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Interdisciplinary Workshops on Politics and Policy Archive 2019

About the workshops

Interdisciplinary Workshops on Politics and Policy are weekly seminars hosted by the Center for Political Studies. Speakers present current research on a wide range of topics. Abstracts of past workshops are available in the menu to the right.

2019-2020 Events


The Theory of Deterrence by Cyber Institutions: A case study of election interference

September 11, 2019
Nadiya Kostyuk (University of Michigan)

Can states use cyber institutions as a last resort in immediate deterrence scenarios? In this paper, I develop the theory of deterrence by cyber institutions — publicly observable efforts aimed at signaling a country’s level of cyber capability — to explain why states use cyber institutions to deter adversaries from attacking them via cyber space. I argue that states use cyber institutions to deter their adversaries when other tools of foreign policy are ineffective and/or too costly. By creating cyber institutions, states preserve their cyber tools and provide their adversaries with an immediate, rough estimate of their cyber capability. Because this estimate is not always accurate, adversaries might overestimate the state’s capability, and, given the state’s already high resolve, be deterred. Using an incomplete-information model, I demonstrate that although cyber institutions only influence an adversary’s decision to attack in limited cases, weak cyber states over-invest in their cyber institutions to convince their adversaries that they are strong whereas strong cyber states over-invest so that their adversaries do not believe that they are weak states pretending to be strong. Using the case studies election interference, I show that deterrence by cyber institutions worked in the case of the 2018 Swedish elections, and cyber institutions had no effect on the Kremlin’s decision on whether to interfere into the 2017 German and 2016 U.S. elections.

The Politics of Skin Color

September 18, 2019 
Nicole Yadon (University of Michigan) 


Race is an undeniable force in politics. Building from this foundation, my research examines heterogeneity centered on one important yet understudied facet of race: skin tone. Given the historical importance of skin tone for African Americans and its significance for socioeconomic outcomes, we might expect skin tone to be especially meaningful for politics in multiple ways. Drawing evidence from four surveys, 67 in-depth qualitative interviews, and a novel survey experiment, I find that the skin tone of Black people is politically meaningful in distinct ways for both Black and White individuals. First, I find that Black people’s political attitudes on some issues vary based on their skin tone, with darker-skinned people supporting more liberal positions than those with lighter skin. Second, skin tone is a distinct social identity from race that, like other identities, is more important to members of the more stigmatized group—i.e., those with darker skin. Third, we might expect that how Whites view Black people may vary based on Blacks’ skin tone. Indeed, I find evidence that skin tone is powerful in the realm of electoral politics with Whites—especially White conservatives (or Republicans) and strong White identifiers. I find that these White subgroups take much more negative views of dark-skinned Black candidates than light-skinned Black candidates. Together, this evidence signals the importance of moving beyond categorical race to more fully understand the political contours of the American racial landscape.

Haunting Accounts: Anti-War Veterans, International Justice, and the “Ghosts of the Past”

September 25, 2019 
Bronwyn Leebaw (Univ. of California – Riverside)


In 1971, a group of American veterans that had served in Vietnam gathered in Detroit to share war stories before a public audience. They referred to themselves as “winter soldiers,” invoking Thomas Paine’s contempt for the “summer soldier and the sunshine patriot,” who shrinks from service in times of crisis. The 1971 Winter Soldier hearings generated significant attention and inspired a 2008 event, organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War (AVAW). This paper investigates the role of anti-war veteran narratives with attention to their role as interventions in the politics of memory aimed at addressing the limitations of international criminal law and transitional justice. War crimes trials and truth commissions have been championed as a way of expelling the “ghosts of the past” by documenting victim testimonies and shaming individual war criminals. Such institutions inspire backlash from those who maintain that soldiers are obliged to follow the orders of commanders, that they should be regarded as heroes, or that wartime violence is a matter of military necessity. This paper argues that anti-war veteran narratives articulate an important challenge to the way that such debates are framed by publicizing narratives that are deliberately haunting. The experience of feeling like “living ghosts” is a familiar trope in the memoirs and testimonies of veterans. Building on this theme, the paper investigates the implications of three three haunting features of such accounts: First, they aim to publicize uniquely shameful memories that continue to haunt veterans; Second, they aim to expose ghostly silences and omissions in the official records of war crimes and systematic forms of abuse; and third, they aim to haunt and unsettle indifferent civilian audiences into sharing the burdens of shame and responsibility for war policies and their legacies. 

