Bio & Blog

The dissertation copy is in!


This dissertation examines democratic backsliding using a coalitional approach. It takes as its analytical focus the pro- or anti-democratic attitudes of elites and mass-constituencies across five chapters. The first chapter provides the theoretical framework for the coalitional approach, summarizes the literature on democratic backsliding, and outlines the contributions of the four chapters. The second chapter studies the class dynamics of regime change using all available survey data covering 137 countries. It finds that the democratic attitudes of economic elites have the strongest impact on future within-country changes in the level of democracy. The third chapter shifts to a paradigmatic case of democratic backsliding, Turkey, and analyzes the social and economic explanations for the formation of a cross-class authoritarian coalition. It finds evidence that parties on the right—which have been the main actors responsible for democratic backsliding in the past two decades—bring together a coalition of economic elites and nationalist social groups. The former get their preferred economic policy and the latter are paid in cultural concessions. The fourth chapter uses sentiment analysis to evaluate the attitudes and behavior of political elites. Specifically, it finds that Erdogan’s presidential advisors are the most authoritarian actors within Turkey’s ruling party and appear to be responding to their institutional incentives by doubling down on loyalty to Erdogan. These advisors form a distinct locus of power that aids Erdogan in sidelining institutions that can enforce horizontal accountability. The fifth chapter combines sentiment and network analysis to investigate why over 100 elites left the AKP despite its continuing dominance. It finds that members within the ruling party who demonstrate a commitment to institutional democracy are more likely to push back against Erdogan’s personalization of political power.

Each chapter, therefore, makes a substantive, standalone contribution to our understanding of democratic backsliding. This dissertation’s contributions also include developing a coalitional approach that identifies how an interaction between elite, mass, and institutional factors can more fully explain the path backsliding takes. In addition, this research innovates new methodological approaches for observing elites’ attitudes and networks.

I'll Insist everyone call me dr. schafer 🙃

Completed the phD!

I am extremely proud and excited to announce that I am now a Doctor of Political Science!

I have many people to thank for helping me get here, but most of all is my wife, Özden. She has been incredibly patient and supportive during the bizarre process of writing a dissertation. I know she's as relieved as I am that this stage is completed.

Just as important, I can now devote my full attention to the years ahead. I'm very excited to be in Budapest to work with the project "Neo-Authoritarianisms in Europe and the Liberal Democratic Response." This project is hosted by the Central European University and the Democracy Institute. My own research connects directly with the goals of this project. For one, this project investigates the rise of authoritarianism and far right ideologies. Second, the project centers the use of text-analysis methods to operationalize and measure ideology and authoritarian attitudes.

Equally exciting, I'll be joining the faculty at Mississippi State University in the Fall of 2024. I had a wonderful time visiting the campus earlier this year, and very much look forward to serving a diverse student body at a vibrant public institution.

Does Online Intimidation by Political Elites Push Journalists to Self-Censor? 

does online intimidation by political elites push journalists to self-censor, dean schafer, political science research, APSA, network analysis, CUNY Graduate Center, The City University of New York

This stream of research uses social media data to measure self-censorship by journalists in semi-authoritarian regimes. I'll be presenting this working paper in the fall at APSA.

When political elites make journalists the target of their opprobrium on social media, do journalists respond by self-censoring? Such online acts of intimidation might go unnoticed by democracy watchdogs because they do not directly result in jail or violence, even if they have a chilling effect on journalists’ reporting unfavorable news about politicians. In this way, online intimidation serves as a more subtle mechanism for dampening diagonal accountability and maintaining competitive authoritarian regimes.

This article tests the repressive effect of intimidation by examining tens of thousands of interactions between government officials and journalists in a competitive authoritarian regime, Turkey. I combine network analysis with structural topic modeling of longitudinal social media data to see whether journalists—after receiving negative attention from political elites—engage less frequently on social media, and whether they change the topics they focus on. I expect that many Turkish journalists will indeed self-censor, but that those who reside outside of Turkey will not, suggesting that online intimidation has a repressive effect when it credibly signals the real possibility of physical repercussions.

