I’m a urologist now

For decades now, the marginal cost of spamming people has been so close to zero that the difference does not matter. This applies to academic spam, too. But fake editors have a slightly better chance to get past the filters than either Nigerian princes or Russian beauties. In April, I was an esteemed anthropologist, but I have gone up in the world since then: within just a few months, I have become a urologist and have already reached the ‘spent volcano’ stage of that career

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My “reputation for quality of research and trustworthiness” is a particularly nice touch. Onwards and upwards!

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A reading list: populism, euroscepticism & foreign policy attitudes

A new winter term is rearing its head. Winter terms in Germany are … special. They regularly come with dreary weather and unpredictable commutes in the dark, and this year’s special offer includes a possibility of new Covid strains and just a chance of Armageddon.

But I’m really looking forward to the new reading class (my favourite form of academic teaching) that I have set up for a fresh bunch of MA students. I have updated my old course on populism, euroscepticism and foreign policy attitudes (which was more centred on Catherine De Vries’s then-new monograph). The new list includes even more recent journal articles, because this is what we want our MA students to be able to digest. Not everything on the list is necessarily 100 per cent brilliant, but everything is interesting and relevant. Plus: identifying weak(-ish) points in top-notch research is an important skill for students (at least that is what I think).

European union flags on Castle Street, Hull
European union flags on Castle Street, Hull by Ian S is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Here is the full list. Feel free to use or adapt it for your own courses, or just as a collection of potential starting points.

  • The structure of foreign policy attitudes: Gravelle, Timothy B., Jason Reifler, and Thomas J. Scotto. 2017. “The Structure of Foreign Policy Attitudes in Transatlantic Perspective. Comparing the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany.” European Journal of Political Research 56 (4): 757–76. doi:10.1111/1475-6765.12197.
  • Personality and foreign policy attitudes: Rathbun, Brian C., Joshua D. Kertzer, Jason Reifler, Paul Goren, and Thomas J. Scotto. 2016. “Taking Foreign Policy Personally: Personal Values and Foreign Policy Attitudes.” International Studies Quarterly 60 (1): 124–37. doi:10.1093/isq/sqv012.
  • Threat, fear, anger, and Russia: Kupatadze, A., and T. Zeitzoff. 2019. “In the Shadow of Conflict: How Emotions, Threat Perceptions and Victimization Influence Foreign Policy Attitudes.” British Journal of Political Science 51 (1): 181–202. doi:10.1017/s0007123418000479.
  • Public opinion and International Organisations: De Vries, Catherine E., Sara B. Hobolt, and Stefanie Walter. 2021. “Politicizing International Cooperation: The Mass Public, Political Entrepreneurs, and Political Opportunity Structures.” International Organization 75 (2): 306–32. doi:10.1017/s0020818320000491.
  • EU support and individual benefit: Gabel, Matthew. 1998. “Public Support for European Integration. An Empirical Test of Five Theories.” Journal of Politics 60: 333–54.
  • EU support and cultural threat: McLaren, Lauren M. 2002. “Public Support for the European Union: Cost/Benefit Analysis or Perceived Cultural Threat.” The Journal of Politics 64: 551–66.
  • Populism as an attitude: Akkerman, Agnes, Cas Mudde, and Andrej Zaslove. 2014. “How Populist Are the People? Measuring Populist Attitudes in Voters.” Comparative Political Studies 47 (9): 1324–53. doi:10.1177/0010414013512600.
  • Euroscepticism and voting for the Far Right: McDonnell, Duncan, and Annika Werner. 2018. “Differently Eurosceptic: Radical Right Populist Parties and Their Supporters.” Journal of European Public Policy, 1–18. doi:10.1080/13501763.2018.1561743. & Werts, Han, Peer Scheepers, and Marcel Lubbers. 2012. “Euro-Scepticism and Radical Right-Wing Voting in Europe, 2002-2008: Social Cleavages, Socio-Political Attitudes and Contextual Characteristics Determining Voting for the Radical Right.” European Union Politics 14 (2): 183–205. doi:10.1177/1465116512469287.
  • (Il)Liberal-democratic attitudes and euroscepticism: Brug, Wouter van der, Sebastian Adrian Popa, Sara B Hobolt, and Hermann Schmitt. 2021. “Illiberal Democratic Attitudes and Support for the EU.” Politics 41 (4): 537–61. doi:10.1177/0263395720975970.
  • Generational effects, crises, and EU support: Lauterbach, Fabian, and Catherine E. De Vries. 2020. “Europe Belongs to the Young? Generational Differences in Public Opinion towards the European Union during the Eurozone Crisis.” Journal of European Public Policy 27 (2): 168–87. doi:10.1080/13501763.2019.1701533.
  • Brexit effects in other EU countries: Hobolt, Sara B., Sebastian Adrian Popa, Wouter van der Brug, and Hermann Schmitt. 2021. “The Brexit Deterrent? How Member State Exit Shapes Public Support for the European Union.” European Union Politics 23 (1): 100–119. doi:10.1177/14651165211032766.
  • Who in CEE would want to leave the EU: Gherghina, Sergiu, and Paul Tap. 2022. “Conservatism, Social Isolation and Political Context: Why East Europeans Would Leave the Eu in Exit Referendums.” International Political Science Review online first. doi:10.1177/01925121211061453.

