operations with national police and law enforcement. Hence, we would expect UNPOL to curb homicides. UN troops, on the other hand, may unfold more subtle dynamics that inadvertently increase homicide rates. Here are two mechanisms explaining this positive association, one related to security and the other to economic opportunities.

First, by providing a safe environment to civilians, UN troops also provide ‘operational security’ to criminal groups. Organized crime thrives in under-governed spaces more than in anarchic, ungoverned areas. Unpredictability is not good for their business, and UN troops may allow them to free-ride on security while not being actively sought after. Second, peacekeepers’ deployment is associated with the emergence of so-called peacekeeping economies, where opportunity for illicit markets and illegal activities (e.g. transactional sex, drug trafficking) grows. As consequence, criminal groups compete to appropriate these new markets through violence, thus producing higher levels of homicide rates. Besides organized crime, individuals also have incentives to get involved in peacekeeping economies. Former combatants disarmed and demobilized by peacekeepers within nation-wide DDR programs are vulnerable to re-use their fighting skills for criminal purposes.

To explore the relationship between peace missions and criminal violence, I analyse homicide rates in all conflict and post-conflict countries from 1995 to 2012 and then at the subnational level in South Sudan. At both levels of analysis, results consistently show that UN troops are associated with more homicide rates, while UNPOL seems to potentially curb homicides and moderate unintended effects. To rule out the possibility that UN missions spur more crimes (not just homicides), I show that neither troops nor UNPOL have any empirical association with overall crime rates and, more specifically, non-violent crimes. Interestingly, however, the analysis also reports increasing prevalence of organized crime and related felonies in presence of large deployment of UN troops cross-nationally and subnationally, as the theoretical mechanism would predict.

The results of this study should raise awareness on the potential counterproductive dynamics engendered during and, in some cases, by UN peacekeeping missions. Decreasing levels of conflict do not necessarily translate into more secure environments and, thus, success. Paradoxically, UN troops effectiveness and large presence may itself be a reason why organized crime flourishes, given the security and economic benefits their success carries along. It is also possible to envision a more crime-deterrent role for UN troops with mandates that allow them to engage with non-state armed actors not limitedly to insurgents. This happened in past missions. On the bright side, however, UNPOL role can play an important role in containing such intended dynamics; this would require better integration and coordination between different components of peace operations. Last November, Tuesday Reitano, Deputy Director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, warned the Security Council that “even if peace operations do not actively fight crime, they need to be crime-sensitive, and ensure that criminal groups do not threaten the security of the mission or become peace spoilers”. The undergoing reform initiative Action4Peacekeeping launched by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, with its aim to broaden the notion of performance, is an opportunity to take new steps in this direction.

About the Author: Jessica Di Salvatore is Assistant Professor in Political Science and Peace Studies at the University of Warwick. The research “Peacekeepers Against Criminal Violence – Unintended Effects of UN Peacekeeping Operations” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12451) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Land Reform and Civil Conflict: Theory and Evidence from Peru

The forthcoming article “Land Reform and Civil Conflict: Theory and Evidence from Peru” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12466) by Michael Albertus is summarized by the author below.

AJPS - FB Posts (6)

The distribution of land to the landless has affected well over one billion people since World War II in countries around the world. It continues advancing in Colombia, India, the Philippines, South Africa, Venezuela, and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Land reform in many countries such as Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Guatemala, Myanmar, Peru, and the Philippines overlapped with or immediately preceded civil war. How does the distribution of land impact civil conflict? I examine this question using land transfer data from Peru’s land reform program from 1969-1980 and data from the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission on rural killings during Peru’s internal conflict from 1980-2000.

I find that greater land reform dampened subsequent conflict by facilitating counterinsurgency and intelligence gathering, building local organizational capacity later used to deter violence, undercutting the Marxist political left, and increasing opportunity costs to supporting armed groups. The findings suggest that major redistributive social policies such as land reform can cohere communities to act collectively to repel external threats and can build government links with society that can be leveraged for a range of governance ends. Framed against other findings on land reform, this suggests lessons for relationships between citizens and the state that are shaped by the nature and depth of state interventions into society.

About the Author: Michael Albertus is an associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago. The research “Land Reform and Civil Conflict: Theory and Evidence from Peru” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12466) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Crashing the Party? Elites, Outsiders, and Elections

The forthcoming article “Crashing the Party? Elites, Outsiders, and Elections” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12457) by Peter Buisseret and Richard Van Weelden is summarized by the authors below.

