Below you can find a list of publications that have come out of our research unit. 

Rational Choice Explanations in Political Science

Catherine Herfeld & Johannes Marx

In this paper, Herfeld & Marx describe and assess how political scientists use rational choice theories to offer causal explanations. We observe that the ways in which rational choice theories are considered to be successful in political science differ, depending on the explanandum in question. Political scientists use empirical variants of rational choice theories to explain the political behavior of individual agents and analytical variants to explain the behavior of collective actors. Both variants are used for distinct explananda, which ask for different modes of explanation that raise in turn different explanatory demands towards rational choice theories. We argue that when political scientists discuss the explanatory usefulness of rational choice theories, they should assess them in light of the demands they are supposed to meet. This would enable a more nuanced and problem-oriented appraisal of rational choice theories in political science.


Accepted for publication in the Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Political Science

Read the Paper (coming soon...)

Deliberation, Single-Peakedness, and Coherent Aggregation

Soroush Rad & Olivier Roy

Rational deliberation helps to avoid cyclic or intransitive group preferences by fostering meta-agreements, which in turn ensures single-peaked profiles. This is the received view, but this paper argues that it should be qualified. On one hand we provide evidence from computational simulations that rational deliberation tends to increase proximity to so-called single-plateaued preferences. This evidence is important to the extent that, as we argue, the idea that rational deliberation fosters the creation of meta-agreement and, in turn, single-peaked profiles does not carry over to single-plateaued ones, and the latter but not the former makes coherent aggregation possible when the participants are allowed to express indifference between options. On the other hand, however, our computational results show, against the received view, that when the participants are strongly biased towards their own opinions, rational deliberation tends to create irrational group preferences, instead of eliminating them. These results are independent of whether the participants reach meta-agreements in the process, and as such they highlight the importance of rational preference change and biases towards one’s own opinion in understanding the effects of rational deliberation.

Legislative Organization, Electoral Vulnerability and Constituency Focus in the British House of Commons and the German Bundestag

David Beck & Thomas Saalfeld

In this paper, which reflects work in progress both empirically and conceptually, we examine the extent to which British and German legislators use questions for written answer to voice concerns relating to their electoral districts. We find considerable variations in the use of written questions across the two chambers collectively, among the members of each chamber and across individual legislators’ career trajectories. Our focus is the extent to which the number of written questions relating to electoral districts varies across legislators’ parliamentary careers. We are investigating, for example, whether the distribution of written questions across legislators’ careers reflects a declining interest in local matters and an increasing focus on national policies as they adapt to the rules of the legislative game and reduce their initial electoral vulnerability. We compare data from two parliaments because we seek to explore the behavioral implications of trends that some political sociologists have considered to be almost universal in established liberal democracies, namely the professionalization of political elites and their growing independence from their democratic principals among voters and party activists. While we cannot derive any generalizations from the study of MPs in two parliaments, we are able to reduce the risk of overgeneralization. At the same time, the binational comparison still allows the development of sufficiently sensitive validation strategies for the automated content analysis of the texts of parliamentary questions. Using multi-variate panel regressions for three legislative periods between 2001 and 2015 in the UK and two periods between 2002 and 2009 in Germany, we do not find any significant decline of the number of parliamentary questions with a constituency focus across legislative careers in either of the chambers. Based on data for the UK, we find that electoral vulnerability is a strong, consistent and significant predictor that also moderates the effect of parliamentary experience.