Between 1990 and 2015, 184 multicandidate presidential elections and 207 multiparty legislative elections were held in some 46 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. What does the routinization of multiparty electoral politics mean for political life in Africa? Much that is unexceptional and recognizable about African elections is well worth documenting, since most international accounts of African elections focus on their more exotic side. In fact, candidates engage in standard political rhetoric in mass rallies and undertake campaign stops around the country. Many make use of social media to communicate with citizens. Voters reward office holders who have delivered good economic performance; they pay attention to the professional backgrounds and personal qualities of candidates and their policy promises. Opposition parties win legislative seats and subnational offices, as well as the presidency, albeit more rarely. While the routinization of high-quality elections has deepened democracy in some countries, there is tremendous cross-national variation in election quality across the continent. The relationship between elections and democratic deepening is mediated by national political circumstances that vary across the region. Even in cases where incumbents do not resort to oppressive tactics during campaigns, the patterns of presidential dominance typically create tremendous incumbency advantage at the executive level. Elections neither necessarily advance nor prevent further democratization. Instead, they should be conceptualized as “political moments,” which temporarily create greater uncertainty and heightened attention to politics, which can either lead to democratic gains or bring about regression. However, citizens across the continent are resolute in their commitment to elections. As opposition parties gain greater experience in office, as an older political elite transition out of politics, and as voters continue to access unprecedented information, the continent is likely to experience a democratic deepening in the longer term.
Jaimie Bleck and Nicolas van de Walle
Presidents derive support from electoral endorsement at the polls, but once in office, how they exercise power is also determined by the checks other actors impose on the presidency. By design, the presidential system was intended to function within a carefully conceived structure of checks and balances. As the executive branch in a system of separation of powers, the presidency was granted veto power over the lawmaking process. Congress and the judiciary were in turn granted prerogatives to check the executive in its own realm of action. Latin American presidential systems, however, have equipped presidents with extraordinary capacities, setting incentives in a different direction, where presidents often take the place of the most determinative decision maker within the political system. Juan Linz came to believe that presidentialism was not conducive to stable democracy (Linz, 1990), and his influential work spearheaded an era of studies that ultimately contradicted his arguments and led research in a new direction, while the third wave of democracy brought about stable yet unbalanced presidential systems. In order to understand the incentives that underlie this newfound stability, a deeper understanding of the institutional arrangements that govern it is necessary, and key among these, those structured around the legislative process. The institutions that make up the Latin American presidency as it stands in the early 21st century define incentives that lay out its unique character and distinct form of concentration of power. These can be organized into three sets: (a) elections, (b) lawmaking, and (c) cabinet management. Considering the institutions, and practices, that govern these three areas and how they vary across countries provides the building blocks to understanding the complexity of the presidency in Latin America. Whether presidents are elected indirectly via an electoral college or through direct votes by citizens, the specification of the type of majority required to win the presidency, the length of terms, and whether reelection is allowed are details that, when combined in diverse ways, present politicians and citizens with different sets of incentives to govern their behavior. These arrangements underwent different reforms over the turn of the 21st century. The institutions surrounding the lawmaking process are chief in lending the Latin American presidency its reputation of centralizing power, as constitutions are packed with arrangements that blur the separation of powers. Presidential legislative proposal power, presidential control of the legislative agenda through constitutional urgency authority (fast-track), variations in the veto prerogative, variations in override requirements, the delimitation of areas to exclusive presidential proposal rights, restrictions on congress to increase spending, and constitutional decree authority; all of these work to extend the legislative capacities of presidents, enabling them to counter the will of congress in ways unthinkable to the Founding Fathers when they first created this system. Latin American presidents also face challenges in managing cabinets, which in some cases are a fundamental component to articulate coalitions in the legislature—much like in parliamentary systems. Partisan dynamics come to life in the cabinet, and cabinets may work as important tools to manage otherwise fragmented party systems. Finally, understanding the influence of gender on presidential systems presents a promising avenue of research.
