Feb 202021

How it started

It’s no secret that Mainz is a carnival hot spot. Shrove Monday, the day of the biggest parade and the most frantic celebrations, is a de facto public holiday in the city. But the de facto bit is important here: the city can’t make it a proper holiday, yet nobody who can possibly avoid it is working, so (collective) bargaining is important in a very practical sense.

At Mainz U, the workers’ representatives and the leadership must have come to an Agreement shortly after the war: on Shrove Monday, food outlets, libraries, departments, and central offices always were and always will be officially geschlossen, but there is a price. Until some years ago, we used to get reminders (on the back of our payslips) of the Arrangement: during an (extended) period of Lent, employees were supposed  to work exactly 12 extra minutes per day to make up for the lost Monday. 17 minutes if you happened to be a Beamter (because of the slightly longer working week).

How it is going

Academics (who can work almost everywhere, have their own keys to the building, and are not known for their great sense of humour) used to laugh about it. Some even came in on Shrove Monday (if they could get past the hordes of drunk revellers filling the streets). But for the admin staff and even more so for the porters, janitors, or lab technicians, whose schedules were even more rigid than they are today, the Arrangement must have been a real achievement.

In the many years since the Arrangement was reached, working time has become more flexible for all employees. The 12-minutes-per-day rule was quietly dropped in accordance with that. Even working from home, an elusive privilege for many, has become the new normal, thanks to the pandemic.

And so you might think that the Arrangement, which decades ago brought some flexibility, could be handled in a flexible way this year. After all, there were no celebrations, hence no social pressure to be anywhere in particular.

Shrove Monday in Academia 1
Even in a pandemic, carnival is serious business

But you would be very wrong. Just in time, the leadership reminded us that JGU observes Shrove Monday, and working from home is verboten on this very special day (which, in the absence of a parade or other distractions, had severe personal consequences for me). Explaining how this makes perfect sense from a bureaucratic/neo-corporatist point of view (I think it does) is left as an exercise to the reader.

Nov 182020
brown wooden jigsaw puzzle piece

What motivated the members of UKIP?

In the second week of my reading class, we had a go at this one.

Whiteley, P., Larsen, E., Goodwin, M., & Clarke, H. (2019). Party activism in the populist radical right: the case of the uk independence party. Party Politics, online first. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1354068819880142

Big guns, and Paul Whiteley was the friendliest next-door (office) neighbour I could wish for in a previous life. Apart from that, the research question is intriguing: are/were members of UKIP motivated by the same factors as members of more “normal” parties? Or are/were UKIP members different, because their party was a (self-styled) outsider? The text is also a convenient introduction to the subfield of party member studies/surveys, something my students were not really aware of.

What we liked

The data set is amazing: thousands of UKIP members, many of them without doubts graduates from the school of hard knocks, were willing to talk to, you know, boffins. Students really liked that. They also appreciated the choice and framing of the research question, and that the authors tried to address the issue of relative deprivation (though the students pointed out that they were talking about a macro concept while using micro data).

What we did not like so much

Having said that, students were quite critical. They kicked off by pointing out that the general incentives model is not so totally different from but rather a special case of the Civic Voluntarism model. So a bit of a straw man/false dichotomy to start with?United Kingdom Flag Map

The text is rather short (less than 8,000 words including the tables but excluding the references). Cynics might think that students would like that, too, but some of them actually complained that they wanted more information on the wording of the items and the construction of the variables, something that they could not even find in the online appendix (yes, they are perverted like that). More generally, they felt that one or two extra pages would have been required for the presentation of the findings and a fuller discussion of their implications.

They also said that additional factors such as religiosity and Islamophobia should have been included in the model and were concerned that UKIP and the UK were not necessarily very representative of the Radical Right and Western Europe. All good points.

And I’m really proud that they spotted one major issue: Whiteley et al. find that the same general incentives that work for other parties also explain variation in participation levels within the UKIP membership. But a more interesting question is perhaps whether they also explain the decision to join a party, and more specifically UKIP. Which reminds me of another piece that I could have selected for this course:

Poletti, M., Webb, P., & Bale, T. (2019). Why do only some people who support parties actually join them? evidence from britain. West European Politics, 42(1), 156–172. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01402382.2018.1479921

do exactly this: by comparing party members and non-members, they show that general incentives can explain the crucial step of joining. Then again, they have a much smaller sample of UKIP members.

All that ends well…

In the end, students said they had learned a lot from the text, even if they disagreed with some of the authors’ choices. What more can you ask for?

