The Right Honourable John Denham joins the department

John Denham and his Centre for English Identity and Politics have joined us from the University of Winchester. John was the Labour MP for Southampton Itchen from 1993-2015 and Secretary of State from 2007-2010.

While at Southampton he will continue working on deepening our understanding of English Identity creating opportunities for dialogue that go beyond academic circles.

Brexit was made in England; but will England be re-made by Brexit?” (J. Denham 2019 – England on the verge of Brexit)

 

‘House effects’ and how to read the polling tea leaves…

Mark Pickup, Will Jennings and Robert Ford

We are living through a period of tremendous political uncertainty and volatility. At the time of the European Parliament elections in May – which now seems a lifetime ago – the Conservative and Labour parties contrived to win less than 25% of the vote between them, an all-time low. The ruling party was back then polling as low as 17% in terms of Westminster voting intentions. Now, under a new Prime Minister, the Conservatives find themselves polling in the 30s with a lead over Labour. These uncertain times have also seen considerable disagreement in the numbers reported by pollsters. In the week before the European Parliament elections in May, the Conservatives were put as low as 21% (Panelbase) and as high as 28% (Survation) in Westminster polling, while support for Labour was estimated between 25% (YouGov) and 33% (Survation). Meanwhile the Brexit Party were polling as high as 25% (Opinium) and as low as 12% (Survation). While European Parliament elections often shake up national polling (as voters use them to express their dissatisfaction with the main parties), this period was marked by even more volatility than usual – due to the failure of May’s Brexit deal and establishment of the Brexit Party. In the period since, the polls have continued to tell a mixed story about the state of party support.

Our latest Polling Observatory estimates of voting intentions continue to show the fragmentation of the British party system – but with the Conservative Party having bounced back under a new leader from their low at the time of the European Parliament elections, which were only held due to the previous Prime Minister’s repeated failure to secure Parliamentary support for her Brexit deal. As of the end of August, the Polling Observatory puts support for the Conservatives at 35.5% (16.9 points above where the party stood at the end of May), Labour at 24.5% (just one point higher than May), the Liberal Democrats at 18.0% (0.2 points down), the Brexit Party at 12.1% (10 points down) and the Green Party 5.3% (one point down) – with UKIP support statistically indistinguishable from 0%.

The Conservative rebound has clearly come at the expense of the Brexit Party, while support for the other parties has remained rather more stable. Our estimates reveal distinct trends for Labour and the Lib Dems – both parties saw a substantial shift in their support around the time of the European elections, with Lib Dem vote more than doubling and Labour’s falling over 10 points. Unlike the Conservatives – who have recovered at the expense of the Brexit Party – this shift has been sustained. The two parties are now in a new holding pattern, with Labour polling much lower than before and the Liberal Democrats much higher. Changing voter perceptions about the parties’ Brexit stances – with stronger Remainers losing faith in Labour and switching to the Lib Dems – likely has played a role. These dynamics have been reinforced by the Liberal Democrats’ election of a new leader, Jo Swinson, who has attracted considerable media attention and reinforced her party’s clear Remain message, boosted by a string of defections to the party, with a string of Remain-supporting MPs joining the party in recent months from both the Conservatives and Labour.

How this might translate into seats in Westminster remains highly uncertain. (Our estimates assume that the polling industry as a whole will not be biased in a particular direction – which of course was not the case in 2015, when Conservative support was underestimated, and in 2017, when Labour support was unusually underestimated.)

UK 04-09-19 anchor on average (1)

One of the useful features of our approach to ‘pooling’ the polls is that we are able to calculate the ‘house effect’ for each polling company for every party. That is, we can say whether a pollster tends to show high or low numbers for a particular party, relative to the vote intention figures we would expect from the average pollster. This does not indicate accuracy, since it is only on Election Day that we will know whether individual pollsters or the industry as a whole have got it right. It could be that pollsters at one end of the extreme or the other are giving a more accurate picture of voters’ intentions.

