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Does government ideology influence political alignment with the U.S.? An empirical analysis of voting in the UN General Assembly

Abstract

This paper examines whether government ideology has influenced political alignment with the U.S. in voting in the UN General Assembly. I analyze a dataset of UN General Assembly voting behavior of 21 OECD countries over the 1984–2005 period employing two alternative indices of government ideology. The results suggest that government ideology has had a strong influence on voting alignment with the U.S.: leftwing governments were less sympathetic to US positions. The ideology-induced effect was stronger when the US President was a Republican. This finding contrasts with the declining electoral cohesion in OECD countries. The distinctly different alignments of leftist and rightwing governments with the U.S. reflect deeper sources of ideological association than would be predicted if the issues were solely those of economic policy on a left–right spectrum.

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Notes

  1. Many commentators illustrate the close relationship between Russia and its satellite states in the former Soviet bloc in several ways. Voeten (2000), for example, demonstrates the East-West conflict between the U.S. and their allies and the Soviet bloc before and after the end of the Cold War examining UNGA voting. On bloc voting behavior in the UNGA see also Russett (1966) and Holloway and Tomlinson (1995). See McKeown (2009a), for example, for a discussion of transgovernmental relations as a “tool of statecraft” and how the Soviet government has had an influence on policies in East Germany.

  2. Younas (2008), for example, analyzes other political economic characteristics such as political and civil rights.

  3. For surveys on the implementation of IMF programs and on studies of participation in IMF programs see, for example, Bird (2008) and Steinwand and Stone (2008).

  4. Moreover, IMF support also appears to cause political business cycles in the recipient countries. The results by Dreher and Vaubel (2004), for example, suggest that new net credits from the IMF are significantly larger prior to elections.

  5. Political alignment with the U.S. has advantages and disadvantages for other countries. On the negative side, for example, countries sympathetic to US positions are victims of more and deadlier terror attacks (Dreher and Gassebner 2008). On the positive side, for example, countries sympathetic to US positions, are more likely to receive more foreign aid and IMF loans. According to Dreher and Jensen (2007), countries more sympathetic to US positions (and other G7 countries) receive IMF loans with fewer conditions especially prior to elections. A related strand of literature, however, argues that the U.S. tries to influence voting behavior in the UNGA, for example, by foreign aid (see, e.g., Dreher et al. 2008). In any case, this buying of votes apparently affects countries that receive foreign aid and is not likely to occur with respect to OECD countries.

  6. Alternative methods have been suggested by Wittkopf (1973), Sexton and Decker (1992), Barro and Lee (2005), Kegley and Hook (1991) and Brams and O’Leary (1970) which are thoroughly discussed by Dreher and Jensen (2009).

  7. It is important to note that Switzerland joined the UN in 2000. For this reason, data for Switzerland are available since 2001 only and I do not include them. Moreover, the observation for Germany in 1984 is missing.

  8. The report is addressed to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and it is signed by the Secretary of State. Ultimately then, it is the Secretary of State who endorses the identification of key votes (also cited from Andersen et al. 2006: 1851 f.)

  9. As an example, key votes in 1993 inter alia cover issues concerning the non-compliance of Iraq and North Korea with safeguards agreement on the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes; the US trade embargo of Cuba; a call for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights; and Israeli nuclear armament (also cited from Andersen et al. 2006: 1851 f.)

  10. My observation period runs from 1984 to 2005 because the ICRG index is available since 1984. In a similar vein, the sample is somewhat reduced when the Bjørnskov (2008a) index is used because it is not available for 2005.

  11. It is important to note that the ICRG measures are, rather broadly, in line with a conservative view of what institutions should do.

  12. This argument is similar to the one outlined by Bjørnskov et al. (2008) who note the EU decisions on anti-dumping policy are partially determined by the ideological distance to the chairing country in the EU.

