Author Archive | Joshua Tucker

Moscow Mayoral Election: Results from Exit Polls Look Like Numbers that Can Provoke Protest in National Elections


I wanted to make a quick initial observation about today’s Moscow mayoral election. The exit polls are showing the opposition leader Alexei Navalny doing better than expected at close to 30% of the vote, but losing handily to Putin ally and incumbent Sergei Sobyanin. The key figure here to watch, however, is Sobyanin’s share of the vote, which is currently being estimate in some exit polls as running around 52-53%. The reason the exact level is important is that the Moscow mayoral election uses a two-round majoritarian voting rule, meaning that if Sobyanin gets more than 50% of the vote, he avoids a second round run off in which he would have to go up against only Navalny. Although Navalny is losing handily in the first round, with Sobyanin’s support hovering just north of 50% it is by no means assured what would happen in a second round, especially as turnout can change across the different rounds of the election.

But equally importantly, these looks like the sorts of results that could trigger post-election protests if there is suspicion of electoral fraud (and Navalny is claiming his exit polls show Sobyanin’s support at 46%). The reason here is that although the actual results are not that close, Sobyanin being so close to 50% may lead voters to think that fraud tipped the outcome of the election in favor of the incumbent. As I have argued previously in an article in Perspectives on Politics, these types of elections can be especially conducive to protest because (a) they create an expectation that other people my also be protesting, thus lowering the potential cost to any individual of joining a protest while at the same time (b) they hold open the promise of a real benefit to protesting, i.e. potentially changing the outcome of the election.

There are two important caveats to consider. First, I have yet to see accusations of electoral fraud in this election – at the moment there are simply different claims as to what exit polls show the results should be. However, these are precisely the types of situations that can lead to accusations of electoral fraud later, and recent Russian elections have certainly not been immune to charges of electoral fraud. The second caveat is potentially more important, which is that the argument I made was in the context of national elections, where protest could really “throw the bums out”. We don’t yet know if similar dynamics are likely to be at work in election for a regional office. That being said, the mayor of Moscow, a city of 12 million people and the center of the Russian state, is about as important a local official as they come.

And to be clear, there are plenty of other reasons why people might not protest. There could be protest fatigue from the 2011-2012 Russian protests. There could be a fear of a harsh crack-down from security forces. There could be a sense that even if the first round results are overturned, the result will be just be the same in the next round. Or people could trust that the results are correct. (Or, still unknown at the time of this writing, the official results could even place Sobyanin below 50%, which I think would definitely not trigger protests.) But at this moment, past examples suggest that at the very least conditions are ripe for post-election protest should Moscovites sufficiently value the outcome of this peculiar “local” election.

[Photo Credit: The Wasington Post]

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Why is Syria So Important to Russia and Putin?

Russia Syrian Game

The following is a guest post from UCLA political scientist Daniel Treisman.


As the White House rounds up support for a military strike against Syria, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his disapproval. What lies behind the Russian position? Why is Putin so seemingly attached to Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad?

It is tempting to attribute Moscow’s resistance to US intervention to some kind of psychological hangup—say, wounded pride at Russia’s fallen status or an atavistic Cold War mentality. To former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, quoted by Peter Baker in the New York Times, Putin is “about lost power, lost empire, lost glory.” President Obama recently took to analyzing Putin’s “slouch.”

Yet, in fact, there’s a logic behind Putin’s position on Syria that is really not that hard to understand. It has more to do with realpolitik than psychology.

Some have pointed to Russia’s economic interests in Syria, but these are actually quite modest. Trade between the two countries is inconsequential. In 2011, Russian exports to Syria came to $1.93 billion, about 0.4 percent of the total. Imports from Syria were just $306 million. As of 2009, Russia had an estimated $19.4 billion of investments in the country, although that might have risen since then.

Syria matters slightly more for Russia’s weapons producers, who have excellent channels of communication with the Kremlin. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s estimates, Russian arms exports to Syria in the five years from 2008 to 2012 totaled about $1.1 billion (at 1990 prices) out of a worldwide total of $35.2 billion. Contracts for future supplies come to several billion dollars. Russian companies would also like to develop Syria’s oil fields. Still, all considered, Moscow’s economic stake in the country is relatively small.

Nor does Putin’s position have much to do with the naval station at Tartus that Syria has provided Russia for the past 40 years. Of course, Moscow would like to keep this last remaining naval foothold in the Mediterranean, and it has planned for some years to refurbish the port. But at present facilities there are very limited. The station can accommodate no more than four medium sized ships at once.

Putin’s real motivation in opposing US involvement in Syria’s civil war is simple: he strongly objects to US policies of regime change, especially when backed up by military force. There are two main reasons. First, he is intensely aware that many in Washington would like to see his regime changed. Although overthrowing Putin is not an objective of US policy, he resists any extension of the practice.

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How Much Does Public Opinion on Syria Matter? How Much Will It?


The chart above comes from Google Trends, and the message is clear: even at the height of the US’s ostensible march towards military engagement in Syria – remember, all signs pointed towards military action last weekend until Obama’s surprising decision to seek Congressional approval – more Americans were using Google to get information about Miley Cyrus than Syria.

I was moved to compare the two after some discussion on Twitter this evening prompted by Larry Sabato’s reporting of a Reuter’s poll showing support for military action in Syria hovering somewhere around 20-30%.

The question I want to raise is the extent to which this might ultimately matter. There are two ways to think about this. The first is whether public opinion is going to influence whether the US actually launches hostilities against Syria. Here, I think public opinion mattered in so far as it may have played a role in getting Obama to seek Congressional approval in the first place – although personally I think the lost vote by Cameron in the UK was probably more important – but at this point the ball is probably in Congress’s court. It is certainly possible that a huge swing in public opinion could have an effect on the forthcoming vote, but my guess is 20% support vs. 40% support doesn’t make all that much difference at this point. The Senate is likely going to vote to approve in any case, and the House dynamics are going to follow district level concerns more than national ones. I’m sure we can find a few people who might flip because of trends in national public opinion, but I’d need to be convinced by someone who knows more about individual US legislators than I do that this could actually swing a vote.

But the more interesting question is whether the low public support for military action would actually have an effect down the road on either Obama’s ability to govern or the political fortunes of individual legislators. Here I am skeptical – conditional on this being the limited, aerial engagement that is being discussed now and not having some unexpected escalation occur – that Americans will actually not care all that much in the future if Obama launches a limited number of missiles at Syria. (hence the teaser figure above).

Consider the following thought experiment: if Benghazi had not taken place, then would there be any discussion of the rest of the Libyan events playing a role in American public opinion today? And Libya will – most likely – end up involving more military involvement than seems likely in Syria.

Then perhaps ironically, from a public opinion standpoint what now seems to matter here is the fact that a vote actually has to be taken in Congress more than the action that might result from that vote. As Sabato pointed out to me in a conversation we continued off of Twitter, it is possible that the vote could cost certain incumbent House Republicans in the coming 2014 primaries. And the point has been repeatedly raised that it would be a major political setback for Obama were he to lose this vote in Congress. So in a sense, we go through the looking glass: foreign policy has the potential to “matter” from a public opinion standpoint only because it has been converted into domestic politics: Is Obama losing strength in the second term? Are certain conservative members of the House conservative enough? My guess is these questions will reverberate in American political discussion longer than whether it was appropriate for Congress to authorize (should it choose to do so) and the President to execute low-scale military action despite underwhelming support on the part of the American public.

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Opportunity for A Disciplinary Bulletin Board

Having just returned from the American Political Science Association annual conference (#APSA2013), I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who took the time to offer their kind words about the move to the Washington Post. It was very much appreciated.

Like the rest of the team, I think there are some enormous opportunities here that outweigh the potential drawbacks of the move, most importantly that we will have a much bigger microphone from which to pursue our goal of making the lessons from political science research available to a larger audience. But I also wanted to take some time to address some of the drawbacks that other political scientists raised about the move in my many discussions these past few days.

1) The paywall at the Washington Post. This is the simplest issue to solve. First, for the next 12 months The Monkey Cage will be outside the paywall. That means everyone can continue to access The Monkey Cage however and as often as they want without a subscription to the Post. But more importantly in the long term, you will always be able to access The Monkey Cage for free if you click to our posts through a link from Facebook or Twitter. We have a Facebook page (located here) and a Twitter Feed (located here). Both of these are automated so that posts appear whenever a new post appears on The Monkey Cage. So if you want to see what we are doing by logging on first to Facebook or Twitter and then clicking on the links for the posts you want to read, you will be always be able to do it this way whether or not you have a digital subscription to the Post. So if you have students outside the US who you want to read the blog, you can just send them to either the Facebook or Twitter feeds. And as these pages are public, you do not even need to have a Twitter or Facebook account to access them.

2) The quality of the comments thread: A number of people (and commentators on our original post) expressed the fact that they had learned a lot from discussions following our posts in the past beyond what was in the post itself, as well as a certain degree of skepticism that these kinds of discussions can continue when we are in a more public forum. This may very well turn out to be correct, but the one plea I would make is let’s just try to see if we can keep up useful discussions at The Post. If those of you who are used to providing thoughtful comments now can at least give it a try for a little while when we move, maybe we can establish the site as a place with a reputation for useful discussion. This may very well be wishful thinking, but I’d hope we can at least try.

3) The final point – which will not be of interest to many of our non political scientist readers – is a sense of regret that The Monkey Cage will no longer be able to function as a disciplinary “bulletin board”. As John noted in the replay to “John Dickey” in the post announcing the move, we will still be able to do a little of this when the issues are of broader interest (i.e., threats to research funding in the social sciences), but the reality is that the extent to which we do this is going to drop rather substantially. I count myself on the list of people who do see this as a drawback, especially because I have really enjoyed being able to make these kinds of announcements in the past! So here my suggestion is for someone to take this as an opportunity to establish something new that can meet this need. We’ve demonstrated that there is a demand for this kind of a service: a place for political scientists to alert one another to interesting developments regarding conferences, journals, resources, etc. We’re no longer going to be able to do it, but hopefully someone else will take the opportunity to build a platform that can fill this void – I know that I would definitely be a regular visitor to such a site. I hope maybe people can throw out some ideas below in the comments section, but I’ll start with a couple thoughts.

First, I wonder how many eyeballs will regularly return to a page that is just a bulletin board.  Put another way, I wonder if it is better to embed this function within another site (like it was at The Monkey Cage) or if it could stand on its own.

Second, I would recommend that someone or some organization actively run the site, as opposed to setting it up as a wiki.

Finally, I think there might be resources for supporting such a site within the major political science associations.  There is always interest in these organizations as to how they can better serve their members; so if there is a demand for this type of product, then it might be a natural fit for the mission of the associations.

As I always, I welcome comments and thoughts.

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Expert Commentary on US-Russian Relations


As the US heads towards action in Syria that will clearly not be authorized by the UN Security Council, we are reminded once again of the importance of the US relationship with Russia. With this in mind, I wanted to alert readers to a new webpage that has been put up by the Carnegie Organization of New York as part of their Perspectives on Peace and Security, called Rebuilding the U.S.-Russia Relationship. Here you can find short statements on the US-Russian relationship from a wide range of Russia experts.

I was invited to participate in this exercise, and am providing my answers below; the full set of responses can be found here.

Q: Why does the US-Russian relationship matter at this time?

A: At the most basic level, these are still the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenals in the world, and overtly hostile relations between them are therefore not particularly good for anyone.  In a more pragmatic sense, there are many ways that Russia can help (or hinder) U.S. foreign policy interests, and vice versa.  Both countries are interested in how events unfold in Afghanistan and the Middle East, the trajectory of international terrorism, and the long-term rise of China.  And of course both countries continue to be interested in developments in Europe, even if not quite to the same extent as during the Cold War.  In many (but of course not all) of these cases, cooperation between the United States and Russia can help both countries achieve important goals.  Finally, the United States has long been seen as a friend of the Russian people by certain segments of the Russian population, especially those with more liberal political outlooks; some of these people may be the leaders of Russia in the future.  What the United States does today vis-à-vis Russia and the way it treats its own citizens may affect how those citizens feel about the United Statesin the future.

