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Tag: public opinion

Diffusion of smoking bans in Europe

My paper on the diffusion of smoking bans in Europe has been accepted in Public Administration. It probably won’t be published until next year so here is a link to the pre-print and a graph of two of the important results of the paper: the probability of enactment of a more comprehensive (full) smoking ban increases with lower levels of tobacco producton and with rising levels of public support for smoking restrictions:   And the abstract: Policy Making Beyond Political Ideology: The Adoption of Smoking Bans in Europe Policy making is embedded in politics, but an increasing number of issues, like obesity, tobacco control, or road safety, do not map well on the major dimensions of political conflict. This article analyzes the enactment of restrictions on smoking in bars and restaurants in 29 European countries – a conflictual issue which does not fit easily traditional party ideologies. Indeed, the comparative empirical analyses demonstrate that government ideological positions are not associated with the strictness and the timing of adoption of the smoking bans. On the other hand, economic factors like the scale of tobacco production in a country, smoking prevalence in society and public support for tough anti-smoking policy are all significantly related to the time it takes for a country to adopt smoking bans, and to the comprehensiveness and enforcement of these restrictions. In addition, horizontal policy diffusion is strongly implicated in the pattern of policy adoptions.  

Writing with the rear-view mirror

Social science research is supposed to work like this: 1) You want to explain a certain case or a class of phenomena; 2) You develop a theory and derive a set of hypotheses; 3) You test the hypotheses with data; 4) You conclude about the plausibility of the theory; 5) You write a paper with a structure (research question, theory, empirical analysis, conclusions) that mirrors the steps above. But in practice, social science research often works like this: 1) You want to explain a certain case or a class of phenomena; 2) You test a number hypotheses with data; 3) You pick the hypotheses that matched the data best and combine them in a theory; 4) You conclude that this theory is plausible and relevant; 5) You write a paper with a structure (research question, theory, empirical analysis, conclusions) that does not reflect the steps above. In short, an inductive quest for a plausible explanation is masked and reported as deductive theory-testing. This fallacy is both well-known and rather common (at least in the fields of political science and public administration). And, in my experience, it turns out to be tacitly supported by the policies of some journals and reviewers. For one of my previous research projects, I studied the relationship between public support and policy output in the EU. Since the state of the economy can influence both, I included levels of unemployment as a potential omitted variable in the empirical analysis. It turned out that lagged unemployment is positively related to the volume of policy output. In the paper, I mentioned this result in passing…

Governing by Polls

The study of policy responsiveness to public opinion is blossoming and propagating. Work published over the last two years includes the 2010 book by Stuart Soroka and Chris Wlezien (Canada, US and the UK), this paper by Sattler, Brandt, and Freeeman on the UK,  this paper on Denmark, my own article on the EU, Roberts and Kim’s work on post-Communist Europe, etc.  The latest edition to the literature is this article by Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips from Columbia University (forthcoming in AJPS). “The Democratic Deficit in the States” takes a cross-sectional rather than a dynamic (time series) perspective and analyzes both responsiveness  (correlation)  and congruence between policy outcomes and public opinion in the US states for eight policies. In short, there is a high degree of responsiveness but far from perfect congruence between majority opinion and policy. More salient policies fair better, and having powerful interest groups on your side helps. Altogether, this is an interesting and important study that adds yet another piece to our understanding of policy responsiveness. What starts to worry me, however, is that the normative implications of the policy responsiveness literature are too often taken for granted. Lax and Phillips seem to equate the lack of correspondence between public opinion and policy to democratic deficit(similarly, Sattler, Brandt and Freeman speak of ‘democratic accountability’). But there is quite a gap between the fact the a policy contradicts the majority of public opinion and the pronouncement of democratic failure. And we need to start unpacking the normative implications of the (lack of) policy responsiveness.  Of course, at a very general level no political system can be democratic unless…

The decline of the death penalty

I just finished reading ‘The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence’ (link, link to book’s website) by Frank Baumgartner, Suzana De Boef and Amber Boydstun. It is a fine study of the rise of the ‘innocence’ frame and the decline of the use of capital punishment in the US (I have recently posted about the death penalty). The book has received well-deserved praise from several academic corners (list of reviews here). In this post I want to focus on several issues that, in my opinion, deserve further discussion. One of the major contributions of the book is methodological. The systematic study of policy frames (‘discourse’ is a related concept that seems to be getting out of fashion) is in many ways the holy grail of policy analysis – while we all intuitively feel that words and arguments and ideas matter more than standard models of collective decision making allow, it is quite tricky to demonstrate when and how these words and arguments and ideas matter. Policy frame analysis became something of a hype during the late 1970s and the 1980s, but it delivered less than it promised, so people started to look away (as this Google Ngram shows). Baumgartner, De Boef and Boydstun have produced a book with the potential to re-invigorate research into the impact of policy frames. So far, the usual way to analyze quantitatively policy frames has been to count the number of newspaper articles on a topic, measure their tone (pro/anti) and classify the arguments into some predefined clusters (the frames). This is what the authors do with respect…