PSR Interviews #6: Linkage to the West and Electoral Manipulation – an interview with Jaroslav Bílek

“Some people would perhaps say that there is, or at least was right after the end of the Cold War, a worldwide demand afterlife in democracy. Nonetheless, democracy as such is a too abstract concept for most people. Therefore, those who do not have honest intentions with it, are often for a long time successful with hiding their true thoughts and restraining its fulfilment” – claims Dr Jaroslav Bílek. In this interview, he discusses competitive authoritarian regimes, electoral manipulation and the aspect of a linkage to the West, in the light of Levitsky’s and Way‘s theory. A fuller analysis of these issues can be found in Dr Bíleks Null Hypothesis PSR article: Linkage to the West and Electoral Manipulation.

PSR: Why competitive autocracies are a post-Cold War phenomenon?

Jaroslav Bílek: First and foremost, the end of the Cold War brought a worldwide demand for an electoral competition that at least seemingly appears to be fair and just. Thus, elections cannot be cancelled, not even by politicians who would rather govern without them. Cancelling elections would cost them too much legitimacy at both their home and foreign audience. This is a historically unique situation as never in the history of mankind there has been such a demand for holding elections.

Some people would perhaps say that there is, or at least was right after the end of the Cold War, a worldwide demand afterlife in democracy. Nonetheless, democracy as such is a too abstract concept for most people. Therefore, those who do not have honest intentions with it, are often for a long time successful with hiding their true thoughts and restraining its fulfilment. Then again, elections are something far more tangible and in the hands of power-holders, they present a solid source of legitimacy. Notwithstanding, these are not elections we know from real democracies, since their goal is not for the voters to elect their representatives, but for the power-holders to retain their power.

You refer to the work of Levitsky and Way (Levitsky, Way, 2010). They claimed that competitive authoritarian regimes that had a high linkage to the West, democratized. What are the roots of this argument?

Levitsky and Way argue that the West contributes to democratization in four different ways. It helps to even the uneven playfield between government and opposition, increase the probability of potential rupture within autocratic parties, improve the image of democratic opposition at a domestic audience, and what is central for my research, it protects opposition from regime repression. Linkage to the West raises the international cost of repression as it increases the probability that Western governments will take action in response to reported abuse. Based on this hypothesis, power-holders in hybrid regimes with high linkage to the West are supposed to resort to violence toward opposition or to significant tampering with election results less often. Such well-visible forms of electoral manipulations are expected to discredit them on the international level and also raise the risk of international sanctions or even of international intervention. However, my research disproved this hypothesis.

How would one measure the influence of linkage to the West on hybrid regimes, and what research tools/methods have you used?

I worked with data prepared by Levitsky and Way. In their book on competitive authoritarianism, they defined linkage to the West as the density of ties (economic, political, diplomatic, social, and organizational) and cross-border flows (of capital, good and services, people, and information) among particular countries and the United States, the EU (and pre-2004 EU members), and Western-dominated multilateral institutions (Levitsky and Way, 2010: 43).

We may still expect that there is some sort of connection between linkage to the West and decision-making processes in competitive authoritarianism.

Another option would be to set up my own dataset or to use the KOF Globalisation Index (as other studies did), but my intention was, in the largest possible extent, to work with the data asembled by the authors of the theory. Speaking of data, I would like to mention here the Varieties of Democracy database from which I took the data on the individual forms of electoral manipulation. This database has proven to be crucial for my research as I also wanted to test Levitsky and Way’s theoretical assumptions on new data. My research was then a standard quantitative study (data analysis with use of multilevel regression model).

So, can we assume, that a hypothesis that the decision-making processes of the leaders of hybrid regimes are affected by the state’s level of linkage to the West cannot be confirmed?

My research has shown that leaders in competitive authoritarian regimes do not take the linkage to the West into account when opting for a concrete manipulative strategy. The goal of my research was not to assess the effect of linkage to the West on the decision-making processes of leaders in hybrid regimes in general. We may still expect that there is some sort of connection between linkage to the West and decision-making processes in competitive authoritarianism. It should be noted though, that both Levitsky and Way’s original book and my research only work with one type of hybrid regime and only in a single era.

What factors make international reputation a low priority for political leaders in competitive autocracies?

