Jan 042017

The good folks over at the LSE (which, apart from running one of the most vibrant Political Science blogging sites on the planet also happens to host a university) have kindly asked me to look ahead at the likely outcome of the German Federal Election in September in general and the role of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in particular. I submitted my text early in December so that it could be published after Christmas. Following the terror attack on the Christmas market in Berlin, they offered me the opportunity to amend and slightly extend the text. I politely declined, because I thought that a horrific but fairly localised event such as this will not fundamentally affect the outcome of a still relatively distant election. I have been wrong before. Here is the link to the article on the EUROPP blog:

Dec 302016

2016 was a year of outrage. All over the globe, angry white men (well, mostly) were outraged over something (the EU, refugees, people of colour, feminists, and whatnot), and many took their outrage to the social media. One of the most outraging of them all will soon tweet from the White House. And all over my filterbubble, people are retweeting this outrageous dribble to show the world how outrageous it is, because they are, well, outraged. 

Now, some of them are waking up to the fact that, for rather obvious reasons, this is not necessarily a clever idea.

In an Internet galaxy far, far away, a long time ago, before social media or even the invention of the world wide web, people on the Usenet would occasionally engage in “flamewars” – protracted, hostile exchanges of opinion with a very low discourse quality index. Does this sound vaguely familiar? 

Traditionally, a flamewar would end with a final insult, followed by the addition of the opponent’s name to a “killfile” (the equivalent of blocking that person). Sending a very large binary file to the other side’s mailbox (then a deadly weapon that could bring down a whole computer system) was optional.

The wiser denizens of the Usenet, however, would spot a provocative statement that was likely to trigger a flamewar and simply ignore it. Instead of picking up the fight, they would try to warn off others who were about to get involved  with a mantra that was repeated with Yoda-like patience: “Don’t feed the troll.” 

Technology may have changed a bit. The nature and needs of the internet troll are remarkably constant.So: retweet responsibly. 

Dec 052016

For obvious reasons, books on the AfD are thin on the ground. It took me an unduly long time to review this one, not because there was anything wrong with the book but rather because something was wrong with my timekeeping and project mismanagement. Hopefully, the review should appear in one of the next issues of German Politics, but for the time being, I’m posting the author’s version here. And yes, most people who would be interested in the book would also be able to read the review in German. Odd. I know.

Alexander Häusler (Ed.): Die Alternative für Deutschland. Programmatik, Entwicklung und politische Verortung. Wiesbaden (VS), 2016, 251 pages, 29.99 Euros.

A party in transition

As an object of study, Germany’s new(-ish) Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) is a moving target. Since its inception in early 2013, the party has gone from strength to strength and won parliamentary representation in the majority of the federal states and in the European Parliament. In all likelihood, the AfD will also enter the Bundestag, which would make it the first newcomer since 1990.

At the same time, the party underwent a remarkable transformation. While the AfD attracted a motley collection of right-wingers from the beginning, its public image was initially shaped by middle-aged conservative men, who had been, or could have been, former members of the Christian Democrats or the FDP. In 2013, the party’s very short manifesto was almost exclusively concerned with the reform of the EU and the Euro system and carefully avoided populist language. To the casual observer, the AfD may have looked like a breakaway from the CDU.

Two years down the line, the AfD’s most visible figure, Bernd Lucke, and many of his allies in the leadership had left the party. At the height of the Euro crisis, the AfD all but ditched Euroscepticism (still not a very salient issue in Germany) and began instead to focus on the familiar themes of immigration, asylum, and Islam. In the process, the AfD has arguably become Germany’s first modern and nationally successful Radical Right-Wing Populist Party.

The AfD in 2015

By necessity, any book on the AfD can only hope to provide a snapshot of the party’s rapidly unfolding development. One such snapshot, that nonetheless offers some deep insights, is the volume edited by Alexander Häusler. The 14 chapters (complemented by a short introduction and a concise summary) began their lives as papers for a conference that the FORENA research centre organised in February 2015. They have been updated for the book publication, but their style and content clearly reflects the dynamic nature of their object.

Häusler has organised the contributions along the lines of six broad themes: the AfD’s ideological position within the larger party system, the party’s prospective foreign policies, their positions on gender and family issues, their relationship with Pegida and Islamophobia more generally, their position vis-a-vis Germany’s New Right (“Neue Rechte”), and finally, the organisational realities on the ground (a somewhat odd section as there is only a single contribution: a case study on Brandenburg in early 2015). Accordingly, the chapters vary considerably in terms of their scope, methods, and outlook. For instance, in his analysis of the AfD’s position within and potential effect on the German party system, Frank Decker relies on the standard tool kit of comparative party (system) studies and looks at the AfD’s history, party ideology, membership, affiliations, and voters. Similarly, Marcel Lewandowsky applies (qualitative) content analysis to a set of party documents (mostly manifestos) to compare the AfD’s stance on EU politics and International Relations more generally to those of the CSU, NPD, and the “Freie Wähler”. Felix Korsch, on the other hand, presents a detailed quantitative analysis of publicly accessible sources to uncover the degree of overlap between (prominent) members of Pegida, of the AfD, and of other parties and organisation. He complements his findings by pointing out how some of the claims and demands voiced by Pegida resemble those made by the AfD, while other authors offer very detailed insights into the microcosm of right-wing movements and organisations in Germany.

