Welcome to the Journal of Comparative Politics

Comparative Politics, an international journal presenting scholarly articles devoted to the comparative analysis of political institutions and processes, communicates new ideas and research findings to social scientists, scholars, students, and public and NGO officials. The journal is indispensable to experts in universities, research organizations, foundations, embassies, and policymaking agencies throughout the world.

Volume 47, Number 4, July 2015

Bonnie M. Meguid, "Multi-Level Elections and Party Fortunes: The Electoral Impact of Decentralization in Western Europe"

Despite extensive research on decentralization, little is known about the electoral effects of these reforms on the governing parties that implement them and the ethnoterritorial parties that demand them. In contrast to much previous work, this article posits that decentralization is a strategy to bolster a governing party’s national vote, by appeasing voters of threatening regionalist parties. Statistical analyses of election results across subnational regions of Western European countries from 1970 to 2006 confirm this theory’s implications: governing parties gain and ethnoterritorial parties lose support in national elections after significant decentralization. Token decentralization fails to satisfy voters and leads to governing party vote loss in national elections. I also find that ethnoterritorial parties, but not governing parties, benefit electorally in subnational elections following extensive decentralization.

Patrick Emmenegger, "Maximizing Institutional Control: Union Power and Dismissal Protection in Western Europe in the First Half of the Twentieth Century"

During the first half of the 20th century, some of the strongest union movements failed to provide much protection against dismissal. This contrasts with countries with comparatively weak union movements, where workers benefitted from far-reaching statutory protection. This counterintuitive outcome can be explained by the unions’ interest in maximizing institutional control by regulating dismissal protection in collective agreements. Yet such pre-emptive regulation was only possible under unique circumstances: it required a strong trade union movement that could conclude collective agreements before the advent of employment contracts being regulated by statutory labor law. The regulation of dismissal protection by means of collective agreements had unintended consequences. As regulation progressed faster in statutory labor law, countries with weaker union movements soon obtained higher levels of dismissal protection.

Haifeng Huang, "Propaganda as Signaling"

Why do authoritarian governments engage in propaganda when citizens often know that their governments are propagandizing and therefore resist or ignore the messages? This article proposes that propaganda often is not used for indoctrination of pro-regime values and attitudes, as is traditionally understood, but rather to signal the government’s strength in maintaining social control and political order. Consistent with the theory, analysis of a unique dataset shows that Chinese college students with more exposure to state propaganda in the form of ideological and political education are not more satisfied with China’s government system, but are more likely to believe that the regime is strong in maintaining social control and less willing to participate in political dissent.

David T. Buckley, "Beyond the Secularism Trap: Religion, Political Institutions, and Democratic Commitments"

The often-tense relationship between religion and democracy can fuel a “secularism trap,” in which divisions among religious and secular actors threaten the viability of democracy itself. What explains why such divisions threaten in some cases, but not others? I argue that political institutions, in particular institutional ties between religion and state, account for this variation. One institutional type, which I term “benevolent secularism,” reduces the likelihood of the secularism trap even in least-likely cases. Institutions matter because they impact religious and secular elites in two distinct ways: shaping preferences within each bloc and promoting credible commitments to democracy between them. I trace the observable implications of this theory with evidence from two states that seemed likely candidates for the secularism trap: Ireland and Senegal.

Grigore Pop-Eleches and Graeme B. Robertson, "Information, Elections, and Political Change"

A growing literature in comparative politics focuses on the role of elections in authoritarian regimes. While most see elections as a tool of authoritarian control, some argue that they represent a vehicle for political liberalization. We demonstrate that authoritarian elections can be disruptive of authoritarian rule but that electoral disruption can lead to deliberalization as well as liberalization. We argue that this is because elections work as an information revelation mechanism, potentially throwing the ruling coalition into crisis, and resulting in either liberalization or authoritarian retrenchment. We test our theory using a new global dataset of liberalizations, deliberalizations, and elections and show that features of the information environment including media freedom, public opinion surveys, and international election observers shape the susceptibility of a country to political change by elections.

Christian Sorace, "The Communist Party’s Miracle? The Alchemy of Turning Post-Disaster Reconstruction into Great Leap Development"

The May 12th, 2008 Sichuan earthquake was a national trauma in China. The reconstruction provided the Party with an opportunity to display its care for the disaster victims and restore the Party’s shaken credibility and socialist legitimacy. Despite initial collective solidarity and firm control over the state apparatus, levers of the economy, and domestic media, the Party did not manage to secure broad public approval of its reconstruction effort in the earthquake zone. This article argues that the reasons for this failure can be traced to the Party’s political epistemology. The CCP’s general assumptions, governmental rationalities, policy calculations, implementation strategies, and legitimating discourses organized the reconstruction. It wanted to build a model of state power and benevolence, but it did not have the proper tools.

