Book Project: "Partisan Polarization and International Politics"
My book project, which is based on my dissertation research, is about partisan polarization and its consequences for international politics. A central finding in the study of international relations is that democratic states have more stable foreign policies and are better at making credible international commitments. However, I argue that cases of extreme domestic polarization can result in significant changes in foreign policy positions and undermine the reliability of democratic commitments. Nowhere is this process more evident than in the United States, where the past thirty years have been characterized by partisan divergence on military alliances, relationships with foreign allies and adversaries, and U.S. engagement in international institutions. While the focus of research on polarization in the American context has largely been on its implications for domestic politics, this project demonstrates that polarization has tangible impacts on U.S. foreign policy and on broader patterns of international cooperation and conflict. Drawing on elite interviews, observational and experimental public opinion research, and computational text analysis, I demonstrate how polarization represents a challenge to democratic states with a particular emphasis on its implications for U.S. national security policy.
THE REPUTATIONAL CONSEQUENCES OF POLARIZATION FOR AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY
How does partisan polarization in the United States affect foreign perceptions of U.S. security commitments and global leadership? Using a survey experiment fielded to 2000 British adults, I demonstrate that priming respondents to think about U.S. polarization negatively impacts their evaluations of the U.S.-U.K. bilateral relationship and U.S. foreign policy. These impacts are stronger for the long-term, reputational consequences of polarization than for immediate security concerns. In other words, while foreign allies may not necessarily believe a polarized America will renege on existing security commitments, perceptions of extreme polarization make other countries less willing to engage in future partnerships with the United States and more skeptical of its global leadership in the long run. I further demonstrate that the negative reputational consequences of polarization are driven by perceptions of preference-based, ideological polarization rather than identity-based, affective polarization. I argue that these results suggest that American allies anticipate that increasing divergence between the Republican and Democratic Party creates uncertainty around U.S. foreign policy in the future.
PRESENTED AT: 2019 International Studies Association Conference in Toronto, CA and 2020 Workshop on "Domestic Polarization and US Foreign Policy" at University of Heidelberg.
MAKING SENSE OF HUMAN RIGHTS DIPLOMACY: EVIDENCE FROM A US CAMPAIGN TO FREE POLITICAL PRISONERS
(co-authored with Jeremy Weinstein)
Scholarship on human rights diplomacy (HRD)—efforts by government officials to engage publicly and privately with their foreign counterparts—often focuses on actions taken to “name and shame” target countries because private diplomatic activities are unobservable. To understand how HRD works in practice, we explore a campaign coordinated by the US government to free twenty female political prisoners. We compare release rates of the featured women to two comparable groups: a longer list of women considered by the State Department for the campaign; and other women imprisoned simultaneously in countries targeted by the campaign. Both approaches suggest that the campaign was highly effective. We consider two possible mechanisms through which expressive public HRD works: by imposing reputational costs and by mobilizing foreign actors. However, in-depth interviews with US officials and an analysis of media coverage find little evidence of these mechanisms. Instead, we argue that public pressure resolved deadlock within the foreign policy bureaucracy, enabling private diplomacy and specific inducements to secure the release of political prisoners. Entrepreneurial bureaucrats leveraged the spotlight on human rights abuses to overcome competing equities that prevent government-led coercive diplomacy on these issues. Our research highlights the importance of understanding the intersection of public and private diplomacy before drawing inferences about the effectiveness of HRD.
PRESENTED AT: 2018 Journeys in World Politics Workshop at University of Iowa, 2018 Annotation for Transparent Inquiry Workshop in New York, NY.
TOWARDS A UNIFIED APPROACH TO RESEARCH ON DEMOCRATIC BACKSLIDING
(co-authored with Haemin Jee and Hans Lueders)
A growing literature examines democratic backsliding, but there is little consensus on when, where, and why it occurs. Reviewing more than 100 recent articles and working papers, this research note argues that inattention to the measurement of backsliding and the underlying concept of democracy drives this disagreement. We propose three remedies. First, we outline several questions that help researchers navigate common measurement challenges. Second, we argue that conceptual confusion around backsliding is driven in large part by inconsistent definitions of democracy. We show how outlining a comprehensive concept of democracy enables researchers to better account for the diversity of instances of democratic backsliding. Our third contribution is drawing attention to a previously overlooked form of backsliding: when governments lose the effective power to govern or voters and elites increasingly disagree about truths and facts. The research note urges scholars to pay closer attention to the conceptualization and measurement of backsliding prior to empirical analysis.
PRESENTED AT: 2018 Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, IL
DO EXTERNAL THREATS UNITE OR DIVIDE?
