The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 363–387 | Cite as

The politicization of international economic institutions in US public debates

  • Thomas Rixen
  • Bernhard Zangl


Recent research has noted a trend of increased “politicization” of international politics, i.e., decisions of international institutions are increasingly debated and contested within civil society. What is lacking so far are explanations for this trend. In this paper we derive four potential explanations and empirically test them. The first two, society-centered, hypotheses focus on the process of socio-economic modernization on the one hand and civil society structures on the other. The second pair of polity-centered hypotheses focuses on the decision-making power of international institutions and on their legitimacy. We measure politicization on the basis of a quantitative content analysis of US quality newspaper articles about four decisions of different international institutions in the issue area of international taxation. Our finding is that politicization is driven by the increasing decision making authority of international institutions rather than by the lack of legitimacy of their procedures or the factors emphasized by society-centered approaches.


Politicization International institutions Authority Legitimacy Mobilization International trade International taxation 

JEL classification

F13 F21 F55 F68 H87 



We presented earlier drafts of the paper at the 2009 General Conference of the German Political Science Association (DVPW) in Kiel, the “Transnational Conflicts and International Institutions” Colloquium at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), the International Relations Colloquium at the Geschwister-Scholl-Institute (GSI) at LMU Munich, the 2010 Conference on “Politics beyond the Nation State” in Bremen and the 2010 SGIR Pan-European International Relations Conference in Stockholm. We received helpful comments from participants at these events and from Martin Binder, Klaus Dingwerth, Matthias Ecker-Erhardt, Monika Heupel, Tine Hanrieder, Martin Höpner, Andreas Kruck, Peter Mayer, Fritz Scharpf, Duncan Snidal, Lora Viola and Michael Zürn. In addition, three anonymous reviewers provided exceptionally helpful comments. Manuel Domes, Johannes Jüde, Simon Primus, Anne Siemons and Mary Kelley-Bibra provided research and technical assistance. We thank all of them.

Supplementary material

11558_2012_9158_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (970 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 970 kb)
11558_2012_9158_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (68 kb)
ESM 2 (XLSX 68.3 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of BambergBambergGermany
  2. 2.Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität MünchenMunichGermany

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