Nathan C. Walker
A society’s political and legal treatment of religion is a distinct indicator of the health of a democracy. Consequently, high levels of political and legal contempt for religion in the United States can be an indicator that partners in American democracy may be going through a divorce. By drawing upon studies that measure voter attitudes and behaviors, as well as research that tracks the levels of social hostilities and violence toward religion, students of democracy see into two of society’s most revealing mirrors: political rhetoric and the nation’s laws. These reflections can unveil powerful questions about the true character of a nation: will democracy rule from a place of contempt for the religious other, or from a state of passive political tolerance, or from a constitutional commitment to actively protect the rights of those with whom we disagree? Theories of political tolerance and psychological studies of contempt prove helpful in examining contemporary levels of religious animosity in politics and law. The Religious Contempt Scale, as introduced in this essay, gauges a society’s willingness to tolerate the religious other. When special attention is given to the frequency and degrees of severity of expressions of contempt, it becomes clear that contempt has political utility: to motivate the intolerant to gain access to power and, in turn, to motivate those who are intolerant of intolerance to remove them.
The concept of political culture plays a critical role in the comparative study of democracy. Its major contribution is understanding the societal roots of democracy and how these roots transform through cultural change. Various cultural changes in post-industrial societies converge in a fundamental transformation of democratic ideals: the notion of the model citizen shifts from an “allegiant” to an “assertive” participant in politics. This cultural shift has far-reaching consequences, making democratic politics more mass-driven. Recent evidence suggests that non-democratic regimes also depend on their political culture: these regimes are stable as long as emancipatory desires for freedoms remain limited to small segments of the population. If, however, such desires spread throughout large parts of the population, non-democracies run into trouble and become more likely to undergo a transition to democracy.
Ian Shapiro, Steven Richardson, Scott McClurg, and Anand Sokhey
Decades of work have illuminated the influence interpersonal networks exert on voting behavior, political participation, the acquisition of political knowledge, tolerance, ambivalence, and attitude polarization. These central findings have largely been grounded in examinations of political discussion and have remained robust to measurement differences of key concepts like disagreement, various data collection methods, and multiple research designs ranging from the cross-sectional to large-scale field experiments. By comparison, scholars understand considerably less about individuals’ motivation to approach their social contacts when it comes to politics, and about why networks produce the outcomes that they do; this calls researchers to reflect on and revisit previous research, but also to consider new paths of research. Although there is a growing body of promising work focused on “whole,” or complete, networks, much can also be gained by better integrating social psychology into the study of egocentric, or “core,” political networks.
Answering these (and other) questions will help connect current findings, emerging methods, and nascent theory. Such connections should advance dialogues between research on group influence, discussion networks, and individual political behavior.
Aubrey Westfall and Özge Çelik Russell
Religion is a central and comprehensive identity for billions of people all over the world. Politicians and other political actors recognize the vitality of religion and use it for political purposes, deliberately signaling religion, religiosity, or religious values and connecting them to political outcomes or behaviors in an effort to influence the political preferences of religious practitioners. The most efficient way to make the connection between religion and politics is through religious cues. Religious cues create information shortcuts linking religious identity or values with a political candidate or issue. Religious cues are used by political and religious actors in secular and religious contexts and are typically one of two general types: identity cues, which engage an individual’s religious identity and activate an in-group/out-group effect, and linkage cues, which link religious values or beliefs with an issue or candidate. Identity cues are particularly tricky to use in secular contexts because they have been shown to have strong alienating effects on nonreligious people, thereby defeating the intended purpose of the cue sender. For this reason, coded religious language called “implicit cues” is used with greater frequency in political discourse where only the religious cue receiver recognizes the religious cue for what it is. This strategy allows a political candidate to reap the benefits of the cue without risking alienation.
