Great Post on Political Ideology from a Student of Mine

Here’s a link to a great blog post from a POLI 1100 student of mine about political ideology and the role of the family as an agent of political socialization. Here’s an excerpt:

When I got my mother to take the political compass test I was sure her result was going to show that she was much more conservative that I was. I believe I thought this because whenever my older coworkers and I discuss issues that are being highlighted in the media, most of their views on those issues seem extremely conservative to me. Or at least, more conservative than that of my own…

…My mother’s ranking on the political compass, and my ranking on the political compass turned out to be almost the same. This was interesting to me because for the 18 years of my life I spent living with her, we barely said three words to each other everyday, much less discuss politics. So my political opinions were formed from other adults around me, such as teachers and my friends parents.

This is a very interesting observation. In a book I co-authored with Alan Zuckerman and Jennifer Fitzgerald, data analysis of panel surveys in Great Britain and Germany, led to some intriguing results. One of the more interesting was the role of the family matriarch–the mother–as the lynchpin in the familial political socialization process. While it is conventionally believed that the patriarch is more influential in a child’s political socialization, this was not true in our study. Mothers spent much more time with their children than did fathers (the data sets tracked this phenomenon), and it should not be surprising that, while often mothers don’t talk about politics with their children explicitly, their quotidian interactions with their children leave the latter with all sorts of clues and cues about the way to think and act about issues that are foundationally political. For example, where to school one’s child–public secular versus private parochial school–is a fundamentally political decision, yet parents may not express their reasoning for this in explicitly political terms.

Go read the rest of the blog post, and check out our book as well.

2012–The year for Democracy?

Here’s an example of a good post for the POLI 1100 blog assignment for this week. This took about 20-25 minutes to complete.

As noted in Chapter 2 of the Dyck textbook, the number of democracies worldwide has risen dramatically over the last couple of decades, to the point that currently a majority of the world’s population lives in more-or-less democratic states. More-or-less since democracies vary in character from one to the next. Some democracies fully respect human rights, whereas others are less stringent in this regard.

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Christian Caryl claims that “2012 could be a great year for democracy.” In all, almost 1/3 of the world’s countries will be heading to the polls this year to elect leaders at the national, regional, and local levels.* As for whether this is a sign of deepening democratization, Caryl is more equivocal:

That may be true. But it hardly means that the triumph of democracy is ensured. If history has taught us anything, it is that nothing in human affairs is inevitable. Most people undoubtedly yearn for freedom. In our imperfect world, however, the political choices actually facing most citizens are messy, risky, or morally fraught. There is no straight line to an open society.

Egypt is illustrative. What happens there, in the largest Arab country, is likely to have broad repercussions for the other countries of the Middle East. Yet Egyptians face many obstacles as they strive to assert their political rights. The military stubbornly refuses to yield power. The weakness of the economy, if allowed to continue, could easily sow doubt about the desirability of representative government. Then there is the possibility of sectarian or factional conflict. Already the two Islamist parties that have emerged victorious from the country’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections have begun feuding among themselves. And that’s not even to mention the lingering disquiet among Egypt’s large Christian population after last year’s pogroms.

Elections are a vital prerequisite of democracy. Yet, as many examples this year will remind us, elections alone do not a democracy make.

I think that the bolded part  above (my emphasis) is the key part of the story here. We can think about this in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. While having elections is necessary for a political system to be considered a democracy, elections are not sufficient for democracy. Other institutions, such as a free press, respect for human and civil rights, the freedom of assembly, etc., are needed as well.

For a list of countries that will be holding elections this year, this page is maintained by the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening. We see that Finland will be the first to have elections this year–Sunday, January 22–with the first round of Presidential elections. (is Sami Salo running?)

Here is an interview with Croatia’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, Vesna Pusic, with EUObserver.com about the upcoming referendum in Croatia on whether to join the European Union. (In the interview, which was held in early December 2011, Minister Pusic speculates that the referendum would take place in February 2012. In fact, the elections will be held this Sunday, 22 January 2012.

