Categories
Fall 2021 RA Posts

Introducing the Student Team!

By Maggie Manson
September 22, 2021

Meet the 2021-2022 TRIP Student Team! We are a group of passionate students with a range of experiences that are all interested in bridging the gap between international relations academia and policy.

This fall, we are working on some exciting projects while continuing to publish student blog posts. With the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we are wrapping up our NGO and Think Tank staff surveys, which aim to gather information on when and how academic research on international relations is used within these organizations, as well as the views of practitioners on foreign policy topics. For the final output, we are compiling a dataset analyzing survey results, which we anticipate sharing soon.

We are also looking forward to fielding a new survey in partnership with the Sie Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies this Fall.  This survey will build upon our last collaboration with Korbel, which looked at IR scholars’ perceptions of policy engagement with IR academia.

Finally, we are excited to share some of the recently published papers by TRIP affiliates: Forum: Did “America First” Construct America Irrelevant? and Does Social Science Inform Foreign Policy? Evidence from a Survey of US National Security, Trade, and Development Officials.

Over the coming months, we will be posting original blogs written by our RAs and keeping you updated on TRIP’s latest data! Here is some more information on each member of our student team:

Morgan Doll (she/her) is a senior at William & Mary majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.

“I joined TRIP in the Fall of my sophomore year of college and have not stopped working here since (including over breaks!). I was immediately drawn to TRIP because of its tight-knit environment and the many opportunities for self-led growth in this group. A fun fact about me is that I go to a local grocery market almost every afternoon when home in Richmond to get a large sweet iced tea (can you tell I’m from the South?)”

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/morgan-doll-a15745177/

Maggie Manson (she/they) is a senior at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and minoring in Middle Eastern Studies.

“I began working at TRIP my sophomore year (September 2019) and I am greatly interested in the policy relevancy of IR academia and improving the social impact of research. Outside of TRIP, I am currently conducting an honors thesis about the moderation/radicalization of Islamist parties in Algeria, Egypt, and Turkey after military coups. My main research interests include: the Algerian Civil War, International Security, the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Middle Eastern Politics, Military Defection, and Political Islam.”

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maggie-manson-952514169/

Mary Trimble (she/her) is a junior at William & Mary majoring in French and European Studies.

“I joined TRIP in February 2020 because I was inspired by TRIP’s mission to understand how IR research relates to the policy world. I’ve done a little bit of everything on the TRIP team, from contact collection for surveys and assisting on papers using TRIP data, to writing blog posts and managing the project’s social media accounts. According to meticulously kept Letterboxd records, I have watched almost 900 movies, so in my free time, I’m probably working towards 1000.”

Twitter: @marytrimble21

Angelina Paul (she/her) is a senior at William &Mary studying Government and Economics.

“I joined TRIP because I wanted to collect data and synthesize research that looks at how IR academia is comparable to current world events. Fun Fact: I met Michelle Obama and got to ask her a question and I used to be a competitive rock climber.”

Instagram: _angelinapaul

Facebook: Angelina Paul 

Nathaly Perez (she/her) is a senior at William & Mary, majoring in government and minoring in philosophy.

“I joined TRIP because I have always been curious about the influence IR has on policymaking. Currently, I am working on coding articles in the top IR/political science journals for future use in academic research.”

Shriya Kosuru (she/her) is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in Economics and minoring in Finance.

“I joined TRIP to learn more about how Academia and Policymaking are connected and their role in the decision-making process. It has been great to learn more about IR from an academic and theoretical perspective in order to better understand real-world events. I have worked at TRIP on contact collection, data organization, and writing a blog. Fun Fact: I can speak 5 languages!”

Social media- @shriya0024 (Instagram)

Woodie Tirfie (she/her) is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in Economics and Government.

“I joined TRIP because I am interested in learning about the interconnections between research, academia, and the policy-making process!”

Social media: @Woodie Tirfie  (Instagram)

Minkyong Song (she/her) is a senior at William & Mary, majoring in Computer Science.

“I joined TRIP because I was inspired by how collecting and analyzing data can help people to understand research in IR. I want to apply data science to the research of political science and I look forward to doing so in this role.”

Categories
Fall 2021 RA Posts

Can Neoliberalism Persist? Should it?

By Maggie Manson
August 25, 2021

With the defeat of President Donald Trump in the recent U.S. presidential election and the apparent end of “Trumpism,” a political era and ideology defined by an exclusive conception of nationalism, populism, and conspiracy; one might expect things to return to business as usual under the presidency of Joe Biden. Business as usual refers to the political phenomenon that has shaped U.S. domestic and foreign policy, as well as the greater global economy since the 1970s: neoliberalism. 