Recent elections in the United States, and elsewhere, have exposed the vulnerability of established parties to Outsider candidates. A defining feature of Outsiders is their ability to enter politics without the support of traditional party elites. Some Outsiders—such as Donald Trump—sought the nomination of an established party. Others, including Ross Perot, and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, bypassed existing parties by pursuing third-party campaigns or creating new parties.

Our paper asks: Under what conditions will voters support Outsiders? What forces shape an Outsider’s decision to enter an election through an established party’s nomination process, rather than as a third-party candidate? And, why might party elites fail to mitigate the Outsider threat?

We explore these questions in a theoretical model of electoral competition between two established parties. A novel ingredient that we introduce is that there are two dimensions of policy conflict. The first issue—for example, redistribution—represents a traditional policy conflict between parties. The second represents a cleavage on which there is conflict within parties. Our running interpretation of this second dimension is “globalism’’ versus “anti-globalism’’ and we focus on the case in which each party’s presumptive nominee occupies a globalist position.

We introduce the threat of an Outsider, who chooses whether to contest a primary election or launch a third-party campaign.  Regardless of her choice of entry, the Outsider runs as an anti-globalist in order to distinguish herself from more experienced and vetted globalist candidates.

If the Outsider enters the primary, the party’s globalist voters prefer the establishment candidate. Nonetheless, if there is sufficient polarization between the parties, the Outsider anticipates that—if she wins the primary contest—she is likely to rally both of the party’s factions in the general election. The reason is that, in periods of high polarization, even those who opposed the Outsider in the primary are likely prefer her to the opposing party’s nominee. The gamble of early defeat may be worthwhile for the chance to lead a united party. Intense inter-party polarization therefore leads the Outsider to run via a primary challenge.

Conversely, when inter-party polarization is low, the Outsider is unlikely to win the support of globalists even from her own party if she wins the nomination. But, if she stays out of the primary, both parties are represented by elite-backed globalists, fracturing the globalist vote across party lines. The Outsider is then more likely to win the election by running as a third-party candidate.  

The Outsider therefore enters the primary if and only if there is sufficiently high polarization.

Finally, while there is a range of actions party elites could take to reduce the likelihood of an Outsider winning the nomination, we show that elites will be reluctant to take them in periods of intense polarization.  Blocking a primary challenge increases the likelihood of a third-party run, which is particularly damaging when the Outsider is likely to take most votes from one side of the traditional ideological spectrum. Hence increased inter-party polarization renders parties especially vulnerable and non-responsive to Outsider challenges. 

About the Author(s): Peter Buisseret is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. Richard Van Weelden is an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Economics. Their research “Crashing the Party? Elites, Outsiders, and Elections” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12457) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

The Well-Ordered Society Under Crisis: A Formal Analysis of Public Reason vs. Convergence Discourse

The forthcoming article “The Well-ordered Society Under Crisis: A Formal Analysis of Public Reason vs. Convergence Discourse” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12445) by Hun Chung is summarized by the author below.

AJPS - FB Posts_Chung

Can a well-ordered liberal democracy sustain liberal democratic political order after the intrusion of illiberals who wish to change the political system into a perfectionist state? This paper examines whether “the well-ordered society” – which is John Rawls’s proposed conception of an ideal liberal democratic society – can successfully restore political order once it is destabilized by the intrusion of unreasonable political officials who intend to change the political constitution according to their particular comprehensive moral/religious doctrines. In doing so, this paper offers a formal analysis of two competing institutional solutions that have been offered in the philosophical literature of public reason liberalism: namely, public reason vs. convergence discourse.

Public reason and convergence discourse are two alternate forms of public justification. In public reason, public officials are restricted to using only public reason – viz. the type of reasons that everybody shares in virtue of being a liberal democratic citizen regardless of his/her particular moral/religious commitments – to justify political proposals. In convergence discourse, public officials are allowed to rely on private reasons stemming from their own comprehensive moral and religious doctrines to justify political proposals (as long as their proposals are, in the end, consonant with the political conception of justice undergirding the liberal democratic society.)

This paper examines how successful these two institutional solutions are in restoring liberal democratic political order in the well-ordered society once it is destabilized by the intrusion of unreasonable public officials via a formal game-theoretic model.

The formal results of the model show that as an institutional device to restore liberal political order, public reason (modeled as cheap talk) fails completely. This confirms previous worries that it is unlikely for public reason to perform such a stabilizing role as using public reason is mere “cheap talk” that illiberals can readily imitate to falsely assure other liberals to cooperate, which they can, then, exploit for the sake of advancing their own illiberal political aims.

