Gaurav Sood and Yphtach Lelkes
The news media have been disrupted. Broadcasting has given way to narrowcasting, editorial control to control by “friends” and personalization algorithms, and a few reputable producers to millions with shallower reputations. Today, not only is there a much broader variety of news, but there is also more of it. The news is also always on. And it is available almost everywhere. The search costs have come crashing down, so much so that much of the world’s information is at our fingertips. Google anything and the chances are that there will be multiple pages of relevant results.
Such a dramatic expansion of choice and access is generally considered a Pareto improvement. But the worry is that we have fashioned defeat from the bounty by choosing badly. The expansion in choice is blamed for both, increasing the “knowledge gap,” the gap between how much the politically interested and politically disinterested know about politics, and increasing partisan polarization. We reconsider the evidence for the claims. The claim about media’s role in rising knowledge gaps does not need explaining because knowledge gaps are not increasing. For polarization, the story is nuanced. Whatever evidence exists suggests that the effect is modest, but measuring long-term effects of a rapidly changing media landscape is hard and may explain the results.
As we also find, even describing trends in basic explanatory variables is hard. Current measures are beset with five broad problems. The first is conceptual errors. For instance, people frequently equate preference for information from partisan sources with a preference for congenial information. Second, survey measures of news consumption are heavily biased. Third, behavioral survey experimental measures are unreliable and inapt for learning how much information of a particular kind people consume in their real lives. Fourth, measures based on passive observation of behavior only capture a small (likely biased) set of the total information consumed by people. Fourth, content is often coded crudely—broad judgments are made about coarse units, eliding over important variation.
These measurement issues impede our ability to answer the extent to which people choose badly and the attendant consequences of such. Improving measures will do much to advance our ability to answer important questions.
Henrik Oscarsson and Lauri Rapeli
Political sophistication refers to the role of expertise and the use of information in the forming of political judgments. Citizens in a democracy need a sufficient level of political sophistication to make sense of politics and to hold office holders accountable. Most people do not seem to be as sophisticated as theory would expect, and political sophistication also seems to be very unevenly spread among individuals. The consequences for democratic governance continue to be a matter of much scholarly debate.
Although most researchers agree that sophistication among citizens tends to be low, many issues in the research field are deeply contested. First, several concepts such as awareness, sophistication, and knowledge are used more or less interchangeably in analyses of the political competence of citizens. It is, however, unclear whether the terminology conceals essential conceptual differences.
Second, the empirical strategy of using surveys to measure sophistication has been heavily criticized. For some, the survey is an unsuitable method because it measures the respondents’ ability to produce correct answers under suboptimal conditions, rather than measuring what they actually know about politics. For others, the survey questions themselves are an inadequate measure of sophistication.
Third, it is not clear what the effects of citizens’ political sophistication or lack thereof are on democratic governance. According to one group of scholars, the aggregated opinions and electoral choices of democratic publics would not look very different even if they were more sophisticated. The opponents of this low-information rationality theorem claim that increases in citizens’ sophistication would lead to substantial differences in democratic output. In other words, perceptions of the significance of sophistication for democracy deeply divide scholars working in the field.
There is less disagreement concerning the individual-level determinants of sophistication. Although being male, well educated, and in a socially advantaged position still stand out as the strongest predictors of high sophistication, recent findings provide a more nuanced understanding of how sophistication is distributed among citizens.
In addition to many enduring disputes, some questions remain largely unanswered. Without cross-nationally standardized survey items, scholars have struggled to conduct comparative studies of political sophistication. Therefore, role of political institutions as facilitators of political sophistication is to some extent uncertain. Whether and how sophistication changes over time are equally important, but mostly unexplored, questions.
Gabrielle S. Bardall
This article presents a conceptual orientation to the intersection of gender, politics, and violence. The first part of the article will introduce the subject by reviewing the primary conceptual framework and empirical knowledge on the topic to date and discussing the theoretical heritage of the concept. Establishing a key distinction between gender-motivated and gender differentiated violence, this article will discuss the gender dimensions of political violence and the political dimensions of gender-based violence. The latter half of the article reviews a number of the key questions driving research and dialogue in the field in the 21st century.
Gideon Rahat and William P. Cross
Candidate selection is about the decisions political parties make regarding who to put forward as candidates under their label for general elections. Beyond being the function that differentiates parties from other political groupings (especially considering the decline in parties’ performance of their other traditional functions), candidate selection is crucial for understanding power relations within parties, the composition of parliaments, and the behavior of elected officials. It also has an impact on the quality of democracy, especially with regard to the values of participation, competition, responsiveness, and representation.
Candidate selection methods vary according to certain parameters. The two most important ones are the level of inclusiveness of the selectorate(s) (the body or bodies that choose the candidates) and their relative level of centralization. Beyond the few cases in which state laws define the process, the nature of candidate selection methods is influenced by various country-level factors, such as the electoral system and national political culture, as well as by party-level characteristics, such as party ideology. Reform of candidate selection methods occurs as a result of general developments, such as party change or personalization, party system developments, such as electoral defeat, and intraparty struggles.
