Guest Lecture at TU Braunschweig

This week, I was invited by Prof. Dr Nils Bandelow, Chair of Comparative Politics and Public Policy (CoPPP), to give a guest lecture on the political system of Sweden. Drawing on my own research, in which I studied the Swedish case in depth in two case studies as part of my Ph.D.-project (on fiscal adjustments) and the most recent study on law and order politics, I introduced the students to the ins and outs of the political system and the famous Swedish welfare state model.

Besides explaining the main foundations, such as the electoral and the party system as well as the legislative process, I also discussed the more recent changes in Swedish politics due to the increased seat shares held by the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats. In fact, the long process of government formation after the last general election resulting in a breakdown of the bourgeois alliance not only illustrates the current state of affairs in Swedish politics very nicely, but it also serves an example of how minority governments work in Sweden. In the lecture, I also discussed the often shared image of Sweden as “model pupil” and how this image has become increasingly questioned in recent years.

Guessing from the active participation of the students, I think that my lecture has not only delivered some information on the Swedish system, but can also serve as a starting point for critically rethinking the myth and reality of Swedish exceptionalism. I was very happy to be in Braunschweig, to chat with dear colleagues and to share my thoughts with staff of the CoPPP-Chair as well as the students.

Georg Wenzelburger


Photo: Johanna Hornung

Two new research projects on the politics of algorithmic decision making systems

Algorithmic decision making (ADM) systems are increasingly used in different parts of public life to decide together with humans (or all alone). In the US, the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) is for instance used to assess a defendant’s risk of committing more crimes. In Poland, an algorithmic scoring system is used to assess the “employment potential” of job seekers and influences the possibilities for this person to benefit from active labour market policies. Similarly, predictive policing is based on algorithms that scan big data to carve out correlational patterns and leading to decisions where police patrols are strengthened.

Server cluster at the University of Kaiserslautern

Whereas ADM-systems are all over the place, political science has not started to seriously engage with these developments. To date, most of the early studies on the politics of algorithms cover the “input”-side of the political system and ask, for instance, whether “filter bubbles” exist and whether ADM-systems used in social networks affect public opinion and, in consequence, influence the outcomes of elections (see for instance here). Almost nothing has been published on the “output”-side of the political system, namely whether and how policies are affected by ADM-systems.

This year, two new research projects at the professorship will start to change this. A first two-year project (“FairAndGoodADM”, financed by the German Ministry of Higher Education and Research (BMBF), will explore how three different ADM-systems that are already at work (social policy, higher education policy, penal policy), have been implemented and how they are regulated. We will work in close collaboration with the “Algorithm Accountability Lab” at the TUK (Prof. Zweig) and the Chair of Philosophy (Prof. Joisten).

The second four-year project “Deciding about, by and together with algorithmic decision-making systems” is financed by the Volkswagen Foundation and focusses on the criminal justice sector more specifically. It is an international collaborative endeavour and involves computer scientist Prof. Zweig (TUK), the legal scholar Prof. Schulz (Hamburg), the legal philosopher Prof. Yeung (Birmingham) and the economic psychologist Prof. Achtziger (Friedrichshafen). In this project, we will aim at establishing a dataset on ADM-systems that are used in the criminal justice system in all 50 US states. The dataset, which provides details on the respective ADM-systems, will then be analyzed quantitatively to carve out dynamics of policy diffusion, political influence and so on.

Two great new paths of research in the growing field of the politics of digitalization that we are happy to begin this year.

Georg Wenzelburger

[photo by Thomas Koziel, provided by KLUFOS, University of Kaiserslautern]

Visiting Aarhus University

The political science department building

During two weeks in November, I am a visiting researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark. The department of political science is the leading political science department in Denmark and was ranked third best political science department in Europe in 2017 (after the LSE and Oxford University). The department is home to outstanding scholars like welfare state expert Kees van Kersbergen, comparative public policy scholar Christoffer Green-Pedersen, political behavior specialist Rune Slothuus or Helene Helboe Pedersen, expert in political parties. Briefly: It is a great place to discuss research, meet interesting people and work on my own projects in an inspiring context.

