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:

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.

David Cameron and Centrifugal Crises

British Prime Minister David Cameron made waves in late January when he announced plans to hold a referendum on the U.K.’s continued membership in the European Union. Should the Conservatives win elections in 2015, Cameron promised a simple “in or out” referendum on E.U. membership by 2017.  The move seems to have roots in domestic politics. Cameron faces considerable pressure from the Eurosceptic wing of his own party as well as a challenge from the UK Independence Party, which has been surging along the Conservatives’ political flank.

This all raises the prospect that, absent Conservative defeat or a Europhilic turn on the part of the British public, one of the core members (and key funders) of the E.U. could make an ungraceful exit in the coming years. In the long term, this could prove a greater threat to the viability of the European project than the economic woes of more peripheral members like Greece and Spain.

Labour leader Ed Miliband sharply criticized the proposal and hardened his own opposition to such a step (though support from some of his backbenchers may be shaky). Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats are members of the Conservative governing coalition, dissented sharply as well. Heads of state in Europe did not react warmly to the news, nor to the strong-arm tactics it represents. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said Cameron’s brinksmanship could backfire: “It reminds me a bit of the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles where the sheriff says at one point as he holds a gun to his own head: ‘If you don’t do what I want I’ll blow my brains out.’ You want to watch out that one of the 26 [other EU member states] doesn’t just say: ‘OK, go ahead.'”

Extra points for the Mel Brooks reference, and for having the good sense not to repeat the quote verbatim.

Cameron’s move seems risky, but makes sense in light of both domestic and international factors. In addition to shoring up cracks in his governing coalition, his announcement seems designed to increase his leverage in upcoming negotiations over the E.U. budget. Cameron himself is not a hard Eurosceptic, but his support for a pro-Europe vote in any future referendum has now been made implicitly contingent on his receiving an acceptable offer from his counterparts on the continent. By publicly committing to a referendum, Cameron presents Paris, Berlin and Brussels with the choice of either buying British support for a “yes” vote or hoping that the Conservatives lose the next election. How palatable they’ll find either option remains an open question.

That being said, Brian Taylor points out that the Tories may be undermining their position on the question of Scottish sovereignty:

They have said that the [Scottish National Party] cannot guarantee Scottish membership of the EU, post independence.

The Nationalists have, of course, contested that vigorously but, at the very least, the issue gained some traction.

Now what do the Tories say on this topic?

Reject the SNP, stick with the UK – and we will offer you the prospect that a vote across the whole of these islands may take you out of the EU, perhaps in contradistinction to opinion in Scotland.

In a bid to reassert the economic and political autonomy of Britain, then, the Tories could end up actually weakening the British state.

Whatever the outcome, this episode highlights the contradictory and self-undermining nature of elite responses to the ongoing economic crisis in Europe. Years of austerity, some of it imposed at the encouragement or insistence of Brussels, have made the financial burdens of European integration heavier for the continent’s economic core. At the same time they have constricted recovery and led to anemic growth, high unemployment, and prolonged economic misery.

It would be naive to say that say that such conditions “cause” nationalist or parochial backlash, but the economic crisis does seem to be having centrifugal effects on multiple fronts.

On the one hand, it puts sustained pressure on the political and economic bargains that make the E.U. viable. Though not a member of the Eurozone, Britain is a major net donor to the E.U. (see chart from Le Monde, below) and the third largest economy in Europe. Its departure would represent a major shock to the institution.

EU Contributions; Le Monde

On the other hand, the crisis has intensified sub-national fissures in a number of member states. Separatist and nationalist movements in Scotland, Catalonia and Flanders have all seen their fortunes improve since the onset of the crisis. They present an interesting twist on what Frederick Solt calls “new-nations” theories of economic distress and nationalism (see Brown, Hechter and Brass). In their simplest forms, such theories predict sub-national mobilization by groups that are materially deprived relative to society at large. Relative deprivation is key.  Here, though, nationalist grievances have coalesced around a different narrative. Separatist elites have made hay over the uneven financial burdens imposed by ‘society at large’ on local prosperity. As movements, they seek to protect the fruits of relative affluence rather than overcome relative deprivation.

Recent developments in the U.K. suggest how these super-national and sub-national crises of legitimacy could become mutually reinforcing. The specter of an E.U. exit undermines confidence in the national state’s position as a point of access to European markets and institutions. This in turn raises the stakes of regional separatist politics by sharpening the distinction between national and European alignment.

Cameron may well be able to balance these competing interests for the moment. Acute though the current crisis may be, the institutional roots of both the E.U. and the United Kingdom run deep, and continue to reflect considerable elite and popular consensus. That said, centrifugal pressures across the region seem unlikely to abate until Europe can return to robust and broadly shared growth, something which the broader policies of recent years have done much to forestall.