2013 Austrian Parliamentary Elections: Pre-Election Report

The Austrian Voter

We are please to continue our series of Election Reports with the following pre-election report on the September 29, 2013 Austrian parliamentary elections by political scientists Sylvia Kritzinger, Michael Lewis-Beck, and Eva Zeglovits, three of the authors of The Austrian Voter.


On September 29, Austrian citizens will vote in the National Council elections. It is their first such vote since the extension of the legislative period from four to five years. Further, the two government parties, SPÖ and ÖVP, have not had to fight any regional or local elections for over two years. Though such a honeymoon period is rather unique, the government failed to make decisions over necessary reforms resulting in a standstill in most policy areas (pensions, higher education, the health system, etc.). Most importantly, new parties have entered the political scene, confronting the two ‘old’ mainstream parties with decreasing electoral support.

Austria has been known for its relative stability, with the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) holding together more than 90% of the votes for decades.  Hence, current developments make this election particularly interesting. First, since 1986, the Greens and the radical right (FPÖ) have offered serious challenges to this duopoly. And the 2013 campaign remains particularly special, with more parties than ever poised to play a role in the distribution of the 183 National Council seats.

Most prominently, Austro-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach and his newly founded party Team Stronach are running, and the Austrian National Elections Study (AUTNES) survey foresees that his party will obtain seats. Moreover, Team Stronach poses trouble for the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) – a splinter party off the FPÖ, with popular Jörg Haider chairing it until his death in 2008. Stronach convinced some former BZÖ MPs to desert the BZÖ and form a parliamentary club for the Team Stronach. In all, these days there are six parties represented in the National Council, an all time high in Austrian politics.

Team Stronach also challenges the other radical right party in the Austrian National Council: the FPÖ. Team Stronach competes along similar electoral lines as the FPÖ: it is skeptical towards the European integration process, demands to leave the euro, and denounces the Austrian political system and its political class. In the past, the FPÖ ‘owned’ all these issues. Unlike the FPÖ though, Team Stronach does not tackle the issue of immigration, which was a major FPÖ issue in the last electoral campaign.

Finally, a new liberal party – the NEOS – also tries to capture the support from the center-right Austrian citizens. Unlike Team Stronach, however, it is far from certain whether the NEOS will pass the threshold of 4 per cent to gain a seat in the National Council. All in all, in this year’s election there is fierce competition on the right-hand side of the ideological political spectrum: 5 serious competitors are fighting for votes. The left-hand side of the ideological spectrum is emptier: only the Social Democrats and the Greens are serious contenders here.

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What’s Wrong with “What’s Wrong with Obama?”

(With apologies to Larry Bartels…)

Yesterday’s Politico story trumpeting (despite the question mark) “What’s Wrong with Obama?” is a great endorsement of William Howell’s recent book with David Brent, which argues that presidents seeking power should – to put it bluntly – shoot first and ask questions later. Obama is portrayed by Politico’s John Harris and Todd Purdum as far too attached to nuance, complexity, and deliberation (read: dithering) when “this president lately has faced situations that cried out for a black-and-white sense of purpose, and unquestioned public command.” As a result “his presidency is in a parlous state….”

The Politico take is certainly consonant with the various accusations of presidential weakness that have accompanied Obama’s policy maneuverings with regard to Syria. The pundits (some examples are here), plus politicians from left to right— Sen. Bernie Sanders to a collection of former Bush staffers —have certainly made their feelings clear on this point.

All this suggests Howell has a solid point when he argues that “in every policy domain, presidents must not only demonstrate involvement, they must act – and they must do so for all to see, visibly, forthrightly, and expediently. Deliberation must not substitute for action” (p. 6)….”Presidents who fail to act, even when the statutory or constitutional basis for action is dubious, face the prospect of a substantial political backlash…” (p. 105).  (It’s worth noting that Philip Heymann’s experimental work on foreign policy decisionmaking had similar findings, showing “the powerful tendency” – even among experts – “to follow an individual who is more certain rather than more deliberative” (Living the Policy Process, p. 141)).

Note that Howell’s book does not take a position on whether this is a good thing. I will: it’s not. Continue Reading →

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We Want a Syria Solution That’s Feasible and Legitimate. Here’s Why It’s Hard to Have Both.

This is a guest post by David Held, Professor of Politics and International Relations at Durham University, and Kyle McNally, a Researcher and PhD Candidate at Durham University.


