Top-level presidential advisor appointments provide would-be autocrats in backsliding democracies a quick and effective means to coopt elites and assemble an authoritarian coalition. Such appointments represent a mechanism for making promises of patronage that are more credible and more directly under the executive’s control than patronage facilitated by their party. Elites who join the executive’s coalition via such appointments have incentives to maintain their privileged access and therefore are more likely to match or even surpass the authoritarian sentiment of an autocratic executive. This research uses a sentiment analysis model trained with 2 years of Twitter data—between 2019 and 2021—to compare the authoritarian sentiment of Turkey’s major political parties and to examine differences between groups within Turkey’s ruling party. The evidence shows that President Erdogan’s advisors are significantly more authoritarian than the rest of the party, and, as such, they form an authoritarian vanguard within an already authoritarian party. 

Dean Schafer, CUNY, Political Science, Twitter, sentiment analysis, authoritarian coalition, attitudes towards the media

Strongmen do not just rely on intimidation and misinformation. Sure, intellectuals and cultural elites in Poland and Hungary might gin up support for Kaczyński and Orban by flooding public discourse with Medium-Sized Lies about shadowy, outside forces trying to undermine the country. But, beyond the backing of mercurial elites, authoritarian leaders can also count on the support of citizens who care about policy and have accurate information about the government's performance. In short, authoritarians govern. Citizens—even if they do not have reliable mechanisms to hold authoritarians accountable—expect their governments to act effectively and fairly. If small-d democrats want to appear credible, they will need to do more than appeal to democratic values. They will need to deliver on economic distribution and competent governance.

dean schafer authoritarian appeal democracy phd paradox political science cuny CUNY city university of new york

Most analysis of democratic backsliding focuses on the elite or party level. This article takes a bottom-up approach. In Turkey, popular support for a strong, undemocratic leader developed independently of Erdoğan and the AKP, but later consolidated behind the party. Analysis of longitudinal public opinion data reveals that the 2000– 2001 economic crisis undermined the democratic consensus, but that economic prosperity – far from restoring faith in democracy – reinforced support for a strongman leader as an alternative to liberal democracy among populations that benefited the most economically: the middle class and economic elites. Additionally, individuals who identify strongly with politically predominant social groups tend to support undemocratic leaders. This analysis improves our understanding of mass-level support for authoritarian leaders in democracies. 

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The Hidden Costs of Racist Immigration Policies

2021. Foreign Policy in Focus. with Andrés Besserer Rayas 

Populists in the US and Europe win political victories by increasing the salience of immigration as a political issue. By doing so they weaken the international negotiating position of their own countries vis-à-vis transit countries like Turkey and Mexico. At the same time, they increase the mistreatment of migrants who are detained before they even reach the borders of the Global North. 

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Sarigil's book provides a comprehensive yet concise account of the Kurdish movement in Turkey as it gradually took a friendlier stance toward Islam. He traces the movement’s development from the 1970s, when it was secular and hostile to religion, into the 1990s and 2000s – the period that Sarigil identifies as the Islamic opening of the Kurdish movement. During this period, ethnopolitical leaders navigated the social and symbolic boundaries of the movement in response to four factors: the declining influence of Marxism, the need to expand the movement’s social base, electoral politics, and legitimacy struggles with political rivals. Sarigil draws on several data sources to trace this process: in-depth interviews, ethnography, textual analysis, surveys, and electoral data.

dean schafer cuny political science Turkey Kurdish movement Islam

Do norms have a causal impact on the decline of democratic institutions? I use a dyadic analysis that draws on data from the European and World Values Survey and Polity IV. I find that popularly held norms do not matter, but that the norms of economic elites do. There are two theoretical points driving these findings. One, the decisions of political elites is disproportionately influenced by voters wealthier than the median. The resources commanded by economic elites make them more important than the average citizen, and accordingly, their interests and values are also more important. In effect, the selectorate is considerably smaller than the full voting population. Two, wealthy elites have historically been opposed to democratic concessions. Due to greater levels of income inequality, elites’ opposition to democracy, along with their relative power, has increased. Therefore, their normative attitudes are increasingly likely to translate into democratic decline. 

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