MP, Peer, Secretary of State for India, Foreign Secretary, Leader of the Opposition, thrice Prime Minister of Britain, architect of the Empire and arch-Conservative. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, third Marquess of Salisbury and colloquially known as Lord Salisbury was not exactly a fan of mass democracy. This is from one of his essays in the Quarterly Review, quoted in David Marquand’s history of Britain in the 20th century. A lovely thing, these dead tree books.
Much to everybody’s surprise, the minority government in North Rhine-Westphalia collapsed today. Minority governments are a rarity in Germany. The federal constitution, reflecting Germany’s inter-war experience of unstable governments and intense political strife, practically rules them out. Constitutional details at the state level differ but the general assumption is that the government needs the reliable support of a majority of MPs. The increasing fragmentation of the German party system, however, plays havoc with these constitutional patterns.
In 2010, the land election brought about political deadlock in NRW, a state that has roughly the size, population, and GDP of the Netherlands. Neither of the two major parties (SPD and CDU) could form a majority government without at least two of the three minor parties (the Greens, the FDP (liberals), and the Left). Lengthy negotiations to form a Grand coalition or various three party coalitions (CDU/FDP/Greens, SPD/Greens/Left, SPD/Greens/FDP) failed, leading to the eventual constitution of a red-green minority government that proved remarkably stable.
Its unexpected downfall resulted from a legal twist. Today, the state parliament voted on the budget in a second reading. During this session, votes were scheduled for every single chapter of the whole budget. Both FDP and the Left were set to vote against the government, expecting that they could extract concessions from the government before the third and final reading in two weeks time. But yesterday, constitutional lawyers working for the state parliament informed the parties that due to its specific structure, a vote against any chapter would terminate the budgetary process without a third reading. The government, on the other hand, had declared that it could not operate without a constitutional budget and would seek to dissolve parliament.
This left the FDP and the Left with the choice to lose face or risk the loss of parliamentary representation, as they are not doing well in the polls. This afternoon, they chose the latter. Elections will be held in May.
At the moment, we do not know who asked for the legal opinion, whether the advice was controversial, and why the budget was structured in such a peculiar way. The document has been leaked to the press, but has not been published in full.
A telephone poll by Infratest dimap predicts a majority for a new red-green coalition, with the FDP truly and well below the five percent threshold and results for the Left and the Pirate party to close to call. But this is, of course, just the beginning of the campaign.
Like a premature Christmas present, my author’s copy of “The Extreme Right in Europe” arrived before the weekend. It’s a hefty volume of almost 500 pages that comes with a equally hefty price tag of just under 80 Euros. As you can see from the table of contents (the PDF also contains the introduction and a large chunk from Gilles Ivaldi’s chapter), it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I like the idea of bringing together contributions on Eastern and Western Europe and dealing with multiple facets of the right (parties, movements, voters, ‘culture’). While I’m particularly partial to the chapters by Ivaldi and de Lange, which are on matters close to my own research interests, Heß-Meining’s piece on Right-Wing Esotericism stands out for the sheer weirdness of its subject: Hitler’s hideout in the Arctic and Al Gore the Vampire, you name it. So if you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas present for this XR-head stoner uncle of yours … just kidding of course.
As an aside, it’s remarkable that this book was published in English. The volume as well as the conference on which it is based were sponsored by French and German institutions. A few years ago, that would have meant a bilingual conference and publication. Outside Luxembourg, what is the number of scholars working in the field who could have actively participated in the conference? And how much larger would have been the number of potential readers? Individually and collectively, French and German political science might still be too big to fail for the time being, but it’s good to see that we as a discipline chose relevance. Occasionally.
To celebrate this moment of pre-Christmas clarity, here’s the author’s version of my chapter
Life as an early 21st century comparativist is good: Skim through the English literature on country X, Y, and Z, get the dataset from some institution’s website, run the models on a superfast computer, and hey presto, you’re done. More often than not, one might be tempted to skip the literature bit completely and simply analyse a dataset on any group of countries, because this dataset has the variables required to run some fancy model that one always wanted to run. The phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ springs to mind.
Therefore, analyses by people who read and speak the relevant languages and even live in the country they are writing about fill me with vicarious pride. While I was going back and forth between Angela’s Own Country and the Disgraced Republic Formerly Known as Hellas, two fine specimen have cropped up on the internet: My old chum Ben Stanley has a journal-length piece on the Polish parliamentary elections at the monkey cage, and Jacob Christensen of trailer park political scientist fame gives an equally detailed account of the situation in Denmark.
Colleagues Andrea Römmele and Thorsten Faas have set up a new blog that will cover the many German elections of 2009 (seats in the federal parliament, several state parliaments, local councils as well as the presidency are all up for grabs) and asked me to contribute. How could I resist them? “Wahlen nach Zahlen” (voting by numbers) is not yet public, but since it is already indexed by Google et al., why not spill the beans? There are already four posts (in German), and the list of (potential) contributors looks pretty good. And here is my inaugural post on right-wing extremism amongst German youngsters.