Although candidate selection is no longer “the secret garden of politics,” research still faces various obstacles. Consequently, the level of scholarly development is less advanced than the parallel study of electoral systems and their political consequences.
Stephen Benedict Dyson and Thomas Briggs
Political Science accounts of international politics downplay the role of political leaders, and a survey of major journals reveals that fewer than 3% of all articles focus on leaders. This is in stark contrast to public discourse about politics, where leadership influence over events is regarded as a given.
This article suggests that, at a minimum, leaders occupy a space in fully specified chains of causality as the aggregators of material and ideational forces, and the transmitters of those forces into authoritative political action. Further, on occasion a more important role is played by the leader: as a crucial causal variable aggregating material and ideational energies in an idiosyncratic fashion and thereby shaping decisions and outcomes.
The majority of the article is devoted to surveying the comparatively small literature on political leaders within International Relations scholarship. The article concludes by inviting our colleagues to be receptive to the idiosyncrasies, as well as the regularities, of statespersonship.
Thomas Poguntke, Susan E. Scarrow, and Paul D. Webb
How political parties organize directly affects who is represented and which policies are prioritized. Political parties structure political choice, which is one of the main functions generally ascribed to them. Their roles as gatekeepers for policies and political careers are closely linked to their nature as membership-based organizations, and to the extent to which they empower members to directly or indirectly influence these crucial choices. Parties also play a crucial role as campaign organizations, whose organizational strength influences their electoral success. The literature often summarizes differences in how parties organize and campaign by identifying major party types, which can be regarded as “classic models” of party organization. Yet, actual parties must adapt to changing environments or risk being supplanted by newer parties or by other political actors. For instance, in recent years one popular adaptation has involved parties opening their decision-making processes by introducing party-wide ballots to settle important questions. Changes like these alter how parties act as intermediaries in representation and political participation. Thanks to the increasing availability of comparable data on party organizations in established and new democracies, and in parliamentary and presidential systems, today’s scholars are better equipped to study the origins and impacts of parties’ organizational differences.
Philip G. Roeder
National secession seeks to create a new sovereign state for a nation residing on its homeland that is currently located inside another sovereign state. This goal distinguishes national secession from regional secession, autonomy, and decolonization and shapes the strategies, operational objectives, and tactical choices of the leaders of national-secession campaigns. Explanations for the success of some campaigns—particularly, success at getting on the global agenda—have focused on the identities, grievances, or greed of their members. Explanations for why some campaigns have turned to protracted intense violence have focused on these motivations and on tactical-logistical opportunities.
The existing literature suffers from its failure to agree on theoretical and conceptual fundamentals. As a consequence, empirical studies focus on very different universes of cases and operationalize key variables in diverging ways. The existing literature frequently does not consider how the goal of national secession constrains the strategies, operations, and tactics of such campaigns. And so, it often fails to consider whether studies with another dependent variable can be extended to the study of national secession. Explanations stress indeterminate or substitutable causes and remote constraints on most national-secession campaigns—causes and constraints taken “off the shelf” from theories about conflicts operating under very different strategic and operational constraints. Missing from these explanations is the authenticity and realism of the programs for national secession in the assessments of the populations that each program presents as a nation with a right to a sovereign state of its own. Explanations and recommendations for responses by common-state governments, their allies, and the international community often fail to understand the centrality of the war of programs between national secessionists and common-state governments and the ways this constrains what compromises are possible and what responses are most likely to lead to domestic and international peace in such conflicts.
Willy Jou and Russell J. Dalton
One of the ways that citizens and elites orient themselves to politics is in reference to a Left-Right vocabulary. Left and Right, respectively, refer to a specific set of progressive and conservative policy preferences and political goals. Thus, Left-Right becomes a framework for positioning oneself, political figures, and political parties into a common framework. Most citizens identify themselves in Left-Right terms and their distribution of these orientations vary across nations. These orientations arise both from long-term societal influences and from the short-term issues of the day. Most people also place political parties in Left-Right terms. This leads citizens to use Left-Right comparisons as an important factor in their voting choice, although this impact varies considerably across nations. Most parties attract voters that broadly share their Left-Right orientations.
An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning.
Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts.
Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century.
The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous.
Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.
Field experiments allow researchers on political behavior to test causal relationships between mobilization and a range of outcomes, in particular, voter turnout. These studies have rapidly increased in number since 2000, many assessing the impact of nonpartisan Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) campaigns. A more recent wave of experiments assesses ways of persuading voters to change their choice of party or alter their social and political attitudes. Many studies reveal positive impacts for these interventions, especially for GOTV. However, there are far fewer trials carried out outside the United States, which means it is hard to confirm external validity beyond the U.S. context, even though many comparative experiments reproduce U.S. findings. Current studies, both in the United States and elsewhere, are growing in methodological sophistication and are leveraging new ways of measuring political behavior and attitudes.