The notion of the “public sphere” is useful worldwide to consider how citizens can and do articulate demands to the market or to states. The public sphere is generally conceived as a place (figurative or literal) in which citizens can share information, debate issues and opinions, and restrain the interests of the powerful elite. This space is critical to the formation of public will and the transmission of it to official authorities.
In contrast, the Panopticon is a design for a prison or jail which allows watchmen to observe all inmates at all times without the inmates knowing whether they are being observed or not. The idea has been used to discuss online privacy, as individuals are often unaware of how governments and companies collect and use the information they gather about them online. Moreover, the revelation that governments and companies work together to “spy” on citizens, as revealed by Edward Snowden revived the concern that a modern-day panopticon might be possible.
But these concepts raise another important question: How can the public sphere, which aims to limit excess power, continue to function if the state is monitoring citizen activity? Much of the information that is collected and tracked online is willingly shared by individuals as they search the internet, use mobile apps, and contact friends and family. This activity is vital to the future of a public sphere around the world, but it also allows governments and companies to intrude in our private lives.
Silvio Waisbord explores these two evergreen, yet very immediate concerns. He argues that while digital technologies have improved the capacities of states and companies to track human activity, digital media can also be used for democratic purposes.
In 2012, U.S. Gallup polls predicted that Mitt Romney would beat Obama in the presidential election with a slight edge in public support. More recently, in 2015, public opinion surveys in Turkey predicted only trivial gains in vote for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during the country’s November general election.
In both cases, the polls missed the mark. President Obama blindsided Romney, winning a second term by five percentage points—a result even Romney’s own polling experts did not see coming. Turkey’s AKP won back its parliamentary majority with 49.5% of the vote and an unexpected 8.5% rise in public support, a rebound even the best polling companies in the country had barely foreseen.
Inaccurate poll results are not rare nowadays. An increasing number of disproven poll predictions, particularly in the context of elections, fuels the growing scrutiny over political polls. Cliff Zukin, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Rutgers and past president of American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) said in his article for the New York Times, “election polling is in near crisis.”
Is polling facing some major challenges? And what are they?
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.Despite a widely documented global decline in Internet freedom, people around the world still embrace fundamental democratic values, including the right to free speech.
A new Pew Research Center survey finds that majorities in 32 of 38 countries polled state it is important to live in a country where people can use the internet without government censorship. Pew interviewed 40,786 people between April 5 - May 21, 2015 and found that even though internet freedom ranks last among the six broad democratic rights included on the survey, a median of 50% believe it is very important to live in a country with an uncensored internet. The strongest support for internet freedom is found in Argentina, the U.S., Germany and Spain, where about 70% of the populations consider it very important, and it the lowest support can be found in Burkina Faso and Indonesia, where only 21% in both countries think it’s important.
There is a strong correlation between the percentage of people in a country who use the internet and the percentage who say a free internet is very important, demonstrating that as people gain access to the Web, the salience and desire for freedom in cyberspace also grows.
Brilliant. Someone’s finally done it. For years I’ve been moaning on about how no-one ever asks developing country governments to assess aid donors (rather than the other way around), and then publishes a league table of the good, the bad and the seriously ugly. Now AidData has released ‘Listening To Leaders: Which Development Partners Do They Prefer And Why?’ based on an online survey of 6,750 development policymakers and practitioners in 126 low and middle income countries. To my untutored eye, the methodology looks pretty rigorous, but geeks can see for themselves here.
Unfortunately it hides its light under a very large bushel: the executive summary is 29 pages long, and the interesting stuff is sometimes lost in the welter of data. Perhaps they should have read Oxfam’s new guide to writing good exec sums, which went up last week.
So here’s my exec sum of the exec sum.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center reveals that a majority of people in nine selected Sub-Saharan African countries believe their countries need more foreign aid than they currently receive.
However, according to Ipsos, a global research company, the citizens in donor countries are not necessarily eager to provide financial assistance abroad.
Ipsos recently surveyed 12,709 individuals from 17 leading and emerging donor countries. Ipsos asked them: how much they believe their governments currently are and should be spending on foreign aid; whether they perceive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be important; and, who they think should be responsible for financially assisting developing countries to achieve those goals.
The results of the survey offer new insights into how people feel about foreign aid:
"Since word of mouth is the most powerful sales tool in the world, its power amplified exponentially by social media, what is the role of those of us who make our living giving out expert advice in this new, democratic, much more populated landscape of opinion?"