A common explanation for the increasing polarization in contemporary American foreign policy is the absence of external threat. I identify two mechanisms through which threats could reduce polarization: by revealing information about an adversary that elicits a bipartisan response from policymakers (information mechanism) and by heightening the salience of national relative to partisan identity (identity mechanism).To evaluate the information mechanism, Study 1 uses computational text analysis of congressional speeches to explore whether security threats reduce partisanship in attitudes toward foreign adversaries. To evaluate the identity mechanism, Study 2 uses public opinion polls to assess whether threats reduce affective polarization among the public.Study 3 tests both mechanisms in a survey experiment that heightens a security threat from China. I find that the external threat hypothesis has limited ability to explain either polarization in US foreign policy or affective polarization among the American public.Instead, responses to external threats reflect the domestic political environment in which they are introduced. The findings cast doubt on predictions that new foreign threats will inherently create partisan unity.
PRESENTED AT: 2019 American Political Science Association Conference in Washington, D.C, 2019 Peace Science Society Annual Meeting, and 2020 International Studies Association Conference (cancelled). Received the Stuart A. Bremer Award for the 2019 Peace Science Society Annual Meeting. Received the 2021 Best Graduate Paper in Foreign Policy Award from the American Political Science Association for a paper presented at the 2019 or 2020 APSA Conference. Honorable mention for the 2021 Patricia Weitsman Award from the International Studies Association for a paper submitted to the 2020 ISA Conference.
WHY SO SECRETIVE? ATTITUDES TOWARDS SECRECY AND SUCCESS IN U.S. FOREIGN POLICY
To what extent does transparency in foreign policymaking matter to democratic publics? Scholars and policymakers have posited a normative commitment to transparency in the conduct of foreign affairs, an assumption baked into many existing models of international politics. This paper tests the existence of a “transparency norm” in international security using two original survey experiments about covert action. The first experiment recovers attitudes towards a covert operation by holding the circumstances, cost, and outcomes of a conflict constant and manipulating whether foreign involvement was public or kept secret. The second experiment unpacks an “ends” and “means” trade-off by exploring whether there are conditions under which covert action is unacceptable to the public, regardless of policy outcomes. The findings demonstrate that democratic publics have only a weak preference for transparency: citizens care substantially more about the outcomes of U.S. foreign policy rather than the process by which the policy was created.
PRESENTED AT: 2018 International Studies Association Conference in San Francisco, CA. Received the 2018 Alexander George Award from the International Studies Association, Foreign Policy Analysis Section. Runner-up for the 2020 Best Research Article Prize in US Foreign Policy & Grand Strategy from the America in the World Consortium (AWC).
DO DONOR MOTIVES MATTER? INVESTIGATING PERCEPTIONS OF FOREIGN AID IN THE CONFLICT IN DONBAS
(co-authored with Ala' Alrababa'h and Isaac Webb)
How do the perceived motives of donor states shape recipient attitudes towards foreign aid in a conflict zone? We identify two frames that characterize the motives of foreign powers involved in an ongoing civil conflict in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. These frames portray foreign actors as either providing aid to alleviate suffering during conflict (humanitarian frame) or to increase their power and influence in the recipient country (political influence frame). In a survey experiment conducted throughout Ukraine, we demonstrate how these frames impact attitudes towards foreign assistance from the European Union and the Russian government. We show that both frames increase support for foreign aid from the European Union but have no influence on views of Russian aid. Counter to conventional expectations, we demonstrate that aid provided for geopolitical, strategic reasons can at times be viewed as a positive, stabilizing force---even more than foreign aid provided for humanitarian reasons.
PRESENTED AT: 2017 American Political Science Association Conference in San Francisco, CA
CONFLICT ENVIRONMENTS AND CIVIL WAR ONSET
(co-authored with Lindsey Reid, Kelly Kadera, and Mark Crescenzi)
The spread of civil war poses serious risks and costs. We argue that conflict environments, which vary across time and space, can systematically exacerbate the spread of civil war. As conflict in a state’s neighborhood becomes more spatially proximate and as lingering effects of conflict accumulate over time, that state’s risk of civil war onset increases. To theorize and test this argument, we construct the Conflict Environment (CE) score, a concept that taps into spatial and temporal dimensions of violence in a state’s neighborhood. Using the CE score in established empirical models of civil war onset, we demonstrate that a dangerous conflict environment consistently elevates the risk of civil war, outperforming traditional measures of nearby violence, even when domestic factors are taken into account.
DOMESTIC POLARIZATION AND INTERNATIONAL RIVALRY
(co-authored with Chen Wang)
How do foreign rivals perceive and respond to heightened domestic polarization in the United States? The conventional thinking in American foreign policy is that polarization distracts and weakens the United States, emboldening its adversaries in international politics. This logic is often applied to the contemporary U.S.-China rivalry, where analysts believe that extreme polarization in the U.S. is making China more assertive in foreign affairs. However, many theoretical assumptions that underlie this claim have not been directly tested. This project uses two research designs to explore mechanisms linking domestic polarization and international rivalry. The first is a survey experiment fielded in China to examine whether and how perceptions of polarization in American politics affect Chinese public opinion about foreign policies of both the U.S. and China. The second is an observational study that leverages an episode of extreme partisanship—the January 6, 2021 attacks on the U.S. Capitol—to investigate the behavior of American adversaries in response to heightened polarization. Drawing on ICEWS event data, we explore whether foreign rivals became more or less hostile towards the U.S. following the Capitol riots. The study sheds light on how domestic partisan politics affects international cooperation and great power competition.