In the table below, we report all current polling companies’ ‘house effects’ for each of the parties. We also report details of whether the mode of polling is telephone or Internet-based, and notable adjustments the pollsters use to calculate the headline figures. This should provide a helpful guide for interpreting the latest polling tea leaves, since one can factor in whether seemingly good numbers for the Conservatives, Labour or some other party are a product of “house effects” related to the choices that a pollster makes in conducting their survey, or reflect a real shift in electoral preferences. As Anthony Wells has noted, prompting for the Brexit Party and controlling for past vote appear currently to have significant impacts on poll numbers. In the former case, pollsters that prompt for the Brexit Party in their surveys tend, unsurprisingly, to report higher numbers for the party. There was a similar methodological debate over whether to prompt for the UKIP party in 2012-15. The use of past vote (i.e. how people voted in 2017) to weight samples to make them representative is a longstanding practice in the polling industry. However, this can introduce error through people misreporting their past vote, leading supporters of a party to be overrepresented in the poll. Recent analysis by YouGov suggested that ‘false recall’ – people forgetting they voted Labour in 2017 – led to Labour’s estimated vote being 3% higher if not adjusted for.

Our analyses cannot discern the precise methodological reasons why particular pollsters tend to show better numbers for one party or another, but do provide a useful guide.[1]

Some pollsters tend to show Labour higher: most notably, Panelbase show them 2.4% higher than the average pollster, Survation 1.8% higher, and Deltapoll 1.1% higher. In contrast, YouGov – not least due to the false recall adjustment discussed earlier – show the party 2.4% lower than the average pollster. The Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to poll better with ICM (+1.2%) and Kantar (+1.0%), and worse with ComRes (-1.7%) and BMG Research (-1.0%). The LibDems tend to do better with BMG (+2.0%), Ipsos MORI (+1.0%) and YouGov (+0.9%). Pollsters are quite divided over the Brexit Party – perhaps unsurprisingly given there are so many unknowns about support for the brand new party. Panelbase (+2.8%) and YouGov (+1.7%) tend to report higher numbers, while Kantar (-0.9%), Survation (-0.8%), Opinium (-0.7%) and Deltapoll (-0.7%) tend to show the party lower.

The picture in terms of house effects is quite mixed then, not least as the pattern is not simply symmetrical between the Conservatives and Labour. If a pollster tends to show one of the parties doing better than the polling industry on average, it does not automatically mean their estimate for the other main party will be lower than the average.

The crucial point is that each pollsters’ latest estimate of voting intentions reflects the latest information about voters’ preferences, plus some noise and the particular methodological decisions they have made regarding the electorate.

Table 1. ‘House effects’ of pollsters against the industry average

House Mode Con Lab Lib Dem Brexit Party  UKIP Green
YouGov Online 0.2% -2.4% 0.9% 1.7% -0.4% 0.3%
ComRes Online -1.7% 1.0% -0.9% -0.7% 0.6% -0.5%
Ipsos MORI Telephone 0.3% -0.8% 1.0% -0.6% -0.4% 0.4%
Survation Online -0.0% 1.8% 0.3% -0.8% -0.4% -1.0%
BMG Research Online -1.0% -0.8% 1.9% -0.1% 0.5% 1.0%
Panelbase Online -0.5% 2.3% -0.9% 2.8% 0.2% -0.5%
Kantar Public Online 1.0% -0.9% 0.6% -0.9% -0.35% 0.2%
Opinium Online -0.6% 0.1% -1.5% -0.7% 1.0% 0.2%
ICM Research Online 1.2% -0.4% 0.2% n/a -0.3% 0.4%
Deltapoll Online 0.4% 1.1% -1.6% -0.7% -0.2% -0.7%

How might the polls perform in a general election in the near future? It is difficult to tell, and the salutary lesson to take away from 2015 and 2017 was that pollsters can face distinct challenges in elections even a short time apart given the highly volatile political environment, where voters are internally conflicted and the context of the choice is rapidly changing. The most recent benchmark we have of polling performance is the May 2019 European Parliament elections. Now, European elections tend to have lower turnout than general elections and people may use such ‘second order’ elections to defect from their traditional party loyalty and register a protest vote. Nevertheless, the polls may tell us something about whether pollsters are more or less likely to reach the supporters of particular parties. Keep in mind this was a context in which the Conservatives won 9.2% of the vote and Labour 14.1% (record lows for both parties in European Parliament elections).

Nearly all pollsters overestimated Labour in the May European Parliament elections (with the exception of YouGov who showed the party 1.1% below its final vote share) and the Conservatives (again with YouGov being the only pollster to put the party significantly below the final result (-2.1%). By way of contrast, all the pollsters underestimated the Liberal Democrats – with a range from 0.3% below their final vote share (Ipsos MORI) to 7.6% (Survation). Most pollsters (with the exception of Kantar and Panelbase) also overestimated the Brexit Party vote share.

