Archive | Comparative Politics

(Not Much) Political Polarization in Europe

A few weeks ago, in the course of describing a new article by Simon Munzert and Paul Bauer on political depolarization in Germany, Andy mentioned that the topic of polarization outside the U.S. “seems very much worth studying.” Always eager to be of service, I sat right down and wrote an APSA paper on polarization in 21 European countries over the past two decades.

The data for my study are derived from a distillation of 30 items from European Values Study surveys into broad indices of economic values and cultural values. In each domain, I consider two distinct types of polarization: societal polarization, reflected by an increase in the overall standard deviation of economic or cultural values in a given national population, and partisan polarization, reflected by an increase in the multiple correlation between party support and values.

The distinction between societal polarization and partisan polarization looms large in the scholarly literature on American party politics, since the past few decades seem to have produced a good deal of the latter but very little of the former. However, anyone used to thinking solely about the U.S. may be surprised to learn that neither form of polarization is widespread elsewhere—at least not in Europe.

The average level of social dissensus regarding cultural values in my 21 European countries increased slightly between 1990 and 2008 (from 14.0 to 14.1 on a 100-point scale), but the average level of social dissensus regarding economic values decreased slightly (from 12.1 to 11.9). Meanwhile, the multiple correlation between party support and economic values increased slightly (from .336 in 1990 to .339 in 2008), while the multiple correlation between party support and cultural values declined (from .298 to .249). Only one of the 21 countries (Bulgaria) experienced both societal polarization and partisan polarization in both the economic and cultural domains, while seven (Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Romania) experienced net societal and partisan depolarization in both domains.

Notwithstanding the apparent disconnect between partisan polarization and societal polarization in the U.S., European systems with greater social dissensus also tend to have higher levels of partisan sorting (that is, partisan attachments are more strongly correlated with economic and cultural values). However, partisan sorting is even more strongly related to conservatism: in the most progressive European systems (as measured by average economic and cultural values), party support tends to be strongly related to values, while conservative countries tend to have much more disorganized party systems.


One obvious virtue of the European Values Study for work of this sort is that it facilitates systematic comparison across a variety of political systems. Another, less obvious, is that the longitudinal structure of the project (with comparable survey data in each country from 1990, 1999, and 2008) provides leverage for studying dynamic interconnections between different kinds of political change. For example, my paper includes statistical analyses relating changing levels of conservatism, social dissensus and partisan sorting between 1999 and 2008 to previous changes in economic and cultural values, dissensus and partisan sorting in the 1990s. The results suggest, among other things, that systems experiencing significant partisan polarization in the 1990s experienced much more societal polarization in the 2000s, other things being equal.

If that European pattern of spill-over holds in the U.S., we may soon be experiencing substantial increases in social dissensus after all.

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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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Political Science and The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing is a truly incredible movie that I strongly recommend to everyone. The movie portrays several Indonesian mass murderers who have tortured, executed, pillaged, and raped at large scales and now wish to re-enact their past behavior in a movie. Reviews are here, here, and here. I concur with Roger Ebert Steven Boone who calls it the “the smiliest atrocity documentary” he has ever seen and notes that:

There’s never been a shortage of dark, grim documentaries that catalog life’s cruelty, horrors and banality of evil. Thanks to the documentary genre, I have watched hundreds of hours of war crimes, genocides and miscarriages of justice carried out by unremarkable men with dimly lit souls. “The Act of Killing” bids to outdo them all.

The movie engages questions that have long occupied political scientists: why do people participate in systematic mass killings? And how can/should they be held accountable for it? I suspect it will become a staple in the classroom. Sometimes film is an incredibly effective medium to communicate ideas and stimulate the brain.

There are several ways the movie speaks to the political science literature. For example, the perpetrators are imminently aware of what Kathryn Sikkink has labeled the “justice cascade:” the idea that throughout the world perpetrators of war crimes and other human rights atrocities are increasingly being held accountable for their acts through trials. They know about Pinochet, the ICC, and so on.

Yet, they seem completely unfazed by this trend, presumably because many people affiliated with the paramilitary organization on whose behalf they acted are still in power. One of them even professed his eagerness to be sent to The Hague so he could become “famous” (of course the ICC has no jurisdiction over crimes committed in the 1960s). Still, at least based on the evidence portrayed here the deterrent effect of the cascade is not obviously present. The Indonesian vice-president is filmed giving a public speech to a paramilitary organization with 3 million members in which he argues that they will sometimes need to use their fists. The answer to the question why the children of murdered “Communists” are not seeking justice at a larger scale is invariably that they would be crushed.

The movie is quite consistent with the literature on mass killings: individuals do not usually participate in mass killings because they are intrinsically evil or because they are blinded by hatred of a group of others (in this case Communists).  Instead, these killings are usually part of some organized efforts by elites to strategically eliminate opponents. A good place to start may be Benjamin Valentino’s Final Solutions, which offers a comprehensive analysis of mass killing and genocide in the 20th century.

