Mar 142014

Are you politically neutral?

Here is a nice little conundrum for you. As a political scientist, you necessarily spend much of your time analysing, well, politics. If you happen to study the system you are living in, that makes for some awkward social situations.

Senior Citizens in Hesse (2030 projection)

Grey or Red Hesse? Distribution of senior citizens in Hesse (2030 projection)

I have recently completed a chapter on political culture in the federal state of Hesse (pro-tip: this is not the place that supplies the community with those pesky non-invertible matrices). This is a contribution to a collected volume on the political history of Hesse that is subsidised by the Hessian “Centre for Political Education” and edited by one of their staff. Every German state has a “Centre for Political Education”.1 They are government agencies that were set up after the war as part of the effort to re-educate the Germans and help building a democratic political culture. Because they are tax funded and work for the greater good, it is part of their job description to be as party-political neutral as humanly possible.

(Still) Red Hesse? Oops, Wrong Question

In my contribution, I deal (amongst other things) with the “Red Hesse Myth”: the idea (promoted by the Social Democrats in the 1970s) that the people of Hesse have an innate disposition to vote for the Left. This notion is somewhat ridiculous, given that large parts of the state are still very rural and shaped by conservative traditions. It is also hard to reconcile with the fact that Hessian state politics is rather polarised by German standards.

I thought my data-based rambling was innocent enough, but now, several months after I have submitted what I thought was the final draft, the editor has informed me that some passages could be misconstrued in a party political way and asked me to re-write them in a more neutral tone. Rather charmingly, she failed to tell me whether it was too left-leaning, too conservative or simply too much concerned with politics. So I asked her to clarify, but so far, she has not replied. If you read German, see for yourself and drop me a hint.

The annoying thing is of course that I will have to withdraw my contribution (specifically written for this book) if they demand changes that I am not comfortable with, which just goes to show that one should steer clear of edited volumes. Has something like this ever happened to you?



German Politics aficionados will not be surprised: Obviously, there is also a Federal Centre for Political Education which has absolutely no say over the work of the state centres, although they often co-operate.

Sep 282012

Today is Oscar Gabriel‘s retirement/leaving do. Unfortunately, I could not make it to the party, but I wrote a chapter for the super-secret Festschrift that should by now be in his hands. The chapter (in German) deals with an old favourite of his (and mine): cultural-attitudinal differences between East and West Germany (or rather between East and West Germans). To honour the occasion, I put the preprint online (there is a PDF, too).

Aug 072011
Photograph of a sketch of the French author an...

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Fails/Pierce 2010 article in Political Research Quarterly 2010 is easily the most interesting paper I have read during the last Academic Year (btw, here are my lecture notes). Ever since the 1950s, mainstream political science has claimed that mass attitudes on democracy matter for the stability of democracy, while the intellectual history of the concept is even older, going back at least to de TocquevilleBut, as Fails and Pierce point out, hardly anyone has ever bothered to test the alleged link between mass attitudes and the quality and stability of democracy. This is exactly what they set out to do, regressing levels of democratic attitudes compiled from dozens of surveys on previous  and succeeding polity scores. As it turns out, levels of democratic attitudes do not explain much, while they seem to follow changes in the polity scores. If these results hold, the Political Culture paradigm would have to be thoroughly modified, to say the least: It’s the elites, stupid.

My students poured a lot of primarily methodological criticism on these findings (I can see my bad influence on them), and I’m not sure that the interpretation of the last (first-differences on first-differences regression) is conclusive. But nonetheless, this is fascinating stuff. I wonder if the big shots will have to say anything interesting about it, or whether they will just ignore the work of two annoying PhD students.

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