What is “Occupy Wall Street”?

A few links on the Occupy Wall Street protests, which have entered their 4th week:
“We are the 99%”
“We are the 53%”
Occupy Wall Street FAQ
NYT overview
An early assessment
A social movements perspective
Do police clashes increase media coverage?
You can send them books


New ECPR standing group on political economy

The ECPR standing group on political economy has been taken over by five outstanding young scholars: Pepe Fernandez-Albertos, Silja Häusermann, Achim Kemmerling, Philipp Rehm, and Stefanie Walter. This bodes very well for the future of the group; we look forward the the upcoming activities!

What Will Make You a Swiss? Evidence from 30 Years of Naturalization Decisions in Swiss Municipalities

From time to time, great movies result from blatantly xenophobic policies. Beginning in 1970, James Schwarzenbach launched a couple of policy proposals to prevent the alleged foreign infiltration of Switzerland by restricting the share of immigrants in Swiss cantons to a maximum of ten percent. In response to these initiatives, the movie “The Swissmakers” (original title: “Die Schweizermacher” (1978), available with English subtitles) provided a satirical portrait of two policemen of the Swiss naturalization agency who have to prepare recommendations on immigrants’ naturalization requests. To that end, the two policemen visit applicants at home, talk to their neighbors about when they hang up their clothes on the balcony for drying, and engage in general surveillance to find out about their level of integration (or assimilation, as the instructor of the two policemen calls it in the fantastic opening scene) into the seemingly bourgeois Swiss society. Unsurprisingly, most applicants act strategically and become overly motivated to demonstrate their Swissness. A German couple even flies the Swiss flag every morning. “The Swissmakers” became the most successful Swiss movie of all times.

Naturalization agents at work in “The Swissmakers”: Moritz Fischer (Emil Steinberger) and Max Bodmer (Walo Lüönd) observing a German couple flying the flag on Sunday at 10.15am.

Naturalization agents at work in “The Swissmakers”: Moritz Fischer (Emil Steinberger) and Max Bodmer (Walo Lüönd) observing a German couple flying the flag on Sunday at 10.15am.

Although flying the Swiss flag does not plausibly constitute a key determinant of becoming a Swiss citizen, naturalization decisions in Switzerland have generated extremely valuable behavioral data on anti-immigrant preferences: Until 2003, some Swiss municipalities used referenda with closed ballots to decide each naturalization request. First, all eligible voters of the municipality received a written summary of pending naturalization requests that included detailed personal information about the applicants. Second, citizens voted over each request and those applicants which received a majority of “yes” votes were naturalized. In a recent paper, Jens Hainmueller (MIT) and Dominik Hangartner (LSE) analyze data on all 2’400 naturalization requests recorded from 1970 to 2003. This presents a unique opportunity to learn about whether and how applicant characteristics affected their chance of being naturalized and greatly improves on a large literature on preferences over immigration in political science and sociology, where researchers have mostly relied on survey data that is prone to social desirability bias.

According to the results, an applicant’s country of origin is the most powerful predictor of naturalization success. Applicants from former Yugoslavia and Turkey have a 40 percent higher risk of rejection than other observably similar applicants from rich European countries, for example, the Netherlands or Great Britain. Swiss voters also tend to prefer applicants with higher levels of education and occupational skill, although these effects are negligibly small. Based on the empirical estimates, an applicant from Turkey would, for example, require no less than 70 years of additional education to reach the same probability of being naturalized as another applicant from a European country who shares all other observable characteristics. Interestingly, linguistic integration is largely irrelevant for an applicant’s probability of success: Even requests in which the applicants’ language skills are described as perfectly fluent have no higher chance of being accepted.

The paper also presents evidence on which mechanisms (mainly statistical and taste-based discrimination) drive these results. For example, the country-of-origin disadvantage is most pronounced in municipalities in which citizens generally dislike immigrants as measured by the “yes” votes in the most recent anti-immigration referenda. Discrimination against Turkish and Yugoslavian applicants also increases in response to rapid surges of these groups in the 1990s while the country-of-origin disadvantage declines as the relative size of this group decreases. Compared with these factors, applicants’ factual level of education and integration seem to matter very little.