There has been a great deal said, and written, about Syria in the last month.  A general consensus recognizes that there are no good options but that something must be done.  But the problem goes even deeper than this.  In many cases, the feasibility of a solution is inversely related to its legitimacy.  That is to say, for many options, the more likely the potential solution is to be implemented, the less legitimate it is, in global terms.

Take, for instance, the example of US military strikes. This is certainly feasible.  But were Obama to launch missiles into Syria, he would face widespread condemnation from the world community; such an action, it has been argued, would be a violation of international law and would undermine the credibility of the United Nations system.  In short, it lacks legitimacy.  By contrast, consider a military strike by an alliance such as NATO.  This would have more legitimacy, but it is not feasible given the opposition to military strikes among key NATO members.

There are options that would have more legitimacy: such as the creation of a safe zone for humanitarian aid delivery, peacekeeping forces on the ground, a political or diplomatic resolution to the crisis, and a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration campaign to transition the country back into stability.  These would necessarily have to be a project initiated and implemented by the United Nations, so right away it’s clear these are not very feasible.

The challenge, therefore, is to find an option that does not compromise legitimacy for feasibility.  Perhaps by clever diplomacy or perhaps by a ‘rhetorical’ stumble, one such option may have presented itself last week, when the Russian Foreign Minister, Lavrov, capitalized on what appeared to be a flippant remark made by John Kerry only hours earlier.  Kerry, with a tone of sarcasm, said that the Assad regime could avoid military strikes if they surrendered their stockpile of chemical weapons.

The US State Department quickly tried to back off this position and explained it as a ‘rhetorical argument’; however, the wheels of diplomacy were already in motion.  Russia quickly presented this to the Syrian government, who have since accepted the deal in principle.  With US-Russia agreement on the basic terms of the deal, the world now waits to see if Assad will cooperate and abide by the requirements they have set out.

Questions linger as to how this deal will be brokered into implementation—principally, questions over the use of force if Assad does not comply, and what role the UN Security Council will play in the end. As of now, this approach enjoys the legitimacy of the international community, strengthens international law, and at least for time being might even be feasible.

Beyond this, the civil war will continue to rage and the options here look even more dire. The truism that there is only a solution through politics remains.  Perhaps with the doors open to Moscow and Tehran, there is scope for more political manoeuvring, manoeuvring that might lead to a transformation of the Syrian regime and the ultimate removal of Assad. But this would still leave a war torn country bitterly divided with factions and jihadists still at war with each other, and armed greater than ever before.  Introducing democracy in such a context, while desirable in principle, is improbable and can even be dangerous; without the grassroots development of a culture of citizenship, democracy can simply magnify identity politics.

If a deal on Syria was to occur, and peace achieved, the conditions might be created for freedom to begin to flourish.  Infrastructures of freedom, embedding freedom of the press, association and expression, could begin to be built.  Civil society associations might be entrenched and activists encouraged to create links across sectarian divides on the many common issues all such people share: the need for security, subsistence, schooling, jobs and so on.  With such institutions in place a culture of politics might begin to flourish which separates ethnic and religious identities from constitutional structures and autonomous political processes. The separation of both rulers and ruled from the state – a critical condition of modern political structures which imposes the rule of law on all – could begin to be set in place. But we are a long way from here.

If the latest Russian-American deal on Assad’s chemical weapons sticks, diplomatic circles across the world may well celebrate this as a great victory.  Putin’s Russia will be emboldened in the international system and politicians will deliver polite speeches trying to take credit for the success.  Meanwhile, the killing fields remain undisturbed and in desperate search of an alternative politics – one that is both feasible and legitimate.

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The Fed’s QE3 lives on

qe3hatAnd so does my hat!

Much has already been written about the economic implications of yesterday’s pedal to the metal decision by the Fed: The Fed’s open market committee will continue to pump money into the economy, contrary to expectations that an improving economy would lead the Fed to slow the pace of its bond purchases.  Leaving the economics to others, I offer just a few quick thoughts on the political implications of the surprising (for many) decision.

First, I was struck (though hardly surprised) by Chairman Ben Bernanke’s response to a reporter’s question about the potential impact on the Fed of the political contest over Bernanke’s successor.

