Questions and answers introduction to politics
1. What is a model in political science? What are the main purposes of using models? And the possible drawbacks?
A model is a simplified picture of the reality that social scientists develop to order data, to theorize, and to predict. A possible drawback could be the fact that, by simplifying reality, the model risk oversimplification. Furthermore, we cannot consider every information, we must make choices on what is more important; this may lead to the overlook of key points.
2. What is a political system?
Political system is a model designed by David Easton. According to his theory, we can look at complex political systems as biological organs; we cannot change just one component because we would change all the others. In Easton model, citizens’ demands are seen as “inputs” which are recognized by government decision makers, who process them in authoritative decisions and actions, “outputs”. These outputs have an impact on the social, economic and political environment that citizens may or may not like; they give feedbacks in order to make the government understand where they should improve and change decisions made earlier. However, what goes on in the “conversion progress” is not visible.
3. What were the main features of Behaviourism? Why was it important?
The main feature of Behaviourism is the fact that it concentrates on actual behaviour as opposed to thought or feelings. Behaviouralists examine the “social basis” of politics, the attitudes and values of citizens, which influence the way the political system is made. It was important because they helped getting valid data on voting patterns.
4. What is a normative approach to the study of politics?
The normative approach seeks to understand how things work and it is opposed to an objective approach. Aristotle was the first empirical political scientist; he combined in his Politics both the descriptive (explaining what is) and normative (explaining what ought to be) approach. In political science we should only describe and explain but it is difficult not to apply what we have learnt through normative questions which seeks to discover the source of the good and stable political system.
5. What is the difference between political science and political theory (or normative approach to politics)?
The fundamental difference between political science and political theory is the approach they use. The former uses an objective and descriptive approach to politics which seeks to understand how things works, the latter uses a normative approach which seeks to understand how things should work.
6. What was Niccolò Machiavelli main idea?
The Florentine philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli underlined that politics is about power, more specifically the power to shape other’s behaviour. He introduced what some people call the crux of political science which is the focus on power. He was a rationalist who argued for rationality and toughness of the Prince in exercising power. He believed that, as a ruler, it was better to be widely feared than to be greatly loved; a loved ruler retains authority by obligation while feared leader rules by fear of punishment. He also emphasized the occasional need for the exercise of brute force in order to head off any chance of a challenge to the prince’s authority. As a matter of fact, he believed that public and private morality had to be understood as two different things in order to rule well. As a result, a ruler must be concerned not only with reputation, but also must be positively willing to act immorally at the right times.
7. What was Confucius main idea?
In China, Confucius, an advisor of the king, propounded his vision of good, stable government based on two things: the family and correct, moral behaviour instilled in rulers and ruled alike. The emperor sets a moral example by purifying his spirit and perfecting his manners. He is copied by his subjects, who are arrayed hierarchically below the emperor, down to the father of a family, who is like a miniature emperor to whom wives and children are subservient.
8. What is a social contract?
The social contract is a theory developed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau which claims that individuals join and stay in civil societies as if they have signed a contract in order to preserve themselves and at the same time remain free. The social contract is at the basis of society, indeed before it, people lived in “the state of nature” with a condition of instability and insecurity due to the lack of rules regarding their rights and duties. Rousseau believed that if we live according to a social contract, we can live morally by our own choice, and not because a divine being requires it.
9. What is, according to Hobbes, the main feature of human life before the social contract?
According to Hobbes, the main feature of human life before social contract was violence. Humans lived in “the state of nature” in which every man was the enemy of the other, a so called “war against each and all”. They were living in savage squalor with “no arts; no letters; no society” and in constant fear that brought them to rationally join together to form civil society in order to get out of that horror.
10. What is the main difference between Locke and Hobbes on this point?
While Hobbes believed that the state of nature was absolutely terrible, Locke believed that it was not that bad because people lived in equality and tolerance with one another; the only problem was that their property was insecure, that’s why, in order to secure “life, liberty and property”, they formed civil society. So, in Hobbes view, people founded civil society out of fear of violent death, while from Locke’s view, they did it to secure their property rights.
11. What did Rousseau mean by “general will”?
Rousseau believed that people in the original state of nature lived well, they were “noble savages” with no jealousy. What corrupted humans was the society itself which, however, can be improved leading to human freedom. A just society, in his view, would be a voluntary community with a will of it’s own, the general will, which is what everyone wants over and above the selfish “particular wills” of individuals and interest groups. In such communities, humans gain dignity and freedom. (Many see the roots of totalitarianism in Rousseau: he imagined perfect society; the general will, which the dictator claims to know; and the breaking of those who do not cooperate).
12. What is the role of social classes in the Marxist theory?
According to Marx, every society is divided in two classes: a small class of those who own the means of production and a large class of those who work for the small class. Society is run according to the dictates of the upper class, which sets up the laws, arts, and styles needed to maintain itself in power. Most laws concerned property rights because the bourgeoisie are obsessed with hanging on to their property. This caused wars because of their need for economic gain. There is also the proletariat which has no country. If the economic basis of society detaches with the structure that the dominant class has established (its laws, institutions, businesses, and so on), the system collapses.
13. What was Adam Smith’s main idea?
In his “The Wealth of Nations” he introduced classical liberalism (classic laissez-faire economics). According to Smith, the true wealth of nations is not the amount of gold and silver they amass but the amount of goods and services their people produce. By stating this, he refused the notion of mercantilism which claimed that the bullion in a nation’s treasury determined its wealth. In fact, he believed that government influence on economy would slow down growth; in order to get prosperity, we should leave economy alone because the market itself will regulate it. He also stated that in the market there is an “unseen hand” which regulates and self-correct the economy. Supply and demand determine prices better than any government.
14. What is the origin of the term liberalism (as classic liberalism)
The name liberalism comes from the Latin word “liber” which means free, in this case free from government intervention. This ideology suited Americans that wanted a government that didn’t supervise religion, the press, or free speech.
15. What is the origin of modern (American) liberalism?
In the late 19th century, liberalism changed and split into conservatism and modern liberalism. It was clear that the free market was not completely self-regulating; market failures, imperfect competition and large underclass of terribly poor people where only some problems caused by the laissez-faire economy. So, Thomas Hill Green “rethought” liberalism. Indeed, modern liberalism emphasizes the necessity of government regulation and intervention to correct economic and social ills and also to guarantee an adequate level of freedom to the citizens. In order to do so, state’s intervention had to express itself by placing heavier taxes on the rich, and by regulating banking and finance. This type of liberalism was adopted by W. Wilson, F.D. Roosevelt, and Barack Obama.
16. What was Burke’s main idea?
Edmund Burke was the father of “classical conservatism” and agreed with Smith that the free market was the best economic system. He believed that liberals placed too much confidence in human reason. People are only partly rational; they also have irrational passions and if they burst out, they lead to chaos. To contain them, society has evolved traditions and institutions that are not perfect but cannot be all bad since they are the product of hundreds of years of trial and error. They have to change of course, but only gradually in order to give the society the time to transform and readapt to the new situation. Indeed, Burke saw institutions like living things; they grow and adapt over time. Moreover, he made important contributions to conservative ideology, including the belief in the irrationality of humans, the importance of institutions and the fact that revolutions end badly.
17. What are the similarities between classic liberalism and modern conservatism?
Modern conservatism is the ideology shared by the people who stayed true to Adam Smith’s original doctrine of minimal government. Indeed, modern conservatism is related to the negative freedom associated with classical liberalism. Milton Friedman supported American conservatives by arguing that the free market, deprived from government intervention, is the best. Modern conservatives worship the market more than Adam Smith ever did; while the ‘founding father’ of liberalism recognised that the market could be sometimes crooked and unfair, modern conservatives contend that all markets are absolutely honest and self-correcting, even more so than government regulation, which they would eliminate.
18. What does it mean the “state is the problem rather than the solution”?
“Government is the problem, not the solution” is a famous expression Ronal Reagan used during one of the speeches of his electoral campaign. The statement is of particular importance since it expresses his modern conservative view on politics and economy. Modern conservatism holds that the market is absolutely honest and self-correcting, therefore government interference is useless and harmful. As Reagan stated in 1966 in California, “Can we possibly believe that anyone can manage our lives better than we can manage them ourselves?”. He stressed that if no one were capable of governing himself, then it would be unreasonable to think of someone, namely the state, able to govern someone else.
19. Why do liberals and socialists (and in general progressives) oppose this view?
Modern liberals and socialists oppose Reagan’s view in that they believe that the market cannot be completely self-regulating, and governments have to step in to guarantee the freedom to live at an adequate level, and to protect people from a sometimes unfair economic system. In order to do so, the state must express its intervention by welfare measures, such as heavier taxes on the rich, medical insurance, generous pensions, subsidised food and housing for the poor, etc.
20. What are the main tenets of Marx’sThe Capital? In The Capital, Marx meticulously analysed the reasons why capitalism would be overthrown by the proletarian revolution, within the context of a socialist, just, and productive society, without class distinctions. In Marx’s view, at a certain stage, when industrial production is very high, this socialist community would turn into communism, namely a perfect society without property, money, or government. As a matter of fact, because government was seen simply as an instrument of class domination, with the abolition of classes, there would be no need for the state.
21. What is class struggle?
Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics hold that human societies develop through class struggle. There are two classes of people: the bourgeoisie (the ruling class which controls the means of production) and the proletariat (the working class which sells their labor power in return for wages). He claims that there have always been conflicts between classes and this is called “class struggle”.
22. What is the difference between Socialism and Social democracy?
Socialism is the well know doctrine founded by Karl Marx which aims at completely overthrowing the capitalist system through a real proletarian revolution which will turn society into communism, a perfect society without police, money or even government. On the other hand, Social democracy claims that Marx has been wrong about the collapse of the capitalism and that the working class would accomplish its aims with reforms and not revolution. Today they promote welfare measures but not state ownership of industry. They advocate for Welfarism, trying to improve the living conditions of citizens, but there is always a downside: when a state spends much of its GDP (gross domestic product) in welfare policies, taxation climb.
23. What was, according to Lenin the origin of imperialism?
Lenin remade Marxism to fit Russian situation of that time and therefore he focused on imperialism and how capitalists exploited other countries through colonization. He offered a theory of economic imperialism borrowed from R. Luxemburg and J.A. Hobson. According to him, domestic market could not absorb all the goods the capitalist system produced, so it found overseas markets. Capitalism was expanding overseas into colonies to exploit their raw materials, cheap labor and new markets. Capitalism thus turned into imperialism. With profits from its colonies, the mother imperialist country could pay off its working class a bit to render it reformist rather than revolutionary.
24. What were the main features of Fascism and Nazism as ideologies?
Both Mussolini’s Fascism and Hitler’s Nazism are extreme nationalistic ideologies, which aimed at ending democracy and political parties and impose stern central authority and discipline. They both had strong elements of racism, socialism and militarism. Moreover, they run the economy of their country so impressively (they also inserted their men into all key positions) that apparently unemployment decreased, and many felt that they were getting a good deal with jobs, vacations, and welfare. Behind the scenes, however, they both presented weaknesses which led them to the collapse.
25. What was Eurocommunism?
Eurocommunism was a greatly watered-down ideology that renounced dictatorship and state ownership of industry which was welcomed especially by several west European communist parties during the 1980s1990s. Many Communist leaders admitted that their economies were too rigid and centralized and that the cure lay in cutting back state controls in favor of market economies.
26. What are the key ideas of feminism?
According to the feminist movement the root of the problem concerning disparities between men and woman was psychological: woman and men were forced into “gender roles” that had little to do with biology. Boys were conditioned to be though, domineering, competitive, “macho” and girls were taught to be submissive, unsure of themselves and “feminine”. But gender differences are almost entirely learned behaviour, thus they could be changed. Feminism claims equal job opportunities, no gender discrimination into politics, equal commitment in housekeeping and child rearing, and same education opportunities.
27. What is the difference between Nation and State?
A nation is a population with a certain sense of itself, a cohesiveness, a shared history and culture, and often (but not always) a common language. On the other hand, a state is a government structure, usually sovereign and powerful enough to enforce its mandate. States can take on different forms depending on their ability to enforce law and order in addition to providing for citizens. In most cases states created nations, indeed nations are created by human craftsmanship of varying quality. Ex: The U.S. were formed through the assimilation of immigrants on the basis of documents and ideals of political culture.
28. What is a form of state?
The form of the state is understood as the way in which the state is structured as a whole, and in particular the way in which the relationships between its constituent elements are shaped. An archaic question is whether a country is a monarchy or a republic, however nowadays most countries are republics.
29. What is a difference between an absolute monarchy and a constitutional monarchy?
Absolute monarchy is a form of government in which the sovereign holds all powers (legislative, executive, juridical), exercised in an absolute manner. This is justified by the concept of the ‘divine right of the kings’, which implies that the authority of a ruler derives directly from God. On the other hand, in a constitutional monarchy (such as Britain, Spain etc.) the sovereign has a symbolic role since its powers are limited by the constitution. (The legislative function is exercised collectively by the sovereign and parliament; the sovereign also holds executive power, but this is entrusted to a government. Finally, the judiciary is administered by a body of appointed officials, the judges, whose independence is guaranteed by the sovereign; they administer justice in his name.)
30. What are the main features of an effective state?
Effective states control their territory, have their laws obeyed and experience minimal corruption. Government looks after the general welfare and security. They are usually democracies with free and fair elections, such as Japan, United States and most of European countries.
31. What are the main differences between effective, weak and failed state?
Effective states control their territory, have their laws obeyed and experience minimal corruption. They are usually democracies with free and fair elections. On the other hand, we have weak states in which corruption and crime have penetrated into politics; the government does not have the strength to fight the lawlessness. This limits the dispensation of justice in the state because it is often bought or sold. In weak states democracy is often preached more than practiced, and elections are often manipulated. Little is collected in taxation and revenues from natural resources goes to private investors. Much of Asia, Africa and Latin America are weak states. Finally, we have failed states which have essentially no national government, even though some pretend they do. Law and order are essentially non-existent. The territory of the state may be at risk either from internal or external forces, educations and health standards falls. Many count Libya, Afghanistan and Somalia as failed states. In this respect, the American political scientist Fukuyama explained that the main source of weakness of failed states is that they were not constructed in the proper way. The process of “state-making” is indeed composed of three passages: the establishment of the state, the rule of law and the polity. If the first two steps are skipped, as in the case of the aforementioned countries, the state collapses.
32. What are the pros and cons of Federalism and centralized unitary systems?
The main problem of unitary system is the fact that it has an absurd degree of over-centralization of authority and a lack of local and regional control leads to people ignoring politics as well as political alienation or even to feel resentment towards national government. Center-periphery tensions (resentment of outlying areas at rule by nation’s capital) have been emerging since 1970s, furthermore this has given rise to another common phenomena called regionalism, which is the feeling of regional difference and sometimes breakaway tendency, as in the case of Scotland, Spain and France. Some advantage of the unitary system, on the other hand, are the clear lines of authority, the ability of the national government to direct the economy, uniform taxation levels, and high education standards.