“The election of President Trump in 2016 is a key demonstration of the failings of neoliberalism.”

Neoliberalism as an economic concept can be characterized by free-market capitalism, privatization, deregulation, and societal freedom from government intervention. However, American neoliberalism has reached beyond the scope of laissez-faire economic philosophy, as it has been expanded to a paradigmatic lens for academics and policymakers to view international relations. Neoliberalism has thus contributed significantly to the consolidation of a formalized global economic market, as well as U.S. foreign policymaking in the past 50 years. While many see globalization and the dominance of neoliberal ideology as a resounding triumph for not only the U.S. but also for the greater global community, the election of President Trump in 2016 is a key demonstration of the failings of neoliberalism. 

Neoliberalism and the Presidency

The political bases of President Trump and conversely, Senator Bernie Sanders, represent anti-establishment views and appeal to their supporters using rhetoric that rejects the U.S. neoliberal status quo from opposite sides of the political spectrum. Some might argue that Trump’s election and subsequent political ideology are a rebuke of neoliberalism and the current global order, however, a more realistic assessment would be that Trump’s presidency is merely a symptom of neoliberalism. Despite his untraditional rejection of multilateralism, Trump himself is an unabashed neoliberal. While his campaign rhetoric of “America first” and his loyal base, many of whom have been left behind in the era of globalization, represent a reproach of neoliberalism, the policy actions of his administration prove otherwise. Outside of his approach to trade, Trump continually pushed for capitalist, free-market policies on a domestic and international scale, as well as engaged in a spend-heavy, neoliberalist approach to the U.S. military budget throughout the duration of his presidency. 

Consequences of Neoliberalism

Examining the key international consequences/ trends that have emerged as a result of neoliberalism is a good foundation to understanding the pushback against it. This is not an exhaustive list and it is often difficult to distinguish events as the result of neoliberalism or other global phenomena that can be examined through a neoliberalist lens. Additionally, it is equally difficult to look at these results in the context of U.S. foreign policy as this analysis often obscures what is a deliberate policy choice and what is merely an accidental, yet consequential result of neoliberalism. Despite these limitations, my interpretation of the most consequential outcomes of the neoliberal era of U.S. foreign policy is as follows. 

Neoliberalism arguably emerged as the leading U.S. foreign policy paradigm due to a key tenet of neoliberalism: globalization. The connections made through the increased financialization of the global economy, as well as the establishment of a neoliberal world order, laid the groundwork for widespread U.S. intervention following a neoliberal philosophy. 

Following the collapse of the Bretton Woods System, a new political-economic world order emerged that called for the deregulation of global markets through capital control abolition and competitive deregulation. This seismic shift away from embedded liberalism and government intervention in the international monetary system led to unprecedented economic growth by not only more developed countries like the U.S. and U.K. but also by emerging markets such as Japan and China. This hands-off approach resulted in stunning economic growth for many, but ultimately, also increased inequality for others, primarily in the developing world. 

Other significant consequences such as the increased role of private funding in international development, as well as the rise of the contractor state, have emerged as problematic policies from neoliberalism. Through funding mechanisms, the private sector has been able to exert significant influence in the development space, which presents some ethical concerns surrounding these projects. Similar to the issues presented by the privatization of development, the outsourcing of government responsibilities to the private sector has led to the creation of the military-industrial complex. This environment has resulted in a cycle that commodifies military action and violence in which an overseas deployment, that could’ve been prevented through diplomatic action, results in someone receiving a large check. 

The shared theme between these consequences of neoliberalism is the idea that human-focused policy (i.e. military and development) is driven primarily by economic incentives. Why is any of this actually bad for the United States or the world? Well, when human-centric policy is driven by cost-benefit analysis rather than a qualitative assessment of how it will impact lives, people are thus commodified and valued primarily by what they consume or produce. This is especially dangerous in policymaking as it dehumanizes issues that should focus on helping others/ preventing harm, but are now essentially economic issues due to neoliberal thinking.

Another major issue posed by neoliberalism is the global platform/ influence that has been given to anti-democratic countries with spotty human rights records. Neoliberalism, for the most part, has maintained U.S. hegemony on the global stage but has also meant the beginning of the end of U.S. unilateralism. When the U.S. decided to de-commit from the gold standard, thus throwing off the international monetary order consisting of currencies pegged to the USD, it guaranteed that it would no longer be the center of the global monetary system in the future. While the U.S. has, for the most part, retained its hegemonic position throughout the period of neoliberalism, we are now seeing the rise of a multipolar system where rising powers such as China, also exert significant influence over the global monetary relations and even global political attitudes. If China continues on its projected path of economic growth, neoliberalism might contribute to another dramatic realignment of the global order, potentially one with a non-democratic country at the helm. The rise of China as the new economic center of the neoliberal world order would afford the ruling Chinese Communist Party the platform to potentially convey anti-democratic values on a global scale.  