Volume 47, Number 3, April 2015

Lily L. Tsai, "Constructive Noncompliance"

Does widespread citizen noncompliance always delegitimize state authority and endanger regime stability? The evidence presented in this paper suggests that some noncompliance behaviors may actually be intended to communicate policy feedback and constructive criticism about the fit between policies and local conditions. In order to improve our understanding of these phenomena, the paper develops the concept of constructive noncompliance, situating it within a typology of political action and illustrating it empirically using original qualitative and quantitative data from the case of rural China. By distinguishing constructive noncompliance from other forms of resistance, this paper shows that not all forms of noncompliance indicate low legitimacy or state capacity and lays the foundation for examining how different types of political action may affect policy formation, government use of coercion, the political attitudes of citizens, and their propensity for future action.

William Genieys and Patrick Hassentuefel, "The Shaping of New State Elites: Healthcare Policymaking in France Since 1981"

This article seeks to combine methods in the sociology of elites with those in the analysis of public policy to understand changes in the French state. To explain the role of state elites we specify a concept of “programmatic elites” that combines analyses of political and administrative careers with actors’ policy frames. We present main dimensions of the concept and discuss various ways in which it overcomes some weaknesses of the positional, reputational, and decisional methods, as well as how it extends elite studies to analyses of what might be termed “the new custodians of the State.” By applying our concept to health policy since the early 1980s, we demonstrate the role of these elites in bringing about major changes in important policy domains.

David Rueda, "The State of the Welfare State:Unemployment, Labor Market Policy, and Inequality in the Age of Workfare"


This paper argues that, since the 1990s, the welfare state has been transformed into a workfare state. It proposes a stylized framework to understand the influence of unemployment on inequality and the effects of labor market policy. Using this framework, the paper shows that the transformation of the welfare state has made the effects of unemployment more inegalitarian. I analyze OECD data on inequality and redistribution from the mid-1970s to the late 2000s and provide preliminary but systematic regression results. They suggest that the generosity of labor market policy promoted higher levels of market income equality only during the traditional welfare period. They also suggest that the responsiveness of redistribution to unemployment has become weaker in the era of workfare.

Marcelo Camerlo and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, "The Politics of Minister Retention in Presidential Systems: Technocrats, Partisans, and Government Approval"

This article examines the impact of presidential approval and individual minister profiles on minister turnover. It claims that, in order to prioritize sustainable policy performance and cabinet loyalty, government chiefs protect and remove technocrats, partisans, and outsider ministers conditional on government approval. The study offers an operational definition of minister profiles that relies on fuzzy-set measures of technical expertise and political affiliation, and tests the hypotheses using survival analysis with an original dataset for the Argentine case (1983–2011). The findings show that popular presidents are likely to protect experts more than partisan ministers, but not outsiders.

Anders Themnér, "Former Military Networks and the Micro-Politics of Violence and Statebuilding in Liberia"

Recent studies have highlighted the inability of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs to dismantle command structures in the aftermath of civil war. The effect that lingering military networks have on peace is, however, ambiguous. A key question—which has so far been unanswered—is therefore why some ex-military networks are remobilized for violent purposes, while others are used for more productive ones, such as income-generating activities. In this article, I seek to address this question by comparing two former mid-level commanders (ex-MiLCs) in Liberia and the networks that they control. Based on this comparison I argue that it is ex-MiLCs who are shunned by governing elites as peacetime brokers of patronage—distributing economic resources to ex-fighters—that are most likely to remobilize their ex-combatant networks.

Dinsha Mistree, "Review Essay, Party-Directed Corruption in the Developing World"

This article questions the widely-held understanding that corruption is the misuse of public office for private gain. By focusing on party-directed corruption, it becomes clear that actors who do not hold public office oftentimes facilitate corruption and that corruption is sometimes undertaken to advance prerogatives rather than personal interests. The author suggests an alternative understanding of corruption, as societally-undesirable actions involving public officials and other actors that would reduce a state’s legitimacy were they to become widely known. The author also discusses new methodologies for measuring corruption.