Nov 112020

What is this about?

Every long, dark, depressing winter term (mid-October to mid-February, thank you very much), I run a reading class for/with my MA students. The rules are simple: I pick a broad topic (in this year’s instance: participation), then I select 12-14 peer-reviewed articles that have been published over the last 20 months or so. Each week, we read one article. One student is responsible for guiding us through the text, which we collectively pick apart to see what its strengths and weaknesses might be.

What we are reading: The continuous expansion of citizen participation: a new taxonomy 2

The aim of this exercise is twofold. On the one hand, students are exposed to cutting-edge research in at least one (fairly narrow) domain of political science. It’s an obvious point, but authors are usually standing (and sometimes tip-toeing) on the proverbial shoulders of giants. Trying to make sense of a recent and often very specific contribution is a roundabout but still interesting (I hope) way to learn more about the received wisdom in a (sub)field. But, ideally, students also acquire an understanding of how political scientists and the discipline work, warts and all. In many cases that means that they learn how to deduce test and empirically interesting hypotheses, and how to effectively communicate results, all in 8,000 words or fewer. In other cases, they learn (to their silent horror) that peer-reviewed research sometimes gets away with stuff that would earn them a massive bollocking if they did this in their coursework or thesis. Either way, it’s instructive.

I always urge my students to make copious notes about the readings, both at home and in class, so that we can take stock at the end of term. Needless to say that I do not always (cough) follow my own advice. But this term is different: I’m teaching from behind my laptop, from the safety and comfort of my private study/home studio/spare bedroom, and I can download the content of the very virtual whiteboard in four different digital formats with a single click. So I’m rather good (by my standards) at keeping notes of our sessions at the moment, and I thought I might as well put them here as a sort of public log. Like, you know, a web-log?

So what is this about?

We kicked off this term with this one:

Theocharis, Y., & van Deth, J. W. (2018). The continuous expansion of citizen participation: a new taxonomy. European Political Science Review, 10(1), 139–163. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1755773916000230

This article does two things: First, it presents a re-cap of van Deth’s (2014) new typology for classifying various acts of political participation, which also covers online participation. Second, it applies this framework to a representative and fairly recent (2015) sample of about 1,000 German adults.

What we liked

Shining a light on social media and internet use as one form of political participation obviously appealed to my students (all of them digital natives). More generally, we found the structure of the article very clear and the general rationale behind the new typology convincing. Last not least, the substantive findings were interesting. The take home message (in my students’ view) was that social media may be getting more and more important, but are still seen as an add-on by many Germans.

What we did not like so much

The students would have been interested in a slightly more thorough discussion of said empirical findings. They also suggested that the article might have benefited from more figures. Perhaps too much space was devoted to discussing respondents’ replies to an open question. And they would have liked to hear more about the intensity/frequency of political participation.


Oct 032020

There is this journalist in Slovakia who occasionally sends me questions about the Radical Right and or Germany. It’s one of these wonderful relationships that the internet makes possible: we have never met in person, never even spoken on the phone, but for years we have been swapping messages and ideas.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of German unification, he sent me these two. No idea if they ever made it into an article, but I’m currently cleaning out my mailbox and thought I might repost our exchange here.

After 30 years, what is the most positive aspect of Germany reunification, and why, and what really didn’t go that well, and why?

In my view, the most positive aspect is that Germany managed to integrate the population of the former GDR without large-scale social upheaval. Exactly a decade ago, I had the opportunity to talk to an official from the South Korean Ministry for Re-Unification. They were very worried that in the (very unlikely) event of Korean re-unification, unhappy northern soldiers could form a guerilla. While the mode and the outcomes of unification are rightfully controversial in Germany, insurgency was never a concern.

On the other hand, unification was organised as the accession of the GDR to Western Germany. Western Germany stayed very much as it was. Eastern institutions that worked well (most prominently universal state-run child care and public transport) were scaled back massively. Unification tied up so many political and social resources that unified Germany was neither willing nor able to address the shortcomings of the old republic.

From your perspective, what is the most important challenge (except COVID-19) Germany has to face in the foreseeable future?

Germany has managed the integration of the eastern population reasonably well, but it has fallen other West European nations when it comes to integrating the so-called second and third generation of immigrants, let alone those who have arrived more recently. Germany is also trailing many of its neighbours in terms of gender equality. So in my view, 30 years after unification, building a more modern, inclusive and equitable society should be our priority.