What the Scholars Think

Two TRIP Snap Polls demonstrate scholarly support for neoliberal governance, based on their preferences for certain presidential policies. In Snap Poll 14 (October 2020), scholars were asked “to what extent would U.S. foreign policy differ between Trump and Biden in the following areas?” with categories spanning from international trade to human rights. Results show an estimated 89.3% difference in Biden’s engagement with multilateral organizations, 83.4% difference in management of military alliances, and 66% difference in trade relations. 

High engagement and cooperation with international, multilateral organizations such as the World Trade Organization or the United Nations is a key facet of neoliberalism. Additionally, regional military collaboration, specifically with the North American Treaty Organization, works to uphold U.S. hegemonic military power as a key element of neoliberalism.  In Snap Poll 15, 93.65% of scholars grading Biden’s performance in alliances and international organizations policy between A and B+ with a mean score of 3.56 (falling between an A- and B+). From these findings, is clear that Biden’s multilateral and thus neoliberal approach ranks better with scholars than Trump’s America-first strategy. Based on scholarly approval of these neoliberal approaches, we can infer that scholars are still in favor of neoliberalism’s influence over U.S. foreign policy, especially related to military and international organization engagement.

Additionally, scholars’ predictions of a 66% difference in trade relations signal that scholars assumed Biden would take a less protectionist and more neoliberal approach to trade, in contrast to Trump’s “trade war” and high tariffs. In regards to scholar’s views on how Biden has actually performed after his first 100 days (found in Snap Poll 15), we see that 67.25% of scholars at least somewhat approve of Biden’s handling of international trade (15.67% strongly approve, 51.49% somewhat approve). These results indicate that so far, scholars approve of Biden’s neoliberal approach to international trade, and are not opposed to neoliberalism in the Biden presidency.

In Snap Poll 14, we see that scholars tend to disapprove of Trump (compared to Biden) with 93% of scholars stating that their foreign policy views align more closely with Biden and only 4% of scholars stating that they would vote for Trump. However, the disapproval of Trump does not necessarily signal that Trump and Biden are opposites when it comes to neoliberal governance. Snap Poll 14 also shows mixed responses to the question of: “to what extent would U.S. foreign policy differ between the two in the following areas?” For economic areas such as trade and exchange rates, as well as the use of military force, there is no majority of scholars expecting significant change in Trump vs. Biden’s policies. The assumption that Trump and Biden’s approach to economic governance and military action might be similar, as well as the actions of the previous administration, show Trump’s tendencies to follow the neoliberal approach in some issue areas. 

Here to Stay (for now)

An important question we must ask ourselves now that we have seen the ideological shortcomings of neoliberalism through some of its key consequences, should a new global paradigm replace neoliberalism? With increased pressure from the working class right and anti-capitalist leftists, is it time for the U.S. and other global adherents to rethink the ideological basis by which they govern and approach global relations? Or, despite the outlined consequences, perhaps scholars’ support for Biden’s neoliberal policies indicates that scholarly opinion is more influential than public pushback in terms of crafting foreign policy, signaling the continuance of neoliberalism. 

My analysis of these snap poll findings even in the context of neoliberalism’s problems is that they signal the continuance of neoliberalism with minimal scholarly or mainstream disapproval. However, this does not mean that future U.S. leaders will be able to sustain the neoliberal world order forever. With the potential of a bipolar world order due to the rise of China combined with popular disillusionment of the status quo post-Trump presidency, I believe that a seismic change is eventually inevitable. Arguments against development privatization, the contractor state, and the financialization of the global economy may not be widespread, but leftist political figures such as Bernie Sanders or Ayanna Pressley are beginning to call more attention to the issues with these policies and the downfalls of neoliberalism. On top of that, U.S. voters have already expressed their discontent with globalization in the 2016 election, either by voting for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary or for Trump in the general election. As noteworthy academic Professor John J. Mearsheimer once proclaimed liberal hegemony is a bankrupt strategy,” and it will be interesting to see if an entirely new ideology will eventually emerge in neoliberalism’s place. 

Categories
RA Posts Summer 2021

How Can the U.S. Turn the Global Tide That’s Moving Away From Democracy?

By Angelina Paul

July 16, 2021

International political systems have been evolving over the last five years, intensified by the immense amount of change brought about forcefully by the pandemic over the past year and a half. The debate over whether democracy or authoritarianism is the most advantageous in dealing with new and unprecedented issues has re-emerged in light of the pandemic. Each day, the world is moving further and further away from democracy, and authoritarianism is dominating.