Entrance to the department building

During my stay, I am primarily working together with Carsten Jensen on our book “Reforming the Welfare State” (under contract with Routledge) which will present results of the analysis of a new dataset in legislative changes to the welfare state in four European countries which was collected in the WSCEP-project during the last four years. Carsten organized not only a nice flat on campus for my stay but also an office from which I can work. I also participate in research meetings and the very nice lunches with all the other department staff that take place every day in the common lounge which is open to everybody working at the department.

The grey lighthouse in Skagen

Besides research, I also enjoy being in a very beautiful region of Denmark with the lively city of Aarhus and an incredibly beautiful landscape around. During the week-end, I got to know the most Northern part of Jylland, the small town of Skagen. Not far from there is the place where the two seas– the Skagerrak and the Kattegat – collide. It was a very impressive moment to stay at the top of Denmark and just watching…

Thanks to Carsten Jensen for having me!

Georg Wenzelburger

All photos by GW

What is a research semester, and what is it good for?

The German system of academia has many peculiarities. One of these idiosyncratic features is the famous “research semester” – half a year in which a professor will not have to teach courses at the university. A professor can apply for such a semester if two conditions are fulfilled: First, she or he has to have served as university staff with full teaching load for a certain amount of time – depending on the Land, this varies from seven to nine terms (see the overview here). And, second, she or he has to assure that the classes are taught by someone else or that, at least, there is enough teaching to run the study programs. It is then up to the faculty board and the President of the university to decide whether this research semester is granted.

This fall, I am in the comfortable situation that both conditions are fulfilled. Thanks to the WSCEP-project, where I have applied for teaching buy out, Dr. Colette Vogeler has been hired to take over my usual classes taught every fall term (e.g. lecture in political economy). And as I have been working as a professor at TUK for four years now, I could also apply for the research semester – an application which the faculty board and the President have accepted. But what do I do now with all this time?

Well, in fact, the time is running and running very quickly. The first weeks were still characterized by reading thesis and term papers from the summer term, participating at Conferences (such as the DVPW) as well as some administrative tasks. Since mid-October, I begin to feel that more space is free to do research. I have two main tasks that I will pursue during the upcoming months:

First, I will write the first chapters of a book entitled “Reforming the welfare state” and co-authored with Carsten Jensen. In this monograph, Carsten and I will use the data collected in the WSCEP project on changes to welfare legislation in Britain, Denmark, Finland, France and Germany. We analyze the reforms of the welfare state from different angles and investigate how the substantial changes that have occurred in the last 40 years can be explained. The book is under contract with Routledge and will appear in 2019.

Second, I will finish up my book on the partisan politics of law and order (with Oxford University Press) which will be published in 2019, too. The book is based on the research project on law and order financed by the German Research Foundation and uses large-N-quantitative analyses as well as comparative case studies to explain patterns in law and order politics and policies. The main argument of the book is that partisan politics add substantially to the explanation of the variance of law and order policies in Western industrialized countries. As I am at around two thirds of the next body right now, I am confident to succeed in finishing it until January.

Photo: Georg Wenzelburger

All this work will be done from my home office (for the great view from my desk into our november garden , see picture) and from an office at Aarhus University, where I will stay for a couple of weeks in November. Thanks to the research semester, I can manage to work in close collaboration with Carsten on the book project and hopefully make a big step forward when being in Denmark.

Georg Wenzelburger

Visit at the “Bavarian School of Public Policy” – TUM Munich Research Colloquium

Last week, I was invited to give a talk at the Research Colloquium at the Bavarian School of Public Policy of the TU München (Hochschule für Politik). I decided to present a recent paper that grew out of the WSCEP project and demonstrates that voters indeed punish governments for cutting back the welfare state. The paper is a joint piece with Christoph Arndt and Carsten Jensen where we use German micro polling data from Politbarometer-surveys and our manually coded data on welfare state legislation to demonstrate how voters react to welfare state change. In a way, it gives a micro-foundation to our results for UK and Danish data as published in last year’s BJPS-article (Lee et al. 2017). As expected by us (but challenged by other literature, such as Giger and Nelson (2011) on the welfare state or Achen and Bartels (2016) on democracy more generally), voters do indeed “reward” sitting governments for expanding the welfare state with a higher probability to stay with the government (as indicated in polls) and they “punish” them if they cut the welfare state with a higher probability to change their vote intentions from government to opposition in the polling data.