That is a good question to which I would like to dedicate my next research. Contemporary comparative political science offers a variety of possible explanations. The following three appear to be the most likely ones. First, it becomes obvious that powerful western countries sometimes suffer from selective blindness and can prioritize their geopolitical interests over the protection of democracy. The second option is that linkage to the West is related to the economic nature of the given regime. A country with a more centralized economy that is not linked to the West does not have to really care about its international reputation with the West. That brings us to the last factor, which is China’s growing power and also the growing influence of other countries that do not really strive for spreading democracy in the international system. If those countries are your dominant commercial partner, they invest in you and are able to diplomatically support you when breaking human rights, you do not really have to rack your brain over your reputation with the West.

What are the key contributions your article brings to the field?

My research shows that intensive linkage to the West does not provide the opposition in competitive authoritarianism with effective protection from electoral repression and manipulation. In other words, it concludes that our views of political praxis after the end of the Cold War were overly optimistic in this sense. Furthermore, my research brings other possible explanations of why many democracies with high linkage to the ‘West’ in the last decade collapsed. Although the results of my research may appear to be pessimistic, I see them rather as an opportunity for the international community to take help to the opposition in competitive authoritarianism more seriously and thus help to twist the current global wave of autocratization.

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Article: J. Bílek (2021), Linkage to the West and Electoral Manipulation, Political Studies Review 2021

ABOUT

Jaroslav Bílek is a research fellow at the Department of Politics, University of Hradec Králové. His research interests cover electoral manipulation, authoritarian politics, democratization and civil-military relations

Questions and production

Dr Eliza Kania, Brunel University London

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Special release: Career Development and Progression of Early Career Academics in Political Science: A Gendered Perspective by Shardia Briscoe-Palmer and Kate Mattocks

A special PSR blog release based on a PSR article: Career Development and Progression of Early Career Academics in Political Science: A Gendered Perspective by Shardia Briscoe-Palmer and Kate Mattocks

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In this article, we wanted to explore how people build academic careers in political science, with a particular focus on those at the start of their careers, early-career academics. Because we also know that women are underrepresented in the discipline at all levels of seniority (Pflaeger-Young et al., 2021), we were particularly interested to see whether we would find any gender differences in experiences of career development.

As part of our research, we carried out a survey, which was sent to the Political Studies Association’s Early Career Network. We also did eight interviews with individuals who indicated they would be interested in speaking further on the topic. We asked respondents their thoughts on the job market, training, support for career development at their universities, mentoring, and networking – all activities important in building and strengthening skills, as well as reputation and membership in an academic community. We also asked more generally about experiences of isolation and discrimination, as our previous research has shown that these are some reasons people struggle to progress in an academic career (Mattocks and Briscoe-Palmer, 2016).

With regards to the job market, the top three concerns looked similar for men and women: lack of job opportunities, a competitive job market, and financial challenges (this ranking was 1/3/2 for women). But a greater percentage of women were concerned about those factors than man. There were also other differences: combining a career with family life was identified as a worry by 63% of women and 42% of men, for example.

In general, we found that men were both more likely to have a mentor (60% of women and 71% of men) and to report positive experiences of mentoring relationships. One finding that emerged is many women would prefer a mentor who is also a woman. With regards to networking, 51% of women and 50% of men said that they participated in networking. However, gender disparities became evident when we asked about why people did not participate in networking: 74% of women and 46% of men reported that a lack of confidence was a reason that they did not participate in networking events. So, overall, we find that while men and women ECAs participate in networking at the same rate, men reported greater confidence in doing so.

Women reported more instances of discrimination from students, colleagues, and institutions. Nearly one-fifth of women (20%) and 4% of men reported discrimination from students. Interestingly, these men were from outside of the UK, meaning no British men reported discrimination from their students. Women were much more likely to report difficulties based on ethnicity and geographical origin (for example, not being a native English speaker).

Ultimately our findings showed a gendered effect of some aspects of professional development, in particular a disparity between concerns about academic careers, as well as experiences of mentoring, networking, and teaching (specifically discrimination from students). We found no gendered differences in experiences of training offered by universities and in the rate of networking.

Women reported more instances of discrimination from students, colleagues, and institutions. Nearly one-fifth of women and 4% of men reported discrimination from students.

These findings are not an explanation for the underrepresentation of women in the profession, but they do add to the evidence base of challenges that women can face. On their own, each experience we describe might seem trivial. Taken together, they paint a picture of a system in which some people have more

access than others. We argue that we need to continue to study and highlight structural inequalities and wider cultures of sexism, racism and other types of discrimination in academia. More work is necessary on this topic to understand representation in the discipline in more detail (Emejulu, 2019). Most urgently, we need to have a deeper understanding of career development and progression from an intersectional perspective, and also take into account other gender identities, disability, and socio-economic factors.