  13. I choose the Blundell and Bond (1998) estimator as the initial estimator with which the instruments are collapsed as suggested by Roodman (2006). This procedure makes sure to avoid using invalid and too many instruments (see Roodman 2006, 2009 for further details). Following Bloom et al. (2007) I undertake 50 repetitions of the procedure to bootstrap the estimated standard errors. Bootstrapping the standard errors is common practice applying this estimator. The reason is that Monte Carlo simulations demonstrated that the analytical variance estimator performs poorly for large coefficients of the lagged dependent variable (see Bruno 2005b for further details). The results do not qualitatively change with more repetitions such as 100, 200 or 500 as well as when the Arellano and Bond (1991) estimator is chosen as initial estimator.’

  14. Two studies address the issues of government turnover and declining ideologies. Horowitz et al. (2009) discuss and illustrate different measures of turnover by examining the post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Hellwig (2008) argues that changes in the organization of post-industrial economies have weakened the left–right bases of competition and analyzes post-election survey data from 16 parliamentary democracies between 1999 and 2003. His results suggest that occupational heterogeneity reduces the salience of the left-right dimension for the vote.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Christian Bjørnskov, Axel Dreher, Arye Hillman, Heinrich Ursprung and three anonymous referees for helpful comments, hints and suggestions. Viktor Brech has provided excellent research assistance. All errors are my own.

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Appendix

Appendix

Data description and sources

Descriptive Statistics.

Variable Observations Mean Std. Dev. Min Max Source
UNGA All Votes 461 0.52 0.07 0.29 0.75 Dreher and Jensen (2009)
UNGA Key Votes 461 0.68 0.15 0.25 1 Dreher and Jensen (2009)
UNGA Non Key Votes 461 0.49 0.07 0.28 0.69 Dreher and Jensen (2009)
Ideology (leftwing) 462 2.89 0.90 1 4 Potrafke (2009)
Ideology (rightwing) 441 0.27 0.35 −0.57 1 Bjørnskov (2008a)
Absence of corruption 462 10.05 1.94 4.00 12.33 ICRG
GDP per capita 462 21389.08 7900.51 6262.40 51590.18 World Bank (2009)
GDP growth 462 2.88 2.18 −6.24 11.68 World Bank (2009)
US imports 415 0.03 0.05 0.00 0.32 OECD Stat. Comp.

Variables description

Variable Description Source
UNGA All Votes Votes in agreement with the U.S. are coded as 1, votes in disagreement as 0, and abstentions or absences as 0.5. The resulting numbers are divided by the total number of votes in each year. Dreher and Jensen (2009)
UNGA Key Votes Votes in agreement with the U.S. are coded as 1, votes in disagreement as 0, and abstentions or absences as 0.5. The resulting numbers are divided by the total number of votes in each year. Key Votes are votes deemed to be important by the US Department of State. Dreher and Jensen (2009)
UNGA Non-Key Votes Votes in agreement with the U.S. are coded as 1, votes in disagreement as 0, and abstentions or absences as 0.5. The resulting numbers are divided by the total number of votes in each year. Non-Key Votes are votes not deemed to be important by the US Department of State. Dreher and Jensen (2009)
Absence of corruption Measures corruption in the political system as a threat to foreign investment based on the analysis of a worldwide network of experts, on a scale of 0–14. ICRG
GDP per capita GDP per capita is gross domestic product divided by midyear population. GDP at purchaser's prices is the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products. It is calculated without making deductions for depreciation of fabricated assets or for depletion and degradation of natural resources. Data are in constant 2000 US$. World Bank (2009)
GDP growth Yearly GDP growth rate in percent World Bank (2009)
US imports Imports of United States (as a share of domestic GDP) OECD Stat. Compendium

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Potrafke, N. Does government ideology influence political alignment with the U.S.? An empirical analysis of voting in the UN General Assembly. Rev Int Organ 4, 245–268 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-009-9066-5

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Keywords

  • Political alignment with the U.S.
  • United Nations General Assembly voting
  • Government ideology
  • Anti-Americanism
  • Panel data

JEL Classification

  • F53
  • F51
  • D72
  • D78
  • C23