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In American Politics, Everyone’s a Cynic – FiveThirtyEight

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Everybody is cynical and few people are changing their minds. That’s the takeaway from the House’s impeachment hearings. (Well, that and Steve Castor’s unconventional taste in briefcases.) It’s the sort of national attitude that you might suspect would inspire political apathy. If you think all politicians are crooked do-nothings, you might care less what they do.

But a half-century of research — and an even longer slide into pessimism among the American electorate — suggests that any cynicism following the impeachment hearing isn’t likely to make voters stay home in 2020. That was the old theory, born in the post-Watergate days when trust in politics was as low and heavy as a funk bassline, said Jack Citrin, professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley. But it never bore out. Instead, Citrin and other experts say cynicism actually seems to be a political motivator, increasing both activism and voter turnout. But while we often broadly think of those as Good Things for Democracy, they don’t necessarily portend a shiny, hopeful political future.

Americans are definitely cynical about politics. The American National Election Studies survey, which has tracked American opinion since 1958, includes a “trust index” combining the results of four questions about voters perceptions of government and politicians into a single score.<a class="espn-footnote-link" data-footnote-id="1" href="https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/in-american-politics-everyones-a-cynic/#fn-1" data-footnote-content="

The questions that make up the trust index are:

  • “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right — just about always, most of the time or only some of the time?”
  • “Would you say the government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves or that it is run for the benefit of all the people?”
  • “Do you think that people in the government waste a lot of money we pay in taxes, waste some of it, or don’t waste very much of it?”
  • “Do you think that quite a few of the people running the government are crooked, not very many are, or do you think hardly any of them are crooked?”
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    The average trust score in 2016 was 17, the lowest ever recorded. Although these questions are about trust, they serve as a proxy for understanding cynicism because political scientists think of those two things as opposites. Cynicism goes up as trust goes down, or vice versa.

    Now, we weren’t always this dark. Scrub away the black eyeliner and you’ll find a country that once got an average score of 61, back in 1966. Same survey. Same questions. And you see the same trend line in other measures of trust, such as Pew data that tracks the percentage of Americans who agree that the federal government will “do what is right.” Half a century ago, 77 percent of us had high hopes for our elected officials. Since then, things have been on a downward slide, with two clear exceptions.

    One came during the early Reagan years, ending about the time the Iran-Contra Affair became public. The other happened over the course of the latter Clinton years, peaking after 9/11, then rapidly falling again. Today, trust in the government is so low that one expert I spoke to — a Berkeley political scientist named Laura Stoker — said she had a hard time imagining how it could actually fall further. “We’re pretty much at the floor,” she said. “It’s pretty darn low.”

    And, yet, voter participation has not followed a similar trend. “I’d say cynics generally aren’t apathetic,” said Sanne Rijkhoff, a professor of political science at Texas A&M, Corpus Cristi. “If you really don’t like something, that implies a certain level of passion about it.” Despite our historically low levels of political trust, Americans join in political movements and activism at staggeringly high rates. Back in 2008, Pew found that 63 percent of Americans had joined in some kind of political or civic activism. A similar survey by the same organization in 2012 found that 72 percent of us were out there, doing something to shape a political system we mostly hate. And Logan Dancey, a professor of government at Wesleyan University, even found evidence that the more cynical people are, the more likely they are to take a political scandal seriously, see wrongdoing, and want politicians to be held accountable.

    So does that mean cynicism serves the public good? Or, alternately, if you’re the Democrats, does that mean you want the public more cynical after the impeachment hearings because they might be more likely to want impeachment to happen?

    Errrr, not exactly, Citrin said. Some cynicism is good, he said. Think of it as skepticism, in that case. You probably don’t want a public that is happy to just smile and approve of everything their elected representatives do.