Volume 47, Number 2, January 2015

Tom Goodfellow, "Taming the 'Rogue' Sector: Studying State Effectiveness in Africa through Informal Transport Politics"

Despite widespread reference in international development discourses to the importance of “effective states,” the meaning of effectiveness is often unclear. This article presents a theoretical framework for analyzing state effectiveness and evaluates it through a comparative empirical study. Focusing on efforts to regulate and tax the lucrative informal urban transport sector, it maps out the landscape of institutions and political interests that underpinned remarkably effective outcomes in Rwanda and serial failure in Uganda in the decade 2000–2010. The article argues that the divergent outcomes are not so much a function of differing bureaucratic capacity as the interaction between factors such as the credibility of government policies, sources of legitimacy, and the role of “infrastructural power,” and how these are mediated through differences in political space.

Yen-Pin Su, "Anti-Government Protests in Democracies: A Test of Institutional Explanations"

This paper tests two institutional explanations for why some democratic countries have experienced more anti-government protests than others. The first explanation deals with certain political institutions as structural determinants that shape protest activities, and the second explanation considers opposition parties as agents of protest mobilization. Using a zero-inflated negative binomial regression applied to a global sample of 107 democratic countries from 1990 to 2004, the empirical analyses show that the second explanation works better. The results demonstrate that a larger opposition camp fosters more anti-government protests only if this opposition camp is more united. Moreover, the finding suggests that the mobilization capacity of opposition parties matters for anti-government protests in developing countries but not for those in developed countries.

Alexander Stroh and Charlotte Heyl, "Institutional Diffusion, Strategic Insurance, and the Creation of West African Constitutional Courts"

The creation of constitutional courts is a political affair because the judicial review of laws and competences potentially curbs the power of the elected branches. This paper seeks to explain the spread of constitutional courts and the extent of their formal independence. Our comparison of nine former French colonies in West Africa is built upon (a) the combination of the two competing theories of international diffusion and domestic strategic action—the political insurance model—and (b) a new, theoretically and arithmetically refined index of formal independence. The empirical analysis in this area of similar political context supports the argument that global trends and foreign reference models set a minimum standard and that interests in political insurance determine the deviations from institutional diffusion.

Carolyn M. Warner, Ramazan Kılınç, Christopher W. Hale, Adam B. Cohen, and Kathryn A. Johnson, "Religion and Public Goods Provision: Experimental and Interview Evidence from Catholicism and Islam in Europe"

Religions such as Catholicism and Islam are generators of substantial amounts of charitable donations and volunteer work, and they sustain themselves as organizations. How do they produce charitable public goods and their own religious club goods when they are open to extensive free-riding? We argue that mainstream religions facilitate club and public goods provision by using their community structures and theological belief systems to activate members’ prosocial tendencies. The study is based on experiments with over 800 Catholics and Muslims in Dublin and Istanbul and on semi-structured interviews with over 200 Catholics and Muslims in Dublin, Istanbul, Milan, and Paris. The article also demonstrates the methodological advantages of combining field experiments with case study-based interviews.

Christopher W. Hale, "Religious Institutions and Civic Engagement: A Test of Religion's Impact on Political Activism in Mexico"

How do religious institutions facilitate secular political activism? Existing literature suggests that mainstream religious organizations provide institutional resources and civic skills that facilitate collective action. However, the literature has generally overlooked the agency of individuals at the grassroots level who pay the costs associated with political activism. This study contends that lay political engagement is impacted by the extent to which the management of religious institutions is decentralized. I test my argument along with several theoretical alternatives using survey data collected from over 9,000 Mexican citizens by the National Survey of Political Culture and Citizen Practices (ENCUP). The results demonstrate that religious decentralization is positively associated with political activism in Mexico. Religious decentralization also interacts with the presence of progressive political theology to positively impact political activism.

Anna Persson and Bo Rothstein, "It's My Money: Why Big Government May Be Good Government"

This article explores why, quite contrary to what dominant theories of corruption predict, bigger governments tend to be less corrupt than smaller ones. The findings—derived from the combination of an in-depth interview study conducted in Uganda, a cross-country, quantitative analysis, and an illustrative case study of a prominent political scandal in Sweden—reveal the important role of taxation in explaining this puzzle. Where citizens pay few direct taxes, they are less likely to feel a sense of “ownership” of the state and are thus also less likely to punish corrupt behavior. In contrast, citizens that are more heavily taxed are likely to keep track of the use of “their” money and are thus also more likely to hold corrupt public officials accountable.

Volume 47, Number 1, October 2014

Neophytos Loizides and Iosif Kovras, “The Greek Debt Crisis and Southern Europe: Majoritarian Pitfalls?”