Jul 112020

Men are more positive about (some) reproductive science and technology than women

Here is a by-catch finding from my recent article on the micro-foundations of the two-worlds theory of moral policy (full article, ungated). In the article, I look at the effect of a) party identification, b) religiosity, and c) political secularism (a desire for the separation of religion from politics) on the preferred regulation of various moralized policies in Germany. I control for age, education, region (east vs west), and gender.

In the article, I don’t talk much about the gender effects, because a) there was a strict word limit and b) they are somewhat tangential to the article’s main argument. But I find them intriguing. Here is the main table from the article. Entries are logit coefficients (I know). What do all those numbers mean?

Controlling for everything else (including the slightly gendered differences in religiosity and secularism), male respondents are just a tad less likely than females to support women’s access to legal abortions, although the difference is nowhere near statistically significant. Conversely, men are slightly more supportive of research on human embryos for medical purposes, but again, the difference is not significant.

Controlling for age, education, region, religiosity, party ID & political secularism, men are more supportive of gene editing and extracting stem cells from human embryos for medical purposes than women. They are not more likely to support access to abortions.

Boys & their toys

However, once we turn to high-tech interventions – extracting stem cells from early embryos and gene editing – men are significantly more supportive than women. The effect is small compared to everything else that is going on in the model, but it is there even after controlling for religion, secularism, education et al.. If that does not make you think about gendered view on reproductive rights and control over female bodies, I don’t know what will.

Do you find this kind of research interesting?There is more where that came from.

Bonus track: show us the items

The article in all its glory is open access, so simply click to have a look at the whole thing. I think it’s fascinating stuff, but then again, I’m a nerd. The operationalisations are buried in an appendix, so I’m reproducing them here for easy reference.

AbortionIf a woman wants to have an abortion, this should be legal, no matter what her reasons are: no (0); yes (1)
EmbryosResearch on human embryos should be banned, even if this means that patients will not benefit from new treatments: disagree strongly, disagree somewhat (1); neither/nor, agree somewhat, fully agree (0)
Stem cellsIn stem cell research, scientists extract cells from a human embryo less than two weeks after fertilization. These cells are not implanted in a woman’s uterus but grown in the lab to treat patients with genetic disorders. Do you fully approve of this, requiring no specific regulation, approve if this is strictly regulated (1); approve only if there are exceptional circumstances, approve under no circumstances (0)
Gene therapyScientists are working on gene therapies: treatments that work by modifying the human genome. Do you fully approve of this, requiring no specific regulation, approve if this is strictly regulated (1); approve only if there are exceptional circumstances, approve under no circumstances (0)
Jun 282020

Social Identity Theory is a prominent account of intergroup hostility and hence super interesting for political scientist. Groundbreaking work in this field was carried out by Henri Tajfel, who ran fascinating experiments back in the 1960s and 70s. Today, many of these would go nowhere near an IRB.

If you have 19 minutes to spare, this podcast delivers both a vignette of Tajfel’s life and a useful primer of Social Identity Theory 📻 👇
Rupert Brown on Henri Tajfel #socialScienceBites

Jun 202020

Back in the mist of time that would eventually coalesce into my memories of the 1990s, I met a fellow PhD-er at a summer school. She had just returned to the fatherland after doing an MA in the UK and found re-integration into German Political Science rather difficult.

The toughest bit, according to her, was the collective obsession with Weberian concepts. She eventually solved that problem by assigning a set of (essentially random) choice MW quotes to the function keys of her keyboard. Or so she said.

Max Weber and German Political Science 3
An outsider’s view of German PolSci

I would not know, because this turned into reject after review and some substantial revisions. But after all these years, the meme still rings true.

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May 292020


I’m currently working on a paper that looks into the role that Germany’s eastern states (aka “the new Länder”, the ex-GDR …) played for the breakthrough and the consolidation of the “Alternative for Germany” party. This figure shows support for the AfD from 2013 to 2020.

The graph is a teeny-weeny bit busy, so here is the extended legend 👉 Circles are results from state (Länder elections), labelled with state codes. Squares are Bundestag, diamonds are European parliamentary elections. Filled symbols represent eastern Länder, or partial results for the eastern states only (Bundestag and EP elections). Hollow symbols represent the western states/partial western results. The blue line is the (locally smoothed) average over about 200 national elections polls from the Politbarometer (FGW) and Deutschlandtrend (Infratest-dimap) series. There are four main observations.

