The Spring 2016 Conflict Consortium’s Virtual Workshop kicked off last week with a discussion of Mary Beth Altier‘s paper “Voting for Violence: Explaining Support for Paramilitary Parties at the Polls.” Michael E. Allison, Johanna Birnir, Bridgett Coggins and Reyko Huang joined Christian and Will to offer feedback. You can watch it here.
Altier has an interesting project on the electoral support garnered by political parties with widely known ties to paramilitary organizations, in democracies. She is completing a book length manuscript that includes both descriptive-historical and statistical analyses from a few cases, but in the effort we discussed she focuses exclusively on Sinn Fein’s support in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. Some of our discussion focused on what she might add from the larger study, but of course, there is the page limit issue of an article length ms. The group didn’t produce any “general rules” to address this common dilemma, but we did produce a number of different suggestions, and hopefully some of those will prove useful in revision.
Altier’s argument, in a nutshell, is that electoral support if primarily a function of personal security: paramiliatries (or paras) thrive in democracies when the state fails to establish/enforce its monopoly claim on the legitimate exercise of coercion. That failure, in effect, creates space for paras to provide people with such security, and a political party with ties to provision of that fundamental state service can reap the benefits come elections (assuming they are reasonably free, such that voters can anticipate anonymity when they cast their ballot). In a sense, if political authorities cannot provide safety, then whoever does can be viewed as well as treated as a protector/authority.
Much of our discussion focused on the empirics. As in all projects, Altier makes a handful of pragmatic decisions to permit the study to move forward, despite standard challenges one of more specific choice. The panel did a good job identifying several, and Altier had given previous consideration to each. Aside from suggestions to clarify a number of issues, we were able to identify a couple of opportunities for an alternative approach (and, inevitably, others that would require additional research beyond the scope of her present effort). The strongest push back came against an initial cross-sectional analysis that Birnir argued simply could not produce the relevant inference. She pressed Altier to cut that in favor of a pair of first-differences, fixed country-year analyses that do permit the inference she desires. These analyses support her hypothesis that state killing of Catholic civilians impacts Sinn Fein support, whereas other perpetrator-victim dyads do not.
One other suggestion that garnered wide support was to cut a lengthy descriptive-historical discussion and intersperse the vignettes contained therein in both the introduction and development of the theory. We also encouraged her to address scope conditions given that the small size of Northern Ireland (where, at the district level, dense networking likely produces no more than two degrees of separation between a victim of state killing and a vote) differs considerably from especially Latin American countries where paramilitaries operate within democracies.
Overall the paper was rich in terms of theoretical as well as methodological innovations and the discussion was useful for refining the study as well as providing a direction for the project along with the field.
@engagedscholar & @WilHMoo