Reading recommendation: Populism and democracy

The online publication the Conversation recently started an informative and interesting series on the phenomena of populism.

The series also includes contributions and analysis from members of our research unit on democracy and democratization at the WZB.

In the latest post of the series, which sets out to explore the origins of the rise of populism and its complex relationship with democracy Thamy Pogrebinschi, John Keane and Wolfgang Merkel contributed their perspectives on the recent or not so recent development of rising populism in democracies. Below you will find the short contributions of the three. If you are interested in what the other contributers had to say you should check out the above hyperlinks to the original post on the Conversation.

Thamy Pogrebinschi sets out to differentiate variants of contemporary populisms and concludes that rather than an ideology populism itself serves as a politically empty cocoon that ultimately is characterised by its appeal to popular souvereignity and actually points to the underlying problematique of capitalism and democracy. She writes:

The concept of populism is highly contestable, but clarifying the difference between its left-wing and right-wing variants is both the best and the worst starting point for making sense of its contours.

Populism is not an ideology. Yet populism of the left and populism of the right produce different sets of ideas, identities and effects. Populism can be so politically empty that it joins forces with ideologies as different as socialism and nationalism. Populist discourses can thus favour exclusion, or inclusion.

The experiences of Latin America and Europe illustrate this difference well. In Latin America, populism has tried to include workers and middle class citizens socially dislocated by capitalism. In contemporary Europe, populism is attempting to exclude people dislocated by wars, and by capitalism in different parts of the world.

In both cases, however, the appeal to popular sovereignty exposes the deep tension between democracy and capitalism. We should therefore care less about definitions, and ask the real question: is representative democracy now so overshadowed by capitalism that it is no longer able to make room for the popular sovereignty upon which it was founded?

John Keane highlights the historical dimension of the complex and problematic relationship between democracy and populism going back to the greek concept ‚dēmokrateo‘ concluding that what is necessary to tackle today’s populist movements is a radikal egalitarian and redistributive turn in order top restore faith in our democracies. He writes:

Ancient Greeks knew democracy could be snuffed out by rich and powerful aristoi backed by demagogues ruling the people in their own name. They even had a verb (now obsolete) for describing how people are ruled while seeming to rule. They called it dēmokrateo. It’s the word we need for making sense of the contradiction that cuts through contemporary populism.

Populism is a democratic phenomenon. Mobilised through available democratic freedoms, it’s a public protest by millions of people (the demos) who feel annoyed, powerless, no longer “held” in the arms of society.

The analyst D W Winnicott used the term to warn that people who feel dropped strike back. That’s the populist moment when humiliated people lash out in support of demagogues promising them dignity. They do so not because they “naturally” crave leaders, or yield to the inherited “fascism in us all”.

Populism attracts people because it raises their expectations of betterment. But there’s a price. In exchange for promises of popular sovereignty, populism easily mass produces figures like Napoleon Bonaparte, Benito Mussolini, Viktor Orbán and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

And in contrast to the 19th-century populist politics of enfranchisement, today’s populism has exclusionary effects. The dēmokrateo of it all isn’t stoppable by anodyne calls for “dialogue”, or false hopes populism will somehow burn itself out. What’s needed is something more radically democratic: a new politics of equitable redistribution of power, wealth and life chances that shows populism to be a form of counterfeit democracy.

Once upon a time, such political redistribution was called “democracy”, or “welfare state”, or “socialism”.

Wolfgang Merkel argues that the emerging right wing populism in Europe has three main causes: (1) discontent with European integration; (2) economic exclusion; (3) disaffection and fear of influx of migrants. He thus sees the rise of right wing populism as a rebellion of the disenfranchised and concludes that politicians from established political parties should aim to listen to the disenfrenchised and grant them a voice. He writes:

From a normative standpoint, things are clear: cosmopolitans who uphold equality, global justice, ethno-religious tolerance and human rights cannot accept right-wing populism. Nationalism, chauvinism, ethno-religious intolerance are incommensurable with the values of an open and tolerant society.

Things are less clear when we try to explain the rise of right-wing populist parties. People who belong to the enlightened, cosmopolitan, middle and upper classes often argue that right-wing populism is the result of a demagoguery that is especially attractive to uneducated people from the lower classes. This explanation is not just inadequate; it bespeaks arrogant ignorance.

Right-wing populism in Europe has three causes: a general discontent with European integration; economic exclusion; and disaffection and fear of a large influx of migrants and refugees. Large swathes of the lower middle class complain of their exclusion from public discourse. The neo-liberal version of globalisation and the general failure of the moderate left to address the distributive question have created feelings of impotence and marginalisation among the lower classes.

Right-wing populism is thus a rebellion of the disenfranchised. The establishment parties have arguably committed serious political errors. It’s high time that they leave their fortress of normative arrogance and grant a democratic voice to the non-represented. If they fail to do so, right-wing populists will transform our democracies: they will become more parochial, intolerant and polarised.


The Conversation kindly allowed us to repost the above statements. Here is the link to the original post.

The Suspension of the Recall Referendum in Venezuela

This post is a guest contribution by Laura Gamboa from Utah State University and Raul A. Sanchez Urribarri from La Trobe University, Melbourne.

For a couple of years now, Venezuela has been going through a severe crisis: it has the world’s highest inflation, increasing scarcity, rising crime and deepening authoritarianism. In order to address the crisis, the coalition Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) –which groups the country’s most important opposition parties and won the 2015 Legislative elections—has been pushing, since June, for a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro. After allowing different stages of the referendum to move forward, on October 21st, the Venezuelan Electoral Council (CNE) suspended the process. This controversial decision followed a series of lower courts’ rulings in the states of Carabobo, Apure, Aragua and Bolívar, in response to lawsuits introduced by ruling-party (PSUV) governors accusing the opposition of committing fraud in earlier steps of the process, that had already been verified and accepted by the CNE. Moreover, after this decision, several opposition leaders were barred from leaving the country by another judicial order. These moves garnered condemnations from the opposition and the international community, fuelling fears that Venezuela is on the path of becoming a full-fledged dictatorship.