The “Königsplatz” in Munich, just around the corner from the Bavarian School of Public Policy

While the general pattern is quite clear, there are still several questions open and the discussion at the Research Seminar very much helped to see where we still have to dig deeper. One issue is the time lag between the legislation and the voter reaction as well as the question how long the effect of reward or punishment actually lasts. In fact, the finding of several studies that there is no systematic punishment of welfare state retrenchment at election day (Giger 2011; Giger and Nelson 2011; Schumacher et al. 2013) can also be explained by the fact that voters simply forget about what happened after a couple of months. Hence, when using polling data we find that voters become annoyed in the short term if their government cuts welfare benefits, but that they forget about this after some time and don’t punish at the ballot box. Another point that came up during the discussion at TUM concerns the reactions of different voter groups, but here the data only allows for a limited inspection of such important questions. At any rate, we will use the comments to revise the paper in the next weeks and will hopefully publish it once it is in adequate shape.

Besides research, the Bavarian School of Public Policy provided an excellent program for me as a speaker with opportunities to connect to colleagues around lunch, dinner and even during breakfast (!) as well as to get in touch with students and doctoral researchers.

Georg Wenzelburger



Achen, Christopher H., and Larry M. Bartels (2016). Democracy for Realists. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Giger, Nathalie (2011). The risk of social policy? : the electoral consequences of welfare state retrenchment and social policy performance in OECD countries. London Routledge

Giger, Nathalie, and Moira Nelson (2011). “The electoral consequences of welfare state retrenchment: Blame avoidance or credit claiming in the era of permanent austerity?”, European Journal of Political Research, 50:1, 1-23.

Lee, Seonghui, Carsten Jensen, Christoph Arndt and Georg Wenzelburger (2017). “Risky Business? Welfare State Reforms and Government Support in Britain and Denmark”, British Journal of Political Science, 1-20.

Schumacher, Gijs, Barbara Vis and Kees van Kersbergen (2013). “Political parties’ welfare image, electoral punishment and welfare state retrenchment”, Comparative European Politics, 11:1, 1-21.

On the home straight: WSCEP project meeting in Kaisers-lautern

Are governments actually less popular with the voters if they cut back the welfare state? This question was at the heart of the project “Welfare State Cutbacks and Electoral Punishment” (WSCEP) which now turned into the final year of funding. The core team consisted of four researchers: Prof. Carsten Jensen (PI, Aarhus University, Denmark), Dr. Seonghui Lee (Aarhus University), Dr. Christoph Arndt (University of Reading, UK) and Prof. Georg Wenzelburger (TUK, Germany).

Seonghui Lee, Christoph Arndt, Georg Wenzelburger, and Carsten Jensen

The main work of the project was to create a unique dataset on changes of unemployment and pension legislation in five countries (Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and UK) that measures policy change on a very fine-grained level differentiating between individual policy instruments (e.g. changes to nominal benefits, to the duration period or to the indexation formula). With this new data at hand, several analyses were run, investigating whether governments lose popularity if they cut benefits (yes, they do), whether they gain popularity when they expand the welfare state (yes, they do, but mostly for pensions) or whether the type of instrument matters (yes, it does). At the Kaiserslautern meeting in May, the project team talked about current papers (and revisions to do), set out a plan for future publications (e.g. a final book with Routledge) and discussed avenues for future research based on the great data collected so far. Finally, the guests from Britain and Denmark also got to know the city of Kaiserslautern including a nice dinner during the sunset.

First results of the WSCEP-project were published in the British Journal of Political Science and the Journal of European Social Policy:

Lee, Seonghui/Jensen, Carsten/Arndt, Christph/Wenzelburger, Georg (2017). “Risky Business? Welfare State Reforms and Government Support in Britain and Denmark“, British Journal of Political Science: doi:10.1017/S0007123417000382

Jensen, Carsten/Arndt, Christoph/Lee, Seonghui/Wenzelburger, Georg (2017): „Policy instruments and welfare state reform“, Journal of European Social Policy: