Are right-wing populist party voters ‘populist democrats’?

by Dr Caroline McEvoy

A defining feature of politics in the twenty-first century is the idea of democracy as a normative good. Studies have shown that, far from being the ‘best of the worst’ form of government, democracy is considered by the public to be of near universal value (Kriesi et al, 2017,1; Norris, 2011, ch5).  It is less clear, however, what voters mean when they invoke the term ‘democracy’.  Understanding if and how citizens hold competing democratic ideals is important since public evaluations of how democracy is perceived to work has significant consequences for trust in the regime, political efficacy and civic engagement (Hobolt, 2012; McEvoy, 2016; Norris, 2011). It is only recently that serious consideration has been given to how voters aspire to and evaluate democracy in a differential fashion (Kriesi et al,2017). The field of research has commonly assumed that when the public speak of democracy, it is understood to mean ‘liberal’ democracy.

Yet, as any student of political science understands, democracy is a highly complex concept. Both normatively and empirically it eludes a simple definition and debate continues as to what elements are essential (and desirable) for the system. Some arguments lean towards a minimal and less participatory model in the Shumpetarian vein whilst others argue for a more inclusive and directly involved citizenry. Democracy can thus be direct, representative, or deliberative; liberal or illiberal; and may involve both maximal and minimal views of government intervention in social, economic and cultural affairs. A central question, which to date remains under-explored in the field, is whether voters can distinguish between democratic modes and hold preferences towards competing types, finding expression of these attitudes in support for particular parties.

On the supply side of this argument, an emerging trend has focused on how populist parties express an understanding of democracy in a manner that is at odds with the liberal definition shared by the political mainstream (Albertazzi and McDonnell, 2008; Mudde and Kaltwasser, 2012; Pappas, 2016) . As Pappas (2016) notes, populist challengers are always democratic, using rhetoric that focuses directly on the ‘will of the people’ and yet, at the same time are distinctly illiberal, holding several democratic ideals that are at odds with the aspirations of representative democracy. For populist parties then, democracy centres on the protection of a single, unified public will and elements that are central to liberal democracy – such as the primacy of elections and the representative process, checks and balances between institutions and the protection of minority interests against the tyranny of the majority – stand opposed to this ideal.

On the demand side, there is a rich debate surrounding the motivations behind support for the populist right. Primarily, the discussion centres around the following issue: is a vote for a populist party an expression of ideological congruence with the stated aims of the party or is it a non-ideological signal of discontent against mainstream politics? (Akkerman et al; 2014; Lefkofridi and Casado-Asensio, 2013; Lubbers and Coenders; 2017; Norris, 2005; Pauwels, 2014; Van der Brug et al, 2000, 2005; Van der Brug and Fennema, 2003). The existing literature argues that when voters favour a populist right candidate they do so, both out of dissatisfaction with how democracy works in their country and out of ideological congruence with a distinct set of policy alternatives. The aim of my paper is to explore whether this finding extends towards public attitudes for competing modes of democracy. Put differently, I ask if supporters of the populist right share in an alternative understanding of democracy – namely a populist mode of democracy – which is at odds with the liberal variant commonly supported by centrist parties.

Using a dataset from the European Election Study Round 6 (2012), the paper argues that supporters of populist parties hold different ideological conceptions of what democracy should entail compared to voters of the mainstream. The study finds significant differences in attitudes between voters of the populist right and other party families on some, but not all, elements of populist democracy. Moreover, the study finds that differences in support for competing democratic modes are influenced by higher levels of political interest, where more politically interested voters tend to have a clearer understanding of the differences between democratic types. The results indicate that attitudes to democracy and, in particular, the consequent behaviours following from dissatisfaction with democracy, are complicated by the difficulties average voters face in disentangling the elements of competing democratic types.


Caroline McEvoy is Lecturer / Assistant Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin. Her research interests are in the areas of political behaviour and public opinion with a particular focus on political representation in Europe. Previously, Caroline was an Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postdoctoral fellow at UCD (2015-2017) and Teaching Fellow/Adjunct Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin (2013-2016). Her recent work has been published in journals such as Journal of Common Market Studies, Politics & Gender, Representation and West European Politics. She will be giving a SPIRe seminar on  “Are right-wing populist party voters ‘populist democrats’?” Discussant Prof. David Farrell on Wednesday, February 14th, (Note earlier time) 13:00-14:15. 


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Cultivating Ecological Consciousness: Shifting from Reductionist to Holistic Worldviews

By Louise Fitzgerald

Techno-optimism and greening growth dominate mainstream environmental policymaking, with Market Based Instruments (MBIs) & geo-engineering two manifestations of this. MBIs claim that in order to value nature it must be financialised, and incorporated into the economic system. Geo-engineering is based on the assumption that Business As Usual can continue as the Industrial Growth Complex holds promise of innovating solutions to current crises. While differing in approach, they are united in fundamental logic, not only in negating the need for a significant reorientation of the economy, but in a deeper worldview, as will be interrogated within this paper.

Critiques of MBIs to date have largely focused on commodification of nature into the capitalist system (Kill, 2014). Such analysis is related to the broader criticism of Greening Growth, and associated injustices surrounding implementation of MBIs on the ground (See Bond et al., 2012; Cabello & Gilbertson, 2012). The Geo-engineering critique concentrates mostly on feasibility and risk of proposed technologies, also hedged in concerns of the potential for carbon and technology lock-in and related justice issues (Cairns, 2014).

This paper develops and enhances this debate by focusing on a largely overlooked and under interrogated problematic of such policies; the enshrining of a reductionist worldview. In this way it further deepens perspectives in understanding and articulating the issues inherent in such policies. Such analysis holds a number of contributions. Firstly, it illuminates the shared assumptions about nature underpinning what is described here as “Techno-Growth-Optimism”. Secondly it demonstrates the dangers arising from this flawed reductionist view, relating it back to social and economic systems, as this fundamental assumption is the root cause of current crises. Finally, it presents an orientating paradigm within which emerging alternative sustainabilities and emancipatory movements can be appreciated and fostered.