Federal system divides power between the national government and the component units. The crux of a federal system is the fact that component states (first-order civil divisions) have a great deal of autonomy from national government that cannot be easily cancelled out. So, some disadvantages are that the component units often lack the resources with which to deal with specific problems, sometimes there is corruption and incompetence among officials, and it may happen that services are duplicated (by national government and the component units). Federalism cannot be the cure for everything, indeed if the components are too different from one another the system will collapse (as ex-Soviet and ex-Yugoslavian federalism). But there are also advantages such as citizens are closer to their local governments which helps prevent apathy and there is space to do policy experimentations that, if they work out, can be replicated across the country.
33. What are the main advantages of single district electoral systems?
The single-member district, also known as first-past-the-post, is the simplest electoral system that is used especially in Great Britain and in U.S. In this type of system only one person is elected to represent the entire district, by winning a plurality of votes. Some advantages of a single-member district are the fact that they tend to make policies more centrist since the system prevents the growth of extremism and they provide also clear majorities by magnifying electoral gains in favor of one party, therefore coalitions are rarely necessary.
34. What are the main drawbacks?
One great drawback is that FPTP system often creates artificial majorities that do not accurately reflect the desire of the voting public. Indeed, in each district the winner takes all. Another problem is the so-called Gerrymandering which makes districts safe and noncompetitive by drawing district boundaries to protect/favor one political party.
35. How do they affect political competition?
If there are two parties, the losing one, even if it received 49% of the vote, gets no representation. In some cases, the party with the most votes nationwide fails to win a majority of seats, depending on how their votes are distributed across districts. This undermines democracy and builds extreme partisanship with little cooperation across party lines. With this system politics are centrist and safe, but also not competitive.
36. What is gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is the process of giving one political party an advantage over another political party by redrawing district lines. To understand how Gerrymandering works it is necessary to go back to 1812 in Massachusetts. Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts, supported and signed a bill to allow redistricting, that is redrawing the boundaries to separate districts. The new lines would favor Gerry’s own political party: the Democratic-Republican party, which no longer exists, which wanted to win as many state Senate seats as possible. The new lines were drawn to include loads of areas that would help Governor Gerry in the future, and were so strange looking that someone said the newly born districts looked like a salamander. The Boston Gazette added Gerry’s name to the word salamander and formed Gerrymandering. Gerrymandering implies two successful practices: packing and cracking a district. Packing is the process of drawing district lines, and packing in the opponents into as few districts as possible; if more districts equal more votes, the fewer the districts there are, the fewer votes the opposition party will get. Packing, then, decreases the opponent’s voter strength and influence. Cracking is the opposite process: taking one district and cracking it into several pieces. This is usually done in districts where the opponent has many supporters: cracking indeed spreads the supporters among many districts, denying him/her a lot of votes. Whether a party chooses to pack their opponent’s district rather than crack them really depends on what the party needs. To dilute the opponent’s voters, the candidate could pack them into a district and leave the surrounding districts filled with voters of their own party, or, if their party is in power when it is time to redraw district lines, they can crack up a powerful district and spread their opponent’s voters out across several neighbouring districts.
It makes districts safe and uncompetitive. “cracking” diluting the voting power of opposing party supporters across several districts
“packing” concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one district in order to suppress their voting power in other districts
37. What are the main advantages and drawbacks of proportional electoral system?
A proportional electoral system is based on a multimember district that elect more than a single person to the legislature. Voters select party lists and parties win seats roughly equivalent to their percentage of national vote. The advantages of such system are that Parliaments are much more likely to reflect and represent the views and opinions of the public since they can articulate ideologies and principles ore clearly because they do not try to please everybody. Moreover, also small parties can compete and win. On the other hand, there are also disadvantages; the creation of a multiparty system where no single party has a clear governing majority (since PR systems do little to fight party splintering) leads to a greater degree of instability. Where one party is big enough to govern alone the system is quite stable but the coalitions are not.
38. How do they affect political competition?
In proportional electoral systems there is more competition than in single district electoral systems since also small parties can compete and win seats in Parliament. The main problem is that often one party has not the majority alone so, in order to govern, it has to create coalitions with other parties. However, coalitions are rarely stable and are not long-lasting.
39. What is a threshold clause?
Threshold clause was a measure taken by proportional representation systems with the aim of minimizing the problem of splinter, nuisance or extremist parties. In fact, PR systems require parties to win a certain percentage of the vote (the threshold) in order to obtain any seat at all. however, such measure is often too weak and cannot prevent party splinter; on the contrary, it often leads to multiparty systems and unstable coalitions. In Germany and Poland for instance a party must win at least 5% of the vote nationwide; in Sweden and Italy the threshold clause is fixed at 4%.
40. Describe the French electoral system. What are the main differences with the proportional and “first past the post systems”?
The French electoral system is a two-round system, that is, a particular type of plurality/majority system. Plurality/ majority systems generally provide that after votes have been cast and totalled, those candidates or parties with the most votes are declared the winners. The central feature of the two-round system is that elections take place not in one, but rather in two stages, often a short time apart. The first round is open to any candidate who is able to get 500 signatures of support from elected officials, such as majors. Although a candidate can theoretically win the election by securing 50% of the vote, in the first round, this has never happened since the 1960s. Thus, if no candidate receives an absolute majority, then the second round of voting is held and the winner between the two leading candidates is declared elected. Typically, French presidential elections are contests between centre-left and centre-right candidates. Also, members of the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, are elected with a tworound system. Voters from each of France’s 577 constituencies pick their local representative, known as deputy, to a seat in the house. The two candidates with the most votes and any other that wins at least 1 2.5 per cent of the votes, goes through to a run-off first-past-the-post vote. Once the legislative elections are over, the president must then be appointing a prime minister, to form a government that can command a majority in the assembly. The French electoral system differs from FPTP systems, since unlike the latter, it requires a majority, and not a plurality of votes, to win the first round. In this sense, two-round system can be considered more representative, even if they share many of the disadvantages of FTPT, such as the fragmentation of party systems. Two-round systems differ also from proportional representations systems, since they merely take into account the parties which get the highest number of votes, still leading to disproportional results.
41. What is the historical origin of constitutionalism?
Constitutionalism has its root in the Magna Carta, which England’s nobles forced King John to sign in 1215. The Great Charter did not mention democracy; it limited the rights of the monarch in relation to the nobility. Over centuries, however, it was used to promote democracy and individual freedom in modern Britain, the United States, and Canada. Constitutionalism means that the power of government is limited. In a constitutionally governed nation, laws and institutions limit government to make sure that the fundamental rights of citizens are not violated. In contrast, a totalitarian or authoritarian government is not limited by its constitution; individuals and minority groups have little protection against arbitrary acts of government, in spite of what the constitution may say.
42. What is the main function of a Constitution?
Constitutions are usually written documents which specify the basic structure and framework of government. Constitution serves three general purposes:
they involve statements of national ideals in their preambles-a list of “good intentions” that the nation should theoretically promote and respect; they formalise the structure of governmentsit establishes who has the power, how much power they have, the limits of that power. In a constitution where there is a separation of powers each branches of government have their own responsibilities, limiting the power of each other. Furthermore, constitution outlines the division of power between central government and local/regional powers (as in the case of federal systems). And they establish their legitimacy – most constitutions were written after regime changes More in detail, constitutions indicate the rules and customs, either written or unwritten, by which governments are run. In this sense, they are supposed to determine the forms, institutions, and limits of government, while balancing minority and majority interests, and taking into account individual rights and freedoms. In short, they are the highest law of the land, and although they are very difficult to change, they are not static documents: they evolve over time mainly due to traditions, new usages and laws. They have indeed to be flexible in order to be enduring. On the other hand, no matter how detailed and evolved, constitutions cannot cover every problem a society may have, and their effectiveness largely depends on the way their wording is interpreted by national judicial courts in each specific case.
43. What is the function of Constitutional Courts (as the US Supreme Court)?
The U.S. Supreme Court plays a very important role in the American systemit’s the highest national court. The main function of Constitutional Courts is to exert their power of judicial review, namely to decide whether laws are constitutional (this is not present in every country). Judicial review is however a controversial power; many critics have indeed accused the American Supreme Court of imposing personal philosophies as the laws of the land. As a matter of fact, courts are never consistent and the way they read and interpret the constitutions depends on how activist they are. In this context two concepts are of particular importance: those of judicial activism and judicial restraint. Judicial activism is the willingness of a judge to strike down legislation or practices by declaring statues unconstitutional. Judicial restraint is the opposite philosophy, shared by supreme courts that see their job not as legislating but as following the lead of Congress.
44. What is an illiberal democracy?
Democracy and freedom are not the same thing, as there exist many illiberal democracies; regimes that are elected but lacks democratic qualities such as civil rights and limits on governmental power. Ex: Turkey and Egypt. Two professors in particular addressed the issue of illiberal democracies: Michael Ignatieff and Fareed Zakaria. The former advanced the thesis that a somewhat new form of authoritarian rule has emerged in China and Russia, combining single party oligarchy with state capitalism, and public tyranny with private market freedom. The latter argued that democracies were surrendering to illiberal forms, and the strands holding the traditions of democracy and liberalism together were eroding.
45. Define accountability?
In true democracies accountability means that policy makers must obtain the support of a majority or of a plurality of votes cast in order to exert political power. This political power must change hands and that changeover must be peaceful and legitimate. Leaders are accountable to citizens since they do not have an inherent right to occupy a political position so, he or she must be freely, fairly and periodically elected by fellow citizens, either at regular intervals or at a certain time span. Furthermore, political accountability can be seen as the last of three stages of political development (in order they are: establishment of the “state”, the “rule of law” and lastly, accountability).
46. What is the difference between elitist and pluralist theories?
Power distribution has always been a great issue. The core question here is how much elites in society are accountable to the public and their interests. There are two general theories: while the elite (the “top” or most influential people in a political system) theory of politics maintains that there is very little accountability on the parts of elites to the general public, according to the pluralist theory elites are ultimately held accountable to the public through interest groups (which are associations that pressure government for policies it favors).
- Elitists such as Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels are generally radical since they consider the rule by elites unfair, unaccountable and undemocratic. Moreover, they state that money and connections give elites easy access to political power. As a matter of fact, a great deal of influence from elites comes in the form of campaign contributions; in return, they get favorable laws, policies, and tax breaks. In this sense, we can say that according to elite theorists, politics can be seen essentially as a single pyramid with the elites sitting at the top of it.
- On the other hand, pluralists such as Robert Dahl claim that politics works through interest groups which will be listened more if the group is wealthy and well-placed. So, groups compete with each other for access to government. Interest groups collide with each other, like billiard balls, in their attempt to influence policy, and it is through their efforts that citizens are heard, because any citizen can form a group to try and influence politics. Both views are however overdrawn. A synthesis that more accurately reflects reality might be a series of small pyramids, each capped by an elite. There is interaction of many units, as the pluralists claim, but there is also stratification of leaders and followers, as elite thinkers would have it.
47. What does the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” argue?
The “Iron Law of Oligarchy”, argued by Robert Michels, states that every organization, no matter how democratic its intention, ends up being run by a small elite.
48. What are the main features of totalitarianism?
Totalitarianism is a political system in which state attempts total control of citizens (and elites are completely unaccountable and also difficult to oust). Friedrich and Brzezinski identified six features of totalitarian states, four of which would not have been possible in pre-industrial countries.
- An all-encompassing ideology: totalitarians usually impose an official theory of history, economics, and future political and social development. This ideology portrays the world in black-and-white terms (enemies and allies) and claims to be building a perfect and happy society, so anyone against it is an enemy.
- A single party: in totalitarian systems there can be only one party, usually built around the cult of personality of the totalitarian leader; party functionaries impose outward conformity on all citizens. Party membership is controlled and is supposed to be an honor since it brings privileges in exchange for support to the party. Usually such a party is hierarchically (organized in a ranking of power from top to bottom) organized.
- Organized terror: security police use both psychological and physical subjugation to keep citizens obedient. Constitutional guarantees either did not exist or were ignored; indeed, in the past, security forces were often directed against whole classes of people. The system is based on organized terror as means for eliminating resistance to the regime, however such terror does not work over the long run.
- Monopoly of communication: the totalitarian states hold the monopoly of communications, allowing leaders to control and shape media and propaganda in their favor. In fact, only good news appears. Sinister outside forces are portrayed as trying to harm the system and must be stopped.
- Monopoly of weapons: the governments of totalitarian nations have a complete monopoly on weapons, thus eliminating armed resistance.
- Controlled economy: the state possesses also the monopoly of economy, putting it in favor of the party wishes, ignoring citizens’ needs. Stalin did so directly by means of state ownership and Hitler indirectly by means of party coordination of private industry. Either way, economic control apparently made the state powerful.
49. How does it differ from traditional monarchical rule and contemporary authoritarianism?
Totalitarianism differs from both traditional monarchical rule and contemporary authoritarianism. As far as traditional monarchical rule is concerned, ancient autocracies, such as those of Peter the Great and Louis XIV lacked the means of communications to closely control their subjects. One of the key features of totalitarianism is indeed the monopoly of communications. The media in totalitarian states are strictly censored to sell the official ideology and show the system is working well under wise leaders. Only good news appears. As far as authoritarian regimes are concerned, they are ruled by small groups and they do not attempt to control every aspect of society: many economic, social, and cultural matters are indeed left up to individuals, and no ideology is usually sold to be accepted with enthusiasm. However, there are heavy limits on citizens’ freedoms in exchange for order in society and control. Another difference is that unlike the active political participation required by totalitarian systems, authoritarianism seeks political passivity and obedience. According to scholar Jeanne Kirkpatrick the main difference between authoritarian and totalitarian states is that an authoritarian state can reform, but once it slips into totalitarianism, there is no way for the system to reform itself: either it survives, or it collapses.
50. What are the key factors that inhibit the development of a stable democracy?
Elections do not automatically produce democracy, which requires stable countries with much economic, educational, and political development.
After the de-colonization many countries proclaimed themselves “democratic”, but it did not last long. The colonialists had never encouraged democracy. The developing societies had pre-industrial, traditional peasant economies; levels of education and income were low.
Postcolonial leaders had typically picked up socialist views, claiming that they knew what the people needed and rigged elections. In this way, much of the Third World fell into authoritarianism under single parties. Officials in government push expensive, unrealistic projects, suffocating individual initiative with rules and taxes.
Let us see the dramatic case of South and North Korea. The divergence in this example is so dramatic that can even be seen from outer space. South Korea is a developed economy, a very pleasant place to live, and to visit.
Then we have North Korea, mostly darkness, with the exception of the capital Pyongyang, where the ruling elite lives. So, what’s behind this divergence? The splitting of Korea into two distinct countries provides a perfect example to demonstrate the power and importance of institutions (when it comes to understand economic growth, institutions are crucial. When economists talk about institutions, they mean laws and regulations, including property rights, reliable courts and political stability). Originally, the two Koreas has basically the same people, the same culture, the same language, the same history, and pretty similar economies. If anything, the Northern part was wealthier. After the Second World War, the two Koreas ended up on very different institutional tracks. Communism was imposed in North Korea, but South Korea, broadly speaking, ended up with capitalism and a relatively free market economy. What happened? It all comes down to incentives. Different institutions create different incentives. In south Korea the prevailing incentive was for commercial cooperation; the society developed based on trust and honest commercial dealing. Over the next few decades South Korea became a major producers and exporters of cars, music, movies, and so on. It is a pretty, well-functioning market economy, responding to consumer demands.
