Uruguay: Tiny Country, Big Population Problems

By Dr. Ana Margheritis, Politics & International Relations

The international press has focused on Uruguay lately and praised a number of factors that make the country attractive and relatively atypical in the Latin American context today: a small, gorgeous area of fertile land; political and economic stability; a friendly and laid-back style of life; progressive tax, social welfare and other policies (e.g., legalisation of abortion, marijuana consumption, and gay marriage); records of foreign investment; improvement in reducing poverty, unemployment, underemployment, and inequality, and a humble president whose simple, frugal habits and standard of living has not changed after coming to office.

Demographers argue that Uruguay is an atypical case in other respect, too: it did not go through peaks of population growth and an early decline in mortality and birth rates gave it a demographic profile more similar to the advanced countries than to its developing neighbours, though still sharing with the latter the same struggle to overcome economic under-development. Such demographic evolution contributed to a generalized perception of a lack of population problems and, consequently, to the absence of specific policies. Problems existed, though, compounded today by a low fertility rate, concentration of population in a small coastal area and few cities (half of the total population lives in Montevideo, the capital city), low immigration inflows, and continuous population ageing and emigration. Internal migration from the countryside to the coast has historically been the first step in a long journey that extends beyond the country’s borders as a significant part of the total population (between 15% and 18% in the mid-2000s) moved subsequently abroad. Thus, in terms of migration flows Uruguay passed from being a receiving country up to the 1950s to a sending country since then and depopulation became a structural problem.

However, it is not until the mid-2000s that the magnitude of the emigration problem was acknowledged and both population and migration issues entered the governmental agenda and political discourse. The immediate factor that prompted this policy shift was the mobilization of Uruguayans abroad around the time of the 2004 elections and its role in the Frente Amplio’s victory. This was compounded by the last two presidents’ leadership role, the profile of the emigrant group (i.e., young, highly educated), and the nature of the Frente’s political project, namely a development strategy in which the state has a prominent role and a progressive social agenda that brings human rights considerations to the forefront. A new set of innovative migration-related measures and institutional changes gained momentum in the last decade, though their scope and sustainability are still subject to controversies.

Uruguayan governments have, indeed, made significant efforts to reach out to citizens living abroad. Following global trends, several initiatives were launched: a new discourse to re-name the diaspora and its role in the nation; legislation update to institutionalize migrant rights; new bureaucratic units in charge of migrant affairs; a number of linkage programs to engage migrants with homeland, and the promise of inclusion and increasing political participation through extra-territorial voting rights. The emphasis on linkages and absentee voting rights promised not only to reinforce nationhood bonds but also to make effective a notion of citizenship that goes beyond territorial borders and redefines the idea of nation. Nevertheless, this initiative could not overcome political and social opposition. Most likely, it will be revived this year as national elections approach.

Among other lessons, Uruguay shows that sending state emigration policies require the political commitment of specific actors to prosper. It is not the state as a unitary apparatus or political parties but specific individuals and offices (i.e., the president, foreign minister, especial migration units) which push transnational initiatives politically. Emigration policy also requires an articulation between symbolic and rhetoric initiatives and concrete measures to entitle and engage emigrants. The label patria peregrine (peregrine nation), intended to emphasize that emigrants are still part of the nation, was too vague, did not resonate with the dual engagements of Uruguayans abroad and failed to give them an identity, thus jeopardizing the chances of constructing them as subjects and interlocutors. The use of this terminology also cast doubts on the conceptualization of the problem and policy intentions because it involves a redefinition of borders when, in fact, political and social ideas about the nation still remain strongly tied to territory in Uruguay. As the debate on extra-territorial voting rights illustrates, two views persist: the official political discourse emphasizes notions of national identity and unity, collective commitment with nation-building, and sense of responsibility towards the country’s fate even if at a long distance; in contrast, other political and social actors argue that physical presence in the territory at the moment of suffrage ultimately contributes to reinforce the nationhood bond, questioning that those who are physically absent decide on the lives of those who will actually endure the consequences of decisions.

Bureaucratic practices are a major obstacle to policy consistency and sustainability, as well as society’s low capacity to exert strong pressure or push for its agenda. Several of the initiatives above have been subject to constant vaivenes (the word I most often heard during field research, meaning ups and downs, comings and goings) and faced implementation problems.Thus, the sustainability of emigration policy in the long run is contingent not only on state’s capacity to reform itself but also on society’s ability to acquire a greater voice and more organizational capacity as well as to engage broader sectors with the re-construction of national membership along pluralistic and non-territorial lines.