While scholars have made substantial progress in using experimental methods to disentangle the ways religious cues influence political behavior, there is ample opportunity for more research exploring different types of religious cues and the way they interact with other forms of cues and identities. Furthermore, most of the research on religious cues has focused on Christian cues in the United States, and a more diverse range of religions and contexts should be explored to understand the way religious cues influence political behavior. Researchers should also expand the definition of “religious practitioners” to explore how religious cues influence the growing number of people who do not affiliate with a religion or engage in practices traditionally associated with religiosity but do identify as religious. This would help to expand conceptualization of political behavior to more accurately reflect lived political experiences. Embracing these opportunities will allow the scholarly community to gain a better understanding of the varied political dynamics of religious cueing, which offers insights into how fundamental identities and attitudes are linked, thereby shedding more light on the complex dynamics of political behavior.
Ingrid Johnsen Haas, Clarisse Warren, and Samantha J. Lauf
Recent research in political psychology and biopolitics has begun to incorporate theory and methods from cognitive neuroscience. The emerging interdisciplinary field of political neuroscience (or neuropolitics) is focused on understanding the neural mechanisms underlying political information processing and decision making. Most of the existing work in this area has utilized structural magnetic resonance imaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or electroencephalography, and focused on understanding areas of the brain commonly implicated in social and affective neuroscience more generally. This includes brain regions involved in affective and evaluative processing, such as the amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate, and orbitofrontal cortex, as well as regions involved in social cognition (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex [PFC]), decision making (e.g., dorsolateral PFC), and reward processing (e.g., ventral striatum). Existing research in political neuroscience has largely focused on understanding candidate evaluation, political participation, and ideological differences. Early work in the field focused simply on examining neural responses to political stimuli, whereas more recent work has begun to examine more nuanced hypotheses about how the brain engages in political cognition and decision making. While the field is still relatively new, this work has begun to improve our understanding of how people engage in motivated reasoning about political candidates and elected officials and the extent to which these processes may be automatic versus relatively more controlled. Other work has focused on understanding how brain differences are related to differences in political opinion, showing both structural and functional variation between political liberals and political conservatives. Neuroscientific methods are best used as part of a larger, multimethod research program to help inform theoretical questions about mechanisms underlying political cognition. This work can then be triangulated with experimental laboratory studies, psychophysiology, and traditional survey approaches and help to constrain and ensure that theory in political psychology and political behavior is biologically plausible given what we know about underlying neural architecture. This field will continue to grow, as interest and expertise expand and new technologies become available.
Jacob R. Neiheisel
Shaped by Marxist understandings of religion as a source of comfort, but not action, numerous scholars have explored whether various aspects of religion can be linked to participatory acts, either in politics or in civic life more generally. Decades of social scientific research on the subject offer no simple lessons regarding the relationship between religion and participation. Some elements or aspects of religion have been demonstrated to drive down levels of civic and political engagement. Although the whole picture is much more complicated, it is accurate to say that private devotionalism and other facets of religious belief that emphasize individual spirituality and a relationship with the divine over taking steps to improve conditions on Earth are going to promote detachment from the civic realm. By contrast, collective aspects of religious belief and practice often track with greater levels of political participation. These collective elements include the creation of religiously based social networks, as well as opportunities to practice civic skills and receive entreaties to political action. At a different level of analysis, government action on such moral issues as abortion and same-sex marriage has served as a spur to the political involvement of religious interests, whereas government regulation of religion has been shown to deter participation in the civic arena by religious organizations and groups. Taken together, the literature on religion and participation suggests that religion can serve as both a spur to civic and political engagement and as a suppressant, depending both on an individual’s approach to his or her faith and on the institutional dynamics that impinge on the political involvement of religious interests in the public square more generally.
Gideon Rahat and William P. Cross
Candidate selection is about the decisions political parties make regarding who to put forward as candidates under their label for general elections. Beyond being the function that differentiates parties from other political groupings (especially considering the decline in parties’ performance of their other traditional functions), candidate selection is crucial for understanding power relations within parties, the composition of parliaments, and the behavior of elected officials. It also has an impact on the quality of democracy, especially with regard to the values of participation, competition, responsiveness, and representation.
Candidate selection methods vary according to certain parameters. The two most important ones are the level of inclusiveness of the selectorate(s) (the body or bodies that choose the candidates) and their relative level of centralization. Beyond the few cases in which state laws define the process, the nature of candidate selection methods is influenced by various country-level factors, such as the electoral system and national political culture, as well as by party-level characteristics, such as party ideology. Reform of candidate selection methods occurs as a result of general developments, such as party change or personalization, party system developments, such as electoral defeat, and intraparty struggles.