How Did Venezuela Get to the Recall Referendum in the First Place?  

For several years now, Venezuela has been a competitive authoritarian regime. The government has a nominal commitment to liberal-democratic institutions, including elections, freedom of expression and association, independent courts, and so forth. However, as several observers and scholars of Venezuelan politics have shown, the regime systematically manipulates and restricts dissent.[1] This trend has become even worse under President Maduro, the less charismatic successor to President Hugo Chavez (who replaced him in 2013 after his death). Under Maduro’s rule, the regime has become even more autocratic. It has imprisoned political opponents with the collaboration of a politicized judiciary, circumvent the authority of democratically elected officers and, more worryingly, increased the presence of the military in the government[2] causing great concern at home and abroad.

In the midst of the worst economic and security crisis that the country has seen in decades the opposition has taken important steps towards regime change. Because it is a competitive, rather than a fully authoritarian regime, in Venezuela, defeating the government via elections albeit hard, is still an alternative. Building on a string of successful inclusive alliances, and having been accustomed to solving their differences through functional internal mechanisms, the once heavily-fragmented MUD now poses a serious threat to Chavismo’s electoral dominance. In December 2015, they won two thirds of the National Assembly; they control some of the most important municipal and state governments in the country, and there is a strong likelihood that they could win even more posts in the next ‘regional’ elections, given Maduro’s lack of popularity and the PSUV’s low numbers in recent polls.

MUD’s most serious threat, however, has been the recall referendum –a constitutional provision that allows 20% of the electorate to request the removal of an unpopular President. Up until a couple of weeks ago, the government’s response to this threat had been to delay the referendum. In the past months, the CNE engaged in a series of dawdling tactics that slowed down the process, taking considerable time to organize a preliminary signature-collection needed to activate the referendum and to make key decisions regarding its schedule. This is unsurprising, since the CNE’s neutrality has long been perceived as compromised by the opposition and international observers (all members but one are perceived as pro-government), and so has been the Supreme Court’s (notorious for its activist protection of the government’s interests.[3])

These tactics make sense as a power-preservation strategy: According to article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, if the referendum took place before January 10, 2017, Maduro would have had to resign and call for elections. If it happened afterwards, he would still have had to resign, but his vice-president could finish his term (2013-2019). The fact that the referendum would be delayed until 2017 was very likely from the onset. Although the MUD had been working hard to hold the referendum in 2016, it was quite possible that the CNE and other state institutions (particularly the pro-government Supreme Court) could delay it long enough to be held after January 2017. Thus, the move to stop the electoral contest is particularly puzzling, given that the delaying tactics appeared to be a less costly mechanism for Chavistas to remain in power.

Although blocking the referendum raised concerns, so far, the government had gotten away with an ever-feeble, yet still important, “democratic façade.” Although Chavismo has become more authoritarian after Chávez passed away, and its legitimacy has been significantly eroded in recent months, it has been difficult for the opposition movement and its allies to build support against the regime internationally. For a long time, the government had substantial electoral legitimacy at home and abroad: Chavismo won most elections under Chavez’s rule, accepted the results of the legislative elections in 2015, and frequently strived to nominally comply with constitutional norms, in order to keep appearances. Hindering a recall referendum that, clearly most Venezuelans want, falls outside this trend, and could undermine the government’s already weakening international legitimacy.

Additionally, the referendum is a constitutional and peaceful mechanism to remove Maduro from the presidency and commence a transition to democracy. Unless the economic and security situation improves overnight, stopping the referendum risks political violence, that could end in a forceful removal from power, as the opposition movement might resort to non-legal means to increase pressure on the incumbent regime. In light of these costs, and the fact that the government could have manipulated the electoral rules just enough to push the referendum beyond January 2017 and stay in power, why stop the process altogether?

There are at least two non-exclusive reasons that seem to be behind the move by the authorities to stop the referendum. First, the Maduro regime is trying to increase its leverage for a dialogue with the opposition, pushing them to negotiate concessions in exchange for regime change (such as amnesty, guarantees for political participation, assets protection, and so forth). Before October, there were few visible attempts to initiate negotiations between Chavistas and the MUD. Yet, these attempts were unsuccessful, due to strong criticism within the opposition coalition from a sector that until now –at least openly– refuses to negotiate with the government.

Secondly the regime might want to stop the referendum in order to avoid a transition to democracy altogether. Several key PSUV leaders have denied the possibility of a referendum, including Maduro himself, former chair of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello, and others. More worryingly, this move could, reflect changes inside the government coalition, in particular the strengthening of hardliners and the already powerful military. It is well known that the latter has benefited immensely from the regime, receiving major economic benefits from their presence in major state operations –including the state-owned oil company PDVSA—and has been able to run corruption and drug trafficking schemes with impunity.[4]  A removal of the current Maduro regime,, regardless of whether it happens with a referendum or not, would likely deprive the military from such benefits. Additionally, officers could face criminal prosecution in a future regime. Hence, the military establishment might feel it has more to lose than to gain from a successful transition to democracy. It might be in their best interest to stop the recall referendum. Unlike the civilian faction of Chavismo, which fears an uprising or a coup, the armed forces have direct control of weaponry, military staff and even members inside the courts.[5] They can engage in repression and clamp down on any potential social mobilization or protest.

Despite Maduro´s recent attempts to engage in a dialogue with the opposition, the mentioned worrisome scenarios cannot be discarded. Until a clear commitment to the referendum is made and an institutional path to regime change is preserved and respected, the suspension of the referendum might well block the possibility of a peaceful transition to democracy.

If the Referendum’s Path is Blocked, What is Next?

Consistent with the opposition’s non-violent mixed strategy of protests and elections, its response to the government’s decision to stop the referendum has been twofold. First, it called for pacific demonstrations asking the government to return to a “constitutional path,” replace justices and members of the CNE, and allow the referendum or early elections to take place. Second, some of its leaders agreed to participate in a dialogue with the government, with mediation of the Vatican and UNASUR. Although the talks are currently in course, for the time being, they have established a venue for discussion and negotiation between the government and the MUD.

