Book Projects

1. Norms, Ideas, and Identities: Overcoming Discrimination Against Immigrants

Donghyun Danny Choi, Mathias Poertner, and Nicholas Sambanis

Accepted at Princeton University Press, Princeton Series in Political Behavior

Book Abstract

My coauthored book project (with Mathias Poertner and Nicholas Sambanis) explores the causes of anti-immigrant discrimination, and investigates whether a shared understanding of social norms and ideas can function to reduce conflict between natives and immigrants. The manuscript's empirical core constitutes of a set of field experiments and associated survey and lab-based studies conducted in Germany that have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, American Journal of Political Science, Political Science Research and Methods, and Journal of Experimental Political Science. The book has been accepted for publication at Princeton University Press as part of the Princeton Studies in Political Behavior.

The book's central argument is that that intergroup conflict between natives and immigrants can be decreased through shared social norms that define a common ingroup identity. Anti-immigrant discrimination is a form of ethnic conflict driven mainly by cultural differences. The usual prescription to reducing such discrimination has been to change the expression of ascriptive differences that categorize immigrants as an outgroup relative to the native ingroup: immigrants will often change their names, their customs, their language, and even their religion. This process, often at the heart of coercive assimilation policies targeted at minorities, changes group boundaries to forge a degree of homogeneity that is thought to be required to reduce intergroup conflict. This book argues that it is not necessary for immigrants to change their appearance, their religion, or their language in an attempt to ``pass'' as members of the majority. Rather, bias and discrimination toward immigrants can be reduced if immigrants and natives share social norms that define a common ingroup identity as citizens.

The key here is that norms and ideas must be shared—--not that the burden must fall on immigrants to adopt to local norms that they find repressive. Although norm-sharing will often take place through a process of assimilation of minority groups into majority populations, it could also occur via a gradual, two-way process of mutual acculturation. In the short term, one strategy to overcome sources of bias and discrimination is to resolve uncertainty about the depth of ideational differences that divide natives and immigrants. The book shows that, when natives are exposed to immigrant behavior that suggests that the two groups share valued civic norms, this reduces discrimination by de-emphasizing the native-immigrant divide and forging a common ingroup identity that includes both natives and immigrants. Different shared identities can be defined by different norms; and the more salient is that identity to each individual’s self-concept, the more discrimination toward immigrants will be reduced. This conclusion speaks to an ongoing debate about the limits of multiculturalism in Europe. The book suggests that multiculturalism is possible, but that it also has its limits. It is possible to reduce discrimination due to differences in ascriptive traits, but this requires sharing norms and ideas, which eliminates the symbolic threat generated by ascriptive differences.

2. Severed Connections: Intraparty Politics and Representation in Africa

Donghyun Danny Choi

Winner, Juan Linz Prize for Best Dissertation in the Comparative Study of Democracy, Democracy & Autocracy Section, APSA 2020

Book Abstract

How does intraparty politics shape the quality of representation in new democracies? This question has seldom been addressed in existing work on political parties in the developing world, which has traditionally emphasized the weakness of the party system and partisan attachments, as well as mobilization strategies based on ascriptive loyalties or clientelistic relationships as the key barriers to representation. My first book project studies this important question by reorienting our focus to the interaction between elected representatives and their party leadership, whose support is critical for their electoral survival. I show that the party leadership is motivated to capture the candidate selection process to cultivate the ideal slate of representatives that allows them to simultaneously pursue their party's electoral success while diffusing threats against their position within the party's ranks. The party leadership's machinations, combined with an electoral geography that often amplifies the centrality of candidate selection, culminate in the emergence of two disparate pools of elected representatives; a majority mostly disinterested in being responsive to their constituents, and a smaller minority who remain steadfast in their commitment to their democratic sovereigns. Drawing on 18 months of fieldwork in Kenya, my project combines insights from in-depth interviews of more than 80 past and current elected representatives and senior party officials, analyses of original surveys, census data, election returns, archival materials, ethnographic observation within party organizations, a series of experiments conducted on more than 3000 primary voters in Kenya, and a text analysis of a corpus of 51000 newspaper articles.

My argument begins from a simple premise: that to understand the relationship between intraparty politics and representation is to understand what types of demands are placed on elected representatives, and by whom. In addition to demands voters place for constituency service, representatives face pressures from their respective political parties. Moving beyond the simplistic assumption that parties are singularly motivated by the need to win elections, however, I posit that the party leadership --- a select group of individuals including the party leader herself who control the party organization --- is also motivated by the need to preserve and maintain their power over the party hierarchy. The need to manage and balance these two divergent goals underpins the logic by which the party leadership engineers the ideal "roster" of individuals that are nominated as party candidates; privileging "loyalists" at the expense of constituency-oriented "performers" in constituencies where the electoral repercussions of such a strategy is minimal and privileging "performers" in places where electoral success of the party hinges on nominating popular candidates with a proven track record of constituency service. The strategies deployed by the party leadership in turn structure the incentives of representatives to invest effort in serving their constituents, ultimately shaping the quality of representation.

Substantively, these findings contribute to the emerging consensus that democratic elections are necessary but insufficient to foster better representation and responsiveness for the people. However, while the dominant narrative in comparative politics has focused on structural-institutional factors such as ethnicity, clientelism, or electoral systems to understand this deficit, I shift the attention back to political parties. My project shows that the ideal of representative democracy is likely to remain elusive unless democracy within political parties is realized. When power and authority over party institutions and decision-making processes accumulate to a single individual or a small group of elites, these actors have the potential to effectively become autocrats within their domain; manipulating elected representatives who should primarily be interested in tending to their constituents to serve their political ambitions, thereby derailing the democratic process that they should protect.