    But, he told me, there is a point where the downsides of cynicism swamp the benefits. And we probably hit that point back in the days of bell bottoms and bad moustaches. Growth in cynicism is associated with increased support for outsider and extremist candidates willing to break political taboos. It’s associated with decreased support for incumbents. It’s associated with growing distrust between politicians, themselves, which makes them less likely to work together to solve problems. Voters may get more active as they get cynical, but their politicians become less active, which just contributes to a cycle that drives even more cynicism, Stoker said.

    Unsurprisingly cynicism is also associated with decreased support for large-scale government programs, such as healthcare reform, public education, or climate change adaptation. That’s not a good sign for any Democrats trying to use 2020 to usher in a new New Deal.

    In fact, cynicism is a highly partisan thing, in and of itself. The American public may be able to join hands and sing together in the spirit of disillusionment and doubt, but that doesn’t mean we’re united by it. If you break people down by their party affiliation, you see an increase in trust when their party of choice is in power, a decrease when that party loses power, and vice versa. “That lessened trust among those who don’t hold power, that’s fueling the aggregate decline [in trust],” Stoker told me.

    It’s no coincidence that the lowest levels of trust come from independents — who never get to enjoy being the party in power. Stoker thinks the growth in independent-identified voters is actually one of the trends fueling the growth of cynicism.

    What’s more, the political scientists I spoke with have no idea how you fix this. The initial plummet in trust looks like an Olympic ski jump preceding Watergate that heads far down the mountain after. Early on, experts thought it would rebound once the government was able to demonstrate it could “do the right thing” — essentially show it could be trusted, after all. “But what do you mean by doing the right thing?” Rijkhoff said. The interactions between growing partisan rancor and the effects of cynicism, itself, have combined to make reversing extreme cynicism damn near impossible.

    On the plus side, though, maybe that means the recent impeachment hearings won’t make things any worse. “Watergate was a shock to the nation,” Stoker said. “But I don’t think this will have any consequences on trust in government whatsoever.”

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Bosnia’s political crisis: What you should know, in 600 words – Al Jazeera English

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Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing a political crisis that some fear could lead to armed conflict, little more than 25 years after the Bosnia war ended with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement.

Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, announced this month that the country’s Serb-run entity, Republika Srpska, will quit key state institutions to achieve full autonomy within the country, in violation of the 1995 peace accords.

Dodik has been threatening the secession of Republika Srpska from Bosnia for the past 15 years and his latest statements have fuelled concerns that an armed conflict could be reignited.

Here’s what you need to know:

How did the crisis start?

The crisis began in July when Valentin Inzko, then the high representative, banned genocide denial and established war crimes, as well as the glorification of war criminals.

Serb representatives responded by boycotting central institutions. Dodik has since been seeking to withdraw the law, threatening Republika Srpska’s secession.

What’s happening now?

Earlier this month, Dodik said that Republika Srpska is pulling out of three key state institutions: the armed forces, top judiciary body and tax administration.

On October 12, Dodik said the Bosnian judiciary, security and intelligence agencies will be banned from operating in Republika Srpska.

Instead, “Serb only” institutions will replace these bodies in the entity by end of November.

“We want our authorities returned to us [the regional parliament] … This isn’t anything radical,” Dodik said. “This is for strengthening the position of Republika Srpska.”

On Wednesday, the Republika Srpska assembly adopted a law establishing its own medicine procurement agency, the first of its proclaimed agencies to operate separately from the state-level one.

Is secession on the cards?

Dodik insists “this isn’t secession” and “there is no possibility for war”, but he told media on October 14 that seven European Union countries support Bosnia’s dissolution, adding “friends” have promised help to the entity in case of “Western military intervention”.

“This is secession in all but name. And he’s testing the waters,” according to political scientist Jasmin Mujanovic.

Why is this alarming?

When recently asked by a reporter how he plans to throw out members of state services – judges, prosecutors, members of armed forces – from the entity’s territory, Dodik referred to “1992 as the Slovenes did it”, referring to the use of violence during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Emir Suljagic, director of the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, wrote in a column for Anadolu Agency on Sunday that “mono-ethnic institutions like the ones Mr. Dodik plans to re-create” were vehicles for genocide in the 1990s.