In a recent episode of NPR’s “Consider This,” Ari Shapiro discusses how threats to democracy are growing around the world. China has aggressively heightened its restrictions on free speech by punishing protestors in Hong Kong. Vladamir Putin has tightened state control over the internet in Russia where regulations now resemble the limitations on independent media during the USSR. Jair Bolsonaro was elected in Brazil, a President who has claimed that freedom in Brazil is in the hands of the military and has threatened to use the military as a weapon if he is not reelected (NPR, Morning Edition).

This year, Freedom House found that almost 75% of people in the world live in countries that became less democratic in the past year. They also found that the U.S. is among those countries, with another report concluding that the U.S. has dropped below their “democracy threshold,” (+6) to anocracy (+5) as of December 2020. The shift away from democracy in the U.S. can be attributed to a dysfunctional criminal justice system, growing wealth disparity, and the perception of an unfair electoral process on both sides of the aisle, for opposite reasons. 

The U.S., a beacon of democracy, is falling short. As a nation whose laws and processes are based on fundamentally democratic values, the constant internal criticism of our electoral process and the legal consequences of these critiques is causing a shift away from democracy. As one of the most influential countries in the world, other nations are criticizing the U.S. for having a negative impact on global democracy, due to our poor performance upholding democratic values domestically.   

Are Autocratic Characteristics Spreading in the U.S.? 

The struggle for democracy in the U.S. is a major cause of the increasingly negative  perception of the U.S.’s impact on global democracy. In 2020, 36% of Americans said that there was not enough democracy in the U.S., and this number increased to 45% in 2021 (DPI Report). The reliability of a country’s election system is a key indicator determining its level of democracy. In the US, the public’s perception of the fairness in elections is very low. Lack of confidence in the political system stems from both sides of the political system. On one hand, there is former President Trump spreading messages that the elections were rigged due to voter fraud, backed by many GOP members in Congress. On the other hand, many Americans also believe U.S. elections are unfair due to disenfranchisement of Americans they believe should be eligible to vote. The number of disenfranchised Americans is only growing as policymakers take on voter fraud as their main priority.

Trump’s influence has emboldened lawmakers to form new legislation that tackles election fraud. Although Trump administration election officials confirmed that the 2020 election was the most secure election to date, as of March, 361 bills with new voting limitations in 47 states had been introduced. In Georgia, Texas, and Pennsylvania, state legislatures have proposed laws to restrict mail-in voting, nationwide voter ID laws, and cracking down on late ballots. The goal of these bills is to create more secure elections. The benefit here is that the rare occurrence of voter fraud, of which there have been 31 instances since 2000 in over 1 billion casted ballots, could be eliminated. The cost is that many Americans, especially disproportionately lower income groups and minority voters, would not be able to vote, reversing our country’s trend to include more Americans in the democratic process (ACLU). 

Furthermore, the cost to implement these initiatives outweigh their stated benefits. States must use taxpayer dollars to fund the costs of implementing voter ID laws, which include educating the public, training poll workers, and providing IDs to voters. For example, Texas spent almost two million dollars on voter education after its Voter ID law was passed, and Indiana spent over ten million dollars to produce free ID cards between 2007 and 2010 (ACLU). These policies threaten fundamental democratic rights, such as the right to vote and the right to free and fair elections in the United States. 

The movement towards widespread disenfranchisement is also structural. Gerrymandering laws, or the process of drawing unfair congressional districts for partisan benefit, are predicted to skew election results for the next decade in states such as Texas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Iowa, and North Carolina (Brennan Center). Even with public sentiment favoring Democrats, the process of gerrymandering through reapportionment and redistricting of House seats is enough to cause a change in control of the House even if public opinion did not change at all. 

Gerrymandering is an overwhelmingly unfair and unpopular practice among Democrats and Republicans. It dilutes the influence of the other party, creating “safe districts” where the overwhelming majority is either Democrat or Republican. In 2016, only 17 races out of 435 had a margin of less than 5%, displaying the detrimental effect of gerrymandering on political competition. Essentially,  it has extinguished genuine political competition, disincentivizing leaders to collaborate across party lines. When a Congressional Representative is elected to represent a district that is 80% Democratic or Republican, there is no incentive to compromise with the other party, and gridlock is inevitable. Furthermore, there is little incentive to vote if you are affiliated with the minority party in an uncompetitive district, disempowering and distorting citizens’ votes. Democracy is about fair representation, healthy competition, and bipartisan collaboration. Practicing Gerrymandering has ruined the integrity of a fair and equal democracy in the US. 

