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.

2022. International Sources 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.

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.


WORKING PAPERS

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

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.

“Globalization and Elite Responsiveness: Trade Shocks, Electoral Institutions, and Political Ideology.” (with Sara Watson).

What are the consequences of globalization for elite politics? While research on the mass political consequences of globalization is extensive, we know far less about how globalization impacts electoral politics and the extent to which individual elites respond to changing voter preferences. Scholars have focused predominantly on evaluating national-level parties’ responses to globalization. Although party shifts are clearly important, this focus on national parties obscures the degree to which globalization shapes ideological shifts among individual legislators. This paper examines individual elite responsiveness to one aspect of globalization, trade, sub-nationally, as well as the conditioning effects of electoral institutions, in the context of France. Using an original dataset of roll call votes from the French Senate and instrumental variables analysis, we find that localized trade shocks lead to an overall leftward shift in legislators’ economic ideological positions, and a rightward shift in their cultural ones. These effects are substantially stronger in districts using a majoritarian, rather than proportional representation, electoral system. These findings suggest there is significant variation in responsiveness to globalization among individual politicians, and that the dynamics of political competition further mediate these elite-level shifts.

“Legislative Behavior in the French Senate: A New Dataset from the Fifth Republic.” (with Sara Watson and David Kronin).

This letter presents a new dataset on the French Senate. We provide biographical characteristics for all Senators who served during the Fifth Republic, general ideological alignment (1959-2017), detailed party affiliation data (1976-2017), and roll-call votes (RCVs) and corresponding bill content (1996-2017). In this note, we describe the structure of our datasets, provide descriptive information on key variables, highlight temporal shifts in ideological trends in the French Senate, and discuss possible future research topics. We anticipate these data will make an important addition to the rapidly growing literature on upper chambers and legislative dynamics.

“Austerity and Aggression: IMF Programs and the Initiation of Interstate Disputes.” (with Richard Clark).

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) offers countries emergency financial support in exchange for the implementation of stringent policy conditions that often cause political and economic upheaval in target states. How do leaders in borrower countries respond to the public backlash that often emerges in these cases? We argue that leaders seek to divert public attention from economic issues under IMF conditionality by employing security-oriented rhetoric and sparking low-cost skirmishes internationally. Such diversionary tactics may help leaders to skirt public blame for the short-term economic costs of IMF-imposed structural adjustment by driving a rally-around-the-flag effect. We pair text analysis of ruling party manifestos with regression analysis of the effect of IMF conditionality on the initiation of interstate disputes, finding support for our argument.

“Trojan Horse Autocracies, International Organizations, and the Liberal International Order.” (with Irfan  Nooruddin).

With democracy in rapid retreat globally, research must explore how entrenched and emerging autocrats cooperate in an international system long dominated by liberal democratic hegemony. While international organizations (IOs) created by autocratic powers such as Russia and China might gain influence in the coming decades, western-centered organizations still dominate the multilateral landscape. To achieve global reach and to counter autocratic influence, over time these institutions have increasingly sought to widen their membership. Such expansion diversified the membership of IOs significantly as newer entrants had very different economic profiles — they were poorer, less industrialized, and less globalized — and very different domestic politics — they were more likely to be emerging and fragile democracies or even still outright autocracies. This tactic might now be backfiring as many of the backsliding and autocratizing states of greatest concern are now established members of these western liberal organizations. What impact do these backsliding and autocratic member states have on the liberalizing goals and overall functioning of these western IOs? As states backslide, and therefore as the number of autocratic members of these IOs grows, we expect autocrats to work with each other within these institutions to further their shared interests to dull the power of the US and other advanced democracies over them. This paper explores the ways in which autocratic and semi-autocratic states use their influence and voting rights within western liberal institutions to undermine these organizations’ efforts to promote and support democracy and human rights in the context of the United Nations (UN). First, we draw on voting data from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to test the extent to which post-Cold War changes in the distribution of regime types among UN member states has altered voting behavior and outcomes in the UNHRC. We supplement this analysis with data from the Universal Period Review (UPR), another mechanism the UN uses to promote human rights in all member states.


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.