CHAIRMAN BERNANKE: “I think the Federal Reserve has strong institutional credibility, and it is a strong institution, highly competent institution, and it’s independent, it’s nonpartisan, and I am not particularly concerned about the political environment for the Federal Reserve. I think the Fed will be—continue to be an important institution in the United States and that it will maintain its independence going forward.”

Bernanke often emphasizes the Fed’s non-partisanship, as he should given the widely held norm of central bank independence. But yesterday’s news drives home a different way of thinking about the impact of political context of the Fed’s decision-making.  Far from its claims of immunity to politics, the Fed is acutely aware that partisan congressional politics shapes the Fed’s conduct of monetary policy.  That was precisely Bernanke’s point in detailing one of the reasons why the Fed would put off tapering its asset purchases:  “If these actions [threats to shutdown the government and to default on the nation’s debt] led the economy to slow, then we would have to take that into account,” Mr Bernanke said.  The Fed yesterday opted to duck out of the partisan winds and let them pass over while the Fed takes stock of the economic impact of events on Capitol Hill.

Second, the Fed’s decision to keep QE3 in place potentially grants more leeway to Bernanke’s successor  (presumably Janet Yellen). This assumes that the Fed will continue to hold off trimming its bond purchases until after the Senate confirms Bernanke’s successor.  The sooner the Fed begins its exit, the less the discretion of the incoming chair.  Hard to know of course whether the Fed intentionally held off in anticipation of the change in leadership or whether this is just an unintended consequence of keeping the Fed’s punch bowl filled to the rim.   Either way, the timing of the taper will no doubt take center stage when the Senate Banking panel begins confirmation hearings for Bernanke’s successor.

Finally, I am reminded of something Bernanke said a year ago at his September 2012 press conference when the Fed formally launched a third round of quantitative easing.  Bernanke noted that the consensus on the committee was so broad that “even as personnel changes going forward, this will be seen as the appropriate approach and we will have created a reserve of credibility we can use in subsequent episodes.”   The difficulty the Fed has had in communicating its policy intentions since last spring complicates the Fed’s ability to build a “reserve of credibility.”  And as hard as the Fed seems to be trying to get monetary policy right, partisan politics in Washington (particularly within the House GOP conference) continues to confound the Fed’s progress.  The Fed will likely continue to face both of these challenges—communications and fiscal headwinds—for some time.  Hope I don’t lose the hat in the wind.

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Why Do Policy Makers Hate International Relations Scholarship?

Paul Avey and Michael Desch have a forthcoming article in International Studies Quarterly, that supplements the ranking work that Erik summarizes below. The conclusions bear out the claims of Joe Nye and others that there is an increasing gap between academic international relations and the kind of work that US senior policy makers care about. Some 45% of the senior policy makers who answered Avey and Desch’s survey have training in international relations or political science. It doesn’t seem to have taken.

Aside from Economics, the scholarly disciplines that policymakers found of greatest use were Area Studies and History. … compared to the other disciplines, Political Science did rather poorly (see figure 1). This lower ranking may reflect the fact that in recent years the discipline has become dominated by more complex methodologies such as formal modeling and statistics. Policymakers tend to eschew, in the words of one respondent, “all formulaic academic, as opposed to historically based temperamental, realist projects,” preferring, in the words of another, “historical analysis, case studies, theoretical writings that illustrate theory with case studies and concrete examples.” … the higher the rank of the government official, the less likely he or she was to think that formal models were useful for policymaking.

There are a number of possible responses that international relations scholars could make to this (e.g. to argue that political science is in the business of finding out about the world, not helping policy makers, or to argue that it’s not US policy makers who international relations scholars should be trying to help). Or scholars could argue (as many have) that we should reform political science to move away from quantitative techniques and formal modeling towards more policy relevant work.

However, I can’t help wondering whether Avey and Desch’s piece misses out on some of the interesting things that have been happening over the last couple of years. They mention the Monkey Cage (among other blogs) as an interesting model of communication, but also caution that the Internet is full of unreliable information. But what we have seen over the last couple of years is an explosion of interest in political science results (some of them based on sophisticated quantitative or formal analysis; some derived from sophisticated qualitative research) that are cleanly presented and obviously relevant. Most of this interest has been in work in the field of Americanist political science – but this field is even more notoriously disliked by political types than international relations. Nonetheless, thanks to the efforts of Ezra Klein and others, it’s built up a real audience. We furthermore have reason to understand that some of our work at the Monkey Cage has had significant take up among policy makers.

