All Male Panels Erode Citizens’ Perceptions of Democratic Legitimacy

Author Summary of “All Male Panels? Representation and Democratic Legitimacy” by Amanda Clayton, Diana Z. O’Brien, Jennifer M. Piscopo

All Male Panels Erode Citizens' Perceptions of Democratic LegitimacyAll-male panels increasingly face public scorn, especially when their topic addresses matters connected to women’s experiences. Backlash against all-male panels suggests that women’s presence matters for citizens. Our research explains whether, when, and for whom the makeup of political institutions affects perceptions of democratic legitimacy.

We asked a representative sample of Americans to read a hypothetical newspaper article about an eight-member state legislative committee evaluating sexual harassment policies. Our experimental design varied both the gender makeup of the panel (all-male vs. gender-balanced) and the decision reached (increasing or decreasing penalties for those found guilty of harassment).

We asked respondents their feelings about the legitimacy of the decision itself (what we term substantive legitimacy), as well as their attitudes towards the decision-making process, willingness to acquiesce to the decision, and trust in the political institutions that made the decision (what we term procedural legitimacy).

We find that citizens, both men and women, strongly prefer gender-balanced decision-making bodies. At the same time, we also show important differences related to the decision reached and respondent gender.

Regarding the legitimacy of the decision itself, we find that aversion towards male-only panels is observed only when the committee rolls back women’s rights. Further, men respondents in particular respond especially positively to women’s presence when the all-male panel makes a decision that harms women. Yet, changing from an all-male to a gender-balanced panel does not affect the perceived legitimacy of decisions that expand women’s rights, for either men or women respondents.

Moving to the legitimacy of decision-making procedures, we find that citizens view decision-making as more legitimate when women are present. This finding holds for both men and women, no matter the decision reached. Even in cases in which all-male panels advance feminist policies, citizens report lower average levels of procedural fairness, institutional trust, and acquiescence as compared to the gender-balanced panel.

Our findings hold across citizens’ party identification, indicating that both Republicans and Democrats prefer gender-balanced panels.

Importantly, our results concerning the legitimacy of decision-making procedures also hold in policy areas that do not affect women’s rights. A separate group of respondents saw a news story in which an all-male or gender-balanced panel could raise or lower penalties for the mistreatment of farm animals. In this experiment, women’s presence does not affect attitudes about the substance of the decision. Yet, respondents report higher average levels of perceived fairness, institutional trust, and acquiescence when the decision is made by a gender-balanced panel. Again, citizens prefer inclusion.

Our findings demonstrate the profound importance of inclusion. Women’s presence in elected office is necessary in order for political institutions to be seen as wholly legitimate. Women’s descriptive representation matters across policy areas, and even when decisions expand women’s rights. Politicians should recognize that opprobrium against all-male panels is not just a social media trend, but a genuine grievance. Having only men as policymakers erodes citizens’ beliefs in the democratic legitimacy of their political institutions.

About the Authors: Amanda Clayton is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, Diana Z. O’Brien is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University, and Jennifer M. Piscopo is Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Occidental College. “All Male Panels? Representation and Democratic Legitimacy (” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


Making Bureaucracy Work: Patronage Networks, Performance Incentives, and Economic Development in China

AJPS Author Summary by Junyan Jiang

Patron-client networks are widely found in governments of transitional societies. Most researchers view them as a threat to government performance. In this article, I advance an alternative view that emphasizes the positive roles of patron-client networks in political organizations. I argue that, by fostering mutual trust and raising the value of long-term cooperation, these informal relations can help align the interests between government agents and their principals, and discourage short-term, opportunistic behaviors. When formal incentive schemes are weak or incomplete, these personal ties can serve as an alternative mechanism for principals to mobilize agents to accomplish important but challenging governing tasks.

Making Bureaucracy Work: Patronage Networks, Performance Incentives, and Economic Development in China

My empirical analysis focuses on China, a country where the practice of political patronage is both long-standing and pervasive. I build a new database consisting of fully digitized resumes for over 4,000 city, provincial, and central officials, and develop a new strategy that infers patron-client ties by linking lower-level officials with senior leaders who promoted them at critical career junctures. Exploiting variations in connections between cities and provinces induced by the constant reshuffling of officials at both levels, I find those city leaders with informal ties to the incumbent provincial secretary, the de facto leader of a province, deliver significantly better economic performance than those whose patrons have either retired or left the province. The performance premium of connected agents is estimated to be about 275 million yuan (~42 million U.S dollars) per year for an average city.