The opposition’s strategy, however, is fraught with risks. On the one hand, the demonstrations could turn violent and give the government an excuse to call off the dialogues and escalate repression. On the other hand, the dialogue could be used by the government to catch its breath and stifle the momentum the opposition has had since last year, allowing it to postpone the referendum, creating more tensions within the opposition coalition, and eliminating the only escape valve available to channel popular discontent in Venezuela so far. The fact that the dialogue could backfire and strengthen Maduro’s embattled government, is in fact a possibility that seriously worries an important sector of the opposition and even some external observers.

Whether this happens or not, will largely depend on the international community willingness to pressure the incumbent government to negotiate, as well as the ability of the opposition to remain united, use the street protests strategically to increase the pressure for an agreement, and –simultaneously—accept some concessions towards the Chavista regime. A proper analysis of the dialogue process, will be contingent on how the coming days unfold. In the mean time, it behoves comparative scholars and international observers to follow the crisis in Venezuela and pay close attention to its development and still uncertain prospects.



[1] Corrales, Javier. „Autocratic legalism in Venezuela.“ Journal of Democracy 26.2 (2015): 37-51.

[2] Kornblith, Miriam. „Chavismo After Chávez?.“ Journal of Democracy 24.3 (2013): 47-61.

[3] Sanchez Urribarri, Raul A. „Courts between democracy and hybrid authoritarianism: evidence from the Venezuelan Supreme Court.“ Law & Social Inquiry 36.4 (2011): 854-884, Corrales, Javier. „Autocratic legalism in Venezuela.“ Journal of Democracy 26.2 (2015): 37-51

[4] Corrales, Javier “Explaining Chavismo: The Unexpected Alliance of Radical Leftists and the Military in Venezuela under Hugo Chávez” in Ricardo Hausmann and Francisco Rodríguez eds. Venezuela Before Chávez: Anatomy of an Economic Collapse. Univerity Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014.

[5] Trinkunas, Harold A. Crafting CivilianCcontrol of the Military in Venezuela: A Comparative Perspective. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

A reading list of political science research to help you make sense of the 2016 US presidential election

A guest contribution from Arndt Leininger,
Research Fellow at the Chairs for Public Policy and Empirical Political Science from the
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

Most political scientists, just like most pundits and pollsters, failed to see Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election coming. This has led to a range of criticisms leveled at political science, from a rejection of forecasting to wider debates on the direction of the discipline. I am less pessimistic about past, present or future achievements of the discipline. Partly, because the fact that a small part of the community did not predict a single event correctly should not interpreted to be more than that. Forecasting is neither the only nor the primary goal of political science. And lest we not forget, some political scientists did foresee a very close race and even a Trump win months before the election (this is what the first suggested reading is about).

In this blog post I want to highlight that ‚regular day-to-day political science research‘ has a lot to contribute to our understanding of the 2016 US presidential election. This why this reading list is limited to published scholarly work (if you want to read up-to-date analyses and commentary on the election from political scientists I suggest you check out The Monkey Cage). I link to the original article as well as, if available, an ungated version. For the sake of brevity I limit the selection to only half a dozen articles which appeared in peer-reviewed journals. Obviously, such a reading list is neither comprehensive nor is it a selection of the six most relevant pieces. I invite colleagues to suggest further readings in the comments sections.

In focusing on forecastingpollingsources of the anti-establishment votegenderpopulism and countering hate speech online these articles provide insights that are applicable beyond this year’s US presidential election. For all the sneering at the US, Europe has seen its fair share of electoral successes of right-wing populists and is anxiously looking ahead to the presidential election in France.

1. Political Science models that saw this coming

The forecasts which received most attention in the run-up to the election were poll-based forecasting models, partly because they were updated with each new poll coming in. The first reading is on a different set of forecasting models which focus on so called fundamentals such as presidential approval or economic growth. Simple econometric models based on such fundamentals forecast US presidential elections surprisingly well. This election seems to be no exception as this overview of fundamentals based models suggests. The author of the first reading in this list was ridiculed on social media for predicting a Trump victory – not anymore.

Norpoth, Helmut (2016) „Primary Model Predicts Trump Victory“ PS: Political Science & Politics 49, 655–658. (article, ungated)

However unpredictable the ascent of Donald Trump onto the stage of presidential politics may have been, one forecast model has been highly confident for months that he would win the election on November 8, 2016. The Primary Model predicted on March 7, 2016 that Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton with 87 percent certainty. […] There is nothing to add to or subtract from the March forecast here. It was unconditional, final, and not subject to updating. Just in case Hillary Clinton would not be the Democratic nominee, the Primary Model gave the nod to Trump over Bernie Sanders with 99% certainty[.] What are the ingredients of this forecast model? [… T]he Primary Model relies on presidential primaries as a predictor of the vote in the general election; it also makes use of a swing of the electoral pendulum that is useful for forecasting ( For the record, the Primary Model, with slight modifications, has correctly predicted the winner of the popular vote in all five presidential elections since it was introduced in 1996[.] In recent elections the forecast has been issued as early as January of the election year. (articles has no abstract, this is an edit of the first three paragraphs)

2. Why are polls so volatile when votes seem so predictable?

If elections are so predictable as Norpoth argues why then is polling through the campaigns campaigns so volatile? The authors of the following piece provide an answer to this question. It seems that the primary role of campaigns seems to be informing voters about fundamentals which is why results are so predictable while polls are so variable.