This suggests not only that Avey and Desch’s cautious optimism about the prospects for short, punchy timely work could be strengthened, but that methodological sophistication is not a natural enemy of public interest. The problem lies less in methodological approach than in choice of topic (much international relations work is tediously self referential), disciplinary self-understanding (many international relations scholars don’t value public outreach, and don’t have disciplinary incentives to value it) and lack of venue. The last of these at least, we and other bloggers are working on (and will be able to work on better in The Monkey Cage when it starts to reach the larger audience of Washington Post readers). The decision of both Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy to create big active websites soliciting timely content has built another venue that academics can use to connect to a policy audience. I can’t help wonder whether a survey of policy makers say, in five years time, would respond quite differently to a survey, thanks not only to generational shift among policy makers, but structural changes in political science. The incentives are shifting in interesting ways.

Update: Avey and Desch apparently have a guest-post on their findings in the Monkey Cage pipeline (we’re an autonomous collective – what can I say … )

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Will the Media Treat Navy Yard Like Newtown?

This is a guest post by my GW colleague Danny Hayes.


In the aftermath of Monday’s deadly rampage at Washington’s Navy Yard, gun control will no doubt surge back into the news. But how long will it stay there?

If the months since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre are any indication, the media are likely to lose interest quickly – unless gun control makes its way back onto the legislative agenda.

As has been documented elsewhere, news coverage after mass shootings follows a pattern. In a shooting’s immediate wake, gun control coverage spikes, before receding back into relative obscurity. This happened after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, the 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the 2012 attack at an Aurora, Co. movie theater.

But the pattern following Sandy Hook was different, and instructive. The graph below displays the number of stories that included the phrase “gun control” for each week since December 2012. The data come from a search of more than 500 outlets in the U.S. News & Wires database in Lexis-Nexis.


Like with other shootings, gun control coverage increased dramatically after the Newtown massacre, but tailed off within a few weeks. But in contrast to other cases, gun control arrived back on the front page in early January, when President Obama issued a series of executive actions intended to reduce gun violence.

The president’s influence, however immediate, was short-lived, as media attention fell off through the early spring. It was only in April – when a Senate bill to expand background checks failed to surmount a filibuster – that the issue gained prominence again.

Since the bill’s demise, gun control has largely disappeared from debates on Capitol Hill – and with it, the news. While advocates have continued to push for change at both the state and federal levels (with one group coincidentally on lobbying trip to Washington this week), the national media’s interest has continued to wane. Even Giffords’ nationwide tour in July failed to stop the slide.

This pattern suggests that only if Sen. Dianne Feinstein gets her way, with Congress taking up gun control legislation once again, will a renewed media debate over gun control occur. If political leaders in Washington decide the issue isn’t worth pursuing, the media are likely to turn their attention elsewhere – whether back to Syria, the next NSA intelligence-gathering revelation, or the looming battle over the debt ceiling.

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The Confusing State of US-Russian Relations

I was honored to be invited last week by the New American Foundation president Anne-Marie Slaughter to submit a contribution to her new Weekly Wonk Newsletter.  Here’s the first couple paragraphs of what I wrote:

It is hard to imagine a more interesting—and confusing—time to take stock of modern U.S.-Russian relations. My Twitter feed is currently ablaze with reports of the possibility that the #US will adopt the #Russia plan for solving the current #Syria crisis. At the same time, Vladimir Putin has just critiqued President Obama on the op-ed page of  The New York Times.  These seemingly unexpected and contradictory developments reflect the fact that there are two fundamental realities shaping the bilateral relationship today today: Russian domestic politics and the fact that both nations continue to have a series of shared and conflicting international interests.

First, the recent direction of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin in terms of the domestic political sphere is anathema to most of the values that the United States professes to support in its friends and allies: a free press, fair and competitive elections, civil rights for minorities, an independent judiciary, and so on. It seems that hardly more than a few weeks can go by without something happening in Russia that reminds American policymakers of how different the two regimes can be. The recent flight from the country of the distinguished economist Sergei Guriev and the trialconviction, and releaseof recent Moscow mayoral candidate and opposition leader Alexander Navalny are but two examples, as are recent laws against “homosexual propaganda.” This is not to say that the United States does not cooperate with foreign regimes that have less than stellar democratic records. At the same time, though, the post-Cold War history of U.S.-Russian relations has been filled repeatedly with the promise of Russia becoming “more democratic” and of potential “resets.” To the extent that this promise isn’t fulfilled, the relationship (rightly or wrongly) suffers.