Reductionism: origins & implications

Reductionism, the idea that complex phenomena can be understood and explained by reducing them down to the smallest of “singular” entities is a hegemony that underpins the organisation of contemporary socio-economic structures. Since its very origins in the Scientific Revolution it has been inextricably linked to the domination and destruction of nature (Merchant, 1980). Reductionism is at the root of the growing ecological crisis, because it entails a transformation of nature such that the processes, regularities and regenerative capacity of nature are destroyed (Shiva, 1988). MBIs are inherently reductionist in that, “Nature’s capacity to regulate, store carbon and sequester carbon dioxide, to regulate and filter water or to provide a home for a complex web of life has been abstracted into isolated units of ‘ecosystem services’ so that they can then be traded on the open market (Kill, 2014, p. 19). Geo-engineering, in the belief that we can isolate & “hack” the complex processes of the planet, while assuming this won’t have implications for the whole, shares this logic (Klein, 2014). Such mechanistic thinking about the complex life sustaining systems is the root cause of the environmental crisis. It also underpins social and economic crises, in cultivating the view of humans as rational self-interested entities, separated from one another and the natural world. Such economic and social crises have in turn fostered a dislocation with mainstream politics, as this discord in turn has cultivated fertile ground for extremism, resulting in multifaceted political crises.

Challenges to reductionist hegemony

With such large-scale prevailing overlapping crises, the time is ripe for challenges to the hegemonic reductionist worldview to emerge. Indeed, traditional indigenous science, and non-Western cosmologies such as Buddhist Systems thinking have long provided intellectual antidotes to reductionist views. Meanwhile, contemporary developments such as Gaia Theory, and Quantum Entanglement Theory are fundamentally undermining the scientific basis of reductionism in conventional scientific spheres. This, again, is reflected in grassroots environmental movements, with the clarion call of “we are nature defending itself” as environmentalism recalibrates itself from predominantly middle class conservation focus to more deep ecology and justice-based perspectives of humans as embedded in the wider web of life, humans as nature.

Within this lies hope for emancipatory and alternative sustainabilities to emerge, and for marginalised knowledge to come to the fore. This will arise from challenging hegemonic reductionism, as from its very origins this “epistemological violence” has been intrinsically linked to the domination of nature, women, and delegitimisation of organic, spiritual and holistic worldviews and those who bear them (Merchant, 1980; Shiva 1988). Thus, shifting from the domination and oppression of the current Industrial Growth Complex is predicated on challenging this hegemony.

A true paradigm shift: from reductionist to holistic worldviews

As this paper explores, the path to emancipation lies in such an interrogation; to make visible the insidious and pervasiveness of reductionist hegemony, in our societies, in our disciplines, and in ourselves. Only through this decolonization of our minds can we cultivate holistic systems thinking to challenge the fundamental drivers of (green) capitalism, develop adequate responses to the current crisis and foster a collective consciousness fertile for alternative sustainabilities based on convivial, holistic, restorative of balance, truly emancipated worldviews to emerge and flourish.

Global warming, plastic ocean pollution, the sixth mass extinction, growing inequality, all call for a new consciousness to emerge regarding how we exist in this world, and with one another. But what does this entail? Does consciousness mean just increased awareness, or does it necessitate a deeper questioning of fundamental assumptions and worldview that underpin the systems from which these crises came? Here consciousness means perception, to seek to reveal and challenge existing politics of knowledge, and cultivate new ways of understanding, alternative ontologies. This is the current challenge for political theory, so that crises may be transformed into opportunities for justice.



Louise Michelle Fitzgerald SPIRe Doctoral recipient, UCD

Irregularly tweets under: @LouiseMichelleF

Louise Michelle Fitzgerald is a second year PhD researcher and SPIRe Doctoral recipient at the School of Politics & International Relations, UCD. Her research focuses on environmental and climate policy, and seeks to analyse what conditions and characteristics give rise to effective environmental policy. In particular she aims to contribute to knowledge of how to develop holistic, future-just, social-just effective environmental policy. Broadly she is interested in political ecology, alternative sustainabilities, deep ecology, system-thinking and holistic perspectives in cultivating solutions to current socio-ecological crises. Previously to joining UCD she lived for 3 years in Berlin where she worked in environmental research and civil society organisations. She is an active member of a number of climate and environmental justice organisations, both in Dublin and Berlin.




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Intra-government conflict and electoral accountability

by Carolina Plescia and Sylvia Kritzinger (Department of Government, University of Vienna)

Competitive elections offer citizens the opportunity to reward or punish elected officials for their performance while in office. Keeping elected official accountable is a keystone of democracy. The most direct evidence that elected officials are subordinate to voters in democracies is the retrospective economic voting: that is, voters punishing incumbent governments that preside over a poorly performing economy (Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2000). For the retrospective voting mechanism to work however, voters need to be able to identify parties’ responsibilities for achievements or failures while in office. If lines of responsibility are not clear, the ability of voters to evaluate and punish politicians declines (Tavits 2007). The assignment of responsibility is particularly problematic when governments are formed by more than one party (Powell and Whitten 1993). Under these circumstances, the assignment of responsibility is obscured because voters are unsure about who is responsible for economic policy-making. In fact, the existing literature shows that, all other things being equal, voters are more likely to hold single-party governments to account for their performance compared to coalition governments, as responsibility attribution is less obvious in the latter case (Fisher and Hobolt 2010).

However, coalition governments vary considerably in their configuration (Strøm et al. 2008): some are composed of parties who largely share policy priorities and agree on common goals; others are more heterogeneous, often time formed by litigious parties. Conflict within the government has been found to have enormous consequences on policy outputs and government stability (Warwick 1996; Müller and Strøm 2000). As of today however, the effect of the type of coalition government on the working of electoral accountability has not been studied.

Our paper investigates whether conflict among government parties have consequences on responsibility attribution. We argue that conflict among coalition partners, when visible to the public, can help clarify to voters the government responsibilities for poor performance. Specifically, through repeated conflict, parties in government can provide voters with important information on parties’ policy actions that voters can use to assign responsibility for policy outcomes. To test this claim, we couple data from the European Election Study 2009 with a novel measure of government conflict. Our novel measure of intra-government conflict is based on an integrated dataset that on an almost continuous basis collects data from media reports of press releases, parliamentary speeches and politicians’ statements using machine learning in all countries in Europe. This data document cooperative and conflictual public interactions among politicians of the government parties and we rely on this data to create a novel measure of intra-government conflict.

