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Constructivist Perspectives in Crisis Studies  

Bert Spector

Two important perspectives have come to dominate crisis studies. The first most traditional and dominant is what could be termed the crisis management or “crisis as event” perspective. The second more critical approach to crisis studies is the constructivist “crisis as a social construct” perspective. The purpose, structure, and focus of the two approaches differ significantly in virtually every regard. The crisis management perspective assumes a positivist set of assumptions by adopting an objective epistemology and ontology. Crisis is taken to be a concrete, objective thing. Approaching storms, terrorist attacks, global pandemics, financial upheavals, and so on, are all taken to be crises with objectively threatening and urgent characteristics. Starting with an analysis of the crisis event, crisis management analysis considers the response to the event with the ultimate goal of improving reactions to and preparation for future events. Constructivist crisis studies, conversely, participate in a broad post-modernist project that critiques dominant narratives, disputes epistemological certainty and ontological objectivity, and takes cognizance of language “games” and coded messages embedded in discursive acts. Constructivists take an antipositivist ontological position, insisting that the world as people perceive it is a human invention. The emphasis is not on corporeal things or objectively verifiable facts, but rather on the construction of knowledge and the resulting assignment of meaning. The constructivist crisis perspective shifts analytic focus away from the so-called “crisis event,” itself a contested construct, and to the claim that certain contingencies constitute a crisis. The process by which individuals and groups assert a claim of urgency, as well as the interests behind all such claims, comes into focus in a constructivist perspective. Who are the individuals and groups making the claim that a crisis exists, and what are their interests in so doing? In positivist crisis management studies, the event constitutes the independent variable; for constructivist scholars, it is the claim that is the independent variable.


Avoiding Blame in Policy Crises in Different Institutional Settings  

Minou De Ruiter and Sanneke Kuipers

Policy crises often lead to “framing contests,” in which officeholders, opponents, media, and the public at large aim to interpret the crisis in question, explain its cause, attribute responsibility, and agree on ways to address harm caused. More often than not, these contests turn into blame games for the incumbent officeholder. Formal and informal institutional factors can shape blame avoidance options of officeholders, and influence the outcomes of these crisis-induced blame games in terms of blame escalation, policy responses, and political sanctions. First, formal institutions shape officeholders’ incentives for arguing that they are not responsible for the crisis or should not be punished for its occurrence. Studies in the field of welfare state retrenchment and ministerial resignations have analyzed the blame avoidance options of governments and the survival rates of officeholders in various institutional settings. These studies have provided evidence that institutional complexity and policy-making authority help explaining pathways of blame management. In single-party governments, the accountability chain is more clear and prime ministers have a stronger electoral incentive to sack failing and unpopular ministers. However, a more restrictive interpretation of formal ministerial responsibility for administrative or implementation failures, along with the delegation of policy execution to agencies at arm’s length, can work as a protective shield in blame games for the officeholders and reinforce policy inertia. Consociational systems with multiparty coalitions often show an opposite effect. Second, institutionalized norms, also known as “the way we do things around here,” affect blame avoidance behavior available to officeholders. Studies which have taken “cultural-institutional” approaches to accountability studies have shown that informal accountability actors, fora, and norms about appropriate behavior shape blame processes. Actors in consociational systems with multiparty coalitions often consider consensus-oriented and nonconfrontational behavior, such as attempts to appease the opposition with policy reparations, as more appropriate responses to blame than those in systems with more elite polarization. In addition, officeholders are increasingly held to account by actors who solely have an informal role in blame games, such as the media and interest groups. Therefore, the extent of mediatization and increased polarization plays a major role in how different political contexts “process” blame. Third, other relevant noninstitutional factors for blame avoidance behavior are important, such as the nature and timing of the crisis and involvement of other actors in the blame game. Issue salience and proximity affect the potential for blame escalations and the options for blame management by both office holders and their opponents. Prior reputation of incumbent politicians helps them to draw on leadership capital to deflect blame. If the timing of a blame game coincides with upcoming elections, blame is more likely to escalate and lead to political sanctions. To further understanding of the role of institutional factors in crisis-induced blames games, future research should focus on blame games where institutions themselves are questioned, contested, or in-flux.