*N.B.: Just as an aside. Is it really striking (statistically, that is) that in any given year 1/3 of the world’s countries will have citizens go to election polls to elect representatives?

Germany’s National Soccer Team and Citizenship Law

Citizenship, O’Neil writes, is “an individual’s relationship to the state, wherein states swear allegiance to that state and the state in return is obligated to provide rights to those citizens.” Each state has the right to determine the basis upon which individuals-residents and non-residents alike–fulfill the requirements of citizenship. (Indeed, the extent of citizen obligations also varies from state to state.) As you know, there are three ways in which citizenship can be acquired: jus soli (birth on the territory of the state), jus sanguinis (on the basis of blood relations), and naturalisation.

Prior to changes in its citizenship law in the late 1990s, Germany was a state that based its citizenship law almost exclusively on jus sanguinis. That is, if one were (considered to be) a part of the German nation (“folk”), then one could relatively easily acquire German citizenship, even if they were not born on the territory of the modern German state. Conversely, even those who were born in Germany (and whose parents had also been born and raised in Germany) but were not nationally (or “ethnicity”) German could not obtain German citizenship. A vivid example of the impact the recent changes in German citizenship law have had on German society comes from international soccer (football, really!) where we can see the rosters of two respective German national teams. One of these rosters is the starting lineup for the 1974 World Cup Final (West Germany defeated the Johan Cruyff-led Dutch 2-1 in Munich), while the second is Germany’s starting lineup for the 3rd-place game (Germany defeated Uruguay 3-2) at this past summer’s World Cup held in South Africa. Which one is which? (Note, in order to be eligible to play for an international match for a country, the player must be a citizen of that country,)

N.B.: If you are a soccer fan, you’d be able to distinguish which roster belongs to which year on the basis of the position names (DM,, RW, AM, FW, etc.) alone! Soccer tactics sure have changed a bit over the last few decades!

German Chancellor Merkel–German Multiculturalism a Complete Failure

In a speech to the youth wing of her party last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed multiculturalism in Germany a “complete failure.” Merkel’s remarks have caused some consternation both within Germany and abroad. Detractors have used the speech to highlight what they claim is an increasingly strident anti-immigrant (and particularly anti-Muslim) tone in the words and deeds of the right and centre-right in Germany. The clip below–from Al Jazeera’s English-language news program–places Merkel’s comments within the context of the contemporary debate in Europe on issues related to the assimilation/integration of Muslim immigrants. (Note the clip on the recent “burqa controversy” in France.

There is, I believe, a more charitable reading of Chancellor Merkel’s comments. The public debate in Germany on immigration, multiculturalism and the place of immigrants in German society has-for peculiarly German reasons–lagged the reality for a long while. It was not until the election of Gerhard Schroeder’s SDP/Green coalition in 1998 that the German citizenship law was changed to make it consistent with the social reality.

John Cleese on Proportional Representation

There are generally two types of electoral system in use around the world–first-past-the-post (single-member district) and proporational representation (multi-member district).

As John Cleese explains in this public service announcement, the choice of which electoral system to implement in a democracy can have a dramatic impact on party politics and on the political system in general.  The idea behind proportional representation is that the composition of the legislative body is directly representative of the political opinions in the electorate.  So if, for example, 3% of the electorate votes for the Polish Beer-Lovers’ Party (PPPP–Polska Partia Przyjaciół Piwa), as happened in the Polish parliamentary elections of 1991, then that party will have 3% of the representatives in the legislative body (which it did).

