This Week in Political Science

by Jonathan Robinson on October 13, 2011 · 3 comments

in This Week in Political Science

NEGATIVE ADVERTISING: As the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination continues to heat up, we can expect more websites like this one and advertisements like this:

Many commentators lament negative campaign advertising, and some are even predicting that the 2012 presidential election will be the “most negative campaign in modern US history”.  While political science doesn’t dispute this possibility, it does not necessarily believe that negative campaigning has negative consequences for voters.  In one study (gated), political scientists Deborah Jordan Brooks and John Geer conducted experiments that exposed subjects to ads that varied on two dimensions: (1) “civil” negative ads vs. “uncivil” negative ads vs. positive ads and (2) a focus on issues vs. candidate traits.  They conclude:

Uncivil attacks in campaigns do not appear to be as worrisome as its detractors fear. While uncivil messages in general—and uncivil trait-based messages in particular—are usually seen by the public as being less fair, less informative, and less important than both their civil negative and positive counterparts, they are no more likely to lead to detrimental effects among the public. In fact, incivility appears to have some modest positive consequences for the political engagement of the electorate.

In an earlier, John also summarized the positive  findings of Geer’s book In Defense of Negativity:

Negative ads are more likely than positive ads to discuss policy-related issues (and to provide evidence for their claims). If you want the candidates to discuss the issues, it’s actually counterproductive for them to stay positive.

AUSTERITY IN EUROPE: This week, the unemployment rate in the United Kingdom reached its  highest point in 17 years (8.1%), bringing into question the effectiveness of government austerity measures. Despite this, the Cameron government says it will not change course.  This means that many public-sector workers will lose their jobs. Political scientists Christopher Anderson and Jonas Pontusson examined government policies that affect job insecurity in 15 OECD countries (ungated, gated).  Their findings suggest several ways to alleviate insecurity:

First, government legislation restricting the ability of employers to fire workers and/or imposing costs on employers who do fire workers appears to have a quite significant impact on individuals’ assessment of how secure their jobs are. Second, government spending on labor market programs designed to improve the employability of unemployed workers and to help them find new jobs reduces labor market insecurity.Third, generous unemployment compensation reduces worries about the income loss associated with unemployment.

THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE: This year’s prize was given to 3 female African political activists, were recognized for: “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” One of the Laureates, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, is credited with helping her country to transition out of violent civil war and into stability. Not only that, but she is the first and lone female head of state in Africa. Why are women so politically underrepresented in sub-Saharan Africa?

Political scientist Mi Yung Yoon addresses this question in a 2004 paper (gated). She finds that patriarchal culture suppresses female representation in legislatures, while proportional representation systems and gender quotas increase female representation. She concludes:

Without such explicit and deliberate political mechanisms, equitable legislative representation between men and women will be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish because of current social, economic, and cultural inhibitions on women in sub-Saharan Africa.


Andrew Gelman October 13, 2011 at 8:56 pm


You write, “she is the first and lone female head of state in Africa. Why are women so politically underrepresented in sub-Saharan Africa?” Huh? How many female heads of state have we had in North America??

Jonathan Robinson October 13, 2011 at 9:14 pm

While not technically a head of state (complexities abound), Kim Campbell was the Prime Minister of Canada (head of government). While she was only PM for less than a year (and has an honorary degree from Arizona State, which you may remember Barack Obama does not have!), she is a female head of state. Women in Congress (according to Craig Volden and Alan Wiseman) are actually considered much more ‘effective’ legislators (!

Scott Monje October 13, 2011 at 9:30 pm

The peace prize winners are two Africans (Liberians) and a Yemeni.

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