Is the U.S.’s Reputation Affected By Its Perception as a Threat to Democracy?

According to global perception, the U.S. has a significant impact on the international shift away from democracy. This past year, the Democracy Perception Index found that 44% of people around the world identified the influence of the United States as a threat to democracy, which ranked higher than the influence of Russia, China, or any other specific country. Overall, respondents from 53 countries agreed that the fifth largest threat to democracy worldwide is America’s influence. The United States’ closest allies, such as Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, see the U.S. as having more of a negative impact on democracy. 

Figure from DPI report

The data amplifies the concern of many countries that the U.S. has a net negative impact on democracy worldwide. According to V-Dem, in 2021, 68% of the global population now lives in autocracies, and we are now in the “third wave of autocratization,” meaning that the third global shift towards the decline of democratic regime attributes is currently taking place. Now, autocratizing nations include 25 countries or 34% of the world’s population. In a 2019 TRIP survey, IR scholars were asked for their predictions for the future, and 57% of the respondents expected there to be fewer democracies in the next five years.

Figure from Future of the International Order Survey

Since the Cold War, the United States has always served as a role model for democracy. Our struggles to maintain the key aspects of democracy within our own country has had a snowball effect on the rest of the world. Not only does the U.S.’s domestic strife affect worldwide democratization, but it may be impacting our standing and respect with other countries on the global political stage. 

The American public agrees that it is important to have good standing abroad, with 87% of U.S. adults surveyed agreed that respect for the U.S. abroad is vital and 95% of international relations scholars also answering that it is important that the U.S. is respected. There is even bipartisan agreement that the U.S. needs to be respected abroad, with only an 8% gap between Democrat and Republican respondents, and the findings indicated that regardless of partisan affiliation, respondents agree that the U.S. is less respected abroad than it was in the past. 

Figure from Pew Research Center

However, TRIP data shows IR scholars who identify as Republican are 14% less likely than Democrat-affiliated scholars to say America’s standing on the international stage is on the rise. Instead, they believe that the U.S.’s reputation has not changed in the post-Trump era. This is not a new trend. Pew Research notes that partisan-affiliates are more likely to believe the U.S. standing abroad is improving under an administration where the president is from their party.

Figure data from TRIP Snap Poll 14

DPI reported that in 2021, there was a positive turn in favor of the U.S.’s influence on democracy. Many respondents who had previously seen the U.S. as a massive threat to democracy had changed their opinions. A 20% increase of German respondents’ answered that the U.S. has a net positive effect. This positive turn on the data in 2021 “of the US’s global influence on democracy has increased significantly around the world since the Spring of 2020, from a net opinion of +6 to a net opinion of +14,” (DPI Report). The report asserts that this positive increase in 2021 can be attributed to the election of President Biden. 

Is the Biden Administration Enough to Reverse the Anti-Democratic Wave?

Many IR scholars attribute the increase to the “Biden effect.” Since the 2020 election, the U.S. has had a positive influence on democracy worldwide, as many countries such as Germany and China see President Biden as a bigger champion of democracy than former President Trump. The perception of the U.S. as a positive influence on democracy is tied to our standing abroad, especially with our allies. A 2020 TRIP snap poll found that IR scholars strongly agree, with over 92% responding that foreign governments would be more willing to cooperate with the United States under a Biden administration than under a Trump administration.

Although experts agree that America’s global reputation is on the upswing after the 2020 election, the aftermath of the pandemic is still unfolding in many countries, and in others the pandemic is still in full swing. V-Dem predicts that the pandemic will have direct effects on global levels of liberal democracy in the long-term, with the consequences for worldwide democracy extending into the next decade. 

The question now is whether the “Biden effect” alone is strong enough to increase democracy worldwide. It’s still uncertain how much Biden can do to shift the world away from autocracy, and the Biden administration is receiving not much pressure from the American public to prioritize promoting democracy abroad. Pew Research reported that only 20 percent of American adults cited “promoting democracies abroad” in other nations as a top foreign policy goal, ranking last in a group of 20 foreign policy issues. 

President Biden has acknowledged the decreasing confidence in democracy worldwide. He expressed at the Munich Security Conference that because the U.S. is extremely influential abroad, we need to be a role model for other countries. Thus, the Biden administration must fix the aspects of democracy under attack in our own nation, such as addressing the increasing disenfranchisement of Americans and political extremism. In order to persuade other countries that democracy works, we must set a good example by first fixing our domestic problems, demonstrating to other nations that democracy is the best way forward. 

Categories
Fall 2020 RA Posts

Foreign Interference in Elections: What Can Be Done?

