My Research

In addition to revising my dissertation as a book manuscript I am currently involved in several other research projects.  Included below is a short sample of ongoing projects from my broader research agenda.

Electoral Reform, Party System Evolution and Democracy in Contemporary Indonesia

My dissertation joins a growing body of research that seeks to explain the link between electoral reform and effective representation particularly in the context of party system evolution in new democracies.  I take seat-maximizing logic as the base theoretical model.  Political elites in established democracies may possess great resources that can inform strategic decision-making, such as lengthy experience among a limited set of parties or electoral technocrats who understand the nuances of seat allocation formulae in different electoral system configurations, and enable elites to project electoral success with a relative degree of certainty.  Yet, assuming that elites in new democracies possess the same range of resources and beliefs or goals is perhaps unrealistic. Additionally, frequent, iterated electoral reforms belie any notion of predictable long-term consequences and thus increase the challenge to reformers who are trying to assess potential reform-induced outcomes.  In order to explain choices made by reformers, I examine elite decision-making through an expanded version of seat-maximizing logic, incorporating alternative motivations and iterated episodes of reform.

Seat-maximizing logic is valuable theoretical framework from which to begin.  However, comparative research has shown its limitations in other cases and my research subsequently seeks a richer understanding of the constraints faced by reformers.  More specifically, I consider the role of alternative, often complementary, motivations to purely power-based strategic logic, such as broader, more ideological beliefs about democratic and stable institution-building.  In addition, as electoral reform becomes ever-more common, conceptual and theoretical distinction between single-event and iterated models of reform must be made, as reforms adopted in prior periods may path dependently limit reform options in latter periods as power within party systems realign with each new set of elections between reforms.

I use process tracing in a case study of Indonesia, combined with quantitative analysis of an original dataset of 34 democracies, to test hypotheses generated by the new framework.  I find support for seat-maximizing logic and inter-temporal constraints on iterated electoral reform trajectories, but my findings highlight that the pursuit of seat-maximization is difficult to proxy via traditional measures of party system size that treat small, medium and large parties in a uniform way.  In particular, the choices of medium-sized parties display less consistent preferences than large or small parties, making aggregate party system size measures relatively insensitive to the range of possible choices within subsets of party types.

A UNC Graduate School Dissertation Fellowship and an NSEP Boren Fellowship provided funding for 18 months of fieldwork to obtain election data, interview elites, and collect archival documents from the Indonesian legislature, Constitutional Court, and Ministry of Home Affairs.

The dataset I created for my dissertation allows me to conduct a range of analyses testing the causes and effects of electoral reform in cross-national comparison.  I have two papers currently in preparation for submission.  First, I test the effects of electoral reform on party system fragmentation and electoral uncertainty and find that while the traditional measure of interparty reform produces higher uncertainty, intraparty reform produces higher party system fragmentation.  Second, I test the effects of electoral reform on female political representation and find that party-centric reforms are more likely to produce an increase in female political representation but more inclusive reforms are more likely to produce a decrease in female political representation, controlling for the introduction or maintenance of a female gender quota.  Both analyses highlight the importance of including the intraparty reform dimension in analyses of the effects of electoral reform.

Institutional and Socialization Effects on Female Political Representation in Indonesia


The logic of electoral reform investigated in my dissertation has implications for other political outcomes.  One of particular importance is the case of female political representation in new democracies.  I have an article in Electoral Studies which focuses on evaluating competing theoretical claims about why female representation may improve through an analysis of a surprising increase in women’s representation in Indonesia in 2009.  It relies on original dataset generated from the 2009 Indonesian election registration and returns for the lower house of the legislature.  Counterfactual analysis demonstrates that previously-hypothesized explanations, such as the recently-adopted gender quota and closed candidate nomination lists, would not have resulted in such a high rate of female election.  Instead, I find that the Indonesian representation rate increased by 40% due to an important aspect of female incumbency: female incumbents had the effect of encouraging parties to nominate women to higher than required list positions and voters were more likely to elect women from lower positions on the lists in districts that boasted female incumbents.  As a result of a last-minute reform to the election law, I am able to independently assess the motivations of political parties, which submitted nomination lists under rules that assumed the numbered nomination order would be followed, and of voters, who voted knowing that a plurality of votes would actually determine which candidates won seats.  A related short article, on the effect of the quota and changes in female representation in Indonesia, has been published in the journal Inside Indonesia.

Decentralization and Regionalization: Coding the Regional Authority Index in Southeast Asia

I am also part of a European Research Council grant-funded project investigating regional authority in Europe, Latin America and Asia.  In this project we focus on the construction of the Regional Authority Index (RAI), paying particular attention to the distinction between ‘self-rule’ and ‘shared-rule’ in terms of sub-national decentralization regarding issues such as fiscal autonomy, policy scope and control, and representation.  The first wave of coding has already produced one book, The Rise of Regional Authority: A Comparative Study of 42 Democracies (Hooghe, Marks and Schakel 2008), and a series of articles.  An article in the Journal of East Asian Studies, co-authored with Drs. Hooghe and Marks, introduces the RAI coding and notable observations for the first set of Southeast Asian cases (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand) while a second paper investigating the relationship between democratization and asymmetric decentralization is in preparation for submission.  A co-authored book based on analysis of the complete cross-regional dataset is under contract with Oxford University Press.