Issue Linkage and the Political Logic of Hybrid Coalitions

For sample chapters and outline of the project, click here.


Since the 1990s, developed democracies have increasingly pledged to protect endangered species or to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs). Developing countries have accepted these environmental clauses, expecting the linkage to facilitate the ratification of PTAs in developed democracies. This traditional understanding of issue linkage assumes that the linking of environmental issues boosts support for trade deals from green groups in developed democracies. However, evidence suggests that there is significant variation in the extent to which activists and legislators support issue linkage.

In this dissertation, I ask why some activists and legislators support trade deals in exchange for environmental protection clauses despite two dilemmas: i) Because activists' power is dependent on time-sensitive public attention, they find it risky to partner with pro-trade businesses who can patiently lobby governments to ignore environmental clauses in PTAs during the post-ratification stage; ii) Legislators find it difficult to gain credit from voters for supporting environmental linkages, because their environmental benefit is ex ante uncertain.

I argue that environmental IOs play a key role in solidifying this puzzling partnership. I contend that activists with ties to IOs are better equipped to support linkage, because they can use the IOs to discuss enforcement failure and name-and-shame non-complying governments. With the linkage, policymakers typically anticipate a pro-trade boost from green legislators trusted by activists. I advance a modified view. I argue that legislators trusted by activists increase their support for the linkage, when electoral competition in their districts intensifies. Unlike those in safe districts, green legislators facing competitive elections are tempted to raise donations from pro-trade businesses without losing support from green voters, who tend to be anti-trade. Given their incentives to keep both green voters and pro-trade donations, activists' support for issue linkage can serve as moral cover for supporting trade deals in legislatures.

I apply my theory to the case of the U.S. Based on my original data set of institutional ties between twelve environmental IOs and 4,340 NGOs and industry groups, I find that the U.S. government designs its environmental clauses in PTAs to lower the credibility gap for activists: the government tends to delegate those environmental clauses to environmental IOs, if these IOs have more ties to U.S.-based NGOs. I show that internationally-oriented NGOs with ties to the delegated IOs in U.S. PTAs have consistently supported these trade deals more than locally-oriented NGOs. To test the argument on legislators, I draw on novel monthly congressional survey data on NAFTA. I find that green legislators in competitive districts are 20 percentage points more likely to increase their support for NAFTA after an environmental side accord is agreed upon than green legislators in safe districts.

This dissertation privileges IOs as important brokers that stabilize coalitions between value-based activists and profit-seeking businesses. It enhances our understanding of hybrid coalitions for sustainable trade at a time when economic and environmental issues are increasingly intertwined.