The AfD’s gender agenda

Perhaps the most interesting section is the one on gender and family issues. Christian fundamentalism is a niche issue in Germany. Politically, it has been mostly confined to micro parties such as the Partei Bibeltreuer Christen (PBC). But Andreas Kemper and Ulli Jentsch demonstrate in their respective chapters that there is again overlap between Germany’s small pro-life movement and other ’anti-emancipatory’ actors on the one hand and elite actors within the AfD on the other. As a corollary, Jasmin Siri’s qualitative analysis of party documents reveals the outlines of a highly traditional, if not anti-feminist agenda.


Reflecting its origins in a conference, and, more importantly, the rapid transformation of the AfD itself, the book can not hope to provide a single, coherent and definitive statement on the young party. But this is not a shortcoming: The authors and the editor present a useful, multi-faceted snapshot of a party in transition that can serve as a starting point for a whole host of future avenues for research.

Nov 292016

Why is there support for the Radical Right?

I’ve just submitted the final (hopefully) draft of a chapter that I’m preparing for Jens Rydgren’s forthcoming Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right. The job description was to Explain Electoral Support for the Radical Right (read the pre-print here). In 8000 words or less. Sure thing. No pressure.

Potential causes of Radical Right voting

Outside Europe, believing in Hell is one probable cause

Given the formidable size of the literature on the Radical Right, I had to be brutal. The chapter organises the presumptive causes of right-wing voting along the lines of the familiar Micro-Meso-Macro scheme, focusing on a number of landmark studies on the one hand and some of the latest research on the other. I aim at weighing the evidence in favour and against some prominent hypotheses about the conditions for Radical Right party success, including the pure-protest hypothesis, the charismatic-leader hypothesis, and the silent-counter-revolution hypothesis. Following that, I discuss what we know about the effects of a host of meso- and macro-level factors, and point out some directions for further research. I concludes that Radical Right mobilisation is now the rule rather than the exception, and that we should perhaps focus on understanding why they are not successful in some cases.

Post-Truth Politics Disclaimer:

I completely made up that number

Nov 252016

Googling around for a citation Doing serious scholarly work, I stumbled upon this article that was published in Foreign Affairs back in 1997. It would seem that these guys were rather prescient here.


Before you get too excited: On the next page, the article claims that liberal values and democracy are “interwoven in the Western political fabric, [but] are coming apart in the rest of the world. ” Like many others, I’m wondering if this is still a valid assertion. And yes, the warnings about Yeltsin look rather quaint now.

Nov 202016

I found this behind my desk whilst dusting.

Here is a polite suggestion: You might have used the indicative mood. It would have come across slightly more forceful and convincing. That, in turn, could have made a difference. Things would not be such a mess now. Next time around (if there were to be such a thing), you ought to bear that in mind.

Nov 182016

With the vote mostly counted in the US, PS have posted a useful summary of the Political Science Forecasting Models for that infamous election.

By and large, and in neat contrast to the current fad for self-flagellation, the augurs of the discipline have done well. Eight of the ten predictions that were published in PS got the winner of the popular vote right. Not that it would make a difference. Somewhat ironically, Norpoth’s Primary Model that I had (incorrectly) credited  on that gloomy Wednesday morning with predicting a Trump victory performed worst.  But in fairness to HN, his model has by far the longest lead.

Nov 152016


This week, I had the opportunity to talk on the Nuffield Politics Seminar about my current project on citizens’s preferences on Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) and how they differ from what lawmakers decided. The feedback I got was amazing, though not always practical (“If you could go back in time and vary about 10 experimental conditions …”.

Here are the slides:

Nov 132016

The one and only Philip Schrodt has written what I think is the perfect seven-take-home-messages rant on that election and it’s likely outcomes. Skip all the self-flagellation/yes-but posts and read this instead:

Then again, there is one thing that does not get enough coverage in there, and that is the whole polling/prediction disaster. So you should read this, too:

There. Your Sunday sorted out.

Nov 112016

I’m enormously flattered that the good people over at Nuffield College have invited me to their Political Science Seminar Series. I’m talking about a current project of mine that looks into the extent of the gap between citizens’ and legislators’ preferences on bioethical issues in general and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) in particular. Here is the abstract of my talk:

Given the country’s lack of a strong Catholic culture, extraordinarily high levels of medical expenditure, and the dominance of private-sector actors in the health market, the regulation of bioethical issues in Germany is surprisingly restrictive. Recent legislation on Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a case in point: Only under considerable external pressure and with a bare cross-partisan parliamentary majority did Germany move from a complete ban to a new set of rules that are still much more restrictive than those in Belgium or the UK.

An analysis of legislators’ preferences (Arzheimer 2015) suggests that comparatively high levels of religiosity as well as the existence of a ‘blue-green’ issue coalition is responsible for this restraint. Citizens, on the other hand, seemed to show higher levels of support for the new regime and perhaps even support for further liberalisation. Although PGD is currently a niche issue, the existence of such a representational gap demands scholarly and political attention, because the ethical issues associated with Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and other advanced medical techniques will become more and more salient in Western societies in the coming years.

In my talk, I will present first findings from a large-scale survey experiments that looks into the preferences of the general public on PGD and a number of similar issues. More specifically, I investigate four inter-related questions:

1) Is there indeed a sizeable gap between MPs’ and citizens’ preferences on PGD?

2) Would citizens support a further liberalisation of the PGD regime?

3) Are citizens’ preferences shaped by the same determinants as those of their MPs?

4) Can the gap between citizens and MPs be narrowed by making citizens reflect on arguments from a parliamentary debate?


Slides to follow at some point are here.

Photo by janetmck