In contrast in the North there has been a totalitarian state, where the economy is centrally planned and directed; most people did not have the freedom to start businesses, they were not allowed to keep their own profits; prices are controlled, and capital is allocated by the communist party. The result was tragic, and over the last decades there have been period episodes of starvation, because prices and property rights did not give farmers the right incentives to grow enough food to keep people well-nourished. North Korea is a militarized country, where people live in fear.
This is an extreme example, but it’s one that make clear the importance of institutions.
Not all countries are capable to reform themselves; some of them emerge from a long tradition of dictatorships or authoritarian regimes and they never knew true democracy. Political culture for example heavily influences peoples’ minds; Russians, Uzbeks, and others find capitalist systems strange and intimidating; some voters, who have never experienced democracy, turn to authoritarian leaders who promise economic prosperity and incomes. Vladimir Putin silenced or jailed opposition, and most Russians supported him. In general, Russian political culture favors rule by one strong leader; the Duma (Russian parliament) is weak and obeys the executive, which has the power to centralize the economy and the press. Thus, democracy is not easy and needs centuries of religious and philosophical evolution.
51. What does modernization theory argue about states such as Brazil, South Korea and Taiwan?
According to modernization theory, economic growth fosters the development of an educated middle class that demands for democracy. Why should this happen?
- Economic growth creates a large middle class, which has a stake in the system and it may wish to reform it, but not overthrow it.
- Rising educational level makes people less ignorant and susceptible to demagogues, extremist ideas, or vote buying.
- People increasingly recognize their interests and express them: pluralism.
- Finally, the market itself teaches citizens about self-reliance, pluralism, tolerance, and not expecting too much, all attitudes that sustain democracy.
Gradually, if everything works right, the regime eases up, permitting a critical press, the formation of political parties, and finally free elections. Taiwan carried out this transition from 1984 to 2000 and is now a vibrant democracy.
Chile, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan were politically repressive but established private market economies. The pro-growth regimes set macroeconomic policies, entering the world market. The growing economy gradually transformed the entire country into a democracy, reflecting modernization theory: economic growth fosters a large, educated middle class that demands democracy. As countries improve from poor to middle income, they become ready for stable democracy.
Why should this happen? First, economic growth creates a large middle-class, that wish to reform the system but not to overthrow it. Second, educational levels rise; people is no longer ignorant and do not fall for extreme ideas or figures. Third, people recognize their interests and needs, and start to articulate them. Finally, the market itself teaches about three fundamental things: tolerance, self-reliance and not expecting too much. If all goes well, the regime will gradually relax, allowing for a critical press, the formation of political parties, and finally free elections. From 1984 to 2000, Taiwan underwent this transition and is now a vibrant democracy whose elections are closely watched by mainland Chinese. From 1984 to 2000, Taiwan underwent this transformation and is now a vibrant democracy whose elections are closely watched by mainland Chinese.
52. What is the relationship between oil and democracy (petrostates)?
The transition to democratic regimes does not work with petrostates (countries based on oil exports such as Saudi Arabia), as oil wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few and ends up retarding democracy. Moreover, the oil industry does not employ many workers and for this reason citizens are dependent on the government for jobs.
53. Define political culture
The political culture of a nation is a sort of collective political memory determined by its history, economy, religion and folkways; it is about deep beliefs, symbols, and values toward the political system. Political culture varies from one nation to another, and we must pay attention to distinguish it from public opinion. Political culture is an underlying layer that can support or fail to support the rest of the political system.
54. Make two examples of different political cultures.
America was founded on the basis of “competitive individualism,” a spirit of hustle and self-interest which is still very present today. Despite government efforts to abolish caste, the millennia-old Hindu emphasis on caste persists in present-day India. The French, after centuries of étatisme, still expect a big state to supervise the economy. Iraq, for centuries part of Arab and Turkish empires, has known only autocracy, for two decades under the brutal Saddam Hussein. Democracy has no roots in Iraq’s political culture. These are some examples of political culture that show how much certain deeply held views and basic values persist over time. The Japanese still tend to submit to the authority of those in office, even when they dislike their corruption and incompetence. Americans, who founded their country on minimal government and freedom, tend not to submit to authority, indeed they consider their democratic birth-right to criticize the way the country is governed, even if they know little about the issues. In political culture, Japan and the United States are vastly different. Another example are Russians, who have never experienced free democracy, still tend to support strong leaders.
55. What is the difference between political culture and public opinion?
Because both political culture and public opinion look at attitudes towards politics, they are often associated, and also confused; however, they differ in a number of ways.
- On one hand, political power looks for basic and general values on politics and government, providing the foundation of legitimacy for the state itself. On the other hand, public opinion is concerned with immediate views of leaders and public policies, and it seeks responses to current issues.
- Moreover, both use survey as an important tool, but for different purposes: political culture explores issues such as the level of trust among citizens, while public opinion explores issues such as the level of appreciation for the current president or prime minister.
- Political culture often goes beyond survey, making use of social sciences such as anthropology and psychology, while resorting to history and literature for the close observation of daily life and for the deep questioning of individuals about their feelings. Public opinion studies rarely go beyond quantified data, because they analyze more objective issues.
- Furthermore, political culture is thought to be nearly permanent or subject to slow changes, because of its certain underlying elements that persist for centuries. Public opinion is said to be fickle and subject to quick changes, according to the political situation that a country is facing.
However, this last differentiation is not as strong as the previous ones. As a matter of fact, recent studies have shown that political culture is rather changeable too. Periods of stable, efficient government and economic growth solidify feelings of legitimacy; periods of indecisive chaotic government and economic downturn are reflected in weakening legitimacy. In addition, public opinion, if held long enough, eventually turns into political culture.
56. Do you agree with the findings of the classic work The civic culture (Verba, Almond)?
The civic culture is Almond and Verba’s pioneering study of cross-national differences in political beliefs and values. From a deep and scrupulous research, they discerned three general political cultures: participant, subject and parochial. Every country is its own mixture of all three of these ideal types.
- A participant political culture is one in which people understand and pay attention to politics. They are proud of their country’s political system and are willing to discuss it, believing that they can influence politics. Accordingly, they show a high degree of political competence and efficacy.
- A subject political culture is one in which people pay attention to politics in a more passive way: they follow political news but are not proud of their country’s political system and feel little emotional commitment towards it. They are uncomfortable discussing politics and feel they can do little to influence it; consequently, their sense of political competence and efficacy is lower; some even feel powerless.
- A parochial political culture is one in which many people do not care much that they are citizens of a nation: they take no price in their country’s political system and expect little of it. They pay no attention to politics and seldom speak about it. They have neither the desire nor the ability to participate; accordingly, they are not able to develop political competence or efficacy and feel powerless in the face of existing institutions.
I agree very much with Almond and Verba’s study. Indeed, when we talk about participant countries, we indicate the US and Britain which have one of the highest political participation on an international ranking scale. Thinking about subject political culture we think about Italy which has a middle political participation and finally, when we indicate countries such as Mexico, we find a parochial political culture that is a very low political participation.
57. What are the effects of the decline of civic culture?
Today’s political culture in advanced democracies is growing more cynical and voters seem to be more suspicious toward government which is becoming corrupted and ineffective. Indeed, the U.S. political culture saw a tremendous decline during the Vietnam war (1960s-1970s) and since then it never recovered to the levels it had before. American political culture is not as unified and legitimate as it used to be, indeed, it developed a form of so-called “culture war”, a nasty polarization between conservatives and liberals, who dislike and vote against each other. Moreover, some scholars (such as Robert Putnam in his 2000s work Bowling Alone) have also recognized the decline of the American tendency to form associations as an auxiliary feature of the decline of its civic culture. In fact, the French political philosopher Tocqueville in 1830s remained fascinated by the large amount of associations that were formed in America compared to France. However, old associations are clearly shrinking and many theorists fear political and economic repercussions. As Francis Fukuyama argued, trust or “spontaneous sociability” underpins economic growth and stability, hence “high trust” societies are prosperous, while “low trust” ones are not. On the brighter side, another school of thought sees the growth of distrust and cynicism as natural and not necessarily bad. Higher education levels are making citizens more aware of the gap between promises and actions, and they are much more willing to criticize. Consequently, the decline of political culture is really the growth of critical citizens.
58. What is the “Protestant Work ethic”?
The “Protestant work ethic” is an expression that Max Weber used to argue that protestant values pushed people to work hard and amass capital Protestantism laid down the cultural basis of capitalism-. This argument sustains the thesis according to which the protestant countries of northwest Europe were the first capitalist and democratic nations. Even today they have high levels of trust, rule of law and little corruption. Countries that lack this tradition, such as Rwanda and Egypt, fail to achieve economic development and democracy.
59. What is the possible influence of Confucianism on political development?
Some scholars argue that Confucianism has played a crucial role in Asia’s recent economic development (ex: China, which is the birthplace of Confucianism). It indeed promotes values such as discipline among citizens, money saving, and hard work, which foster the growth of advanced societies (even in countries that do not have natural resources such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore). Confucianism can be thus considered the oriental parallel of Protestantism, which was said to have laid down the cultural basis of capitalism in western European countries. It indeed promoted values such has trust, rule of law, and aversion to corruption, which even today still characterise these places. Citizens in the Middle East, on the other hand, are staunchly Islamic and mistrust each other. Their oil wealth has brought only a semblance of modernization, no democracy, and the highest unemployment rate in the world.
60. What are the main features of political subcultures?
The political culture of a country is not monolithic or uniform. Indeed, there can be found within it differences between the mainstream culture and subcultures, hence differences between elite and mass attitudes. Elites (people with better education, higher income and more influence) are more likely to participate to political life: an important finding of the Civic Culture study confirmed that the more education people have, the more likely they are to take part to the political debate. In general, better educated people feel more confident in writing political papers, speaking in public, organizing groups and so on (they show greater political competence and efficacy).
On the other hand, uneducated people feel powerless, in part because they lack confidence and skills. This naturally leads to an irony of democratic politics: theoretically a democracy is open to all. Yet only a few people -those wealthier and better-educated choose to participate. Of course, government policy responds to those interests. So democratic government is not government by the whole citizenship, rather, it is government by citizens who choose to have their voices heard. Thus, the right to vote in a democracy is a mere starting point and does not guarantee equal access to decision making.
61. What is political socialization?
Political socialization is the process of acquisition of political values and manners that is essential for a stable government. Nobody is born with a priori acquired values, but they learn them during life through their family, teachers, television and all possible external influences. Different groups condition which values we learn and some have a greater effect than others. This may explain why people living in cultural ghettos, such as minorities in America’s inner cities, adopt subcultures that are often diametrically opposed to popular culture.
62. What are the main agents of political socialization?
- Family: parents represent the most influential factor for a child; most children grow up adopting the same political values of their family. Often other attempts at socialization will fail if they are at odds with the beliefs of the children’s parents. Children accept parental values unconsciously and uncritically; a study found that those who had a voice in decisions at home have a greater adult sense of political efficacy.
- School: more deliberate socialization occurs in school. History has been used to inculcate political ideals, such as patriotism and pride. The more education they have, the greater their sense of commitment and responsibility to the community is. Education is important also for its capacity of creating responsible citizens with more open-minded attitudes.
- Peer groups: friends, peer groups and playmates also play an important role in the acquisition of values. As the traditional familiar structure declined, this type of influence became more and more predominant. However, many families prefer to move near those similar to themselves; in this way empathy toward other perspectives and subcultures suffers – one explanation for the growth of polarized politics.
- Mass media: the mass media is gaining more and more influence – someone argues that this influence might be also negative – let’s just think about fake news spreading through the Internet. Robert Putnam argued that watching TV makes people passive and uninterested in community or group activities. On the other hand, governments might use mass media to inculcate political ideologies – but here, as with school, the mass media may be unsuccessful if their messages are at odds with what family and religion teach. Mass media cannot do everything alone. Mass media can also reinforce political factions – such as conservatives and liberals in the U.S.
- Government is itself an agent of socialization, especially if it delivers rising living standards. Many governmental activities, such as parades, flags and so on, all serve to instil political values, to build support and loyalty. However, the power of government to control political attitude is limited because messages and experiences reach individuals through conversations with other people who put their own spin on messages. Alienated groups may socialize their children to dislike the government and ignore its messages.
1. What is the relationship between public opinion and knowledge?
Public opinion concerns people’s reactions to specific and immediate policies and problems. In this sense, it constitutes a crucial element in every democracy. Public opinion does not necessarily imply that citizens have strong, clear, or united convictions; such unity is rare.
The relationship between public opinion and knowledge is related to the fact that public opinion often shows widespread ignorance Officials may use public opinion polls to fill the gaps so they know what people think about specific issues like health care or a war. But public opinion is often ignorant, fickle, and untrustworthy.
If you are a politician, you must carefully consider whether polls accurately represent true public opinion, whether it is the best for the country, and the consequences of acting contrary to public opinion.
- A 2006 Harris Poll found that, after three years of news reports to the contrary, half of Americans still believed Iraq had WMD in the 2003 war.
- Brexit - Carole Cadwalladr
2. What is “salience”?
No social category is ever 100 percent for or against something. Thus, once we have determined the differences among social categories, we may be able to say something about salience, which is the degree to which social categories and particular issues divide public opinion of a country.
3. Sometimes working-class people tend to be more conservative than middle upper-class people. Why?
Social class does matter in shaping public opinion. Over the decades, the average American worker has tended to vote Democratic, while the better-off voter has tended to vote Republican. But these are only tendencies, and can be affected by many other factors. On religious matters, poor people can be more conservative, while wealthy people can be liberal or even radical. In recent elections, white working-class Americans shifted to the Republicans, motivated by non-economic issues such as race, gun control, morality (abortion, gay rights), and military leadership, while more educated people shifted to the Democrats. This change in the correlation between social class and political affiliation is also caused by economic factors; as the white working and middle classes fell further behind in the socioeconomic ladder, many accepted the conservative Republican argument that it was all the fault of big government, taxation, and debts. On the other hand, many upper-middle-class voters saw the need for government to correct imbalances and voted Democrat.
4. What is the effect of education and religion on political preferences?
Education contributes much to enforcing public opinion. Education in the U.S. has a split political impact; educated people tend to be more liberal on non-economic issues, they are more tolerant, support civil liberties, and have a better understanding of points of view; on the other hand, on economic issues, many of them are more conservative.
Religion is often the most explosive issue in politics and contributes a great deal in shaping public opinion. Protestants, at least among whites, tend to vote Republican. In the 1980s, the rise of the “religious right” created a “God gap” in American politics. Religious fundamentalist groups have become extremely political, with roughly one American in seven identifying as religious fundamentalists. Televangelists mobilised their congregations against pornography, abortion, and gay rights, as well as for Republican candidates. Within the Republican Party, Christian conservatives became a powerful force.
5. What is a center-periphery tension? Can you make an example?
Every country has its regional tensions. Outlying regions of a nation, which are portions of a country with a strong sense of self and sometimes cultural differences, often harbor resentments toward the capital, resulting in center-periphery tensions. Such tensions are often historically-rooted, most of the time an outlying region was brought into the national by force and has never been happy about it; Scotland for example, which has always sought independence, in 2015 almost entirely voted for the Scottish National Party.