“Police, military, intelligence, and security services were at the centre of organised and systematic violence against non-Serbs. These institutions considered Bosniaks’ existence an existential threat,” Suljagic wrote.

“If we fail to deter these threats, the ultimate price we will pay is another Srebrenica [genocide].”

What can be done?

Partners who accepted the duty to protect peace 26 years ago and have the power to take action must do so, Ismail Cidic, head of the Bosnian Advocacy Center, told Al Jazeera.

Critics found the joint US-EU statement on Wednesday underwhelming, as it called for “all parties” to respect state institutions.

“I understand that ‘both-sideism’ is always a safe option for every diplomat, but the consequences of such an approach are well known from the 1990s,” Cidic said.

“If they are not willing to react because of the people of Bosnia, they should do it at least because of the leaders in their countries who cannot afford yet another refugee crisis or a Russian-backed conflict right next to the NATO borders.”

Pro-Bosnian political leaders and state institutions “must be prepared for dangerous scenarios”, he said.

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Doug Ford says Ontario opposition playing politics over his 'bang on' comments about immigrants – CTV Toronto

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he believes opposition parties are playing politics over his comments on immigrants and said he’s been told his remarks were “bang on.”

Ford was asked on Wednesday by Brampton East MPP Gurratan Singh in Question Period whether he is ready to apologize for the comments that “play into racist stereotypes about new Canadians.”

“Those comments were hurtful, divisive, and wrong,” Singh said.

Ford responded to Singh by saying he has been “inundated with messages from your community, the Sikh community, that said ‘You were bang on.'”

The comments about immigrants were made in Tecumseh while Ford was speaking to reporters about a labour shortage on Monday.

“We’re in such desperate need of people from around the world,” he said. 

The premier then specified that he only wanted “hard-working” people to come to Ontario.

“You come here like every other new Canadian. You work your tail off,” Ford said. “If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, it’s not going to happen. Go somewhere else.”

On Wednesday, Singh asked Ford if he was ready to apologize, adding the comments were “just plain wrong.”

“Stop playing politics and let’s speak the truth,” Ford responded to Singh. “You know the backbone of this province are great hard-working immigrants.”

“My phone is blowing up all night, all day, day before, from immigrants telling me their story … I’m the biggest pro-immigrant premier we’ve ever seen here.”

Ford told Singh he will “go to his community and door knock and see the response from the Sikh community.”

He said he’s been told already by the Sikh community that his comments were “bang on” and that he needs to “stay focused.”

Many Ontario politicians spoke out and demanded Ford apologize on Monday.

Ford was asked on Tuesday by the NDP to apologize for the “discriminatory” comments. He did not, and instead used the opportunity to say he is “pro-immigration.” 

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How green politics are changing Europe – BBC News

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The Greens

An ocean of conservative blue blankets the electoral map in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria.

And yet the conservative vote actually fell across Germany in last month’s federal vote, while the Greens achieved their biggest success yet,.

In an election dominated by climate change, a speck of green has made a ripple in Bavaria. For the first time a Greens candidate was directly elected to represent Bavaria in the federal parliament.

It is symbolic of the creeping rise in support for European green parties, from Hungary to Finland.

Bavaria's electoral map

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The new MP, Jamila Schäfer, beamed with satisfaction when she recalled her surprise victory in Munich-South, by a wafer-thin margin of 0.8%. Only once before had the CSU lost the constituency since 1976.

“This is a major sign of change,” Ms Schäfer told the BBC.

A campaign ‘close to the people’

The Greens won 14.8% of the vote nationwide, appealing beyond their eco-protest roots with Annalena Baerbock standing as candidate for chancellor. Now they are in talks to share power as part of a three-way coalition.

Greens co-leaders Angelina Baerbock (L) and Robert Habeck (R)

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Ms Schäfer, 28, is the Greens’ deputy federal chairwoman and typifies a party that has undergone a national makeover after years of power-sharing in several German states (Länder).