By Morgan Doll
December 18, 2020

Foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election was on many people’s minds after what happened in 2016. Just weeks before the election, news surfaced that Iranian operatives were threatening votes in Alaska and Florida that “they’d better vote for President Trump or else.” A few days later, a Russian hacking group was alleged of conducting cyberattacks on U.S. government infrastructure where they broke into at least two counties’ government servers accessing voter data. Reports show that efforts by foreign adversaries are unlikely to have affected the actual count of votes, but they were able to create doubt about the conduct of the election and spread false information to influence voters.

Foreign interference in U.S. elections is nothing new to our history. France historically sought to influence American presidential elections by appealing to the American people against the Federalists during the 1700s. In 1940, Great Britain wanted the United States to join the war to help boost their odds of winning. Since FDR was more supportive of the war effort than his opponent, British agents spread propaganda about FDR’s opponent to ensure a pro-war win. Interference is not just an issue in the United States; it is prevalent throughout the Western world, and globalization plays a huge role. As our world becomes more interconnected, foreign actors have more of an incentive to have the right candidate for them in office. For example, if one candidate supports trade policies that would favor certain countries, then those countries would have an incentive to elect the candidate that would help them economically. But the United States is no victim either. The U.S. government is notorious for interfering in Latin American elections to prevent left-leaning governments from coming to power.

Given the international-domestic nexus of foreign interference, how should the United States best protect their elections and ensure that the American public is confident in the current election system?

https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/fef46a4c-0bae-450a-968a-ae9d1a33df74

Where to start to protect our elections

The act of election interference defies the main principle of international law that countries must “respect the political independence and socio-economic and cultural integrity of every state.” NATO has clear rules on election interference stating that “cyberattacks and election interference will be regarded as a violation of the Article 5 mutual defense provision,” which encourages NATO allies to respond collectively against an attack on one of their members. Additionally, because cybersecurity is a crucial aspect of election interference and international security today, many see the issue primarily as an international one that needs to be met with an international response. 

"President Trump Attends the NATO Plenary Session" by The White House is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/Countries often respond to the threat of election interference through international measures such as economic sanctions, but many countries have also responded domestically by creating agencies within the country to combat foreign election interference and outlawing campaign donations from foreigners. In response to the spike of Russian active measures in the 2016 election, President Trump signed an executive order in 2018 that would place sanctions on any foreign entities proven to interfere in U.S. elections.  Other countries such as Australia, France, Japan, and Canada decided to limit or prevent foreign donations to specific parties and candidates. Sweden created a government agency to increase awareness surrounding threats of misinformation, and made a manual for the public to combat influential activities by foreign powers. The United States, similarly, has worked to toughen America’s election infrastructure, and the FBI along with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have kept up a drumbeat of regular bulletins about what they call the latest intelligence about prospective election cyberthreats. It seems as though these measures have been somewhat effective, considering how quickly the intelligence community was able to catch the interference by Iran and Russia before the election.

What do IR scholars think?

In Snap Poll XIV, we polled I.R. scholars to see how a handful of U.S. policies would affect the probability of interference by foreign governments in future U.S. elections. 79% of scholars said that enhanced cybersecurity measures for election infrastructure and enhanced counterintelligence efforts would decrease the probability of interference. 70% of scholars said that enhanced election finance laws would decrease the probability of interference. 67% of scholars said that deterrent threats of diplomatic isolation would have no effect, while 47% of scholars believe that deterrent threats of retaliatory economic sanctions would have no effect. The least effective measure chosen by scholars was deterrent threats of retaliatory military force, as 61% said there would be no effect and 14% said this would increase the probability of interference. 

https://trip.wm.edu/Snap_Poll_14_Report_graphs_compressed.pdfFrom these findings, we can see that scholars believe domestic leaning, defensive policies, like election finance laws, infrastructure, and counterintelligence efforts would be more effective than international leaning, retaliatory policies, like threatening cyberattacks, military force, and economic sanctions. Thus, while foreign election interference may seem like a primarily international issue, a combination of domestic policies and international cooperation might best combat this issue in future elections.

An anonymous essayist in the late 18th century who signed his name as “National Pride” wrote, “if the choice of a President of the United States is to depend on any Act of a foreign nation, farewell to your liberties and independence.” Foreign interference in elections will only become a bigger issue as globalization increases and technology advances, so countries should begin building their defenses now, and world powers like the United States should be punished for interfering in smaller countries. 