Table 2. Error of final polls against result of 2019 European Parliament Elections

House Mode Con Lab Lib Dem Brexit Party UKIP Green
BMG 2.9% 3.9% -3.3% 3.4% -1.3% -4.1%
Ipsos MORI -0.1% 0.9% -0.3% 3.4% -0.3% -2.1%
YouGov -2.1% -1.1% -1.3% 5.4% -0.3% -0.1%
Kantar 3.9% 9.9% -5.3% -4.6% 0.7% -4.1%
Panelbase 2.9% 10.9% -5.3% -1.6% -0.3% -5.1%
ComRes 2.9% 7.9% -6.3% 0.4% -0.3% -5.1%
Survation 5.2% 9.4% -7.6% 0.5% -0.2% -4.8%
Opinium 3.2% 3.4% -4.6% 7.5% -1.2% -4.8%

While we cannot be sure how the campaign for the next general election will play out, these estimates highlight the importance of reflecting on where new polling information comes from. The different methodological designs and weighting procedures of pollsters can lead their headline numbers to differ in important and significant ways. There can be no way of knowing which pollster is right before election day, but it is worth urging some caution in how these sorts of numbers are interpreted by those in politics, media and the wider public.

 

[1] What our analysis doesn’t do is model whether those house effects are time-varying – i.e. whether the methodological decisions taken by a pollster inflate its support at one point in time and depress it at another.

LIBERAL PACIFICATION AND THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF VIOLENCE

By Ilan Zvi Baron (Durham University), Jonathan Havercroft (University of Southampton), Isaac Kamola (Trinity College), Jonneke Koomen (Willamette College), Alex Prichard (University of Exeter), and Justin Murphy (an Independent Scholar).

Note: The authors have just published a related article in the International Studies Quarterly. The link to the article is here: https://academic.oup.com/isq/advance-article/doi/10.1093/isq/sqy060/5363835?searchresult=1. The blog post below highlights the key messages in the paper.

Violence is on the increase. Contrary to liberal IR theorists, we argue the spread of liberal institutions does not decrease violence but increases and transforms it. In our article, Liberal Pacification and the Phenomenology of Violence, we propose a new theoretical framework that reveals the liberal peace is in fact liberal pacification.


Many liberal scholars contend violence has decreased in recent decades. These arguments range from the vast IR literature on the liberal and democratic peace to Steven Pinker’s influential book, Better Angles of our Nature (see also Pinker’s Enlightenment Now). Yet these optimistic pronouncements appear at odds with the violent turmoil of our time, marked by refugee crises, ecological devastation, financial collapse, nuclear proliferation, drone warfare, widespread government repression, police violence, mass incarceration, a grotesque concentration of wealth on a planetary scale, the rise of the far right, and much more.

Why are liberal scholars’ conclusions so at odds with the growing sense that violence is endemic thought society? We argue this disjuncture stems from the ways that scholars conceptualize violence.

International relations scholars make many claims about violence. Yet we rarely define it. To address this silence, we offer a typology of three distinct kinds of violence: direct, indirect, and pacification. We argue that the field has only developed the tools to examine direct violence (when a person or agent inflicts harm on another) and indirect violence (manifested through the structures of society). We propose a third understanding of violence: pacification. Using a phenomenological methodology, and drawing on anarchist and post-colonial thought, we show that the violence of pacification is diffuse, inconspicuous, intersubjective, and structured into the fabric of society.

Both direct and indirect accounts of violence are limited, we argue. To understand why, consider the following thought experiment. A man enters a home with a gun, points the gun at the family, and begins to make requests of the family. The family, intimidated by the implied threat of the gun, complies. Is this interaction violent? Most people would probably agree that it is; the implied threat of force terrorizes the family. Understandings of direct and indirect violence focus on measured effects of violence. Any physical violence committed by the gunman would be understood direct violence. Any causal, lasting yet largely unseen effects (e.g. a heart attack induced later by the stress of attack) might be considered indirect violence.

