How to Study Things that Can Go Around in Circles

Two voters plus three voters makes five voters. If a party that used to hold four ministries loses one, it still controls three ministries. For many phenomena that we analyze in political science this linear world view seems appropriate or at least an acceptable simplification. But for many it does not. If terrorists used to attack at around 11pm, but now these attacks tend to happen two hours later, this means that they occur at 1am. If political candidates compete on a circular issue space, then a candidate moving far enough to the left will eventually end up at the extreme right. We measure such phenomena on circular scales: the 24-hour clock, compass direction, or calendar measurement. They do not have an origin, since the endpoints are connected.

Although examples for political events measured on circular scales abound, we still lack appropriate methodological tools to analyse this type of data. In an article recently published in Political Analysis, Jeff Gill and Dominik Hangartner start filling this gap. One of their applications analyzes the direction of party movements. This relates to a post by Romain Lachat (“Which Way from Left to Right“), where he conceptualized political competition in the Zurich municipal elections as taking place on a circle. The figure below shows the direction in which parties moved from 2002 to 2006. Most parties shifted to what many would call the economic right.


Figure: Directions of party movements in Europe from 2002 to 2006. Source: Gill and Hangartner 2010 (working paper version)

Another application contributes to research on violent conflict. Experts estimate the number of civilian fatalities in Iraq since the beginning of the Second Iraq War to exceed 80’000 deaths. An analysis of the time at which these incidents occurred (table 1), measured on the 24-hour clock, suggests that fatalities due to gunfire or mortar rounds happen on average earlier during the day than incidents due to bomb attacks, which form the reference category.

Table: Results for timing of attacks involving civilian fatalities in Iraq


While the signs of the coefficients indicate the direction of the relationships between the predictors and the time of incident, interpreting their size requires some trigonometric computations which the article describes in detail. The results suggest that gunfire casualties happen on average about one hour earlier than bombings. Moreover, their timing has shifted over the years. Directly after U.S. forces had invaded Iraq in 2003, bomb attacks used to occur Saturdays shortly before 8am on average. Such attacks now happen later during the day. The annual shift equals about one hour on average. I look forward to seeing papers that analyze circular data in political science!


Just Another Talk Shop? International Institutions, European Summits and Financial Markets

Many commentators hold the view that international diplomacy does not affect financial markets in any notable way. Especially since international decisions require consent by all actors, this de facto unanimity requirement allows every government to torpedo any attempt to bring about a collectively binding agreement. What we observe then in the theatre of international diplomacy and negotiations is a sometimes entertaining, yet economically ineffective play. Governments meet in “talk shops” and make lofty proclamations, but produce nothing more than “hot air” that markets do not care about.

In a recently published article, Gerald Schneider (University of Konstanz) and I take issue with the view that the results of deliberations in multilateral fora are “hot air”. Our focus is on decision-making in the European Union’s (EU) key intergovernmental body in the domain of EU foreign and security affairs. As is the case for most international institutions, the unanimity requirement governing this body allows nationalist governments to torpedo any attempt to build up a credible European defense force and a unified foreign policy stance.

We argue that investors react positively to a successful strengthening of Europe’s military component – a vital part of the intensified cooperation within the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) – since such decisions increase the demand for military products and raise the expected profits in the European defense industry. We find that financial markets react positively to those summit decisions which consolidated EU military capabilities and the ESDP. Each of these substantial Council decisions increased the value of the European defense sector by about 4 billion Euros on average. This shows that multilateral decisions can have considerable economic and financial repercussions.

Clearly, this is not to say that the skeptical view many hold about the effectiveness of international institutions, diplomacy and their relevance for the economy is incorrect. Yet, the potential for effective decision-making within international institutions that is relevant for markets may be underestimated, because we lack systematic evidence on when and how it matters. Our results also suggest that political scientists may detect economically crucial events in international relations by studying the way in which markets differentiate in the short run between events that are important to them and those that will remain “hot air”.

Democracy promotion and civil society – impressions from field trips to Eastern Europe

A strong civil society is widely regarded as a “school of democracy“, a provider of social capital, and a protective counterpart to the power of the state. In post-communist Eastern Europe, however, civil society has often been described as weak – and as primarily based on private personal relations as a legacy of communism. External democracy promoters have thus made the development of civil society one of their primary goals in the region. What have they achieved?

In a series of field trips to some “late democratizers” of Eastern Europe organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and its regional offices, a group of PhD students and their supervisors from the Center of Comparative and International Studies and the Viadrina University (Frankfurt/Oder, Germany) visited Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine in 2009 and 2010. Here are some impressions and ideas resulting from our conversations with NGOs, donor organizations, political observers, and state officials.

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Independent Regulatory Agencies’ Black Sabbath?

A guest post by Martino Maggetti:

Mr. Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, recently announced the dismembering of the Financial Services Authority. The watchdog was publicly blamed for its alleged “light-touch” regulatory approach and failure to prevent the financial meltdown.

From 2012, its competencies will be separated between a number of new and old agencies. The Bank of England will assume not only monetary policy, but also “macro-prudential supervision”, that is, the responsibility for systemic risks oversight and regulation. In addition, a Consumer Protection and Markets Authority will ensure the “integrity” of financial markets, while a new Prudential Regulatory Authority “will carry out the prudential regulation of financial firms, including banks, investment banks, building societies and insurance companies”.

This is quite a spectacular institutional development. Continue reading

A bird’s eye perspective of ethnicity and conflict

Most of the contemporary literature on civil war regards explanations rooted in political and economic grievances with considerable suspicion. Applying statistical tools to the problem, some of the most influential research, including studies by Paul Collier and his team at Oxford University, and James Fearon and David Laitin at Stanford University, draws the conclusion that ethnic groups’ frustrations do not drive patterns of political violence. This research has had a strong impact well beyond academic circles.

In a nutshell, these researchers argue that ethnic frustrations are too widespread to be linked to internal conflict. Continue reading

Interviewers’ Incentives and Benford’s Law

I like empirical analysis and I like econometric techniques. But sometimes I think of the data I am applying these techniques to. One month ago we were conducting a large-scale survey in West-Africa. One day we had a household with 17 members. The interview took the whole day. The interview would have taken about 2 hours with a household of 5 members. Often interviewers are paid per questionnaire. Guess what incentives that might create. I have read of a survey in South Africa, where entire households have been invented. This was discovered only after some years when researchers tried to visit households again.

In social sciences, empirical studies have tremendously increased in recent years, and survey data (especially in developing countries) are often the underlying data source. Whereas a lot of effort has been spent to improve econometric techniques to deal with problems of identification biases during data analysis, surprisingly little has been done to improve our understanding of data collection, or in other words interviewer dependent data.

And here comes Benford’s law:

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