Q: What can and should both countries do to “fix” the relationship?

A: Clearly, dialogue between the two countries is important if relations are going to improve.  But it may be time to think about the difference between getting things fixed in the short term and in the long term. Clearly, both sides face temptations to use their relationship to play to their own domestic audiences, and President Putin has undoubtedly made antagonizing the West a part of his strategy for maintaining support at home. In the short term, in the aftermath of the public decision to cancel the summit, the United States may find it can best advance its foreign goals by quietly re-establishing contact with the Russians at lower levels. (And to be clear, I think tying the future of U.S.-Russian relations to the fate of Edward Snowden would be a mistake.) But in the longer term, the United States may want to consider ways to convince Putin that there are consequences to “playing the American card” so often for domestic consumption, especially in terms of using it to demonize his opponents at home as somehow un-Russian. Taking a firmer stance with the regime now might end up paying dividends down the road, although this will of course be tricky in practice.

The full set of responses can be found here.


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Articles on Military Intervention Ungated by SAGE

Good news!  Sage Press has generously decided to ungate all of the Sage Press articles referenced by Erica Chenoweth in her recent series of posts on military interventions here at The Monkey Cage.  They are now available free to all (for I believe the next 30 days) here:

From: Do Military Interventions Hasten the End of Civil Wars?:  Third-party Interventions and the Duration of Intrastate Conflicts (now ungated)

From: Do Military Interventions Reduce Killings of Civilians in Civil Wars?Armed Intervention and civilian victimization in intrastate conflicts (now ungated)

From: How do Military Interventions Affect Human Rights Practices?Does Foreign Military Intervention Help Human Rights? (now ungated)

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A Modest Proposal to Improve the Peer Review Process

The following is a guest post by political scientist Scott Gehlbach (@sgehlbach) of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


The peer-review process, if not broken, is seriously under strain. Editors are forced to make hasty decisions based on imperfect signals from referees. Referees, in turn, are overburdened with review requests. And authors are at the mercy of referees who are not always qualified to evaluate all parts of a submission.

These three problems have a common cause: as a discipline we are asking referees to do too much. The typical review request takes the form: “Please evaluate this submission as a possible contribution to…” The referee process could be improved by adding a sentence that says, “As an expert in X, your thoughts on Y would be especially valuable,” where Y could be research design, a formal model, country context, framing, or any other element of the paper. In principle, the request could specify Y1, Y2, etc., though the point would be for the list to be less than exhaustive.

As an analogy, think of dissertation-committee members, who typically concentrate on parts of the dissertation where they have particular expertise. We don’t expect the Africanist to offer extensive comments on the model, or the formal theorist to advise on the ethnography, unless these specialists happen to be one and the same person.

Focusing reviewer effort in this way will allow editors to make better decisions, as it will be easier to extract the signal from the noise in referee reports. It will take a bit more work from editors at the front end of the review process, but I expect that it will save time at the back end. And I’m not convinced that it will take that much more time ex ante: editors already choose referees based on expertise (so, in the formulation above, they know X), and the increased use of desk rejection means that editors give manuscripts at least a cursory read on initial submission (so it shouldn’t be too difficult to fill in Y).

There are also benefits to other stakeholders. Referees will appreciate the sanction to direct effort to parts of a manuscript where they have the most expertise. And to the extent that all of this produces better and speedier decisions and more focused referee reports, authors (and ultimately readers) should profit.

A final note: There is a decentralized version of this reform that can provide many of the same benefits. Even if editors choose not to suggest that referees focus on particular elements of a submission, reviewers can still choose to restrict their comments in a way that reflects their substantive or methodological expertise. Indeed, I suspect that some referees do this already, but the key is to make it explicit: “In reviewing this manuscript, I primarily restrict my attention to Y.” Such a statement clarifies to editors and authors what the referee has, and has not, taken responsibility for.

I understand that there might be strategic considerations at play here. I leave those as an exercise for the comments section.

