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Article

Christopher Wlezien and Stuart N. Soroka

The link between public opinion and public policy is of special importance in representative democracies, as we expect elected officials to care about what voters think. Not surprisingly, a large body of literature tests whether policy is a function of public preferences. Some literature also considers the mechanisms by which preferences are converted to policy. Yet other work explores whether and how the magnitude of opinion representation varies systematically across issues and political institutions. In all this research, public opinion is an independent variable—an important driver of public policy change—but it is also a dependent variable, one that is a consequence of policy itself. Indeed, the ongoing existence of both policy representation and public responsiveness is critical to the functioning of representative democracy.

Article

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.

Article

Lisbeth Aggestam and Markus Johansson

Leadership in the European Union is an empirical phenomenon that has increasingly come to attract scholarly attention. While a call for leadership in the EU is often heard, not least in times of crisis, it is also accompanied with a general reluctance to centralize powers. This leadership paradox has historical roots and has resulted in a dispersed type of leadership governance at the EU level. Scholarly work varies from mainly descriptive accounts of leadership by particular individuals to more theory-testing approaches to leadership. The academic field of EU leadership studies contains variation along three primary dimensions: (1) how leadership is defined, (2) by which theories it is explained, and (3) through which empirical cases and approaches it is studied. First, there is a wide differentiation in the literature of how leadership is defined and approached as an object of study. Four leadership approaches can be distinguished in the literature, focusing on the role of individuals, an actor’s position, the process of leadership enactment, and the outcomes produced by leadership. Second, leadership in the EU has been theorized and explained in a variety of ways. Explaining leadership in the EU requires an understanding of what power resources different actors draw on, ranging from material to institutional and ideational powers. These sources often also translate into different types of leadership strategies. A substantial amount of research has departed from rational choice institutionalism, which highlights the importance of a formal position to exercise leadership. Sociological approaches have more recently attracted attention to conceptualize leadership as a social role based on the interaction between leaders and followers. Third, the empirical study of leadership in the EU encompasses a range of different approaches in terms of the type of actors studied, the issues covered, and the data and methods used. EU leadership studies include different types of leadership actors ranging from individuals to institutions, member states, and the EU itself as a global leadership actor. The empirical policy domains vary from issues relating to treaty amending processes, environment and climate policies, eurozone governance and crisis management, to foreign and security policy. Although comparative studies of leadership in the EU exist, the focus has predominantly been on single actors during particular policy processes. An increasing use of explicit comparative designs in the study of EU leadership could have the potential to further advance theory building in the scholarship of EU leadership.

Article

Brooke N. Shannon, Zachary A. McGee, and Bryan D. Jones

Bounded rationality conceives of people engaging in politics as goal oriented but endowed with cognitive and emotional architectures that limit their abilities to pursue those goals rationally. Political institutions provide the critical link between micro- and macro-processes in political decision-making. They act to (a) compensate for those bounds on rationality; (b) make possible cooperative arrangements not possible under the assumptions of full or comprehensive rationality; and (c) fall prey to the same cognitive and emotional limits or canals that individual humans do. The cognitive limitations that hamper individuals are not only replicated at the organizational level but are in fact causal.