In the U.S. most “sunbelt” states (region that stretches across the Southern and Southwestern portion of the country) tend to be more conservatives, whereas the “frostbelt” of northern and eastern states are more liberal.
6. What is the gender gap?
The gender gap, in this case, is the tendency of American women to vote more Democratic than do men. Traditionally, and especially in Catholics countries, women were more conservative, with a focus on home, family, and morals. However, as society evolves men and women’s perspective shift. Since 1980s women became several percentage points more liberal and Democratic than men, as they started approving federal programs for home and family, while disliking the Republican emphasis on war and disdain for women’s rights.
7. What is a unimodal curve? Why is it important for democracy?
The way people feel about issues can be summarize in curves, that show the distribution of opinions on a range from one extreme position to the other.
On many issues, public opinion forms a “bell-shaped”, or unimodal distribution, which show ideological distribution with few extreme leftists or rightists. This opinion curve is at the basis of democracy; the political system will collapse if many people take extreme positions and form a U-curve. Almost all democratic countries have unimodal distributions of opinion on basic issues – democracy is a centrist thing.
8. How can you explain the presence of bimodal distribution on key political issues?
A bimodal distribution of “U-curve” is one in which the extremes are bigger than the center. Even in democratic countries, such as the United States, polarizing issues in politics are common. Abortion for example is a polarizing issue; most Democrats support a pro-choice position, whereas most Republicans are pro-life. However, the polarizing trend is something that needs to be kept an eye on; in the U.S. the polarization between Conservatives and Liberals is constantly growing, and many fears that in the long-run this would threaten political stability.
9. What is the difference between independent and dependent variable?
A variable is a factor that changes over time. Such change should be conditioned by some other factor. The factor which causes the change is defined as the independent variable, while the variable which changes is called dependent.
Even though some variable affects the change of another, it is not rare that the latter influences the former in some way, too. In this case, we can state that there is a high covariance: the values of both the two variables influence one another.
10. What is a presidential rating?
Presidential rating is one of the oldest and most important items in U.S. public-opinion polls, which asks how the president is handling the job – which is not necessarily how much people “like” the president; presidents usually start out with a lot of support and then lose it. They have a honeymoon with the press and the public during their first few months to a year in office, making it easier for them to get their agenda pass through the Congress. However, after some years in office, with the accumulation of problems and the wrong choices, success is lacking, and they seldom leave the office as popular as they were during their first years.
11. What is intensity of preferences? How is it related to groups such as the NRA or the Jewish community?
The intensity of preferences is the firmness and enthusiasm with which an opinion is held. Elected officials are apt to pay attention to the group with the most intensely held views.
Although Jews make up less than 2% of the population in the United States, they are such ardent supporters of Israel that most elected officials are pro-Israel.
The majority of Americans support some form of gun control, but they are divided on the issue. Opponents of gun control, such as the NRA, are ferocious and, as a result, powerful. The passionate beliefs of a few people often triumph over the opinions of a large number of people who are unconcerned.
12. What are the main dangers related to the excessive reliance on opinion polls by a government?
One current controversy is the effect of “exit polls”, in which voters are questioned just as they leave the voting place. In the US They have been widely criticized because with the three-hour time difference between the East and the West Coast, they enable television to predict winners in the East, while westerners still have hours in which to cast ballot. In this way, the early prediction in the East could persuade westerners not to bother to vote; moreover, if the early prediction is accurate, a falloff in voters could harm state and local candidates, who may have won if more people had voted.
There are many reasons for supporting the thesis that the U.S. should not be governed by polls. As we have already seen, on many issues, the general public has no knowledge or opinion, which lets the intensely-held views of a minority dominate poll results. Furthermore, leaders, with modern communication tools, can manipulate public opinion in their favor and encourage people to give them the kind of feedback they want to hear.
Volatility and no attitudes are also serious problems. What the public likes one year may turn out to be unpopular the next.
Decisions based on a survey may backfire once the consequences are realized.
63. Does government follow or create public opinion?
Public opinion represents citizens’ reaction to current, specific issues and events, and of course public opinion is not the same as individual opinion. Public opinion deals exclusively with political and social issues, not with private matters. Public opinion is important in a democracy even though some say that politicians pay too much attention to it. In fact, elections provide only a restricted expression of the public’s will, so public surveys could be more useful to politicians when they try to understand the citizenship’s opinion regarding specific issues. In these cases, we can say that the government follows public opinion since it needs feedback in order to understand what should be changed and what do people want.
A strong public opinion can heavily affect government decisions: at the beginning of the Vietnam War, public opinion was on the government side, but after some time it switched; the concern and the disapproval were so strong that U.S. had to withdraw its troops. Any government, also a non-democratic regime, is vulnerable to public opinion.
However, we can notice that in regimes in which mass media are controlled and freedom of speech is not permitted, it is the government that creates the public opinion, since it manipulates or remove people who oppose news fed by the dictatorship.
64. How can public opinion be shaped by government officials?
All governments attempt to manipulate their citizens’ beliefs, especially through communication media. The mass media can in fact been thought as mediators between political elites and citizens.
For instance, the brutality of sheriffs’ deputies in Alabama toward African Americans demanding the right to vote was strategically televised and turned public opinion in favor of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Governments are vulnerable to public opinion as well: they must pay attention to it, if they care to win the elections.
65. Which factors shape public opinion in your country?
Public opinion is never static; it changes quickly and is shaped by various factors:
- Social class (the division of society based on income) is massively salient in determining public opinion through objective and subjective determination measures. Objective determinations ask people their annual income or judge their neighborhood. Subjective determinations simply ask respondents what their social class is. The way a person ears a living may be more important than the amount he or she makes. Indeed, different political attitude group up around different jobs.
- Education contributes to polarization of public opinion. Moreover, rising education costs prevent many citizens from joining the educated class. Generally, the educated classes are more liberal on non-economic issues but more conservative on economic ones. On the contrary, lower and middle classes are liberal on economic issues but more conservative and intolerant in the areas of race and patriotism.
- Regions (portions of a country with a sense of self and sometimes a different culture) typically shape public opinion as far as center-periphery tensions are concerned. This is true of Quebec and Scotland and the former Confederate states, which were brought into the nation without their consent. Such regions feel economically disadvantaged by the central area and may have different languages.
- Religion is often the most explosive issue in politics; it is expressed through denomination or religiosity. The former refers to a subgroup that operates under a common identity. The latter is the degree of commitment to one’s religion. It is typically believed that, the more a person goes to mass, the more likely he or she is to vote for a conservative party. On the other hand, non-practicing or atheist people usually vote for liberal parties.
- Age can shape public opinion according to two main theories: the life cycle theory and the generation theory. According to the former people change as they age: young people are naturally radical and idealistic, while older people, who have much more worries, are more moderate or even conservative. According to the latter, whole generations are marked for life by great events of their young adulthood: survivors or wars and depressions remember them for decades and color their views on war, economy, and politics.
- Gender is crucial especially as far as women’s attitudes are concerned. As society modernizes, more women work outside the home and develop their own perspectives on social and economic problems. In the US a gender gap in public opinion appeared in the 1980s as many women voted democratic far more than men. As a matter of fact, women liked federal programs for home and family, and disliked the republican emphasis on war and disdain for women’s rights.
- Race and ethnicity play a distinct role, especially in multi-ethnic societies, where minority groups tend to form political subcultures. Indeed, a specific ethnic group is usually identified with a specific political tendency. To illustrate, during the nineteenth century, American Jews were mostly Republican, for the Republicans criticized the anti-Semitic repression of the tsarist Russia. The Jewish immigrants of the twentieth century instead went Democratic.
- Elite and mass views also contribute to create a gap in public opinion. Often elite opinion and mass opinion diverge toward political and economic issue. Elites usually have more complex and sophisticated perspectives. The masses often do not understand complicated issues and resent decisions after they have been made.
66. What is the theory of political generations?
The theory of political generations (by Karl Mannheim) is the view according to which sometimes whole generations are marked for life by great events of their young adulthood. Survivors of wars and depressions remember them for decades and color their views on war, economy, and politics. In addition, many who lived through the Vietnam War, for instance, were instinctively critical of the US war in Iraq.
67. What are the three classic opinion curves?
The classic curves of public opinion show the distribution of opinion on a range from one extreme position to the other one. They can be skewed, unimodal, or bimodal. A skewed or J curve describes a matter on which there are few doubters. A unimodal or bell-shaped curve shows few people at the extremes and most in the moderate centre: it is at the basis of stable and enduring democracies. A bimodal or U curve illustrates a matter on which extreme views are more than the moderate ones: it is at the basis of unstable political systems and it is usually a warning sign of potential extremist takeovers.
68. Why is the life cycle theory important in explaining change in public opinion?
The life cycle theory is important in explaining the change in public opinion, since it holds that people’s views change as they age. Young people are naturally radical while older people are more moderate or even conservative. With few responsibilities, young people can be idealistic and rebellious, but with the burdens of home, job, and family, they tend to become conservative.
69. Why have exit polls been criticized?
Exit polls are those in which voters are questioned just as they leave the balloting place. In the US They have been widely criticized because with the three-hour time difference between the East and the West
Coast, they enable television to predict winners in the East, while westerners still have hours in which to cast ballot. In this way, the early prediction in the East could persuade westerners not to bother to vote; moreover, if the early prediction is accurate, a falloff in voters could harm state and local candidates, who may have won if more people had voted.
70. Why does it matter to know the population being sampled?
Knowing that the population has been sampled is important because a pollster first has to decide whose opinions he wants to represent in the survey. As a matter of fact, not all opinions are of equal importance; often pollsters are interested only in the people likely to vote in an upcoming election, or in the opinion of registered voters. Of course, conclusions can be drawn only if the sample is representative, i.e. if each individual has an equal chance of being selected to represent the whole population. However, asking questions to the wrong people such as the ones that are not well informed on the subject of the survey or those who will not, at the end, vote for the person they said they would vote, increases the margin of error (range around sample’s results within which population’s opinions likely fall).
71. What is a random sample?
A simple random sample is the most basic way to create a representative sample. In a simple random sample, a subset of population is chosen by random chance to represent the general public opinion.
72. What does presidential “popularity” really measure?
Presidential popularity measures the degree to which people are satisfied with the president’s job. Typically, presidents start with high support and then decline: during their first years in office, they indeed benefit from great public approval; however, after some years problems accumulate and they seldom leave office as popular as they were at the beginning. Some suspect that presidents, especially later in their terms of office, deliberately try to appear decisive in a dramatic way to boost their sagging popularity. The highest support ratings came with dramatic foreign-policy event. On the other hand, a long war, for instance, destroys popularity.
73. What is intensity and volatility?
Intensity is the firmness and enthusiasm with which an opinion is held.
Volatility is the tendency of public opinion to change quickly.
74. What is the difference between elite media and popular media?
The elite media is newspapers, radio stations, TV channels and other media that have a great deal of influence on the decision makers. Examples of elite media are the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times. Elite media are red by a small portion of the population, the so-called “attentive public” which are generally better-educated and wealthier people. They are usually more critical; go into more detail and dig deeper into the story of the news they are reporting. On the other hand, popular media usually tend to argue about more trivial and entertaining arguments such as love, lifestyle, TV shows, sports, health etc. It is important to mention that mass media strongly influence politics and that there is a distinction in the use of them made by different people: better-educated people tend to constantly follow political and economic news, whereas those with less education are more apt to use mass media generally for entertainment.
75. What is investigative journalism?
The elite press specializes in “investigative reporting”, searching for government and partisan corruption, which the average newspaper avoids due to the risk of lawsuits. When the Pentagon Papers were released by the NYT in 1971 it shocked the country. The Washington Post’s persistent investigation of the 1972 Watergate burglary brought down the Nixon administration in 1974. The rise of accountability journalism has led to “gotcha” reporting and the willingness to investigate and uncover everything.
76. What are the consequences of social media for politics?
The political impact of social media is constantly growing, especially among young people. The internet offers a wide range of news, and often can catch stories that are overlooked by the mainstream media. Blogs, which are not beholden to anybody, revealed shady campaign donations, torture, warrantless surveillance, and the financial crisis sooner and more extensively than newspapers or television. Digital media can also undermine undemocratic regimes: young Tunisians, Egyptians, and Syrians mobilized against dictatorial regimes using their mobile phones. Another unique feature of digital media is that they involve a two-way flow of ideas, and this can promote democratic participation; the public can post comments to a news story, like a Facebook post or retweet an idea. The conversation about the original story can itself become the story if it “goes viral.”
77. What is the bounce back effect?
In order to explain the bounce back effect, we must think of the Iraq War of 2003 – at the very beginning the Iraq invasion had strong media support; 9/11 was a massive rally event that evoked emotional and uncritical support for president Bush from all directions, including the press. The media accepted administration claims that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction (WMD). After the war, no WMD were found and attempts to establish a functioning democracy in the midst of deadly instability were vain. As if in revenge for having been misled, much of the media turned critical, and the administration again argued that the press was misinforming the public and undermining morale. Some blame the media for the decline of public support for the war, but in fact, time and mounting casualties seem to cause the decline, not television. Americans simply do not like long wars. Indeed, within a few years of the invasion in 2003, editorials of all stripes—including conservative Republicans—were protesting against the failed job in Iraq. So strong were the criticisms that the White House could not cover them for long – the media in this case seem to follow a BOUNCE BACK pattern, </u>they initially support administration statements and frames, but when they know they have been deceived, they become angered and hostile</u>. In 2004 both the NYT and the WP released unusual apologies for having believed administration statements that contributed to the 2003 war.
78. What was the role of social media in recent US elections?
The political impact of the internet, as we have already said, is very profound. For the first time, Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination included online fundraising. It was a massive success, and other presidential candidates followed his path; according to one estimate, Obama’s 2012 campaign raised nearly $700 million online.
79. How does contemporary authoritarian regime use modern propaganda tools?
Modern social media can undermine undemocratic regimes; millions of Chinese social media users comment on scandals and dismiss major political figures. Most countries, also China, allow social media for the sake of economic development, but with the economic and technological comes also the political and critical, breaking the regime’s information monopoly. Although China employs tens of thousands of social media watchers and imprisons critical bloggers, the Chinese take pride in their open-source software that allow them to bypass the “Great Firewall”.
80. How did television change political communication?
In the presidential nomination, television plays a crucial role, as candidates struggle to gain additional support and as much television exposure as possible, and this is essential for becoming more and more visible to even more and more citizens. Television tries to portrait the personality of candidates, that often does not match the reality. With television as the major factor, a candidate can come out from nowhere and win the top national office with little political experience (such as Obama did). Television has some negative aspects, some say it induces passivity and apathy: as Robert Putnam pointed out, voters are saturated with politics, ending up losing interest – on the other hand, political campaigning has become more costly (a one-minute sport can go for $100.000 or more), and today it represents a big business, to such an extent that in most cases the winner side is the candidate that spent the most money. Once a candidate wins, television becomes focused on the president, creating a kind of president worship, increasing citizens’ expectations; they see the president as a parental figure, able to fix all the problems. This should make a president happy, but then, when he fails to fix problems, the ultra-critical mass media become encouraging dissatisfaction, criticizing what they used “to love”.