Although widely debated in broader socioeconomic terms, the Eurozone crisis has not received yet adequate scholarly attention with regard to the impact of alternative political systems. This article revisits the debate on majoritarian and consensus democracies drawing on recent evidence from the Eurozone debacle. Greece is particularly interesting both with regard to its potential “global spillover effects” and choice of a majoritarian political system. Despite facing comparable challenges as Portugal and Spain, the country has become polarized socially and politically, seeing a record number of MP defections, electoral volatility and the rise of the militant extreme right. The article points to the role of majoritarian institutions to explain why Greece entered the global financial crisis in the most vulnerable position while subsequently faced insurmountable political and institutional obstacles in its management.

Yuen Yuen Ang, “Authoritarian Restraints on Online Activism Revisited: Why 'I-Paid-A-Bribe' Worked in India but Failed in China”

Authoritarian states restrain online activism not only through repression and censorship, but also by indirectly weakening the ability of netizens to self-govern and constructively engage the state. I demonstrate this argument by comparing I-Paid-A-Bribe (IPAB)—a crowd-sourcing platform that collects anonymous reports of petty bribery—in India and China. Whereas IPAB originated and has thrived in India, a copycat effort in China fizzled out within months. Contrary to those who attribute China’s failed outcome only to repression, I find that even before authorities shut down IPAB, the sites were already plagued by internal organizational problems that were comparatively absent in India. The study tempers expectations about the revolutionary effects of new media in mobilizing contention and checking corruption in the absence of a strong civil society.

S. Erdem Aytaç and Ziya Öniş, “Varieties of Populism in a Changing Global Context: The Divergent Paths of Erdogan and Kirchnerismo”

While the literature on populism is rich on specifying the characteristics of populist movements that distinguishes them from non-populists, much less attention has been paid on distinguishing between different types of populist movements. In this article we highlight and account for divergent trajectories of populist practice in two major emerging economies—Argentina and Turkey. We stress that both the Kirchner governments of Argentina and the Erdoğan governments of Turkey closely fit to the populist pattern of rule, yet a close analysis of their policies suggests a left-wing type of populism in Argentina and a right-wing type in Turkey. Beyond identifying divergent strands of populism in two national contexts, we also explain the mix of domestic and external factors that accounts for this contrasting pattern.

Chappell Lawson and Kenneth F. Greene, “Making Clientelism Work: How Norms of Reciprocity Increase Voter Compliance”

Recent research on clientelism focuses on mercenary exchanges between voters and brokers. In this “instrumentalist” view, machine politics is only sustainable where patrons can punish clients for defection—a situation that does not apply in many places known for clientelism. We build a different theory of clientelism around the norm of reciprocity. If exchanges rely on clients’ feelings of obligation to return favors to their patrons, then clientelism can be sustained even where the ballot is genuinely secret. To support this argument, we draw on a range of research, including a series of split-sample experiments embedded in two surveys on Mexico specifically focused on reciprocity. Our findings have implications for voting behavior, party organization, and the types of public policies that may prevent clientelism.

Paula Muñoz, “An Informational Theory of Campaign Clientelism: The Case of Peru”

While electoral clientelism has been studied from very different theoretical perspectives and angles, scholars typically emphasize the importance of organized networks and long-term relations for sustaining it. However, electoral clientelism continues to be widespread in many countries despite the absence of organized parties or electoral machines. In order to solve this puzzle, I propose an informational approach that stresses the indirect effects on electoral outcomes that early investments in electoral clientelism have. I argue that clientelism during campaigns is crucial for signaling candidates’ electoral viability. Politicians buy the participation of poor voters at campaign events. By turning out large numbers of people at rallies, candidates establish and demonstrate their electoral prospects to the media, donors, activists, and voters. Evidence from Peru supports these expectations.

Paul Staniland, Review Essay, “Violence and Democracy”

Elections are standard practice in most of the world. Yet the rise of elections has not banished violent conflict; instead, they often co-exist. This review essay evaluates three recent books on electoral violence, and puts them in dialogue with previous research. It makes two arguments. First, electoral violence has been poorly conceptualized, undermining theoretical and empirical progress. The article provides a new typology of the varieties of electoral violence to guide future work. Second, an exciting new research frontier is explaining the consequences of electoral violence. From state building to patronage politics, electoral violence deserves a more central place in the study of the politics. Improving our understanding of electoral violence is crucial because the central challenge of contemporary democratization is transforming formal electoral processes into meaningful political participation free of the shadow of the gun.