CPW Workshop - 02/09/2023

The Comparative Politics Workshop starts its semester tomorrow with my paper on why elites leave dominant parties in competitive authoritarian regimes. 

This work focuses on a wave of elite defections from the ruling AKP in Turkey in 2019 and 2020. I use social media data to measure elites' political networks and their attitudes on three dimensions: media freedom, populism, and the economy. I find that elites' motivations for defecting are primarily selfish. They are unhappy about the weakening of institutions such as parliament and party committees that facilitate their access to power. They do not, however, appear to be concerned about more liberal democratic principles like media freedom.

Comparative politics workshop (CPW) - Spring 2023

Proud to have been a part of the Comparative Politics Workshop during my time as a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center.

This semester I present a draft of my work on the reasons why elites defect from a dominant party. I always look forward to the close reading that work shoppers give the manuscript (they really read it and give tough but constructive feedback!). 

We have a few non-CUNY people coming in, including Sarah Daly and Niloufer Siddiqui. We also will enjoy presentations from CPW old schoolers like Sarah Shah. Really looking forward to this semester! 

Comparative Politics Workshop, CPW, CUNY, City University of New York, Political Science, Dean Schafer

Jelly fish stings: 0/10, would not recommend

My wife and I took a much-deserved trip to Jamaica last week, during the holiday break. Lovely country! Sunsets on the West Side cliffs were perfect. One fun thing to do on that side of the island is to get outfitted with some snorkel gear and explore the underwater life and caves. You can see sting rays, puffer fish, and colorful schools. There are also, especially in the early morning, a number of seemingly harmless, rather small, jelly fish. Whatever you do, do not accidentally smack one with your elbow. It is a shocking feeling, and you won't be able to do much for the next couple hours!

dean schafer at the american political science association annual conference

APSA 2022

This year at the American Political Science Annual Conference I presented a dataset that I'm putting together on elite defections in competitive authoritarian regimes. This work is for a manuscript explaining why party elites defect from dominant parties. As you can see, it's quite large (761 political elites). It's manageable for one person, but it could definitely be a larger project. Variables in the dataset measure several ideological dimensions and are designed to test the importance of ideology for explaining elite defections. 

I was very honored to receive the EITM (Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models) Certification Scholarship. This summer at ICPSR I studied Network Analysis and Bayesian Statistics. Both skills will be crucial for my research. These kinds of opportunities are extremely valuable for CUNY students. 

catalyst grant

Sometimes CUNY can surprise you by coming through with some money at a critical moment. The Catalyst Grant from the Early Research Initiative helped fund my pivot towards data science methods after my fieldwork was interrupted in 2020. The funding paid for software, coding assistance for reliability, and access to a supercomputer.

The Early Research Initiative has proven to be a pretty awesome center of support for myself and many other students. It's worth checking out!

dean schafer research catalyst grant cuny political science
dean schafer research cuny

a little bit about me

I chose to be a political scientist, and I love everything about it (the teaching and the research), but I also prefer to not take myself too seriously. I made this page so I can share some details about myself that are not always about academia.

The picture here shows my first experience as a research subject. I am wearing a brain scanner for a friend's neuroscience study on decision making. She does really amazing work and is now in Berlin where she continues to do her thing.

"To learn a new language is to gain a new soul" is one of those unattributable phrases variously credited to the likes of Spanish nobel laureate Juan Rámon Jiménez or even to Charlemagne. I think it means that new languages give us different ways of understanding and interacting with the world. Take a famous Turkish proverb, which can be roughly translated to "a man without a belly is like a house without a balcony." We can glean much about Turkish culture, values, and norms from this phrase. First of all, Turkish men are body positive. What in English we pejoratively term "Dad bod," Turkish men embrace as a badge of prosperity. Plus, bellies and balconies are natural air conditioners: good for catching cool Mediterranean breezes after a dinner of balık and Turkish rakı. Having lived in Turkey for several years, it's hard to fathom how much I would have missed if I hadn't learned Turkish. The same goes for Arabic. I hear people speak similarly about computer programming languages: that they teach you to think in a different way. That might be true. 

I used to read books for fun. I still do sometimes. The most recent book I read was The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. I also try to stay active--rock climbing, hiking, exercise, those kinds of things.