Key Actors in the Management of Crises: International and Regional Organizations  

Eva-Karin Gardell and Bertjan Verbeek

In crisis-ridden times, when events like the COVID-19 pandemic, acts of terrorism, and climate change-induced crises are making constant headlines, states, businesses, and individuals alike look to international organizations (IOs) to help them weather the storm. How can the role of IOs be better understood in the context of crisis and crisis management? For a start, it requires a distinction between objective and subjective crisis perspectives in studying IOs. From an objective perspective, IOs are examined as unitary actors that have the aim of contributing to the stability of the international political system. On the other hand, in a subjectivistic approach, IOs’ actual crisis management is the focus. In this perspective, the emphasis is on an IO’s internal life, that is, its perceptions, bureau politics, and decision-making. In the exploration of these issues, IOs can no longer by studied as entities but have to be unwrapped into small groups and individuals, such as members of secretariats or member state’s top politicians. As borne out by theories developed by scholars of crisis management and foreign-policy analysis, centralization and cognitive bias are of special interest in the study of IOs. IOs’ crisis management has four crisis phases and tasks: sense-making, decision-making, meaning-making, and crisis termination. Finally, crises may prove a threat to, or an opportunity for, IOs. Transnational crises may usher in IOs’ foundation and flourishing, or they may contribute to IOs’ demise.


The Realignment of Class Politics and Class Voting  

Geoffrey Evans and Peter Egge Langsæther

Since the early days of the study of political behavior, class politics has been a key component. Initially researchers focused on simple manual versus nonmanual occupations and left versus right parties, and found consistent evidence of a strong effect of class on support for left-wing parties. This finding was assumed to be simply a matter of the redistributive preferences of the poor, an expression of the “democratic class struggle.” However, as the world became more complex, many established democracies developed more nuanced class structures and multidimensional party systems. How has this affected class politics? From the simple, but not deterministic pattern of left-voting workers, the early 21st century witnessed substantial realignment processes. Many remain faithful to social democratic (and to a lesser extent radical left) parties, but plenty of workers support radical right parties or have left the electoral arena entirely. To account for these changes, political scientists and sociologists have identified two mechanisms through which class voting occurs. The most frequently studied mechanism behind class voting is that classes have different attitudes, values, and ideologies, and political parties supply policies that appeal to different classes’ preferences. These ideologies are related not only to redistribution but also to newer issues such as immigration, which appear to some degree to have replaced competition over class-related inequality and the redistribution of wealth as the primary axis of class politics. A secondary mechanism is that members of different classes hold different social identities, and parties can connect to these identities by making symbolic class appeals or by descriptively representing a class. It follows that class realignment can occur either because the classes have changed their ideologies or identities, because the parties have changed their policies, class appeals, or personnel, or both. Early explanations focused on the classes themselves, arguing that they had become more similar in terms of living conditions, ideologies, and identities. However, later longitudinal studies failed to find such convergences taking place. The workers still have poorer, more uncertain, and shorter lives than their middle-class counterparts, identify more with the working class, and are more in favor of redistribution and opposed to immigration. While the classes are still distinctive, it seems that the parties have changed. Several social democratic parties have become less representative of working-class voters in terms of policies, rhetorical appeals, or the changing social composition of their activists and leaders. This representational defection is a response to the declining size of the working class, but not to the changing character or extent of class divisions in preferences. It is also connected to the exogeneous rise of new issues, on which these parties tend not to align with working-class preferences. By failing to represent the preferences or identities of many of their former core supporters, social democratic parties have initiated a supply-side driven process of realignment. This has primarily taken two forms; class–party realignments on both left and right and growing class inequalities in participation and representation.