Volume 46, Number 4, July 2014

Killian Clarke, "Unexpected Brokers of Mobilization: Contingency and Networks in the 2011 Egyptian Uprising"

Before 2011, Egyptian society was seen as weak and fragmented, capable only of mounting limited collective challenges to a powerful and repressive authoritarian state. The uprising of 2011 therefore came as a shock, raising profound questions about how such an ostensibly weak society could generate the kind of mobilization necessary to overwhelm the Egyptian regime’s feared security apparatus. In this article, I argue that this unexpected uprising was made possible by a sudden and ultimately contingent set of changes in the configuration of Egypt’s social structures. I show how the success of the revolution in neighboring Tunisia catalyzed a rapid shift in the perceptions and considerations of a set of strategically positioned actors, who began serving as brokers between three otherwise autonomous social sectors.

Nadya Hajj, "Institutional Formation in Transitional Settings"

How do formalized property rights develop in transitional settings where there is an absence of formal state structures? This paper hypothesizes that, in the presence of capital for investment, a non-state hegemon with long time horizons can intervene to formalize property rights. The hypothesis is tested using 191 surveys and interviews collected in Nahr al Bared (NBC) and Beddawi refugee camps in Lebanon. Results suggest that following an influx of remittances, Fatah formalized property rights through the creation of local camp committee offices that served as a third-party enforcement mechanism. Also, the results uncover an alternative political motivation for property right formalization. In transitional settings, formalized property rights serve critical state-building functions by uniting and galvanizing a community around a new political party.

Ryan E. Carlin, Gregory J. Love, and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, "Trust Shaken: Earthquake Damage, State Capacity, and Interpersonal Trust in Comparative Perspective"

Social capital is vital to disaster recovery, so how do natural disasters affect a country’s social capital stockpile? The article addresses this question by focusing on interpersonal trust. We argue that the effects of natural disasters on interpersonal trust depend upon state capacity. States that manage to maintain law and order, deliver aid to disaster victims, and provide crucial services to those in need can minimize the negative implications of disaster experience on interpersonal trust. We assess this proposition using survey data collected following devastating earthquakes in El Salvador (2001), Haiti (2010), and Chile (2010). Results from our matching and regression analyses demonstrate that state capacity, indeed, has important consequences for levels of interpersonal trust in the wake of natural disasters.

Felipe Amin Filomeno, "Patterns of Rule-Making and Intellectual Property Regimes: Lessons from South American Soybean Agriculture"

Around 1980, states and corporations from core countries led by the U.S. government started to demand from other countries reforms that increased the scope and strength of private intellectual property rights. The resulting global upward ratchet of intellectual property protection has not developed uniformly across time and space. This study presents a theory of cross-national variation in intellectual property regimes based on a comparative-historical analysis of the making of intellectual property rules in South American soybean agriculture (Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay). It concludes that a corporatist pattern of rule-making is conducive to a weak intellectual property regime (Argentina), whereas pluralism (Brazil) and state capture and abstention (Paraguay) are more conducive to strong intellectual property regimes.

William Hurst, Mingxing Liu, Yongdong Liu, and Ran Tao, "Reassessing Collective Petitioning in Rural China: Civic Engagement, Extra-State Violence, and Regional Variation"

Based on our analysis of a survey of 120 villages across six Chinese provinces, as well as more than one hundred in-depth interviews across these same regions, we found two distinct pathways to local political stability. A “virtuous path,” based on civic participation and engagement, in which autonomous or quasi-independent organizations play important roles in collective action and promoting good governance, appears robust. However, it is also clearly bounded by region, effective only in parts of Fujian province. A more sinister path, based on a parasitic and violent co-dependency of local states and crime syndicates—what we have termed insidious symbiosis—seems more widespread across other regions. This contrast carries broad implications for the study of China, subnational governance, and politics of contention more generally.

Ezequiel González Ocantos, "Persuade Them or Oust Them: Crafting Judicial Change and Transitional Justice in Argentina"

What explains sea changes in patterns of judicial behavior, such as those associated with the newwave of transitional justice in Latin America? Unlike theories that put emphasis on the causal force of politicians’ preferences vis-à-vis truth and justice, or strategic understandings of judicial behavior, this paper argues that deep institutional transformations must occur within judiciaries: cultures of legal interpretation and judicial personnel must change. I argue that in the case of transitional justice, human rights NGOs are the ones that manufacture these transformations via informal pedagogical interventions and personnel turnover strategies. The argument is illustrated with a case study of Argentina, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative data. The research design takes advantage of internal temporal and geographical variation in judicial outcomes.