The findings from our paper show that conflict between government parties has a substantial negative effect in interaction with retrospective evaluations, which indeed suggest that conflict among coalition partners helps voters gathering important information on government actions. In addition, the results indicate that the degree of retrospective voting due to government conflict is similar for the prime minister party and its junior coalition partners. In particular, the paper shows that the junior coalition partner, which is usually the less visible party in the government, gets punished as much as the prime minister party when government conflict is high. This finding speaks to recent election events in UK, Ireland and Germany, where the junior coalition partners of conflictual governments – the Liberal Democrats, the Labour party and the FDP respectively – have been harshly punished by voters.

The current study contributes to the existing literature in several important ways. First, this study improves our understanding of the accountability mechanism by investigating the impact that the type of government has on responsibility attribution. Second, the findings improve our understanding of one of the most salient empirical regularities in comparative politics, the observation that incumbent parties do not always suffer losses when economic conditions have not improved. In this paper, we show that while parties may have strategic incentives to diffuse political responsibility when policy outcomes are suboptimal, certain types of governments and the conflict they experience make it harder for them to escape punishment. Third, this study sheds light on an important forgotten aspect of retrospective voting that is, how do voters gather information on parties’ actions while in government. Our results indicate that the visibility emerging from conflict plays an essential role in keeping voters informed on who is responsible for policy outcomes.


SPIRe Seminar Series

This blog was written to accompany a seminar in the SPIRe seminar series.  The author’s seminar  “Intra-government conflict and electoral accountability” will take place on  Wednesday January 31st, 14:00-15:15, in G316 Newman Building. Discussant Dr James Cross. Full schedule.


Carolina Plescia is Assistant Professor at the Department of Government at the University of Vienna since 2014. Her work has been published in journal outlets such as Electoral Studies, West European Politics, Party Politics, and International Journal of Public Opinion Research. She is currently a member of the Austrian National Election Study (AUTNES) and part of the H2020 project RECONNECT. Twitter: @carolinaplescia

Sylvia Kritzinger is Professor for Methods in the Social Sciences at the Department of Government and she is currently Member of the Senate at the University of Vienna and Deputy Director of the Research Centre “Vienna Centre for Electoral Research – VieCER”. She is one of the principle investigator of the Austrian National Election Study and part of several EU-commissioned projects. She has authored more than 40 international journal articles and several books on issues spanning from public opinion research, political communication and extreme-right voting.

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Hiring, Firing and Promises: The Mechanisms Behind the Formation of the 2016 Irish Government

By Stephen Crosby

Ireland’s 2016 General Election produced one of the most fragmented and disorganised parliaments in the country’s history (O’Malley, 2016, p. 255).  With the outgoing coalition government of Fine Gael (FG) and the Labour Party (LP) not returning government, there were now over four thousand possible permutations which could form a government.  The key factor behind this number of potential possibilities was the loss of seats by the LP, who had been the minority party in the FG-LP coalition.  This loss was larger than generally predicted and there was no clear transfer to another party, thus leaving the vote split amongst several smaller parties and Independent members of parliament (TDs).  Another factor which heavily influenced the speed of government formation in 2016 was the size of the largest returning party, FG.  The FG party now held just under a third of the seats in parliament, compared to the 45% they held in 2011.  This absence of a strong returning government or pre-determined coalition resulted in a seventy-day period of government formation, which was fifty days longer than the usual length of government formation in Ireland.  This brought the Dáil more into line with its European counterparts such as the Dutch or Austrian parliaments (O’Malley, 2016, pp. 259-260).

From the two variables of fragmented vote share and size of the largest party a measure can be derived of how difficult the formation of a stable government may be, called the ‘Index of Coalition Difficulty’ (ICD).  Coined by Professor Eoin O’Malley of Dublin City University, this measure quantifies the difficulty faced by prospective government parties in forming a coalition by measuring the number of other parties with which a coalition can be formed, and the seat threshold required to form a stable government, just over fifty percent of the seats in a parliament (O’Malley, 2016, pp. 260-261).

Given the complexities described in the ICD, the formation of the 2016 Irish government was subject to a protracted and contested negotiation process.  These coalition negotiations centred on a mix of what are known as Ex-Ante and Ex-Post modes of bargaining.  These Ex-Ante and Ex-Post systems are used to prevent agency loss during the formation of a government, essentially locking in the actions coalition partners, binding them to their agreements in one of two ways.  In an Ex-Ante bargaining system, the prospective government’s policy programme is outlined in detail and as many conflicts as possible between partners are resolved from the outset.  This form of negotiation provides comprehensive initial policy arrangements and a standard by which all members of the coalition must abide, with individual ministers committed to specific policy outcomes before taking office (Strom & Muller, 2008, p. 182).  While this system provides a strong policy platform for members of a coalition, it requires much more detailed negotiations on contested policy areas prior to reaching an agreement.  Contrastingly, the Ex-Post system of bargaining involves setting relatively few policy goals initially, while simultaneously devising more complex methods for solving policy conflicts as they arise.  Authority is not invested in a detailed policy arrangement which must be adhered to, but often remains in the hands of the coalition leaders, who may retain veto powers over government decisions.  One key facet of the Ex-Post system is the importance of ministerial appointments, particularly that of ‘Junior Ministers’, who hold authority for a subsection of a government department.  Such roles are often awarded to a member of a party different to that of the senior Minister (Strom & Muller, 2008, pp. 182-183).  One issue faced when utilising the Ex-Post system is the lack of clear policy direction at the beginning of a newly formed government’s tenure.  Another is the faith which must be vested in other leaders within the coalition given their veto powers.

A balance of the Ex-Ante and Ex-Post modes of bargaining was required after the 2016 Irish General Election.  Following a drawn-out debate with the different parties in the Dáil, FG established an 1800-word agreement with Fianna Fáil (FF), the second largest party since the 2016 election.  While this was not a coalition in the normal sense, it was an example of the Ex-Ante system at work, with FG and FF establishing the detailed policy programme of a prospective FG minority government.  Such an agreement included guidelines for supporting budgets, cabinet appointments and the protection of FG by FF from any potential votes of no confidence. This agreement also allowed FF to establish itself as the main opposition to the minority government it had agreed to support, allowing for policy proposals and bills in line with its own election manifesto commitments (Kelly, 2016).

