This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Paul Sabatier and Hank Jenkins Smith introduced the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) in the late 1980s, to refine the theoretical and methodological tools available for the study of the policy process. In the past two decades, the framework has grown in use outside the United States, and it is now applied to study a broad range of policy arenas in all continents. ACF scholars have created a core community that regularly synthetizes findings from applications of the framework, giving the ACF the form of a true research program.
The ACF has three principal theoretical domains: advocacy coalitions, policy subsystems, and policy change. Expectations about the interactions between and within these domains are contained in 15 main hypotheses. The ACF posits that advocacy coalitions and policy subsystems are the most efficient way to organize actors interested in the policy process for empirical research. The policy subsystem is the main unit of analysis in the ACF, and there are four paths leading to policy change. The aspect that has received more attention in existing applications is the effect that external events have on policy change, and some areas in need of refinement include: policy-oriented learning, interactions across subsystems, the theoretical foundations to identification of belief systems, and how the interactions between beliefs and interests affect coalition behavior.
There is a great deal of research, spanning social psychology, sociology, and political science, on politically relevant attitudes toward women and the influence of gender on individual’s political decision making. First, there are several measures of attitudes toward women, including measures of sexism and gender role attitudes, such as the Attitudes Toward Women Scale, the Old-Fashioned Sexism Scale, the Modern Sexism Scale, and the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. There are advantages and disadvantages of these existing measures. Moreover, there are important correlates and consequences of these attitudes. Correlates include education level and the labor force participation of one’s mother or spouse. The consequences of sexist and non-egalitarian gender role attitudes include negative evaluations of female candidates for political office and lower levels of gender equality at the state level. Understanding the sources and effects of attitudes toward women is relevant to public policy and electoral scholars.
Second, gender appears to have a strong effect on shaping men’s and women’s attitudes and political decisions. Gender differences in public opinion consistently arise across several issue areas, and there are consistent gender differences in vote choice and party identification. Various issues produce gender gaps, including the domestic and international use of force, compassion issues such as social welfare spending, equal rights, and government spending more broadly. Women are consistently more liberal on all of these policies. On average, women are more likely than men to vote for a Democratic Party candidate and identify as a Democrat. There is also a great deal of research investigating various origins of these gender differences. Comprehending when and why gender differences in political decision making emerge is important to policymakers, politicians, the political parties, and scholars.
The role of candidates in shaping voting choice has generated much research—and at least as much controversy—since modern electoral behavior research began in the 1960s. Much of the controversy surrounds the personalization of politics and whether political systems—and especially parliamentary systems—are becoming more leader-oriented. Three fundamental changes in electoral behavior underpin the study of candidates and voting choice behavior: the declining impact of social structure on the vote; partisan dealignment, with voters drifting away from their traditional party attachments; and the decline in the mass memberships of political parties. Researchers argue that because of these changes, fostered by the growth of television, candidates have assumed a greater role in structuring the vote. While there is impressionistic evidence that leaders have become more important, empirical evidence of an underlying change in voter behavior is more difficult to identify. Accordingly, this essay focuses mainly on changes in the political context within which candidates operate, since we expect this to be the source of any change.
The design of political institutions shapes the level of attention that candidates receive, and that is especially the case with electoral systems. Electoral systems with fewer parties are more likely to focus voters’ attentions on candidates when compared to systems with larger numbers of parties. Weak party organizations coupled with partisan dealignment within the electorate can also alter the role and profile of candidates, although their impact is difficult to quantify. Changes in the mass media—and particularly the advent of television in the 1960s and the visual images on which it relies—are often viewed as the major cause of the personalization of politics. A new disruptive technology, the Internet, looks likely to stimulate additional political change for candidates and voting in the 21st century. Finally, what voters look for in their candidates appears to be stable both over time and cross-nationally and can be reduced to two overarching qualities: character and competence.
Susan E. Scarrow
Party membership has long been an important channel for political participation in many countries. Strong membership organizations have helped parties win elections and stay connected with voters between elections, and membership opportunities have helped to mobilize some citizens who might otherwise have stayed out of politics. Yet in the last quarter-century, long-established political parties in parliamentary democracies have, with a few notable exceptions, experienced sharp enrollment declines, while newer parties have developed modest memberships at best. This has led many observers to question the continued viability of membership-based political parties.
However, that is not the whole story. While some signs point to the obsolescence of party membership, there are other indications that parties are trying to reinvent the form, whether as a passport to individual political empowerment or as a pathway to digital citizenship. Most strikingly, many parties are experimenting with new procedures that give members a direct say in important party decisions. In this sense, the paradoxical story of party membership in the early 21st century is one of numerical decline accompanied by a possible increase in political relevance.
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.
