Interview with Constantin Manuel Bosancianu on Party–Voter Ideological Congruence and Socioeconomic Biases in Representation

Constantin Manuel Bosancianu, of WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Germany, presented the paper, “Party–Voter Ideological Congruence and Socio-Economic Biases in Representation: OECD over the Past 5 Decades” at the Politics and Inequality conference held in Warsaw, Poland in December 2018.

Constantin Manuel Bosancianu is a postdoctoral researcher in the “Institutions and Political Inequality” unit at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). He focuses on the intersection of political economy and electoral behavior: how to measure political inequalities between citizens of both developed and developing countries, and what the linkages between political and economic inequalities are. Dr. Bosancianu received his PhD in 2007 from the Central European University, Budapest, with a dissertation on how the dynamics of party ideological shifts, economic inequality, and individual political participation unfold over time. He is interested in statistics, data visualization, and the history of Leftist parties. In the past, Dr. Bosancianu taught or assisted with teaching methods courses at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Winter and Summer Methods Schools, University of Heidelberg or University of Gießen, with a focus on regression analysis, R, Bayesian analysis, and multilevel modelling.

We asked Constantin Manuel Bosancianu for an extended abstract of his Politics and Inequality conference paper and, via email, some questions about his research. We are thankful for his positive and detailed response.

Extended Abstract

Disparities in political representation between socio-economic groups, if perpetuated over time, can lead to growing disenchantment with the political process, dropout from political life, and even the appearance of new political movements that challenge representative institutions (Taggart, 2002). Starting with the early investigations of Gilens (2005, 2009, 2012) for the US context, a series of analyses have found disparities in political representation across a larger number of consolidated democracies (Elsässer, Hense, & Schäfer, 2018; Giger, Rosset, & Bernauer, 2012; Peters & Ensink, 2015; Rosset, Giger, & Bernauer, 2013; Rosset, 2013). Despite the consistent results, we continue to have very limited knowledge about the causes and mechanisms for these disparities.

This analysis probes into this issue. By relying on an original data set of merged voter studies in 30 OECD countries, going as far back in time as the 1960s and 70s, I compute a measure of ideological congruence between voters and political parties. Called the Earth Mover’s Distance (Lupu, Selios, & Warner, 2017), it is based on citizens’ self-placement on a standard Left-Right axis, as well as their placement of parties on the same scale (Powell Jr., 2009). By relying on voters’ perceptions of parties rather than legislator self-placements (Lupu & Warner, 2018), my data overcomes the potential flaw of different understandings of “Left” and “Right” between people and political elites. This measure of congruence is then used to ascertain: (1) if representation gaps between voters at the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum are found in my sample, and (2) whether the gaps in representation are associated with a demand-side characteristic (disparities in political participation between the same socio-economic groups) or a supply-side factor (party ideological changes over time).

Preliminary findings do little to dispel the mystery surrounding the causes of unequal representation for poorer citizens, though they conclusively establish that such a gap exists. They furthermore establish that overall quality of representation is associated with disparities in participation: contexts where turnout between income groups is more unequal have worse overall representation of income groups. However, even when relying on a measure of participation disparities generated from individual-level data, no clear association exists between disparities in political voice and gaps in representation between income groups. Neither do party-system dynamics appear to explain the disparity in ideological convergence between income groups. Though inconclusive, the findings confirm those of Lupu and Warner (2018) and will hopefully spur the focus on additional mechanisms to explain the relative disadvantage in representation that poorer citizens are faced with.

Interview with Constantin Manuel Bosancianu

The research you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on party–voter congruence. How did you get interested in this topic? And is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

The interest in political representation, for which party-voter ideological congruence is one proxy, came about through my focus on understanding how to measure the facets of political inequality between individuals and groups. For the past few years I have been interested in disparities in political voice between individuals and groups—aspects such as turnout, non-electoral participation, or political efficacy. These are shaped by individual resource endowments, which naturally generate inequalities in voice. This is only part of the story, though. Another part is how disparities in voice and political influence are shaped by systemic features pertaining to, say, the electoral system or party system configurations. Some of Orit Kedar’s work is an excellent example of this, as is that of Karen L. Jusko. My own attempts refer to another feature of the system: the distribution of parties along a Left–Right ideological dimension.

Continue reading “Interview with Constantin Manuel Bosancianu on Party–Voter Ideological Congruence and Socioeconomic Biases in Representation”

When Local Governments Protested the USA Patriot Act

Mass Protests over Federal Government Policy

The US Presidential of 2016 election sparked protests across the nation. There were mass demonstrations over immigration and refugee policies, pro-Trump rallies, town hall debates over health care, the Women’s March on Washington, and declarations of support for sanctuary cities, to name just a few. We have not seen such mass protests since the Tea Party in 2009.