She rose through the ranks of Green Youth, taking part in school strikes against education reforms, long before Swedish activist Greta Thunberg made her name by skipping classes for climate protests.

Climate change was consistently ranked as the most serious facing Germany in opinion polls ahead of the election.

Even so, Ms Schäfer targeted her “close-to-the-people” campaign in Munich-South on housing, pensions and taxes.

Green shoots of success

Once ridiculed by many as idealistic hippies, Green parties increased their vote share in 13 European countries at the most recent national elections. In six of those countries – Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Sweden – green parties have a share of power in coalition governments.

A map showing the countries where green parties hold power

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In all those cases, the Greens are pressing their partners to adopt more ambitious targets for lowering carbon emissions. Elsewhere, the green mayors of Amsterdam and Budapest are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 and 2030 respectively – to balance the greenhouse gases emitted and absorbed by their cities.

Despite last month’s election success for the German Greens, even co-leader Ms Baerbock admitted they had failed to live up to early opinion poll ratings: “We wanted more. We didn’t achieve that.”

Given the urgency of curbing emissions, what’s holding the Greens back?

Trust and fear of change

One explanation is that mainstream parties across Europe have elevated climate change to the top of their agendas.

“If you’re concerned about the climate, it doesn’t follow that you’re going to vote green,” Adam Fagan, a political scientist at King’s College, London, said. “It means you’re going to scrutinise the manifestos of the main parties for their green credentials.”

A map showing the percentage of votes for green parties in recent European elections

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Green parties tend to do better in countries with more proportional systems, as used by the European Union for its parliamentary elections. For example, the Greens/EFA bloc gained 25 seats with 10.8% of the vote in the 2019 election to the European Parliament.

“People think putting the Greens in power [in the EU] is less dangerous,” said Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens/EFA.

“From the right and the left, there’s always a question hanging over us: can you really trust the Greens with the economy?”

National election results suggest the answer is no.

To reduce emissions, the Greens say big structural changes to the economy are needed. While those reforms are necessary, they scare people and put them off voting green, Ms Schäfer said.

“They’re worried they’ll be the losers of big transformation,” the MP said. “It’s a lack of control that people are afraid of. But we need to convince people that our politics is not about giving up control.”

‘Killing the planet’

It’s even more difficult in Southern and Eastern European countries, where support for green parties is fragmented or non-existent. Surveys show that climate change is far from a top priority in post-communist countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.

Voters and political parties there are generally more concerned about economic development or migration, leaving environmental issues to civil society groups.

Mr Lamberts believes voters find the message that their country’s model is “killing the planet” unpalatable.

Unlike in many of the other former Soviet-bloc states, green parties have made inroads in Hungary.

Gergely Karácsony

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The green LMP party has won seats in three consecutive national elections since 2010, while Dialogue received 11.9% of the vote in an alliance with the Hungarian Socialists in 2018.

Dialogue’s success came under the leadership of Gergely Karacsony, who was elected mayor of Budapest in 2019.

He defeated the nationalist incumbent by rallying opposition parties behind his liberal platform, and promising solutions not only to environmental issues, but economic and social ones too.

“In Hungary today, there are three different crises. A democratic crisis, a social crisis and an environmental crisis,” Budapest’s mayor told the BBC. “The advantage of the green movement is that we have proposals for all three.”

He linked green policies such as urban foresting and carbon-free public transport to Hungary’s poor record on air quality and other environmental problems.

Particularly in post-Soviet countries, the mayor said, social justice must go hand in hand with the green transition.

“We cannot put the costs of sustainability on disadvantaged segments of society.”

Jamila Schäfer speaking at an event

Andreas Gregor

What worked in Budapest may not necessarily follow elsewhere, but green candidates have achieved electoral success where they have channelled voter discontent, united the opposition and diversified their offer beyond the environment.

If the Greens can build on these gains, there is a future for them in coalitions, Professor Fagan said.

“Green politics in Europe is getting bigger and stronger, and I’m sure it will grow in the coming years,” Ms Schäfer said.

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