This is even more important given that Covid-19 has made existing inequalities even stronger (Bhala et al. 2020). Women have borne the brunt of caring responsibilities (Andrew et al., 2020). The pandemic has had a drastic impact on recruitment in political science, and job prospects are bleak (McKay, 2020), meaning less stability and more competition, and an even more challenging future for early career academics.

REFERENCES

  • Andrew A, Cattan S, Costa Dias M et al. (2020) Parents, especially mothers, paying heavy price for lockdown. Institute for Fiscal Studies, 27 May. Retrieved from https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14861
  • Bhala N, Curry G, Martineau AR (2020) Sharpening the global focus on ethnicity and race in the time of COVID-19.The Lancet 395 (10238):1673-1676.
  • Emejulu A (2019) Can Political Science Decolonise? A Response to Neema Begum and Rima Saini. Political Studies Review 17(2): 202–206.
  • Mattocks K and Briscoe-Palmer S (2016) Challenges Facing Minority Politics PhD Students in the United Kingdom: Women, People of Black and Ethnic Minority Origin, and Disabled Persons. European Political Science 15(4): 476–492.
  • McKay L (2020) ECRs in the lurch. Political Studies Association, 23 November. Retrieved from https://www.psa.ac.uk/specialist-groups/group-news/ecrs-lurch-new-analysis-finds-no-recruitment-surge-make-spring%E2%80%99s 
  • Pflaeger Young Z, Amery F, Holden Bates S, et al. (2021) Women in the Profession: An Update on the Gendered Composition of the Discipline and Political Science Departments in the UK. Political Studies Review 19(1): 12-36.

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Article: S. Briscoe-Palmer, K. Mattocks, Career Development and Progression of Early Career Academics in Political Science: A Gendered Perspective, Political Studies Review 2021, Vol. 19(1), pp. 42–57

ABOUT

Shardia Briscoe-Palmer is an Early Career Academic at De Montfort University. She researches gender, race and social (in)justice. Shardia is also a doctoral researcher in Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham.

Twitter Political Studies Review @PolStudiesRev

Kate Mattocks is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of East Anglia. She researches cultural policy, particularly as it relates to issues of cultural identity and cultural diversity, and academic labour.

Twitter Political Studies Review @PolStudiesRev

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PSR Interviews #4: No Country for Old (Poor) Men: Fairness and Public Pensions – an interview with Vincenzo Alfano and Pietro Maffettone

“Research suggests that, if current trends persist in Germany and France, there will be one retired person for every two working people by 2050. In Japan, we already reached a 2 to 1 ratio, and by 2050 it will eventually reach 1:1. This is, of course, unsustainable, unless we give extremely low pensions to retirees, or ask extremely high contributions from workers” – claim Prof. Vincenzo Alfano and Prof. Pietro Maffettone. In this interview, they highlight major challenges related with modern pension systems, describe specifics of the Italian case, and sketch proposals to create a fairer pension system in the future.  A fuller analysis of these issues can be found in Prof. Alfano’s and Prof. Maffettone’s PSR article: No Country for Old (Poor) Men: Fairness and Public Pensions.

Political Studies Review: What are the major functions of the welfare state? How would you define it?

Prof. Vincenzo Alfano, Prof. Pietro Maffettone: The welfare state is the product of a historical process. In part, it was dictated by the recognition that some of the risks that people faced in a market economy were predictable and widely dispersed (e.g. unemployment). At the same time, there was also a strong political element, namely, making market capitalism less exposed to revolutionary pressures and more able to compete, as a social model, with the Soviet block.

Does it work? Much will depend on the kind of benchmark one is inclined to use. Compared to a world without any kind of welfare state, one that features some kind of welfare state in an otherwise capitalist market economy is certainly progress. At the same time, the welfare state as an institution has also been prone to be abused and to inefficiency. Nonetheless, what we can say is that, as all kinds of human creations, the welfare state has costs and benefits and those need to be balanced. 

Can a ‘pay-as-you-go’ (PAYG) system be efficient considering recent demographic trends? What are the major flaws?