Yet neither direct nor indirect conceptions of violence adequately capture the violence of this scene. The family being attacked might be a white South African family who live within a gated complex. The barbed wire crowning the compound walls, the bars on all the doors and windows, and the private security guard posted out front are everyday examples of how this family lives in constant fear of exactly such a gunman. The assailant might come from a family that suffered under apartheid’s racialized social order and might not have benefited from the society’s democratization and liberalization. If the gunman scales these walls and inflicts wounds — physical or otherwise — then one would clearly say that violence occurred. But what if the barbed wire, barred windows, and private security guard successfully kept the gunman at bay? While the family goes about its daily routine, is the world any less violent? The presence of walls and barbed wire might mean that instances of observable violence decrease, but the society remains — in its very lived, material and psychic forms — structured by violence. Acts of violence do not only inflict physical and psychological harm, they also restructure the social and political world. Violence constitutes the worldhood.

Let’s take a different example. Rapid and historically unprecedented increases in economic inequality since 1970 have coincided with the pacification of militant political opposition to such inequality. The dynamics of rioting, guerrilla warfare and assassinations throughout the first half of the twentieth century exposed increasing discontent with perceived systemic injustice, including capitalism, patriarchy, imperialism, colonialism, and white supremacy. These forms of violent political resistance have been suppressed in liberal society over the past fifty years. A restructuring of social relations has led to a displacement and co-optation of violent protests against the perceived injustices of the world order. The overall discontent has not gone away, but opportunities to challenge oppression through “any means necessary” are increasingly foreclosed upon.

We offer a third conception of violence to make sense of this. The hallmark of this third type of violence—pacification—is that the structures of domination ensure that resistance in the form of direct violence against this order is less frequent. Intersubjective relationships in global politics are restructured by implicit and explicit threats, global surveillance, imbalances in military power, displays of military might, occupations, blockades, nuclear deterrence, terrorism and counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, sanctions, trade disputes, and embargoes, to name a few examples. When IR scholars focus solely on discrete acts of physical harm and quantifiable events, such as body counts, they do not capture the restructuring consequences of these acts.

The liberal restructuring of social and political worlds may lead to fewer acts of direct violence if the restructuring deters agents from engaging in direct violence. Liberal restructuring might also lead to less quantifiable physical harm, direct or indirect. However, the absence of visible forms of (direct and indirect) violence may actually be an effect of an intensification of a third form of violence, namely pacification.

We show that most IR scholars only account for direct and indirect violence and equate the decline in that kind of violence with peace. We demonstrate that the spread of liberal institutions does not necessarily decrease violence but transforms it. Our phenomenological analysis captures empirical trends in human domination and suffering that liberal peace theories cannot account for. We reveal how a decline in direct violence may actually coincide with the transformation of violence in ways that are concealed, monopolized and structured into the liberal order. The paper therefore calls for new methods of data collection and analysis that make it possible to better understand the process of pacification.

 

Venezuela is putting democracy and its legitimacy to test

By Pia Riggirozzi, Professor of Global Politics, University of Southampton

 

Long before the current crisis in Venezuela, democracy in Latin America was a damaged project. Military coups d’etat and other violent seizures of power in the 1960s and 1970s were followed by weak attempts at redemocratisation. Efforts to institutionalise social rights, particularly those based on state intervention in the economy, provoked hostile reaction from domestic and foreign markets.

 

Democratic attempts often faced hurdles caused by profound socio-economic restructuring and severe cuts in public spending – with national budgets linked closely to the global economy. Democracy was also highly dependent on markets.

 

During the 1980s, oil prices fell dramatically. In Venezuela, debt then skyrocketed, giving way to a dramatic political and economic crisis that was exacerbated by blatant corruption.

 

Then in 1998 Hugo Chávez was elected president – but with no fixed strategy of what an “anti-capitalist project” might entail. Instead, he took power at the end of a decade that had seen a catastrophic deterioration in living standards and the monopoly of conservative political parties.

 

Chávez was elected on his pledge to refound the republic in line with the vision of Simon Bolivar, who had liberated Venezuela from Spanish rule in the early 19th century. And for Chávez, over more than a decade his experiments seemed to work.

 

According to the World Bank, his social, political and economic reforms led to a spectacular 50% reduction of poverty, and a 65% drop in “extreme poverty” between 1998 and 2012.

 

These gains were mirrored by Venezuela’s neighbours, with Latin America successfully reducing poverty and promoting shared prosperity. The proportion of the region’s 600m people living in extreme poverty (defined as a daily income of less than US$2.50) was cut in half between 2003 and 2012 to around 12%.