Despite this agreement, further negotiations were required with Independent TDs, who were not attached to any party, but collectively held a considerable share of seats.  This provides an example of the Ex-Post system of negotiation at work.  When these negotiations concluded, the importance of Junior and Senior Ministerial appointments was clear.  In total, six Independent TDs were given ministerial portfolios, equally split between Senior and Junior positions (Merrion Street (Irish Government News Service), 2016).  These TDs contributed their own interests to the agreement between FG and FF, resulting in a relatively inconsistent document (O’Malley, 2016, p. 270).  While the Ex-Ante agreements between the two largest parties held firm, there was now a much larger pool of those vested with veto powers and control over specific government departments, as is typical of the Ex-Post system.

In conclusion, the 2016 Irish General Election and subsequent government formation highlighted a change in both the Irish political system and the general populace between 2011 and 2016.  As noted previously in the study of Irish politics, the broader picture for the modern Irish party system and government formation is one of fragmentation (Barrett, 2016).  FG and FF currently hold 56% support in recent polling, a position not seen since before the 2011 General Election (Colwell, 2017).  However, despite the renewed strength of the two main parties, the precedent set by the 2016 government formation of both Ex-Ante policy agreements and Ex-Post ministerial appointments will have a significant influence on the formation of any subsequent Irish coalition government.


Barrett, D., 2016. Irish general election 2016 report: whither the party system?. Irish Political Studies, 31(3), pp. 418-431.

Colwell, R., 2017. General Election Opinion Poll (September 2017). [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 1st November 2017].

Kelly, F. (. I. T., 2016. The full document: Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal for government. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 1st November 2017].

Merrion Street (Irish Government News Service), 2016. Taoiseach announces Ministers of State. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 1st November 2017].

O’Malley, E., 2016. 70 Days: Government Formation In 2016. In: M. Marsh & M. Gallagher, eds. How Ireland Voted 2016: The Election that Nobody Won. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 255-276.

Strom, K. & Muller, W. C., 2008. Cabinets and Coalition Bargianing: The Democratic Life Cycle in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Stephen Crosby is a third-year undergraduate student studying a single-honour Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics & International Relations at UCD. Stephen’s research interests include parliamentary party systems, specifically the Irish and European governance systems. In June of 2017 Stephen was selected, on behalf of SPIRe, to present a research paper on the impact of Brexit on UK and EU Erasmus students at the Universitas U21 Undergraduate Research Conference. This blog post was written as part of his coursework for POL30540 Parties in Parliament.


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How effective will the Austrian People’s Party be in Government?

By Adam Costello

On 16 October 2017, the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (OVP) won a decisive victory in what has been described as a game changer election for Austrian politics (Wesskircher and Bergman, 2017). The OVP secured 31.6% of the seats in the “Nationalrat” (National Council) and its leader, Sebastian Kurz, is now seeking to form a coalition government, likely with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO). With a right-wing party all but certain to become the leading governmental party it is important to ask how effective will the OVP be in pursuing its agenda within Austria’s parliamentary system? This blog post attempts to answer this question by examining ex-ante and ex-post institutional mechanisms that could potentially inhibit the OVP’s ability to pass favourable legislation in parliament. I will conclude by explaining why the OVP’s rise to dominance should be concerning within the context of the growth of right-wing parties across Europe.

Ex-ante mechanisms for controlling the government seem largely ineffective in the Austrian case. These control tools apply before a new government takes office and may include aspects of “contract design” that dictate the conditions upon which it may do so (Saalfeld, 2015). One such element of contract design is the degree of “incentive compatibility”, which refers to how strongly the fates of cabinet ministers and members of parliament (MPs) are linked together by party membership (Saalfeld, 2015). Although in Austria ministers can be recruited from outside parliament, over two-thirds of all cabinet members since 1960 have been legislators (Andeweg and Nijzink, 1995). Therefore, the degree of incentive compatibility within the OVP-led government is likely to be high, meaning that conflicts of interest will be low and enacting the legislation the government prefers will be unproblematic.

Investiture procedures are another example of weak parliamentary control. Some countries have “positive” formation rules involving a formal investiture vote in the parliament that any potential government must win to take office (Saalfeld 2015). However, as Austria has “negative” formation rules, the government does not have to pass such a vote and can remain in office unless a no confidence motion is passed in parliament. The absence of a positive investiture requirement seriously weakens the parliament’s control over policy-making by removing the need for the OVP to negotiate with backbenchers to secure a parliamentary majority.

Coalition agreements could be more instrumental in reigning in OVP’s ambitions. In countries where coalitions are the norm, governing parties often create contracts that specify promises each partner has to keep, such as a specific policy to implement (Saalfeld, 2015). Thus, coalition agreements act as a benchmark against which MPs can judge the government’s performance and criticise publicly any deviations. A major problem for an OVP-FPO government is that their similar ideological stances create “strong incentives” to distinguish themselves by reneging on their agreements and perusing their own policies (Martin and Vanberg, 2014). Consequently, a coalition agreement would be an excellent method for ensuring that both parties’ preferences remain aligned.

In contrast, ex-post mechanisms compensate somewhat for the lack of ex-ante controls. These mechanisms ensure what is called “ongoing oversight” and allow parliaments to monitor and sanction the government’s behaviour (Saalfeld, 2015). The most significant of these control tools is the vote of no confidence, which grants parliament the ultimate power to dismiss the government. As any other parliamentary system, the Austrian legislature does have a no-confidence procedure that allows dissatisfied MPs to force the OVP government resign if its actions contradicted their interests. However, it is important to remember that such a vote is a last resort option that is unlikely to be used unless the government commits serious or repeated offences.

Institutional checks and fire alarms are also quite effective at keeping executive actors in line. In Austria, such checks include “extra-parliamentary” institutions such as a Constitutional Court, which can veto approved government decisions if found to be unconstitutional (Muller, 1993). Related to this are institutionalized “fire alarms” which are used by parliaments when they believe the government has wrongly implemented policies (Saalfeld, 2015). For example, the Audit Court in Austria can investigate any part of the executive but lacks the power to make changes (Muller, 1993). Even if the OVP survives these obstacles it forces them to publicly justify their actions and provides the parliamentary opposition valuable information they can use in future interactions.

Parliamentary committees make up another possible constraint on the government’s dominance over the legislative process. Committees are important mechanisms of control because MPs from both governing and opposition parties can use them to monitor the government by learning about their proposed policies and to also amend them to their liking (Martin and Vanberg, 2014). André et al. (2016) found that Austria’s committee system is very strong meaning that the OVP’s proposals will face scrutiny and revision by parliament. However, as the Austrian executive also has some degree of control over the plenary agenda (Döring, 1995), the government may be able to curtail the committees’ oversight of their proposals as well.