Gelman, Andrew and King, Gary (1993) „Why Are American Presidential Election Campaign Polls So Variable When Votes Are So Predictable?“, British Journal of Political Science 23, 409–451. (article, ungated)

As most political scientists know, the outcome of the American presidential election can be predicted within a few percentage points (in the popular vote), based on information available months before the election. Thus, the general campaign for president seems irrelevant to the outcome (except in very close elections), despite all the media coverage of campaign strategy. However, it is also well known that the pre-election opinion polls can vary wildly over the campaign, and this variation is generally attributed to events in the campaign. How can campaign events affect people’s opinions on whom they plan to vote for, and yet not affect the outcome of the election? For that matter, why do voters consistently increase their support for a candidate during his nominating convention, even though the conventions are almost entirely predictable events whose effects can be rationally forecast? In this exploratory study, we consider several intuitively appealing, but ultimately wrong. resolutions to this puzzle and discuss our current understanding of what causes opinion polls to fluctuate while reaching a predictable outcome. Our evidence is based on graphical presentation and analysis of over 67,000 individual-level responses from forty-nine commercial polls during the 1988 campaign and many other aggregate poll results from the 1952-92 campaigns. We show that responses to pollsters during the campaign are not generally informed or even, in a sense we describe, ‚rational‘. In contrast, voters decide, based on their enlightened preferences, as formed by the information they have learned during the campaign, as well! as basic political cues such as ideology and party identification, which candidate to support eventually. We cannot prove this conclusion, but we do show that it is consistent with the aggregate forecasts and individual-level opinion poll responses. Based on the enlightened preferences hypothesis, we conclude that the news media have an important effect on the outcome of presidential elections – not through misleading advertisements. sound bites, or spin doctors, but rather by conveying candidates‘ positions on important issues.

3. Why does the rural working class vote for a New York billionaire?

Trump won the election by winning traditional blue states such as Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania. These states‘ still strong working class populations traditionally tended to vote Democrat. Why then did rural working class people now vote for a New York billionaire who’s policies are detrimental to low-income workers? This article provides an interesting explanation. I guess it is worth pointing out that this now highly topical appeared in the discipline’s premier journal years before the election.

Cramer, Katherine J. (2012) „Putting Inequality in Its Place: Rural Consciousness and the Power of Perspective“ American Political Science Review 106, 517–532. (article, ungatedview article online, ungated)

Why do people vote against their interests? Previous explanations miss something fundamental because they do not consider the work of group consciousness. Based on participant observation of conversations from May 2007 to May 2011 among 37 regularly occurring groups in 27 communities sampled across Wisconsin, this study shows that in some places, people have a class- and place-based identity that is intertwined with a perception of deprivation. The rural consciousness revealed here shows people attributing rural deprivation to the decision making of (urban) political elites, who disregard and disrespect rural residents and rural lifestyles. Thus these rural residents favor limited government, even though such a stance might seem contradictory to their economic self-interests. The results encourage us to consider the role of group consciousness-based perspectives rather than pitting interests against values as explanations for preferences. Also, the study suggests that public opinion research more seriously include listening to the public.

4. What’s sex(ism) got to do with it?

The 2016 election is all the more surprising because many observers saw it as pitting the worst qualified candidate ever against the best qualified candidate ever. In the end the man won leaving many to ask whether sexism is to blame. For those who want to understand the role a candidate’s gender plays in elections this article is a good starting point. Its results suggest that Clinton’s competence advantage was partly undone by her being a woman.

Fulton, Sarah A. (2014) „When Gender Matters: Macro-dynamics and Micro-mechanisms“ Political Behavior 36, 605–630. (article, gated)

Does candidate sex matter to general election outcomes? And if so, under what conditions does sex exert an effect? Research conducted over the past 40 years has asserted an absence of a sex effect, consistently finding that women fare as well as men when they run. Nevertheless, this scholarship neglects sex-based differences in candidate valence, or non-policy characteristics such as competence and integrity that voters intrinsically value in their elected officials. If women candidates hold greater valence than men, and if women’s electoral success stems from this valence advantage, then women candidates would be penalized if they lacked the upper hand on valence. Recent research at the macro-level reports a 3 % vote disadvantage for women candidates when valence is held constant (Fulton, Political Res Q 65(2):303–314, 2012), but is based on only one general election year. The present study replicates Fulton’s (Political Res Q 65(2):303–314, 2012) research using new data from a more recent general election and finds a consistent 3 % vote deficit for women candidates. In addition, this paper extends these findings theoretically and empirically to the micro-level: examining who responds to variations in candidate sex and valence. Male independent voters, who often swing general elections, are equally supportive of women candidates when they have a valence advantage. Absent a relative abundance of valence, male independents are significantly less likely to endorse female candidates. If correct, the gender affinity effect is asymmetrical: male independent voters are more likely to support men candidates, and less likely to support women, but female independents fail to similarly discriminate.

5. Populism

Donald Trump is frequently called a populist. But what exactly is populism? Cas Mudde is the author of the probably most-cited definition of populism in recent empirical work. He defines populism as a thin-centered ideology (it can be left or right) that divides society into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, the good people and the corrupt elite, and claims that politics should be an expression of the general will of ‚the‘ people. In this article he and his co-authors develop a survey instrument to measure populism in the population and apply it to a survey of Dutch citizens. I’m counting on seeing results its application in the US and other countries soon.

Akkerman, Agnes, Mudde, Cas, Zaslove, Andrej (2014) „How Populist Are the People? Measuring Populist Attitudes in Voters“ Comparative Political Studies 47, 1324–1353. (article, gated)

The sudden and perhaps unexpected appearance of populist parties in the 1990s shows no sign of immediately vanishing. The lion’s share of the research on populism has focused on defining populism, on the causes for its rise and continued success, and more recently on its influence on government and on public policy. Less research has, however, been conducted on measuring populist attitudes among voters. In this article, we seek to fill this gap by measuring populist attitudes and to investigate whether these attitudes can be linked with party preferences. We distinguish three political attitudes: (1) populist attitudes, (2) pluralist attitudes, and (3) elitist attitudes. We devise a measurement of these attitudes and explore their validity by way of using a principal component analysis on a representative Dutch data set (N = 600). We indeed find three statistically separate scales of political attitudes. We further validated the scales by testing whether they are linked to party preferences and find that voters who score high on the populist scale have a significantly higher preference for the Dutch populist parties, the Party for Freedom, and the Socialist Party.