Bryan W. Marshall
The U.S. Congress has broad constitutional powers to shape foreign policy. However, Congress rarely shapes foreign policy as an equal partner with the president. Politics has the potential to enhance or lessen Congress’s role. What explains changes over time in congressional power in foreign policy? Why does Congress assert itself on some issues but less so on others in U.S. foreign policy? What strategies or tools does Congress employ to shape the nation’s foreign policy? The lens of New Institutionalism, two presidencies, and presidential unilateralism connect in useful ways to help explain these kinds of key questions in foreign policy. They offer scholars a future framework to continue to enhance theories explaining variation in congressional assertiveness in foreign policy.
Indonesia is a highly revealing case study for pinpointing both the conditions under which militaries in postcolonial societies intervened in political affairs and the patterns that led to their subsequent marginalization from politics. It also demonstrates how militaries could defend some of their political interests even after they were removed from the highest echelons of power. Emboldened by the war for independence (1945–1949), the Indonesian military used divisions, conflicts, and instabilities in the early postindependence polity to push for an institutionalized role in political institutions. While it was granted such a role in 1959, it used a further deterioration in civilian politics in the early 1960s to take power in 1965. Military intervention in politics in Indonesia, then, has been as much the result of civilian weaknesses as of military ambitions, confirming Finer’s theory on the civilian role in military power quests. Military rule in Indonesia weakened first as a consequence of the personalization of the polity built by the leader of the 1965 takeover, General Suharto. After a decade in power, Suharto turned the praetorian regime into a personal autocracy, transforming the military from a political actor into an agent. When Suharto’s regime collapsed in 1998 after being hit by the Asian financial crisis, the military was discredited—allowing civilian rulers to dismantle some of its privileges. But continued divisions among civilian forces mitigated the push for the military’s full depoliticization—once again proving Finer’s paradigm. As post-Suharto presidents settled into the new power arrangements, they concluded that the military was a crucial counterweight against the possible disloyalty of their coalition partners. Thus, under the paradigm of coalitional presidentialism, rulers integrated the military into their regimes and granted it concessions in return. In short, while the post-1998 military is much diminished from its role in predemocratic regimes, it retains sufficient power to protect its core ideological and material interests.
Paul A. Djupe and Brian R. Calfano
In the main, the link between religious variables and political choices is wrapped up in a communicative process of exposure and adoption. Specifically, people become exposed to religious teachings and viewpoints within religious contexts, they then must determine whether and to what extent they will adopt those teachings and viewpoints as their own, and then they must adapt them to political ends. Critical to this approach is the acknowledgment that religious social and institutional contexts are rife with diversity, even within religious traditions. This diversity extends to religious adherents, congregations, and elites and means that people receive a variety of religious and political cues from religious sources across time and space. It is this variation that is critical to measure in order to understand religion’s effects on political behavior. That is, documenting the implications of religious diversity is as much a question of research design as it is a theoretical framework. This framework is flexible enough to accommodate the growing literature examining political input effects on religious output. The norms and patterns of exposure and adoption vary by the combination of the communicator and context: political communication in congregations, religious communication effects on politics in congregations, and religious communication by elites in public space. There are very few instances of political elites in religious spaces, at least in the United States. Presidents and other political elites have used religious rhetoric throughout American history in varying proportions, though how they have used it is changing in the Trump era to be much more particularistic and exclusive rather than the traditional broad and inclusive language of past presidents. A central variable moderating the impact of communication is credibility, which can be demonstrated in multiple ways, including political agreement as well as religious office, rhetorical choices, and decision-making processes. Religious elites, especially, battle against the weight of history, inattention, and misperception in their attempts to lead prophetically. As a result, religious elite influence, in the sense of changing hearts and minds, is a fraught enterprise. Naturally, we recommend adopting research designs that are appropriate for incorporating measurement on communication exposure so we can appropriately understand adoption decisions. This demands some creativity on behalf of researchers, which also drives them toward experimental work where exposure questions are built into the design and affords them a great deal of control.
