Democratic Institutions

The primary substantive thread uniting most of my research is an interest in the comparative study of democracy, democratic institutions, and policymaking. I have a particularly focus on electoral institutions and laws. Current large scale research projects include work on migrant voting rights around the globe and leveraging big data to promote inclusive redistricting in the US.


Click on citations to show/hide abstracts.

∇ Eric Merkley, Fred Cutler, Paul Quirk and Benjamin Nyblade, “Hearing their Voice: Authority, Voice, and Satisfaction with Democracy.” Journal of Politics 81(3): 848-61. July 2019. PDF

Abstract: As studies using macrolevel evidence have shown, citizens are more satisfied with democracy when they feel that their instrumental preferences are represented in government, and this feeling is more likely in nonmajoritarian institutional contexts. Scholars have given less attention to whether such institutions also increase satisfaction by providing more inclusive political discourse. Citizens may value having their voice represented in politics, regardless of the resulting authority. This article presents the first microlevel evidence of this mechanism by having subjects experience a simulated election campaign that manipulates both the political discourse and the outcome independently. We find that subjects were less satisfied with democracy when their party lost the election, but this effect disappeared when the campaign discourse featured thorough discussion of an issue that they felt was important. The findings suggest that institutions and party systems that provide more diverse voices may soften the blow of losing elections.

∇ Katharina P. Coleman and Benjamin Nyblade, “Peacekeeping for Profit? The Scope and Limits of ‘Mercenary’ UN Peacekeeping.” Journal of Peace Research 55(6): 726-41. November 2018. PDF

Abstract: Developing states furnish the vast majority of UN peacekeeping troops, a fact academics and policymakers often attribute (at least partly) to developing states’ supposed ability to derive a profit from UN peacekeeping reimbursements. In this article, we argue that this ‘peacekeeping for profit’ narrative has been vastly overstated. The conditions for significantly profiting from UN peacekeeping are in fact highly restrictive, even for developing states. We begin by highlighting two potent reasons for re-examining the peacekeeping for profit narrative: developing states emerged as the UN’s principal troop contributors in a period of stagnant reimbursement rates when UN peacekeeping was becoming less financially attractive; and the quantitative evidence scholars have presented as supporting the peacekeeping for profit narrative is flawed. We then identify the scope conditions within which peacekeeping for profit provides a plausible explanation for a developing state’s UN troop contributions. First, the deployment and its attendant reimbursements must be significant not only in absolute and per soldier terms but also in relation to the state’s total armed forces and military expenditure. Second, the state must have an exceptional ability, compared with other troop contributors, to benefit from UN reimbursements. The scope for generalized profit-making from either equipment or personnel contributions is limited by intense political pressure against reimbursement rate increases. Individual states can nevertheless make a profit if they (1) invest in inexpensive and old but functional equipment, especially if deployed with usage restrictions, and/or (2) limit the deployment allowances (rather than salaries) they pay their peacekeepers. We establish that only a limited subset of developing states meets the plausibility conditions for the peacekeeping for profit narrative – and many top UN troop contributors do not.

∇ Hanna Bäck, Wolfgang C. Müller and Benjamin Nyblade, “Multiparty Government and Economic Policy-Making. Coalition Agreements, Prime Ministerial Power and Spending in Western Europe.” Public Choice 170(1): 33-62. January 2017. PDF

Abstract: Multiparty government has often been associated with poor economic policymaking, with distortions like lower growth rates and high budget deficits. One proposed reason for such distortions is that coalition governments face more severe ‘common pool problems’ since parties use their control over specific ministries to advance their specific spending priorities rather than practice budgetary discipline. We suggest that this view of multiparty government is incomplete and that we need to take into account that coalitions may have established certain control mechanisms to deal with such problems. One such mechanism is the drafting of a coalition agreement. Our results, when focusing on the spending behavior of cabinets formed in 17 Western European countries (1970–1998), support our claim that coalition agreements matter for the performance of multiparty cabinets in economic policy-making. More specifically, we find clear support for an original conditional hypothesis suggesting that coalition agreements significantly reduce the negative effect of government fragmentation on government spending in those institutional contexts where prime ministerial power is low.

