Browsing articles from "April, 2011"
Apr 29, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Alternative Voting campaigns in the UK

On May 5, UK citizens will head to the polls in a special referendum to decide if the country should move to an Alternative Voting (AV) system.  Unfortunately, recent polling predicts the measure will fail as the “no” campaign seems to be building a bigger lead. There are plenty of places to read about the politics of the referendum, so I just wanted to focus on the campaign tactics being used by the respective camps and briefly speculate if there is any evidence they are having an impact on vote preference .   First, there is this widely clever ad from the “Yes” campaign.

This is a great advertisement, but it’s actually not the main talking point of the “Yes” campaign, which seems to be pushing the notion that AV will make Representatives work harder.

Your next MP would have to aim to get more than 50% of the vote to be sure of winning. At present they can be handed power with just one vote in three. They’ll need to work harder to get – and keep – your support.

This doesn’t sound like the most convincing argument to me, although I’m sure it was the message that tested the best in focus groups.   Still, I find it much better than this “No” campaign spot, which seems to better represent that campaign’s overall message.

In order to understand how an AV system works you need to be able to count to three;  it’s really not much harder than that. This isn’t, however, a surprising line of attack; efforts at voting reform in the United States have often run up against the same. As misleading as that ad was, I think the false trade-off between critical national interests and voting is even more absurd.

Keeping a FPTP system will help the UK fund its military in the same way cutting NPR will help the United States eliminate the national debt.  This ad is even more insulting than the last.

Are any of these campaigns effective?  I think the evidence from surveys show that it’s difficult to prove:

The poll shows that while Liberal Democrat voters are overwhelmingly in favour of reform (66 per cent to 26 per cent) and Conservative voters are overwhelmingly opposed (76 per cent to 19 per cent), Labour voters remain divided, with 47 per cent backing FPTP No and 41 per cent backing AV.

To me, this implies that vote choice might be predominantly a function of partisan preference; the Michigan Model for the United Kingdom.  Of course I don’t really know enough about UK politics to know if partisan attachment is more or less stable than the United States.  I would think the nature of their parties would make it more so, which would lead me to expect a greater correlation between party ID and preference on AV. Still the fact that support for the referendum has swung so drastically, with a large number of undecideds moving to one camp, may be evidence that people who have not paid much attention are now taking cues from party elites.  Not the best way to choose an electoral system, but another example that they are highly endogenous to their political environment.

Cross posted at Ahwa Talk.

Apr 26, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Continued US/China Human Rights Clashes

Human rights violations for better or worse play a central role  in human history and are a fairly constant issue around the world.  Now and again these ethical challenges spill into the public view for long enough to earn the focus of news discussion for a bit.  The recent issues in the Middle East have provided a fairly lasting spotlight shifting from one nation to another as authoritarian leaders attempt to crack down on uprisings and dissent.   These uprisings set an interesting stage for the human rights discussions scheduled later this week between United States and China.  There are few subjects the two nations are more fiercely in disagreement over than human rights, each state makes quite the habit of critiquing the human rights abuses of the other, often muddying the issue of humanitarian concerns into one of political manipulation.  In either nation, no matter how you slice it, these are difficult times to preach human rights from a policy maker’s point of view.
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Apr 24, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Ethnicity, Culture & National Identity

Image courtesy of

Historically there’s been no shortage of conflict rooted in the ways people identify themselves.  The societal cleavages of ethnicity and culture have plagued countless nations and been the foundation of great strife and loss of life, yet we continue to identify ourselves most significantly along these lines.  Arguably in recent years, with the increased mobility of human beings, these cleavages have become even more of an every-day issue than they were the past.  As human migration grows easier and more fluid over vast distances, nations around the world have increasingly faced the challenge of defining themselves and their citizens.

In a way Americans have been fortunate in this regard, as ours has long been a nation of immigrants.  Despite constant efforts at claiming “Americanness” for one ethnic group or another, the identity of the United States has long been something vaguely more ephemeral than that of other nations.  Thus despite a history of fierce conflict in the United States over issues of culture and ethnicity, the blending of new immigrant groups into the United States hasn’t posed quite the same challenges to our national identity as some of the nations around the world are presently facing.  While Americans all theoretically are “from” somewhere else, at least in part there’s a certain ethnicity associated with dubbing oneself French or German.  Add to this difficulty the unyielding tangle of religion and the current ethnic strife, division and scapegoating throughout the European Union should be little surprise.

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Apr 23, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

A formal model of talking animals crossing rivers

Via James Fallows, come this great metaphor, about a frog and scorpion, for Earth Day:

“There is a serious question about whether we should worry more about slow-heating crises like carbon pollution (poached frogs) or seemingly improbable catastrophes like the Japanese tsunami and nuclear failure (black swans). The answer may lie in another zoologically suspect fable, the frog that is persuaded to ferry a scorpion across a river. The frog believes it is safe because it would not be in the scorpion’s self interest to sting it midstream. The scorpion does so anyway, saying “It’s my nature.” Current conservative theory assures us that we can trust markets to avoid oil gushers in the ocean, nuclear meltdowns on our coastlines, and climate catastrophe for our children. But we’ll still get stung, because when corporations see a profit, they just can’t help themselves.”

The part of me that hates junk science loves this story as, while obviously fiction, isn’t the debunked boiling frog metaphor that people still use so often.*  The part of me that loves political science, however, hates it because it’s a failure of rational choice theory in favor of a cultural argument.

Apr 20, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

USIP Event – Connected Youth: The Future of Peacebuilding and Problem Solving

Our friends at the United States Institute of Peace are hosting an event next week which I thought might be of particular interest to the Democracy and Society crowd. The event is in part a conversation on the future of exchange programs and the ever increasing role of technology in public diplomacy.

As with the events posted here in the past, this event is being webcast.  Thus you can participate in the event either by registering to attend in person, or by watching the webcast beginning at 11:00am EST on April 27, 2011.

Click here for more on the event and to RSVP.

Webcast: This event will be webcast live beginning at 9:00am EDT on April 27, 2011 at . Online viewers will be able to engage panelists and each other through live chat and Twitter discussions (hashtag: #exchange20).
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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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