Novel in both design and function, the European Commission occupies a central position in the political system of the European Union (EU). Compared to other international administrations in other international organizations, its responsibilities are extensive. The Commission is the principal source of EU legislative initiatives. It manages EU policy and processes, monitors the implementation of EU law, and negotiates trade agreements on the EU’s behalf. Though often decried as an “unelected bureaucracy,” the Commission is in fact a hybrid body. Whereas the services of the Commission form a permanent administration, the College, headed by the Commission president, is political. Members of the College, including the president, are appointed by the governments of the member states and elected by the European Parliament every five years, following popular elections to the latter body. The internal functioning of the Commission has attracted considerable interest, particularly among scholars of public administration and comparative politics. With respect to the Commission’s functioning within the wider EU system, the main debates relate to the role of the institution in the EU’s development; the extent of its influence over policy; its executive responsibilities and interaction with agencies at EU and national levels; and, in the context of a wider discussion of the EU’s democratic credentials, the Commission’s accountability. Few dispute the Commission importance, but there is considerable disagreement on how the Commission’s role in integration should be theorized and how the Commission as a body should be conceptualized.
Cecilia Martinez-Gallardo and Marcelo Camerlo
Presidentialism has long been associated with democratic instability. Conflict between the executive and the legislature is at the heart of this relationship. Traditional arguments link minority presidents with policy deadlock and inter-branch conflict, especially in contexts where presidential institutions deincentivize the formation of governing coalitions that can provide presidents with stable legislative majorities. The extent to which these premises are true, however, varies significantly across the presidential countries of Latin America, as does the potential for conflict and cooperation between the executive and the legislature. The prevalence of minority presidents hinges on the fragmentation of congress as well as other characteristics of the party and electoral systems; the relative powers of the president and congress vary widely, and in many places they have been adjusted precisely to reduce inter-branch conflict. Finally, even where minority governments are the norm, the formation of governing coalitions has helped presidents obtain majority support in congress.
Erik P. Bucy and Patrick Stewart
Nonverbal cues are important elements of persuasive communication whose influence in political debates are receiving renewed attention. Recent advances in political debate research have been driven by biologically grounded explanations of behavior that draw on evolutionary theory and view televised debates as contests for social dominance. The application of biobehavioral coding to televised presidential debates opens new vistas for investigating this time-honored campaign tradition by introducing a systematic and readily replicated analytical framework for documenting the unspoken signals that are a continuous feature of competitive candidate encounters. As research utilizing biobehavioral measures of presidential debates and other political communication progresses, studies are becoming increasingly characterized by the use of multiple methodologies and merging of disparate data into combined systems of coding that support predictive modeling. Key elements of nonverbal persuasion include candidate appearance, communication style and behavior, as well as gender dynamics that regulate candidate interactions. Together, the use of facial expressions, voice tone, and bodily gestures form uniquely identifiable display repertoires that candidates perform within televised debate settings. Also at play are social and political norms that govern candidate encounters. From an evaluative standpoint, the visual equivalent of a verbal gaffe is the commission of a nonverbal expectancy violation, which draws viewer attention and interferes with information intake. Through second screens, viewers are able to register their reactions to candidate behavior in real time, and merging biobehavioral and social media approaches to debate effects is showing how such activity can be used as an outcome measure to assess the efficacy of candidate nonverbal communication during televised presidential debates. Methodological approaches employed to investigate nonverbal cues in presidential debates have expanded well beyond the time-honored technique of content analysis to include lab experiments, focus groups, continuous response measurement, eye tracking, vocalic analysis, biobehavioral coding, and use of the Facial Action Coding System to document the muscle movements that comprise leader expressions. Given the tradeoffs and myriad considerations involved in analyzing nonverbal cues, critical issues in measurement and methodology must be addressed when conducting research in this evolving area. With automated coding of nonverbal behavior just around the corner, future research should be designed to take advantage of the growing number of methodological advances in this rapidly evolving area of political communication research.