∇ Benjamin Nyblade, “Political Legitimacy, Satisfaction and Japanese Democracy.” Chan, Shin and Williams, eds., East Asian Perspectives on Political Legitimacy, Cambridge University Press, 2016. Link

Abstract: When included in either global or regional comparative studies of democratic legitimacy and political satisfaction, Japanese popular opinion has often been seen as anomalous. Despite a long history as a stable and established democracy, it is striking how low political satisfaction has been. Political reforms over the last two decades, intended in part to respond to the causes of political disaffection, have been ineffectual to date in raising political satisfaction. This chapter suggests that it is important to separate political satisfaction from legitimacy conceptually and in practice for the Japanese case, arguing that even though Japanese people have been dissatisfied with politics, democratic legitimacy is high. Recent political reforms may not have increased political satisfaction, but they have enhanced the responsiveness of the political system to the will of the people, likely further enhancing democratic legitimacy in the long run. Japanese citizens of all walks of life are committed to playing by the democratic ‘rules of the game.’ Greater democratic legitimacy does not necessarily ensure better governance or greater political satisfaction, and as the Japanese experience demonstrates, political dissatisfaction and perceptions of ineffectual governance should not be equated with low levels of legitimacy.

∇ Benjamin Nyblade, Angela O’Mahony and Aim Sinpeng, “Social Media Data and the Dynamics of Thai Protests.” Asian Journal of Social Sciences 43(5): 545-66. October 2015. PDF

Part of a special issue on Digital Methods in Asian Studies.

Abstract: Traditional techniques used to study political engagement—interviews, ethnographic research, surveys—rely on collection of data at a single or a few points in time and/or from a small sample of political actors. They lead to a tendency in the literature to focus on “snapshots” of political engagement (as in the analysis of a single survey) or draw from a very limited set of sources (as in most small group ethnographic work and interviewing). Studying political engagement through analysis of social media data allows scholars to better understand the political engagement of millions of people by examining individuals’ views on politics in their own voices. While social media analysis has important limitations, it provides the opportunity to see detailed “video” of political engagement over time that provides an important complement to traditional methods. We illustrate this point by drawing on social media data analysis of the protests and election in Thailand from October 2013 through February 2014.

∇ Benjamin Nyblade and Angela O’Mahony, “Playing with Fire: Pre-Electoral Fiscal Manipulation and the Risk of a Speculative Attack.” International Studies Quarterly 58(4): 828-38. December 2014. PDF

Abstract: Conventional wisdom holds that voters in developing countries fail to punish pervasive pre-electoral fiscal manipulation. However, we argue that governments are unlikely to engage in pre-electoral fiscal manipulation when facing a high risk of speculative currency attacks. In particular, under fixed exchange rates, governments are less likely to engage in fiscal electioneering when either their real exchange rate is highly appreciated or their foreign exchange reserves are low. In contrast, under a flexible exchange rate, neither a country’s real exchange rate nor its reserves affects governments’ decision to engage in fiscal manipulation. Our argument receives support through a quantitative analysis of government budget balances in 97 developing countries from 1975 to 2005.

∇ Benjamin Nyblade and Angela O’Mahony, “Migrants’ Remittances and Home Country Elections.” Studies in Comparative and International Development 49(1): 44-66. March 2014. PDF

Abstract: Elections in developing countries have increasingly become international events. Previous scholarship identifies many examples in which migrants from developing countries have played a role in financing elections in their home countries and provides cross-national evidence that migrants increase remittances in election years. However, previous cross-national analyses have been limited by their reliance on annual national-level data. This article provides statistical analyses of quarterly subnational data of remittance inflows to Mexican states and new monthly national-level data on remittance inflows for nine countries. These analyses demonstrate that political remittance cycles appear in the quarter prior to an election, can exist both for national and subnational elections, and are influenced by both economic conditions in migrants’ host countries and political conditions in their home countries.

