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The Capacity of Decentralization to Promote Democracy and Development in Africa  

Amy R. Poteete

The multifaceted nature of decentralization, democracy, and development renders relationships among them ambivalent and conditional. It is certainly possible to decentralize in ways that foster local democracy and improvements in socioeconomic well-being. The empirical record, however, is mixed, and not only because the phenomena of interest have multiple dimensions and are open to interpretation. Whatever its form, decentralization is inherently political. In the African context, the extent and form of decentralization has been influenced by international support, the challenges of extending state authority in relatively young multi-ethnic states, and, increasingly, electoral considerations. By the 1980s, the broad consensus in the constructive developmental role of a strong central state that had characterized the immediate postwar period gave way to a growing perception of statist approaches as impeding democracy and, especially, development. For some, decentralization implied an expansion of popular participation that promised greater sensitivity to local knowledge and more responsiveness to local concerns. Others saw decentralization as part of a broader agenda of scaling back the central state, reducing its role, its size, and its costs. Yet others saw decentralization as part of a strategy of achieving sustainable natural resource management or political stability in post-conflict societies. By the early 1990s, a wide variety of international organizations were promoting decentralization and providing both financial and technical support for decentralization reforms. In the African context, political decisions about whether and how to decentralize reflect the continued salience of ethno-regional identities and non-state authorities, especially traditional or customary leaders. Incumbents may decentralize because they hope to consolidate their political position by crowding out or co-opting rivals, depoliticizing conflicts, or deflecting blame to subnational actors. Indeed, reforms made in the name of decentralization often strengthen the political center, at least over the short to medium term. Whether it attempts to co-opt or sideline them, decentralization interacts with and may reinforce the salience of ethno-regional identities and traditional authorities. To the extent that democracy presumes the equality of all citizens, regardless of ascribed status or identity, the reinforcement of ethno-regional identities and unelected authorities threatens democracy. The international spread of decentralization reforms coincided with the increasing prevalence of multiparty elections. In countries that hold elections, electoral considerations inevitably influence political interests in decentralization. Central government incumbents may view decentralization as a way to keep voters happy by improving access to and the quality of public services, as a form of political insurance, or as strengthening rivals. Whether incumbents and challengers view decentralization as a threat or an opportunity depends on not only the form of decentralization under consideration, but also their estimations of their competitiveness in elections at various levels (national, regional, local) and the interaction between the spatial distribution of electoral support and the electoral system. Electoral dynamics and considerations also influence the implementation and consequences of decentralization, perhaps especially when political rivals control different levels of government. Whether decentralization promotes democracy and development hinges on not only the form of decentralization, but also how broader political dynamics condition decentralization in practice.


Going Public and Presidential Leadership  

Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha

Going public is the preeminent governing strategy of modern presidents. When presidents go public, they attempt to influence the decisions, actions, and opinions of others through speechmaking and other public engagement. Although some scholars of the rhetorical presidency show how presidents have used speeches to govern since the dawn of American democracy, the bulk of scholarship centers on the modern presidency, as both advances in communications technologies and changes in federal policymaking institutions spurred presidents to go public. Going public as a leadership strategy involves a variety of presidential speeches designed to reach a range of institutions and actors. Strategies include going local, speaking on national television, or saturating news coverage by sustaining attention to a top priority. The president’s target audience can be Congress, the public, news media, or bureaucracy. Presidents have had some success going public, although the ways in which presidents have been successful vary by strategy and target audience. Going public is more than just presidential leadership of others. It is also about what incentivizes the president’s efforts to use speeches to govern in the first place. Thus, a second focus of research on going public is what explains speechmaking and the tendency of presidents to respond to those institutions and actors that they also attempt to lead. The majority of existing research centers on presidential leadership of, and responsiveness to, mass public opinion, but the emergence of a more polarized public may influence why presidents go public and may change what political scientists conclude concerning going public and presidential leadership in a more polarized political age.


State-Level Public Opinion and Public Policy on LGBT Issues  

Sarah Poggione

Initial research at the state level argued that there was little relationship between citizen preferences and policy. Later work successfully contested this view. First using state demographics or party voting as proxies for state opinion and then later developing measures of state ideology and measures of issue-specific state opinion, scholars found evidence that state policy is responsive to public preferences. However, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) policies are often recognized as distinct from other policy areas like economic, welfare, and regulatory issues. Scholars note that LGBT policies, due to their high saliency and relative simplicity, promote greater public input. Research on LGBT policies demonstrates the effects of both ideology and issue-specific opinion, exploring how the linkage between opinion and policy differs across more and less salient policy areas. This work also examines how political institutions and processes shape democratic responsiveness on LGBT issues. Recent research also considers how LGBT policies shape public opinion. While these strands in the literature are critical to understanding LGBT politics in the United States, they also contribute to the understanding of the quality of democratic governance in the U.S. federal system and the mechanics of the linkage between public opinion and policy.


Public Opinion and Public Policy  

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.


The Domestic Politics of International Cooperation  

Christina J. Schneider

How does domestic politics affect international cooperation? Even though classic work on international relations already acknowledges the central role of domestic politics in international relations, the first generation of scholarly work on international cooperation focused almost exclusively on the international sources of cooperation. Theories that explicitly link domestic politics and international cooperation did not take a more prominent place in the scholarly work on international cooperation until the late 1980s. Recent research analyzes how interests and institutions at the domestic level affect the cooperation of governments at the international level. The analysis is structured along a political economy model, which emphasizes the decision making calculus of office-motivated political leaders who find themselves under pressure by different societal groups interested in promoting or hindering international cooperation. These pressures are conveyed, constrained, and calibrated by domestic institutions, which provide an important context for policy making, and in particular for the choice to cooperate at the international level. This standard political economy model of domestic politics is embedded within models of international cooperation, which entail decisions by governments about (a) whether to cooperate (and to comply with international agreements), (b) how to distribute the gains and costs from cooperation, (c) and how to design cooperation as to maximize the likelihood that the public good will be provided. Domestic politics is significant to explain all aspects of international cooperation. The likelihood that governments engage in international cooperation does not only depend on international factors, but is also and sometimes predominantly driven by the demands of societal groups and variations in institutional structures across countries. Domestic factors can explain how governments behave in distributive negotiations, whether they can achieve advantageous deals, and if negotiations succeed to produce an international collective action. They also contribute to our understanding about whether and how governments comply with international agreements, and consequently, how the design of international institutions affects government compliance. More recently, scholars have become interested in the democratic responsiveness of governments when they cooperate at the international level. Whereas research is still sparse, emerging evidence points to responsive conduct of governments particularly when international cooperation is politicized at the national level.


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.