Choi proposes that nationalist leaders play a “critical role”Footnote 3 in IGO withdrawals, such as President Trump announcing the World Health Organization (WHO) withdrawal in 2020.Footnote 4 He argues that our “research risks measurement error – the theoretical concept and the nationalism variable do not align well.”Footnote 5 That is wrong. As detailed in the original article, our theory and empirics are both about nationalism of states. Our article’s title and research question are “Under what conditions do states withdraw from intergovernmental organizations?”Footnote 6 Our hypotheses are about states (not leaders),Footnote 7 and our unit of analysis is the IGO-member state-year.Footnote 8 While we refer to “leaders” eight times in the article,Footnote 9 we refer to “states” more than 200 times. In other words, leaders are not central to our theory; states are.
Our article’s argument is about states instead of leaders because the ability of leaders to decide on IGO withdrawals varies across states and across IGOs. State institutions limit leaders’ IGO withdrawal decisions. Leaders may be an intervening variable that is part of the mechanism, but leaders are not a sufficient condition for IGO withdrawal across states. Since we are interested in theorizing and testing the drivers of withdrawal across states, IGOs, and years (rather than just, say, recent US cases where leader nationalism may play a larger role), we focus on the institutions – states – that ultimately execute IGO withdrawals regardless of context. Our article underscores that leaders are often constrained by hurdles that stand between threats and actual exits, including IGO procedures (e.g., waiting periods or rules surrounding payment of dues) and other state institutions (e.g., party politics or decision-making rules in the legislature). For instance, while President Trump’s implicit threat to leave NATO in 2018 suggests that a leader could tweet a withdrawal in the morning and make it happen in the afternoon, the US Congress passed a resolution stating that the US President “shall not withdraw the United States from NATO.”Footnote 10 Furthermore, in parliamentary systems, where leaders strongly depend on legislatures, legislatures play a key role in withdrawal (and other policy) decisions. In addition to leaders and parliaments, states can take IGO withdrawal decisions through referendums, as seen in the UK withdrawal from the EU (Brexit) in 2016/2020 or Greenland’s withdrawal from the European Economic Community in 1982/1985.
Therefore, since we are interested in nationalism of the state, we use measures of state nationalism.Footnote 11 Specifically, we use measures for executive nationalism, government nationalism, and opposition nationalism based on the Database of Political Institutions (DPI).Footnote 12 Given our theory about states, if we had only used leader nationalism as a measure, as Choi proposes, then we would have committed measurement error by omitting many components of states that go beyond a single person. Since we align our theory and measure of state nationalism, there is no measurement error as Choi alleges.
We note that some aspects of leadership are included in DPI’s measures of executive nationalism and government nationalism, as leaders reside in government and in the executive. While these DPI measures are not specific to a single individual leader, by using (broader) measures of executive and government nationalism we have tested for the role of states, which includes the leader. In short, some of our measures of state nationalism include leaders as one aspect (among others) of state nationalism.
Choi’s misrepresentation of our theory generates two other criticisms that are not warranted. Choi complains that the DPI coding for executive, government, and opposition nationalism is based on party platforms because he says a leader may be more nationalist than his or her party platform.Footnote 13 Again, our goal is to capture state nationalism (not leader nationalism). Choi also objects to our use of “opposition nationalism.”Footnote 14 We include this measure to capture the politics of the state more comprehensively: opposition forces can be an important component of state politics.
In addition to this main misrepresentation of our theory (and what it implies for measurement), we also note three other incorrect claims by Choi.
First, we do not “conflate”Footnote 15 the variables for executive, government, and opposition nationalism. As detailed in our article (especially Figure 5),Footnote 16 we use one aggregate measure but we also parse out these three different forms of state nationalism (executive, government, opposition) with two operationalizations for each form (a binary and an alternative vote share measure) in six separate models. The various operationalizations of state nationalism thus provide reliability and robustness checks rather than over-relying on one measure, and show a close match between the concept and measure of state nationalism.
Second, Choi’s claim that the DPI nationalism variable only captures the political rightFootnote 17 is incorrect. The DPI measures of nationalism include all types of government orientation,Footnote 18 coding right, left, and center separately.
Third, Choi claims that “no economic variables are included in the empirical models”Footnote 19 of our article. That is also wrong. As we note in our article, factors such as unemployment and economic growth could be key, which is why we included them in our article to mitigate potential omitted variable bias (page 356). We went even a step further by using matching techniques to mitigate against the common factor problem that arises when we include economic growth, which could drive both nationalism and IGO withdrawal (page 357).