 "Barack Obama and Joe Biden on Election Day – November 6th” by Barack Obama is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Morgan Doll is a junior at the College of William and Mary majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She started working as a Research Assistant for TRIP in September 2019. On campus, Morgan is a member of Camp Kesem William & Mary and Kappa Alpha Theta Women’s Fraternity. Her interests include human and civil rights, law, and decision making. Skills: Foreign Language (Spanish)

Categories
Fall 2020 RA Posts

It Matters What Scholars Think (and Why They Think It)

By Aidan Donovan
November 17, 2020

Washington Post and Foreign Policy have published findings from TRIP surveys about presidential elections, impeachment, and American foreign policy strategy. Consensus support for a particular position among international relations (IR) scholars might be a strong rationale for policy action. We know that policymakers demand and utilize academic work under certain conditions. On the supply side, there is a push within the academy to increase the rewards for producing policy-relevant research. It matters what scholars think about international issues. The challenge is that the reasoning behind consensus positions within the academy is often masked by political differences and the format of traditional survey research.

Scholarly research is useful to policymakers when the underlying logic is coherent and when policy prescriptions are clear. Policy relevance is stronger when many scholars have similar scholarly suggestions. In areas where there is a consensus among scholars, we should attempt to understand the underlying reason(s) for scholarly agreement. Understanding the logic of their positions, and whether this is consistent among scholars, is just as important as the conclusion.

For example, 83 percent of scholars opposed President Trump’s decision to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia. Some scholars likely believe that the treaty is an effective security tool, while others may view the treaty as ineffective (given alleged non-compliance) but view the departure as an unnecessary provocation.  Scholars’ consensus opposition is clear, but the survey does not provide information on how each of the scholars reached this conclusion. Policymakers can also learn from scholars on topics where there is not a consensus, such as the effectiveness of economic sanctions. It would be worthwhile to know if scholars consider the same or different factors in evaluating the effectiveness of economic sanctions.

It is hard to learn from IR scholars without understanding why they think the way they do.

Learning from scholars can be challenging because scholars are overwhelmingly liberal, compared to a more divided electorate and policy community. In our 2017 Snap Poll, only 11 percent of scholars identified as conservative on economic or social issues. Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of international relations scholars self-identify as both economically and socially liberal. Survey questions and interpretations should reflect the complex relationship between ideology and expertise.

Scholarly credibility to speak on important issues needs to be accompanied by a coherent rationale for their consensus. On many issues, it is hard to know if the IR consensus is rooted in expert evaluation or political preferences. We asked scholars in 2017 whether President Trump’s unpredictable behavior has been an effective negotiation tactic, as he suggested in the campaign. Just 8 percent of liberal scholars say this has been effective, yet 45 percent of conservative scholars say it has been an effective negotiation tactic. There is both some theoretical support for projecting unpredictability or irrationality and a lot of skepticism from prominent scholars such as Stephen Walt. However, we are unable to determine whether theory and evidence, or politics, explains conservative scholars’ more favorable perspective on President Trump’s international negotiations.

“As a bargaining technique, the madman theory has a certain logical coherence to it … but the key lesson is that there is little or no evidence that the madman theory of diplomacy actually works” — Stephen Walt

The effect of politics on scholarly attitudes is exemplified by questions on the U.S. foreign aid budget. We asked in Snap Poll X (2017) whether the U.S. is spending too little, too much, or the right amount on foreign aid. The question did not mention any politicians by name, so respondents are more likely to report their genuine views on U.S. foreign aid. IR scholars overwhelmingly support greater spending on Aid. Overall, 82 percent of scholars thought the U.S. was spending too little and just 4 percent thought the U.S. was spending too much. Just 2 percent of liberal scholars and 16 percent of conservative scholars thought the U.S. should spend less on foreign aid. IR scholars supported increasing aid and opposed reducing aid regardless of political ideology. 

Do you think the U.S. is now spending too little, about the right amount, or too much on foreign aid? (October/November 2017)

When we ask scholars to evaluate Trump’s performance specifically, just 3 percent of IR scholars report that he has done as well or better than Obama on “development and foreign aid” even though the U.S. aid budget as a whole has been consistent across administrations. The president’s rhetoric on aid and development may be somewhat significant in aid effectiveness, but the single biggest difference is that we are now asking about Trump (an especially unpopular figure among scholars) specifically. The average aid budget during Obama’s second term was $49.5 billion. The average aid budget from Trump’s first two years in office was just three percent lower at $48 billion. Aggregate aid has essentially been steady despite President Trump’s isolationist rhetoric. We asked in September 2020 whether Trump has done as well as or better than Obama on a list of issues, including “development and foreign aid.” Just three percent of scholars reported that Trump has even been equally as strong as Obama on this issue. Not a single self-reported Democrat answered affirmatively, and just 6 percent of Independents and 16 percent of Republicans did as well. A partisan-proof result is expected since Republican scholars are nearly evenly split between supporting Biden and Trump in the upcoming general election. The most likely explanation for these diverging results is that scholars considered their negative opinion of President Trump in evaluating his performance on foreign aid. If we asked the general 2017 question on the US foreign aid budget, we would likely find that substantive attitudes on aid have not changed much in three years.