Local government data & loving past me for once

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Dealing with any kind of German subnational data teaches one the Zen of German Politics. Germany may have a National Office for Statistics, but of course each federal state has its own Office, with their own definitions, procedures, traditions, websites etc. That alone makes dealing with reasonably fine-grained official data an exquisite pain.

One particularly subtle aspect of this pain is that the very structure of subnational government varies from state to state. Today (2022), about 11,000 municipalities exist in unified Germany. That’s down from roughly 24,000 that existed during the 1950s in the Federal Republic.

2,300 of the present-day municipalities – basically the same number that we had in the late 1970s – are in Rhineland-Palatinate alone, although this state is home to just 5 per cent of the nation’s population. After a series of mergers, Saxony, which has about the same number of inhabitants as Rhineland-Palatinate, retains just over 400 municipalities, down from 1,600 that existed in 1991. Berlin (4.5 per cent of Germany’s population) is a single municipality. In short, the meaning of “municipality” varies wildly, and municipal data (where it exists and is accessible) is usually neither comparable nor otherwise particularly useful.

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City Halls & Town Halls: Germany’s has many of them

Thankfully, an intermediate level of government called districts exist in each Land but Berlin and Hamburg. These ~400 districts are either rural (that’s the majority) or urban (basically self-governing towns and cities).

While there is considerable variation across districts (the smallest urban districts are towns with just over 30,000 inhabitants while the whole of Berlin is treated like a district, too), a lot of official data has been harmonised at this level and is available in machine-readable form. Yay! However, while districts tend to be relatively stable, every now and then the states’ desire to meddle become more efficient leads to mergers and other reforms, which can in turn bite your ankles when you try to match survey and macro data.

More specifically, you may find that you have interviewed people in two adjacent districts that partially merged later that year, with some leftover municipalities going to a third district. And because you interviewed in early summer while the border changes went in effect in autumn, a bit of recoding is required for the matching to make sense.

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Information on such border changes is difficult to come by and easy to forget, and so I was nearly moved to tears when I saw that past me (of six months aho) – usually a sloppy bastard who heavily discounts the future – had left a note for present me regarding the merger of Göttingen and Osterrode districts, and how he dealt with this particular problem in Stata.

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But I was positively shocked to find out that the bugger had left a corresponding message in a second script on the R side of things – because he had already half forgotten what his past me had told him a few hours earlier? Or was it really concern for future me (me)? Either way, future me shouldn’t hope that present me is as conscientious as past me used to be. Because present me is usually the laziest bugger of them all.

Germany: the Identitarian Movement remains under surveillance

In 2016, Germany’s “Office for the Protection of the Constitution”, a.k.a. the spooks, put the German branch of the Identitarian Movement under surveillance. They are also listed in the Office’s yearly reports under the heading “right-wing extremist actors”.

Germany: the Identitarian Movement remains under surveillance 9

Germany being Germany, the IB in this country is organised as a registered association, which has taken the spooks to court over this issue. Because that, boys and girls, is the beauty of the rule of law: alleged enemies of the constitution can still sue the secret service over said allegation.

But the court (here: the local administrative court at Cologne, where the Office is based) has now decided that the Office was well within its rights, because the IB’s idea of an “ethno-cultural identity” is incompatible with the liberal-democratic principles of the Basic Law. Word, man.

The IB may still appeal against the ruling. More rule of law my follow. Here is a more detailed report (in German).

2022 Lower Saxony election: the AfD double their 2017 result

Lower Saxony just held the last of 2022’s four state elections. The result is mostly in line with the pre-election surveys: both the SPD and the CDU (which in this state formed the last remaining Grand coalition) lost a few points, but the SPD remained stronger overall and is perceived as the winner. The Left stood no chance, and the FDP may or may not have made it past the threshold. The Greens nearly (but not quite) doubled their result, and so did the AfD (compare the two artisanal blue circles in the graph).

To put this into perspective, the levels of infighting in the state party are spectacular even by AfD standards. In 2017, the party nearly failed to submit a slate of candidates and managed to get the prosecution service involved in their altercations with the authorities and amongst each others. The AfD eventually scraped past the threshold, but the party executive collapsed on election night. Subsequently, warring factions tried to organise separate party conferences in different locations. In the end, the federal leadership stepped in and appointed an acting state party executive, which unsurprisingly found (amongst other things) that money was missing from the bank. In 2020, three of the state MPs including the 2017 frontrunner candidate left the parliamentary party, which was subsequently dissolved. The 2021 and 2022 party conferences ended prematurely and in disarray.

2022 Lower Saxony election: the AfD double their 2017 result 10

And yet, the AfD just managed to get their best result in any western state since 2018 (compare this to the lousy results in North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein earlier this year). Even if the AfD in Lower Saxony has managed to set their house in order, this is unlikely to be the result of better discipline and stronger candidates alone. It rather points to some kind of recovery in national support that follows a long period of decline and stagnation, which set in even before Covid.

Grievances do not simply translate into far-right support – it’s usually a bit more nuanced than that. And yet, a vote share of 11 per cent in Lower Saxony suggests that the AfD must be benefitting from renewed worries about migration triggered by the war, alongside the new-ish worries about the war itself, about energy security, and about inflation. Whether this is temporary or whether the party will do well in the next round of western state elections (Bremen in May and Bavaria and Hesse later in 2023) remains to be seen.