Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Some Agents Are Freer Than Others: Variation in the Reelection Incentive, Agency Loss, and the Timing of Democratic Interstate Conflict

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Some Agents Are Freer Than Others: Variation in the Reelection Incentive, Agency Loss, and the Timing of Democratic Interstate Conflict

Article excerpt

The defining political institution of republican democracy is the election of government representatives. As Mill (1861) and others (e.g., Dahl 1989) state, it is the reelection incentive that makes leaders faithful agents of their constituents. Models of democratic politics and foreign policy typically rely on this principal--agent framework to explain the relationship between elected officials, their constituents, and foreign policy behavior (Bueno de Mesquita et al. 2003; Reiter and Stam 2002). A central premise underlying this framework is that democratic leaders have electoral incentives to represent, or at least appear faithful to, the interests and preferences of their constituents; otherwise, they face replacement. For example, Koch and Gartner (2005), in their analysis of legislative accountability and casualties, argue that casualties matter most when they are directly tied to a legislator's constituents. According to these models, elected officials are constrained in their actions by the potential reward of reelection, as well as the threat of removal from office for misbehavior.

However, not all executives are equally constrained by the reelection incentive. Some systems allow the leader to be reelected indefinitely, while others bar the executive from reelection after serving out their term, or terms. Furthermore, in some systems the executive, the opposition or both can call for elections, or even replace the executive without new elections, which creates a constant threat of replacement. For other leaders, replacement, barring a constitutional crisis of sorts, can only happen at a fixed, known point in time and only then by reelection. This suggests that democratic leaders do not face similar reelection incentives when trying to explain conflict behavior. Because of this variation in whether, when, and who can replace executives, I argue that scholars should account for the groups that can actually replace leaders and whether and when replacements can happen.

With the idea that not all democratic executives are accountable to the same types of principals, this article asks the question: how does variation in political accountability among democratic states, when coupled with the reelection incentive, affect the timing of conflict in democratic states? While a great deal of research examines whether domestic politics, in the form of incentives and constraints created by political institutions, levels of executive approval, or changing economic conditions, affect whether democracies use force, there is a paucity of research that specifically examines how the election cycle and the desire to retain office affects the timing of conflict behavior. Furthermore, much of this research does not distinguish between those executives that can and cannot run for reelection. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this research often fails to account for the variation in who leaders are accountable to, that is, who are the principals that can directly remove them from office.

I argue that the type of electoral system is a crucial determinant of political accountability. Specifically, is the system party centered, candidate centered, or some combination of both (Norris 1997; Siavelis and Morgenstern 2008)? I argue that the degree to which parties or voters control the selection and oversight and removal of executives shapes the policy incentives that politicians confront as elections approach and subsequently shapes the state's conflict behavior. Building from the agency loss and political accountability literature, I argue that leaders in endogenous, party-centered systems are more constrained by their principals because of the multiple avenues of replacement and the greater ability of the principal to monitor and sanction the agent. (1) At the same time, leaders whose immediate principals are the electorate and who face fixed elections are less constrained given the difficulty of removal and the greater difficulties in monitoring the agent. …

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