Richard Ned Lebow
Counterfactuals seek to alter some feature or event of the pass and by means of a chain of causal logic show how the present might, or would, be different. Counterfactual inquiry—or control of counterfactual situations—is essential to any causal claim. More importantly, counterfactual thought experiments are essential, to the construction of analytical frameworks. Policymakers routinely use then by to identify problems, work their way through problems, and select responses. Good foreign-policy analysis must accordingly engage and employ counterfactuals.
There are two generic types of counterfactuals: minimal-rewrite counterfactuals and miracle counterfactuals. They have relevance when formulating propositions and probing contingency and causation. There is also a set of protocols for using both kinds of counterfactuals toward these ends, and it illustrates the uses and protocols with historical examples. Policymakers invoke counterfactuals frequently, especially with regard to foreign policy, to both choose policies and defend them to key constituencies. They use counterfactuals in a haphazard and unscientific manner, and it is important to learn more about how they think about and employ counterfactuals to understand foreign policy.
Timothy Hellwig and Dani M. Marinova
Connections between the economy and vote are commonly invoked to evaluate political accountability in representative democracies. A principal motivation for studying economic voting lies in its value as a gauge of whether democracy works or not. In recent years, however, researchers have cast doubt on the assertion that economic conditions influence voters’ evaluations of political incumbents.
Criticisms hail from several directions. Some, adopting a cross-national perspective, cite the instability problem as evidence against economic voting’s existence. That is, variance in the economy-vote relationship across different national contexts is sufficiently large so as to undermine claims that the economy registers a systematic effect. Other critics charge that the electorate lacks sufficient knowledge to incorporate economic conditions in their decisions at the polls. Still others remind us not to mistake correlation for causation. They charge that the voters’ perceptions of how well the economy is performing are viewed through a pre-existing partisan lens. All told, these and other reservations cast doubt on the use of economic voting as a means to evaluate accountability and, in turn, democratic performance.
These charges against the fidelity of economic voting require further examination. Rather than join a growing chorus of observers concluding that the economic vote is a chimera, this piece posits that recent critiques should push us to reconceive rather than discredit economic voting. Recent work in psychology and behavioral economics provides a basis for constructive and meaningful reinterpretations of the economy’s influence on voter decisions. These new directions include an emphasis on framing effects—be it on the part of strategic elites or from the media, an emphasis on what voters know about the economy, and a wider consideration of just which “economy” matters to which set of voters. While many in number, each of these new directions advance understanding by embodying deeper conceptions of voters and elected officials.
Why voters turn out on Election Day has eluded a straightforward explanation. Rational choice theorists have proposed a parsimonious model, but its logical implication is that hardly anyone would vote since their one vote is unlikely to determine the election outcome. Attempts to save the rational choice model incorporate factors like the expressive benefits of voting, yet these modifications seem to be at odds with core assumptions of rational choice theory. Still, some people do weigh the expected costs and benefits of voting and take account of the closeness of the election when deciding whether or not to vote. Many more, though, vote out of a sense of civic duty. In contrast to the calculus of voting model, the civic voluntarism model focuses on the role of resources, political engagement, and to a lesser extent, recruitment in encouraging people to vote. It pays particular attention to the sources of these factors and traces complex paths among them.
There are many other theories of why people vote in elections. Intergenerational transmission and education play central roles in the civic voluntarism models. Studies that link official voting records with census data provide persuasive evidence of the influence of parental turnout. Education is one of the best individual-level predictors of voter turnout, but critics charge that it is simply a proxy for pre-adult experiences within the home. Studies using equally sophisticated designs that mimic the logic of controlled experiments have reached contradictory conclusions about the association between education and turnout. Some of the most innovative work on voter turnout is exploring the role of genetic influences and personality traits, both of which have an element of heritability. This work is in its infancy, but it is likely that many genes shape the predisposition to vote and that they interact in complex ways with environmental influences. Few clear patterns have emerged in the association between personality and turnout. Finally, scholars are beginning to recognize the importance of exploring the connection between health and turnout.
The study of political campaigns is very varied in the political science literature. On the one hand, campaigns can involve groups of citizens working together on a local issue of concern to them, such as preventing an airport expansion from threatening their community. Only a relatively few people are likely to be actively involved and the goals of such a campaign are fairly clearly defined and limited. At the other end of the scale a campaign can consist of a broad social movement that is trying to influence public opinion and bring about changes in public policies on really big issues like climate change and global warming. Large numbers of people are likely to be involved and the goals are broad and ambitious. In between these two extremes, a whole range of campaigns with different objectives and strategies are to be found in contemporary democracies. This article focuses on election campaigns which are in an intermediate position between these two. Early research suggested that such campaigns were not very important but subsequent research shows that they are influential both in increasing turnout and changing the party choices that individual electors make.
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. Fifth, 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.