Lobbying the Autocrat. The Dynamics of Policy Advocacy in Nondemocracies.

    edited with Jessica C. Teets.
    University of Michigan Press.
    Although authoritarian countries often repress independent citizen activity, lobbying by civil society organizations is actually a widespread phenomenon. Using case studies such as China, Russia, Belarus, Cambodia, Malaysia, Montenegro, Turkey, and Zimbabwe, Lobbying the Autocrat shows that citizen advocacy organizations carve out niches in the authoritarian policy process, even influencing policy outcomes. The cases cover a range of autocratic regime types (one-party, multi-party, personalist) on different continents, and encompass different systems of government to explore citizen advocacy ranging from issues such as social welfare, women’s rights, election reform, environmental protection, and land rights. They show how civil society has developed adaptive capacities to the changing levels of political repression and built resilience through ‘tactful contention’ strategies. Thus, within the bounds set by the authoritarian regimes, adaptive lobbying may still bring about localized responsiveness and representation.
    However, the challenging conditions of authoritarian advocacy systems identified throughout this volume present challenges for both advocates and autocrats alike. The former are pushed by an environment of constant threat and uncertainty into a precarious dance with the dictator: just the right amount of acquiescence and assertiveness, private persuasion and public pressure, and the flexibility to change quickly to suit different situations. An adaptive lobbyist survives and may even thrive in such conditions, while others often face dire consequences. For the autocrat on the other hand, the more they stifle the associational sphere in an effort to prevent mass mobilization, the less they will reap the informational benefits associated with it. This volume synthesizes the findings of the comparative cases to build a framework for understanding how civil society effectively lobbies inside authoritarian countries.

Journal articles


    What Explains Interest Group Prominence in Parliamentary Speech? Policy Agenda, Partisanship, or Conflict Expansion

    with D Halpin, T Graham, B Fraussen & Z Zhang
    Political Studies, doi:10.1177/00323217241232934.
    Gaining the attention of legislators in a crowded advocacy landscape is a key dilemma for organized interests. Yet, there has not been a great deal of direct analysis of whether groups are indeed recognized as important by politicians in the context of them advancing political arguments. In this article, we examine under what conditions interest groups achieve prominence among political elites. Drawing on a supervised machine learning approach to code prominence from legislative speech, we exploit variations in levels of prominence for the entire Australian interest groups system. We find that prominence is highly concentrated and that it covaries with the need to align with prevailing policy agendas and the logic of conflict expansion. Conversely, we do not find evidence of a strong partisan or ideological dimension of prominence. This contributes to our understanding of the responsiveness and representativeness of democratic political systems in which the interest group sector is expected to funnel public preferences into policymaking.

    Online Disinformation Predicts Inaccurate Beliefs About Election Fairness Among Both Winners and Losers.

    with M Mauk
    Comparative Political Studies, doi:10.1177/00104140231193008. [Replication Data]
    Electoral disinformation is feared to variously undermine democratic trust by inflaming incorrect negative beliefs about the fairness of elections, or to shore up dictators by creating falsely positive ones. Recent studies of political misperceptions, however, suggest that disinformation has at best minimal effects on beliefs. In this article, we investigate the drivers of public perceptions and misperceptions of election fairness. We build on theories of rational belief updating and motivated reasoning, and link public opinion data from 82 national elections with expert survey data on disinformation and de facto electoral integrity. We show that, overall, people arrive at largely accurate perceptions, but that disinformation campaigns are indeed associated with less accurate and more polarized beliefs about election fairness. This contributes a cross-nationally comparative perspective to studies of (dis)information processing and belief updating, as well as attitude formation and trust surrounding highly salient political institutions such as elections.

    Observing many researchers using the same data and hypothesis reveals a hidden universe of uncertainty.

    with N Breznau, EM Rinke, A Wuttke et al.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(44):e2203150119. [Replication Data]
    This study explores how researchers’ analytical choices affect the reliability of scientific findings. Most discussions of reliability problems in science focus on systematic biases. We broaden the lens to emphasize the idiosyncrasy of conscious and unconscious decisions that researchers make during data analysis. We coordinated 161 researchers in 73 research teams and observed their research decisions as they used the same data to independently test the same prominent social science hypothesis: that greater immigration reduces support for social policies among the public. In this typical case of social science research, research teams reported both widely diverging numerical findings and substantive conclusions despite identical start conditions. Researchers’ expertise, prior beliefs, and expectations barely predict the wide variation in research outcomes. More than 95% of the total variance in numerical results remains unexplained even after qualitative coding of all identifiable decisions in each team’s workflow. This reveals a universe of uncertainty that remains hidden when considering a single study in isolation. The idiosyncratic nature of how researchers’ results and conclusions varied is a previously underappreciated explanation for why many scientific hypotheses remain contested. These results call for greater epistemic humility and clarity in reporting scientific findings.

