Opportunism as the Legacy of Political Violence

Slides can be found here.

Full-text working paper can be found here.

What is the legacy of political violence? Previous studies render the contradictory evidence of whether the victims of political violence and their predecessors would punish the former authoritarian party by voting after the democratization. This article suggests that the perceived political opportunity structure would moderate the effect of political violence on the vote choice and political participation after decades. The victims and their predecessors will punish the former authoritarian party only if their district is not dominated by it. If it is, they would instead vote for the former authoritarian party. This hypothesis is supported by a newly published Taiwan Holocaust Data that listed 13,206 victims of political violence during the martial law period in Taiwan (1949-1987). Whether the former authoritarian party KMT dominates in the county moderates the correlation between the percentage of victims before and KMT’s voteshare in the local elections after the democratization in 1987. Additional evidence is found on the reanalysis of a Crimea Tatars cross-generational survey. The result provides important implications for the social coordination, preference falsification, and transitional justice.

My dissertation work on the MonkeyCage



Happy National Toasted Marshmallow Day! This is what a marshmallow can tell us about politics.

 August 30

In the late 1960s, the psychologist Walter Mischel introduced the famous marshmallow test. Children were offered the choice between one smaller reward — in the most famous version of the experiment, a marshmallow — or two rewards if they could wait 15 minutes. In the meantime, the experimenter left the child alone in the room to be tempted.

This study captures the idea of time-discounting — or how people weigh outcomes at different points in time. Some people are future-oriented while others value what they can get immediately. People’s orientation toward time-discounting has consequences: In Mischel’s research, the ability to wait for a future reward was related to SAT scores, drug useweight control and academic performance.

Time-discounting is relevant to politics too. Indeed, this has been evident for a long time. In 1835, for example, the political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “One of the characteristics of democratic times is that all men have a taste for easy successes and immediate pleasures. … Men do not want to think beyond tomorrow.”

Newer research has born out Tocqueville’s emphasis on this characteristic. Take voter turnout. The cost of voting is immediate: registering to vote, taking time off work, finding transportation to the polls and perhaps waiting in a long line. However, many benefits of voting are distant. It will often take months, if not years, for the winning candidates to implement the policies that their supporters prefer — and those efforts could easily fail entirely.

In short, voters who care more about the future — those who would, in essence, wait for the larger reward rather than just eat the marshmallow in front of them — should be much likely to vote. And that is exactly what at least one study of undergraduate students has found (although even future-oriented voters may not be more likely to vote if they cynically believe that all candidates are the same).

Future-oriented voters are different in other ways as well. They are more likely to evaluate how politicians have handled the economy based on the overall national economy rather than their own personal financial circumstances. My ongoing research in Taiwan and Ukraine finds that they are also more likely to join peaceful demonstrations and fight against potential military invasion.

Looking across countries, I also find that when a country’s population is more future-oriented, the country tends to have a stronger democracy and less corruption.

Thus, programs that increase self-control and future orientation may have an indirect political impact. For example, the political scientist John Holbein has found that an elementary school’s self-control training program in 1991-1993 increased students’ turnout rate in 2004-2012 by 11 percentage points. Self-control can arise in other ways as well. Recent studies find that educationreligion and group identity may increase future orientation.

In short, just as the perfectly toasted marshmallow requires the patience to wait in front of the camp fire, so too might the healthy functioning of democracy.

Austin Horng-En Wang is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Duke University. You can follow him on Twitter at @wearytolove.

Gerrymandering yourself

In 2018, both North Carolina and Taiwan will redraw its congressional districts. To see how redistrict may impact on the election result, I use R and Shiny to create an interactive map for Hsinchu county in Taiwan. This county will be separated into two districts in 2018, but currently the incumbent party – the pan-Green camp, can hardly win a seat here. Therefore, the pan-Green camp may be motivated to draw the district line so that at least one of the district in Hsinchu will be competitive. Can they succeed?

Check it out here!

Patience and Turnout? Not so simple

“Patience, Turnout, and Political Opportunity Structure” Paper presented at the 2017 Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference, April 6-8, Chicago.  (Last Update: April. 14, 2017) Slides for Duke PolSci Presentation 0427 

Why do people vote? A rational voter must overcome her immediate cost of voting, while the expected policy outcome will not be realized in the near future. Indeed, recent studies find a positive correlation between turnout and patience, an important personality trait which is pivotal to a wide range of behaviors. However, I argue that the effect of patience on turnout should be contingent on the political opportunity structure. Patience would increase turnout only if the voter perceived that the future policy outcome would be different depending on the election result. This hypothesis is supported by the cross-sectional 2014 Comparative Congressional Election Survey. Furthermore, a survey experiment through Amazon MTurk including a newly-proposed treatment was implemented to manipulate the level of patience and examine the causal relationship between patience and turnout. The experimental result shows that a voter who was treated to increase her patience will instead decrease the voting intention if she sees no difference between the two major parties, but increase if the perceived ideological difference is large enough. Hence, patience is a political virtue not simply because it increases turnout, but because it increases people’s responsiveness to the political opportunity structure.