81. What is framing?
“Framing” is a concept that has been developed by sociologist Erving Goffman, referring to the basic line and interpretation of a news story. Framing does not always imply deliberate inclination; rather, it is a required restriction that helps reporters, editors, and readers to understand the news.
Again, we can bring into play the example of the Iraq war: The Bush administration initially FRAMED Iraq war in terms of terrorism and WMD and won the media initial support. When the media realized, they had been misled, they REFRAMED the Iraq tale as one of civil war and chaos. The Iraq War was a high-stakes framing contest between the White House and the media. To protect yourself from sometimes misleading frames, you must use multiple news sources, be aware that different political sides are trying to frame stories for their own political sake, and finally treat all news stories with skepticism and patience.
82. How does the political partisanship and the ownership of the media changes political communication?
Political partisanship of the media affects political communication since it frames the story in favor of the party they support. They might depict badly the leader of the opposition, criticizing it and finding flows in every decision and action he/she makes. This may lead to a change in public opinion that can overthrow the leader in the next election. Furthermore, they do not always tell the truth and manipulate the public, it is basically a continuous propaganda. Moreover, on the radio we often find popular “talk radio” hosted by angry right-wingers or “All Things Considered” which reinforce liberal views. On the other hand, very little ownership and control from the state over communications means that the government has less control over people, which can express their opinion more freely; this can be good but at the same time can be a threat to the government.
83. What is an interest group? What is its purpose?
Interest groups influence politics, and they arose from the idea that on your own, even in a democracy, you can actually do little. The term “interest group” refers to any group of people attempting to influence government policy. Some interest groups are temporary, while others are long-term – some are focused on influencing a specific policy, while others are concerned with broad changes. However, they are all non-publicly-accountable organizations that seek to influence public policy outcomes in order to promote shared private interests.
In this regard, interest groups and parties are similar: they both try to influence public policy, but interest groups do it outside the electoral process and are not responsible to the public. On the other hand, a party must win elections, whereas interest groups may have an influence on the nomination of candidates who support their cause, but the candidate still run under the banner of the party.
84. Name different types of interest groups, according to goals and membership
There are several types of interest groups, that promote different causes. Interest groups can be either public or private. The majority of interest groups are economic groups, and work for the economic advancement of its members; this includes labor union groups, special interest groups like the National Rifle Association, or professional groups like the American Bar Association. Agricultural groups such as the National Farmers Union. Many groups, such as the American Forest and Paper Association or the Global Exchange, advocate for the environment. Others, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) support civil rights causes.
The pluralistic view is theoretically good, but in practice the playing field is not level among interest groups. Wealthy people – who tend to be also better educated – and have much higher levels of political competency are far more likely to organize and advocate for their interests. On the other hand, the poor in society lack those organizing skills and are often cut out from political processes.
85. What is a single-issue group? What is the difference with other groups?
After money, the greatest influencing factor is the strength of the issue involved. The 1970s saw the rise of single-issue groups, that are interested association devoted to one cause only. Interest groups typically have multiple points of view on issues because their interests span multiple programs and departments; organized labor tries to influence government on issue of Social Security, medical insurance, education, and so on. To single-issue groups only one issue matters – normally their issues are moral, and therefore hard to compromise. It is the case of the right to life, or anti-abortion movement for example, many Roman Catholics and Protestants believe that human life begins at the moment of conceptions and that aborting a fetus is murder.
86. What is the role of trade unions?
Trade unions, also known as labor unions, represent workers at work in front of their employers' management. For their existence, trade unions are protected by federal and state laws. Today labor unions in the U.S. are not very powerful – unionized workforce today is about 12%, and most of them are in the public sector. U.S. unions seem powerful because they attract much attention when they strike at major firms, but business has far more clout than unions.
87. What are the main strategies an interest group?
Probably the most important single factor in determining the success of a group is money – in approaching lawmakers, which is the first strategy employed by interest groups, lobbying receives the most attention. Someone believes that money buys access to political representatives, and this increases the effectiveness of well-founded groups in advocating their interests.
- Big tobacco, which is especially generous to incumbent Republican candidates, routinely weakens or blocks anti-smoking legislation.
- Approaching the administration is another strategy employed by interest groups; depending on the situation, the executive branch might be more convenient to approach rather than Congress. This occurs when a group do not want necessarily a new law, but rather a favorable interpretation of an existing one.
- Also, approaching the judiciary might be a good tactic – the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) used the courts to fight for changes to laws that promoted discrimination.
- Some groups do not possess the economic resources to fund media campaign, thus they must rely on public demonstrations – an example might be the nonviolent protests of Gandhi and MLK Jr. Violent protests then are the only tactics that can be used by groups that found themselves totally ignored by the system. Such protests can be useful – much of the Great Society legislation for example was passed during a period of urban riots.
The strength of an interest group heavily relies on its public image and how much it invests in public relation, thus appeals to the public is very important in this regard, television is a good tool for spreading interests and gain support.
88. What is Mancur Olson’s main idea about organized groups in the Logic of Collective Action?
According to American economist Mancur Olson’s the Logic of Collective Action theory, small well-organized groups, particularly those with money, often override the larger public interest, and the explanation is that the former have much to gain from favorable but limited laws and rulings, so they lobby hard. The latter, on the other hand, have little to gain, are not well-organized or focused, and do not lobby much. The general public is unconcerned for instance about price increases in shoelaces, but shoelace manufacturers are. The few have the advantage over the rest.
89. What are the main functions of political parties?
Political parties a sort of bridge between citizens and government, helping the former to be heard and to have some impact on political decisions. Parties foster several aspects of a country’s political life:
- connecting citizens to their government, the very core of democratic politics.
- Aggregating diverse interests in society, by combining them into larger interest/aggregation.
- Increasing the political participation of groups that had previously been left out by integrating them into the political system, and this prevent groups from becoming radicalized and violent.
- Serving as agents of socialization by helping their members learn to play the political game;
- Being the training ground for future leaders.
- Mobilizing voters, this means that they have the capacity to mobilize participation in politics; in Sweden for instance, the great organization and engaging spirit of parties have produced voter turnouts of 90%.
- Finally, parties organize government, by distributing government jobs; in Britain for instance the winning party achieve the control of both the legislative and the executive branches.
90. Define party socialization
Parties socialize their members to participate in politics, teaching them how to play the political game, thus deepening their political competence, understanding the complexity of political phenomena, and building among them a sense of trust for the system as a whole. They are also the training ground for future leaders. Some European parties have attempted to create distinct subcultures in the past, with party youth groups, soccer leagues, newspapers, women’s pages, and other initiatives. However, the effort backfired because when these parties socialized their members to engage in politics, they grew out of their subcultures.
91. Define party identification
Party socialization often produces partisan identification (or Party ID), which is an enduring psychological commitment to a party even if it develops over time. Party ID is not the same as party registration; it is a psychological, even emotional, connection to a political party and it last an entire lifetime. Like religion, it may become a part of an individual’s identity.
In early life, children are socialized to affiliate with a political party through the influence of their parents, who instill in their children a variety of beliefs, including political values. Without a party affiliation, any candidate or cause will have to recruit new supporters. Party ID gives continuity; when a Reagan or a Clinton leaves office, most supporters shift to the next Republican (Bush).
92. What is a “relevant party”?
According to political scientist Giovanni Sartori, parties which must be considered in either campaigning for votes or forming coalitions should be classified as relevant. Accordingly, a party is irrelevant when it is so tiny that no major party has to worry about attracting its supporters. Similarly, if it is not needed in the formation of a governing coalition, it is irrelevant. Examples of irrelevant parties are the British Trotskyists and Irish Communists, that are ignored by all Sweden’s Liberals and Israel’s small religious parties, each with only a few percent of the vote, may be necessary coalition partners and thus count as relevant parties.
93. Describe the differences between Duverger’s Three types of political parties
French political scientist Maurice Duverger developed three categories of political parties:
- The mass parties, such as West European Socialist parties, are well-organized and aim for a broad and ideologically committed membership. They found themselves with members’ dues.
- Cadre parties, such as the U.S. Democratic and Republican Parties, are weakly organized and based on a politically active elite.
- Devotee parties are those, like Nazis under Hitler, who founded their party around a single individual. One example was Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath (Arab Renaissance) Party in Iraq. Personalistic parties, however, seldom outlive their founders.
94. What is a catch all party?
Before WWII, many European parties were ideologically narrow, attempting to win over only certain sectors of the population, centrist and conservative parties for instance aimed at the middle and upper classes, agrarian parties on the other hand at farmers, and so forth. These were called Weltanschauung parties because they tried not merely to win votes but also to promote their view of the world. With growing prosperity after WWII, people started to reject the old ideological narrowness. “Old” parties were absorbed or pushed out of most of Western Europe by large, politically flexible parties that accepted all voters. German political scientist Otto Kirchheimer coined the term catchall to describe this new type of party. A catchall party thus is a political coalition that accommodates people who have a wide range of beliefs, principles, or background. Today, all parties in democratic lands must be catchalls if they want to win.
95. What is a party system?
Party system is the interaction of several parties with each other. Parties are the “trees”; party systems are the “forest”. The party system accounts for the overall health of the political system of a state, it determines whether the general system is stable or unstablesystem stability is also affected by the number of parties in the system and whether parties are center-seeking or center-fleeing.
96. Describe the main features of a one party/ two party/ dominant party/ multiparty system
Party systems can also be classified on the basis of the number of parties that exist within the system itself. There are 6 categories of party system:
- One-party systems: this is associated with totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. Within such system there is a single, legal party, which control every level of the government. The leaders of such parties claim that they are still democratic because they represent what the people really want and need, but it is not the truth. Citizens generally repudiate one-party systems. Ex. China.
- Dominant-party systems: in a dominant-party system there are several parties, but the deck is stacked against them. The dominant party can offer lots of incentives to its supporters; it controls television, and opposition parties are deliberately kept weak. Examples of dominant-parties are India’s Congress Party, Japan’s Liberal Democrats, Mexico’s PRI, Putin’s United Russia Party.
- Two-party systems: here two major parties have some chance of winning. Third parties exist but aren’t competitive and they usually serve to remind the major parties of voter discontent. Indeed, new political ideas come mostly from third parties. Two-party systems are those of the U.S. and Britain.
- Multiparty systems: Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway are examples of multiparty systems in which several political parties compete. They can be unstable, but do not always, as instability (the frequent changes of cabinet) much depends on other factors (such as political culture, degree of agreement on basic issues and so on).
- Two-plus party systems: these are systems with two major parties and a third party that is competitive and relevant. (Germany is an example of two-plus party system).
- Fluid party systems: party systems, usually in new and unstable democracies, are fluid and inchoate (not yet formed), thus parties rise and fall quickly. It is the case of the charismatic Latin American politicians that often invent new parties that rarely last in the long run. However, after some years, these systems may settle down into two-plus or multiparty systems.
As long as a country has more than one party, it can be considered a “multiparty system” – which purpose is to avoid corruption.
97. What is the relationship between party system and electoral system?
Within a party system, the electoral system (laws for running elections) plays a very important role One of the most critical institutional decisions a country can make is whether to use a single-member district or proportional representation electoral system. Single-member districts, such as the U.S. tend to produce two-party or two-plus party systems; small/third parties cannot compete and often give up trying. However, this encourages party cohesion, as all factions within a party know that they must stay together to have any future political chance. On the other hand, Proportional Representation systems allows, and perhaps even encourages parties to split. In a PR the number of seats is determined by the number of popular votes the party received, thus there is not such a big premium on holding a party together; a small party can decide that it can still have few people elected without having to compromise with other viewpoints (remember advantages/disadvantages of FPTP and PR systems).
98. Make an example of class voting in Europe
Class voting is the tendency of a given social class to vote for a party that promotes its economic interests. Unions are often linked to social-democratic or labor parties in most European countries, so class voting is stronger. The large Swedish and German unions, the LO and DGB, respectively, persuade the majority of their members to vote Social Democrat. Better-off Britons, French, Germans, and Swedes are more likely to vote for conservative parties in their respective countries. Two things muddy class-voting:
- working-class people who vote for conservative parties due to self-identification as middle-class, family traditions or individual beliefs;
- middle/upper class people who vote for parties of the left. The latter have an important role in providing working-class parties with educated leadership.
To conclude, class voting is not an accurate predictor of voting behavior as we would like, although it is still extremely relevant.
99. Make an example of regional voting in Europe
Some regions identify strongly with certain parties. Often these areas were historically conquered and subjugated and still harbor resentments. For example, Scotland and Wales, England’s “Celtic fringe”, vote more Labor party than England. Scots that still remember losing the Battle of Culloden in 1746, in 2015 gave almost all their seats to the Scottish National Party, which supports and campaigns for Scottish independence. Outlying regions may harbor economic and cultural resentments at rule by a distant capital, center-periphery tensions.
100. What are the main variables that might influence peoples’ vote? List at least five
There are several factors that can affect peoples’ vote, among them:
- Race and Ethnicity: U.S. African Americans and Hispanics heavily vote for Democrats. Whites are more inclined to vote Republicans. American political parties seem to be polarized along racial lines.
- Religion: the divide between religious and secular (non-religious) is also a crucial factor in the electoral system, with those who identify as being religious much more inclined to be conservative and vote for Republicans.
- Age: young people do not take a real position on political issues; they tend more to “catch the tide” of their youth and stay with it. Age groups react mostly to the economic trend. In 2008 and 2012 elections, most young voters identified with Obama, and it is likely that many of them will continue that identification through their lives.
- Gender gap: women are no longer traditional and conservative, this trend has reversed; today women tend to vote Democratic, mostly because of democratic welfare measures, for example contraception and abortion rights (this tendency helps the candidacy of Obama).
- Marriage gap: since 2000 it has been noted that unmarried people are several percentage points more Democrat than married couples, who tend to be more conservative and vote for Republicans. The problem for Republicans now is that only half of adult Americans are married.
- Gay gap: a 2012 exit poll suggested that gays and lesbians have a strong tendency to vote the Democratic Party; however, as rights-based issues such as same-sex marriage get resolves and other issues become salient this trend may change.
- Urban voting: big cities tend to vote strongly liberal of left – the working-class vote is concentrated in cities, and they are also educational centres, places where intellectuals proliferate. Small towns and rural areas citizens on the other hand are more inclined to embrace conservative values and to vote conservative parties.
101. What is an electoral realignment? Does it make sense to talk about it in countries different from the US?
Electoral realignment is a theory that seeks to explain how party ID can change. In general people retain their party ID for years, even for decades. According to the first version of the theory, watershed elections cause voters to abandon long-standing party identities in favor of new ones. These critical elections (a single election which proves to result in a realignment) favor the rise of new voting blocs and new issues, debates and topics. The second version of the theory holds that sudden and enduring shifts in party ID are exceptions, and that most such shifts are so-called secular realignments, slow and gradual shifts in party ID. Some suggest we are going through dealignment, that is a major long-term decline in party ID, this phenomenon goes hand in hand with the decline of voter’s turnout and a declining trust in Washington. In my opinion it does make sense to talk about electoral realignment also in other countries even thought it is more visible in America.
102. What is partisan polarization?
The U.S. electorate has shown strong partisan polarization recently, which sees opinion fleeing the center to form two hostile camps (in the U.S. a nasty polarization between conservatives and liberals). Many political scientists believe that this growing polarization could harm democracy. Dislikes and insults against the other side have become normal, as party identifiers have become more and more militant.