In sum, Uruguay is a critical case to study emigration policies because, in contrast to other cases, discursive mechanisms have included but not targeted elites exclusively, new re-conceptualizations of the citizens abroad failed to re-incorporate them into the nation, state strategies have not prioritized financial flows but political issues and, rather than capitalizing on migrant transnational networks overseas, the state implemented a top-down, state-led model on diverse migrant organizations that largely backfired. Moreover, I argue that full extra-territorial citizenship has not materialized yet not because of governments’ reluctance but because the political elites’ and society’s strong attachment to territorial notions of entitlements have re-territorialized the debate.

Do you want to know more? See my forthcoming article in International Migration Review: “Redrawing the Contours of the Nation-State in Uruguay? The Vicissitudes of Emigration Policyin the 2000s”.

Reviewing the 2014 Political Studies Conference with Twitter Data

By Justin Murphy, Lecturer, University of Southampton  @jmrphy

What were the most talked-about issues during the 2014 Political Studies Conference in Manchester last week? How are those issues connected? How many attendees used Twitter? How was that communication network structured? How did sentiment change over time throughout the conference?

To get some leverage on questions such as these, below I analyze all the tweets containing the hashtag #PSA14 between Monday April 14 (roughly 9 a.m.) until Wednesday April 16th (roughly 8 p.m.). The Twitter API only provides 1500 tweets per call but, conveniently, that allows us to analyze every tweet during this period. As with all social media data, this data is almost certainly not representative of the whole population of attendees. Needless to say, these analyses do not describe the conference as such, but only that portion of the conference which took place on Twitter!

The dynamics of conference tweeting

No big surprises here. Conference tweeting typically peeked in the middle of each day, and the middle day of the conference saw the most Twitter activity. Each bar represents a 30-minute interval.


Who tweeted the most?


Who received the most retweets?


Who received the most retweets, as a ratio of total tweets?

Retweets are an indicator of influence, but people who tweet frequently will be retweeted more than infrequent tweeters, so a better measure of influence is retweeted tweets as a ratio of total tweets.


What was the network structure of retweets?

Who retweeted who, visualized as a network.


Centrality and Brokerage

Number of retweets is a good first look at influence, but not all retweets are equal in network terms. A tweet which is retweeted from someone who is also often retweeted is more influential than receiving retweet from someone who is rarely retweeted. This is what is captured by the network concept of “eigenvector centrality.” On the other hand, there might be nodes in the network which are not necessarily retweeted very frequently or by influential nodes, but are important nodes because they connect many other nodes who otherwise would not be connected. “Betweenness centrality” captures the degree to which a node sits on the shortest path between all other actors. Typically, eignevector centrality and between centrality will be positively correlated, and this is a straightforward indication of the power of that node in the network. But nodes off the diagonal represent other kinds of power. Nodes with high eigenvector centrality but low betweenness centrality are relatively powerful nodes but relatively outside the community. Nodes with high betweenness centrality but low eigenvector centrality are “brokers” who are not high-visibility but are powerful because a relatively high number of nodes go through that node to stay connected.

Thus, this graph helps us identify interesting nodes in the conference network, which we would not notice by just looking at who tweeted the most and who was retweeted the most. The businessman and journalist @MarkFox__ did not tweet much on #PSA14, and he’s a relative outsider to the network, but when he tweeted he was disproportionately retweeted by the most influential nodes within the network. @chrisgold was not retweeted very frequently by very influential nodes, but a relatively high number of nodes are connected to the rest of the network through him.


Note: That some of the usernames here have an “@” in front but some of them don’t suggests that there might have been a small error in some of the text-processing of usernames. I would fix this, if it were anything more than a blog post! It doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, as everything else is very consistent with what we would expect.

How positive/negative was the conference tweeting?

I used the Hu and Lui sentiment lexicons to do a basic “sentiment analysis” of the conference tweets. A sentiment lexicon is basically one large list of negative words and one large list of postive words. It sounds naive but it works, as evidenced by how much this is used in marketing. The sentiment of a tweet is simply the number of postive words minus the number of negative words.


How did the overall sentiment change over the course of the day, on average?


How did the overall sentiment change throughout the conference, by the hour?


What were the most frequent terms tweeted, and how were they associated?

Below are the 50 terms which appear most frequently throughout the 1500 tweets (I use stems of words rather than whole words to avoid redundancy, as is conventional in text-mining). The first several are terms related to the conference, but then several substantive political issues emerge. Some notable themes include: youth politics, UKIP, engagement and participation, and media.

Freq. Term

119 new
95 great
94 now
84 group
83 suit
77 research 76 paper
73 day
72 journal
71 today
66 present
65 teach
64 peopl
61 polici
60 prize
58 local
57 manchest 57 time
55 chair
55 ukip
55 will
53 award
53 young
52 confer
50 dinner
50 discuss
48 interest 48 vote
47 specialist 46 thank
45 need
45 year
45 youth
44 issu
44 studi
43 congrat
43 make
43 talk
42 best
42 come
42 media
42 onlin
42 work
41 just
41 roundtabl 41 session
40 coproduct 40 see
39 chang
38 evid

How were these main themes connected?