STATUS: Working Paper
PRESENTED AT: 2022 American Political Science Association Conference in Montreal, Canada (SCHEDULED).
PUBLIC REACTIONS TO SECRET NEGOTIATIONS IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS
Many international agreements, ranging from routine trade deals to high-stakes nuclear agreements, are negotiated in secret. However, we have a limited understanding of how the secrecy of a negotiation shapes public attitudes towards the final agreement. In a survey experiment, I first examine overall attitudes towards secrecy in international security and economic agreements to evaluate whether or not respondents criticize the U.S. government for negotiating agreements in secret. I then randomize different justifications the government uses for engaging in secret negotiations--improved success, protection of sensitive information, and anticipation of criticism from domestic and international opponents--to explore which arguments legitimize a lack of transparency in international politics. I find that, on average, respondents are averse to secrecy in international negotiations, but there are conditions under which they perceive it as more or less permissible. Respondents are more likely to view secrecy as justified when negotiations contain sensitive information or secrecy improves the probability that an agreement will be reached. By contrast, respondents least approve of secrecy when the government negotiates out of public view in order to avoid domestic criticism.
STATUS: Working Paper
PRESENTED AT: 2022 International Studies Association Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.
WHERE'S THE PARTY IN FOREIGN POLICY?
(co-authored with Carl Gustafson and William Marble)
Although political parties are central to democratic governance, we have little definitive knowledge about how they affect outcomes in international relations. Cross-national, quantitative approaches examine the association between the party in power and a given foreign policy outcome, controlling for state level characteristics. However, this research design cannot rule out potential confounders, such as public opinion, the structure of the media, or the presence of organized interest groups. We use an alternative strategy—a series of election-based regression discontinuity designs—to compare how otherwise similar states behave in international politics as a function of whether they elect a right-wing or left-wing executive. Using estimates of political ideology derived from party platforms, we find little evidence to support the claim that right-wing leaders are more likely to use militarized tools in foreign policy: they are not consistently more likely to use military force, initiate interstate disputes, or increase defense spending. However, we do find evidence that parties systematically differ in their propensity to use non-militarized tools in foreign policy. Left-wing leaders are more likely to use instruments of “soft power” by engaging in international organizations, joining non-aggression and consultation pacts, contributing to development assistance and humanitarian operations, and investing in diplomatic exchange.
STATUS: Working Paper
PRESENTED AT: 2020 American Political Science Association Conference in San Francisco, CA (virtual).
TO PARDON OR TO PROSECUTE? ATTITUDES TOWARDS POST-CONFLICT JUSTICE IN EASTERN UKRAINE
(co-authored with Ala' Alrababa'h)
Scholars and practitioners debate the effectiveness of various strategies of post-conflict justice, but how do citizens impacted by conflict evaluate these policies? The conflict in eastern Ukraine presents an opportunity to shed light on public attitudes towards the “peace- versus-justice” debate. In a survey experiment fielded across Ukraine, including in the separatist-controlled areas, we provide respondents information about whether separatists or pro-government forces allegedly committed more war crimes during the conflict. We examine how this treatment impacts respondents’ evaluations of three post-conflict strategies: international trials, domestic trials, and amnesty policies. We find surprisingly little evidence that inter-group bias conditions attitudes towards these policies. Instead, our results demonstrate substantial support for international law. Ukrainians believe international law is more likely to bring both peace and justice, suggesting they are not mutually exclusive objectives. Our findings suggest international law may be particularly effective in post-conflict democracies where citizens perceive state institutions as weak or corrupt.
STATUS: Working Paper
PRESENTED AT: 2018 International Studies Association Conference in San Francisco, California and 2018 American Political Science Association Conference in Boston, MA. Runner-up for the 2018 Kenneth Boulding Award from the ISA Peace Studies Section.
TOWARD THE EXTREMES: THE IMPACT OF PARTISAN POLARIZATION ON INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
Democracies are typically thought to be reliable allies and credible adversaries in international politics. In part, this is because democracies maintain consistent foreign policy across successive executives. Institutional features of democratic states---including regularized leadership turnover, electoral accountability, and a system of executive constraints---provide incentives for political parties to pursue moderate foreign policy agendas and prevent democratic leaders from reneging on international commitments. However, I argue that this logic breaks down in cases of extreme partisan polarization, which can erode both vertical and horizontal checks on executive power, resulting in significant changes in foreign policy preferences and outcomes. This paper uses cross-national measures of partisan divergence over ideological preferences (``Right-Left" spectrum) and foreign policy preferences (``Hawk-Dove" spectrum) to assess the conditions under which leadership turnover affects: (1) roll-call votes at the UN General Assembly, (2) membership in international organizations, and (3) membership in military alliances. I find that executive turnover is associated with foreign policy instability when democracies are politically polarized. My findings suggest that domestic polarization may pose challenges for international cooperation.
STATUS: Working Paper
PRESENTED AT: 2018 Peace Science Society International Annual Conference in Austin, TX