6. How to trump hate?

These days political science is blamed for inaccurate predictions. Most of the time however, it is blamed for being too focused on post-hoc explanations and problem diagnosis at the expense of prescriptive focus and solution orientation. Hence, my last choice in this reading list is an article which arguably possesses the latter qualities. One of the most worrying immediate effects of the forthcoming Trump presidency is that there seems to be an up-tick in racist and sexist conduct in the wake of the election, both on- and offline. The final article in this reading list presents and tests a strategy to combat racism on social media.

Munger, Kevin (2016) „Tweetment Effects on the Tweeted: Experimentally Reducing Racist Harassment“ Political Behavior 1–21. (article, gatedfinal draft, ungated)

I conduct an experiment which examines the impact of group norm promotion and social sanctioning on racist online harassment. Racist online harassment de-mobilizes the minorities it targets, and the open, unopposed expression of racism in a public forum can legitimize racist viewpoints and prime ethnocentrism. I employ an intervention designed to reduce the use of anti-black racist slurs by white men on Twitter. I collect a sample of Twitter users who have harassed other users and use accounts I control (“bots”) to sanction the harassers. By varying the identity of the bots between in-group (white man) and out-group (black man) and by varying the number of Twitter followers each bot has, I find that subjects who were sanctioned by a high-follower white male significantly reduced their use of a racist slur. This paper extends findings from lab experiments to a naturalistic setting using an objective, behavioral outcome measure and a continuous 2-month data collection period. This represents an advance in the study of prejudiced behavior.

If you want to read more, you may want to check out this mock college syllabus on understanding Trump.

A tip of the hat to Tarik Abou-Chadi for recommending the articles by Sarah Fulton and Katherine Cramer, to Zoltan Fazekas for recommending the article by Kevin Munger and to Ilyas Saliba for pointing me to the mock college syllabus.

Call for papers – Special issue of Politics and Governance: “Why choice matters: Revisiting and comparing measures of democracy”

post by special issue guest editors Dr. Heiko Giebler (WZB Berlin Social Science Center,; Dr. Saskia Ruth (University of Zurich,; Dag Tanneberg (University of Potsdam,

This peer-reviewed special issue of Politics & Governance (an open-access journal) invites articles that compare at least two widely used measures of democracy to discuss one or more of the following topics: (1) differences in theoretical grounding and conceptualization of democracy; (2) differences in data choice and/or the effects of different rules of aggregation; or (3) how different measures of democracy impact substantive research questions. Whereas other publications have summarized the field of democracy measurement in broad strokes, this special issue will help scholars to make more informed choices between alternative measures of democracy for their own research program. 

Deadline for proposals: December 31st, 2016
Deadline for 1st drafts: May 25th, 2017
Authors workshop: early June 2017
Deadline for final submissions: September 2017
Publication of the special issue: February 2018

Over the past 25 years, the field of democracy measurement has grown tremendously. The continued scientific and public demand for measures of democracy generated an unprecedented wealth of measurement instruments all aiming to capture democracy. Yet, summarizing the development of the field since the 1960s Bollen (1991, 4) found scant evidence for a “smooth evolution towards clear theoretical definitions and finely calibrated instruments”. One decade later Munck and Verkuilen (2002, 28) still concluded that “no single index offers a satisfactory response to all three challenges of conceptualization, measurement, and aggregation”. But all is certainly not lost in measuring democracy. Rather, scholars have incorporated much of the critique. As a result, social sciences enjoy a vast supply of high quality approaches to measuring democracy. Today, the challenge is less to select a sound index of democracy and more to understand the theoretical and methodological differences between them.

This special issue in Politics & Governance (peer-reviewed and open access; indexing: Web of Science (ESCI), Scopus, and other databases) aims to provide a comprehensive evaluation of those differences in order to help scholars make more informed choices between alternative measures of democracy. It invites papers that analyze and discuss the substantive consequences of differences between at least two widely used measures of democracy. The list of measures includes but is not limited to Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI), Democracy Barometer, Democracy & Dictatorship, Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index, Freedom House, Polity IV, Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI), Unified Democracy Scores (UDS), Vanhanen, V-Dem, Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI), etc. Contributed articles should deal with at least one of the following three topics:

(1) Differences in theoretical grounding and conceptualization of democracy measures
The conceptual differences between graded measures of democracy are seldom in the focus of research. However, these can be quite substantial as in the cases of the Democracy Barometer and the Unified Democracy Scores. Whereas the former advances a detailed conceptualization of democracy, the latter projects several different indices of democracy unto a single latent variable. Alternatively, some measures follow a minimalistic definition of democracy while others go as far as including outcomes of democratic rule. What do such differences mean for theoretical grounding, conceptualization, and empirical analyses in democracy related research? Which measures can and should be used for which substantive research questions?

(2) Differences in data choice and rules of aggregation
On the one hand much in measuring democracy revolves around the nature and scaling of appropriate indicators. For instance, one key debate pits observables against expert judgments (Alvarez et al. 1996, Ulfelder 2006, Schedler 2012). But, do observables make better or do they merely make different data? Conversely, do expert judgments achieve higher validity or are they just biased in different ways? On the other hand, existing measures of democracy differ tremendously in their aggregation rules, ranging from necessary and sufficient conditions (Democracy & Dictatorship) to weighted sums (Freedom House, Polity IV, Democracy Barometer), and latent variable measurement models (UDS, V-DEM). What substantive differences do those alternatives imply? Can we in fact achieve greater confidence in empirical results by varying rules of aggregation (Munck and Verkuilen 2002, 25)?

(3) How different measures of democracy impact substantive research questions
Using Freedom House and Polity IV data, Casper and Tufis (2003) demonstrate that the choice of index matters for the study of democratization even though both measures are highly correlated. Do those discrepancies exist when using the Vanhanen, V-DEM, UDS, or Democracy Barometer data, too? Moreover, do they affect results in other important areas of research such as the domestic democratic peace, economic growth, and international conflict behavior? Valid contributions also include replication studies of influential publications using different measures of democracy.

