We’re One Year Old!

A little over a year ago, on June 16th, 2012, we created The Smoke-Filled Room, a graduate student political science blog. We hoped to give graduate students a voice on the internet, a chance to express our thoughts on politics and to put to practical use what we were learning in the classroom. We learned very quickly that maintaining an active blog wasn’t easy, but were helped in the task by an excellent group of political science PhD students from around the country. We were flattered to be selected as one of the finalists in The Duck of Minerva’s annual blogging awards, in the Most Promising New Blog category (we’ll get you next year, Political Violence @ a Glance). We look forward to another exciting year of blogging and hope you’ll keep reading.

The Smoke-Filled Room at Midwest Political Science Association

Four of The Smoke-Filled Room’s contributors will be presenting their papers at the Midwest Political Science Association conference starting today. We’ve pasted the paper abstracts below.

Matt Eckel: “Nationalism, Chauvinism and Inequality: Skewed Incomes, Political Elites, and the Political Economy of Xenophobia” (Panel: Thursday, April 11 12:45 pm, 21-4, Who Are We?: The Politics of Defining National Identity)

Does inequality increase the intensity of chauvinist politics? There has been substantial recent work relating socio-economic inequality to a host of political outcomes, including redistribution, partisan polarization and popular nationalist sentiment. The relationship of inequality to nationalism, in particular, has been an object of inquiry in recent years, with studies finding that unequal societies tend to have more nationalist populations. Other work on inequality and redistributive outcomes has emphasized complex dynamics through which the specific shape of income distributions shapes voter and elite incentives. In this paper I test whether there is evidence that inequality leads political elites to mobilize constituencies with more intense ethnically and culturally chauvinist appeals in order to maintain status-quo socio-economic realities. Using time series cross sectional data on inequality in OECD countries as well as measures of nationalism drawn from the Comparative Party Manifesto dataset, I find evidence that political appeals become more nationalist and chauvinist as societies become more unequal.

To download paper: http://conference.mpsanet.org/Online/Search.aspx?session=2557

Matt Scroggs: “Creating a Balance: Great Power Politics and Regional Integration” (Panel: Thursday, April 11, 12:45-2:25, 8-3, Causes and Consequences of European Integration)

Many consider the success of the European Union to be a major blow against power-based accounts of international relations, namely realism. While there have been some attempts at applying realist theory towards European integration, namely Grieco’s “voice opportunity thesis” and Rosato’s balance of power argument, this paper will challenge the logics of both these works, as well as the liberal case put forth by Moravcsik, and will instead contrast the role of power politics and grand strategy that led to integration in Western Europe to Eastern Europe and East Asia where no such integration occurred, according to the interests of the U.S. and Soviet Union. That role, I contend, is consistent with the “realist” approach.

Natalia S. Bueno and Thad Dunning: “Race, Class, and Representation: Evidence from Brazilian Politicians” (Panel: Sunday, April 14, 8:30 am, Representation and Social Identities in Developing Countries)


A persistent racial gap between Brazilian citizens and their elected politicians raises the possibility of important failures of descriptive as well as substantive representation—failures that are especially puzzling in the context of Brazil’s alleged “racial democracy” as well as electoral institutions that should be favorable to racial inclusiveness. This paper uses new, original data to document for the first time the size of this representational gap. We then explore several alternative explanations for it. First, drawing on an experiment in which the race and class background of faux candidates for city council are varied at random, we find some class effects but no discernible effects of candidates’ race on voters’ support for them. Thus, the representational gap may not be readily explained by race-based voter preferences or by a failure to politicize a latent racial cleavage. Next, we explore but reject several possible institutional explanations, including discrimination by party elites and electoral rules that foster or inhibit candidate entry along racial lines. Our evidence instead suggests the importance of race-associated resource disparities that are also strongly related to electoral victory. While the mechanism through which personal assets may shape electoral outcomes should be further explored in future research, our evidence suggests the enduring importance of resource inequalities in explaining failures of descriptive representation.

Nikolay Marinov and William G. Nomikos: “Electoral Proximity and Security Policy” (Panel: Sunday, April 14, 8:30 AM, 17-14, Democracies and International Security)

How do approaching elections a ffect the security policy states conduct? While international relations has paid some attention to this issue, existing theoretical work is scattered among many disparate arguments and the evidence does not allow researchers to identify causal relationships. We improve on both points. We identify the problem faced by democratic policy-makers near elections as a time-inconsistency problem. The time-inconsistency problem arises when the costs and benefi ts of policy are not realized at the same time, giving rise to electoral business cycles in security policy. We apply the argument to the case of allied troop contributions to Operation Enduring Freedom (“OEF”) and the International Security Assistance Force (“ISAF”) mission in Afghanistan. The exogenous timing of elections allows us to identify the causal eff ect of approaching elections on troop levels. Our fi nding of signi ficantly lower troop contributions, in the order of approximately 10 percent, near elections, is the first arguably identif ed e ffect of electoral proximity on security policy. We discuss the role of election-related incentives in eliciting suboptimal security behavior from democratic policy-makers.

New Contributors and Submissions

For the past couple of weeks, things have slowed down at The Smoke-Filled Room as we have been busy planning ahead (and busy preparing for various comprehensive exams). The past two months have gone by quickly and we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response and pleased with the discussion about politics and political science that we have tried to stir up.

Moving forward, we want to continue this discussion and offer what we have always offered: a unique blend of the theory and practice of politics in a way that we think graduate students in political science are well suited to offer. However, we also want to move gradually toward a bigger, more ambitious goal: we want to expand the number of political science graduate student voices heard. Now that we have placed our proverbial foot in the door of the blogosphere, we feel comfortable in moving forward more actively toward achieving this goal.

Although the Smoke-Filled Room will, to some extent, always remain tied to Yale because of the institutional affiliation of the founding contributors (and we are proud that it is), we want the blog to become an open space for PhD students in political science to provide their analysis and thoughts on politics.

To this end, we are making two changes that will, we hope, significantly impact our blog in a positive way. First, we have added several new regular contributors, increasing our total to 12 contributors from 4 different universities. Second, we want to encourage guest contribution by opening up a more transparent channel for submissions. We will have more details on how to submit a post in the “Submissions” page under our banner (coming later this week). Suffice it to say, we look forward to receiving more guest contributions.

Our top priority at The Smoke-Filled Room has always been to foster intelligent yet inclusive discourse about topics relevant to interested parties everywhere. We hope that with these changes, we are doing just that.


William G. Nomikos
Niloufer A. Siddiqui

Welcome to The Smoke-Filled Room!

The Smoke-Filled Room is a collective endeavor of a group of current political science PhD students. In this blog, we will attempt to reconcile two aspects of politics: the theories that underlie political analysis, from academic and non-academic sources, and the actual practice of politics as we see it before our eyes. We need theory to help us make sense of what we experience; to identify what is more or less important and why. Conversely, few would disagree that theory without application to real events lacks meaning. However, marrying often-inconsistent and contradictory theories to dynamic political events is, we are learning, not easy.

We feel that, as graduate students of political science, we are uniquely positioned to help fill this gap. As relative newcomers to the discipline, we have few agendas, academic or political, but have informed opinions about both politics and science. In our studies, we simultaneously try to familiarize ourselves with traditional canon and to keep abreast of new developments in political science. Our research spans the globe, both in scope and actual field experience. But, perhaps most importantly, we talk politics amongst ourselves. With The Smoke-Filled Room, we hope to bring the political science graduate student community experience online. This blog provides us a forum to think aloud; to derive insight from inside the ivory tower and apply it to news as it unfolds. Our hope is that this endeavor leads to interesting yet objective analysis and further discussion.

In The Smoke-Filled Room, you will find four general types of blog posts. First, we will provide analysis and opinions of current national and international events as they happen. Second, we will offer our (however complete or incomplete) thoughts on relevant political science scholarship. For those contributors who are conducting field research, we will also carry letters from the field, aimed at providing a unique ground-level perspective. Finally, we will occasionally take a step back and assess the state of the discipline itself.

We at The Smoke-Filled Room look forward to embarking upon this journey. Social science is an inherently collective enterprise. In keeping with that spirit, we welcome any feedback or suggestions and look forward to hearing from you, the reader, going forward. Now let’s get to blogging!