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Valuable New Dataset of Constituency Level Election Results

Anyone who has ever tried to gather constituency level election-data cross-nationally should be very pleased by the following announcement I received earlier this week:

American University’s School of Public Affairs is pleased to announce the launch of Election Passport, a new online resource providing free access to a rich dataset of constituency election results from over 80 countries around the world.

The goal of Election Passport is to enable researchers and students to engage in high-level analysis of elections on countries for which data are not easily available. From Andorra to Zambia, this site provides unusually complete data sets that include votes won by very small parties, independents, and frequently, candidate names that are difficult to locate. As an ongoing project, additional elections will be regularly added.

Election Passport was developed by David Lublin, Professor of Government in the School of Public Affairs at American University, with the support of AU’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and the German Marshall Fund of the U.S.

We hope that you will find this to be a valuable resource and encourage you to share this announcement with your colleagues. Please contact David Lublin at or (202) 885-2913 should you have any questions.

If you have tried the dataset already, please feel free to leave any observations in the comments below. Should be valuable for scholars and policy makers alike!

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Top 5 Most Popular Articles from Electoral Studies Available for Free Download Through End of October!

What a great idea! Elsevier Press has decided to make the 5 most popular articles from Electoral Studies during the first half of the year available for free download through the end of October. (Caveat: I am on the Board of Editors of Electoral Studies, but had nothing to do with this decision.) Would love to see more political science journals adopting such a policy, and would be happy to give a similar shout out in The Monkey Cage if any publishers are interested.

Here are the five articles with links:

1) Explaining voter turnout: A review of aggregate-level research

2) Democratic electoral systems around the world, 1946-2000

3) Understanding unequal turnout: Education and voting in comparative perspective

4) The embarrassment of riches? A meta-analysis of individual-level research on voter turnout

5) Civic duty and turnout in the UK referendum on AV: What shapes the duty to vote?

Although I am mainly reporting this as a public service announcement, it is also pretty interesting to note that four of these five article are on turnout (and the fifth is an article accompanying an extremely popular dataset), and two are meta-analyses of previous studies.  Are we witnessing a renaissance of the study of turnout?  A growing popularity of meta-analyses in political science?

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Midterm Elections in Argentina: Open, Compulsory and Simultaneous Primaries


In our continuing series of election reports, we welcome back political scientists Natalia C. Del Cogliano and Mariana L. Prats with the following post-election report on last week’s Argentinian elections


On Sunday, August 11th, open, compulsory and simultaneous primary elections were held for the second time across the whole of Argentina since their enactment in 2009[1]. However, they were still far from being primaries stricto sensu. They were probably more like simple primaries. As we already said in our previous Monkey Cage election report, the actual system of primaries can mostly be defined as a virtual first round of an unofficial two-round legislative election. Our primaries function more like a de facto national poll that sets the stage for the general election.

Still, these primaries defined the nominations for the general elections that will be held on October 27th. More importantly, they provided us with real data on which candidates, alliances or parties, if any, have enough popular support so as to start building a political career oriented towards taking the presidency in 2015.

The big name in this regard emerged from within the Partido Justicialista[2] (PJ) in the biggest and more relevant district in the country: the province of Buenos Aires. Sergio Massa, the Major of the municipality of Tigre—and once National Chief of Cabinet during Cristina Kirchner’s former administration—had taken office as a candidate of the Frente para la Victoria (FpV), but in June 2013 he created his own Peronist electoral label (Frente Renovador). Although under the logic of Argentinean politics no national legislator could ever become president, Massa jumped from the municipal level to the national legislative level as a way of projecting himself towards 2015 and in order to test his popular support. Massa appeared as the “moderate” alternative (he tried not to be identified either for or against the national government) aimed at becoming the alternative to the ruling party (FpV).

The fact that the new main alternative to the national government emerged from within the provincial Peronist Party is not an unexpected outcome in a moment in which the remaining parties and alliances in the opposition[3] cannot offer novel candidates, deliver leading proposals, or even command the campaign towards October. This resulted in a campaign mostly concentrated in Buenos Aires and starring y peronist or philo-peronist candidates.

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