 

In Venezuela, post-neoliberalism as a project (committed to the creation of non-market societies, economies and cultures) remained highly dependent on the oil bonanza, accumulating reserves which supported the use (and abuse) of social welfare regimes. Yet as it became increasingly caught in the international oil industry downturn, so too did the post-neoliberal project.

 

A state that failed the people

The halving of the oil price in 2014 sharply reversed the advances made in reducing poverty and inequality. Fatal food and medicines shortages, disease outbreaks and widespread social deprivation spiralled into an unprecedented social and economic crisis.

 

Now, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), nearly 90% of Venezuelans live in poverty – a dramatic increase from an already alarming 48% in 2014.

 

It would be politically naive to think that the promise of democracy in Venezuela was vulnerable purely because of an over-reliance on a volatile oil industry. That was undoubtedly a fatal flaw, but Venezuela also failed to reconcile a deeply polarised society.

 

Since his election as president in 2013, Nicolás Maduro has failed to address chronic problems of economic mismanagement, poor planning, increasing social discontent, and corruption. His country has since undergone cycles of protest and repression that reinforced the social divide.

 

Human rights violations became systematic. There have been well documented restrictions on social protest and freedom of expression, with extrajudicial detentions and arbitrary arrests of opponents. On top of this, a devastating humanitarian crisis has seen an exodus to neighbouring countries – Brazil and Colombia – in a scale never seen before. The number of arrivals from Venezuela to neighbouring countries has steadily increased, reaching 5,000 per day in early 2018.

 

To some, Venezuela had become a failed state, without the basic norms of democratic governance. Then on January 23 2019, Juan Guaidó, leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly, declared himself president of the republic.

 

Guaidó has long been an anti-government activist, but until recently was little known around the world – or even in Venezuela. Yet his move was quickly endorsed by several Latin American countries, as well as Canada and the United States. His self-claim to the presidency is quite problematic too: it draws legitimacy from “assertive politics” rather than from a direct democratic ballot. The end apparently justifies the means.

 

Power grab?

The argument seems to be that Maduro has ruined the Venezuelan economy, violated human rights of all sorts, repeatedly challenged the Venezuelan constitution himself, and was not freely or fairly re-elected in 2018.

 

Guaidó therefore alleges that that Maduro “stole” power and the role of president has therefore been left vacant.

 

Meanwhile, the president of the European parliament, Antonio Tajani, said the Venezuelan people have had “enough of the hunger and abuse suffered at the hands of Maduro”. And the Trump administration asserts that all countries must “pick a side” and back the “forces of freedom”.

 

 

But can an opposition leader – albeit with the support of foreign powers – simply state that the president of the country is not actually the president, and take power himself? If he can, how would Venezuelans be reassured that removing the “bad” president will not simply legitimise more politics of this “assertive” kind.

 

So for the moment, the country has been plunged into a situation whereby it has an internationally recognised government which has no democratic mandate from the people or control over state functions – yet it runs parallel to Maduro’s parliament, with a de facto presidential mandate yet a delusional and dangerous sense of authority.

 

This is not democracy. What Venezuela urgently needs is to reconstruct the foundations of political legitimacy beyond declarations. It requires electoral democracy and political consensus that can genuinely represent the people, deliver development, and reconstruct a sense of citizenship and belonging for its people.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/venezuela-is-putting-democracy-and-its-legitimacy-to-test-111466.

How can Locke help with today’s crises?

By Dr. Eloise Harding, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Southampton

 

John Locke might seem like an unlikely historical figure to turn to for help with environmental and social crises: after all, many popular interpretations of his arguments posit him as the theoretical ancestor of unfettered accumulation, dedicated to extracting the maximum productive use from natural resources. However, these readings don’t tell the full story.

 

The key point here is the interpretation of Locke’s normative argument that humans must derive from the nonhuman world ‘the greatest conveniences of life they were capable’ (2nd Treatise section 34), and ‘make use of it to the best advantage of life, and convenience’ (2nd Treatise section 26). This has often been read as a call for unfettered exploitation of natural resources: in other words, for the most extensive use as the ‘best’ use. Alternatively, if applied to current events, there is a compelling case for construing a sustainable, zero-waste mode of living as a path to the ‘greatest conveniences of life’, assuming that these include a continued healthy existence.