I address several alternative explanations, such as clients’ greater propensity to falsify data, distributive favoritism, and heterogeneity in personal or career backgrounds. While all three are plausible explanations for the observed performance premium, the empirical results suggest that they are not the main causal channels through which connection affects performance. I also provide additional direct and indirect evidence on the incentive-enhancing role of connections, drawing on several other data sources.

Findings from this study contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between states’ organizational characteristics and governance outcomes. While the prevailing view in the literature is that effective governance requires the presence of strong, well-functioning political and bureaucratic institutions, my analysis suggests that momentum for development can also be created in a less-than-ideal institutional environment where personal connections remain an influential aspect of politics.

Moreover, this study also speaks to a burgeoning literature on the sources of durability in authoritarian regimes. Just as Robert Putnam has argued in his influential book, Making Democracy Work, that social capital, which refers to “trust, norms, and networks” among citizens, is key to the performance of democratic institutions, this study suggests that social capital among the political elites can also be a valuable asset for the proper functioning of regional bureaucracies in a large, multi-layered autocratic regime. Instead of regarding them as merely a source of inefficiency or corruption, therefore, future researchers should pay greater attention to the enabling effects of these networks in studying both persistence and changes of nondemocratic systems.

About the Author: Junyan Jiang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government and Public Administration at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Making Bureaucracy Work: Patronage Networks, Performance Incentives, and Economic Development in China” ( is now online available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

AJPS Author Summary – Compulsory Voting and Parties’ Vote Seeking Strategies

Compulsory Voting and Parties’ Vote‐Seeking StrategiesAuthor Summary by Shane P. Singh

Compulsory voting is used in around 30 countries, many of which have only recently adopted the requirement to vote. Meanwhile, a number of countries have switched from mandatory to voluntary voting in recent years. In the run-up to these changes, politicians and commentators regularly deliberated over the putative advantages and drawbacks of compulsory voting.

To this end, it is important that compulsory voting’s consequences are well understood. It is well known that it increases turnout and generally makes voters more reflective of the entire electorate. There is also a burgeoning literature on the effects of compulsory voting on vote choices, the success of the left and right, political sophistication, and attitudes toward democracy. But, little is known about how compulsory voting shapes the behavior of political parties.

In my article, I advance a theory about compulsory voting’s effects on parties’ vote seeking strategies. I argue that, due to their beliefs about the character of compelled voting populations, parties see more value in emphasizing their issue stances and ideological positions where voting is mandatory than where it is not. As a result, I predict that parties will pivot toward programmatic vote seeking strategies and away from clientelistic tactics, such as vote buying, under compulsory voting.

I test my predictions with three separate studies. In Study 1, I show that, across countries, compulsory voting is positively associated with programmatic vote seeking and negatively associated with vote buying. In Study 2, I show that Thailand’s adoption of compulsory voting boosted programmatic vote seeking. And, in Study 3, I show that compulsory voting in Argentina leads parties to avoid certain vote buying tactics. Taken together, the findings of the three studies indicate that compulsory voting leads parties to place more emphasis on issues and ideology when seeking votes.

While my findings update the understanding of the effects of compulsory voting beyond turnout, they may also help to inform debates over compulsory voting’s impact on electoral integrity. Proponents of compulsory voting often argue that it is linked to cleaner elections. In recent deliberations in Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, for example, some political leaders argued that mandatory voting reduces vote buying. In line with these arguments, my finding of a link from compulsory voting to programmatic, as opposed to clientelistic, vote seeking suggests that compulsory voting could indeed enhance the integrity of elections.

About the Author: Shane P. Singh is Associate Professor in the Department of International Affairs within the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. Singh’s research “Compulsory Voting and Parties’ Vote‐Seeking Strategies” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

AJPS Author Summary: Remittances and Protest in Dictatorships

By Abel Escribà‐Folch, Covadonga Meseguer, and Joseph Wright

Remittances and Protest in DictatorshipsCan migrant remittances foster political change in recipient countries? Do they contribute to empowering citizens? Our research seeks to answer these questions by exploring the relationship between remittance inflows and anti-incumbent protest. We conclude that remittances increase the probability of anti-incumbent mobilization in autocracies. Interestingly, we find that within autocracies, remittance recipients are more likely to mobilize against autocrats in pro-opposition districts. Contrary to the extended view suggesting that remittances induce disengagement from politics by providing families with additional income, we argue that remittances increase political protest in non-democracies by augmenting the resources available to potential political opponents.