∇ Robert J. Pekkanen, Benjamin Nyblade and Ellis S. Krauss. “The Logic of Ministerial Selection: Electoral Systems and Cabinet Appointments in Japan.” Social Science Japan Journal 17(1): 3-22. Winter 2014. PDF

Winner of the ISS-OUP Prize for Most Outstanding Article in SSJJ in 2014

Abstract: Does the kind of electoral system affect the type of members of parliament appointed to the cabinet in a parliamentary system? The literature on electoral reform has investigated many political consequences of changing an electoral system, but whether appointments to cabinets change too has not been investigated. Conversely, there have been many analyses of cabinet selection but they have not investigated any linkage to the type of electoral system. One reason for this is the lack of theory concerning how electoral systems impact party strategies for ministerial appointments. We suggest that the intervening factor is how parties balance their competing goals of vote-seeking, office-seeking and policy-seeking. If cabinet appointments provide an arena where parties balance these three goals, then we should observe a change in this balancing strategy, and in ministerial appointments, following the introduction of different incentives inherent in a new electoral system. To that end, we conducted an empirical test of Liberal Democratic Party cabinet appointments before and after the 1994 electoral reform. We demonstrate that the change in electoral system led the party to rebalance its priorities and consequently adapt its strategy for ministerial appointments.

∇ Benjamin Nyblade, “Government Formation.” In Müller and Narud, eds., Party Governance and Party Democracy. New York: Springer, 2013. Link

Abstract: In parliamentary democracies, governments are based on bargains among politicians and parties. These bargains, both implicit and explicit, have profound implications not only for who gets into government, but how they govern, how long they endure, and how voters respond. This chapter examines the development and testing of bargaining models of government formation, following its evolution from simple abstract models that rest on strong assumptions to examine more nuanced and complex models of government formation. It focuses in particular on recent theoretical and empirical developments that aim to better capturing the diverse nature of the actors involved in government formation and their various goals, as well as better specify the nature and variation in bargaining processes and bargaining context.

∇ Benjamin Nyblade and Steven Reed, “Who Cheats? Who Loots? Political Competition and Corruption in Japan, 1947-1993.” American Journal of Political Science 52(4): 926-41. October 2008. PDF

Supplementary Documentation, please contact me for replication code and data.

Abstract: When do politicians resort to corrupt practices? This article distinguishes between two types of corruption by politicians: illegal acts for material gain (looting) and illegal acts for electoral gain (cheating). Looting generally involves a politician “selling” influence while cheating involves a politician “buying” votes. Individual-level analyses of new data on financial scandals and election law violations in Japan show that the determinants of cheating differ from the determinants of looting. Most notably, political experience and electoral security increase the probability of looting, but electoral insecurity combined with intraparty competition increases the probability of cheating.

∇ Torbjörn Bergman, Elisabeth R. Gerber, Scott Kastner, and Benjamin Nyblade, “The Empirical Study of Cabinet Governance.” In Strøm, Müller, Bergman, eds., Cabinets and Coalition Bargaining, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Link

Abstract: To understand why and how political actors form, govern and terminate coalitions we must consider the choices made by these actors under uncertainty and complexity as well as under the shadow of the past and the promise of the future. We are thus interested in both retrospective and anticipatory logics, and in how this is played out in the real world. Drawing on the first two chapters of this book, in the following eight chapters the contributors analyze specific phases of the governmental process, including the bargaining process, coalition contracts, cabinet composition, portfolio allocation, conflict management, termination, duration, and electoral performance. These stages in a cabinet’s life are interrelated. Conceptually, this inter-relatedness implies a complex set of relationships between actions and outcomes, laden with multiple levels of feedback and reciprocal causality. In the next section we present our joint approach in more detail. In the subsequent sections we discuss our data: our sample, our independent and our dependent variables. We also discuss the basic methodological choices we made in conducting the statistical analyses in the chapters.

∇ Paul Mitchell and Benjamin Nyblade, “Government Formation and Cabinet Type in Parliamentary Democracies.” In Strøm, Müller, Bergman, eds., Cabinets and Coalition Bargaining, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Link

Abstract: While political scientists over the last few decades have studied many features of coalition politics, the most sustained focus has been given to government formation. In most parliamentary democracies, government formation is not a trivial matter. Only in the few countries where plurality electoral systems (almost) invariably manufacture a majority for a single party is government formation a somewhat less interesting arena. Most elections in Western Europe result in legislatures in which no single party controls a majority of seats, typically leading to periods of coalition negotiations , which may involve multiple inconclusive bargaining rounds, as was discussed in the prior chapter by De Winter and Dumont. However, whether coalition bargaining takes less than a week, or several months, ultimately a government is formed, and the focus of this chapter is on explaining ‘the type’ of that government.

