Giovanna Invernizzi on Cooperation, Denunciation and Scandals

portrait of Giovanna Invernizzi
Giovanna Invernizzi

A generation ago, a political scientist could be trained in one methodology and research one topic. For Giovanna Invernizzi that would be far from enough. The new assistant professor of Political Science employs formal theory, empirical analysis of novel data sets and controlled experiments to dive into some of political science’s most provocative topics, including party polarization, factional sabotage and the breakdown of norms of cooperation among legislators.

During her PhD at Columbia University, Invernizzi planted the basis of her research on political parties. Her dissertation was prompted by the observation that political parties across the democratic world are undergoing profound shifts, the dynamics of which conventional work cannot explain. How do parties respond to increasingly volatile electorates? Warring factions within parties deplete party resources, impacting electoral results and eventual policy outcomes. How, if at all, do factors such as polarization affect the way parties, and actors within parties, operate? When should we expect intra-party sabotage to be more pervasive, and what are the consequences for electoral competition and policy outcomes?

The articles in her dissertation, recently published in flagship journals, provide answers to these questions with the use of applied game theory. For example, in “Antagonistic Cooperation: Factional Competition in the Shadow of Elections,” Invernizzi shows that an increase in party polarization can reduce intra-party fights, thereby improving a party’s electoral prospects.

Intra-party fights often result in scandals. In addition to her theoretical line of research, Invernizzi explores with novel data when we should expect politicians to use sabotage to undercut one another. To answer this question, she gathered original data about scandals from members of parliament in Italy in “Politics by denunciation: Political whistleblowing against members of parliament in Italy.” She explains that “a connection between weak political party coalitions and scandals emerged: when a party’s chances for reelection weaken, politicians have incentive to sabotage each other through public denunciation.”

In a related ongoing project, she further develops the study of politicians’ strategic use of compromising information, which might result in scandals. She plans to investigate whether compromising information is strategically obtained or whether politicians simply share knowledge of common involvement of crime or unethical dealings that underpin their trust. Based on ongoing interviews with politicians, Invernizzi and her coauthors propose that “politicians might use compromising information as a mechanism of trust-building.”

Parties are not the only institutions facing unprecedented challenges. Political polarization has swept through American politics, making more salient the erosion of political norms that should restrain on opportunistic actions. “Institutions and Political Restraint,” Invernizzi designs a formal model to study how political norms of restraint interact with formal checks and balances. While institutional constraints are typically thought to reduce opportunistic behavior, her paper shows that cooperation can be easier to sustain in political systems with less checks and balances. “This suggests that institutional constraints that seem to prevent unwanted outcomes can backfire by increasing opportunistic behavior. We also show that polarization can make norms more sustainable by increasing the stakes of a breakdown of norms,” Invernizzi writes.

By combining methods and analytical tools, Invernizzi paints a clearer picture of the inner workings of political parties - both in the electoral arena and in legislatures. This is the line of research she develops in ongoing and future projects. In particular, she plans to further investigate how party systems evolve and how parties manage internal factionalism through internal power sharing.