Political Parties and Democratization  

John Ishiyama

Parties are indispensable to the building and maintenance of democracy. This is because parties are purported to promote representation, conflict management, integration, and accountability in new democracies. Second, the failures of parties in helping to build democracy in systems in transition are because they have not performed these functions very well. Third, there are three emerging research agendas to be explored that address the relationship between parties and democratic consolidation: (a) the promotion of institutional innovations that help build institutionalized party systems; (b) the role of ethnic parties in democratization and democratic consolidation; and (c) the role of rebel parties in building peace and democracy after civil wars. Although not entirely exhaustive, these three agendas represent promising avenues of research into the role political parties play in democratization.


The Advocacy Coalition Framework Research Program: An Overview  

Paúl Cisneros

Paul Sabatier and Hank Jenkins-Smith introduced the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) in the late 1980s to refine the theoretical and methodological tools available for the study of the policy process. Since the late 1990s, the use of the framework has grown in use outside the United States and it is now applied to study a broad range of policy arenas in all continents. ACF scholars have created a core community that regularly synthetizes findings from applications of the framework, giving the ACF the form of a true research program. The ACF has three principal theoretical domains: advocacy coalitions, policy subsystems, and policy change. The ACF posits that advocacy coalitions and policy subsystems are the most efficient ways to organize actors interested in the policy process for empirical research. The policy subsystem is the main unit of analysis in the ACF, and there are four paths leading to policy change. Expectations about the interactions between and within the three theoretical domains are contained in 15 main hypotheses which have received different degrees of confirmation since the late 1980s. The aspect that has received more attention in existing applications is the effect that external events have on policy change. The development of the ACF is supported by an active community of scholars that constantly reviews venerable as well as emerging criticisms, introducing adjustments that expand the heuristic power of the ACF in a controlled way. However, some areas in need of further refinement relate to: policy-oriented learning, interactions across subsystems, the theoretical foundations to identification of belief systems, and how the interactions between beliefs and interests affect coalition behavior.


Regulatory Governance: History, Theories, Strategies, and Challenges  

David Levi-Faur, Yael Kariv-Teitelbaum, and Rotem Medzini

Regulation, that is, rulemaking, rule monitoring, and rule enforcement, is both a key policy and legal instrument and a pillar of the institutions that demarcate political, social, and economic lives. It is commonly defined as a sustained and focused control mechanism over valuable activities using direct and indirect rules. Most frequently, regulation is associated with the activity of public independent regulatory agencies, designed to promote economic, social, risk-management, integrity, or moral goals. Since the 1990s, more and more states worldwide are establishing such agencies and placing more emphasis on the use of authority, rules, and standard-setting, thus partially displacing earlier emphasis on public ownerships and directly provided services. Alongside this rise of the “regulatory state,” the expansion of regulation is also reflected in the rapidly growing variety of regulatory regimes that involves nonstate actors, such as private regulation, self-regulation, and civil regulation. Regulatory regimes can be explained and assessed from three theoretical perspectives: public-interest theories, private-interest theories, and institutional theories. Each perspective shines a different light on the motivations of the five regulatory actors: rule-makers, rule intermediaries, rule-takers, rule beneficiaries, and citizens. Over the years, diverse regulatory strategies evolved, including: prescriptive strategies that attempt to mandate adherence in precise terms what is required from the rule-takers; performance-based strategies that set in advance only the required outcomes; and process-based strategies that attempt to influence the internal incentives and norms of rule-takers. Although it appears that regulation is here to stay as a keystone of society, it still faces fundamental challenges of effectiveness, democratic control, and fairness.