 

Of particular interest is the ‘spoilage proviso’, one of the limitations Locke places on the initial appropriation of resources. On this point, Locke argues that ‘as much as anyone can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils: so much he may by his labour fix a property in. Whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others’ (2nd Treatise section 31). In other words, while it is not in his view wrong to acquire more property than you strictly need, it becomes a problem when resources are wasted. Recent French legislation (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/04/french-law-forbids-food-waste-by-supermarkets) to force supermarkets to give away their unsold food rather than sending it to landfill is consistent with this principle.

 

The spoilage proviso is generally invoked alongside the principle of ‘enough and as good left for others’ (2nd Treatise, various points), which can be read as a further restriction on the acquisition of property in times of scarcity. Taken as a prescription for action today (which I admit would be a controversial use of Locke’s theory), this could have radical implications for solving the austerity crisis. For example, what if there were limits on how many domestic properties could be purchased and left resolutely empty in a city with a high population of homeless and vulnerably housed people?

 

It is not a new phenomenon to interpret Locke’s arguments as grounded in concern for overall human wellbeing, or to argue as James Tully does that ‘Locke’s two natural rights, of preservation and to preserve oneself and others, are not liberties. They are natural rights directly resulting from, or entailed by, the natural duty to preserve mankind.’ (Tully 1993 112)  It is mildly controversial, thanks largely to C.B. Macpherson, to read this as including the whole of humanity rather than merely the segment who have successfully appropriated property. However, as Kristin Shrader-Frechette argues, ‘one could imagine a contemporary Locke arguing for extensive restrictions on property rights in land (e.g., prohibiting filling in wetlands) and for agricultural zoning or preservation, for example to prevent fertile land from being developed or paved.’ (Shrader-Frechette: 1993 217) We can imagine this, on conceptual if not historical grounds, since Locke’s overall prescription that we must make the best use of natural resources is not thoroughly filled out. However, there are indications in the two provisos discussed above which suggest that sustainable use could constitute the ‘best’ use long term. For example, excesses that impinge on the wellbeing of others are frowned upon: while Locke relates this to the immediate present and future, it can be argued that jeopardising people’s long-term prospects for clean air and water or for food security might also fall within this category. The spoilage proviso, meanwhile, rules overtly wasteful uses of resources out of being considered ‘to the best advantage of life’.

 

With that in mind, what would a Lockean solution to austerity and environmental crisis look like in practice? In the first instance, there would be significantly less waste than there is currently: for example, inessential single use plastics and throwaway fashion would be less prevalent. Emphasis would be placed on repairing and reusing rather than constantly replacing. Furthermore, there would be a requirement to share what would otherwise go to waste: for example, supermarkets would be urged to donate their surplus perishables to a food bank or other community project where it can be put to good use, rather than rendering it inedible in a skip. Practical guidance on living up to these principles can be found in the work of a number of projects currently operating around Southampton, for example CURB – The Real Junk Food Project (https://curbkitchen.wordpress.com/), Southampton Repair Café (http://freemantleurc.org.uk/southampton-repair-cafe/) and Southampton Clothes Swaps (https://www.facebook.com/SouthamptonClothesSwaps/). The issue of property ownership – specifically land and buildings – is more contentious, since Locke imposed no outright limits on how much of each resource an individual could own. However, there would likely be de facto limits on how far an individual’s or company’s holdings could impinge on the surrounding community: of particular concern here are ‘investment’ properties which are left deliberately empty in situations where house prices are unnecessarily inflated and housing shortages are rife as a result.

 

In short, although there is a significant gap between Locke’s political views and those of many people actively resisting environmental and austerity-related crises, he can nonetheless provide some useful principles for improving the situation.

PhD Fellowship in Global Constitutionalism

By Jonathan Havercroft, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Southampton

We are currently seeking a student for a PhD Fellowship on the theme of “Global Constitutionalism in an Era of Resurgent State Sovereignty”. The fellowship is funded by the ESCR and can either be used for a Master’s + PhD (a four-year program) or a PhD (a three-year program) if the student already has a master’s degree in a relevant field. Specific details about the fellowship and how to apply can be found here:

https://jobs.soton.ac.uk/Vacancy.aspx?ref=1078818CC

The fellowship will be for a student to undertake a research project at the intersection of law and international relations. Jonathan Havercroft, lead supervisor for the PhD fellowship, is an editor of the Cambridge University Press journal Global Constitutionalism. We are hoping to leverage the synergies between the PhD student and the journal to create both publishing opportunities for the student and increased visibility at Southampton for the theme of global constitutionalism in Politics and International Relations and the Law School. While the PhD Fellowship has a specific research question we are very open to whatever approach the research topic takes, so long as it is broadly within the field of global constitutionalism and engages contemporary questions about the rule of law, democracy, and human rights on a global scale.