103. What is retrospective voting?
Retrospective voting is the accumulated or package views of voters toward incumbent president. It is called “retrospective” because it views in retrospect a whole four years of performance in office. Thus, citizens judge whether the government is doing a good job (or not), especially in the economic field, and then reward or punish the incumbent’s party. For example, after the 2008 financial crisis, voters punished the Republicans for the poor management of the economy by voting Democrat. Retrospective vote is clearly affected by many factors, such as party ID, issues and the candidate’s personality. A strong positive retrospective view could even turn into party identification.
104. What is a constituency?
A constituency is the whole body of voters (people or district) entitled to elect a representative. (Italian “collegio elettorale”). Most campaigns are designed to fit the opinions and needs of the candidate’s constituency which is often determined by public-opinion polls.
105. What is the relationship between constituency and elected representatives in proportional system? And in a First past the post system?
A constituency is the group of people or district that elects a representative, while the elected representatives are the members that have been elected. In the single-member district (FPTP) system there is just one member of the Parliament or the Congress that is elected to represent the district by winning a plurality of votes. On the other hand, with a proportional representation system we have more elected members that represent a single district.
106. What is the origin of modern Parliaments?
Political institutions were born as an attempt to limit the power of monarchs; they become more differentiated and complex as they become more modern. It was in Feudalism, during the Middle Ages, that we find for the first time a “balance of power” between monarch, nobles, and leading churchmen. Absolutist monarchs began to see their power limited as they needed notables for tax revenues (they needed some collaboration). In return for power of the purse, monarch gave nobles limited influence on royal policy. This serves as the basis for British parliament, Swedish Riksdag and French Estates General (the old, unused French parliament), that was soon forgotten as French monarchs turned to absolutism (the post-feudal concentration of power in monarch). By contrast, British and Sweden parliaments expanded their power and gradually resisted rulers’ absolutists requests. The English Civil War was a bloody struggle between the monarch Charles I and the parliamentarians over who had top power, which ended with the decapitation of Charles I in 1649.
Various philosophers have expressed their opinion on the importance of parliaments (legislative power); John Locke argued that parliament was the most basic and important institution – Montesquieu declared that liberty could be only guaranteed if the government was divided into two branches (the legislative and the executive) with the ability to check and balance each other.
107. What is the difference between Presidential and Parliamentary systems?
Presidential systems show more clearly the separation of powers between legislative and executive branches. Here president combines the roles of head of state and head of government, and he or she is elected directly by the people, essentially making them the country’s’ symbolic leader as well as the chief architect of public policy structure. Presidents in presidential systems have a great deal of power, and more significantly they are not accountable to the legislature, and they cannot be easily dismissed. A dismissal is possible through impeachment, the process by which a legislative body initiates charges against a public official for misconduct; but, as attempts to impeach Bill Clinton showed, even impeachment is not as effective as it might seem. In parliamentary systems, the head of state is frail, symbolic and distinct from the head of government (in contrast with the presidential systems, where the head of state is also the head of government). Citizens vote only for the legislature, NOT for the head of government, who is usually a member of parliament and the leader of the majority party. As a result, government is directly accountable to the legislature’s majority. If no party has a majority of seats, two or more parties must form a coalition (multiparty alliance to form a government), which can form a government – if the government is not supported by the majority, then it falls (in parliamentary system, a cabinet is voted out or resigns).
108. What is the difference between Semi-Presidential and Parliamentary systems?
A semi-presidential system is a form of government in which a president coexists alongside a prime minister and a cabinet. It differs from a parliamentary system in that it has a popular elected head of state, who is more than just a symbolic figurehead. So, to recap, you have a president and a prime minister that co-exist, and the president is directly elected and holds a significant degree of power. (Russia is an example of semi-presidential system).
109. What is the divided government in the US?
The American separation of power, the famous “checks and balances”, sets one branch of government as a check against the power of another. This arrangement is good for preventing tyranny because it prevents any single branch of government from being too dominant, but on the other hand it slows down and complicates government. The two branches (legislative and executives) often block each other; the Congress can refuse to pass anything the president wants, and in turn the latter can veto (an official power or right to refuse to accept or allow something) legislation approved by the Congress. Some people like this type of “divided government” because it keeps spending and bad policies in check. Even when the president and the majority of Congress belong to the same political party, tensions between the two branches remain and may prevent either branch from achieving its goals.
110. What is a vote of no confidence?
In parliamentary systems, if members of the governing party do not approve something coming from their own leaders in the cabinet, they can withdraw their support and vote “no confidence” in the government.
The government then falls, and the election of a new prime minister and cabinet takes place straight away. If the government makes a big policy error, parliament will dismiss the cabinet without having to wait for its term to end.
111. What is a confidence vote? What is the difference with a “no confidence”?
A vote of confidence is an occasion in which the members of parliaments are asked to say that they support the people in authority and agree with their actions. If the prime minister loses – a “vote of no confidence”, then the cabinet falls.
112. What is a minority government?
A minority government is a cabinet formed in a parliamentary system when a political party does not have a majority of seats in the parliament. (cabinet lacking firm majority in parliament). Parliamentary systems can be vulnerable to minority governments, which are less stable when it comes to preserving government coherence – when no party has a majority, forming a coalition government that relies on the support of other political parties is an option. A good example of what can go wrong is Italy: the coalition partners fight over policies, and one or more parties withdraw from the coalition, dropping the coalition’s majority in parliament below the required majority. Then the government falls for a lack of parliamentary support, with or without a formal vote of no confidence. This leads to instability, frequent cabinet changes, and a lack of executive authority. Indeed, since WWII, Italy has had sixty governments.
113. Why is the German Budesrat is similar to the US Senate?
The U.S. parliament (Congress) has two chambers, an upper house – the U.S. Senate, and a lower house, the U.S. House of Representatives. Likewise, the German parliament is divided into the Bundesrat (the upper, weaker chamber) and the Bundestag (the lower, more important chamber). The U.S. Senate is composed of senators, each of whom represents a single state in its entirety. Similarly, the Bundesrat represents the sixteen Länder (German federal states).
114. Why are committees important?
Committees are essential to the effective operation of legislative bodies. Committee membership allows members to gain advanced knowledge of the issues that fall under their jurisdiction. Committees serve as “mini-legislatures,” monitoring ongoing government activities, identifying problems for legislative review, gathering and evaluating information, and recommending actions to their parent body. Almost every legislature has a variety of standing or permanent committees, and they may create special ad hoc committees to investigate pressing issues from time to time. There are five standing committees in the British House of Commons, as well as other specialized committees.
115. Parliaments have the “power of the purse”. What does it mean?
The “power of the purse” is the influence that legislatures have over public policy because of their power to vote money for public purposes. The United States Congress must authorize the president’s budget requests to fund agencies and programs of the executive branch.
The first article of the US constitutions states that the Congress has the power of the purse, which is basically the capacity of legislators to tax and spend public money for the national government. However recently this power has shifted to the executive, with the role of Congress consisting on a reaction to the budget proposed by the White House.
116. What is the practice of “pork barrel”?
In Politics, the term “pork barrel” refers to spending intended to benefit constituents specifically, in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes. If you say that someone is using pork barrel political, you mean that they are spending a lot of government money on a local project in order to win the votes of the people who live in that area under the politer label “earmarks”, these programs include highways, bridges, flood control, military contracts, and farm subsidies.
117. Why does it happen more in combination with majoritarian electoral systems?
The phenomenon of pork barrel is more common in majoritarian systems because if you are a legislator and want to be re-elected, you must win the majority of votes in a specific district. Thus, legislators do whatever it takes to get re-elected which typically includes community projects. If the US and Japan really want to end pork, they must break the strong relations that exist between elected officials and their home districts. But it is precisely this relation that these democracies value. Do you prefer a system in which congresspersons are remote and uninterested in their constituents?
118. What are the causes of the “decline of Parliaments” hypothesis?
The decline of legislatures is a trend started in the 19th century due to several reasons:
- Structural disadvantages: in parliamentary systems, legislations are highly efficient but also very predictable; we can usually predict within a vote or two how the issue will be decided. In these systems, individual members play a tiny role – European parliaments are more efficient and rational than the U.S. Congress but they are also less powerful and interesting. The U.S. Congress on the other hand is more active and important – but this often prevents agreement (deadlock). Another structural problem in the U.S. Congress comes when a sixty-vote minimum to pass anything important in the Senate became the norm – it is hard to reach such a threshold when the parties within the Congress are so polarized. This turns the U.S. system into a vetocracy and has the potential to paralyze the U.S. government.
- Overspending: legislative capacity for overspending is built-in. Everyone is in support of a balanced budget, but every politician wants to spend money on pet projects that are linked to re-election. Several attempts to limit the spending had been attempted over the decades, but quickly the limits were forgotten. However, what Is good for one person might not be good for the aggregate (population considerate as a whole).
- Incomprehensible legislation: the average legislation passed in the U.S. today is twenty pages long! The minimum length of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (called “Obamacare” by some Republican”) was 2400 pages. Few Congresspersons read the bills for lack of time, and citizens are even more disgusted by that. Since modern society is complex, legislations cannot be short and clear, but practically nobody can understand them. As German Chancellor Bismarck quipped in the nineteenth century, you don’t want to know what goes into the making of laws and sausages.
- Lack of expertise: in most legislative branches, there is a lack of expertise because most lawmakers are not professional specializts in policy matters, such as technical, military, economic, or social problems. Of the 535 senators and representatives in both houses of Congress, normally more than half are lawyers. As a result, lawmakers must rely heavily on experts from the executive branch; most parliaments have little or no independent research support, as their data comes from either the government or private interest groups.
- Psychological disadvantages: presidents and prime ministers are more popular among citizens than legislatures. Parliaments are seen as a set of individuals who merely squabble with one another; this can contribute “president worship” and the illusions that he or she is the most significant political actors and the driver of government.
- The absentee problem: most of the time, most members of legislature need not to be present in the chamber; members are only really needed to vote, and often not even then. Thus, how could absenteeism be explained? Some of it is due to lack of time, as politicians are preoccupied with constituency duties, lobbying, committee service, and campaigning. It is true on the other hand, that some lawmakers are simply lazy. If bills were up for grabs, there would be more energy and stress to floor debate, and representatives would be more interested in showing up and participating.
- Lack of turnover: the lack of turnover in parliaments is another factor leading to their decline. Many representatives become career politicians who can run for re-elections as much as they want, resulting in a lack of new blood and fresh ideas/programs. When members of the legislative branch become increasingly out of touch, their ability to innovate and adapt to emerging developments in public opinion is harmed.
Philosopher John Locke was right: Parliaments are the foundation of democracy. But at the end of the story, worldwide legislatures have atrophied and power has shifted to the executive branch.
119. What are the advantages of the incumbency? (in which electoral system they are higher?)
In general, an incumbent has a political advantage over challengers at elections. Members of democratic legislators are more likely to be career legislators who serve for the rest of their lives. They are normally reelected for as long as they want to serve once elected. The advantages of incumbency are formidable: gerrymandered districts, name recognition, favors done for constituents (voters), media attention and plenty of campaign funds from companies and interest groups. Unless representatives are tarred by scandal, they almost cannot lose. This is common in first-past-the-post (FPTP) systems.
120. What is the difference between a head of state and a head of government?
A head of state, such as the queen of England or the king of Sweden, is technically the most powerful leader who, nevertheless, often performs only symbolic functions. The republics of Germany, Italy and Israel for instance have presidents as heads of state, but they do little in terms of practical politics.
The actual working executive is the head of government, known as the prime minister, premier, or chancellor. They usually lead their political parties, run election campaigns, and advise the government. In parliamentary systems, the national legislature indirectly elects the chief executive from its own ranks. So, prime ministers are accountable to parliament. This means that the prime minister’s power is based on the stability of his or her parliamentary majority. (the U.S. follow a different mechanism; they combine the two offices. Joe Biden now is both the head of state and chief of government).
121. Who is the head of state in the Italian system? And in the British system? And in the US system?
The head of state in the Italian system now is Sergio Mattarella. The British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state of the United Kingdom. Finally, in the U.S. this office is held by Joe Biden.
122. Who is the head of government in the Italian system? And in the British system? And in the US system?
The head of government in the Italian system today is Mario Draghi. the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, currently is Boris Johnson. Joe Biden is the head of government in the U.S.
123. What is the constructive vote of no confidence in Germany?
The concept of a constructive no-confidence vote is central to the German parliamentary structure. The chancellor may only be dismissed from office if the Bundestag votes in a replacement cabinet. This is known as “constructive no confidence,” and it has helped Germany’s governments remain stable. How does constructive no confidence work? No confidence allows a parliament to withdraw confidence from a head of government if and only if there is a positive majority for a prospective successor.
124. What is the cohabitation in France?
The “semi presidential” structure in France combines a working president with a prime minister. The president was elected directly for seven years (now reduced to five) and a parliament elected for five years. If both are of the same party, there is no problem. The president names a like-minded premier (prime minister), who represents the link between president and parliament. In political language, cohabitation is the situation that occurs when the president (head of state) is from a different political party than the majority of the members of parliament. Between 1986 and 1993, a socialist president was elected with a conservative plurality in parliament, increasing the possibility that the president’s appointment would be rejected by the majority. Cohabitation resulted as a result of this. The president (socialist) was in charge of international relations, while Gaullist (conservative) premiers were in charge of domestic affairs.
125. What are the main features of an efficient bureaucracy?
A bureaucracy is any large organization of appointed officials who implement laws and policies. Max Weber was the first to formally study bureaucracy, defining how theoretically a good bureaucracy should be:
- A hierarchical chain of command in which the top bureaucrat has ultimate authority.
- A distinct division of labor with each worker doing a specific job: each employee performs his specialized work in a predictable manner.
- A clearly defined and understood set of organizational goals.
- A clearly-written set of formal rules, which all employees agree to follow.
- Job performance is judged by worker productivity.
- Promotion is merit-based, meritocracy applies
126. What are the advantages of having a bureaucracy?
Simply put, it is a government body that is composed of non-politicians but who are appointed to help in policy-making and be in charge of administrative tasks in government agencies. People who work in bureaucracies are informally known as bureaucrats. Weber argued that a bureaucracy represents the most proficient form of organization, due to its possession of specialized expertise, certainty, continuity, and unity of purpose.
They are organized into a hierarchy, and they provide government with rationality, uniformity, predictability, and supervision.
Another definition of bureaucracy, also known as “civil service,” is “permanent government.” The career civil servants, that are professional civil servants, not political appointee, often spend their working life with one agency. Most of the governments we study are made of elected officials who come and go, but bureaucrats work for the government their whole careers and have a lot of experience, often more than their elected executives.
127. What are the main possible problems with bureaucracy?
As previously stated, bureaucracy seems to be widely reviled, and there are several reasons behind this disdain.
In France and Italy, for example, hating bureaucrats is part of the political culture. In the U.S. the bureaucracy is frequently the target of hostile political rhetoric and labelled as inefficient and wasteful. The issue is that all of the metrics we use to measure private programs or businesses, such as performance, productivity, and profitability, are difficult to apply to government programs. Bureaucracy may have specific pathologies that lead to public disdain for bureaucrats and bureaucratic institutions. Bureaucracies, for example, may show symptoms of what is now known as Eichmannism and “Parkinson’s Law.”