Although candidate selection is no longer “the secret garden of politics,” research still faces various obstacles. Consequently, the level of scholarly development is less advanced than the parallel study of electoral systems and their political consequences.
M. Anne Pitcher
On a continent where the majority of people are poor, do political parties represent class cleavages? Do parties have strong linkages to ordinary voters? Do economic policies address their needs? In the initial years following democratic transitions across the African continent in the 1990s, the answers to such questions were negative. Clientelism and patronage were the principal means by which parties interacted with their constituencies; elites and elite interests determined the objectives of political parties; voters in many African countries shifted parties frequently; and neoliberal economic policies largely reflected the preferences of foreign donors and international financial institutions. As parties and voters have adjusted to the institutional arrangements and political demands associated with democracy, a more heterogeneous political landscape has materialized since 2010. Party systems demonstrate distinct patterns of variation, from the more stable, institutionalized systems in Ghana and Botswana to fluid, inchoate configurations in Benin and Malawi. These variations in the degree to which party systems have institutionalized affect economic policy choices by parties and those who benefit from them. Furthermore, democratic politics has intensified pressures on ruling parties to provide goods such as electricity and education. Here too, patterns of goods provision show substantial variation over time and across countries, calling attention to the differences in the incentives and capacities of parties to respond to distributive demands by the electorate.
To explore the political and economic heterogeneity of contemporary Africa, scholars have combined well-established qualitative and comparative approaches with new analytical tools. The use of cross-national public opinion surveys, field and survey experiments, satellite imagery, and geo-coded data have enabled more systematic, fine-grained study of the economic determinants of party system competition, economic voting, the distribution of goods, and the management of private sector development by ruling parties in recent years. These empirical approaches enrich understanding of the relationship between parties and political economy in Africa and facilitate more fruitful comparisons with other regions of the world.
Thomas Poguntke, Susan E. Scarrow, and Paul D. Webb
How political parties organize directly affects who is represented and which policies are prioritized. Political parties structure political choice, which is one of the main functions generally ascribed to them. Their roles as gatekeepers for policies and political careers are closely linked to their nature as membership-based organizations, and to the extent to which they empower members to directly or indirectly influence these crucial choices. Parties also play a crucial role as campaign organizations, whose organizational strength influences their electoral success. The literature often summarizes differences in how parties organize and campaign by identifying major party types, which can be regarded as “classic models” of party organization. Yet, actual parties must adapt to changing environments or risk being supplanted by newer parties or by other political actors. For instance, in recent years one popular adaptation has involved parties opening their decision-making processes by introducing party-wide ballots to settle important questions. Changes like these alter how parties act as intermediaries in representation and political participation. Thanks to the increasing availability of comparable data on party organizations in established and new democracies, and in parliamentary and presidential systems, today’s scholars are better equipped to study the origins and impacts of parties’ organizational differences.
The literature on political representation is split between research traditions that have remained largely separate: a philosophical normative strand, a behavioralist one focusing mainly on the roles held by representatives, and a third, more distinctly sociological one concerned primarily with issues of representativeness. These classical perspectives have been extended through the introduction of new dimensions into the analysis. The normative tradition has thus been able to formulate novel questions by considering, for instance, issues relating to the representation of nonhuman species or of future generations. Present-day writings on political representation also depart from accepted premises by integrating additional infra-institutional forms of representation. Similarly, a postmodern vein of thought has drawn increased attention to the fluidity of the processes involved and a rather hybrid literature has emerged that combines empirical and normative ambitions. Despite claims by some analysts to have renewed approaches on the topic, there are not so much major theoretical innovations as developments relating to the dynamics of political representation itself in the contemporary era. It is important to realize that much of the analysis of political representation has been couched in very general terms and that the field itself suffers from a lack of serious comparative work. In this respect, more inductive explorations are needed into the perceptions of representation (too often reduced to mere constructivist mechanisms), the concrete logics of accountability, and the “theatrical” dimension of the relationship—in all of which there has been underinvestment by political scientists.