Can we encourage evidence-driven guidance from scholars? 

Providing value-neutral questions and response options can encourage more substantive, and less political responses. In Snap Poll XI (2018), we asked scholars if the powers of the U.S. president have increased under President Trump, compared to the three previous presidents. This is potentially value neutral because a strong executive is not necessarily good, bad, liberal, or conservative. Liberal scholars were just slightly more likely than conservative scholars to answer that the president’s powers had increased under President Trump. Among conservative scholars, 5 percent say presidential power increased a lot and 15 percent say it increased somewhat. Among liberal scholars, 7 percent say presidential power increased a lot and 26 percent say it increased somewhat. 

Have the powers of the U.S. president under President Trump increased a lot / somewhatremained the same, or decreased a lot / somewhat compared to the previous three administrations?

The poll also asked scholars if they thought President Trump overstepped the foreign policy powers of the Office of the President. While liberal scholars were only slightly more likely than conservative scholars to say that President Trump increased the power of the president, liberal scholars were overwhelmingly more likely to say that he overstepped his foreign policy powers. Just 13 percent of conservative scholars said President Trump overstepped his foreign policy powers, compared to 47 percent of liberal scholars. Scholars seem to be capable of putting aside their political values at times, but the question asked makes their political perspective more or less relevant to their responses. 

It may be reasonable to assume that substantive knowledge and experience does, on average, make scholars more liberal. However, liberal substantially outnumber conservatives in a variety of fields. At least 80 percent of academics in english, history, and psychology are liberal, suggesting that self-selection may explain IR scholars’ liberalism as much as their subject-matter expertise. Conservative scholars will therefore be in the minority among academics on most political topics. Scholars as a whole could benefit from investigating whether observed divides are substantive or political when conservative scholars are in clear disagreement with the rest of the IR academy.

TRIP surveys of scholars, journalists, and think-tankers strive to gather expert opinions rather than politically-driven responses. Therefore, our survey questions must be designed in a way that intentionally attacks the issue of ambiguity in survey interpretation. Questions must be carefully worded to cue political beliefs and reactions only when intended. In our most recent snap poll, we asked scholars the following question: “Regardless of the substance of their foreign policy agendas, how effectively you believe each candidate would be in achieving his respective foreign policy goals over the next four years.” The phrase “regardless of the substance of their foreign policy agendas” reminds respondents to take each candidate’s goals as a given, which should produce more substantive responses regarding the candidate’s foreign policy capabilities. 

Additionally, multiple-choice questions could be supplemented with open-ended questions requiring explanations allowing researchers to understand the underlying reasoning to their scholarly advice. Scholars are roughly split between thinking the threat of economic sanctions would decrease or have no effect on the probability of election interference from other countries. We know that scholars are also split on the effectiveness of sanctions overall. Asking for an explanation could elucidate if those the overall wariness toward sanctions, or something specific to election interference, is driving skepticism of the efficacy of using sanctions to discourage election interference. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business Economic Experts Panel is a useful guide. The survey provides on-the-record respondents the opportunity to explain their answers and identify their confidence level and the school tracks responses over time to allow for track-record evaluation. This methodology incentivizes substantive and thoughtful response and discourages and identifies unsound beliefs. 

Expert surveys are a useful way to synthesize the research and impact within peer-review academic literature and to highlight analysis that may be useful to policymakers and voters. The success of survey responses in fulfilling this role is directly related to the proportion of each response that is a product of subject matter expertise and experience (instead of personal beliefs and ideology). TRIP surveys recognize the importance of careful wording and interpretation and the majority of IR scholars undoubtedly seek to provide impartial responses. Nonetheless, the academy could benefit from surveys that provide stronger incentives for careful reflection and substantive response. Policymakers need to be careful in using the results of expert surveys as justification for action in cases where the underlying logic is not clear. If scholars come to similar conclusions based on different reasoning, policymakers need to understand the differences and how each might apply to the present (real-world) situation. Surveys like TRIP can encourage policy relevance in the academy by incentivizing substantive and sufficiently-detailed responses that are directly useful to policymakers and politically-active citizens. 

Aidan Donovan is a senior at the College of William and Mary, majoring in Economics and Government. He has worked as a Research Assistant for TRIP since February of 2019. His interests include law and economic policy, and he is particularly interested in understanding how scholars think and communicate with policymakers and the public.