The formal results also show that convergent discourse (modeled as costly signals following Kogelmann and Stich 2016), although doing better, has its own critical limitations. Specifically, it turns out that convergence discourse succeeds only under relatively favorable conditions – namely, when the political ambitions of illiberals are not too excessive relative to the number of comprehensive doctrines existing in the well-ordered society. Even under relatively favorable conditions, there is no guarantee that convergence discourse will successfully operate and restore liberal democratic political order. And, even when it does successfully operate, there will always be some positive probability that the well-ordered society will destabilize nonetheless. Moreover, unlike what Kogelmann and Stich have previously claimed, the effect of social diversity on the success of convergence discourse is at best ambiguous: it may increase the success rate of convergence discourse by increasing the cost of its proper use which makes it more difficult for the illiberals to successfully imitate; but it may also disrupt its very success if it goes too far by introducing moral and religious fundamentalists whose desires to impose their comprehensive doctrines on society are particularly high.

About the Author: Hun Chung is Associate Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University. The research “The Well-ordered Society Under Crisis: A Formal Analysis of Public Reason vs. Convergence Discourse” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12445) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.



Women’s Authority in Patriarchal Social Movements: The Case of Female Salafi Preachers 

The forthcoming article “Women’s Authority in Patriarchal Social Movements: The Case of Female Salafi Preachers” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12459by Richard A. Nielsen is summarized by the author below.

AJPS - FB Posts_2

How are women gaining public authority in a conservative Islamic social movement with doctrines that seemingly restrict women’s authority?  In Women’s Authority in Patriarchal Social Movements: The Case of Female Salafi Preachers, I describe this puzzling trend and offer an explanation.  

Salafism is a conservative Islamic social movement with patriarchal gender norms.  The prevailing doctrine of the movement is that men and women should not “mix” in public, that public religious authority belongs to men, and that women’s rightful place is in the domestic sphere.  This seems like an unlikely place for women to be gaining authority. 

But gaining authority they are!  A prominent website for Salafi preachers (www.saaid.net) hosts the writings of over 40 women alongside 170 men.  How are these female preachers gaining authority in a movement that seems predisposed to reject women as authorities?  I show that Salafi leaders are actively recruiting these women as authorities because they can reach new audiences and deliver persuasive arguments that male authorities can’t.

In particular, women are uniquely able to support the Salafi version of patriarchy with arguments like, “As a woman, I don’t want the so-called ‘women’s rights’ defined by the United Nations.”  Although Salafi doctrine has little place for women as preachers, male movement leaders want to harness the pro-patriarchy arguments that these women can offer.   

To see this dynamic playing out, I examine the preachers on the Salafi website http://www.saaid.net.  In email communication, several of the 40 female preachers indicated that the administrators of the website sought out their work, or even posted it without permission.  This hints at the demand for female preaching from the movement leaders.  Looking at what male and female preachers write, I find that they construct their authority differently.  Men use the traditional “Salafi method” of supporting their arguments through citations to the Quran and Hadith traditions.  Women have less than half the number of citations as men when writing on the same topics.  Instead of relying as heavily on citations, women instead invoke identity authority, supporting their arguments with their experiences as women.  This comes through in their writing quantitatively as well as qualitatively; women use personal pronouns much more than men. 

I also can see that women are reaching new audiences by seeing who reacts to their writings on Twitter.  Female followers on Twitter prefer women’s preaching over men’s.  And female preachers are more likely to get retweets from individuals who have never before reacted to any previous writing on http://www.saaid.net. 

To see if these dynamics happen in other social movements with conservative gender norms, I look at the role of women in the contemporary White Nationalist movement in the United States (also called the Alt Right).  Neither the Salafis nor the Alt Right are likely to appreciate the comparison, but the similarities are striking.  Despite large swaths of the movement being deeply skeptical of any public authority for women, male movement leaders are seeking out female spokepersons (like Ayla Stewart, famous for her “white baby challenge”) because they offer unique identity-based arguments and reach new audiences.   

Whether the rise of these female authorities will change the gender norms of conservative movements is unclear.  On one hand, conservative social movements are promoting these women as authorities precisely because of their willingness to support patriarchal norms.  But even so, placing women in positions of authority may have long-term effects that movement leaders don’t anticipate.  The result will largely depend on how these conservative women wield their growing authority.

About the Author(s): Richard A. Nielsen is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research Women’s Authority in Patriarchal Social Movements: The Case of Female Salafi Preachers (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12459) 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.