Major grant success: “Courts Under Pressure: How Social Media Change Political Discourse About the Rule of Law in Modern Democracies” to be funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung

The Volkswagen Foundation has announced that a joint grant application I submitted together with my colleagues Christoph Hönnige (Leibniz University Hannover) and Dominic Nyhuis (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) in response to its call for projects on the “Digital Society” has been approved for funding.

Our project “Courts Under Pressure: How Social Media Change Political Discourse About the Rule of Law in Modern Democracies” will investigate the ways in which social media has changed discussions about and public attacks on Constitutional and Supreme Courts in Germany, the UK, Estonia and Poland over the last 10 years. Overall, our project will receive a total of €507.800 and will run for three years. It is one of only two projects to be based at Leibniz University Hannover as part of this funding line.

You can find a brief project description below:

“Courts Under Pressure: How Social Media Change Political Discourse About the Rule of Law in Modern Democracies”
Social media is fundamentally changing the nature of political discourse in modern democracies by allowing political actors to circumvent media gatekeepers. Especially right-wing populists have benefited from the changing media landscape. Given their disdain for an independent judiciary, social media has allowed populists to attack high courts in a way that was inconceivable under the conventional model of journalistic gatekeeping. On a theoretical level, our project highlights the potentially detrimental effects of elite discourses on social media, while focusing on high courts as a key pillar of liberal democracy. Showing how social media are abused to undermine the rule of law is particularly worrisome for new democracies where independent judiciaries are viewed as a last line of defence against authoritarian tendencies. The project compares elite discourses on high courts in Germany, the UK, Poland and Estonia over a ten-year period by analyzing print media content and social media use by political actors. The project makes use of large-scale web data collection and automated text analysis to systematically trace discourses on the rule of law. Based on the results, the project will seek to raise awareness among journalists about the challenges associated with an overreliance on social media in their reporting.

Principal Investigators
Prof. Dr. Christoph Hönnige, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Institut für Politikwissenschaft
Dr. Philipp Köker, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Institut für Politikwissenschaft
Prof. Dr. Dominic Nyhuis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill




VW Stiftung / MWK Niedersachsen (Die Digitale Gesellschaft)

Visibility bias in news reporting about Brexit – New publication in Political Research Exchange

A new article co-authored with Christoph Hönnige, Dominic Nyhuis, Philipp Meyer and Susumu Shikano has been published in Political Research Exchange. In it, we in investigate the visibility of British MPs in newspaper reporting on Brexit between July 2017 and March 2019. You can find the abstract below:

Dominating the debate: visibility bias and mentions of British MPs in newspaper reporting on Brexit

Brexit has been the most important issue in British politics in recent years. Whereas extra-parliamentary actors dominated the run-up to the 2016 referendum, the issue moved back to Parliament after the vote. This paper analyses newspaper reporting on Brexit in major British outlets during the post-referendum phase from July 2017 to March 2019. We study the visibility of Members of Parliament to assess whether the debate was balanced between parties and individual MPs relative to their vote and seat share. We conduct an automated text analysis of 58,247 online and offline newspaper articles covering the ideological spectrum from left to right, and from pro-Brexit to anti-Brexit. Our main findings are: (1) Conservative politicians dominated the debate, and (2) organized pro-Brexit MP pressure groups such as ‘Leave Means Leave’ were disproportionally more visible. This means that reporting was biased towards Conservative MPs and within the Conservative Party towards supporters of a hard Brexit. These findings are remarkably stable across different types of newspapers. The results challenge previous analyses that found a higher degree of balance in reporting but corroborate recent studies on the tonality of Brexit reporting that found a pro-Brexit bias.

You can read the full article here (open access):

Politics Society Teaching Prize for “Best Lecture” 2019

Last week, I received the teaching prize for “Best Lecture 2019” for my “Introduction to Comparative Politics” lecture. The prize is awarded annually by the Politics Society at the Political Science Department of Leibniz University Hannover in the categories “Best Seminar” and “Best Lecture”. I am very grateful for the award (especially given that my lecture took place Fridays at 8am…) and look forward to ‘defending’ it next year.

Review of Chaisty/Cheeseman/Power “Coalititional Presidentialism in Comparative Perspective” now published in Europe-Asia Studies

My review of the book “Coalitional Presidentialism in Comparative Perspective. Minority Presidents in Mulitparty Systems” by Paul Chaisty, Nic Cheeseman and Timothy J. Power has now been published in Europe-Asia Studies.

In my view, the book presents a major leap forward in research on coalitional presidentialism and comparative studies of presidential politics alike. It presents an excellent and insightful analysis based on an unrivalled breadth and depth of quantitative and qualitative data. As the first cross-regional analysis of coalitional presidentialism to date this book will undoubtedly serve as inspiration and benchmark for future studies of this intriguing phenomenon.

Read the full review here (behind paywall):

A Green Open Access Version will be available from the institutional repository of Leibniz University after the embargo period.

Why dictators veto: Presidential vetoes in Kazakhstan and Russia – New publication in Democratization

A new article of mine has just been published in Democratization. In it, I investigate the question why authoritarian presidents still (need to) use their legislative veto power. You can find the abstract below

Why dictators veto: legislation, legitimation and control in Kazakhstan and Russia

Why do authoritarian presidents still use their legislative power? Although recent studies have argued that authoritarian legislatures are more than “rubberstamps” and can serve as arenas for elite bargaining over policy, there is no evidence that legislators would pass bills that go against presidential preferences. This article investigates this apparent paradox and proposes a theoretical framework to explain presidential activism in authoritarian regimes. It argues that any bills that contravene constraints on policy-making set by the president should generally be stopped or amended by other actors loyal to the regime. Thus, presidents will rather use their veto (1) to protect the regime’s output legitimacy and stability, and/or (2) to reinforce their power vis-à-vis other actors. The argument is tested using two case studies of veto use in Kazakhstan and Russia over the last 10 years. The analysis supports the propositions of the theoretical framework and furthermore highlights the potential use of vetoes as a means of distraction, particularly in relation to international audiences. The article extends research on presidential veto power to authoritarian regimes and its findings contribute to the growing literature on the activities of authoritarian legislatures.

Read the full article here (behind paywall):

A Green Open Access Version will be available from the institutional repository of Leibniz University after the embargo period.