In other words, how did the most-tweeted terms cluster in the entire network of terms discussed? To understand this better, we can visualize the entire vocabulary of the 1500 tweets as a network. Every word which appears in a tweet with another word, represents a non-directional connection. Below is a graph of this network with the most central nodes highlighted and labeled.

download10 This post revealed the who, what, and when of how the 2014 Political Studies Conference took to Twitter this year. Feel free to explore or download the raw dataset available here, or use the other materials in this Github repository to check/extend these analyses yourself.

Follow Justin Murphy on Twitter @jmrphy.

Professor Rod Rhodes awarded #PSA2014 Special Recognition Award


Professor Rod Rhodes of the Department of Politics & International Relations, University of Southampton, has been awarded a Special Recognition Award by the UK Political Studies Association. The award was the unanimous choice of a jury of distinguished academics and journalists who met recently at Westminster. The jurors agreed that Rod’s contribution to political science has been outstanding and increased enormously understanding of how government works and done much to raise the esteem of the discipline. The award was presented by Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties) at the recent Political Studies Association Annual Conference in Manchester.

You can read more about Rod’s work on his website.

Efficiency and Lies: Constitutionalism in British Politics

By Meg Sherman, Undergraduate Student in Politics & International Relations

Order and stability within a political community, old ends of Western political philosophy, requires staunch, centralized administration organizing public life throughout a territorial nation. Such a conservative world view guided Walter Bagehot, whose landmark book, The English Constitution, written in the aftermath of several Reform Acts following the first in 1832, queried how the British nation-state would remain stable if it also made inadequate concessions as far as the political representation of millions of working-men goes. The Act, which forever reconceptualised the British ‘people’, allowed eligible men over the age of 21 a vote in periodic elections dominated by parties, of which the Independent Labour Party and its successor came to play a significant role representing the aspirations of working men and women. In many ways Bagehot outlaid the main strategy for constitutional politics over the next century, and what he calls the constitution’s “efficient secret”, which I will describe shortly, remained the pre-eminent understanding of our un-codified constitution until the 1950s, after which a new legal order of international law, coupled with our eventual entry into the EEC, made updated theories necessary.

Despite its obvious obsolescence, Bagehot’s work remains an invaluable map for students of the constitution, or indeed anybody remotely interested in political history, especially those interested in the tension between parliamentary democracy and popular democracy in the UK; Cabinet Government, for example, was never intended to be democratic, even though it is supposed to represent the highest point of power in the political system. Unlike the US’ famed separation of authority between the legislature, executive and judiciary, the British political system fuses executive and legislative, overall giving governments enormous opportunities for passing their desired laws without popular intervention. This is the “efficient secret.” Moreover, understandings of the constitution antiquated by events, as well as the understandings of those who work it at present, will remain absolutely important to our understanding of day to day British Politics until we care to make an external, foundational document for it.

Beneath any delusion that the Westminster Model epitomises a modern, democratic form of governance – exported to those states we previously administered as colonies – it is clear, in the line of argument pursued by Robert Coll, that: “a new aristocracy of middle class politicians ruling through cabinet government” remains the organizing principle of politics in the UK. Even so, the ongoing hard work of researchers putting time in to understand and design institutional innovations is promising, guided broadly by a preeminently collective desire to diminish effective executive committees within the state, working out arrangements which give more people more control over the decision-making apparatus and enhance their abilities as citizens.

If the political classes did not take power from the aristocracy in this country without deception, and if Bagehot did not write The English Constitution without accepting that giving ordinary citizens major influence on policy is the biggest threat to a college of similar parties with vested social and economic interests, then it is time to realize that theatrical displays of society have been seen, understood, and studied well.

Polling Observatory #35: Politics, Fast and Slow

This is the thirty-fifth in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

UK 02-04-14 cropped

This month’s Polling Observatory is the first since the March budget, widely reported to have driven a bounce in support for the Conservatives. There is certainly evidence of a narrowing in the gap between the top two parties: our estimate puts Labour on 36.2%, down 0.8 percentage points on last month, and their lowest share since the end of 2010.  The Conservatives are up on 33.0%, up 0.9 points on last month and their highest share since early 2012. This leaves the gap between the parties at 3.2%, the lowest we have recorded since the parties briefly drew level in the aftermath of David Cameron’s European treaty veto in late 2011. It seems our speculation about a possible “voteless recovery” last month may have been premature. Meanwhile, in the undercard fight, UKIP come in at 12.1% this month, down 0.6% on last month, while the Liberal Democrats post a figure of 7.6%, up 0.4% on last month’s score.