Jonathan Hartlyn and Alissandra T. Stoyan
Constitutions have been an important part of Latin America’s history since independence. While exhibiting frequent change, there have been continuities primarily regarding their republican form and presidentialism. Extensive scholarship exists on the origins of constitutions, their evolving design, and their effects concerning democratic stability and rights, particularly with regard to trends and patterns since the third wave of democratization in the late 1970s. Large-scale “refounding” constitutional reforms have gained traction with citizens and civil society groups, and populist leaders have promoted them as a solution for socioeconomic and political exclusion. Politicians have also favored both large- and small-scale changes as ways to continue in office, concentrate power, gain or maintain support, or defuse crises. With frequent changes and longer and more complex texts, sharp distinctions between constitutional moments defining the rules and ordinary politics occurring within the rules have blurred. The research on these issues regarding constitutions confronts challenges common to the analysis of weak institutions in general, including particularly endogeneity to existing power distributions in society and thus seeking to understand when and why key actors respect constitutional rules of the game. Some scholarship advances actor-centered linkage arguments connecting the origin, design, and effects of constitutions in a causal progression, on topics such as presidential powers, unequal democracies emerging from authoritarian regimes, or judicial independence. These arguments differ regarding the direct impact they ascribe to constitutions compared to other factors, particularly with more extended time horizons. They typically examine the narrow strategic interests of the key players while also considering when they may contemplate broader goals, especially when no one player is dominant. Though diffusion has played a role in constitutional process and design in the region, most scholars downplay its relative importance. Since the 1990s, there has been a significant expansion in a unidirectional, path-dependent fashion in the incorporation of social, economic, and cultural rights, as well as decentralization and participatory mechanisms. Unlike presidential re-election and presidential powers, which have seen more frequent and sometimes mixed evolution, once these rights and mechanisms are granted they are not formally reversed in subsequent reforms. Yet, their effective realization has been partial and uneven, typically requiring some combination of societal mobilization and institutional activation. Thus, other endogenous or exogenous factors are typically incorporated into explanations regarding their possible effects. Future research in many areas of constitutionalism could be enhanced by a more systematic cross-national multidimensional data collection effort, facilitating further quantitative and multi-methods empirical work. This will assist scholars in addressing the theoretical and methodological challenges in this field common to institutional research generally. At the same time, it is critical not to lose sight of the normative dimension of constitutionalism, given its symbolic and aspirational value as well as practical importance for democracy.
Matthew R. Miles and Jason M. Adkins
In 2012, the Republican Party selected a Mormon, Mitt Romney, as their nominee for U.S. president. After decades of persecution and suspicion, many felt like the LDS Church was finally being accepted as a mainstream religion and an equal player on the national political stage. From a different perspective, the “acceptance” of the LDS Church by the U.S. government and the Republican Party has come at a tremendous cost. Unlike those who joined other religious denominations in America, 19th century converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave everything they had to the church. The 19th-century LDS Church controlled not just the political, but the economic, social, and religious aspects of its members’ lives. The LDS Church has traded immense power over a few dedicated members for a weaker political voice in the lives of millions more members. From this perspective, the LDS Church has never been more politically weak than they were in the 2012 presidential election. Previous LDS Church presidents endorsed non-Mormon candidates Cleveland, Taft, and Nixon more enthusiastically than President Monson endorsed Mitt Romney—one of his own. In the 20th century, the power of the LDS Church over the lives of its members has waned considerably, significantly hindering the institutional church’s ability to politically mobilize its congregants. Even in Utah, only the most ardent LDS Church members are swayed by the political dictates of LDS Church leaders.