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Public Opinion

Quote of the Week: Janan Ganesh

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"The role of human agency is over-rated in politics. Not every development in public opinion is a reaction to something a politician has said or done.” 

- Janan Ganesh, a political columnist for the Financial Times. Previously, he was a political correspondent for The Economist. He appears weekly on BBC1's Sunday Politics television show and wrote a biography of George Osborne, the UK chancellor.
 

The Media Battle for Influence in Latin America

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Latin America seems to be opening up!  The region is home to the fastest growing Internet population in the world and has experienced remarkable growth more broadly across its media industry in recent years.  

At the same time, media companies in some Latin American countries continue to battle governments for greater influence of programming.  New communications laws, cross-media publishing, and mergers among media companies further contribute to the dynamic relationships among media, governments and citizens.

With so much variation among countries regarding both the role that media play in democratic processes as well as how citizens access different platforms, it can be hard to outline major trends.  

We put two questions to Professor Silvio Waisbord of George Washington University:
  1. How has the concentration of media in Latin America changed over time?
  2. Is traditional media in Latin America still important?
His answers may surprise you.


 
Silvio Waisbord on the Evolution of Media in Latin America
 

Reputation and Governance Styles: The Leader as a Smart Aleck

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Because we have a global audience, I must start by explaining that, according to the Oxford American Dictionary, a smart aleck is “a person displaying ostentatious or smug cleverness’.  It also reports that one usage of the word ‘smart’ means: “(of transactions) unscrupulous to the point of dishonesty”. If you watch crime movies the way I do, there is a tendency to admire ‘smart play’, that is, ruthlessly clever and effective maneuvers. The best crime bosses are masters of ‘smart play’. In order words, they are smart alecks.

What is fascinating is how often (particularly in the massed punditry of elite global media) a capacity for smart play by political leaders is glorified. Leaders are routinely judged and compared with regard to whether or not they appear to shape the game, determine events, or impose their will on others and so on. If they do not seem to do that, they are dismissed as effete. If they seem to do that, they are admired and glorified.  What is particularly striking is how often the writers who say these things leave out ethical standards. I believe, for instance, that true evil is a willingness to act without ethical considerations. Yet, notice how often leaders are admired for ostentatiously clever play even if the methods are odious.

But I am interested in a much narrower question. And it is this: if we leave out ethical considerations, is a reputation for ‘smart play’ good for a leader? Does it make her more effective?  To throw this into bold relief, I am going to tell two kinds of stories- one domestic, and the other global.
 

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

 

The Promise of a New Internet
The Atlantic
People tend to talk about the Internet the way they talk about democracy—optimistically, and in terms that describe how it ought to be rather than how it actually is. This idealism is what buoys much of the network neutrality debate, and yet many of what are considered to be the core issues at stake—like payment for tiered access, for instance—have already been decided. For years, Internet advocates have been asking what regulatory measures might help save the open, innovation- friendly Internet. But increasingly, another question comes up: What if there were a technical solution instead of a regulatory one? What if the core architecture of how people connect could make an end run on the centralization of services that has come to define the modern net?

Are the Oceans Failed States?
Foreign Policy
In the early hours of March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 lost contact with air traffic control just one hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur. Since then, a multinational effort has scoured the Indian Ocean floor, deploying aircraft, ships, and even a robotic submarine in search of the wreckage. Yet four months on, the jet remains lost in the least accessible and most ill- understood ecosystem on the planet. Only about 5 percent of the ocean floor has been mapped in detail. We know more about the contours of the moon and nearby planets than we do about the basins of the high seas. But however remote these depths might seem, no corner of the ocean is untouched by human activities. As a result of these impacts, much of it is now in peril. That is the conclusion of the Global Ocean Commission, which reported in late June that the planet's largest and least- protected bioregion is close to collapse.

‘Working for the Few’: Top New Report on the Links between Politics and Inequality

Duncan Green's picture

As the world’s self-appointed steering committee gathers in Davos, 2014 is already shaping up as a big year for inequality. The World Economic Forum’s ‘Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014’ ranks widening income disparities as the second greatest worldwide risk in the coming 12 to 18 months (Middle East and North Africa came top, since you ask).