On the other hand, I was also struck by the organization of the mass killings through a loosely organized paramilitary organization. These were really gangsters who shifted back and forth between “regular economic crime” and politically motivated crimes. The link with the military government was there but it would be an exaggeration to say that the government had clear control over the proceedings (the precise links here are not investigated as thoroughly as I would have liked in the movie). The role of a (past and current) newspaper publisher is especially disheartening. This industrial organization of violence (as Robert Bates would call it) seems important and I am not sure if it is well covered in the literature. (Correct me if I am wrong though as I am not a specialist in this area.)

Anyway: don’t be deterred by the dark subject of this documentary and go see it.

ps. Several people have pointed out to me that the maker of the documentary, Joshua Oppenheimer, is the son of retired University of Maryland political science professor Joe Oppenheimer.

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Reactions to Obama’s Decision to Cancel Summit with Putin in September

Earlier today the White House announced that President Obama would cancel his planned September summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Here are some thoughts on this decision from my colleagues at PONARS Eurasia:

Kimberly Marten, Barnard College, Columbia University:

Obama did exactly the right thing: a symbolic personal rebuff for a symbolic personal rebuff. Obama had made it clear that the Snowden case was his line in the sand, and Putin crossed that line unnecessarily. Putin could have chosen instead to give the Snowden request the 3-month administrative consideration period that the Kremlin originally mentioned when he originally made his asylum application, rather than granting Snowden the yearlong temporary asylum straight off. It looks like the meeting in Washington tomorrow between Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel and their Russian counterparts is still on, and that is the truly substantive part of the diplomatic interaction anyway. Assuming that the Russian side doesn’t cancel their participation in that meeting, then there has been no real change in the quality of the relationship.

Andrey Makarychev, Public Service Academy (Nizhny Novgorod, Russia) and Free University of Berlin:
The cancellation of the Russia – US summit is a strong indication of the growing international isolation of the Kremlin. It is quite predictable that the G20 summit in St.Petersburg may turn into an event devoid of substance and therefore a diplomatic / PR failure for Moscow. Also expectable is that Putin won’t be able to win the already launched information war against the Sochi Olympics. The key question is how soon Putin will understand that he overrated his resources.

Cory Welt, George Washington University:
The decision to cancel the bilateral summit was unfortunate but expected. It does leave one wondering about the decision to schedule the summit in the first place. The official explanation for the cancellation focused less on Russia’s decision to grant Snowden asylum than the fact that there has not been “enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda” to justify a summit. That is obviously true – but it was also true when the administration announced the summit to begin with. In the end, we’re back to the point we should have been – lower-profile efforts to move forward on a multi-pronged agenda without the high expectations that a summit would bring.


Pavel Baev, International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Norway:

I think the ‘Snowden affair’ has provided a useful pretext for canceling a really useless summit. The Obama administration has taken the worst possible course in the awkward situation, making it impossible for Russia to extradite Edward Snowden or even to send him to a “safe haven”, and implicitly adding credibility to his revelations. What is, however, a far greater blunder is the belief that Putin might be convinced to proceed with deep reduction of strategic and nuclear arsenals, so that the policy of “reset” would produce historic legacy of Obama’s presidency.

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The Imperfect but Real Effects of International Institutions on LGBT Rights in Europe

So far I have made two points in my mini-series on human rights: that international human rights institutions at best have modest effects in countries where the opportunity structure permits international influence and that I am not persuaded by the argument that human rights institutions would work better if they focused only on the “ideals that inspired the human rights movement in the first place.”

It makes sense to follow up with some evidence that an international human rights institution did successfully influence non-traditional rights, albeit in a limited way. The case that I will discuss is the impact European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings have had on LGBT rights in Europe. It is based on a paper (forthcoming in International Organization) that I wrote with Duke law professor Larry Helfer. With Europe we mean all 47 Council of Europe member states, which includes Russia, Turkey, Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Serbia and many other countries where public acceptance of homosexuality is among the lowest in the world.

The document that the ECtHR is supposed to interpret, the European Convention on Human Rights, makes no mention of homosexuality or sexual orientation. Thus, states have not explicitly delegated the Court the authority to uphold LGBT rights. Yet, we find that ECtHR rulings that find a certain practice, such as criminalizing homosexuality, a violation of the Convention have a substantial effect on policy change. However, this effect is only manifest in countries where public support for homosexuality is low and where a government is in power that does not draw its primary support from rural, religious, or nationalist bases (see graph below).

In countries with high levels of public acceptance and an urban and non-religious government, policy change happens without international legal action. Rural, religious, and nationalist governments tend to resist liberalization regardless. Yet low public support but a government that is not necessarily ideologically opposed to liberalization creates an opportunity for an international intervention to make a difference. We estimate that a substantial number of countries, especially in Eastern and Southern Europe, have more liberal LGBT rights laws than we would have expected in the absence of international court action.