“I’m just doing my job,” said by the Nazi official who organized the death trains for Europe’s Jews and later told this to his Israeli judges-, Eichmannism defends.
With the pithy phrase, “Work fills the void”, work expands to fill the staff time available. Parkinson’s Law speaks to inefficiencies. The obvious connection between bureaucracy and corruption is another source of dissatisfaction with bureaucracy. The more laws in place, the more bureaucrats are needed to enforce them, and thus more corruption takes place. A few countries with a strong ethos of public service—Denmark and New Zealand, for example—have been able to maintain incorrupt public administration.
128. What are the main findings of the bureaucratic politics model?
Some political scientists claim that power struggles between and within bureaucracies, which often take place behind closed doors, influence or even dominate policy decisions. In essence, the bureaucratic politics model sees government actions as political results. These results arise from a dynamic foreign policy process in which numerous actors with varying policy objectives struggle, compete, and compromise over the content and conduct of policy. The policy positions adopted by decision makers are primarily influenced by their organizational role. Thus, individuals in governmental positions make government decisions and actions. Actors outside the executive branch play a far less influential role in policy making than those inside. An individual’s policy preference can be deduced from his/her governmental position. Different individuals see different sides of the same policy issue, because they occupy different governmental positions.
129. Why is the U.S. political system so dependent on the courts?
When the U.S. government gets stuck over a controversial issue – usually something a divided Congress cannot solve – it turns to the courts. The United States takes pride in its “rule of law” system. The number of lawyers in the United States is 281 per 100,000 citizens, compared to 94 in England, 33 in France, and just 7 in Japan. America’s legions of lawyers express the country’s ethos of freedom and competitive individualism. Law without lawyers means law administered by bureaucrats. If you want freedom under law, you must have lots of lawyers.
130. What are the differences between natural and positive law?
Positive law, unlike natural law, depends on law books to reach decision; positive law is that law written by humans and accepted over time, its opposite is natural law, which was developed by medieval Catholic theologians, and argues that observing nature reveals God’s will. You do not need a law book to tell you why mass murder is wrong; just observe nature. The trial of Nazi official Adolph Eichmann in Israel was based on natural law; Eichmann had to know that mass murder is wrong, and no amount of Nazi rhetoric could make it right.
131. What are the differences between common and code law?
Common law, also known as “judge-made law”, is a body of unwritten laws based on legal precedents established by the courts over centuries. It has three distinctive features:
- it is “case law” based on individual legal decisions rather than on a far-reaching code of statutes;
- it has great flexibility since judges can reinterpret or modify previous rulings and principles;
- it relies heavily on stare decisis (“let the decision stand”) that is the court is usually bound to follow the reasoning used in the prior decision, however if they can prove that the dispute is distinct, they can change the approach modality.
In rare cases where the result of a court ruling cannot be decided by current laws or written rules of law, common law plays a role in the decision-making process. Since common law is unwritten, it must rely on detailed records of similar cases and statutes (stare decisis). Code law, on the other hand, is a systematic, detailed, precise, comprehensive and understandable list of laws that have been codified and are enforceable by law.
The distinctions between common law and code law are important. The former is more general and heavily influenced by precedent and custom. The latter is specific and primarily a product of legislation.
132. Differentiate between canon law and code law.
A canon law is a set of ordinances and regulations made by the ecclesiastical authority (Roman Catholic Church), for government of a Christian organization or church and its members. It is based on Roman law. Code law, on the other hand, is a systematic, detailed, precise, comprehensive and understandable list of laws that have been codified and are enforceable by law.
133. Can you describe the U.S. court system?
It has been said that there are 51 judicial systems in the United States -one for each state and a federal/national system. Although the federal law is the supreme law of the land and the U.S. Supreme Court may review court decisions involving federal and/or constitutional law, there is much overlap in jurisdiction. The structure of both systems is made of: base courts, appeal courts, highest courts.
At the state level there are many state trials courts, some state appeal courts and one highest state court. This is the structure repeated in every state (so there will be 50 highest state courts). So, each of the 50 federal states has its own court systems, which handles roughly 90% of the legal business in the country. Most of their cases are civil, not criminal. State trial courts, in general, are located in each county and have original jurisdiction over both civil and criminal cases. The majority of the punishments are fines or brief prison terms, and these municipal courts operate without juries (serious cases are handled by state courts).
On the other hand, at federal level we have 94 districts, each with their own U.S. district court, then there are 13 U.S. appeal courts (here the judges “just” evaluate whether the law has been misinterpreted or misapplied) and the end we have the U.S. Supreme Court (highest court in the U.S. federal system). The Supreme Court can review a state’s court judgement on a federal question.
The federal courts hear many cases in which the issue is one of state laws but the parties are residents of different states, the so-called “diversity jurisdiction.” Conversely, issues of federal law (constitutional or statutory) may first arise in state courts. Federal judges are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate. State judges, on the other hand, are wither popularly elected or appointed, for term ranging up to fourteen years
134. How are European trials quite different from American ones?
The Anglo-American adversarial system is different from the European inquisitorial system used in code-law countries. English and American courts are passive institutions that do not look for injustices to correct or lawbreakers to punish; they wait until a statute is challenged or a defendant is brought before them before taking action. The system operates on two fronts: adversarial and accusatorial.
- The adversarial system is based on two opposing parties to a dispute – two proponents present their respective parties’ arguments or positions to a neutral individual or group of people, normally a judge or a jury, who attempts to decide the facts and pass judgments accordingly.
- The accusatorial is like the adversarial, but with a prosecutor accusing a defendant of crimes (the actual trial proceeds like a civil one, but the government is the plaintiff and the accused the defendant).
European inquisitorial systems are based heavily on the French system. In the inquisitorial system, the court is actively involved in investigating the facts of the case. The prosecution bears the burden of evidence in an American or British case, and the defendant is not required to say anything in his or her defence; the plaintiff must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
On the other hand, in code-law countries, the accused bears the burden of having to prove that the investigating judge is wrong. Another difference between the two systems is the lawyer’s role. British and American trial lawyers can and do question witnesses; French or German lawyers do not have this task; it is the court that does that. The European lawyer, on the other hand, tries to show logical or factual mistakes in the opposition’s argument. In this regard, the role of the European lawyer is much less creative and vital than that of the American lawyer.
135. Differentiate between the European Inquisitorial process and the Russian legal system.
Russia’s post-Communist legal system has continued much of the Soviet legal structure because most personnel were trained under the Communists. Now Russia is struggling to build “rule of law,” including “bourgeois” concepts, such as property law and civil rights. The first independent tribunal in Russian history, the Constitutional Court, was established in 1991. Theoretically it is independent, in practice Russian presidents have so much power that the court is no counterweight to the executive. In Russia, crime is pervasive. Under Soviet law, defence lawyers were allowed to represent their client, but they were only allowed to inform them on legal issues and not to contest the prosecutor’s evidence. All Soviet judges were members of the Communist Party. Some political cases never came to trial.
The Federal Security Service (FSD) basically took over the KGB’s (Committee on State Security) primary mission: to ensure that those in power remain in power. Thus, opponents of the regime are shot or poisoned, and almost no one is held accountable. Rule of law was never established in Russia, and democracy died. The two are closely connected.
136. What does Germany have that resembles the U.S. Supreme Court?
In the German system, a judge sits with two “lay judges” – similar to the American system where a judge is flanked by a jury.
137. How does judicial review system work in Switzerland and Germany?
In Switzerland, for instance, cases from the cantonal (state) courts may come before the Federal Tribunal, which determines whether a cantonal law violates the Swiss constitution. However, the tribunal does not review the constitutionality of laws passed by the Swiss parliament. The German Constitutional Court reviews statutes to make sure they conform to the Basic Law (the German constitution). For instance, it found the 1974 abortion bill was in conflict with the strong right-to-life provisions of the Basic Law. Because Germany’s Constitutional Court operates within the more rigid code law, its decisions do not have the impact of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, which under the common law are literally the law of the land.
138. How did an 1803 case give the Supreme Court vast powers?
During the Marbury v. Madison legal case in 1803, John Marshall, fourth chief justice of the U.S., declared precisely that the Supreme Court of the United States had the power to invalidate legislation enacted by the Congress. This power came to be known as “judicial review” or “constitutional review” and basically consists on the capacity of the Court to declare laws unconstitutional; although not formally written in the Constitution, it invests the Supreme Court with an enormous, yet dangerous, power.
139. In what major cases did the Warren Court make new law?
The Warren Court was particularly active over controversial issues; it expanded civil rights, civil liberties, judicial power, and the federal power in dramatic ways-where it rewrote constitutional law. Indeed, it was the most successful and revolutionary Court in American history, perhaps with the exception of the Marshall Court.
Important decisions during the Warren Court years included decisions holding segregation policies in public schools (Brown v. Board of Education), it ended racial segregation in U.S.and anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional (Loving v. Virginia); ruling that the Constitution protects a general right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut); that states are bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court and cannot ignore them (Cooper v. Aaron); that public schools cannot have official prayer (Engel v. Vitale) or mandatory Bible readings (Abington School District v. Schempp). The Warren Court supported the sit in in Lombard v. Louisiana, relying on the Fourteenth Amendment that no state may deny any person the equal protection of the law.
140. Have subsequent courts reversed Warren Court decisions?
The Burger Court and the Rehnquist Court were sometimes characterized as conservatives, an effort to roll back the Warren Court. However, their decisions were not so clear-cut.
141. What policy choices do we now face that are not economic?
Almost all in politics is based on economy; politicians are elected and re-elected by promising prosperity and achieving it. Virtually all public policy (what a government tries to do; the choices it makes among alternatives) have economic consequences, and these can make or break the policy. Whatever the issue is, it will be related to the economy, whether it is health care, the climate, electricity or welfare.
142. How would you compare and contrast Keynesian and neo-classical theories?
Neoclassical economists emphasize Say’s law, which holds that supply creates its own demand. Conversely, Keynesian economists emphasize Keynes’ law, which holds that demand creates its own supply.
143. What was Keynes’s solution to the Depression?
British economist John Maynard Keynes in 1936 suggested to cure economic depressions by dampening the fluctuations of the business cycle (tendency of economy to alternate between growth and recession over several years). According to Keynes, during bad times, government should increase “aggregate demand” by “countercyclical spending” on public works and welfare to make recessions shorter and milder (Keynes considered it necessary that in certain circumstances it should be the State that stimulates the demand). An economy growing too fast, which poses the risk of speculative bubbles and inflation, should be cooled by raising taxes. The Keynesian theory was at the basis on FDR’s New Deal.
144. What started the U.S. inflationary spiral in the 1960s?
As President Johnson escalated the Vietnam War in 1965, inflation kicked up. War spending injected $140 billion into the U.S. economic, but there was no equivalent amount of goods and services to purchase with it. The classic concept of demand-pull inflation is when there are too many dollars pursuing too few commodities; the purchasing power of the dollar drastically decreased.
145. Are U.S. taxes too high? Compared to what?
As a share of the economy, the United States is nowhere close to the “highest-taxed country in the world” and does not raise nearly as much tax revenue as other developed countries, many of which are in Europe. In 2013 Denmark spent the 49% of its GDP in taxes, France the 45%, Germany the 37%, Britain the 33%, Canada the 31%, Japan the 30%, and the U.S. the 25%. The U.S. taxes relatively little because it is not much of a welfare state. But if you want to cut taxes the big question is: what are you willing to cut to bring taxes even lower? Social Security? Medicare? American public opinion demands both low taxes and a high level of government service – something impossible over the long term.
146. What went wrong with the U.S. economy in 2008?
The problem underlying the 2008 crisis: government policies encouraging home ownership allowed banks and investors to lend irresponsibly, believing there was little danger, resulting in high debt levels. Everyone was basically allowed to use their credit cards to borrow more and more because credit was too easy to obtain. This exploded in the mortgage crisis; lenders made a lot of money by giving out risky mortgages to people who could not pay them back. Financial markets are prone to so-called “bubbles”, which are periods of rapid growth in investments that allow people to disregard risk – until the bubbles pop.
147. Why has income inequality grown in the United States?
Since the 1970s, Americans’ incomes have grown less equal; the wealthy receive a larger portion of the nation’s economic pie, while the poor and most of the middle class receive smaller portions. This is due to several reasons: first of all, the offshoring – U.S. firms producing overseas, where labor and raw materials are cheaper – much of it to newly industrializing Asia; this cuts the number and pay of American blue collars. Also, unions declined to 7% of the private-sector workforce (in the early 1950s, some 40% of the U.S. workforce was unionized). Another reason is that top executives and money manager are compensated extravagantly, and Republican tax cuts favored the rich.
148. What caused stagflation? How did it affect the world economy in the 1970s?
The manifold increase in petroleum prices produced inflation everywhere while simultaneously depressing the economy. During the 1970s, a new term, stagflation, was coined to describe inflation combined with slow economic growth. The most likely culprit is the huge rise in oil prices, which has an effect on every sector of the economy, from agriculture to transportation to manufacturing and construction. The United States was particularly hard hit, as Americans had grown accustomed to cheap energy and relied on it for their industry and way of life. In 2015, the US economy was helped by low fuel prices. (The 1970s energy crisis occurred when the Western world, particularly the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, faced substantial petroleum shortages, real and perceived, as well as elevated prices. The two worst crises of this period were the 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 energy crisis, when the Yom Kippur War and the Iranian Revolution triggered interruptions in Middle Eastern oil exports.)
149. How do entitlements differ from welfare?
Federal expenditure is divided into two categories: discretionary and mandatory.
Year to year the former may be raised or lowered. For example, Congress may decide to increase defence spending while reducing highway spending. Mandatory spending, which now account for twice as much as discretionary spending, is difficult to adjust. Mandatory spending in turn is divided into interest payments on the national debts and entitlements , which are U.S. federal expenditure mandated by law, such as Social Security and Medicare. People are accustomed to entitlements and expect them as a right, making them incredibly difficult to cut; when you reach the age of sixty-five, you are eligible for Medicare, and when you reach the age of sixty-six (and rising to sixty-seven), you are eligible for full Social Security benefits.
Traditional “welfare” spending accounts for just a small portion of federal payments; more than 85% of spending goes to the middle class in the form of Social Security, Medicare, government retirement benefits, and farm price supports. Medicaid, food stamps, and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) are just some of the benefits available to low-income households.
So, the basic distinction between entitlements and welfare is that, while the former are granted to all citizens regardless of income or job statutes (the main example is Social Security), the latter is a term for program like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which provide temporary payments to people who meet certain conditions. You have to meet certain criteria to get “welfare”. You just have to be a citizen to get Social Security.
150. How does ideology influence our views on poverty?
The U.S debate over poverty is fiercely ideological; liberals want to expand anti-poverty programs, while conservatives want to limit them. The great conservative claim is that welfare programs offer incentives for unemployment, illegitimacy, and drug use. But to date this correlation has not yet been proven. Also, the ideological approach, either liberal or conservative, often deal with consequences rather than causes – and where ideology reigns, reason has difficulty making its voice heard. (If poverty is a personality defect, as most conservatives believe, then there isn’t much that can be done. If poverty is the result of unfortunate circumstances, as most liberals believe, policies that change those circumstances may help people escape poverty.)