So it’s great to see ‘Working for the Few’, a really excellent new Oxfam paper by Ricardo Fuentes and Nick Galasso, tackling an issue best summed up by US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in the aftermath of the Great Depression, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’ i.e. the politics of inequality and redistribution.

The Brandeis quote is particularly relevant because this time really is different. After the 2008 global meltdown, we have not seen anything like the New Deal, in terms of redistribution or reform. The paper argues that this is because political capture by a small economic elite is much more complete this time around.

#9 from 2013: Using Social Media for Good Governance

Jude Hanan's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on Jaunary 14, 2013


2011 was a year of turmoil. Internationally, economic meltdown deepened and continued, massive earthquakes struck New Zealand and a tsunami hit Japan. But 2011 will be also remembered for a different type of earthquake – the Arab Spring – an event that shook the Middle East, causing regimes across the region to totter and fall. Unlike other revolutions, this one used relatively new tools and technologies – networked or social media.

Much has already been written about the Arab Spring but what is already clear from the current body of work being produced is that it was the use of social media that acted as the catalyst for change in an already unpredictable environment. The use and availability of social media easily created connections between prominent thought leaders and activists to ordinary citizens, rapidly expanding the network of people willing to take action.

Great Minds Think Unlike? A Cultural Perspective on Opinion Forming

Jing Guo's picture

If you were asked to describe culture, what would come to mind? —The magnificent Roman Catholic Church of Sagrada Família, the must-reads by Charles Dickens, or perhaps your grandma’s savory borsht? Well, these are all good thoughts. But think harder. At a societal level, culture is indeed reflected through art, literature, religion, and what’s on your dinner table. But at an individual level, it boils down to how we think—how individuals process information and form perceptions.

Whether or not you believe it, those tiny machines in our mind might operate differently in different cultures (e.g. read this New York Times story). Understanding these differences is valuable to campaigners, opinion researchers, and almost everyone who cares about engaging the public in the field of international development.

Over the past decades researchers found several differences in the way Westerners and East Asians process information and form views. Some of the differences might possibly influence public opinion. These differences include what I call in plain language “adopting a side or seeking a middle path,” “blaming me or blaming the situation,” and “logic versus experience.”

When the People Say Yes and the Leaders Say No

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Does the state of public opinion on a public policy issue create obligations for political leaders, obligations they ignore at their peril? This is an issue being debated in the United States right now about a specific public policy controversy – gun control – but the core issue applies everywhere. In the specific case of the United States, many readers will know that there was an attempt to pass legislation requiring background checks before you can buy guns online or at gun shows. The legislation was blocked in the US Senate in spite of the fact that opinion polls say again and again that 90 per cent of Americans polled support the measure. So, the question is being asked and debated: how can 90% of the people support a measure and it does not become law? Very often the question is asked with real heat. Now, we are not going to get into the Byzantine complexities of American politics. What I am interested in is bringing to your attention what professional political scientists who blog have been saying about the core, universally relevant issue: does the state of public opinion create unavoidable obligations for political leaders?

In a couple of blog posts Jonathan Bernstein (he writes the excellent A Plain Blog about Politics) offers the following insights:

Should Real Leaders Ignore Public Opinion?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Many policy entrepreneurs and technocrats waving sundry blueprints dislike uncooperative public opinion. Sometimes the dislike is intense. But since you cannot go around insulting mass publics on television what they do is turn on leaders and they ask these leaders to show true leadership by ignoring public opinion…or transforming it with a feat of oratory.

We have at least two instances playing out right now. First, we have deficit slashing, austerity zealotry running amok. In country after country, governments are being asked by experts to slash budgets no matter who is hurt (but, naturally, common people bear the brunt of the hurt).  Unelected prime ministers are being used to push through painful budget cuts and then the establishment is surprised when people refuse to vote for these technocratic ‘saviors’. And we get the reaction: ‘What is wrong with the people of that country?’

Wayward Bankers: An Epic Accountability Challenge

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The global community faces an epic governance and accountability challenge: the big banks that we all use either directly or indirectly are out of control and nobody seems to know what to do about them. As we mark the fifth anniversary of the global financial crisis this month, it appears as if every new week brings news of a fresh banking scandal. The recent list:


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