Research Question: What impact is the resurgence of nationalism, populism, and anti-globalization having on global constitutional practices in international law and politics?

Background and Rationale for the Study:  Global constitutionalism is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon methods from international relation, law, and politics to identify and analyze global norms from both descriptive (i.e. what norms shape the global order) and prescriptive (i.e. what norms should shape the global order) perspectives. At the heart of global constitutionalism is a focus on the triad of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as the foundations of the contemporary global order.

In recent years all three aspects of this global constitutional order have come under attack. Brexit can be read in part as a rejection of supra-national governance institutions. The Trump Presidency is an unprecedented attack on the rule of law and human rights at both the domestic and international level. Right wing authoritarian movements in the Americas, Asia, and Europe all assert the primacy of state sovereignty against global institutions. This project invites a PhD student to write a thesis that explores how these resurgent nationalist movements are reshaping the global order.

Prospective applicants can contact Jonathan Havercroft if they have any questions. Dr. Havercroft is willing to offer feedback on possible research proposals for the fellowship. He can be contacted via email at: j.havercroft@soton.ac.uk

 

 

Is British democracy facing a legitimacy crisis? It depends what you ask.

By Daniel Devine and Viktor Valgardsson

 

One of the biggest and most debated questions in political science is whether there is a legitimacy crisis. Seminal, widely-cited texts explore the causes and consequences of this apparent crisis, but there is still little agreement on whether there even is a crisis of legitimacy. [1]

 

Such a question should, on first blush, be relatively easy to answer: just collect the responses to surveys and graph the averages over time. And still, there is little agreement over whether there is any decline in perceived legitimacy. What if this is perfectly reasonable: what if the data are actually showing you different answers, despite using essentially the same survey items?

 

Perceptions of democratic legitimacy are usually measured through surveys, primarily using questions measuring items such as ‘satisfaction with democracy’ or ‘trust in parliament’. These ask the respondent, in various ways, to rate how satisfied they are with how democracy works in their country or how much they trust their country’s various political institutions, especially their parliament. Respondents are usually given either a binary or four/five-category response scales, such as ‘trust or do not trust’ or ‘very, fairly, not very, or not at all satisfied’. Almost all existing research on citizens’ attitudes towards their domestic system is measured like this.

 

In this post, we compare two highly respected, high quality, and regularly used surveys that use almost identical survey items to measure democratic satisfaction, a common indicator for democratic legitimacy. We show how the surveys show not only provide different absolute levels, but contradictory trends in democratic satisfaction in Britain. We also show how the likely source is a rather innocuous change in wording.

 

The surveys 

We use the British Election Study (BES) 1997-2017 and the Eurobarometer (EB) 1973-2017. The BES is fielded after every election, whilst the Eurobarometer is fielded every 6 months and within some ad hoc surveys (the ‘special Eurobarometers’). Each BES wave contains a sample size of approximately 3000, and the EB sample size is approximately 1000 per wave. Both surveys are restricted to England, Scotland and Wales.

 

Whilst the BES has six waves (years), coinciding with British general elections, the EB runs almost every year from 1973, excluding 1974, 1975, 1996 and 2008. Although there are often multiple waves in each year, we aggregate the responses according to year.

 

The survey items for democratic satisfaction are presented below and are very similar, particularly in the 1997 BES. Logically, these are identical survey questions and responses. Both the EB and BES are asking whether the respondent is satisfied with the way democracy works in Britain on a scale of 1-4. The main difference is that, in BES 2001-2017, the response is ‘a little/very dissatisfied’ rather than ‘not very/not at all’ satisfied.

 

Survey Question wording Response Categories
BES 1997 On the whole, how satisfied are you with the way democracy works in Britain? Are you … 1. Satisfied;

2. fairly satisfied;

3. not very satisfied;

4. or not at all satisfied?

BES 2001-2017 On the whole, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way that democracy works in this country? 1. Very satisfied;

2. fairly satisfied;

3. a little dissatisfied;

4. or very dissatisfied?