Political Competition and Election Violence in the African Polarized State

October 2, 2019 
Michael Wahman (Michigan State Univ.)  


African elections are becoming increasingly competitive. In a number of recent elections in countries like Nigeria, Malawi, Zambia, and Ghana, elections have resulted in electoral turnovers. Yes, despite increased levels of national competition, elections in most African countries remain highly uncompetitive at the subnational level. This presentation will discuss the role of election violence in such geographically polarized electoral systems where national-level competition is combined with sub-national political dominance. I will highlight the importance of violence as a territorial tool used to defend and contest geographical electoral dominance and argue for an understanding of electoral violence that focuses on the meso-level electoral geography consequences of violence rather than the micro-level behavioral consequences. The argument is supported by years of fieldwork and unique survey data collected from domestic election observers in Malawi and Zambia.

How Do Voters React When Their Party Doesn’t Compete?

October 9, 2019 
Logan Woods (Univ. of Michigan) 


I propose a theory of negative congressional coattails stemming from uncontested races – when a political party does not field a candidate in a congressional election, down-ballot candidates from that party may suffer electorally. These consequences may be due to indi- viduals who would normally support that party not voting, individuals rolling off the ballot after an uncontested race, and voters defecting from their party down-ballot. I use a nation- wide precinct-level election results dataset and data from the 2016 CCES survey to evaluate these possibilities. I find that state legislative candidates in contested races suffer electoral consequences when their party does not contest the congressional election in that precinct, and these consequences seem to be due primarily to voter rolloff, although there may also be selectively depressed turnout among individuals whose party didn’t contest the election. The magnitude of these electoral penalties for down-ballot candidates is between 25 and 150 votes per precinct, depending on party and race. In other words, when a party does not field a candidate in a congressional election, they may be costing themselves down-ballot seats.

Presidents and Their Interim Appointees: Are Temporary Appointments a Permanent Strategy?

October 16, 2019 
Christina Kinane (Yale University)


Separation of powers insists that the individuals tasked with policy implementation and en- forcement are chosen with the advice and consent of the Senate. Thus, current scholarship focuses on the ways that the Senate constrains presidential preferences; however, this pre- sumes that presidents will always seek advice and consent. Presidents, in fact, do not; and in this paper, I examine the key reasons why. I argue that first, when presidents prioritize policy contraction, persistently empty positions without nominees will occur even in unified government. Second, when presidents prioritize policy expansion, they are more likely to use interim appointees to fill positions with a high capacity to control policy outcomes. I test these expectations using an original dataset on vacancies and appointments, across all fifteen executive departments from 1977 through 2015; and find considerable support for my theory. I continue to leverage my original data in an extension that examines the role of the Fed- eral Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) of 1998, which currently governs interim appointments to Executive department PAS positions. Critically, the amount of time that interim appointees can serve increased considerably after the passage of the FVRA. I test the conjecture that the extended tenures increased the value of interim appointees and my hypotheses in this context, and continue to find considerable support for my theory. The results here suggest that, indeed, presidents strategically use vacancies – and specifically interim appointees – to expand their executive power and achieve their policy priorities.

After The Two General Elections of 2019: Wither Israel?

October 22, 2019 (please note this is a Tuesday)
Alain Dieckhoff (Centre for International Studies and Research)


Although Israelis went twice to the polls in 2019, the building of a stable government has proven hard. However, this difficulty has mainly to do with internal political tensions within the nationalist camp. Sociological trends show that the center of gravity of Israeli society has shifted to the right, with a vocal religious nationalism. 

