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Candidates and Voting Choice  

Ian McAllister

The role of candidates in shaping voting choice has generated much research—and at least as much controversy—since modern electoral behavior research began in the 1960s. Much of the controversy surrounds the personalization of politics and whether political systems—and especially parliamentary systems—are becoming more leader-oriented. Three fundamental changes in electoral behavior underpin the study of candidates and voting choice behavior: the declining impact of social structure on the vote; partisan dealignment, with voters drifting away from their traditional party attachments; and the decline in the mass memberships of political parties. Researchers argue that because of these changes, fostered by the growth of television, candidates have assumed a greater role in structuring the vote. While there is impressionistic evidence that leaders have become more important, empirical evidence of an underlying change in voter behavior is more difficult to identify. Accordingly, this essay focuses mainly on changes in the political context within which candidates operate, since we expect this to be the source of any change. The design of political institutions shapes the level of attention that candidates receive, and that is especially the case with electoral systems. Electoral systems with fewer parties are more likely to focus voters’ attentions on candidates when compared to systems with larger numbers of parties. Weak party organizations coupled with partisan dealignment within the electorate can also alter the role and profile of candidates, although their impact is difficult to quantify. Changes in the mass media—and particularly the advent of television in the 1960s and the visual images on which it relies—are often viewed as the major cause of the personalization of politics. A new disruptive technology, the Internet, looks likely to stimulate additional political change for candidates and voting in the 21st century. Finally, what voters look for in their candidates appears to be stable both over time and cross-nationally and can be reduced to two overarching qualities: character and competence.

Article

Leaders and Foreign Policy: Surveying the Evidence  

Stephen Benedict Dyson and Thomas Briggs

Political Science accounts of international politics downplay the role of political leaders, and a survey of major journals reveals that fewer than 3% of all articles focus on leaders. This is in stark contrast to public discourse about politics, where leadership influence over events is regarded as a given. This article suggests that, at a minimum, leaders occupy a space in fully specified chains of causality as the aggregators of material and ideational forces, and the transmitters of those forces into authoritative political action. Further, on occasion a more important role is played by the leader: as a crucial causal variable aggregating material and ideational energies in an idiosyncratic fashion and thereby shaping decisions and outcomes. The majority of the article is devoted to surveying the comparatively small literature on political leaders within International Relations scholarship. The article concludes by inviting our colleagues to be receptive to the idiosyncrasies, as well as the regularities, of statespersonship.

Article

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.

Article

Political Competition Beyond Ethnic Politics in Africa  

Dominika Koter

Ethnic cleavages are present in many elections across the continent, and scholars frequently view ethnic mobilization as the default way in which politicians appeal to African voters. Ethnic electoral patterns already emerged in many countries during the first mass elections around the time of independence and they continue to be visible to this day. The prevalence of ethnic politics has been commonly seen as a result of limited ideological and programmatic debates in African elections and the centrality of ethnic networks in voters’ access to scarce resources. Yet, early-21st-century scholarship increasingly reveals the varied degrees in which ethnicity plays a role in African political contests, raising the question of when do politicians engage in alternative forms of electoral mobilization? And when are voters inclined to vote for candidates outside their ethnic group? Emerging scholarship suggests that it is easier for politicians to pursue programmatic and populist campaigns that do not cater to specific ethnic groups in cities rather than in rural areas where politicians rarely avoid clientelist strategies. Other research also suggests that the nature of social organization and the composition of rural areas can determine whether clientelist strategies are organized along ethnic lines or not.

Article

Foreign Policy Learning  

Guy Ziv

An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning. Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts. Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century. The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous. Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.