In first-past-the-post systems, such as the USA, Canada, and the UK, the electorate is divided up into single-member-districts, from which a single representative is elected to represent that seat in the parliament.  The winner does not have to win a majority of the vote, only a plurality.  Thus, if there are 4 contenders for a particular seat, and three of them each garners 20% of the vote, the fourth candidate, with 40% of the vote, wins the seat, representing that district in parliament.  The rest of the votes (the 60% going to non-winning parties) is “wasted” as it is not used to determine representation in parliament.  These are the basics, but upon these foundations one can build a myriad of different types of systems, such as the “double-vote” system in Germany.

CDU and Greens form Coalition Government in Hamburg

ollowing our mock election and government formation simulation, I thought it might be of interest to you to note that the CDU and the Green Party of have formed an historic alliance in the city-state government of Hamburg (Hamburg is one of the sixteen German states, or Lander). Der Spiegel (the German equivalent of Time magazine) has more on the new coalition government.

Hamburg mayor Ole von Beust, a Christian Democrat, has found \

The conservative Christian Democrats and the environmental Green Party have long been skeptical of one another. But now, the two have joined forces to form a government in the German city-state of Hamburg.

Members of the German Green Party and the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) have arrived at an agreement “in principle” to govern together in Hamburg, SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned from Green Party sources. It would be the first CDU-Green coalition at the state level in German politics.

We just have to put it in writing,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “It’s just a matter of the preamble (to the coalition agreement), and such things.”

The coalition agreement will reportedly be unveiled late Thursday — which implies that some points of disagreement, like a Hamburg-area schools policy and the fate of two coal-fired power plants, have been settled.

“We have nothing else to discuss in a full meeting,” said a spokeswoman for the Greens, Antje Möller, after the last round of talks on Wednesday. The two sides had reached an understanding, she said, on “the points which still remained.”

(Picture Caption:Hamburg mayor Ole von Beust, a Christian Democrat has found “common ground” with Green leader Christa Goetsch.)

Mock German Election Simulation–Government Formation Results

In the second part of our mock German election simulation–the government formation negotiations–we were able to get a new government voted into power by the recently elected Bundestag.  (I refer you to this post for more information about the electoral results.)

To remind you, following the election, we had the composition of the Bundestag was:

FDP–6 mandate (formateur party)

CDU/CSU–4 mandates

SPD–3 mandates

Greens–3 mandates

In order to have a secure governing coalition, a governing coalition of at least 9 mandates would be needed in this sixteen-member parliament.

The FDP were unable to convince any of the other parties to form a governing coalition with them, and the government that was voted into office, by a majority vote of 10-6 was a three-party coalition of the Greens, CDU/CSU, and the SPD.

In the end, it was the personal ambition of the CDU/CSU leader–Patrick S.–that ruled the day.  He wanted to become Chancellor and this steely determination served him well as he, with his fellow party members and advisory committee, was able to effectively forge a rather wieldy three-party governing coalition.

Why did Patrick S. want to become Chancellor so desperately?  There have been reports in some of the leading journals that it has been his dream since childhood.  But in a sit-down interview with Deutsche Welle following his ascension to the Chancellorship, Chancellor S. claimed that it was because this election was crucial to the future of the German state.  According to the Chancellor, he and his party believe that a moral crisis of epic proportions has descended upon Germany and only his party had the necessary moral acuity to set Germany back on the correct path.

The Chancellor and the six-member Cabinet is composed of the following:

Chancellor–Patrick S. (CDU/CSU)

Minister of Education–Becky W. (Greens)

Minister of the Interior–Erick K. (CDU/CSU)

Minister of the Environment–Zhivko I. (Greens)

Minister of Foreign Affairs–Kyle B. (CDU/CSU)

Minister of Health–Rip F. (SPD)

Minister of Labor–Andrew S. (SPD)

One of the advisers to the SPD commented that the SPD actually had refused to sign a coalition agreement offered to them by the FDP, which in retrospect, was better for the SPD than the one they signed ultimately.  There seemed to be a consensus within the SPD that the arrogance of the FDP had created friction between the two potential coalition partners.

I look forward to reading your impressions of the simulation exercise on your blogs.