The Origins and Dynamics of Transnational Repression: Cradles of Coercion in Globalized Political Order

October 30, 2019 
Sean Yom (Temple University) 


Repression is traditionally conceptualized as a domestic process in which regimes apply physical sanctions, or the threat of such, against individuals or groups within their national territories. Yet today, repression has become increasingly transnationalized such that these coercive acts can no longer be theorized as purely domestic processes. Regimes, including both autocracies and democracies, collaborate with one another; they share resources, learn new strategies, circulate worst practices, coordinate information, and innovate legally. Many hunt their citizens abroad like lone wolves; others outsource the deed at home in wolfpacks. Modern repression thus contains an international dimension that needs to be unpacked and conceptualized. This project explores the transnationalization of repression, synthesizing our knowledge of autocratic collaboration, diffusion, and regionalism to generate the conceptual foundations of a new research agenda. It defines transnational repression through four constituent components – extension of violence abroad, mobilization of exogenous resources, coordination of information, and upgrading of techniques. It further suggests that transnationalized repression may occur at the flashpoint of several causal conditions: similar regime types between transacting states, common opposition affinities, interoperable capabilities, and a permissive international environment. 

Finding Purpose in the Past: Racial Group Norms and Political Participation in the United States 

November 6, 2019 
Allison Anoll (Vanderbilt Univ.) 


A growing literature testifies to the importance of social pressure for shaping political participation, but what are the underlying norms that prescribe involvement in politics? Using a grounded-theory approach that involves interviews and original large-N survey data, I find that the honoring ancestors norm, defined as the social expectation to recognize and respect the legacy of those in the past, is a potent norm in the United States that varies systematically in its connection to politics across racial groups. Furthermore, a political interpretation of the honoring ancestors norm predicts validated voter turnout at rates outpacing recruitment, education, and efficacy, and priming the norm experimentally increases the perceived value of participation, but only for those groups who see the norm as requiring political involvement. The results suggest that different groups tie norms to politics in ways that reflect unique historical narratives and concepts of group membership, ultimately affecting who engages in the political sphere.

Issue Attention in Contemporary American Politics: 2016-2020

November 13, 2019
Josh Pasek, Stuart Soroka, Michael Traugott
Note: Presentation in room 1430


Recent studies of political communication have focused on how and what people learn from information flows in society, whether from news, conversations, web sites, or social media. Researchers from the Center for Political Studies have studied the kinds of information that flow in election campaigns and in response to pressing political issues and what people are paying attention to. The presentations will highlight recent findings. 

Election Timing in Autocracy: When Do Dictators Call Elections?

November 20, 2019
Masaaki Higashijima (Tohoku University)


Previous work has focused on election timing in parliamentary democracies, assuming that governments are unable to manipulate election calendar of presidential elections. However, experiences in autocracies strongly suggest that autocrats arbitrarily decide the timing of both presidential and legislative elections. Building upon the literature of autocratic elections, we explore the determinants of election timing in autocracies. We argue that dictators strategically decide election timing by considering costs and benefits of holding elections. Specifically, we suggest that when elections enable dictators to effectively demonstrate his strengths through electoral mobilization they have incentives to call early elections. Our data analysis is consistent with the theoretical expectation, finding that early elections are more likely (1) when dictators suffer low economic performance and thus need to preempt internal threats by signaling their strengths, (2) in executive elections wherein dictators can feature themselves through election campaigning, and (3) in elections without opposition where dictators hardly face the risk of revealing their weaknesses through election results. 

Candidate Appearance and Electoral Success: Who Can Get Away from Facial Influence in Elections?