Instructions for Authors
Authors interested in submitting a paper for this special issue are kindly requested to consult the journal’s editorial policies (here). Please send an abstract of about 250 words to any of the guest editors by December 31, 2016 latest. The guest editors will contact prospective contributors in late January 2017 with more detailed information. A two-day authors’ workshop is scheduled for early June 2017 and it will take place in either Berlin or Zurich. The guest editors are in the process of acquiring funds for covering travelling and accommodation costs.
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Bollen, Kenneth A. 1991. „Political Democracy: Conceptual and Measurement Traps.“ In On measuring democracy, edited by Alex Inkeles, 3-20. New Brunswick; London: Transaction Publishers.

Casper, Gretchen, and Claudiu Tufis. 2003. „Correlation Versus Interchangeability: The Limited Robustness of Empirical Findings on Democracy Using Highly Correlated Data Sets.“ Political Analysis 11 (2):196–203.

Munck, Gerardo L., and Jay Verkuilen. 2002. „Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy.“ Comparative Political Studies 35 (1):5–34.

Schedler, Andreas. 2012. „Judgment and Measurement in Political Science.“ Perspectives on Politics 10 (1):21–36.

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Trump und die Demokratie

Dieser Beitrag erschien zuerst bei der Online Zeitschrift IPG – Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft.

Die überschießende Moral des Kosmopolitismus spielt den Rechtspopulisten in die Hände. Zeit zum Umdenken.

Gefragt, wen er, wäre er Amerikaner, am 8. November 2016 wählen würde, antwortete er ohne auch nur einen Wimperschlag zu zögern: „Trump. I am just horrified about him, but Hillary is the true danger“. Er, das ist nicht irgendwer, es ist Slavoj Žižek, der neomarxistische Philosoph der letzten Dekade. Ein Popstar im Internet. Wir können annehmen, dass Žižek am Morgen nach der Wahl von seiner eigenen kühnen Empfehlung nur entsetzt gewesen sein kann.

Das Unsagbare ist geschehen: Donald Trump wurde am 8. November 2016 zum 45. Präsidenten der USA gewählt. Der New Yorker Milliardär, Bankrotteur, Chauvinist, Sexist, der Mann mit der Baseball-Mütze und den schlechten Manieren, eine Art großmäulige Ich-AG ist nun der wichtigste Politiker der (westlichen) Welt. Wird er die Welt so katastrophal verändern, wie dies sein Republikanischer Vorgänger George W. Bush einst tat? Was lässt sich aus der Kampagne, den Wahlen, Trumps politischem Programm über den Zustand der Demokratie in Amerika aussagen? Ist Trump ein amerikanisches Phänomen, oder halten die USA den Europäern nur wieder den Spiegel ihrer Zukunft vor, wie dies Alexis de Tocqueville in seiner berühmten Schrift „Über die Demokratie in Amerika“ geschrieben hat. Ist die Wahl Trumps die Revolte jener, die sich schon länger nicht mehr repräsentiert fühlen von der etablierten Politik, der „politischen Klasse“, den Medien, den öffentlichen Diskursen und einem Wirtschaftssystem, dass fortwährend mehr Ungleichheit erzeugt? Breitet sich der Rechtspopulismus nun auch jenseits des Atlantiks aus?

Die Kampagne

Eines der Kernargumente der Postdemokratievertreter von Colin Crouch bis Jacques Rancière lautet: Wahlen sind im postdemokratischen Zeitalter zu einem inhaltslosen Ritual verkommen. Sie sind nicht das Herz der Demokratie, sondern nur deren Simulation. Inhalte spielen keine Rolle; und wenn doch, dann sind die Programme der politischen „Kontrahenten“ nicht mehr zu unterscheiden. Wie so manches an den Thesen zur Postdemokratie stimmt auch dieses nur zur Hälfte. In der Tat waren die politischen Programme weder in den Wahlreden noch in der medialen Berichterstattung von Bedeutung. Es dominierten die Schlammwürfe auf die Person des Gegners: „Crooked Hillary“, korrupte Hillary, sie gehöre nicht ins Weiße Haus, sondern ins Gefängnis; sie lüge, betrüge und bereichere sich mit ihrem Mann über die Vermengung von gemeinnütziger Stiftung und persönlichen Rednerauftritten, die für Bill Clinton in Katar oder von den Repräsentanten der Wall Street Millionenerträge brachten. Mit gleicher Münze zahlte die Kandidatin zurück: „Donald“ sei ein Sexist, Rassist und Chauvinist, er belästige Frauen, beleidige Muslime, spotte über Behinderte, nennt lateinamerikanische Immigranten Vergewaltiger, diskriminiere Afroamerikaner „wie schon sein Vater“ und sei ein chronischer Steuerhinterzieher. Die demokratischen Wahlen sind mit der Auseinandersetzung im amerikanischen Herbst 2016 an einem historischen Tiefpunkt angelangt.

Unzutreffend an der postdemokratischen Vermutung ist, dass es keine programmatischen Unterschiede gibt. Trumps und Clintons Wahlprogramme unterschieden sich. Trump folgt alten neoliberalen Rezepten: Steuern senken, dann investierten die Investoren, die Wirtschaft wachse und die Jobs kehrten aus Mexiko, China, Japan oder Europa zurück. Die Vorschläge folgen der berühmten Serviettenskizze, mit der Reagans Chefökonom Arthur B. Laffer den damaligen Präsidenten zu Beginn von dessen Amtszeit zu überzeugen vermochte, dass mit einer Steuersenkung nicht nur die Investitionen und das Sozialprodukt, sondern auch die Staatseinnahmen stiegen. George W. Bush, ebenfalls ein ökonomischer Laie, folgte ein Jahrzehnt später noch einmal dem verführerisch einfachen Rezept. In beiden Fällen führte dies zu den größten Verschuldungszuwächsen, die die amerikanische Demokratie bis dato gesehen hatte. Und jetzt Donald J. Trump – den fiskalpolitischen Tragödien droht nun die Farce zu folgen.