    Direct democracy integrity and the 2017 constitutional referendum in Turkey: a new research instrument.

    European Political Science 21:216-236.
    In some countries, direct democracy is used successfully to increase legitimacy of decisions or mitigate conflict, and in other countries, authoritarian leaders seem to instrumentalize and manipulate referendums. How can referendum integrity be analyzed? This article presents an empirical instrument to evaluate the variety and integrity of referendums. This encompasses criteria for the analysis of direct democracy. First, we develop a referendum cycle model based on the electoral cycle framework, assessing referendum quality in a number of dimensions from electoral laws and electoral procedures, thematic limitations of referendums, to voter registration, the initiation of referendums, campaign and media coverage as well as campaign financing. The empirical instrument is designed to be used in expert surveys, and piloted in the Turkish constitutional referendum of 2017. The article presents the results of the pilot study, draws out opportunities and limitations of this approach and suggests avenues for its future development.

    Do think tanks generate media attention on issues they care about? Mediating internal expertise and prevailing governmental agendas.

    with DR Halpin
    Policy Sciences 54:849–866. [Replication Data]
    Think tanks are expected to cut through the prevailing short-term government agenda of the day, and to inject long-term perspectives and research-based expertise into policy debates. In order to do so, they need to attract media attention to themselves in connection with those issue areas in which they have expertise, even if government is focusing elsewhere. Yet, existing studies of media attention among organized interests have thus far ignored the issue context. We argue that sinking costs into research in specific policy areas pays off for think tanks by funnelling more media attention towards them. This is notwithstanding the importance of governments’ own issue agendas, which, if a think tank’s expertise aligns with them, further raises media attention. We substantiate these claims with a content analysis of news coverage of 62 Australian think tanks in 19 different policy issue areas. The results broadly support our argument and contribute to studies of policy advisory systems, organized interests, and group-media relations.

    Agents of resistance and revival? Local election monitors and democratic fortunes in Asia.

    Democratization 28(1):103-123.
    Cultural and political economy theories linking a vibrant civil society to democratic outcomes expect domestic election monitors to provide a vaccine against democratic backsliding. The empirical track record of such groups, however, is mixed. Drawing from theories of interest representation and social movement research, I present a novel approach to studying the effect of observer groups. Conceptualizing monitors as agenda-builders, I contend that their potential impacts rely on two factors neglected by previous studies: access to the public’s agenda, and access to policymakers. I test the impact of election monitoring on electoral integrity using cross-national time-series data of all democratic backsliding and revival episodes in Asia from 1950 to 2018. I find that domestic monitors do have more than a placebo effect, but that their capacities to immunize against democratic regression are modest at best. When neither access to the public’s agenda nor access to policymakers are present, monitors are unlikely to halt backsliding. However, public attention becomes an effective resource where groups have policy access. This adds to studies of democratic backsliding, election monitoring, and interest groups.

    Integridad electoral y órganos electorales subnacionales en México: el papel de la imparcialidad.

    Región y sociedad 33: e1485.
    Objective: to analyze the quality of governor and deputy elections in Mexico in the 2015-2018 period. To what extent did the quality depend on the performance of the electoral bodies? Methodology: the perspective of electoral integrity is used. The main source of data comes from a survey of more than seven hundred electoral experts. Results: the hypothesis about the relevance of the electoral administration for the integrity of subnational elections in Mexico is confirmed, in particular one of its attributes: impartiality, or the application of the law without political biases. Limitations: the external indicators used to measure the performance of electoral management bodies are imperfect proxies, which cannot be applicable to other contexts. Value: studying local elections in Mexico from the perspective of electoral integrity, using original data and placing in the center of the analysis the role of electoral management bodies to increase their quality. Conclusions: given the heterogeneity of democratic development levels, it is relevant to study the quality of elections in Mexico at a subnational level, which depends, among other factors, on the impartiality of electoral bodies.

    Australian Labor as a Federal Organisation: State Uniformity or Distinctiveness?

    with A Gauja.
    Australian Journal of Politics & History 66(2): 369-369.
    Is the Australian Labor Party (ALP) one party, or eight? Academic accounts of the ALP throughout its history have emphasised the importance of state-based policy-making and organisation as evidence that the “life of the party” occurs within state and territory branches. However, over the last three decades, changes to the national conference and constitution, the increasing prominence of national leaders and the professionalisation of campaigning practices have arguably created the conditions for a far more centralised organisation, raising the question of whether, in 2019, there is anything distinctive about the ALP state and territory branches beyond the jurisdictions in which they operate. In this article, we investigate the distinctiveness of state Labor branches in terms of their formal organisational diversity and the characteristics and attitudes of their supporters. Using data from an original survey of Australian party supporters conducted in 2016, as well as undertaking an analysis of formal party rules, we show that the ALP exhibits a high degree of organisational uniformity across its branches, and supporters of the party in all states and territories very closely resemble each other. We conclude that even though the party maintains a federal structure it is possible to study its supportership and formal structure as a national organisation.

    The paranoid style of American elections: explaining perceptions of electoral integrity in an age of populism.

    with P Norris and HA Garnett
    Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 30(1):105-125.
    Polls report that, contrary to the evidence, one quarter of Americans believe that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 elections. What explains these types of beliefs? This article tests the predictors of public evaluations of electoral integrity in the 2016 American Presidential election, as measured by judgements about the fairness of the voting processes in the 2016 American National Election Study. We demonstrate that conspiratorial beliefs and populist values contribute towards citizens’ electoral mistrust. The results suggest that the paranoid style of American politics is alive and well in contemporary US elections.

    The expanding party universe: Patterns of partisan engagement in Australia and the United Kingdom.

    with A Gauja
    Party Politics 26(6), 822–833.
    Although membership is declining, parties continue to perform roles central to democratic governance in modern societies. Given this seeming paradox, we suggest that partisan identification, in complementing studies of formal membership, is a promising way of assessing the strength of parties’ democratic linkage. Using data from an original survey of voters in Australia and the United Kingdom, we analyse the participatory and demographic profiles of party supporters. We show that there are significant differences between supporters and those not committed to any party, as well as between supporters based on the strength of their party identification, substantiating the idea that parties can be conceptualized as a series of concentric circles of increasing engagement but declining representativeness. Stronger supporters are more likely to engage with parties online, volunteer and donate, but are older, more likely to be male and less likely to be foreign-born. Our findings have important implications for democratic practice as parties seek to expand and rejuvenate their networks of affiliates.

    Does group engagement with members constitute a “beneficial inefficiency”?

    with DR Halpin.
    Governance 32:511– 529. [Replication Data]
    This article explores the role of variations in organizational form in explaining levels of group access. Specifically, we test whether group forms incorporating more extensive engagement with members receive policy advantages. We develop and test a account of beneficial inefficiencies. Our account reasons that the costs of inefficient intraorganizational processes and practices associated with enhanced engagement with members are beneficial as they generate crucial “access goods”—specifically encompassing positions—that in turn receive enhanced policy benefits. The costs of intraorganizational practices allowing members to engage more thoroughly in decision making are thus beneficial inefficiencies. We test this proposition using data on the Australian interest group system. Using the tools of cluster analysis, we identify three forms, each varying in respect of the inefficiencies they embody. Our multivariate analysis finds strong support for the account of beneficial inefficiencies: groups with the most inefficient organizational model receiving the greatest policy access.

    More Bang for the Buck: Media Freedom and Organizational Strategies in the Agenda-Setting of Human Rights Groups.

    Political Communication 36(3):452-475. [Replication Data]
    Studies investigating the agenda-setting of human rights groups disagree on both their prospects of garnering political attention, and the factors that help them in that quest. This study makes the argument that we need to take account of both macro-institutional opportunity structures and actor-level strategies in order to gain a more complete understanding of the group-media interface. Specifically, it posits that the urgency of social problems only drives media attention toward groups if a country’s media landscape is sufficiently free, and that within these institutional constraints, groups themselves can enhance their media access by providing newsmakers with information subsidies. These claims are substantiated by way of a novel cross-nationally comparative data set of more than 1,000 domestic election monitoring and advocacy organizations. Findings show that media attention is structurally limited by the degree to which the news media serve as an open arena, and that even in countries with a free press, few groups achieve media access. At the same time, the most successful groups are not necessarily the most resourceful ones. Rather, strategic choices to invest in media effort, narrow policy engagement, and professionalization substitute for scarce resources, thereby giving groups “more bang for their buck.” The results clarify the causal mechanisms behind the dominance of resource-rich groups on the media agenda and reinforce calls for more globally comparative research into media agenda-setting.

    The “Crowd-factor” in connective action: comparing protest communication styles of Thai Facebook pages.

    with A Sinpeng.
    Journal of Information Technology & Politics 15(3):197-214.
    This study draws on theories of connective action and actualizing citizenship norms to explore online protest communication styles in hybrid social movements. We use a most-similar case comparison within a singular instance of large-scale anti-government mobilization in Thailand to investigate whether crowd-enabled elements of movements privilege a more “self-actualizing” communication pattern and how they interact with more formally organized movement elements. The results of a qualitative and quantitative content analysis of the posts of two Facebook pages are mixed, but do show that crowds use different language and – to an extent – more actualizing communications. They align their agenda with that of more formal social movement organizations, rather than steering away from them. This agenda-alignment is heightened during times of high-intensity and high-stakes mobilization. These results clarify the intertwinement of crowds and organizations in hybrid movements and suggest new avenues to measure connective action.

    The Integrity of Elections in Asia: Policy Lessons from Expert Evaluations.

    Asian Politics & Policy 10:527-547.
    There is an evolving debate about how to strengthen elections in Asia, amidst widespread concerns about electoral malpractice in the region. While contests in some countries match or surpass international standards of electoral integrity, there are deep-seated problems of violence and conflict, corruption and clientelism, or vote rigging and fraud in others. This review of policy practice draws on the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity expert survey (PEI Release 6.0) to map the state of electoral integrity in Asia and to draw lessons for public policy. The empirics rely on the assessment of 535 experts who evaluated 47 elections in 27 countries in South, Southeast, Northeast, and Central Asia between July 2012 and December 2017. The review identifies three cross-cutting challenges for electoral integrity in Asia. Policymakers and other stakeholders should (i) curb incumbent advantage enshrined in electoral laws regulating candidate registration and voting district boundaries; (ii) introduce regulation of political finance in order to reduce the influence of money in elections; and (iii) increase the transparency of the electoral process by encouraging nonpartisan domestic election monitoring and advocacy.

    Domestic Election Monitoring and Advocacy: An Emerging Research Agenda.

    Nordic Journal of Human Rights 35(4):407-423.
    Holding elections has become a global norm, even in autocracies; at the same time, there is mounting evidence to suggest that flawed or failed elections pose serious risks for political stability, legitimacy, and participation. Scholars and practitioners alike increasingly see domestic election monitoring groups to be a partial remedy to electoral malpractice. At least half of elections globally are monitored by such groups and large sums of international aid spent on them. However, scholarly research about the causes, dynamics, and consequences of domestic election monitoring and advocacy is scattered. This article sets out to present an overview of the academic literature on domestic monitoring. It discusses activities and actors, and presents empirical insights on the prevalence, accuracy, credibility and impartiality of monitors, as well as participation in monitoring, and its impacts on electoral integrity. It outlines gaps and open questions for a future research agenda. The review contributes to the practice, empirics and theory of election monitoring and links to broader scholarly inquiries about the embedding of human rights norms in national elections.

    Electoral Sources of Authoritarian Resilience in Russia: Varieties of Electoral Malpractice, 2007–2016.

    Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization 25(4):455-480
    Elections do not always serve as instruments of democracy, but can successfully sustain modern forms of authoritarianism by maintaining political cooptation, signaling the regime’s invincibility, distributing rent among elites, and maintaining linkages with territorial communities. Russia exemplifies electoral practices adapted to the needs of authoritarian survival. Recent institutional reforms reflect the regime’s constant adjustment to emerging challenges. This study traces the evolution of the role of elections in Russia for ruling elites, the opposition, and parties. It argues that the information-gathering and co-optation functions of elections help sustain authoritarian rule, whereas insufficient co-optation and failure to signal regime strength may lead to anti-regime mobilization and weaken the regime. The study utilizes new data from an expert survey on electoral integrity and malpractice in Russia carried out immediately after the legislative elections to the State Duma in September 2016.

    ‘Echo Chambers’: Partisan Facebook Groups during the 2014 Thai Election.

    Asia Pacific Media Educator 24(1):39–59.
    Do social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook enhance deliberation in a democratic public sphere, or do they act as echo chambers, in which like-minded individuals reinforce their previously held beliefs? This article descriptively assesses this puzzle within a case study of Facebook posts on the 2014 Thai general election. Two very different realities emerge from the content analysis of several partisan Facebook pages. The ‘echo chamber’ hypothesis is further supported through network visualization and analysis of the interaction patterns between users of these Facebook pages. While users in the ‘same side’ of the political divide frequently comment, share and like content posted by like-minded pages and individuals, interactions across the ideological divide are negligible. Selective exposure seems to be at work, leading to a situation in which partisan social media users hardly engage with discrepant information or views at all.