Then there is Vladimir Putin’s standing in his own country. Putin has enjoyed periods of time, especially in the first decade of his presidency, when he was a genuinely popular leader. He gave Russians a flourishing economy, rising oil prices that helped the country escape from Western loans and IMF bailouts, and much needed stability after the Yeltsin years. Today, however, Putin is less popular.  Economic growth has slowed, and the Kremlin has done little to diversify their economy beyond extractive industries. The perception of corruption among the ruling elite is widespread.  The growing middle class in Russia has become disillusioned with the impunity of its self-enriching leaders, and the newest generation lacks the memory of why Putin was embraced in the first place.

All of these factors have added up to a situation where Putin II needs to reach farther to affirm his legitimacy than Putin I ever did. And one way Putin has been doing this, borrowing from a familiar theme in Russian political rhetoric that reached its height during the Cold War years, is by casting himself as a defender of Russian values against Western—particularly American—encroachment. It’s a rational strategy, but Putin also seems to take a certain glee in needling his U.S. “partners,” as evidenced most recently by his reactions to the Edward Snowden affair and his NY Times op-ed.  Scapegoating the West is an easy way out in difficult times, as evidenced by Putin’s rush to denounce protesters who took to the streets of Moscow following claims of fraud in the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections as being instruments of “foreign agents”. And as long as Putin and his surrounding ruling elite are running the show in Russia, U.S.-Russian relations are going to face an uphill struggle.

The rest of the piece can be found on the Weekly Wonk’s website here, or, if you prefer, at Time Magazine here.  And for those of you who want even more on US-Russia relations, I also appeared on the Weekly Wonk’s new podcast to discuss the topic; I come in around the 13th minute.

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U.S. Gun Laws and Violence in Mexico


Yesterday’s terrible events at the Navy Yard will undoubtedly light up debates again about a possible ban on assault weapons. This issue is relevant not just in the U.S. but also south of the border where U.S. gun laws are believed to be partially responsible for increases in homicides. Some argue that this is just a convenient scapegoat but there is some solid social science evidence that the 2004 expiration of the U.S. Federal Assault Weapons Ban did have an effect on homicides in Mexico.

One paper I blogged about before, by  Arindrajit Dube (UMass)Oeindrila Dube (NYU) and Omar Garcia Ponce (NYU), is now the lead article (ungated for now, I believe) in the  American Political Science Review, the premier academic journal in political science. The graph above displays some of the evidence: homicides increased more in areas close to U.S. states that did not have a pre-existing ban than in California, which upheld its prior ban on assault weapons. The abstract is below:

To what extent, and under what conditions, does access to arms fuel violent crime? To answer this question, we exploit a unique natural experiment: the 2004 expiration of the U.S. Federal Assault Weapons Ban exerted a spillover on gun supply in Mexican municipios near Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, but not near California, which retained a pre-existing state-level ban. We find first that Mexican municipios located closer to the non-California border states experienced differential increases in homicides, gun-related homicides, and crime gun seizures after 2004. Second, the magnitude of this effect is contingent on political factors related to Mexico’s democratic transition. Killings increased disproportionately in municipios where local elections had become more competitive prior to 2004, with the largest differentials emerging in high narco-trafficking areas. Our findings suggest that competition undermined informal agreements between drug cartels and entrenched local governments, highlighting the role of political conditions in mediating the gun-crime relationship.

One may doubt that the plausible externalities of U.S. gun laws will be taken seriously in policy debates. That is probably so but this is a major issue among immigrants from Central America (not just Mexico). Hispanics are overwhelmingly supportive of stronger gun laws and we keep hearing that they are an important demographic.

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Ranking Universities Based on Policy Relevance

Peter Campbell and Michael Desch have developed new rankings of scholars and universities. The authors take specific issue with NRC rankings. Here is their description at Foreign Affairs (ungated for 4 weeks):

With the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we have ranked the top fifty political science departments based on 37 different measures of scholarly excellence and broader policy relevance of their international relations faculty. We have done the same thing for the 442 individual scholars in that group. The full results are available here: www.nd.edu/~carnrank.

Have fun with the data and report back with interesting findings.

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