Tom W. G. van der Meer
For decades, scholarly inquiry into political trust has been motivated by concerns about declining levels of public trust in politics. Because political trust is considered a necessary precondition for democratic rule, a decline in trust is thought to fundamentally challenge the quality of representative democracy.
Fundamentally, political trust can be understood as citizens’ support for political institutions such as government and parliament in the face of uncertainty about or vulnerability to the actions of these institutions. While political trust is conventionally treated as a pro-democratic value, its absence is not evidently detrimental to democracy. Rather, skepticism stimulates political engagement and signals a willingness to judge political institutions by their own merits.
In cross-national comparisons political trust is consistently highest in countries that are not considered liberal democracies. Within the set of liberal democracies, the Nordic countries tend to have the highest trust rates, while the former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe have the lowest. Despite evidence that political trust declines in many longstanding democracies in the 1960s and 1970s, the last few decades are characterized by trendless fluctuations in most countries.
While scholars have made great headway in understanding the sources of political trust—most notably corruption, procedural fairness, (economic) performance, inclusive institutions, and socialization—this article argues that knowledge about its consequences has remained remarkably scarce.
Doh Chull Shin
How well do people around the world understand democracy? Do they support democracy with an informed understanding of what it is? To address these questions, which have largely been overlooked in the literature on democratization, the World Values Survey and three regional barometer surveys are analyzed according to a two-dimensional notion of democratic knowledge. Their analyses reveal that a vast majority of global citizenries especially in post-authoritarian and authoritarian countries are either uninformed or misinformed about the fundamental characteristics of democracy and its alternatives. These findings contradict the popular theses that democracy is emerging as a universal value and it is also becoming the universally preferred system of government. For much of the world today, democracy represents little more than an appealing political symbol that still retains authoritarian practices.
Although widely used in reference to the Americas and Europe, the concept of populism has been less frequently applied to political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Populism is variously viewed as a political strategy aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms. A cumulative approach that combines all three perspectives allows for identifying episodes of populism in Africa. These include historical cases of populist regimes in the 1980s as well as more contemporary examples of party leaders in the region’s democracies who use populism in their electoral campaigns to mobilize subaltern groups, especially those living in urban areas. As found in other regions of the world, those African leaders who have ascended to the presidency on the back of populism typically exert anti-democratic practices once in office. This reaffirms that populism can allow for greater representation of the poor and marginalized in the electoral process, but that populists’ celebration of popular will and supposedly unmediated ties to the people become convenient justifications for bypassing established institutions and undermining the rule of law.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.
Barrett Scroggs and Debra McKnight
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals have historically been considered non-religious. This disconnect has typically been due to the anti-LGBTQ stances that many religions have taken. However, as many Christian denominations begin to take more open and progressive stances on issues related to sexuality, gender, and identity, there are some in the LGBTQ community who desire and are able to reconcile their LGBTQ and religious identities. This is especially true for members of the LGBTQ community who grew up in Christian spaces. Prior research has explored LGBTQ participation in religious communities and has found that participation in these activities has positive implications for the well-being of the LGBTQ community. However, despite the growing number of Christian churches welcoming members of the LGBTQ community, the literature has not explored the implications for LGBTQ collective action and civic behavior within the context of progressive church communities.
Participation in social justice work, whether in formal or informal ways, can offer individuals an altruistic outlet to become actively involved in causes impacting the world around them. This social justice work may include attending a justice-themed rally, volunteering for an organization promoting equality, or engaging in dialogue with others to promote a justice-themed cause. Social justice work like this can be a form of activism, which has been found to be an important stage of LGBTQ identity development. Prior research has found that higher levels of minority group identification are associated with a higher likelihood of participation in collective action and that higher levels of church attendance are associated with higher levels of civic participation. The church has historically been a space for social justice behavior and thus can connect LGBTQ individuals to a deeper passion for social justice and civic behavior. Members of the LGBTQ community are able to reconcile their LGBTQ and religious identities. And through the connection to a church, they can engage in collective action connected to LGBTQ-related and other issues (e.g., women’s rights, the environment, poverty, immigration, and housing).
