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Department of Political Science

Political inclusion makes a difference for human rights, finds Timothy Peterson in new article

Timothy Peterson’s article (with coauthors Devin Joshi and JS Maloy), "Popular versus Elite Democracies and Human Rights: Inclusion Makes a Difference,” was recently accepted for publication in International Studies Quarterly. The authors of this article argue that, within a democratic setting, governmental respect for human rights depends in significant measure on variations in institutionalized structures of inclusion. They contend that this mechanism holds particularly when democratic governments face a security threat (such as terrorist attacks) or become embroiled in armed conflict. When political institutions are more conducive to popular as opposed to elite influences on policy-making, there will be more legislation and enforcement of policies and practices upholding human rights. Instead of relying on the Freedom House or Polity indices to distinguish levels of democracy, the authors adopt a more focused approach to measuring structures of inclusion: the Institutional Democracy Index (IDI). The IDI is estimated using Bayesian dynamic ordinal IRT on indicators of universal suffrage, automatic registration, compulsory voting, and unicameralism, as well as an ordinal measure of electoral systems ranging from single member districts (the most elite-exclusive) to proportional representation with high district magnitude (the most popular-inclusive). A statistical analysis reveals a significant and robust relationship between more inclusive democratic institutions and better respect for human rights, particularly for states engaged in armed conflict. And though conflicts create pressures for abuse even in established democracies, the authors find that ongoing conflicts are not associated with worse respect for physical integrity rights under the specific condition that democratic institutions are among the most popular-inclusive. Structured case comparisons (of Australia vs. New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago vs. Costa Rica) further illustrate the authors’ logic.

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