In conclusion, the OVP seems in a good position to push its preferred legislation through parliament. Inglehart and Norris (2016) found that right-wing populist parties are now in coalition governments in eleven different European countries. Furthermore, this trend is unlikely to end anytime soon as changing norms and values result in “culture wars” that are driving the lesser educated and older voters into the arms of the populist and charismatic leaders (Inglehart and Norris, 2016). Clearly the OVP’s rise to power is not an isolated incident but rather a symptom of a growing backlash that the leaders of Europe need to start taking more seriously if they want to stem the tide of increasing right-wing populism in European governments.



Andeweg, Rudy B., and Lia Nijzink (1995). “Beyond the Two-Body Image: Relations Between Ministers and MPs”, in Herbert Döring (ed.), Parliaments and Majority Rule in Western Europe. Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 152–78.

André, Audrey, Sam Depauw, and Shane Martin (2016). “‘Trust Is Good, Control Is Better’: Multiparty Government and Legislative Organization”, Political Research Quarterly, 69:1, 108–20.

Döring, Herbert (1995). “Time as a Scarce Resource: Government Control of the Agenda”, in Herbert Döring (ed.), Parliaments and Majority Rule in Western Europe. Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 223–46.

Inglehart, R. and Norris, P. (2016). Trump, Brexit and Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash. Available at [Accessed 3/11/2017].

Martin, Lanny W., and Georg Vanberg (2014). “Legislative Institutions and Coalition Government”, in Shane Martin, Thomas Saalfeld, and Kaare W. Strøm (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Legislative Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 436–51.

Müller, Wolfgang C (1993). “Executive-Legislative Relations in Austria: 1945-1992”, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 18:4, 467–94.

Saalfeld, Thomas (2015). “Executive–legislative relations in Europe”, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics. London: Routledge, 346–65.

Weisskircher, M. and Bergman, M.E. (2017) Austria’s election: Four things to know about the result. LSE EUROPP – European Politics and Policy Blog. Available at [Accessed 4/11/2017]





Adam Costello is a third-year undergraduate student studying Politics and International Relations in UCD. He is particularly interested in how modern trends, such as the rise of right-wing populism, are affecting European democracies. This blog post was written as part of his coursework for POL30540 Parties in Parliament.

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Effective Mechanisms for the Advancement of Female Representation in National Parliaments

By Sophie Becker

An overwhelming majority of countries across the globe display a disproportionately small number of women represented in their national parliaments. Generally speaking, females make up approximately half the population, yet parliaments rarely reflect these demographics. This is a serious problem, as male dominated institutions are less likely to introduce legislation regarding issues that overwhelmingly impact women. Countries urgently need to increase the representation of women in elected office, and arguably the most effective ways to do that are by implementing quotas and utilizing a proportional representation electoral system. Although quotas and electoral systems display the best overall results, other variables such as political parties also play a significant role.

A gender quota is an institutional mechanism that is implemented in order to combat some of the advantages men are privileged to in the political arena. These quotas determine the percentage of female candidates required to be elected to public office, and many parliamentary systems have implemented these quotas in an attempt to facilitate a pathway to provide women with proper representation. Kang and Tripp (2007) describe three different types of quotas which receive varying levels of compliance: the compulsory party quota, the voluntary party quota, and reserved seats. Compulsory quotas legally require that political parties must nominate a certain number of women. This type of quota is often disrespected as it may be dictated to a party that does not care to promote women’s representation. Noncompliant parties can put women at the bottom of lists or in the running for seats that are impossible to win in order to avoid their obligations, but ensuring enforcement with strict punishments is a strategy to avoid this (Taylor-Robinson 2014). Voluntary quotas typically have a higher compliance rate because the parties choose to carry out the conditions and are therefore more committed to gender equality. Since the result of the reserved seat method is a predetermined percentage of seats in parliament held by women, this technique is generally the most successful in aiding women’s representation (Kang & Tripp 2007). Regardless of their variety in form, quotas are the main institution facilitating the increase of women in legislative bodies and decision-making positions. They allow the bypass of barriers previously insurmountable to female candidates, such as “unequal access to and distribution of party resources” and “inadequate funding of women candidates” (OSCE 2014), leading to sharp increases in representation.

Secondary to gender quotas, it is the proportional representation (PR) electoral system that influences levels of participation by women in the legislature. Table 1 provides evidence for this claim as it displays countries with the top 25 highest percentages of women in parliament in 2016. Upon viewing this table, it is clear the overwhelming majority of states with high percentages of female representation have either PR or Mixed electoral systems.

Source: (Johnson-Myers 2017: 10)

PR systems elect consistently higher numbers of women than their majoritarian counterpart, because in a majoritarian system, “if a male and a female candidate compete for a party’s nomination, a victory for the woman means a loss for the man” (Johnson-Myers 2017: 12). In that situation, it is more likely the male candidate will be supported by both the party and the voters as a ‘safe’ candidate. Furthermore, a closed party list PR system is the ideal way to promote women to parliament because it allows for the ‘zipper system’ in which male and female candidates are alternated throughout the list (Parliamentary Assembly 2005). This zipper system prevents women from being intentionally positioned in the most undesirable places on the list. Past analysis of female representation in parliament pointed to electoral systems as the most significant factor. Although they do undeniably play an influential role, increased study has revealed that the implementation of quotas since the mid-1990s is the largest driver increasing the numbers of women elected to public office (Kang & Tripp 2007). However, it is important to note that political parties can also play a substantial role in the pursuit of representative equality.

Political parties are essential actors in the quest to enhance the representation of women because parties are the ‘gatekeepers’ of elected office. A candidate cannot be elected to parliament without first winning a party nomination. The internal structure of a political party may act as a hurdle obstructing a woman’s trajectory as men often receive preferential treatment in the candidate selection process and are labelled as the superior choice (United Nations, 2005). According to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (2014), regulations must be enforced upon political parties in order to increase fairness and balance the challenges faced by men and women. Without such regulations, female candidates are at a disadvantage for reasons such as “unequal political and socio-economic power” in comparison to male colleagues, and candidate registration restrictions that “disproportionately affect… women candidates” (OSCE 2014: 16) and impede their access to resources. Institutional mechanisms like party quotas have been introduced to help, but not all parties enact quotas due to a genuine desire for gender equality. Some may support female candidates due to inter-party competition in order to avoid seeming behind more progressive parties, or use those women to mobilize female voters in their favour rather than to actually alter the gender makeup of the leadership (Kang & Tripp 2007). Working to eliminate the gender disparity in political parties is not only important for the expansion of equality, it may also widen a party’s support base and spread their popularity. Furthermore, some studies of parliamentary parties have recorded that an increase in female party elites results in more women being elected to the legislature, so it may be a self-reinforcing mechanism (Kang & Tripp 2007).

