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?
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?’
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.
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:
I recently ran a fascinating workshop with colleagues at Intermón Oxfam (Oxfam’s Spanish affiliate) at which the different country programmes brought examples of change processes at work. One that particularly struck me was about our work in Colombia on sexual violence and conflict. Here’s the write up, jointly authored with Intermon’s Alejandro Matos.
The campaign began in 2009, jointly agreed by Intermón Oxfam and 9 national women’s and human rights organizations. The main aim was to make visible, at national and international level, the widespread use of sexual violence as a tactic by all sides in the armed conflict, and the gaps and failings in the responses of the Colombian state, in terms of prevention and punishment, the end of impunity and the care of women victims.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
New Platforms, New Public Opinion?
"With the continued growth of new communication media and technologies, the public opinion and research sector is abuzz with equal doses of optimism and skepticism for its future. In a world of falling response rates and increasing costs for phone and face-to-face surveys, does this new frontier ask us to merely measure the chatter on Twitter and Facebook or does it reframe the definition of public opinion itself? This is among the many questions challenging the Digital Team here at InterMedia." READ MORE
DFID Research for Development
The engagement of women's movements with religion: legal reform in Anambra state, Nigeria
"Campaigning by the women's movement in Anambra State was instrumental to the introduction of a new law in 2005 designed to prevent the maltreatment of widows. Religion is often implicated in gender inequality and discrimination against women, but religious leaders and organizations played key roles in this campaign. The case study enabled the researchers to address the questions of when, why and how religious actors facilitate rather than obstruct legal reform intended to realize women's rights." READ MORE
So, what’s governance anyway? No, don’t ask me for a definition. I can, however, tell you how we frame it. People, Spaces, Deliberation has been around for about four years now, and we hope we have made our modest contribution to the discussion of governance, especially in a development context.
To give an idea about how we frame governance, I took a look at the tags we use most frequently for our posts. Each post in which the tag occurred was counted. And here it is: Governance, on this blog, is about, first and foremost, public opinion and accountability. It’s also about the media as institutions of accountability and media development, about transparency, about fighting corruption, about social media – and about communication.
Foreign aid has always been a contentious issue – especially when donor countries are in recession or trying to struggle out of one, while (some) formerly developing countries emerge with a stable and growing economy. From the viewpoint of policy makers in donor countries, the issue certainly has two sides: allocating support to the poorest countries in the world or those plagued by hunger and conflict, or stocking up much needed domestic programs for the poor and disadvantaged at home. Pressure from national interest groups is likely to push policy-makers toward domestic programs.
This is the age of hopeful citizens where in almost every part of the globe citizens are mobilizing, marching and, often successfully, pushing for change. But this is also the age of increasingly frustrated citizens. In some cases, the frustration is occasioned by the failure to achieve changes in regimes even after an astonishing sequence of heroic efforts and sacrifices by citizens. In other cases, the efforts originally appeared successful. Long-entrenched dictators fell and citizens were ecstatic, believing glorious days were imminent. Yet, in many of these cases, one disappointment is jumping on top of another. Change is proving far more difficult to achieve; it is even proving elusive.
- The World Region
- Sustained Social Movements
- Sustained Citizen Action
- Stamina of Citizens
- Social Movement
- Social Mobilization
- social change
- Public Opinion
- Public Narrative
- Public Activism
- Public Action
- Power Structures
- Power and Elites
- Poor Governance
- Political Participation
- Political Opportunities
- Political Movement
- Political Change
- Persistence of Citizen Movements
- Iron Law of Oligarchy
- Collective Action
- Cognitive Liberation
- Civil Protest
- Citizen Movements
- Citizen Engagement
- Accountable Governance
In September last year, I ran a rather crude survey inviting readers of my blog on Pakistani news channel, Dawn to take part. The survey was a rather tongue-in-cheek response to the tenth anniversary of George Bush’s Axis of Evil Speech, but it has thrown up some points of interest to communications professionals.
Most readers picked up on the fact that in today’s connected world, labelling an entire nation as “evil” was not a useful rhetoric. However, I was overwhelmed with hundreds of responses. More people completed the questionnaire than I had money to access on the free online survey and many of the comments certainly didn’t shy away from national stereotypes or allegations of evil.