The US has a long history of protests. Yet, local government protest (this is when city, town, or village governments vote on resolutions to symbolically denounce a federal policy) has not occurred on a large scale.

What Is Local Government Protest over federal policy?

In an article published in the Journal of Urban Affairs, we investigated local gov’t protest over the USA PATRIOT Act (United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001). The Patriot Act came as a direct response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and signed into law a little over a month later.

Patriotactsigning
President Bush signing the Patriot Act into law (photo by Eric Draper)

The scale of local government protest of the USA Patriot Act after 9/11

On January 7, 2002, the city council of Ann Arbor, Michigan, passed a resolution condemning aspects of the Patriot Act and, among other things, urged local law enforcement officials to not enforce parts of the law that seemed in violation of constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties. The resolution stipulated that a copy be distributed to President Bush, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Michigan’s members of Congress.

Two and a half months later, the city council of Denver, Colorado passed a similar resolution.

Within four months of Denver, seven local governments from a diverse group of states, including Massachusetts and North Carolina, took similar actions. As of March 2005, close to 300 places (as defined by the US Census), 45 counties, and four states passed some form of resolution regarding perceived negative aspects of the Patriot Act.

This was one of the largest-scale local government protests against a singular federal action in US history.

What is Contentious Policy?

The intergovernmental relations literature discusses how relationships within the governmental system functions under particular conditions. These relationships can be characterized as conflict or cooperation. The nature of the relationship depends on what policy is being discussed and the social, political, and economic conditions of the discussion.

Protests performed by governments within the federal system is rare. Local government resolutions express, in a symbolic manner, policy stances. As a nexus of protest and policy, local government protest invites social scientists to extend the research on protest behavior, traditionally defined in terms of open conflict with state structures, to conflict within the state.

The practical impact of local government action on federal policy is debatable. At its core, this action is mostly symbolic; it expresses public displeasure and a sense of political efficacy with respect to a contentious policy.

A History of Local Government Protest over federal policy in the USA

The last three decades has witnessed profound instances of local government protest.

—  In the 1980s, 368 city and county councils, 444 town meetings, and 17 state legislatures endorsed principles of the Nuclear Freeze Movement (see Zinn 2003, p. 604); over 40 local governments across the United States, helped along by the religion-inspired Sanctuary Movement, passed ordinances and resolutions opposing federal immigration law.

—  During the 1990s, in direct opposition to the federal government’s refusal of the Kyoto Protocol treaty, over 950 cities endorsed resolutions affirming their desire to reduce greenhouse gases (see Krause 2010).

—  There were several in the 2000s. In 2003, the city of Pittsburgh condemned the Gun Industry Immunity Bill being debated in the U.S. Senate (the bill was later defeated). In April 2007, the state of Vermont passed a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush because of his foreign policies. With regard to the War on Terror, in 2002–2003 over 150 local governments passed resolutions that criticized the federal government’s policy of pre-emptive war in Iraq and called for diplomatic solutions.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee Data

To investigate the conditions of protest, we need good data. And information on protests depend on individuals and organizations who spend the time to carefully document them.

In our Patriot Act study, we focused on the resolutions about the Patriot Act between 2002 and 2007. Our data came from the website of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC).

The BORDC was born out of opposition to the Patriot Act, and is still around today as a social movement organization concerned with the state of civil liberties in the United States. The BORDC provided free, public, and continually updated information on the list of places, counties, and states that opposed the Patriot Act. Without the BORDC, we would not have the crucial data on the who, what, when, and where of these local government actions.

Who protests? Urban places, with greater than average proportions of the college-educated and located within liberal-leaning states were the most likely. After state governments protested, the local cities, towns, and villages within that state’s borders were less likely to protest (the ‘state-suppressor effect’).

The BORDC is now now Rights and Dissent, and they are still providing data on local protest and bill passages across the USA.

Does local government protest over federal policy matter?

There isn’t much research on the effects of local government protest against federal policy, or for the protesters, for that matter. At best, we can say that this protest is a political symbol. It signals solidarity with a limited band of constituents and like-minded local governments.

Thus far, there have been few such large scale protests, and none since the early 2000s. With renewed anger toward the federal government by urban, college-educated liberals, the conditions may be ripe for another round of local government protest on a large scale.

This article is based on, Tomescu-Dubrow, Irina, Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow, and Kazimierz M. Slomczynski. 2014. “Ecological Determinants of Local Government Opposition to Federal Policy.” Journal of Urban Affairs 36, no. 3: 401-419

What Is Political Inequality and How Unequal Are We?

We Know a lot about Economic Inequality

When the Occupy Wall Street movement reached its heyday in the Autumn of 2011, spreading to cities all over the world, the protesters’ rallying cry was, “We are the 99 percent.” They hoped for political change, among other things, but “99” was mainly understood as a statement about economic inequality.