Let me back up a bit and explain how we got there and what all of this means in the context of the current backlash against LGBT rights in some of these countries, most notably Russia.
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Political Communication and Repression in Russia – Or What Do Alexei Navalny and Mitt Romney Have in Common?

Alexei Navalny getting arrested

The following is a guest post from political scientists Graeme Robertson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Samuel Greene of King’s College London.


On Thursday  July 18, as anyone with more than a passing interest in Russia or the Monkey Cage already knows, Russian anti-corruption campaigner and Moscow Mayoral candidate, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment on charges of embezzling about $500 000 from a forestry firm for which he had never worked. The trial had been a long time in the works and the sentence was not surprising. Yet somehow, even if it was not surprising, it was still jarring – to us at least. That travesties of justice and political repression have become expected in Russia these days is no reason not to be horrified when they happen.

So much for the morality of the case, what about the politics? Repression, after all, is not just personal, but also political, and is intended not just to deal with a particular target, but also “pour encourager les autres”. Moreover, Navalny is no ordinary defendant, but a candidate right in the middle of a race to become mayor of Russia’s capital city – perhaps the third most high profile position in Russia after president and prime minister. The prosecutors themselves requested that the court release Navalny pending his appeal, giving him some time – maybe a month, maybe two – to campaign ahead of the September 8 ballot. So how did the political message of Navalny’s trial go down with ‘les autres’? As it happens, not much differently than a Mitt Romney ad in the U.S.—more about that in a minute.

There has been much debate about what the Navalny verdict and subsequent decision to release him pending appeal would mean for Russian politics. Fortunately, we have some data that allow informed (if clearly not definitive) analysis of these issues. The data come from two sources – daily telephone tracking polls looking at levels of support for the various candidates in the Moscow race (conducted by Synovate ComCon), and an Internet survey of educated, middle-class Muscovites that was in the field when the verdict was handed down (conducted by the authors with the generous financial support of the Smith Richardson Foundation).

The first thing to note is just how politically tuned in educated, middle class Muscovites are. In the 48 hours after the verdict (when the field work was completed), some 87 percent of respondents in our Internet sample reported being aware of the case against Navalny, and 70 percent said they knew the verdict. Interestingly, the high levels of awareness of the Navalny case do not seem exceptional – fully 89 percent of respondents said that they had head of the trials of the Bolotnoe protesters. Of these, only 15 percent thought the sentences handed down in these cases appropriate, while 53 percent saw the Bolotnoe cases as “political show trials”. In other words, the public message of repression in today’s Russia is “received and understood”.

So how is Russian repression like a Mitt Romney ad? Because the Navalny sentence produced more or less the same effect you get from launching a big television ad buy in a US presidential election – a short-lived bounce that dissipates in a week. For Navalny, being repressed by the Putin regime was worth about a 10-point bounce in the polls. In the internet survey, of the 492 respondents who answered either before the sentences were announced, or who were unaware of the verdict, 12 percent said they intended to vote for Navalny in the mayoral election. Among those who answered after and knew the verdict (151 people), Navalny’s support was 23 percent. Without a panel design, we can’t know who moved, but in aggregate all of that bounce seems to have come at the expense the incumbent and Putin-favored candidate Sergei Sobyanin, whose support fell from 34 percent to 24 percent.

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Flood Exposure and Civic Engagement

From a new paper by Jacob N. ShapiroPatrick M. KuhnC. Christine Fair, and Neil Malhotra:

Leveraging diverse data sources (geospatial measures of flooding, election returns, and an original survey of 13,282 Pakistani households), we show that flood exposure led Pakistanis to have more aggressive attitudes about civic engagement, increased both turnout and vote share for the party in power in 2010, and led to a rejection of militant groups and small particularistic parties. In this case a major natural disaster which created a transient economic shock also led to major changes in citizens’ attitudes and civic engagement. These results call into question the interpretation of a broad set of papers and tie into a rich literature in political science showing that disasters can have complicated political effects that are often quite divorced from their economic impacts.

Earlier I blogged about the potential lasting electoral effects of responses to floods based on evidence from Germany. Here is Dan Hopkins on what we know how Katrina affected U.S. public opinion. Here is John Sides on hurricanes and Josh Tucker discussing research on shark attacks and floods. In all, the evidence quite strongly suggests that natural disasters have political effects beyond the economic shocks that they might cause.

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Political Depolarization in Germany

Simon Munzerta and Paul Bauer have a new paper:

Public opinion polarization has decreased over the last three decades in Germany. In particular, highly educated and more politically interested people have become less polarized over time. However, polarization seems to have increased in attitudes regarding gender issues. These findings provide interesting contrasts to existing research on the American public.