Until direct and indirect gender discrimination are eradicated from both the political sphere and society in general, institutional mechanisms such as gender quotas and PR electoral systems, as well as the regulation of candidate selection processes in parties, must be in place in order to allow for the growth of female representation in parliaments. Only when the obstacles preventing women from equal participation are removed will male and female candidates face a level playing field.



Johnson-Myers, T. (2017). The Mixed Member Proportional System: Providing Greater Representation for Women? A Case Study of the New Zealand Experience. Springer International Publishing.

Kang, A. and Tripp, A. (2007). The Global Impact of Quotas: On the Fast Track to Increased Female Legislative Representation. Comparative Political Studies, 41(3): 338 – 361.

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. (2005). Mechanisms to ensure women’s participation in decision-making: Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. Council of Europe Publications.

Taylor-Robinson, Michelle M. (2014). “Gender and Legislatures”, in Shane Martin, Thomas Saalfeld, and Kaare W. Strøm (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Legislative Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 251–66.

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. (2014). Handbook on Promoting Women’s Participation in Political Parties. Warsaw: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe [Available at:].

United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women. (2005). Equal Participation of Women and Men in Decision-Making Processes, with Particular Emphasis on Political Participation and Leadership. Addis Ababa: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs [Available at:].


Sophie Becker is a third-year undergraduate student studying Politics & International Relations and Geography. Originally from Boston, Sophie is a full time International Student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree at UCD. Sophie is the 2016-17 winner of the Conor Martin Memorial Prize, which is awarded by the UCD School of Politics and International Relations to the student in Stage Two Politics who achieves the highest combined grade point average in the four core Level Two Politics modules.  This blog post was written as part of her coursework for POL30540 Parties in Parliament.






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Assembly dissolution powers and incumbency advantages in government formation

By Cristina Bucur (Lecturer / Assistant Professor, University College Dublin) and Petra Schleiter (Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Oxford)

Governments in most parliamentary democracies have some influence on assembly dissolution, which enables them to affect parliamentary bargaining. Yet, whether these powers advantage outgoing governing parties in forming the next government remains remarkably poorly understood. To address this gap, we develop a theory of government formation in the shadow of parliamentary dissolution. Incumbents who can control assembly dissolution, we argue, are more likely to return to government than their peers who lack this power because they enjoy advantages in (i) controlling the bargaining process about coalition formation and (ii) in building a reputation as effective and desirable coalition partners. Our tests of these expectations, using data on 625 government formation opportunities and 428,095 potential coalitions, reveal that governing parties with discretion to dissolve parliament have significantly higher coalition inclusion probabilities than incumbents who cannot invoke early elections.

The power to call, or threaten, parliamentary elections has long been viewed as a cabinet’s counterweight to the legislature’s ability to dismiss the government. It confers on governing parties with favourable electoral prospects the opportunity to realize electoral advantages and strengthens their hand in legislative bargaining by enabling them to extract concessions from other parties, particularly those with a desire to avoid elections. These powers may be especially consequential in advanced parliamentary democracies, where government formation is most often the result of negotiations in parliament rather than of elections alone because single party parliamentary majorities are rare. Yet, in the literature on coalition formation, the complete lack of attention to the election timing powers of incumbents remains a striking omission. Our paper addresses the gap and asks whether outgoing incumbents with the power to call early elections enjoy advantages in negotiating their return to office.

Anecdotally, we see numerous instances in which incumbents re-negotiate their coalitions by invoking the possibility of early elections. In November 2016, for instance, the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen negotiated an expansion of his parliamentary support, after he had formed Denmark’s smallest minority government in 40 years. Against the background of the prime minister’s discretion to dissolve parliament and his party’s rising popularity since the June 2015 elections, Løkke Rasmussen ended months of policy battles by striking an agreement between his Liberal Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Alliance to reduce the risk of a snap election.  Broadening his minority government to a three-party coalition provided more solid parliamentary support for his agenda of tax cuts and limited public spending.  Similarly, Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, conjured the spectre of early elections in June 2017, when he ejected the nationalist Finns party from his three-party centre-right coalition, after its popular support plunged and it chose a new anti-immigration leader. Citing differences with the new leader of the Finns in core values, immigration policy and policy regarding the EU, Prime Minister Sipilä, negotiated a replacement of the Finns by bringing the smaller Swedish People’s Party and Christian Democrats into the government.

Assembly dissolution is permitted in almost every parliamentary democracy and, as the examples above suggest, in many countries incumbents have a pivotal role in deciding whether early elections are called. Our study takes the long overdue step of integrating the power to dissolve parliament, which is a fundamental aspect of institutional variation among parliamentary democracies, into our understanding of coalition bargaining. Because all coalitions result from such negotiations and many incumbents have significant power to invoke early elections, the question of how the shadow of elections shapes coalition outcomes is central to a better understanding of political representation in parliamentary democracies.

Governments, we argue, derive from this power an advantage in bargaining about office with other parties via two mechanisms: First, incumbents with extensive dissolution powers are able to use the threat of dissolution to control coalition negotiations by initiating bargaining rounds and extracting concessions from other parties. Second, when in power, they are better able to resolve policy conflicts and coalition tensions, which gives them an advantage in building a reputation as effective and desirable coalition partners compared to their peers who lack dissolution powers.

Our results offer the first evidence of this incumbency advantage in legislative coalition bargaining: Governing parties with extensive discretion to invoke early elections are two-thirds more likely secure their inclusion in government than incumbents with little or no control of assembly dissolution, and three times more likely than non-incumbent parties that lack influence on early election calling. These results are reliable and robust: they are evident in multivariate analysis of the full pooled sample of government formations, and when government formation opportunities that follow elections and non-electoral terminations are disaggregated.