If you want to know how much economic inequality there is in your country, and whether this inequality been rising, falling, or staying the same, you can turn to the terabytes worth of publicly available economic data and grind them through the many inequality equations to derive a multitude of statistics. With decades of innovations in the study of economics and inequality, led by the disciplines of sociology and economics, we can, at least, have a debate over economic inequality and its dynamics over time.

We know less about Political Inequality

Political inequality is a distinct form of inequality but has yet to attract sustained, systematic scholarly attention in the same way as its sibling inequalities. Although political equality is a foundation of modern democracy, we do not know how far from equality we are. Even the news media rarely addresses political inequality. We need more eyes on the problem.

Popular Definitions of Political Inequality

The work of social scientists, philosophers and other scholars offer many definitions of political inequality. Political inequality’s conceptual roots are temporally deep and spread-out in many disciplines. Read together, they point to the idea that political inequality is at once a dimension of democracy and a dimension of stratification.

Built on the classics, modern definitions of political inequality depend on whether one is concerned about equality of opportunities or equality of outcomes. In short, equality of opportunities is about access to the political decision. Equality of outcomes refers to the law, symbols, policy or other output that is the result of the political process. Most definitions are based on the idea of equality of opportunities, but they could be modified to include outcomes, too.

Let’s look at some popular definitions from my book on political inequality:

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Political inequality is structured differences in the distribution of political resources

According to this definition, one group has greater or lesser access to, or acquisition of, political resources than another group.

Political equality is when everybody’s preferences are equally weighted in political decisions.

The definition of “everybody” matters, of course: Everybody could mean all citizens, or it could mean all who are potentially impacted by the decision.

Political inequality is the existence of authority divisions

Here, we speak of political inequality when groups have unequal political input into the decisions that affect them. The more layers of authority between the citizen and the decision, the greater the political inequality.

We can usefully combine these approaches with a definition that both simple and flexible:

Political inequality refers to structured differences in influence over decisions made by political bodies and the unequal outcomes of those decisions.

How Much Political Inequality Is There?

Short answer: nobody knows.

Why? Because there are no cross-national comprehensive measures of it. Nobody’s ever done it. And that’s because we need to ask, “for whom” and “of what.” Who is unequal? And are they unequal in terms of voice or government response? Those questions are hard to quantify.

This video explains why we don’t know:

Political Inequality Is the Shadow of Democracy

Democratic institutions set the rules of the political process and guarantee formal rights of political participation to a wide variety of citizens, but not to all of them. Many discussions of political inequality are debates about whether and how equality in democratic governance can be achieved. The coexistence of democracy with political inequality leads to the question of how realistic the idea is that all interested participants can enjoy equal influence on the governance decision or in its outcomes. A common thought is that we should seriously consider acceptable limits in who should be unequal and how to manage this inequality while still raising high the banner of democracy. This leads to a conclusion that political inequality is the shadow of democracy.

A recent article on inequality and policy outcomes by Gilens and Page (2014) highlights the promise and the difficulties in measuring political inequality. Their unique data consists of 1779 policies taken up by the U.S. Congress from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Each policy is matched to a public opinion survey research question asked during the time the policy was introduced (“this policy says X, to what extent do you agree with it?”) and to a set of interest groups who have taken a position on the policy. With these data, they gauged the extent to which the policy outcome reflects (a) the will of the median voter – identified within the surveys and (b) types of interest groups, such as economic elites, business interests, and mass public interest groups. They found that policy outcomes tend to favor the will of economic elites, not the median voter.

Their study provides solid, further evidence of the paucity of pluralism in American democracy, but their measure of political inequality has shortcomings. First, they chose policies based on whether they were asked in public opinion surveys, and that means the many, not-so-famous policy debates that also shape key economic distribution policies were excluded. Nor can it account for the policies that are off the Congressional agenda, the type of power that Bacharach and Baratz (1967) warned that is most pernicious: the power to compel voters to not even ask for the policy in the first place. It is also specific to the American experience; though it can be replicated elsewhere, so far there is no cross-national equivalent to these data. Gilens and Page (2014) conducted what is likely one of the most unique studies on American political inequality, and it’s just a start.

Future Research in Political Inequality

Political inequality is an important topic for our times. We must be aware that the objective and subjective realities of political inequality rouses people to action.  That political inequality lives in democracies across the world is a troubling fact of life, and if we want to move closer to political equality, we can do better to understand it.

First, let’s study it more. While doing that, let’s see if we can measure it comprehensively across nations. And then, let’s see what can be done about it.

And, so we did. Please read our report on POLINQ: Political Inequality and Political Voice across Nations and Time.

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Copyright Joshua K. Dubrow 2022