The US might face unprecedented levels of turnout in tomorrow’s election, but historically, the non-voters are the biggest camp in American politics. One intriguing explanation for this well-known fact is that low turnout could be a consequence of the very high (by any standard) levels of income inequality: because voters lack experience with universalistic institutions, they are less likely to adopt norms and values that foster participation in elections. This is the gist of an article that appeared recently (by social science standards) in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations. While the thesis is interesting enough, I did not find the evidence (design, operationalisation, statistical model) particularly convincing and consequentially embarked on a major replication exercise. As it turned out, there are indeed major problems with the original analysis, including a rather problematic application of the ever popular time-series cross-sectional approach (aka Beck&Katz). Last week, my own article on the (non-)relationship between inequality and turnout has finally appeared in the BJPIR. If you don’t have access to the journal, you can still download the preprint version (“Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something True?”) from my homepage. And if you in turn find this rather unconvincing, you can download the replication data for the various inequality/turnout models and do your own analysis. Enjoy.
Technorati-Tags: turnout, elections, inequality, tscs, beck and katz, time-series cross-sectional data, replication, data, usa, oecd, social, norms, download, bjpir, bootstrapping
Today, the BBC has a rather amusing piece by Larry Sabato (Virginia) on the “The US election nightmare scenario“: an equal split of the “toss-up” state leads to deadlock in the Electoral College. Enter the unit rule, a constitutional provision which stipulates that the House will select the President in a vote where each state delegation has a single vote. Sounds bizarre? Certainly. Unlikely? Not entirely. And yes, apparently Pelosi could become the next President of the US. Read it yourself.
Technorati-Tags: US, elections, constitution, unit rule, electoral college, Barack Obama,John McCain,Nancy Pelosi, fun
As a subdiscipline, the study of electoral behavior (or “psephology”) begins with a handful of monographs that were published in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. It’s amazing to see how concepts and ideas that were developed in Downs’ “Economic Theory of Democracy” or in the “American Voter” by Campbell et al. some 50 years ago inform our work to the present day. However, the study of electoral behaviour (or electoral behavior – the publisher keep changing the title just to confuse me) did obviously not end with these holy books. From the 1960s on, the discipline was increasingly defined by a number of ground breaking articles that were published in professional journals.
This collection gave us the opportunity to bring together 66 articles which – in our humble view – define the discipline, represent important new departures, or bring together the knowledge we have on a given subject. As a friend of mine wisely remarked, at $ 950 the collection might be slightly underpriced. Then again, if you teach a course on electoral behaviour or political sociology, or if just want to get an overview of electoral studies, getting much if not most of the important stuff in one four-volume-1640-pages book is really a bargain. Maybe you should invite your librarian for a coffee. Make it a large one.
What the Library of Electoral Behaviour gives you is a full introduction to the study of electoral behaviour plus:
Lipset, S. M. and S. Rokkan (eds.) (1967) [‘Introduction’] in Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives, New York: The Free Press..
Erikson, Robert, John H. Goldthorpe and Lucienne Portocarero (1979), ‘Intergenerational Class Mobility in Three Western European Societies. England, France and Sweden’, British Journal of Sociology 30: 415-441
Alford, Robert R. (1962): A Suggested Index of the Association of Social Class and Voting, in: Public Opinion Quarterly 26, S. 417–425
Lijphart, Arend: Religious vs. Linguistic vs. Class Voting: The “Crucial Experiment” of Comparing Belgium, Canada, South Africa, and Switzerland, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 73, No. 2. (Jun., 1979), pp. 442-458.
Class Mobility and Political Preferences: Individual and Contextual Effects Nan Dirk De Graaf; Paul Nieuwbeerta; Anthony Heath The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 100, No. 4. (Jan., 1995), pp. 997-1027.
The Developmental Theory of the Gender Gap: Women’s and Men’s Voting Behavior in Global Perspective Ronald Inglehart; Pippa Norris . (Oct., 2000), pp. 441-463.
Alan Zuckerman (1975) ‘Political Cleavage: a conceptual and theoretical analysis’, British Journal of Political Science, 5: 231-248.
Key, V. O. “A Theory of Critical Elections.” The Journal of Politics 17, no. 1 (1955): 3-18
Belknap, G., and A. Campbell. “Political Party Identification and Attitudes toward Foreign Policy.” The Public Opinion Quarterly 15, no. 4 (1951): 601-23.
Converse, P. (1966) ‘The concept of a normal vote’ in A. Campbell et al (eds.) Elections and the Political Order, New York, John Wiley.
Jennings, M.K. and R. Niemi (1968) ‘The transmission of political values from parent to child’, American Political Science Review, 62: 169-84.
Converse, Philip E. (1964), ‘The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics’, in: David E. Apter (ed). Ideology and Discontent, pp. 206-261, New York: Free Press
Jackson, J. (1983). “The systematic beliefs of the mass public: estimating policy preferences with survey data” in Journal of Politics, vol. 45: 840-58.
Markus, Gregory B., and Philip E. Converse. “A Dynamic Simultaneous Equation Model of Electoral Choice.” The American Political Science Review 73, no. 4 (1979): 1055-70.
Fiorina, Morris P. “An Outline for a Model of Party Choice.” American Journal of Political Science 21, no. 3 (1977): 601-25.
Bartels, Larry M. “Partisanship and Voting Behavior, 1952-1996.” American Journal of Political Science 44 (2000): 35-50.
Cognition and the Voter Calculus
Hotelling, Harold (1929), ‘Stability in Competition’, The Economic Journal 39(153): 41-57.
Riker, William H., and Peter C. Ordeshook. “A Theory of the Calculus of Voting.” American Political Science Review 62 (1968): 25-42.