By uncovering this incumbency advantage, our study contributes to a more nuanced and realistic understanding of real-world coalition bargaining. Actual coalition bargaining does not typically take place among all parties in parliament, but is most often confined to a sub-group of parties who can secure a place at the table because they have the institutional power to control and structure the bargaining situation or because they are perceived as particularly desirable partners. Our results suggest that incumbents with assembly dissolution powers are advantaged in both respects, which helps to explain why we see them returning to office with such extraordinary frequency.

Our findings contribute to several literatures of importance in comparative politics. First, they take the long overdue step of integrating into our understanding of coalition bargaining one of the most fundamental aspects of institutional variation among parliamentary democracies: the power to dissolve parliament as a directly elected branch of power. We uncover that in the hands of incumbents, this power gives rise to large bargaining advantages, which help to explain why we see incumbents return to power with such extraordinary frequency. Second, the findings add to the literature on comparative institutions by providing a first account of the previously uncharted political implications of assembly dissolution powers in the arena of government formation. Third, our work has implications for the literature on incumbency advantages. This literature has consistently focussed on incumbency advantages in the electoral arena. By widening the scope of inquiry beyond elections, we show that assembly dissolution powers give rise to incumbency advantages in post-election bargaining, which may be as important as the bonuses that some incumbents realise in elections.

SPIRe Seminar Series

This blog was written to accompany a seminar in the SPIRe seminar series.  Dr Bucur’s seminar “Assembly dissolution powers and incumbency advantages in government formation” (Discussant: Dr Caroline McEvoy) will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 29th, 14:00-15:15 in Room G316, Newman Building.

Cristina Bucur is Lecturer / Assistant Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin. Her research interests focus on executive-legislative relations and party politics in parliamentary and semi-presidential democracies. Before joining UCD, Cristina was a postdoctoral fellow at University of Oslo (2014-2017). Her recent work has been published in journals such as Party Politics, Political Research Quarterly, Comparative European Politics, and French Politics. Full profile.


Petra Schleiter is Professor of Comparative Politics at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. Petra’s research focuses on the consequences of comparative political institutions. She has developed a strong research profile in this area with work that explores the effects of semi-presidentialism, presidentialism, party systems, fixed parliamentary terms and flexible election timing, caretaker conventions and recognition rules on a variety of political outcomes. Her work has been published in leading journals in the discipline including the American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, Comparative Political Studies, the British Journal of Political Science, Party Politics, European Journal of Political Research, Parliamentary Affairs and elsewhere. Full profile.

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From Devolution to Brexit: Lessons from the Citizens’ Assembly Experiments in the UK

By Prof. Graham Smith, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster.

Over two weekends in September 2017, the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit brought together 50 randomly selected citizens who reflected the diversity of the UK electorate. The Assembly aimed to, first, provide much needed robust public input into the Brexit process and, second, show the value of deliberative public engagement on controversial areas of public policy.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit was an opportunity for this diverse group of UK voters to learn about the issues of trade and migration from a variety of experts and politicians, deliberate with each other and come to recommendations on the form that Brexit should take. The Assembly reflected the socio-demographic characteristics of the broader population and their vote in the Brexit referendum in 2016, so included more Leave than Remain supporters.

The main recommendations of the Assembly are:

  • On trade, it preferred a bespoke UK/EU trade deal and a customs union that would allow the UK to conduct its own international trade policy while maintaining a frictionless UK/EU border.
  • On migration, it voted to retain free movement of labour, but with the UK government exercising all available controls to prevent abuse of the system.
  • If a deal cannot be reached in negotiations on trade, the Assembly prefered to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union to no deal at all.

The Assembly was organised by an independent group of academics and civil society organisations and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its UK in a Changing Europe programme.

This is the second time that members of this consortium have been involved in running and promoting citizens’ assemblies in the UK. In 2015, the Democracy Matters project organised two-pilot assemblies on English devolution. One of the aims of the project was to investigate the effect of including politicians as members of the assembly, inspired by the practice of the Irish Constitutional Convention. As such the assembly in Sheffield was constituted by randomly selected citizens only; the assembly in Southampton had politicians working alongside the citizens as members. Analysis of survey results suggests that politicians were particularly influential in shaping the thinking of citizens in the mixed assembly, raising questions about the value of this approach to assembly design.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit and Democracy Matters projects can be seen as part of the wider movement aimed at promoting more deliberative forms of public engagement in the UK: unlike Ireland and Canada, there is little high level political support for establishing Citizens’ Assemblies in the UK. Both projects have also generated important insights into the processes of organizing citizens’ assemblies and citizens’ perspectives on two significant areas of public policy.

Further details of both assemblies can be found at


Graham Smith is Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster. His main research interests are in democratic theory and practice (particularly participatory democratic institutions), climate politics and the third sector/social economy. Graham is currently involved in a number of research projects, including Scholio, Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit and Participedia.

SPIRe Seminar Series

This blog was written to accompany a seminar in the SPIRe seminar series.  Prof Smith’s seminar “From Devolution to Brexit: Lessons from the Citizens’ Assembly Experiments in the UK” (Discussant: Prof. David Farrell) will take place Wednesday, Nov. 8th, 14:00-15:15 in Room G316, Newman Building.

The full schedule for the SPIRe seminar series semester 1 can be found on our website.


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What it is really to secure a right to someone? Understanding how Rights-Based Approaches to Development can be operationalised

by Nita Mishra, PhD Candidate at Food Business and Development, UCC

In this paper, I examine the major aspects of the concepts of rights and development, separately, and then how the two concepts are linked in the discourse on rights and development. Through my examination of selected concepts of key political philosophers, I aim to provide a theoretical basis to the idea of a rights-based approach to development. Theoretical linkages between the concepts of rights and development are explored along with their links with other important ideas such as capabilities, empowerment, and agency.

I have framed my analysis of the linkages between rights and development using Martha Nussbaum’s query on “what it is really to secure a right to someone” (2003:38). Through Nussbaum’s query, I have deliberated upon the goal of rights, the types of rights, the duty-bearers of rights, and the different elements of the concept of rights, and through this examination, I have highlighted arguments of key scholars, with examples from NGOs in India.

The paper is divided into two sections. The first section examines the concept of rights, and the second section, discusses development, and its links with rights. It begins with a historical overview of the concept of rights followed by an examination of what constitutes human rights. I have alluded to various aspects of rights debated upon centuries instead of an in-depth analysis of each aspect with an aim to situate the idea of rights-based approaches to development within the discourse of rights historically. My contention is that the current discourse on RBAs did not arise in a vacuum, and it is important to draw upon this vast discourse, and give due recognition to its antecedents. I have, then, focused on the main goal of the human rights’ agenda which, as delineated by eminent political philosophers, is poverty eradication.