December 4, 2019 
Yoshikuni Ono (Tohoku University, Japan) 


Yoshikuni Ono (Tohoku University) and Masahiko Asano (Takushoku University): A number of studies have shown that people are able to predict the electoral success of candidates from their faces. Thse results imply that a candidate’s facial appearance affects how voters evaluate the candidate. While existing studies point out the effect of candidate appearance is more pronounced among less knowledgeable voters, little attention has been paid to variations across candidates We argue that face cues become less important when voters evaluate candidates who have access to government resources or candidates who have proven past performance in the parliment. To test the validity of our argument, we asked more than 1,400 American voters to predict the electoral success of 494 Japanese candidates running for the Upper House elections in 2013 and 2016 exclusively from their faces. Our results show that American voters accurately forecast the electoral success (or loss) of Japanese candidates with much higher probability that the chance of a coin flip. Interestingly, however, not all candidates are equally likely to be predicted their electoral outcomes from their faces. Consistent with our argument, we found that candidates who are running from a government party and those who have been elected many times are immune to facial influence. 

The 2017 UK General Election Online: The Rise of the Organic Campaign?

January 15, 2020 
Geraldine Castel (Grenoble-Alpes University)


Professor Castel studies political communication in the British political system from the perspective of how parties organize and mobilize their supporters. Her talk will focus on such activity in recent British elections. She teaches a graduate course entitled “Introduction to Digital Humanities Research” as well as courses in British politics. 

Purely Partisan Warriors? A Study of Legislative Rhetoric in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars

January 29, 2020 
Doug Kriner (Cornell Univ.)


In an important corrective to narratives asserting an imperial presidency, recent research argues that Congress is not as weak as often supposed. However, the legislature’s willingness to use various tools at its disposal – including the power to speak out and challenge the president in the public sphere – largely depends on the numerical strength of the opposition party in both chambers. But does partisanship alone dominate legislators’ responses to presidential military policies? Do checks and balances on the wartime president inevitably break down during unified government? By examining two troop surges taking place in successive Congresses by presidents of different parties, we seek to untangle the relative influence of partisan and ideological incentives on public position-taking during the Iraq and Afghan war surges. To measure wartime rhetoric, we employ a hybrid approach of human coding and machine learning first to identify and then substantively code roughly 15,000 floor speeches given on the two wars in the 110th and 111th Congresses. Contra research asserting the primacy of partisan incentives, we find strong evidence that the effects of partisanship on members’ position-taking was highly conditional. In Iraq, when partisan and ideological incentives largely reinforced each other, we observed the expected stark partisan divides. However, electoral factors moderated the impact of partisanship on both pro- and anti-war rhetoric. In Afghanistan, we found little evidence that Democrats abandoned their dovish preferences with a co-partisan in the White House; instead, they took more anti-war and fewer pro-war positions than Republicans, with dovish members being particularly willing to speak out against the war. Finally, we find some evidence that conflicting partisan and ideological incentives may lead many members to hedge politically. For example, while Republicans gave more pro-Afghan War speeches than Democrats writ large, they were no more likely on average to give pro-war speeches that also publicly backed the administration and its conduct of the war. However, Republican members gave significantly more speeches that both supported the war effort and criticized the Obama administration’s conduct of it. In sum, our findings offer important insight into when members of Congress are likely to rally behind or criticize the commander in chief. Perhaps most importantly, congressional checks may not disappear in unified government – but they are strongest in Democratic administrations.

How Saudi Crackdowns Fail to Silence Online Dissent 

February 5, 2020 
Jennifer Pan (Stanford Univ.) 


Saudi Arabia has imprisoned and tortured activists, religious leaders, and journalists for voicing dissent online. This reflects a growing worldwide trend in the use of physical repression to censor online speech. In this paper, we systematically examine the consequences of imprisoning well-known Saudis for online dissent by analyzing over 300 million tweets as well as detailed Google search data from 2010 to 2017 using automated text analysis and crowd-sourced human evaluation of content. We find that repression deterred imprisoned Saudis from continuing to dissent online. However, it did not suppress dissent overall. Twitter followers of the imprisoned Saudis engaged in more online dissent, including criticizing the ruling family and calling for regime change. Repression drew public attention to arrested Saudis and their causes, and other prominent figures in Saudi Arabia were not deterred by the repression of their peers and continued to dissent online.

