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Public Opinion

Answering the Right Questions

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

In good governance circles, we love to champion accountability tools: citizen score cards, civil society-local government linkages, participatory budgeting, etc. They sound wonderful on paper, and frequently work well off paper, but one can sometimes detect a certain weariness on the part of the supposed recipients/beneficiaries of these tools. These initiatives may be effective at times, but they simply don't address the underlying power structure, development practitioners often hear. What is one supposed to do about the shadowy but real network of frequently unaccountable elite, particularly in the context of a developing country that features a culture of impunity and lacks deeply rooted institutions of accountability?

A Peaceful Face of the Arab Spring: Morocco

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Moroccan citizens on the street in Rabat after the King's speech on constitutional reform. Just over a week ago I had the privilege of witnessing the Arab Spring unfolding - in a peaceful, and even joyful manner. On Friday, June 17, I joined several hundreds of Moroccans outside the Parliament building in Rabat, where they celebrated the reforms King Mohammed IV had announced that evening. In his speech to the nation, Mohammed IV spoke about establishing a new constitution that focuses on the rule of law and strong democratic institutions. The changes include the establishment of a democratic and independent executive branch of government, the recognition of the Amazigh language as official language alongside Arabic, the strengthening of the legislative branch, establishing an enabling environment for Parliamentary opposition, strengthening the autonomy of the judiciary, and strengthening good governance through, among other mechanisms, the establishment of an independent agency for the prevention and fight against corruption.

Quote of the Week: Ahmet Davutoglu

Sina Odugbemi's picture

 "If your foreign policy, however sophisticated it might be, doesn’t have a ground in public opinion, then that foreign policy is not sustainable."


-- Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.  As quoted in International Herald Tribune, Erudite candidate takes populist route, by Anthony Shadid, Saturday-Sunday, June 11-12, 2011.

Do International Relations Experts Exist?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

There is a lot happening in the world these days. It can truly be said that we live in interesting times. No wonder some are seeing the very end of the world. But one quotidian aspect of the nature of the times  -- revolutions raging, conflicts exploding, bombs going off in every direction -- is that the global media organs whose fare we all consume avidly call into their studios, or unto their pages or websites, certain persons known as  Experts in International Relations. For those so designated it is boom time.

CommGAP Launches "Accountability Through Public Opinion"

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

CommGAP is delighted to announce the publication of its third edited volume, "Accountability Through Public Opinion: From Inertia to Public Action." The book is edited by CommGAP's Program Head Sina Odugbemi and Taeku Lee, Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of California, Berkeley. Authors from development practice and academia discuss in 28 chapters how citizens can hold their governments accountable, and how genuine demand for accountability can be created.

The idea for the book was born at a CommGAP workshop in 2007 in Paris on "Generating Genuine Demand with Social Accountability Mechanisms." A few years later, we proudly present a compilation of essays that are relevant for current events in the Middle East and in North Africa as much as for any efforts to strengthen citizen's agency vis a vis their governments.

Media Effects on Foreign Policy

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Recent events in North Africa have intensified speculations about the role of traditional mass media as well as communication technologies in shaping political events and cultures across the world. Media influence on policy, foreign or domestic, has been the subject of some research, but is not generally taken seriously in the relevant disciplines. We have discussed on this blog before that the lack of systematic research and acknowledgement of media influence on policymaking may be due to the indirect nature of this effect. Media do not necessarily influence policymakers directly, but may work through public opinion by shaping what people know and believe about foreign politics. Public opinion, embodied in predominant political views or in election results, can have considerable influence on policymakers that need approval from the electorate.

I recently had the honor of contributing a book review on media influence on foreign policymaking to the foreign policy journal IP Global Edition, published by the German Council on Foreign Relations. I discussed three relevant books: "Unreliable Sources" by John Simpson, "The Al Jazeera Effect" by Philip Seib, and Bella Mody's analysis of "The Geopolitics of Representation in Foreign News." You can find the full review here.

Quote of the Week: Hillary Rodham Clinton

Antonio Lambino's picture

“Even in the most authoritarian regimes around the world, people are listening to the opinions of their publics -- because those publics now have many more ways of expressing that opinion.  And so there’s  a growing effort to make sure that your views and your actions at home and abroad are aligned with what public opinion is.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, on Charlie Rose, aired on April 20, 2011

Measuring Public Opinion in Challenging Contexts

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

As we have discussed in other blog posts, public opinion is particularly important in countries with weak institutions of governance and accountability. Especially in fragile and conflict states, it can lend legitimacy to the government, help creating a national identity, and support governance reform. Unfortunately, public opinion is particularly hard to measure in those societies where it could be most important.

The Approaching Boom for Sultans of Spin

Sina Odugbemi's picture

As the Arab Spring struggles not to return to winter - sometimes with a little help from powerful friends -- I came across this fascinating thought concerning one of the likely but entirely unintended consequences of the emerging political reality in North Africa and the Middle East. In a piece contributed to TIME Magazine, the articulate and insightful blogger, Issandr El Amrani, [I recommend his blog: the Arabist] wrote:

 

In these countries where leaders were long used to sycophantic interviews, they now face combative interviewers out to make a reputation for themselves. It will be a while before spin doctors come in to teach the politicians to stay on-message  ---in the meantime, they are walking the tightrope without a net.

Give Peace a Chance

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Talk of citizen agency and citizen power is all over the place these days - the media, the international community, academia and everybody else who cares about change and how it happens is looking in awe at current events. Civil protests have changed the political face of an important part of this world, and so far they have done so mostly peacefully. The persistence of protesters to not use violence is one of the most outstanding features of what we're seeing unfold in some Northern African countries. The rejection of violence may be one of the most important factors that contribute to the success of these uprisings.


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