151. Which U.S. programs can realistically be cut?
Some American claim that if the government eliminates “welfare” spending, then taxes could be cut. But realistically speaking, “welfare” makes up such a small share of the budget that government spending would be affected very little and cuts would have a negative impact on society’s most vulnerable members, especially children. True savings may be found in entitlements, but politicians pretend otherwise because they fear the anger of the middle class, which wants their benefits just as much as or more than they want their tax cuts—plus they vote.
However, here are some examples of what could be cut:
In 1935, the Natural Resource Conservation Service was set up to help farmers minimise soil erosion. Today, this 12,000-person agency has 2,500 field offices and costs taxpayers a cool $800 million per year. Yet the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) has found zero difference in soil erosion between areas that participate in the program and those that don’t. If Congress cut this program it would save taxpayers $3.5 billion over five years.
The Economic Development Administration (EDA), which duplicates the activities of at least 62 other community development programs. The EDA will spend $350 million this year to spur local economic growth. Yet a recent Government Accountability Office study found the EDA had no impact at all. Five-year savings: $933 million.
152. Can workfare break the cycle of welfare dependency?
The 1996 reform replaced entitlement-type welfare payments with block grants to the states to spend fighting poverty as they saw fit. Workfare is the programs limiting the duration of welfare payments and requiring recipients to work or get job training. It has been tried for years but it does not always work and initially costs more than traditional welfare programs because it must provide both welfare and training for a while. The federal earned income tax credit (EITC), a Republican idea, helps low-paid workers cut their income taxes and even gives some additional cash. Some analysts call EITC the best welfare program because it encourages people to work their way out of poverty. So, all in all, it could help break the welfare dependency only if used correctly.
153. Why do medical costs tend to escalate?
Some say that both Medicare and Medicaid – the first an entitlement, the second welfare – offer clear warnings of how medical costs can escalate, to such an extent that Medicare today accounts for a federal expenditure of more than half a trillion dollars a year. At least two factors induce exponential growth in medical assistance: more people become eligible and medical costs soar. Medicare is especially expensive, for all get it upon reaching age sixty-five, even rich people. Hospitals and doctors, once they are assured of payment, have no incentive to economize. When in doubt, they put the patient in the hospital — at $1,000 and more a day — and order expensive tests. Some hospitals expanded into medical palaces, and some physicians got rich from Medicare and Medicaid. Washington tried various ways of tightening up, but medical costs continued to climb. Recipients were required to contribute bigger “co-payments” to hold down overuse. Hospitals and doctors were monitored on costs and on how long they kept patients hospitalized.
154. What is the likely correlation between demography and revolution?
The likely correlation between demography and revolution that has been detected by political scientists by observing recent upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria is that most of their population was young, under 30, a “demographic bulge” that has some education but few jobs. Unemployed young males are naturally restless. However, any breakdown starts when legitimacy erodes (legitimacy is the citizens’ feeling that the government has some authority and that its laws must be obeyed) – where legitimacy is high governments need few police officers; where it is low, they need many. As the regime demonstrates that it is unfair and ineffective in running the country, legitimacy erodes.
155. What is the difference between a coup and a revolution?
A revolution aims at overthrowing or replacing an existing government (regime and elites). In our day several revolutionary movements are Islamist; ISIS is the most extreme example; a revolution aims not just at changing the government, but also the social order – again, by reporting the example of ISIS, it prepares for the apocalypse slaughtering all who do not believe precisely as they do, including other Muslims.
A coup, on the other hand, aims against revolution, corruption, and chaos. Coups are almost always military, and, at least initially, involve little violence. The army forces the president to resign and go into exile, and a general takes over as president. However, when the military senses opposition, it can authorize legalized murder. Coups typically occur when civilian institutions of government—parties, parliaments, and executive branches—are fragile, corrupt, and ineffective, leaving the military with the option of taking control or causing chaos.
156. What is the difference between a riot and a revolution?
A riot is an occasion when a large number of people behave in a noisy, violent, and uncontrolled way in public, often as a form of protest – this type of violence is generally less deadly than a revolutionary violence. We can think about riots as a means to achieve a particular goal; sometimes they end badly; for example, in 1976, black students in South Africa’s Soweto township protested against having to learn Afrikaans in school; police shot down several hundreds. However, if the issue is particularly serious and police repression brutal, it can turn into revolutionary.
A revolution instead is a radical change in the way a country is governed, usually to a different political system and often using violence or war.
157. What is the relationship between rising expectations and revolution?
Many find the underlying cause of unrest in the change’s societies go through as they modernize.
Rising expectations and revolution are strictly related. When people are poor, they have no future aspirations; they are miserable but quiet. When their situation improves, they start imagining a better future. They want progress sooner, not later, that even a growing economy can provide. In a still-traditional society, both actual economic performance and expectations are low. As economic growth takes hold, expectations start rising faster than actual improvement. Then may come a situation of economic downturn, which hurts expectations – as a consequence a big gap opens between what people want and what they actually can get. The underlying problem, according to Ted Robert Gurr, is not poverty itself but relative deprivation; the very poor rarely revolt; once people have a full belly, they start noticing that others are living much better than they are. This sense of relative deprivation can cause anger, violence, and occasionally revolution. Revolutions occur as things are generally improving, not when they are deteriorating. China should pay close attention.
158. Explain the four stages of a revolution
A revolution is a sudden replacement of an old system by a new one.
According to Harvard historian Crane Brinton, who wrote The Anatomy of Revolution, all revolutions pass through similar stages, just as a human body passes through the stages of an illness.
- THE OLD REGIME DECAYS: administration breaks down, taxes increase, people no longer believe in the government; in fact, government doubts itself. Intellectuals start spreading the ideals of a new system. All this happening while the economy is generally rising, but this provokes discontent and jealously.
- THE FIRST STAGE OF REVOLUTION: revolutionary ideals spread. People refuse to pay taxes. The government calls in troops, which backfires because the troops desert, infuriating the citizens even more. The takeover is simple at first because the previous government has practically put itself out of business. Enthusiasm erupts in the general public.
- AT FIRST, MODERATES TAKE OVER: people who opposed the old regime but had links to it because of their history or training take command. They push for non-radical changes, which are insufficient for true revolutionaries who accuse moderates of compromising. The moderates are “good guys” and they aren’t cruel enough to crush the extremists, who form their own government.
- THE EXTREMISTS TAKE OVER: the extremists expel the moderates and send the movement into a frenzy, throwing out everything old, because they are more brutal, better organized, and have a radical program. People who follow the rules of the new idealistic society are considered “good”. “Bad” people are subjected to a reign of terror. Also, revolutionary comrades are vulnerable to execution. In what Brinton compared to a high fever during an illness, the whole society seems to go insane.
- A “THERMIDOR” ENDS THE REIGN OF TERROR: the society would eventually be unable to take any more revolutions. People, including revolutionaries, become overwhelmed by the chaos and aspire for a return to sanity. This results in a Thermidor, which Brinton describes as a convalescence after a fever and is named after the French revolutionary month in which the extremist Robespierre was guillotined. Often a dictator resembling the old regime's tyrants assumes power.
159. How do domestic and international politics differ?
Domestic politics refers to the interactions within states; it can appeal to several political institutions (executive, legislative, judiciary branches) in order to regulate domestic affairs. On the other hand, there is no global sovereign force that can force nations to follow laws and keep the peace. In this sense, compared with domestic politics, international relations, which are the interactions among states, is wilder and far more complex. Sovereignty refers to being in control of your own territory and is the most powerful force within a country. It also theoretically (because it is not like that) means that foreign powers have no business intruding into your country’s affairs. But just because a nation is legally sovereign does not mean it really controls its own turf. Indeed, countries still always do what they want when dealing with other countries. Although many protests, there is nothing the rest of the world could do to prevent North Korea from testing nuclear weapons. North Korea does what it wishes on its territory (it has the sovereignty within its own territory).
Regulate international disputes is complex, and often dangerous. There is no widely recognizes authority to resolve disputes, and often the only solution is taking the law into your hands by threat or force.
160. Why does power loom so large in international relations?
Since it lacks a national sovereignty, IR heavily depends on power: A persuades B to do what A wants. Power is the fundamental aspect of international politics; a nation cannot exist, let alone prevail without adequate power. Power is not inherently bad or aggressive; it may be simply persuading an aggressor to “leave me alone!” Power is not the same as force. Force is the specific application of military might, whereas power depends on myriad of other factors: military, economic, political, and cultural factors. Power is not easy to calculate, whole departments of the CIA spend a lot of money in trying to understand other nation’s power; there are some quantifiable factors, such as the geography, natural resources, population, and economic, but there are also not quantifiable factors: for example, the military power of a country, as well as its determination, can only be quantified once involved in a war.
161. What are the several types of national interest?
Another quantifiable factor, that allow to partially predict a nation’s behavior, is its national interest, which basically indicates what’s good for the nation as a whole in world affairs.
National interest may be divided into 4 categories: 1) Vital versus secondary: a vital interest is one that potentially threatens the life of your nation. When a country perceives such a treat, it may go to war. A secondary interest is usually more distant and less urgent and can be negotiated.
2) Temporary versus permanent: a temporary interest is one of fixed duration (A may ally with B in a specific occasion-such as a war). A permanent interest lasts over centuries, as in the U.S. interest in keeping hostile powers out of the Western hemisphere. 3) Specific versus general: a specific interest focuses on a single problem. A general interest might be universal respect for human rights. 4) Complementary versus conflicting: when nations have some important goals in common their interests are complementary; complementary interests create alliances. When interest conflict, as when the Moscow government saw no Russian national interest in joining with the United States and West Europe to oust Syria’s dictatorship, countries pull apart.
Two countries, even allies, seldom have identical national interests. The best one can hope for is that their interests will be complementary. Interests may run parallel for a time, but we must never, for instance, mistake Kurdish interests in opposing Saddam’s genocidal campaign (specific, permanent, and vital) for U.S. interest (general, temporary, and secondary).
162. Which theory of war is the most satisfactory?
Thinkers have tried to explain why war happen; a good theory that combines both micro and macro aspects is the so-called “misperception”. Leaders often misperceive, seeing hostility and threats from another country, which sees itself as merely defensive. In the 1990s, Iraq’s WMD were dismantled under the UN supervision, but Bush 43 believed Iraq its of WMD programs and went to war in 2003 to eliminate a nonexistent threat. In the climate after 9/11 American was angry and suspicious and supported Bush’s decision. The psychological and real worlds clash in the minds of political leaders in misperception or image theory. They believe they are defending themselves, but their perception of the situation could be distorted. It’s fascinating to note that in today’s world, no country ever refers to its behavior as anything other than defensive. Leaders also use ideology and the media to incite people to violence before marching to war. During World War II, most Germans and Japanese saw themselves as defending their countries against hostile forces, thanks to rabidly nationalistic leadership.
micro theories are rooted in biology and psychology. They seek to explain war as a result of genetic human aggressiveness that makes people fight. Most anthropologists reject such biological determinism, arguing that humans exhibit a wide variety of behaviour—some are aggressive and some not—that can be explained only by culture, that is, learned behaviour. Psychologists look at the attitudes of leaders, what made them that way, and how they gained control of the people and led them to war.
macro theories focus on nations, geography, and history. States are the key actors; when they can, states expand. Fearing a neighbour’s increasing influence, one country will reinforce its defences or establish alliances to counteract the neighbour’s power. Does the pursuit of power lead to war or peace?
- Balance of Power: this is the oldest and most commonly held theory; it argues that peace results when several states use their national power and alliances to balance one another.
- Hierarchy of Power: other scholars argue that periods of peace occurred when the power was out of balance and states were ranked hierarchically in terms of power.
163. Are democracy and peace related? How?
A hopeful trend has appeared after the Cold War: the number and ferocity of wars has declined; U.S. interventions are less bloody. Some thinkers suggest the world really is getting more civilized; the spread of democracy works against war. Indeed, the oldest approach to preserving peace is through diplomatic contact, with envoys sent from one state to another. A good diplomat knows all the power factors and interests of the countries involved and suggests compromises that leave both parties at least partly satisfied. This is crucial: there must be willingness to compromise. If successful, diplomats draw up treaties, which must be ratified and observed. If one country feels a treaty harms it, there is nothing to stop it from opting out.
There is no supranational entity that can guarantee peace, perhaps the only way to achieve it is via the “Democratic Peace”: can you name any cases where two democracies have fought each other? Democracy renders leaders accountable, they follow the “rule of anticipated reaction”, they know beforehand how their citizens would react to a wrong decision. Bush 43 and the Republicans lost voters’ support due to the Iraq War. Dictators, on the other hand, are not accountable of their citizens, they may be prone to rash decisions, without taking into account public opinion. Dictatorships, though their control of the media, can persuade their citizens that hostile powers threaten. North Korea tells its hungry citizens that they have a high standard of living that the Americans want to take away.
164. Is there any effective way to prevent war?
Many proposals have been advanced; none have really worked: World Government, Collective Security, Functionalism, Third-Party Assistance, Diplomacy, Peacekeeping. Perhaps the spread of democracy is the only possible way to prevent war but since it is something utopian, probably a supranational entity, a governing body above individual nations able to regulate the world-order and sanction those countries which do not follow it, is the best alternative solution.
So far there is no organization that can seriously calm and stabilize world trouble spots.
165. What was the Cold War? Why did it begin and end?
Cold War, the rivalry that developed after World War II in 1947, created a bipolar system with two large, hostile blocs: the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies. The Cold War was waged on political, economic, and propaganda fronts and had only limited recourse to weapons (indeed, they never faced each other in direct military combat).
Historians have identified several causes that led to the outbreak of the Cold War, including: tensions between the two nations at the end of World War II, the ideological conflict between both the United States (Democratic Capitalism) and the Soviet Union (Authoritarian Communism), the emergence of nuclear weapons, and the fear of communism in the United States. During 1989 and 1990, the Berlin Wall came down, borders opened, and free elections ousted Communist regimes everywhere in eastern Europe. In late 1991 the Soviet Union itself dissolved into its component republics. With stunning speed, the Iron Curtain was lifted and the Cold War came to an end.
166. Which supranational organizations do the most good?
The world seems to be shifting, with more people willing to step beyond sovereignty into some kind of order. Few wanted the US to take on the role of policeman of the world, but most recognized that if there was to be leadership, it could only come from America. But could supranational (a governing body above individual nations) entities take on some of the responsibilities held previously by individual sovereign nations?
The United Nations: the U.N. functioned better after the Cold War then when the conflict was still in progress. But it has still some problem; permanent members of the Security Council such as China and Russia have the power to veto anything they dislike, such as putting pressure on Syria to avoid murdering its own citizens. Without enforcement powers and fragmented into blocs, the UN remained essentially a “talking shop”. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization: NATO was arguably the best defensive alliance ever created. The former Communist countries of Eastern Europe were happy to join after the collapse of the Soviet Union; NATO assured their freedom and security. But it has some limitations – an attack in Europe or in North America is treated like an attack on all, but this does not apply anywhere else, not in the Middle East or in the Balkans; members of NATO can, of course, volunteer to serve in Afghanistan and Libya, but they cannot be depended upon.