Research

Below, I provide an overview of my past and ongoing research projects, including publications, working papers, and my book manuscript.


PUBLICATIONS

2020. The Unintended Consequences of Democracy Promotion: International Organizations and Democratic BackslidingComparative Political Studies 53(10-11): 1547-1581. 

Since the end of the Cold War, international organizations (IOs) have engaged in unprecedented levels of democracy promotion, and research overwhelmingly links them to positive democratic outcomes. However, this increased emphasis on democracy has more recently been accompanied by rampant illiberalism and a sharp rise in cases of democratic backsliding in new democracies. What explains democratic backsliding in an age of unparalleled international support for democracy? Backsliding occurs when democratic institutions are weakened or eroded by elected officials, resulting in an illiberal or diminished form of democracy. I argue that IOs that support democracy unintentionally make backsliding more likely by neglecting to promote democratic institutions other than executives and elections, increasing executive power, and limiting states’ domestic policy options, which stunts institutional development. I find membership in IOs associated with democracy promotion makes backsliding more likely, decreases checks on executive power, and limits domestic policy options and party development in new democracies.

2018. It is all about value: How domestic party brands influence voting patterns in the European ParliamentGovernance 31(4): 625-642. 

Research on the European Parliament finds legislative voting patterns remained constant following the eastern enlargement of the European Union. This paper shows that Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from these new member states are actually more likely to vote along European party lines. Given that these MEPs often come from less institutionalized domestic party systems that lack norms of legislative discipline, we should expect them to exhibit more erratic voting behavior than MEPs from mature systems. Why would stronger party discipline at the European level be associated with more volatile and fragmented domestic party systems? This paper argues MEPs from less institutionalized systems rely more on the brand of their European party, which provides better information and career opportunities than their parties at home, and thus are more likely to vote along European party lines. I find support for this theory using data from the sixth European Parliament (2004–2009).

The online appendix to the article can be found here.

2019. From Elections to Democracy in Hard Times. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Oxford University Press (with Thomas Edward Flores & Irfan Nooruddin).

The end of the Cold War, heralded as the ideological triumph of (Western) liberal democracy, was accompanied by an electoral boom and historically high levels of economic development. More recently, however, democratic progress has stalled, populism has been on the rise, and democracies around the world are either backsliding or failing entirely. What explains this contemporary crisis of democracy despite conditions theorized to promote democratic success? Focusing on the political–economic sources of ongoing democratic regressions, this essay proposes a research agenda that incorporates insights from studies on state building and institutions with recent approaches to democratization and democracy promotion, which focus predominantly on elections. Although necessary for democracy, free and fair elections are only effective at promoting democratic progress when they are held in states with strong institutions, such as those that can guarantee rule of law and constraints on executive power. However, increased globalization and international economic integration have stunted the development of these institutions by limiting states’ economic policy options, and, as a result, their fiscal policy space. When a state’s fiscal policy space—or, its ability to collect and spend revenue—is limited, governments are unable to provide public goods to citizens, politicians rely on populist rather than ideological appeals to win votes, and elections lose their democratizing potential. The political–economic framework proposed here provides avenues for additional research on the institutional aspects of ongoing democratization and democratic backslide.

Under Contract. Globalization and Illiberalism: The International Side of Democratic Backsliding. In Routledge Handbook of Illiberalism.

International support for democracy grew substantially following the end of the Cold War, with international actors engaging in unprecedented levels of democracy promotion. What is more, research overwhelmingly finds that international actors are positive forces for national democracy. However, this increased emphasis on democracy has more recently been accompanied by rampant illiberalism and a sharp rise in cases of democratic backsliding in new democracies around the world. What explains democratic backsliding in an age of unparalleled international support for democracy? In what ways has the international environment contributed to the recent surge in democratic backsliding and illiberalism around the world? Democratic backsliding occurs when elected officials weaken or erode (often liberal) democratic institutions and results in an illiberal or diminished form of democracy, rather than autocracy. Drawing on institutional theories of democracy, this chapter argues that aspects of economic globalization have unintentionally contributed to democratic backsliding. To develop this argument, the chapter focuses on one aspect of globalization in particular, international organizations (IOs), arguing that these institutions have unintentionally contributed to democratic backsliding by both failing to support and even stunting the development of domestic democratic institutions via three interrelated mechanisms: neglecting to support institutions outside elections and executives; increasing relative executive power; and limiting domestic policy options. However, these domestic-level impacts are not entirely unique to IOs. After outlining the mechanisms linking IOs to backsliding in new democracies, the chapter concludes with a discussion of how these outcomes are relevant to other aspects of globalization, the implications for both new and also more established democracies, and the areas this suggests for future research.