The State From Below: Policing Narratives Across Time and Space

February 20, 2020 
Vesla Weaver (Johns Hopkins University) 


In 2015, Americans learned that public authorities in Ferguson, Missouri and several other municipalities had imposed a ‘predatory system of government’ on poor black citizens through the police force. Yet, social scientists had few theories for describing how Americans in highly policed neighborhoods experience state authority and, in particular, how they innovate in response. We use a new technology and civic infrastructure, Portals, to initiate conversations about policing in communities where these forms of state action are concentrated. Portals are virtual chambers where people in disparate communities can converse as if in the same room. Based on over 850 recorded and transcribed conversations across ten neighborhoods in five cities – the most extensive collection of first-hand accounts of the police to date – we analyze patterns in political discourse. We reveal four currents that challenge liberal-democratic framings of political life: that an arrangement of distorted responsiveness characterizes the relationship between policed communities and the state; that the political desire of policed communities is not for greater engagement and responsiveness but for political recognition – to be known by the state; and that in contrast to prevailing wisdom about uninformed electorates, these citizens have too much knowledge of and too little power vis-à-vis state representatives. Finally, we observe among policed communities an “ethics of aversion” in their political responses, a belief that power is best achieved by receding from state institutions in the short term and forging their own collective, community autonomy in the long term. At a broader level, we observe that it is not exclusion from democratic institutions that characterizes political inequality in our time, but inclusion in the antidemocratic face of the state, and the experience of misrecognition that results.

Who Cares? A Case for Measuring Preference Strength (and New Evidence on How to Do It)

April 29, 2020
Charlotte Cavaille (Georgetown Univ.)


Among all the policy issues voters care about, which ones do they care about the most? Which ones do they care about the least? Many studies in political economy implicitly assume that these questions have answers, i.e. that we can identify the subset of issues that guide voters’ behavior. Yet, existing survey instruments often fail to adequately distinguish strong from weak policy preferences. In this paper, we test a new survey technology designed to address this methodological gap. This technology, called Quadratic Voting for Survey Research (QVSR) gives respondents a fixed budget to “buy” votes in favor of, or against, a set of policy proposals. Because the price for each vote is quadratic, it becomes increasingly costly to acquire additional votes to express support for or opposition to the same proposal. Assuming the psychological cost of misreporting one’s true preference depends positively on attitude strength, we expect QVSR to better measure, relative to existing survey technologies, preference strength. To test this expectation, we randomly assign individuals to take the same survey, varying only the technology used to measure preferences. We compare how each survey tool predicts real world outcomes and find that QVSR significantly outperforms alternative methods. We discuss the benefits of QVSR for research in political economy and beyond. 

Cueing Nationalism: Ethnic Entrepreneurs, Sub-nationalism and Regional Parties in England 

May 13, 2020
Joel Selway (Brigham Young Univ.)


Around the world, we see varying levels of success for regional-nationalists movements. This paper investigates the role of ethnic rhetoric in shaping individuals’ feelings towards subnational identities and their associated political manifestations, including ethno-regional parties, calls for greater autonomy, and language policy. I investigate these relationships and specifically look at the effect of various common components of nationalism that ethnic entrepreneurs choose to emphasize in their rhetoric, e.g. history, language, biology, and regional interests. I test these components in a survey experiment on a quota-based sample in the UK with ~8,000 respondents (approximately 800 per region, including Scotland and Wales). Respondents were presented with a vignette–an op-ed expressing regionalist feelings emphasizing one of the components. The results vary, as expected, based on region. Respondents in regions where significant nationalist movements have been in existence for some time–Scotland and Wales–were generally hard to move, as were those that are more recent administrative creations, e.g. the Northwest and Midlands. Respondents in English regions with a longer historical basis can be swayed by various components, some increasing levels of regional-nationalism close to Scottish and Welsh levels. Additionally, respondents from the South–the “dominant” ethno-region–demonstrate a consistent kickback effect on all dependent variables: exhibiting weaker regional identities and less support for devolution, language policy, and regional parties when primed by the treatments.