The Conservatives’ renewed strength in the polls may owe something to a well-received budget from George Osborne, but when we take a longer view it becomes apparent that this latest narrowing is in fact the a continuation of a very gradual trend that has been proceeding, in stop-start fashion, for more than a year – as our excellent colleague Anthony Wells noted in his year-end review. In the early months of last year, Labour leads over the Conservatives were in double digits. This fell to under six points in the summer, before rebounding slightly in the autumn. Since November 2013, though, the narrowing has continued, and the lead has fallen from just under seven points to just over three.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are cautious about identifying trends in what is often stable opinion, and also wary of using figures on polling leads, which are subject to more volatility and random variation. The underlying pattern here is however clear – the gap between the top two parties is steadily narrowing. Our main chart suggests this is the product both of rising Conservative support and falling Labour support, and also suggests that this is happening despite no decline in support for UKIP, who many argue are the main cause of recent Conservative weakness

Labour leads over the Conservatives since January 2013

Labour leads

This slow but steady change in public opinion is not, however, the product of short term shifts in the political weather – the gentle ebbs and flows in public opinion over the Parliament do not have much relationship to the torrent of scandals, gaffes, policy announcements and message battles which constitutes the day to day world of politics for those in the media. This disconnect between the narratives about political events that are popularised by politicians and the media, and the slowly shifting tides of public opinion highlights the two-speed nature of politics. In Westminster, politics is a frantic day-to-day activity, conducted in the merciless glare of a 24 hour news cycle. Out in the country, politics is a marginal interest, on the fringes of attention, and opinions change slowly.

Those who make a habit of following political stories on newspaper front pages – or via highly charged political Twitter feeds easily forget that most voters are paying little to no attention to the events which are filling their days. Even major political set-pieces like the budget, Prime Minister’s Questions, or the Clegg-Farage debates barely register with many voters. Indeed, most of the population are at work during PMQs, unable to tune in to a television or a politics live blog, while the vast majority had much more interest in the latest goings on in Albert Square or Coronation Street than the duelling rhetoric of Nigel and Nick. Even economic news, which is of more immediate interest to many voters, tends to trickle down as a gradual process of diffusion, either in a general sense among the public that things are getting better or worse for the country or more directly as people feel better about the pounds in their pocket, and more eager to spend them. In practice, the fallout from political events is usually slow and sluggish, as it takes a long time for voters to notice and respond to things which are a long way from their everyday concerns.

Shifts in public opinion therefore tend to take place slowly, over long periods of time (with rare, but important, exceptions such as the Cameron veto and the “omnishambles” budget). Political commentators, however, exist entirely in the “high frequency politics” world, and interpret every day’s and week’s events in terms set by this world, projecting them onto the wider public, whose indifference is so far from their own everyday experience that it is hard for them to keep it in mind. Every minor event is expected to produce a sharp public reaction and every momentary twitch in the pulse of public opinion is attributed to the stories attracting Westminster buzz. As we write, much ink is being spilled over the public opinion implications of Maria Miller’s expenses, yet there is no sign that this is having any impact on the polls, nor should we expect it to when most voters have only a sketchy understanding of who Ms Miller is or what she is supposed to have done. This may change as the story gradually diffuses through the electorate, or if it takes a new turn. More likely, however, is that it will simply come and go, like many earlier stories before it, without leaving any lasting mark, aside perhaps from intensifying a little the “pox on all your houses” sentiment which has helped to fuel the rise in UKIP support.

It is important to bear in mind that the important, and lasting, changes in public opinion take place gradually, often too slowly to perceive without the benefit of months of data, because as election fever takes hold in the Westminster village, the focus on “fast politics” will become ever more intense. There will be many moments and many stories that are presented to us as ‘game-changers’ or turning points. In most cases they will be nothing of the sort, while the real action takes place away from the noisy slapstick comedy playing out on the news channels. Millions of voters will begin settling on their choices, nudged this way and that by forces which are, to some extent, predictable. The regularity of the tidal forces which move the “slow politics” of voters’ shifting opinions allow us to make modestly informed forecasts about the direction public opinion will take next, based on the lessons of history. Such forecasts are inevitably limited, particularly this far out – every election is in some respects unique, and we only have polling data for about 15 previous election cycles. Nonetheless, they tell us something useful about the likely direction of public opinion, and do better than guessing the outcome based on where opinion is now. Next month, with exactly a year to go until the general election, we will unveil our first forecast of the most likely state of public opinion on polling day next year, and how this will translate into seats in the House of Commons. There is still a long way to go, but our initial analysis suggests that the narrowing over the past year is in accordance with past trends. Tune in next month to find out if we expect it to continue…

Robert FordWill Jennings and Mark Pickup