Article

Miguel Carreras and Igor Acácio

Latin American political systems experience significant levels of institutional uncertainty and unpredictability. One of the main dimensions of this institutional and political instability is the high level of electoral volatility in the region. In the last 30 years, traditional parties that had competed successfully for several decades abruptly collapsed or weakened considerably in a number of Latin American countries. New parties (or electoral movements) and political outsiders have attracted considerable electoral support in several national and subnational elections in the region. Even when the main partisan actors remain the same from one election to the next, it is not uncommon to observe large vote swings from one established party to another. While some scholars and observers expected that the instability in electoral outcomes would decline as democracies aged and consolidated, electoral volatility has remained high in recent decades in many Latin American countries. However, in other Third Wave Latin American democracies (e.g., Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Uruguay), the patterns of interparty competition have been much more stable, which suggests we should avoid blanked generalizations about the level of party system institutionalization and volatility in the region. Cross-national variation in the stability of electoral outcomes has also motivated interesting scholarly work analyzing the causes and the consequences of high volatility in Latin American democracies. One of the major findings of this literature is that different forms of institutional discontinuity, such as the adoption of a new constitution, a significant enfranchisement, electoral system reforms, and irregular changes in the legislative branch (e.g., a dissolution of Congress) or in the executive branch (e.g., a presidential interruption), can result in higher volatility. Another major determinant of instability in electoral outcomes is the crisis of democratic representation experienced by several Latin American countries. When citizens are disenchanted with the poor performance and moral failures (e.g., corruption) of established political parties, they are more likely to support new parties or populist outsiders. Weak party system institutionalization and high electoral volatility have serious consequences for democratic governability. Institutionalized party systems with low electoral volatility promote consensus-building and more moderate policies because political parties are concerned about their long-term reputation and constrain the decisions of political leaders. In contrast, party systems with high volatility can lead to the rise of outsider presidents that have more radical policy preferences and are not constrained by strongly organized parties. Electoral volatility also undermines democratic representation. First, the fluidity of the party system complicates the task of voters when they want to hold the members of the incumbent party accountable for bad performance. Second, high instability in the patterns of interparty competition hinders citizens’ ability to navigate programmatic politics. Finally, electoral volatility augments the cognitive load required to vote and foments voter frustration, which can lead to higher rates of invalid voting.

Article

Matthias Basedau

Political party systems are an important element of political systems in Africa and elsewhere. They form the central intermediate institution between the general population and the government. Party systems represent and aggregate diverse political views and group interests, and they form coalitions that then form governments with potentially important consequences of democracy and political stability. Unlike the case in the period directly after independence, African party systems have been overwhelmingly multiparty since the 1990s. As a result, the literature has grown significantly, although most works focus on political parties rather than party systems. Many efforts have been devoted to classification, referring to the legal context as well as, more specifically, the number of relevant parties, the levels of institutionalization, and, less often, the degree of ideological or other polarization. While levels of institutionalization and ideological differences are generally not pronounced, more than half of African party systems have been one-party dominant, of which most are authoritarian. In contrast, two-party and pluralist-party systems, which make up approximately one half of all multiparty systems, are generally more democratic. Besides determining classifications, most analytical work focuses on the determinants of African party systems using quantitative and qualitative as well as macro- and micro-level methodologies. Three determinants are debated: first, ethnicity, which has been cited as the main social cleavage behind African party systems; however, while ethnicity matters, its effects vary and are limited; second, political institutions, especially electoral systems for legislative elections, which only partly explain fragmentation or other features; third, the performance of political parties and rationalist approaches. Scholars largely agree that all of these elements need to be taken into account. While certain functions of party systems may facilitate democratization and political stability or other outcomes, little empirical work exists on the consequences of party systems. Some evidence suggests that highly institutionalized, moderately fragmented, and polarized systems promote democracy. Future research faces many challenges, in particular the development of integrated theory and more fine-grained data, as well as an increased focus on the consequences of party systems.

Article

The definition of the term “religious discrimination” is contested, but for the purposes of this discussion religious discrimination is defined as restrictions on the religious practices or institutions of minority religions that are not placed on the majority religion. Religious discrimination can include restrictions on (a) religious practices, (b) religious institutions and clergy, (c) conversion and proselytizing, and (d) other types of discrimination. Globally, 88.5% of countries discriminate against at least one religious minority, and religious discrimination is becoming more common over time. Religious discrimination is the norm worldwide regardless of world region, government type, and majority religion. Motivations to discriminate are multiple and complex. They include (a) differences in religious ideologies and beliefs—many religions are ideologically intolerant of other religions; (b) religious organizations seeking an institutional monopoly in a country; (c) religious beliefs and practices running counter to liberal and secular values, including human rights; (d) countries seeking to protect their national culture from outside influences, including nonindigenous religions; (e) countries having anti-cult policies; (f) countries restricting minority religious practices that are considered objectionable to the national ideology or culture; (g) a historical conflict between minority groups and the majority; (h) the perception of minorities as a security threat; (i) the perception of minorities as a political threat ; (j) long-lasting historical tensions between the majority and minority; (k) national politicians mobilizing supporters along religious lines; (l) societal prejudices against minorities leading to government-based discrimination; (m) religious identity; (n) general discrimination that is also applicable to religious minorities. Although these are among the most common motivations for discrimination, in many cases the motivations are unique to the specific situation.