Der Sozialstaat ist in den USA unterentwickelt. Dafür gibt es historische Gründe: die Unantastbarkeit des Privateigentums, die Ideologie des Minimalstaats, die Schwäche der Gewerkschaften, das Fehlen einer Arbeiterpartei und die Etablierung eines besonders rüden, ungezähmten Kapitalismus. So war es einer der Reformerfolge der Amtszeiten von Barack Obama, als der Präsident gegen die wütend destruktive Politik der Republikanischen Opposition einen Zugang zur Krankenversicherung durch den „Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act“ (2010) auch für die unteren Schichten schuf. Für Trump ist „Obamacare“ nichts als ein Desaster. So wird er versuchen, mit dem großen Rückhalt seiner Anhänger selbst diese bescheidenen sozialstaatlichen Reformen zurückzudrehen.

Im Außenhandel versprechen Trumps Vorschläge Irritationen, wenn nicht das Risiko eines Handelskriegs. Es seien China, Europa und das „Desaster NAFTA“, die den Amerikanern die Jobs raubten, so das einfache ökonomische Weltbild des Republikanischen Populisten. Freihandelsabkommen sollen zurückgefahren und Produkte aus Asien und Europa mit Strafzöllen belegt werden, folgten sie nicht den Wirtschaftsvorstellungen der USA. Es ist die seltsame Mischung von neoliberaler Deregulierung zuhause und protektionistischen Drohungen nach außen, die der Milliardär seinen Landsleuten vorschlägt und dem Rest der Welt androht.

Die größten Fragezeichen bestehen in der Außenpolitik. Trump, ein völliger Laie, ließ hier bisher keinerlei Profil erkennen. Hillary Clinton war da deutlicher, in Wort – leider auch in Tat. Unter den Demokraten zählt sie zu den Falken. Sie befürwortete den herbei gelogenen, völkerrechtswidrigen Krieg gegen den Irak unter George W. Bush und sprach sich für die Überdehnung des UN-Mandats gegen Gaddafis Libyen aus. Die Folge war nicht nur ein unmandatierter „regime change“, sondern, wie schon in Afghanistan und im Irak, auch die Zerstörung der Staatlichkeit des Landes. Ein schwerer Fehler. Macht, so bezeichnete das der amerikanische Politikwissenschaftler Karl Deutsch einmal, ist das „Privileg, nicht lernen zu müssen“. Gegenüber Russland folgte die Außenministerin der Kalten Kriegslogik des „containment“, der Eindämmung, aber auch der fortgesetzten Demütigung der zerbrochenen Weltmacht. Keine weitsichtige Politik, weder für die Ukraine noch für Europa oder Deutschland. Donald Trump hat im Wahlkampf Sympathien für Putin gezeigt, fast ein Kapitalverbrechen in den USA. Ob dies nur eine Männerbündelei autoritärer Führerpersönlichkeiten war oder der Beginn einer neuen Ost- und Entspannungspolitik sein wird, bleibt mit Skepsis abzuwarten.

Für China und Europa aber könnte es ungemütlich werden. Von Europa dürften die USA größere Beiträge zu Finanzierung der NATO, Rüstung und Militäreinsätzen einfordern. Das Vorgehen gegen europäische (deutsche) Konzerne mit der Waffe der Justiz, eine beliebte Form amerikanischer Industriepolitik, könnte mit Trump in eine weitere Runde gehen. Ob Trump versuchen wird, die autoritär-etatistische Politik des Waren- und Kapitalexports Chinas zu bekämpfen, bleibt ebenfalls abzuwarten. Hier dürften die USA erneut erfahren, was „imperial overstretch“, die Überdehnung imperialer Machtansprüche, bedeutet.

Über die Demokratie in Amerika

Donald Trump hat die Wahlen gewonnen. Dazu stellen die Republikaner nun die Mehrheit in Senat und Repräsentantenhaus. Das semi-demokratische Mehrheitswahlrecht (the winner takes it all) und archaische System der Wahl„männer“ (electoral vote) hat diesen dreifachen Sieg möglich gemacht. Hillary Clinton hat zwar, wie schon einst Al Gore gegen George W. Bush, eine hauchdünne Mehrheit der Wählerstimmen (popular vote) erhalten, diese Mehrheit wurde jedoch über das Mehrheitswahlsystem in eine deutliche Niederlage transformiert. Während Trump 290 Wahlmänner zugeschrieben wurden, sind es für Hilary Clinton gerade noch 232. Die Wahlbeteiligung lag bei den Präsidentschaftswahlen bei mageren 55,6 Prozent, für die Wahlen zum Kongress steht die traditionell niedrigere Wahlbeteiligung noch nicht fest.

Pippa Norris, die renommierte Demokratie- und Wahlforscherin der Harvard University, untersucht seit Jahren die Integrität von Wahlen in Demokratien und Autokratien. Die USA schneiden mit dem 52. Rang unter 153 Ländern seit Jahren denkbar schlecht ab. Deutschland befindet sich auf Platz 7. Vor den USA rangieren Länder wie Kroatien, Griechenland, Argentinien, die Mongolei oder Südafrika. Grund für die mindere Integrität der US-Wahlen sind unter anderem der massive Einfluss finanzstarker privater Spender auf Kampagnen und Wahlprogramme, die häufige manipulative Änderung von Wahlbezirken, die vor allem Unterschichten und Afroamerikaner faktisch diskriminierende Registrierung in Wählerlisten, die extrem niedrige Wahlbeteiligung bei Kongresswahlen, das Mehrheitswahlsystem selbst und die für die Technologie- und Wirtschaftsmacht geradezu beschämend unzureichende Anzahl von Wahlstationen. Wählerschlangen wie in Bangladesch gehören zum gewohnten Bild US-amerikanischer Wahlen.