For many developing countries, remittances are the second if not the first source of unearned foreign income. Indeed, in 2016, according to UNCTAD and World Bank data, developing countries received $646 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI), while remittances totaled $445 billion. While economists have explored the economic consequences of remittances in home countries for decades, political scientists have, save for a few exceptions, conspicuously ignored the political consequences that remittances may have in their countries of origin. Remittances are private transfers between emigrants and their relatives left behind. As a result, social scientists often portrayed them as free from involvement by government middlemen, in contrast with other sources of unearned foreign income such as aid or oil rents. But what does this imply in terms of the domestic political consequences of these flows?

In our article, we use novel data on anti-incumbent protests in 102 countries in the period 1976–2010 to show that remittances increase the likelihood of anti-incumbent protest in autocracies, where groups have limited access to resources and institutionalized mechanisms for voicing demands are constrained, but not in democracies. Moreover, using subnational data on eight sub-Saharan autocracies in 2008, we spell out the conditions under which protest in autocratic regimes is more likely to occur. In particular, we contend that remittances activate protest in opposition districts, where dissatisfaction with incumbent governments is likely to be higher. This effect is not, however, present in non-opposition regions. In other words, the availability of extra resources in the form of remittances is not enough to spur contentious political activities. Insofar as protests in autocratic regimes are a major factor conducive to regime change, our article shows that remittances can be a factor triggering transitions to democracy in autocratic regimes.

About the Authors: Abel Escribà-Folch is Associate Professor at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Covadonga Meseguer is Associate Professor of International Relations at London School of Economics and Political Science, and Joseph Wright is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Pennsylvania State University. Their research “Remittances and Protest in Dictatorships” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

AJPS Author Summary: Legislative Capacity and Credit Risk

Author Summary by David Fortunato and Ian R. Turner

AJPS Author Summary - Legislative Capacity and Credit Risk

American state legislatures vary widely in the degree to which they provide legislators with the tools to efficiently translate policy preferences into policy outcomes. The world is complex and legislating is difficult; having more staff that can share the burden of research and bill-writing, more time to craft and scrutinize legislation, and alleviating the need for additional income (apart from one’s legislative salary) allows state legislators to better understand the world and draft policies to more closely reflect their voters’ will. We call the provision of these goods “legislative capacity” and previous research has found that in states where capacity is higher, legislators are more active and voters are substantially more likely to get the policies they want (e.g., Lax and Phillips 2012).[1]

But voters can be fickle, preferring one type of policy today and another tomorrow. Similarly, policy environments are affected by economic shocks and persistent drift. This means that, in states with high capacity legislatures, we should expect more policy change, on average, than in states with low capacity legislatures. This change can make it difficult for lending markets (the individual or institutional investors who buy and sell debt) to predict what a state’s political economic environment — its regulatory regimes, tax codes, etc. that determine its willingness and ability to service its debt — will look like 5, 10, or 20 years in the future. That is, states with high capacity legislatures are better equipped to alter policy in response to changing voter preferences, environmental considerations, or economic shocks, which can introduce variability into the political-economic environment of the state. As a result, we predict that high capacity states will be evaluated as riskier and will have to pay higher premiums to borrow.

We evaluate this claim empirically by comparing states’ credit risk evaluations (estimated from the general obligation bond ratings) to their legislative capacity (legislator salary, legislative session length, and the legislators’ informational resources). In the article we estimate more advanced statistical models, providing robust support for our hypothesized association, but here we simply show the correlation between the two values in all American states over a period of 16 years. In each year the relationship is positive and the modeling we perform in the article reveals that we are confident in this relationship.

Figure 1 - Credit Risk and Legislative Capacity in the American States

Figure 1


What these data suggest is that lending markets negatively evaluate states with the legislative resources to more effectively represent their constituents by lowering their credit ratings. That is, we provide evidence that there is a real cost of democratic responsiveness that has thus far remained relatively unexplored. To put this in perspective substantively: On average, the increase in debt maintenance costs necessary to improve capacity from among the lowest ranking states (e.g., New Hampshire, New Mexico, Alabama) to states in middle of the pack (e.g., South Carolina, Connecticut, Arizona) is about $1 per capita, per year in additional debt maintenance costs — a cost that compounds over time as debts inevitably grow.