Luckily enough, life expectancy greatly expanded in recent years, for most people, and in most countries, especially in Western ones and in many countries in East Asia. This means that we live longer, and this is great news. However, in many rich countries, fertility is going down dramatically (Italy and Japan are the poster child for this kind of predicament). These two trends, taken together, suggest that the working base, those who are supposed to pay pensions to those currently (at any point in time) retired, gets thinner and thinner, while the set of retirees grows. There is no need for complex actuarial calculations to understand that this trend is unsustainable. Actuarial calculations will tell us ‘when’ not ‘if’.

The major political flaw in the system is that people are extremely averse to loss:  it is extremely hard to withdraw existing benefits to a large class of citizens. What’s the upshot? Sadly, some pain to come, all other things being equal (for example, massive immigration might make other things not equal). Research suggests that, if current trends persist in Germany and France, there will be one retired person for every two working people by 2050. In Japan, we already reached a 2 to 1 ratio, and by 2050 it will eventually reach 1:1. This is, of course, unsustainable, unless we give extremely low pensions to retirees, or ask extremely high contributions from workers.

Would you say that ‘personal pension system’ (PPS) is a good alternative to PAYG?  Is intragenerational fairness possible using this system?

It is of course, a potential alternative, as you highlight in the question, but it is especially hard to ensure intragenerational fairness through this kind of system. We also need to recognize that most people in most countries, don’t save enough over the course of their lives to actually derive a sustainable pension from their saving pool. Of course, what is a sustainable pension is debatable. But one thing seems clear, if we all had to rely on our efforts alone, then, we would have to strongly alter our lifestyles, and perhaps even the way in which picture some of the major financial decisions we take over the course of our lives. For example,  homes would not be bought to pass them on to one’s children, but to be able to survive after retirement by selling the asset.

What about the Italian case study? What are the major lessons we can learn from it?

Italy represents a good case study, since it has one of the oldest populations in the world, and thus all the pension-related issues are amplified in the Italian context. We can learn mainly two lessons: the first is that a pension reform that would make the system sustainable over time is hugely unpopular. All Italian politicians that shrunk pension benefits paid an important personal cost in terms of their popularity and their political careers.

The major political flaw in the system is that people are extremely averse to loss:  it is extremely hard to withdraw existing benefits to a large class of citizens.

Yet, it is also important to highlight that pension system reform is not the kind of issue that a government can push back into the future indefinitely. At some point, the pressure on the public purse becomes too hard and tough decisions have to be made. In fact, many would argue that, at least for Italy, we have long passed that particular moment.

Who will benefit from the PPS system in Italy, and who will be negatively affected?

If we talk about people receiving a pension over their contribution, there would mainly be affected people who live on average less than the country-wide life-expectancy, thus people from the Southern regions, especially males. Of course, the other half of the coin is that women and Northenerns would be negatively affected. It is anyhow important to highlight that many people benefit of a pensione sociale, which despite the name is not actually a pension but a form of welfare for the elderly who are unable to claim a proper pension. These are mostly located in the South – the South being poorer and featuring a wider proportion of underground economic activity. Of course, a PPS reform that would change this ‘pension’ would affect them dramatically.

What approach, or what changes to existing approaches should be considered to reduce negative outcomes of such a pension system?

Our idea is to define better the likelihood of reaching a certain age that each person has and to modulate the contribution over this variable. Pensions are paid as long as someone dies. The key variable here is how long one lives. We know that life expectancy depends on a number of factors, such as gender, residence, habits, marriage status, and so on. To base a pension system on a much more detailed estimation of one’s expected lifespan, as the private system already does, is the first step toward a more (actuarially) fair pension system.

What are the key contributions your article brings to the field?

We offer a point of view that reverses the usual narrative on who ‘contributes the most’. Often, richer regions in the country are seen as net contributors to welfare payments, while the poorer regions are seen as getting disproportionate benefits from this equalization. Yet, and this is what we have tried to show in our paper if we look at how long people benefit from a given welfare measure (something that is connected to life expectancy for pension), it turns out that the poorer regions, on average, contribute more than the richer regions. The sustainability of the pension system in Italy, to the extent that it is sustainable (not for long!), is aided not worsened by pension benefits granted to citizens of poorer (southern) regions.

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Article: Alfano V., Maffettone P. (2020), No Country for Old (Poor) Men: Fairness and Public Pensions, Political Studies Review 2021, Vol. 19(1) 137–147.

ABOUT

Prof. Vincenzo Alfano – is Adjunct Professor in Political Economy in the Department of Humanities (University of Napoli Federico II) . He received his PHD from Parthenope University and cooperates with the Institute for the Mediterranean of the Italian National Research Council.

Prof. Pietro Maffetone – is Assistant Professor in Political Philosophy in the Department of Political Sciences (University of Napoli Federico II). He received his PhD from the LSE. Before joining Federico II he taught at the LSE and Durham University.

Questions and production

Dr Eliza Kania, Brunel University London

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PSR Interviews #3: Kayfabe, Smartdom and Marking Out: Can Pro-Wrestling Help Us Understand Donald Trump?

“What’s fascinating about Donald Trump is he’s such an obvious political fraudster” – claims Dr David S. Moon.  “Here’s a guy who openly ‘breaks the fourth wall’, his campaign chief declaring near the start of his campaign that he was ‘projecting an image’ and ‘playing a part’ but would act more ‘presidential’ later – he adds. In this interview, Dr Moon explains analogies between pro-wrestling and (US) politics, focusing primarily on Donald Trump’s case. A fuller analysis of these issues can be found in Dr Moon’s PSR article.

Political Studies Review: What are the most prominent analogies between pro-wrestling and (US) politics? What key-aspects would you mention?

David S. Moon: There are two ways to think about analogies between pro-wrestling and politics. The first involves somewhat cheesy metaphors describing political debates as ‘a cage fight’, politicians collaborating as ‘tag-teaming’, or a political speech as a ‘bodyslam’ (see Rick Santorum’s 2006 election advert featuring himself standing in a pro-wrestling ring for the ultimate embodiment of such analogies). The message usually communicated by such references is entirely negative – that politics is loud, vulgar and boorish.
That isn’t to dismiss the idea of shared pageantry – think of US politicians coming on stage to entrance-music, with screaming audiences, light-shows, crowd-popping promos (remember John Kerry’s “I’m Reporting for Duty”, with salute?). Accepting the Republican nomination in 2016, Trump’s enterance evoked widespread comparisons to the entrance of WWE superstar The Undertaker.
The second is less immediately obvious and its what I’ve tried to get a handle on in this paper, which has to do with ‘kayfabe’.

Is involvement or interest in pro-wrestling common among US politicians? Or is Donald  Trump’s case somehow unusual?

Donald Trump isn’t the only prominent US politican to be a pro-wrestling fan. Richard Nixon and both G.H.W. and G.W. Bush are known fans, and there’s a great photograph of Jimmy Carter with Mr. Wrestling II (aka. Johnny Walker), his favourite pro-wrestler, in a headlock (Walker was invited to Carter’s inauguration but declined as it would have involved unmasking for security reasons).
We’ve also seen pro-wrestlers-turned-politicians, such as Jesse Ventura becoming Governor of Minnesota and Glenn ‘Kane’ Jacobs, current Mayor of Knox County.
Trump stands out, however, as the first President also in the WWE Hall of Fame. More than just a fan, he hosted two WrestleManias (1988 and 1989) at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, and appeared on WWE television over a dozen times, playing a leading role in story-lines and getting physical (shoves, slaps, a clothesline) in the ring itself.

If pro-wrestling is popularly perceived as ‘trash culture’ can we assume, that Trump’s political style shares these characteristics?

The idea that Trump’s political style and pro-wrestling share characteristics is widespread, with articles claiming the WWE was “Trump’s Presidential Training Ground”, etc. I’ve made my own contribution to these arguments in a previous article comparing Trump’s 2016 campaign with that of then friend Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura’s in 1999.
My argument there is that Trump and Ventura are ‘politainers’ (a concept drawn from Conley and Shultz), whose celebrity personas were developed in entertainment forms deemed ‘low culture’ (pro-wrestling, action movies and shock jock radio with Ventura – reality TV, beauty pageants and more pro-wrestling with Trump) who, by not breaking character when they transitioned onto the political field, were afforded an ability to speak and act in ways closed off to professional politicians, which gave them a rebellious, outsider, anti-authority veneer.
I see something similar in comedy panel show stalwart and newspaper pamphleteer Boris Johnson’s persona, affected bumbling and all…

Trump and Ventura are ‘politainers’ (…) whose celebrity personas were developed in entertainment forms deemed ‘low culture’, who (…) were afforded an ability to speak and act in ways closed off to professional politicians, which gave them a rebellious, outsider, anti-authority veneer.

Can professional wrestling bring a conceptual toolkit to a more precise study of Trump’s political appeal?

Absolutely – as I hope my article illustrates! What’s fascinating about Trump is he’s such an obvious political fraudster: here’s a guy who openly ‘breaks the fourth wall’, his campaign chief declaring near the start of his campaign that he was ‘projecting an image’ and ‘playing a part’ but would act more ‘presidential’ later; a guy who could lead crowds chants of “Lock her up!” when campaigning and once in office, laugh at these same antics, telling those same crowds the chants “plays great before the election. Now we don’t care.”
How then can we explain the engagement with and emotional investment in his campaign by an electorate that is apparently cynical about politics? I argue the concepts of ‘kayfabe’, ‘smart fans’, and ‘marking out’ offer a conceptual toolkit that helps explain this phenomenon. But more than just Trump, I’d argue they help illuminate our engagement with contemporary politics more widely.

You suggest using kayfabe as a metaphor for postmodern politics. What’s the key characteristic of it: a spectacle? Blurring lines between fake or real? Emotional interactions with the audience?

The concept of kayfabe is the central subject of much of the pro-wrestling studies scholarship, which my article hopes to introduce fellow political studies scholars to. The term is a piece of industry jargon/slang, a pig-Latin-esque word for ‘fake’. At its root, Kayfabe refers to performing staged events as if authentic, encompassing all three mentioned characteristics.
Once, it was the noble lie that excluded outsiders from the industry secret that the sport was ‘worked’ (i.e. predetermined). Today, the term has come to describe a contemporary form of audience engagement involving ‘smart’ fans willingly suspending their disbelief and playing along with the performance conventions underpinning kayfabe – e.g. cheering the ‘face’ (good guy) and booing the ‘heel’ (bad guy) – while simultaneous engaging in a game of interpretation, applying their understandings of pro-wrestling as an art and an industry, with the aim of identifying the intentions behind performance choices, both in-ring and backstage.

How can the concepts of smart fans and kayfabe be useful in explaining cynical supporters engagement?

I argue the elements just mentioned – the suspension of disbelief, co-performance of kayfabe and simultaneous game of interpretation – are key to the pleasure of pro-wrestling’s ‘smart fans’ and mirrored in how supporters engage with politics. Just as pro-wrestling fans parse a performance’s elements for signs of a ‘heel’ turn or clues regarding future storylines, supporters seek the intention behind the performance choices politicians make.
We know a rally is staged in a particular city, for specific ends, based on particular calculations of its effect (e.g. “we must win the Red Wall”). We know a team of scriptwriters, brand consultants, etc. shape the candidate’s speech. We don’t interact with such events naively. Rather we actively question these elements – why raise this issue now? Who is this policy’s intended audience? – keeping a cynical, knowing distance, whilst at the same time suspending disbelief and cheering and booing, performing our role as supporters-who-believe.

At its root, Kayfabe refers to performing staged events as if authentic, encompassing all three mentioned characteristics.

What are the key contributions your article brings to the field?

Trump’s history with WWE and his hyperbolic campaign-style make him the perfect subject to apply pro-wrestling concepts as a way to understand how self-conceived cynics can nevertheless emotionally invest in politicians’ campaigns. But kayfabe politics doesn’t end with Trump.
With both pro-wrestling and politics, smarts’ ability to engage in interpretation and prediction requires an ability to think like the writers, producers and performers/advisors, media operators and politicians themselves. Smarts thus learn to interpret within certain ‘rules of the game’, which structure reception of information, limiting openness to approaches outside these rules. An interpretive focus upon the intentions behind performances – whether Vince McMahon’s booking or Dominic Cummings’ briefings – rather than their material ramifications – be that multiple concussions from chair-shots or people starved to death by benefits cuts – compounds this.
Conceptualising political engagement through kayfabe thus offers us a warning about how we relate to and study politics.

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ABOUT

Dr David S. Moon – Senior Lecturer, Politics, Languages & International Studies at the University of Bath.

His research focuses on the application of contemporary political theory to the study of political communication and campaigning; and post-devolution UK politics and sub-state political parties. More

Questions and production

Dr Eliza Kania, Brunel University London

PSR Interviews #2: An Introduction to Multilevel Regression and Post-Stratification – an interview with Chris Hanretty

MRP is a model-based technique, so if you have a really poor model of the opinion you’re examining, that’s going to hurt you” – claims Prof. Hanretty.Hopefully, everyone using MRP will have at least some substantive knowledge of the demographic and geographic determinants of public opinion” – he adds. In this interview, the author explains complexities, the potential and flaws of multilevel regression and post-stratification. A fuller analysis of this emerging technique can be found in Prof. Hannerty’s PSR article.

Political Studies Review: How would you describe the basic idea behind multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP) technique?

Chris Hanretty: There are two basic steps in MRP: (1) you learn about voter opinions from a large national sample, and in particular, the opinions of certain types of voters; (2) and you go look up other sources of information (often a census or something similar) to find out how many voters of each type there are in each area. If I know (on the basis of my national sample and some model) that 55-64-year-old men with a high school education are very likely to vote Conservative, and if I know how many such men there are in a particular seat, then that gets me part of the way to understanding how that seat as a whole will vote. I just need to repeat the exercise for all the different voter types implicit in my model.

That’s the idea in a nutshell. In practice, it’s more complicated, and often a lot of the added value comes not from knowing information about individual voter types, but information about the types of the area they live in. The single best predictor of Conservative vote share in a seat is the Conservative vote share in the last election. MRP really benefits from having these predictors alongside demographic predictors, but I lead with the demographic picture because that’s much more intuitive.

You wrote that MRP has been developing for the past 15–20 years. It has made it possible to pose and answer questions related to public opinion in small areas that have not been possible before. How was this method popularised, and what influenced its development? Is it becoming a prevalent statistical technique?

I think Andrew Gelman at Columbia has been an outstanding popularizer of MRP. I think technical and software developments have always played their part. There are now a lot more packages which allow researchers to estimate multilevel models of the kind used in MRP.

The major benefit of MRP seems that it allows avoiding the need for surveys at a sub-regional level. Are there any other benefits?

For me, it’s hard to see past that benefit. If you want to know about constituency opinion in the UK, it’d be impossible to field a standard 1,000 person survey in all those seats. No company has that polling capacity. Maybe for some contexts – say, US states – you could think about conducting state polls and aggregating those. But then you’d have to think about varying dates of fieldwork, different weighting targets in those states – urgh, it makes me shudder to think of it.

What are the possible limitations of this method?

MRP is a model-based technique, so if you have a really poor model of the opinion you’re examining, that’s going to hurt you. Hopefully, everyone using MRP will have at least some substantive knowledge of the demographic and geographic determinants of public opinion.

Maybe for some contexts – say, US states – you could think about conducting state polls and aggregating those. But then you’d have to think about varying dates of fieldwork, different weighting targets in those states – urgh, it makes me shudder to think of it.

Another limitation is that you might not always have the post-stratification data you need. You might want to create estimates just for adult citizens, but your national census office might only release breakdowns for the adult population. There’s often a tension between what you want to include in the model and what’s available from official statistics.

What are other contributions your article brings to the field you’d like to highlight?

I’m just happy to have some code out there which takes people through the whole process. Written descriptions of procedures in peer-reviewed journals are obviously important, but additional documented code is the cherry on the cake!

MORE

Article: Hannerty C. (2020), An Introduction to Multilevel Regression and Post-Stratification for Estimating Constituency Opinion, Political Studies Review 2020, Vol. 18(4) 630–645.

ABOUT

Professor Christopher Hannerty – Professor of Politics at Royal Halloway, University of London.

His research areas concern representation and the politics of the judiciary. More

Twitter Political Studies Review @PolStudiesRev

Questions and production

Dr Eliza Kania, Brunel University London

PSR Interviews #1: “Enemies of the American people” – Donald Trump, populism and politics of insecurity – interview with Daniel Béland

Why does Donald Trump want to “depict his opponents as enemies of the American people, who will cheat and do whatever it takes to kick him out of the White House”? What consequences will his actions have on the country’s future? Now, when America is facing a profound political change, we decided to discuss Donald Trump’s political legacy with Profes­sor Daniel Béland. He’ll debate collective threat framing, Trump’s populist tactics and the results it may have on the country’s society. A fuller analysis of these issues can be found in Prof. Beland’s PSR article. But here, we’re beginning a short PSR research-based interviews series

PSR: How would you define populism? What components do you find the most essential?