Die amerikanische Demokratie ist bekannt für ihre umfangreichen „checks and balances“. Besonders die Machtkontrollen sind stark ausgebaut: der Kongress besitzt nicht automatisch die gleiche parteipolitische Färbung wie die präsidentielle Exekutive; die amerikanische Bundesregierung hat im Trennföderalismus der USA eine vergleichsweise schwache Position gegenüber den Einzelstaaten; der Oberste Gerichtshof (Supreme Court) ist eines der mächtigsten Verfassungsgerichte der USA. Die Exekutivkontrolle durch den Kongress werden allerdings zunächst einmal niedrig sein, wenn es Trump gelingt, das ihm entfremdete Establishment der Republikanischen Partei hinter sich zu bringen. Auch bei der Besetzung des vakanten Postens für das höchste Gericht hat Trump schon klar gemacht, dass er handverlesen einen konservativen Kandidaten nominieren wird. Die gegenwärtige politische Konstellation legt dem Präsidenten Trump weniger Zügel an, als dies in der Verfassung vorgesehen war. Den „mainstream media“ (Trump) und den zivilgesellschaftlichen „watchdogs“ wird eine wichtige Kontrollfunktion zukommen. Ein Demokratisierungs- und Toleranzschub darf für die amerikanische Demokratie in den nächsten Jahren nicht erwartet werden.

Ist Trump ein Rechtspopulist?

Ist Trump tatsächlich ein rechter Ideologe oder nur ein demagogisch populistischer Verführer im Wahlkampf, der nun im Amte von den Institutionen, seinen Beratern und der öffentlichen Meinung gezähmt werden kann? Trump gilt als relativ beratungsresistent und die kontrollierenden Institutionen sind in populistischen Zeiten und einer präsidentiellen Mehrheit im Kongress weniger effektiv als uns dies die reine Verfassungstheorie lehren will. Wichtiger noch ist die Frage, wer sind die Wähler hinter Trump? Was bedeuten sie für die Demokratie? Erste Wähleranalysen deuten an, dass Trump vor allem unter den Männern, weniger Gebildeten, Weißen und den außerhalb der Metropolen lebenden Amerikanern überproportional viele Wähler hat. Sie sind die Verlierer der ökonomischen Globalisierung und gehören der unteren Hälfte der amerikanischen Gesellschaft an. Es ist das demographisch, wirtschaftlich und kulturell bedrohte Amerika. Man mag aber bezweifeln, dass die wirtschaftliche Lage das treibende Motiv hinter der Stimmabgabe war. It‘s not the economy stupid!

Parallelen tun sich zu den rechtspopulistischen Parteien in West- und Osteuropa auf. Die etablierten politischen Kräfte, die Medien, die Fortschrittlichen, die besser Gestellten und der Chorus der „Vernünftigen“ ist sich zu häufig selbst genug, die eigenen Interessen und ihre kulturelle Moderne zu repräsentieren. Konservativen Befürchtungen über den „Verlust der Heimat“, der Stadtviertel, der vertrauten Kultur, der Nation, der staatlichen Souveränität, der Bedeutung von Grenzen oder der Neudefinition der Ehe wurden nicht nur mit guten Argumenten entgegen getreten. Es erfolgten vielmehr Belehrungen und nicht selten der moralische Ausschluss aus dem offiziösen Diskurs, wenn „unkorrekte“ Begriffe oder Ideen geäußert wurden. Ein kosmopolitischer Geist mit überschießender Moralität dominierte die Diskurse. Wie die Brexit-Befürworter einfach nur von gestern sind und die schöne neue Welt der Supranationalisierung nicht verstehen, so sind die Wähler der rechtspopulistischen Parteien vor allem die moralisch und kulturell Zurückgebliebenen unserer Gesellschaft. In Westeuropa haben rechtspopulistische Unternehmer mit diesen Zurückgebliebenen 10 bis 30 Prozent der Wahlberechtigten hinter sich gebracht. In Polen und vor allem in Ungarn hat der Rechtspopulismus seine Mehrheitsfähigkeit angedeutet. Nun die USA, die Vormacht des demokratischen Westens. Aber nicht alle Wähler Trumps sind antidemokratische Rassisten, Sexisten und Chauvinisten. Das Bedenkliche jedoch ist, dass es dem Kandidaten Trump eher genützt als geschadet hat, mit intoleranten Parolen gegen das Establishment, gegen die „politische Klasse in Washington“, gegen „die da oben“ und für den „Wandel“ anzutreten. Symptomatisch war die Abschlusskundgebung der Demokraten am 7. November in Philadelphia: Mit Obama, der First Lady, dem Ex-Präsidenten Bill Clinton, Bruce Springsteen und Jon Bon Jovi war eine beeindruckende Repräsentation des Establishments „on stage“ – die Bürger des Staates Pennsylvania stimmten indes mehrheitlich für den Außenseiter Donald Trump.

Wir, die besser Gestellten und Etablierten unserer zivilen und politischen Gesellschaft, sind behäbig, selbstgefällig und taub „gegen die da unten“ geworden – ökonomisch wie kulturell. Die Arbeiterschaft ist zu den rechten Populisten übergelaufen. Wir verteidigen das Bestehende, die Rechte hat unsere einstigen Schlachtrufe des Bruches und Wandels übernommen. Der Wahlerfolg des Donald J. Trump muss deshalb auch als Warnschuss gedeutet werden. Eine repräsentative Demokratie hat möglichst alle zu repräsentieren. Sie muss auch reaktionäre oder konservative Kritik außerhalb der politischen Korrektheit zulassen. Dies spricht nicht gegen unser kämpferisches Eintreten für Freiheit, Gleichheit und die kulturellen Modernisierungen der letzten Jahrzehnte. Ganz im Gegenteil. Sie müssen verteidigt werden. Aber Belehrungen von oben, moralische Intransigenz oder der diskursive Ausschluss der „Nicht-Repräsentierbaren“ spielen nur den Rechtspopulisten in die Hände.