Creative Participation and the Expansion of Political Engagement  

Yannis Theocharis and Joost de Moor

Creative participation refers to citizens’ invention of, and engagement in, new action forms that aim to influence, or take responsibility for, the common good in society. By definition, these action forms are constantly evolving and cannot be listed or summarized. Yet some, like guerrilla gardening, have over time become more established in political repertoires, and specific arenas are known to be particularly productive sites for their development. These include in particular the Internet, and lifestyles and consumption. The constant changes in how citizens become active represented by creative participation present considerable challenges for scholars of political participation—both in terms of theory and methodology. In particular, such forms test our ability to distinguish political from nonpolitical activities. However, how political creative participation is, is often subtle and implicit, and therefore hard to establish. Yet being able to do so is essential for an ongoing assessment of the quality of participatory democracy. With conventional forms of participation declining and creative participation becoming more common, scholars must be able to agree on definitions and operationalizations that allow for the comparison of participatory trends. For instance, a key concern has been whether creative forms of participation crowd out more conventional ones, like voting or lobbying politicians. Developments in survey research have been able to show that this is not the case and that creative participation may in fact increase conventional participation. In addition, qualitative research methods like focus groups and ethnography, allow for more open-ended explorations of this elusive research topic. As to who participates, creative participation has enabled traditionally underrepresented groups like women and young people to catch up with, and sometimes overtake, those older men who have long dominated conventional political participation. Still, education remains a key obstacle even to creative participation. The COVID-19 crisis that took hold of the world in 2020 has compromised access to collective action and public space. It has thereby once more put the onus on citizens to engage creatively with ways to influence, and take responsibility for, society. At the same time, the crisis presents a need and opportunity for political participation scholarship to engage more deeply with theoretical debates about what it means to be political or to participate.


Enduring Questions and Unsatisfactory Answers About Direct Democracy  

Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan

Direct democracy elections bring into sharp focus several enduring questions about the role of voters in elections. Questions of voter competence, majority rule, spending effects, and process concerns are all highlighted. Many of these questions form the basis of often very pointed debates within the literature. The study of direct democracy throws into sharp relief some of the most enduring questions relating to elections and electoral democracy. So far, however, the answers have not proved satisfying to many observers. In some cases, these debates have persisted despite an accumulation of empirical evidence that would seem to resolve the issues. Contrary to the claims of repeated criticisms, voters are capable of voting on ballot propositions in accord with their own interests and are supportive of the process as a means of making decisions. While direct democracy does have its flaws, the flaws identified by many critics are not really as damning as the critics would seem to believe. For whatever reason, however, the criticisms repeat.


Citizen Representation and Electoral Systems  

Benjamin Ferland and Matt Golder

One common way to think about citizen representation is in terms of the ideological distance between citizens and their representatives. Are political elites ideologically congruent with citizen preferences? Electoral systems are an especially important political institution to consider when studying citizen representation because they influence the size and ideological composition of party systems, how votes are translated into legislative seats, the types of governments that form after elections, and the types of policies that get implemented. In effect, electoral institutions affect each stage of the representation process as one moves from citizen preferences to policy outcomes. Research on ideological congruence indicates that electoral rules can cause distortions in citizen-elite congruence to emerge and disappear as one moves through the representation process. In this regard, studies show that proportional electoral systems enjoy a representational advantage over majoritarian systems when it comes to legislative congruence (the ideological distance between the median legislative party and the median citizen) but that this advantage disappears when it comes to government congruence (the ideological distance between the government and the median citizen). Although research on citizen-elite ideological congruence has made significant progress over the last two decades, several new lines of inquiry are still worth pursuing. One is to move beyond the traditional focus on the left–right ideological dimension to evaluate citizen representation in a truly multidimensional framework. Another is to develop a unified theoretical framework for thinking about ideological congruence and ideological responsiveness. For too long, scholars have conducted studies of citizen-elite congruence and responsiveness in relative isolation, even though they address fundamentally related issues. In terms of measurement issues, progress can be made by developing better instruments to help locate citizens and elites on a common metric and paying more attention to the policymaking dynamics associated with minority and coalition governments. Existing studies of ideological congruence focus on the United States and the parliamentary democracies of Western Europe. Scholars might fruitfully extend the study of citizen representation to presidential democracies, other regions of the world, and even authoritarian regimes. Among other things, this may require that scholars think about how to conceptualize and measure citizen representation in countries where parties are not programmatic or where elites are not necessarily elected.