Overall, the main result of the paper seems to bear some resemblance with both the widespread perception of Yugoslavians being even less popular in Switzerland than Germans and the ending of “The Swissmakers”. Here, the Italian worker and the German couple get naturalized, while the senior police officer of the naturalization agency recommends rejecting the naturalization request by the female ballet dancer from Yugoslavia. She forestalls the rejection by withdrawing her application prior to the final decision to take up an offer to work in the Netherlands. Although the ballet dancer does not succeed in getting a Swiss passport, she does succeed in getting the junior policeman (played by the famous Swiss comedian Emil Steinberger), who falls in love with her and decides to leave the naturalization agency.

Incentives versus Culture: Do Legal Norms Affect Preferences for Political Participation?

Declining election turnout in many democracies regularly provokes public statements lamenting the eroding culture of political participation, arguably the key element of any democratic system. Such comments appear particularly relevant for Switzerland with its comparatively low turnout in elections and referenda. Suppose that a deteriorating political culture is indeed responsible for the observed decrease in political collective action and political interest. What can be done about it?

According to Arend Lijphart and other prominent political scientists, compulsory voting qualifies as a promising cure. Requiring citizens to vote is expected to increase turnout in elections, but also to fundamentally change a country’s political culture over time: Individuals that are socialized under compulsory voting will develop a preference for civic engagement, which should lead to considerably higher participation in all types of political collective action. But can legal norms really give rise to such powerful and widespread socialization effects that lead to lasting changes in a country’s political culture? Do norms trump culture?

In a recent paper, Dominik Hangartner (LSE/University of Zurich), Lukas Schmid (University of St. Gallen), and I try to address this question. We explore the effects of a severely sanctioned and long-standing, but eventually abolished compulsory voting law in the Swiss canton Vaud. Vaud practiced compulsory voting for federal referenda for more than twenty years (1925-1948). Abstention triggered a sizable fine that local police authorities collected by visiting nonvoters’ homes in person. We use this drastic policy intervention in combination with a synthetic control design to estimate the long-term and spillover effects of compulsory voting for federal referenda on different types of political collective action for which participation remained voluntary.

Figure 1: Average turnout in federal referenda in Vaud (black line) and synthetic Vaud (gray line), 1900-1970. Periods in which Vaud practiced compulsory voting are shaded gray.

Figure 1 shows the evolution of annual average turnout in federal referenda in the observed Vaud and the synthetic Vaud, which we constructed using a convex combination of control cantons that did not introduce compulsory voting. The introduction of compulsory voting in 1925 massively increased turnout in federal referenda. Over the treatment period (1925-1948), the effect is about 30 percentage points, on average, if compared with the synthetic Vaud. According to prominent theories of norm internalization and socialization, this should have stimulated turnout even after compulsory voting was abolished. Moreover, it should have also increased participation in other forms of political collective action.

The evidence suggests, however, that compulsory voting had no lasting effects on Vaud’s political culture. Immediately after it abolished compulsory voting, turnout quickly declined to levels that equal those in the synthetic control canton. In the paper we also present evidence suggesting that compulsory voting had some contemporaneous, positive spillover effects on closely related forms of civic engagement, for example, turnout in cantonal referenda and federal elections. These spillover effects of compulsory voting for federal referenda on turnout in cantonal referenda and federal elections that were not concurrent with a federal, direct-democratic vote remained modest, however, declined over time, and vanished as soon as Vaud abolished compulsory voting. In addition, we find that compulsory voting did not even have a notable contemporaneous impact on citizens’ political activity as measured by the number of signed petitions.

Overall, these results suggest that sanctioned legal norms can effectively increase political participation. At the same time, however, the findings highlight their limited potential to induce norm internalization and question prominent theories of socialization in the context of political collective action.