- Jancis Robinson, a British wine critic, journalist and editor of wine literature. She currently writes a weekly column for the Financial Times, and writes for her website JancisRobinson.com. She also provides advice for the wine cellar of Queen Elizabeth II. She is also responsible for many of the standard reference books on wine, including The Oxford Companion to Wine and, with Hugh Johnson, The World Atlas of Wine.
If Everyone Gets Electricity, Can the Planet Survive?
Last week, the vast majority of the world’s prime ministers and presidents, along with the odd pontiff and monarch, gathered in New York to sign up to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Across 169 targets, the SDGs declare the global aspiration to end poverty and malnutrition, slash child mortality, and guarantee universal secondary education by 2030. And they also call for universal access to modern energy alongside taking “urgent action to combat climate change.” These last two targets are surely important, but they conflict, too: More electricity production is likely to mean more greenhouse-gas emissions.
Special Report: Connected Citizens - Managing Crisis
As connectivity extends to the remotest parts of the world an unprecedented and transformational development of ICT knowledge and skills is taking place. This is resulting in an urgent reappraisal of the ways in which crisis situations are managed and to the concept of 'disaster relief'. Connected citizens become proactive partners in crisis management and recovery, finding ICT based solutions to problems, guiding and channelling emergency relief efforts and leading rebuilding activities.
In all the affected countries, the ongoing migration crisis centering on both the Middle East and Europe is many things. But it is also a public opinion management challenge of impressive girth and height. This is one of those instances where wise leaders will not make policy first and only thereafter ask communication advisers to go and ‘sell’ it. They will have their sharpest communication/political advisers in the room while making policy, especially as the situation evolves in ever more dramatic directions. And those advisers will, one hopes, be monitoring public opinion, consulting panels of voters, talking to deeply experienced players in the political system… all as vital inputs into the policy process.
Why is this a particularly ticklish public opinion management problem? Here is why: the fundamental emotional and values drivers of public opinion at work here are powerful ones, and they clash clangorously. The temptation in host communities is to keep outsiders out, especially people who look different, speak different tongues, worship different gods, and have all kinds of fundamental commitments that host communities might be wary of. People often think that these primordial sentiments come into play only when transnational movements of people in large numbers happen. But for people like me who grew up in geographically plural, multinational societies (where different ethnic groups live in distinct parts of the country) we know that moving to another part of what is supposed to be your own country to live permanently can be an ego-shredding challenge. As we used to say in Nigeria, the ‘sons of the soil’ might not accept you.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Democracy, voting and public opinion in the Arab world: New research evidence
Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University
In 2002 the United Nations issued a much-discussed report highlighting the lack of progress in Arab countries relative to other developing regions, and there has continued to be scrutiny of various social, political and economic indicators there. But a combination of closed regimes, highly nuanced cultural norms and burgeoning areas of conflict often make it difficult to interpret complex political trends and events. The available data relating to perceived changes in public attitudes must be read carefully, with the conflicting results of the 2011 Arab Spring standing as a stark reminder of this complexity. Still, a variety of studies published in 2015 help shed light on emerging trends relating to elections and public opinion in the Arab world, which continues to go through a state of upheaval and transition. Interpreting voter intentions, attitudes and outcomes is particularly difficult in regimes that are neither fully democratic nor totalitarian: Where citizens are not necessarily forced to participate, and yet many turn out to vote despite the fact that the process is highly unlikely to influence the ultimate outcome of the election. A 2015 study published in the journal Comparative Political Studies, “Elections in the Arab World: Why Do Citizens Turn Out?” seeks to explain voter turnout in such situations under authoritarian regimes in Arab countries.
Open data ‘not enough to improve lives’
Governments in developing countries must ensure the statistics they publish can be used to improve citizens’ lives, practitioners told SciDev.Net following an open data meeting. Liz Carolan, the international development manager at host organisation the Open Data Institute (ODI), said countries should instead start with real-world problems and then work out how data can be part of the solution. “A government might say: ‘We put the data on the web, that’s enough’ — but it’s not,” she said. “You could not get away with that”, especially in countries where internet connectivity and literacy are low and it is difficult for people to access the data in the first place. Ivy Ong, outreach lead at government data provider Open Data Philippines, added: “Do not be blinded by the bright and shiny milestone of developing and launching an open data portal.”