Nita Mishra has recently submitted her PhD thesis on “Operationalising Rights-Based Approaches to Development: a study of state and non-state duty-bearers in Odisha, India” to the Department of Food Business and Development, at UCC. Her main interests lie in rights-based approaches to development, governance, poverty, and women’s rights. She is currently the Convenor for Academics Stand Against Poverty- Irish Network, and has had been a Steering Committee member for Development Studies Association Ireland, and on the Board of Directors for Comhlamh NGO. She has extensive work experience with funding organisations, research organisations, and NGOs in India, and has been a volunteer in various development activities in the Global North. She has published in peer reviewed journals, and is actively engaged in academic and development activities. Her poetry speaks of women’s lives across continents, and has been categorised under the future of Irish feminism.

Dublin Political Theory Workshop
This blog was written to accompany a workshop by Nita Mishra for The Dublin Political Theory Workshop. This is hosted by UCD School of Politics and International Relations and brings together political theorists located in or visiting Dublin. We discuss work in progress in the area of political theory widely understood including debates on applied ethics and social and legal philosophy.

Nita Mishra’s workshop is on Friday, 3. November 2017, 12:30 – 14:00, on the topic ‘What is it really to secure a right to someone?’ in G316, Newman Building.

Full schedule for Dublin Political Theory Workshop series.


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The Garrison State Project: Tracking the Growth of Consensus on National Security

by David Sylvan

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

In the three years since Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, it has become clear in one country after another that such surveillance is carried out by each country’s own agencies, that the surveillance has been going on for some time, and that it is on a wider scale than had previously been suspected. In spite of this realization, the majority reaction among political elites has been that although some correctives may be needed, the world is simply too dangerous to forgo these tools. Thus, in the after-Snowden period, surveillance powers have been maintained or expanded in the US, France, the UK, Germany, Japan, and even Switzerland.

Moreover, in spite of the numerous controversies raised about the NSA’s activities in other countries, cooperation between the agency and its foreign counterparts has ended up being either resumed or strengthened. That cooperation was extensive, covering some 38 states with whom the NSA had ongoing relationships. Although comparable data for the present day are of course unavailable, country-specific news stories suggest that the political fracas did not seriously interrupt either bilateral or multilateral forms of signals intelligence cooperation. Of course, this persistence of cooperation in the face of condemnation—to be specific, the apparent surprise at the extent of surveillance, the carefully worded condemnations, the eventual return to the status quo ante, and the legislative thumbs-up to even more extensive and intrusive actions—extends well beyond surveillance to myriad forms of security-related activities. A case in point is drone strikes, which have been acquiesced in by numerous countries, regardless of who is in the White House.

The short-lived controversies over surveillance and drone strikes suggest two things: that security-related activities of this sort are becoming increasingly ubiquitous by states acting both unilaterally and multilaterally; and that those activities are strongly backed by the majority of legislative elites in the countries carrying them out. Indeed, there is a close tie between these two points since it is the support of those elites which makes it possible for legislation to be passed, budgets to grow, and controversies to be avoided or short-circuited. Thus, counterterrorism budgets in Western countries have increased massively over the past 15 years with very little political opposition, and even earlier domestic security agency scandals such as the discovery of COINTELPRO (the FBI), the Finucane affair (MI5), and the Canard Enchaîné bugging (DST) failed to stop the upward trajectory in funding and activity. Arguably, there is a long-term trend toward larger and more active national security apparatuses in a number of democratic countries, with this trend being enabled and strengthened by a growing consensus among legislative elites. This claim is the starting point for the presentation and the research project on which it serves as a progress report.

The structure of the talk is as follows. I begin with a discussion of the central claim, situating the part of that claim about a long-term trend within the scholarly literature, articulating mechanisms which conduce to the trend, and elaborating its theoretical and substantive significance. Since that literature arguably began with Harold Lasswell’s seminal 1941 article, “The Garrison State,” about the way in which democratic countries can gradually come to be marked by an ever greater political role played by “specialists on violence,” the project is thus named after Lasswell’s evocative term. In this regard, it is striking that the creation, growth, and expansion in the scope of activities of security-related agencies is something which considerably antedates the 9/11 attacks. Already the early years of the cold war were marked by such growth, growth which was accelerated by other factors such as decolonization and membership in alliances, and which was only slowed to a slight degree during the post-cold war/pre-9/11 period.

I then turn to the second half of the claim (about growing legislative elite consensus in democratic countries), discussing not only its theoretical import but the way in which it points to a concrete research design through which the trend part of the claim can be assessed (since of course many actions of security-related agencies are secret as are, notoriously, their budgets). The remaining sections of the paper concern a specific methodological issue: how to use speeches in parliamentary debates as indicators of elite consensus. Speeches are arguments of various sorts, and so I address precisely how speeches can be coded in order to abduce those arguments. I then briefly discuss the issue of analyzing arguments in order to determine consensus, and conclude with some preliminary results from earlier debates. Those results, and a less systematic account of other debates in other countries, suggest that, unfortunately, Lasswell was indeed correct, and that Western democracies have for decades gradually been transforming into garrison states.

NB: The Garrison State Project website URL is

David Sylvan is professor of international relations / political science, and director of research, at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. He obtained his Ph.D. at Yale University and before coming to Geneva, taught at Syracuse University and the University of Minnesota. Among his other works, he is the coauthor of U.S. Foreign Policy in Perspective: Clients, Enemies and Empire; and of A Rationalist Methodology for the Social Sciences. In addition to the Garrison State Project, his current research revolves around the development of formal methods for the study of diplomatic conversations and elite interpretations of news items; social relationships, such as conflict, deference, and subordination, between states; and “buddy” relationships between civilian cadres and military officers in authoritarian regimes.

SPIRe Seminar Series
This blog was written to accompany a seminar in the SPIRe seminar series. Dr. David Sylvan (The Graduate Institute, Geneva) on The Garrison State Project: Tracking the Growth of Consensus on National Security (Discussant  Prof. Ben Tonra): Wednesday, Nov. 1st, 14:00-15:15

The full schedule for the SPIRe seminar series semester 1 can be found on our website.




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