Graph showing electoral support for the AfD by region (east vs west) and level

Source: official results; Politbarometer & Deutschlandtrend polls

The eastern vote share is consistently at least two times as high as the western vote share

Not exactly a new finding, but the AfD does much better in the east than in the west. In fact, so much better that some observers see the party as specifically eastern problem. This is not correct, but the difference is striking. Even in the 2013 Bundestag election (when the AfD campaigned as a soft-eurosceptic, “liberal-conservative” outfit), the party was clearly more popular in the east. Possible reasons: fewer partisans, lower levels of institutional trust, more xenophobia.

The AfD might not have survived 2015 without the eastern states

Almost exactly 5 years ago, the AfD was almost falling apart (also see just about every other of my blog posts from that period). Support for the party fell below 5 per cent (also see the section after the next), prominent members threatened to leave or simply went. The FAZ called them, in their professional journalistic assessment, “a laughing stock”. Radically transformed (see what I did here?), the party bounced back in 2016, but during this period, their only full-time politicians with access to funding and the media (apart from two remaining MEPs) were about 30 state-level MPs who had won seats in the 2014 series of elections in Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia – incidentally on platforms that presaged the AfD’s trajectory towards the Radical Right.

Eastern state MPs outnumbered their western counterparts until 2017

It’s not directly visible in the graph, but: the higher vote share in the east (combined with the electoral calendar, the relatively large number of eastern states, and the disproportionate size of small-state legislatures) meant that until the Bundestag election in September 2017, there were twice as many AfD (state) MPs in the east. Although the east has just over one fifth of the population and about the quarter of the AfD members, a large chunk of the party elite was recruited (though not necessarily born) in the east. Even after the 2017 election, about half of the MPs (state and federal) were eastern.

The AfD’s downward trend began long before Corona

Journalists love a good story, and they like to link the AfD’s current underwhelming performance in the polls to the fact that people are weary of populists in a crisis, and the AfD’s mixed messages on COVID. But it is also clear that the AfD’s support in national polls peaked in 2018. The declining salience of immigration and the revelations on right-wing extremists within and around the AfD have not exactly helped. Support for the party has ebbed and flowed before, and local polynomial regression by design tends to exaggerate trends at the margins of a plot, but it is clear that support began to fall months before Corona became the dominant issue in Germany and elsewhere.

May 082020

On May the 8th 1945, the Wehrmacht surrendered, bringing the war in Europe and the terror reign of the Nazis to an end.1 40 years later, then-president Richard von Weizsäcker, himself a former officer of the Wehrmacht and a scion of the same Prussian gentry that for centuries has supplied the army with cadets, kicked a hornets’ nest by calling it “a day of liberation”.2 While the “liberation” angle seems rather obvious, it was revolutionary at the time, especially coming from a (liberal-minded) member of the CDU.

Since then, the debate in Germany’s editorials has never fully stopped. While “liberation” has been the dominant narrative for a while, there are still conservative holdouts that point to the military defeat and ensuing loss of territory.

An initiative to make May 8 a national holiday on its 75th anniversary has come to naught. In a statement that resonates with Trumpian “good people on both sides”, Alexander Gauland, the AfD’s godfather, pointed out that May 8 “is ambivalent. It was a day of liberation for the inmates of concentration camps. But it was also a day of utter defeat …”. Think about this, and the implications, for a second.

In 2020, 77 per cent of Germans see the end of the war as liberation, only five per cent think of it as defeat

Survey data (infratest dimap) on Germans’ views of the end of the war in Europe

Somewhat surprisingly, the general public has moved on from this stale debate a while ago. A survey by infratest dimap shows that like in 2005, more than 75 per cent of the population see May 8 as liberation, while a mere 5 per cent think of defeat, with the rest being ambivalent or not willing/able to answer the question.

The breakdown by party supporters is striking, but not really surprising: more than 30 per cent of the AfD’s supporters see the end of the war as a defeat, for all other parties, this number is in the low single figures. I leave the fact that the FDP has by far the highest number of ambivalents as an exercise for the reader.


1Incidentally, it is also our wedding anniversary, but that is probably besides the point.

2Were it not inappropriate, you might even say he caught a lot of flack.

Apr 222020

A year ago, Sofia Porcarelli, a student at Occidental College, approached me because she was making a documentary movie about the far right in Germany. That’s way more interesting than a plain old thesis, right? Right. So I was very happy to be interviewed as one of her sources.

Today, I’m even happier to report that Sofia has shared the final product on youtube. Very chuffed, obviously.

Creating Fear: The Rise of the Right Wing in Germany

Watch this video on YouTube.