Here’s what they do:

Public opinion polarization is conceptualized and measured as alignment of attitudes. Data from the German General Social Survey (1980 to 2010) comprise attitudes towards manifold issues, which are classified into several dimensions. This study estimates multilevel models that reveal general and issue- as well as dimension-specific levels and trends in attitude alignment for both the whole German population and sub-groups.

Their method follows what Delia and I did using the NES to study the well-known phenomenon of increasing political polarization in the U.S.

I don’t know much about polarization in different countries; the topic seems very much worth studying.

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The Strange Court Case of Aleksei Navalny: What Comes Next?

The following guest post is from McGill University political scientist Maria Popova, the author of Politicized Justice in Emerging Democracies: a Study of Courts in Russia and Ukraine (Cambridge University Press, 2012).


On July 18th, Russia’s best known oppositionist, anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to 5 years in prison.  His co-defendant, Pyotr Ofitserov received 4 years.  After Judge Blinov from Kirov’s Leninskii District Court finished reading the verdicts, the convicted were taken into custody and sent to jail, where they would await the results of their appeals.  Few were surprised by the guilty verdicts, but many had expected the sentences to be suspended, rather than effective. Certainly, no one expected what happened next.  On July 19th, the prosecutor asked the court to release Navalny and Ofitserov on bail.  The prosecutor argued that Navalny had a constitutional right to contest the September 2013 Moscow mayoral election, for which he had been registered as an official candidate only a couple of days earlier.  Judge Blinov immediately granted the prosecution’s request and by the end of the day Navalny and Ofitserov were back in Moscow, where they addressed a crowd of jubilant supporters.  The unprecedented nature of what happened in the provincial Russian courtroom cannot be overstated.  Releasing a convicted person on bail, although possible under the Russian Criminal Procedural Code, is an exceedingly rare occurrence.  Rare, as in there may have been a handful of cases in recent memory.  A request for bail from the prosecution, rather than from the defense, experienced Russian jurists claim, is a first!

The convictions and the swift bail release are perceived in Russia and abroad as an indication of the subordination of the judiciary to political incumbents, rather than as a reflection of the vagaries of the legal process.  The bail release is not an unequivocal victory for the defendants, but, at best, a short respite.  Russian acquittal rates are below 1% and appellate courts usually decrease, rather than increase, this percentage.  At worst, as a prominent Russian lawyer, Genri Reznik, put it, by convicting and then releasing Navalny, the regime showed who was boss.  With the convictions the regime turned the court from an adjudicative organ into a punitive one and with the bail release it turned the prosecution from an accusatory organ into one employed by the defense  (text in Russian available here).

What comes next for Navalny?  He has re-stated his intention to contest the Moscow mayoral election and his determination to win the race.  However, he may not be able to finish the campaign and stand in the election due to the conviction that is now hanging over him.  Russian municipal election law prohibits persons with convictions “that have entered into legal force” from standing in an election.  If and when Navalny’s conviction “enters into legal force”, the Moscow election commission will be legally obligated to take down his registration and remove him from the ballot.  The question is when the conviction can or will enter into force.  According to the Russian Criminal Procedural Code, first-instance court convictions enter into force 10 days after they have been issued, if there is no appeal filed.  We can assume that Navalny will appeal.  Then the conviction enters into force on the day the appellate court upholds it.  If the appellate court in Kirov upholds his conviction before election day (September 8th), Navalny will be out of the race and will not be allowed to continue campaigning.  The prosecution and the Kirov court moved very quickly with the bail hearing, so it appears possible that the appellate court could rule on the appeal soon.

Generalizing from the Navalny trial about the functioning of the entire Russian judiciary is problematic, not only because this is only one case, but also because of the very high salience of the Navalny prosecution.  Research that goes beyond the high-profile cases has painted a more mixed picture of the performance of the Russian judiciary.  Yes, there is evidence that Russian judicial independence is circumscribed by strong discipline within the judicial hierarchy, court financing by the regional authorities, practices of ex parte communication, and other structural conditions (Solomon Jr and Foglesong, 2000; Baird and Javeline, 2010; Ledeneva, 2008; Popova 2012).  But Russian courts at all levels are also routinely used by comparatively high and ever increasing numbers of Russian citizens to settle civil and business disputes and to seek redress for the unlawful behavior of state representatives (Solomon Jr. 2004, Hendley, 2002, 2004, Trochev 2012, etc.).  Moreover, a comparison of Russian and Ukrainian judicial output in the late 1990s-early 2000s suggests that in two important legal issue areas (electoral registration disputes and defamation lawsuits against media outlets), the Russian courts were less politicized than the Ukrainian courts (Popova, 2010; Popova 2012).  In Russia, politically powerful plaintiffs had less advantage over other plaintiffs when they went to court.

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