Of course, we do not argue that our study implies that states would be better off with low capacity policymaking institutions. There are myriad benefits associated with high capacity legislatures, not the least of which is increased policy responsiveness. However, we do suggest that treating democratic responsiveness as an unconditional public good misses important, and potentially very costly, perverse effects that may simultaneously manifest as responsiveness increases. In short, to understand the trade-offs associated with institutional development, such as legislative capacity, for democratic representation and accountability we need to continue to explore both the upsides and the (perhaps unintended) downsides.

About the Authors: David Fortunato is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University. Ian R. Turner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Yale University. Their research “Legislative Capacity and Credit Risk” appears in the July 2018 issue (Volume 62, issue 3) of the American Journal of Political Science.

[1] Lax, Jeffrey R., and Justin H. Phillips. 2012. “The Democratic Deficit in the States.” American Journal of Political Science 56(1): 148—166.

AJPS Author Summary: Narcissism and Political Orientations

Author Summary by Peter K. Hatemi and Zoltán Fazekas

AJPS Author Summary: Narcissism and Political OrientationsPolitics and narcissism go hand-in-hand. The relentless trading of insults and scaremongering tactics that spew forth from politicians and political parties declaring that “your” needs are more important than others but are not being met because some group other than the one you “belong to” is to blame; and the sheer joy people experience from watching their favorite pundits degrade their opponents combined with hyper-polarized social media echo-chambers, puts narcissism on display and activates it in the public like no other vehicle can.  We now live in the post-truth age, the “Me Millennium” that promotes the self over society and the superiority of one’s ideas versus a plurality of voices, lacking in honesty and civility.

It is well known that politicians are among the most narcissistic members of society; Hillary Clinton’s Grandiose Narcissism and Donald Trump’s Vulnerable Narcissism are only two of the most high-profile and well-documented examples on an endless list. Surprisingly, however, we know almost nothing about how narcissism manifests in the political values of the general public.

We sought to shed some light on this relationship by conducting a nationally representative study of US citizens days before the 2016 US Presidential election. Despite rhetoric from politicians and the media, we found that those on the left and right are equally narcissistic. Nevertheless, those on the left and right differed in how their narcissism was expressed. This was not a case, however, of the more positive elements of narcissism, such as leadership and self-sufficiency, being assigned to one political viewpoint and the more negative traits such as superiority and exploitativeness being assigned to the other. Rather, between those on the left and right, we only found differences within the negative components of narcissism.

A higher sense of Entitlement is associated with more conservative views, and this association is strongest for immigration attitudes. It was not that Entitlement leads to being more Republican, however, but rather it appears to lead people away from supporting the Democratic party. On the other hand, Exhibitionism, also a maladaptive facet, is related to more liberal positions, and this relationship was strongest for being a Democrat.

These findings reflect many details about the 2016 election. Those who felt more entitled to certain benefits, in particular, those who were more concerned about illegal immigration, moved away from the left, while those whose voices appear the loudest about their entitlements and wanted others to recognize their values were more likely to self-identify as a liberal and Democrat. The mood of the voting public, certainly among the working class, was frustration at the lack of representation and benefits they believed they were due. This resulted in voting Republican in greater numbers. At the same time, mainstream media all but assured the public Hillary Clinton would be the next President. This over-represented voice of the left was partly responsible for polling discrepancies, where reports for Democratic support were exaggerated, while support for then-candidate Trump was under-reported. Overall, our results hint toward narcissism either reflecting or having a role in the rise of populism. Populism’s anti-establishment views focus on individualism, group superiority, and entitlement, rooted in identity-based politics that pit group needs over one another and say “look at me”, reflect the very dimensions of social narcissism.

About the Authors: Pete Hatemi is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Penn State University, and Zoltán Fazekas is a Post-doctoral Researcher at the University of Oslo University. Their research “Narcissism and Political Orientations” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Targeting Ordinary Voters or Political Elites? Why Pork is Distributed Along Partisan Lines in India

Author Summary by Anjali Thomas Bohlken

AJPS - Targeting Ordinary Voters or Political ElitesIn many societies, governments are responsible for delivering a range of important goods and services to citizens such as water, sanitation, roads, and electrification. Yet, although these goods and services could potentially play a significant role in enhancing citizens’ well-being, they are often not allocated to the people and places that would benefit the most from them. Why is this the case? The dominant explanation offered by previous research is that government actors often seek to allocate public resources in such a way as to cater to those citizens who support their political party. But do the preferences of ordinary citizens – or at least certain groups of them – always remain central in shaping government actors’ allocation decisions? My forthcoming article entitled “Targeting Ordinary Voters or Political Elites?” in the American Journal of Political Science suggests that the answer is no. Specifically, I argue in the article that government actors often allocate public works projects not only with the goal of catering to ordinary citizens but also with the goal of winning over the co-operation of political elites occupying positions at lower levels of government.