WORKING PAPERS

“Building Strong Executives and Weak Institutions: How European Integration Contributes to Democratic Backsliding.” (Under review). 

Although the European Union (EU) is considered unrivaled in its democracy promoting abilities, democracy is being challenged within its borders. Since 2011, Hungary’s ruling party has debilitated or eliminated liberal democratic institutions; similar trends have emerged in Poland and other new democracies in the EU. What explains these surprising cases of democratic backsliding? Researchers have identified the limits of conditionality and the EU’s inability to counteract backsliding. However, given the EU’s extensive role in democracy building in its member states, it is critical to also consider the EU as an initial source of backsliding. This paper argues that the EU’s post-Maastricht policy structure, accession process, and membership requirements have made democratic backsliding more likely by simultaneously increasing executive power and limiting states’ domestic policy space, which stunts institutional development. This combination of factors creates opportunities for executives to manipulate already weak institutions to increase their power, and democratic backsliding becomes more likely. Comparative case studies and process tracing provide support for this argument. These theoretical mechanisms make important contributions to ongoing efforts to identify sources of democratic backsliding, and have critical implications for research on the limits of EU conditionality and theories linking regional organizations and regime outcomes.

“Trade Shocks, Democratic Linkages, and Political Polarization.” (with Sara Watson & David Krosin) (Under Review).

Across the advanced industrialized democracies, political parties on both the far right and far left enjoy increasing electoral success. Recent research links these shifts away from the political center to economic globalization, citing increased import competition from low-wage economies–and the resulting economic hardships they induce–as one particularly potent source of voter discontent and political polarization. Although a growing body of literature explores how voters respond to increased economic integration, we know significantly less about how elected politicians respond to these shifts. This paper represents an effort to integrate the study of political polarization with that of globalization and political institutions. We ask: how do trade shocks impact legislative polarization? Are trade’s effects mediated by the institutions that link voters to their legislators? Using an original dataset of roll call votes in the French Senate, we provide evidence from instrumental variables models suggesting localized trade shocks increase polarization along the economic dimension, but decrease polarization with respect to socio-cultural issues. These effects are particularly strong among legislators in majoritarian (relative to proportional representation) districts, and for those that hold more than one elected office simultaneously (dual mandates). Our findings have important implications for ongoing research on the international sources of political polarization, and also for the institutional conditions that foster elite responsiveness to global economic shifts.


DISSERTATION AND BOOK PROJECT

I am currently developing a book manuscript that builds on my dissertation project, which I successfully defended in 2019. 

Today it is becoming increasingly apparent that democracy, and especially liberal democracy, is struggling and in some cases even failing; however, existing theories of democracy are unable to explain these trends. My dissertation investigates the unintended consequences of democracy promotion by and membership in international organizations (IOs) as one cause of democratic backsliding. However, this is just one example of how increasing levels of globalization have changed democracies’ domestic political contexts and altered the strategies governments adopt for implementing policy, contesting elections, and staying in power. 

The book manuscript I am currently preparing extends my dissertation research to consider how other aspects of globalization, in addition to IOs, create challenges for domestic democratic institutions. Recent research on democratic erosion and backsliding focuses heavily on describing backsliding and linking it to populism, or alternatively identifies potential sources of ongoing democratic decline, such as growing economic inequality, increased political polarization, and rampant nationalism. Implicit in many of these arguments is the role that globalization plays in driving democratic backsliding. However, the specific mechanisms linking globalization to democratic backsliding and domestic institutional shifts have neither been outlined theoretically nor tested empirically; my book manuscript seeks to do just that. 

This manuscript explores the challenges that IOs, free trade agreements, international treaties, and other aspects of globalization have created for democratic governance, accountability, and legitimacy. Ongoing globalization and international economic integration have made it increasingly difficult for democratically elected officials to govern. The extensive policy expertise required to navigate international economic agreements and other complex transnational issues, such as climate change, that states face today has shifted policy-making power away from domestic legislatures toward bureaucracies and other unelected technocrats at the national and international levels. This upward delegation of core policy decisions has left little policy space within which political parties can compete with one another or for elected leaders to govern effectively; I argue this erosion of traditional democratic politics is contributing to ongoing cases of democratic backsliding.