Daniel Béland: Populism is a slippery and contested concept that can be hard to define. In my article, I draw on the work of Jan-Werner Müller (2016) to stress two main components of populism: its critique of the elites and its claim to speak on the behalf of a people that is both unified and coherent. My article focuses exclusively on right-wing populism, even if left-wing populism shares these two basic characteristics. 

How is populism linked to the politics of insecurity?

The politics of insecurity is largely about the framing and reframing of collective threats. In my article, I suggest that right-wing populism defines migrants as a key threat, something obvious in President Trump’s rhetoric, which depicts them as “folk devils” who constitute a direct menace against the American people.      

What are the major collective threats that have been framed and acted upon during Donald Trump’s presidency?

Migrants are only one of the major perceived collective threats President Trump focused on during his presidency and it is the one I decided to focus on in my article. Other collective threats President Trump has referred to include the economic threat stemming from China and the “bad” trade deals with other countries, including Canada and Mexico, a situation that led to the renegotiation of NAFTA. However, these threats are less “personal” and seemingly immediate than the migrant caravan I discuss in my article.    

Trump might have lost the popular vote and at the electoral college but right-wing populism and white nationalism associated to him and his faithful base are unlikely to disappear any time soon

If populism is about framing and reframing national identities, what was the major change caused by Trump’s rhetoric?

Under Trump, the emphasis on border control has increased well beyond the issue of terrorism, which became such a central issue in the United States after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For instance, concerns about the US-Mexico border had long existed but President Trump depicted Mexican and Central American migrants who cross the border as an imminent and existential threat to the United States. More recently, in a similar way, the president has also attacked Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA, which he has distorted the image and blown out of proportion to scare voters.    

How has the framing of migrants and other collective threats reshaped how Americans regard politics? Will – regardless of his defeat, – the base of Trump supporters reshapes the US politics itself?

President Trump’s recent refusal to concede defeat and recognize the clear victory of Democratic candidate Job Biden is part of a broader attempt to depict his opponents as enemies of the American people, who will cheat and do whatever it takes to kick him out of the White House. Clearly the accusations of voter fraud are embedded in racial prejudice, especially when the president targets alleged yet fictional widespread “cheating” in cities with a large black population like Detroit and Philadelphia. Trump might have lost the popular vote and at the electoral college but right-wing populism and white nationalism associated to him and his faithful base are unlikely to disappear any time soon in what remains a highly divided country, in which different narratives about who the people is are now embedded in resilient and highly contentious partisan identities.   

What are the key contributions your article brings to the field?

The main contribution of my article is theoretical, as it bridges and integrates the literatures on populism and on the politics of insecurity to formulate an integrated framework that other scholars could apply or adapt to a variety of political and geographical settings. This is why the article is not only targeting students of the United States or the politics of immigration but all scholars interested in the insecurity/populism nexus.     

LEARN MORE

ABOUT

Prof. Daniel Béland

Prof. Daniel Béland – James McGill Professor; Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC).

Questions and production

Dr Eliza Kania, Brunel University London

Photo used in the heading image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr (link), license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0), modified.

Political Studies Review: a research-based interview project

Some researchers claim that “a key to accessible, interesting academic work is [a] conversational yet authoritative tone coupled with attention-getting titles, compelling openings, anecdotes and illustrations”[1]. We agree.

Our editorial team is committed to presenting and visualizing research data to boost dissemination and to reaching wider (including non-academic) audiences. We use different forms of communication to present research findings such as infographics and data animations. Some of our authors have also contributed to our excellent podcast series. But this time we would like to invite PSR authors to take part in our research-based interview project.

We believe that interviews are also a prominent form of research communication. It gives a space to discuss a research topic, article or research ideas in a less formal format.

To illustrate this idea, we have prepared some excellent examples:

If you’d decide to take part in this, here’s how it works. We will provide you with around 5 questions based on your article, research aims or ideas. You can answer them in writing, or by recording your answers and add any visual/graphical material you want to use to explain your point. The idea is that answers should be relatively brief, and provide readers or listeners with a flavour of your research. As with all our activity, we will promote this through social media for maximum exposure.

The idea is that answers should be relatively brief, and provide readers or listeners with a flavour of your research.

The outcome will be informative and accessible (published at psr.brunel.ac.uk) and will encourage readers to engage further with your article and wider research.


[1] Feature Essay: The road to academic success is paved with stylish academic writing, LSE Impact Blog, 20.05.2020, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2012/05/20/the-road-to-academic-success-is-paved-with-stylish-academic-writing/