To provide evidence for this argument, I utilize data on over 70,000 public works projects proposed by Members of Parliament (MPs) in India representing seven states in North India. Using these data, I show that these MPs allocated systematically higher project expenditures in the years just after a state election to areas controlled by state legislators belonging to their party than to otherwise similar areas controlled by opposition party state legislators. I provide further evidence to suggest that these state legislators used these allocations not to cater to ordinary voters at large, but to grant favors to individuals who provided them with electoral assistance or to derive opportunities for private kickbacks.

Why might MPs seek to benefit their partisan colleagues in the state legislature in this way? The reason – I argue – is that these colleagues often have control over the government machinery responsible for implementing public works projects and, if they choose, could help ensure that these projects are successfully implemented. In turn, the successful implementation of these projects could be important for the MP’s own re-election prospects. Thus, MPs may allocate these rewards as part of a quid pro quo exchange in order to win over the co-operation of their partisan colleagues. Consistent with this idea, I find that MPs belonging to the state ruling party who were facing imminent re-election witnessed a greater rate of success in the implementation of public works projects that were located in the areas controlled by co-partisan state legislators.

The findings advance our collective understanding of why, when and how national politicians may have an incentive to cater to political elites rather than citizens when allocating public works projects. In doing so, they shed new light on how citizens in multi-level systems may be disadvantaged by public programs that allow for political discretion in their implementation.

About the Author: Anjali Thomas Bohlken is Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research “Targeting Ordinary Voters or Political Elites? Why Pork Is Distributed Along Partisan Lines in India” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

When Toleration Becomes a Vice: Naming Aristotle’s Third Unnamed Virtue

AJPS Author Summary - When Toleration Becomes a ViceAuthor Summary by Richard Avramenko and Michael Promisel

It is a curious pastime of modern man to profess—and even enjoy—that he faces challenges unparalleled in human history. This certainly may be the case. But when it comes to politics and our everyday relations with others, it often is not.

This presumption is apparent in our conceptions of toleration, the virtue pertaining to relations between individuals in disagreement. Many hold that toleration emerged in the early modern period when pacifists proposed the virtue as a remedy to political violence begotten by religious schism and discord. According to this tradition, toleration means finding positive reasons for putting up with—tolerating—conduct and beliefs we find objectionable.

In recent scholarship, however, toleration means something quite different. The virtue has been transformed to confront the supposedly unprecedented challenges of our time. Toleration now demands more than restraining interference or condemnation; the tolerant citizen, it is argued, should avoid causing the pain associated with uncomfortable conversations, personal criticism or even difference of opinion. The discomfort of ethical disagreement and contestation is now construed as cruelty, and cruelty is, of course, the antithesis of toleration. Should one want to defend some social practice, one need only point an accusing finger and level a charge of intolerance at opposition.

This transformation of a central liberal virtue leads to an unsettling conclusion: toleration has become a vice. Sensing this transformation, many desire a return to toleration’s early modern roots. While important, appeals to early modern conceptions do not mitigate the rise of excessive toleration—an extreme iteration of the original principles. After all, the problematic binary of tolerance and intolerance emerged from this period.

A better answer, we argue, can be found much earlier than the modern era. In fact, if we regard toleration as a virtue responding to a perennial human need—reconciling disagreements—many resources present themselves that were previously unthinkable. One such resource is Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. In fact, hiding under the guise of a “nameless virtue” in Book IV, Chapter 6, is a disposition that looks a lot like toleration, a term unavailable to Aristotle.

When we examine Aristotle’s account, we discover several insights that illuminate the problems with toleration today. Most importantly, Aristotle regards all moral virtues, including toleration, as the balance between two extremes. Toleration is the mean between the deficiency of intolerance and the excess of obsequiousness. This explains how recent iterations can be understood as a vice—they take the virtue too far. Moreover, Aristotle’s treatment of pleasure and pain in social relations offers a nuanced framework for pursuing toleration at a time when emotional pain is often conflated with cruelty. Instead, he demonstrates that pleasure and pain in social relations are secondary to human flourishing and, therefore, that not all pain is cruel.

While his account offers much more to nuance our understanding of toleration, perhaps most striking of all is how helpful such a classical resource can be to diagnose our current predicament and reveal the parallels between political and ethical dilemmas across time.