Ferdinand M. Vieider and Barbara Vis
Prospect theory—a psychologically founded account of decision making under risk and uncertainty—revolutionized how economists and, later, political scientists thought about decision making under uncertainty. Conceptually, prospect theory is based on two central notions: reference dependence, which is the notion that the utility of outcomes is defined over changes in outcomes from a reference point instead of over absolute outcome levels; and likelihood dependence, which is the notion that people distort probabilities non-linearly when making a decision. Likelihood dependence gives rise to the possibility and certainty effects—changes in probabilities are given much more weight if they fall toward the probability endpoints than if they fall into intermediate probability ranges. Reference dependence gives rise to the reflection effect, predicting mirrored risk attitudes for gains and for losses; and to loss aversion, predicting that people display a disproportionate dislike for losses.
Prospect theory has been extensively applied in the literature on political decision making. Two observations stand out. One, some aspects, such as the reflection effect, have received considerably more attention than others, such as loss aversion or likelihood dependence. Two, there is a twin challenge arising from the combination of this selective modelling and ex post rationalization. A step-wise procedure may help making modelling approaches more principled and systematic. This could furthermore help predicting future decision making behaviour—an aspect that has been neglected in favour of fitting past data.
The field of protest and contentious action is massive. Numerous studies have focused on the determinants of such behavior, among which are grievances and deprivations, resources, political opportunities, and general contextual conditions. Others have examined the changes in political protest over time and across countries, or the consequences of contentious action. Moreover, research on protest politics is characterized by a multitude of methodological approaches, which are not easy to group according to the “qualitative–quantitative” divide. To navigate this literature, three units of analysis are examined: individuals; groups, organizations or social movements; and protest events. This perspective can guide researchers through the field, in particular through the main factors for protest studies cross-temporally and cross-nationally, about their effects, and through the various methodological approaches. This perspective also might suggest possible directions for future research to overcome some limitations of the current literature.
After decades-long neglect, a growing body of scholarship is studying religious components of protests. Religion’s role as a facilitator, the religious perspective of protesters, the goals of religious actors as participants, and faith-based outcomes of protests have been examined using quantitative and qualitative methodology. Although it is now a thriving research field, due to recent contributions, incorporating faith-based variables in protest research is a challenging task since religion travels across different levels of analysis; effortlessly merges with thick concepts such as individual and collective identity; and takes different shapes and color when it surfaces in various social contexts across the globe. Therefore, at the religion and protest nexus, there are more questions than answers. Research in the field would improve by investing more on theoretical frameworks and expanding the availability of qualitative and quantitative data.
Mathew V. Hibbing, Melissa N. Baker, and Kathryn A. Herzog
Since the early 2010s, political science has seen a rise in the use of physiological measures in order to inform theories about decision-making in politics. A commonly used physiological measure is skin conductance (electrodermal activity). Skin conductance measures the changes in levels of sweat in the eccrine glands, usually on the fingertips, in order to help inform how the body responds to stimuli. These changes result from the sympathetic nervous system (popularly known as the fight or flight system) responding to external stimuli. Due to the nature of physiological responses, skin conductance is especially useful when researchers hope to have good temporal resolution and make causal claims about a type of stimulus eliciting physiological arousal in individuals. Researchers interested in areas that involve emotion or general affect (e.g., campaign messages, political communication and advertising, information processing, and general political psychology) may be especially interested in integrating skin conductance into their methodological toolbox. Skin conductance is a particularly useful tool since its implicit and unconscious nature means that it avoids some of the pitfalls that can accompany self-report measures (e.g., social desirability bias and inability to accurately remember and report emotions). Future decision-making research will benefit from pairing traditional self-report measures with physiological measures such as skin conductance.
Christopher Wlezien and Stuart N. Soroka
The link between the public opinion and public policy is fundamental to political representation. The current empirical literature tests a general model in which policy is considered to be a function of public preferences. The mechanics by which preferences are converted to policy are considered along with extensions of the basic model - extensions through which the magnitude of opinion representation varies systematically acorss issues and political institutions. Thus, public opinion is an independent variable - an important driver of public policy change. With the consideration of 12/1 opinion as a dependent variable, specifically, its responsiveness to policy change - the ongoing existence of both policy representation and public responsiveness is critical to the functioning of representative democracy.