∇ Kaare Strøm, Torbjörn Bergman, Wolfgang C. Müller and Benjamin Nyblade “Conclusion: Cabinet Governance in Parliamentary Democracies.” In Strøm, Müller, Bergman, eds., Cabinets and Coalition Bargaining, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Link

Abstract: At the outset of our study we reviewed the state of the art in coalition research and boldly claimed that we would offer improvements in theory, use better data, and use appropriate and sometimes better methods to move this field of study forward. Here we come back to these claims and summarise and present our main results. We reflect on how our six clusters of independent variables influence the various stages of cabinet governance examined in each of our chapters and end the chapter by outlining some of the challenges that lie ahead for coalition researchers.

∇ Kaare Strøm and Benjamin Nyblade, “Coalition Theory and Government Formation.” In Boix and Stokes, eds., Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics, Oxford: OUP, 2007. Link

Abstract: This article tries to show how bargaining theory has helped people understand key aspects of government formation. It also shows how people’s understanding of coalition bargaining has slowly moved past the simplistic assumptions of the first generations of such theories. The article examines three specific questions in detail, and then considers the factors that influence whether specific parties or types of parties obtain government membership.

∇ Robert Pekkanen, Benjamin Nyblade and Ellis Krauss, “Electoral Incentives in Mixed Member Systems: Party, Posts and Zombie Politicians in Japan.” American Political Science Review 100(2): 183-93. May 2006. PDF

Abstract: How do electoral incentives affect legislative organization? Through an analysis of Japan’s mixed-member electoral system, we demonstrate that legislative organization is strongly influenced not only by the individual legislators reelection incentives but also by their interest in their party gaining power and maintaining a strong party label. Electorally vulnerable legislators are given choice legislative positions to enhance their prospects at the polls, whereas (potential) party leaders disproportionately receive posts with greater influence on the party’s overall reputation. Members of Parliament elected from proportional representation (PR) lists and in single member districts also receive different types of posts, reflecting their distinct electoral incentives. Even small variations in electoral rules can have important consequences for legislative organization. In contrast to Germany’s compensatory mixed-member system, Japan’s parallel system (combined with a “best loser” or “zombie” provision) generates incentives for the party to allocate posts relating to the distribution of particularistic goods to those elected in PR.

Translated as “小選挙区比例代表並立制と役職配分” and published in 曽根 and 大山, eds., 日本の民主主義: 変わる政治、 変わる政治学. Tokyo: Keio University Press, 2008.

∇ Ellis S. Krauss and Benjamin Nyblade, “‘Presidentialization’ in Japan? The Prime Minister, Media and Elections in Japan.” British Journal of Political Science 35(2): 357-68. April 2005. PDF

Abstract: Both academics and journalists have given increasing attention to the rising importance of prime ministers – a phenomenon often referred to ‘presidentialization’. This phenomenon has been observed primarily in Britain and in West European parliamentary democracies – no one has ever described the Japanese parliamentary system as even remotely ‘presidentialized’. However, recent political changes, most prominently the selection and popularity of Junichiro Koizumi as Japan’s prime minister in the spring of 2001, have led to a surge of interest in the prime minister. This article focuses on one core aspect of the ‘presidentialization’ argument: the relationship between the prime minister, the media and elections. We seek to put the focus on the apparent sudden increase in importance of the Japanese prime minister in perspective, arguing that the newly noted importance of the prime minister is the culmination of a trend that began two decades ago.

Reprinted in Hood, ed., Politics of Modern Japan. Routledge, 2008.

Translated, reprinted as “日本は「大統領制」になったのか–日本における首相、メディア、選挙の関係” in「奈良法学会雑誌」21(3/4), 91-116, 2008.

∇ Kaare Strøm, Wolfgang C. Müller, Torbjörn Bergman and Benjamin Nyblade, “Dimensions of Citizen Control.” In Strøm, Müller, Bergman, eds., Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Link

Abstract: Representative democracy means delegation, and delegation implies the risk of agency problems. Parliamentary democracy is a particular delegation regime, a way to structure the democratic policy process, and an attempt to solve agency problems. This chapter finds that there are persistent and essential cross-national differences between European parliamentary democracies along two dimensions of citizen control: partisan influence and external constraints. This chapter’s investigation leads us to conclude that there has been a decline in the strength and cohesion of political parties and an enhancement of international, sub-national, judicial, and direct democratic external constraints. In most respects, these changes strengthen ex post controls and weaken ex ante screening devices.