About the authors: Richard Avramenko is an Associate Professor and Michael Promisel is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Their research, “When Toleration Becomes a Vice: Naming Aristotle’s Third Unnamed Virtue” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


Coalitional Instability and the Three‐Fifths Compromise

Author Summary by Gordon Ballingrud and Keith L. Dougherty

AJPS Author Summary - Coalitional Instability and the Three‐Fifths CompromiseWere the Constitution’s two methods of legislative apportionment inevitable? This paper determines the coalitional stability of apportionment rules proposed at the Constitutional Convention assuming the Convention limited itself to the rules proposed. An apportionment rule is a criterion for dividing legislative seats, such as the relative populations of each state or the relative values of property within them. Such rules are coalitionally stable if there does not exist another apportionment rule that a majority of voters (in this case, states) prefers to it.

Using each state’s vote share as a measure of state preference, we find that the stability of the apportionment rules proposed at the Constitutional Convention depended upon which states were present. Equal apportionment was in equilibrium (stable) with thirteen states present, as in the Continental Congress, but when Rhode Island and New Hampshire were absent during the first third of the Convention, all of the apportionment rules proposed at the Convention were in a top cycle. That means that if delegates voted to increase their state’s vote share in a pairwise vote, the Convention could move from any one of the proposed rules of apportionment to any other through a series of majority-rule votes.

The Three-Fifths Clause was proposed by James Wilson during this chaotic period, perhaps as an attempt to ground the national legislature on popular rule. With New York departing near the middle of the Convention, equal apportionment and the Three-Fifths Clause became stable -— each of these could not be beaten by any of the other eight rules proposed at the Convention.

This helps us to explain why the Great Compromise was finally reached. We conclude that the Great Compromise was partly the result of historical contingency (i.e., which states participated in in voting and which apportionments were proposed), rather than necessity (as claimed by some historians and legal scholars).

About the Authors: Gordon Ballingrud is Ph.D. Candidate and Keith L. Dougherty is a Professor both in the Department of Political Science at the University of Georgia, Athens. Their research, ”Coalitional Instability and the Three‐Fifths Compromise“ is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Does Compliance Pay? Social Standards and Firm-level Trade (an Author Summary)

Author Summary by Greg Distelhorst and Richard M. LockeAJPS Author Summary - Does Compliance Pay?

In an age of growing international trade and investment, one of the great public concerns is that globalization encourages a “race to the bottom.” Fatal accidents in overseas factories, modern slavery in global supply chains, and the long hours and low pay of workers in the developing world all raise the question: is globalization to blame?

The race to the bottom suggests that exporters compete, in part, by lowering labor or environmental standards to secure business. In this logic, exporters in developing countries face an unenviable choice. Either break the rules or lose your customers.

We noticed that previous research examined this issue at the macro-level, analyzing trade flows between national economies. Because the race-to-the-bottom logic involves decisions by trading firms, we designed a study to test its implication at the micro-level. We examined compliance and trade in individual firms by studying a global sourcing company that allocates orders from hundreds of importers to thousands of export factories around the world.

Surprisingly, we found the opposite pattern. Compliant exporters received more orders from importers. When firms moved from noncompliance into compliance, their average orders increased by 4 percentage points on average (approximately $110,000 USD per year). This was not the pattern expected if exporters compete with one another by lowering their labor standards. It’s worth noting that we observe this in authoritarian countries like China or Vietnam that simultaneously play an important role in global trade and have only limited labor rights and democratic freedoms.

We detect this compliance premium among importers in the apparel industry, where anti-sweatshop campaigns have pressured brands for years to clean up their global supply chains. Our findings suggest that these social movements have to some extent succeeded in shaping the trading patterns of western firms, who apparently prefer doing business with factories that observe minimum social standards.

On the other hand, we also find that these pressures for upward harmonization of standards—a phenomenon known as “California effects”—were far from sufficient to achieve global compliance with minimum standards. Most exporters in our remained noncompliant with basic standards throughout the period of our research. Future research might attempt to replicate these findings in new samples of trading firms and explore whether compliance premiums actually improve the financial performance of exporters that comply with basic labor and environmental standards.

About the Authors: Greg Distelhorst is Assistant Professor of Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Richard M. Locke is Provost and Professor of Political Science and Public and International Affairs at Brown University. Their research “Does Compliance Pay? Social Standards and Firm‐Level Trade” 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.