Eurobarometer 1973-2017 On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the way democracy works in Britain? 1. very satisfied;

2. fairly satisfied;

3. not very satisfied;

4. or not at all satisfied?

 

Is there a legitimacy crisis in Britain?

How do these look over time? For simplicity, we collapse them into binary indicators, where 1 equals ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied, and 0 equals dissatisfied/not very or not at all satisfied. The trends are the same with the original response categories. We then plot the percentage of respondents satisfied within a given year.

 

The two graphs lead to the opposite conclusion. If one were to rely on the BES data, one would indeed find a relatively slow, linear decline in democratic satisfaction. On the other hand, using the Eurobarometer data, one would conclude that there’s been the opposite trend: increasing satisfaction with the way democracy works in Britain.

Graph1

Graph2

It may, however, be misleading since the Eurobarometer is asked so regularly relative to the BES. So, we create mean averages for each year in line with the BES. Even in the year with an essentially identical question and identical response categories (1997), there is a 13-percentage point difference in the absolute levels of democratic satisfaction. This may be down to when the BES is asked – just after an election, and a particularly emphatic one in 1997. More worrying, however, is the continuing divergence in the trends.

 

Year Mean (BES) Mean (EB)
1997 0.74 0.61
2001 0.66 0.61
2005 0.7 0.62
2010 0.62 0.64
2015 0.58 0.65
2017 0.53 0.66

 

Of course, there are other potential measures for democratic legitimacy that we do not look at here and which could present clearer and more consistent pictures of levels and trends of legitimacy in Britain in recent decades (it seems, for instance, political trust shows a steady downward trend in both). However, satisfaction with democracy is a very commonly used measure of democratic support and legitimacy, and these stark discrepancies between reliable sources that survey nationally representative samples in the same country and across overlapping periods is a serious cause for concern. [2]

 

Question wording effects

What could this be down to? It’s well known how seemingly innocuous wording changes in surveys (either in the question or response scale) can drastically alter the responses. Given this, the slight discrepancy in questions might offer one reason for the different trends.

 

Fortunately, the British Election Study 2015 fielded both types of questions, with a self-completion questionnaire complementing the face-to-face interviewing. The self-completion questionnaire contains a question from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems survey which is identical to the Eurobarometer question used above, while the interview includes the original BES question. This provides the best opportunity to take a look at the potential discrepancy in question wording.

 

The table below provides a tabulation of the two questions, with the (rounded) percentages of respondents falling into the different cells. 40% of those who respond they are a ‘little dissatisfied’ in the BES version of the question answered ‘fairly satisfied’ in the Eurobarometer version. More alarmingly, a full 18% of those who say they are ‘very dissatisfied’ answered either fairly or very satisfied. This becomes starker if, as we do in the above graphs, make the variable binary. Approximately a third (34%) of those who are coded as dissatisfied in the BES version are indeed coded as satisfied in the Eurobarometer version of the question. Overall, whilst the correlation between the two is statistically significant, they are only correlated at 55% – lower than would be expected from questions that are intended to measure an identical attitude.

 

BES/CSES Very satisfied Fairly satisfied Not very satisfied Not at all satisfied
Very satisfied 45% 45% 6% 4%
Fairly satisfied 9% 73% 15% 2%
A little dissatisfied 2% 40% 43% 15%
Very dissatisfied 3% 15% 37% 45%

 

Whilst we can’t say for sure, these discrepancies appear to be more than large enough to explain the divergent trends between the two data sets – although can’t explain the large difference in 1997. The question nonetheless remains about why such similar questions, aimed at the same underlying attitude, get significantly different results.

 

What we do know, however, is that the answer to whether there a growing democratic legitimacy crisis in Britain depends on which data you are looking at. This post shows the importance of using multiple indicators and data sets in this type of research and highlights the caution with which we should interpret any findings using any particular measure of satisfaction with democracy.

 

[1]

Dalton, Russell J. Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Newton, Ken. “Trust and Political Disenchantment.” In Political Trust and Disenchantment with Politics: International Perspectives, edited by Christina Eder, Ingvill C. Mochmann, and Markus Quandt, 19–31. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

Norris, Pippa. Democratic Deficit: Critical Citizens Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

 

[2]

Anderson, Christopher J, and Christine a Guillory. “Political Institutions and Satisfaction with Democracy: A Cross-National Analysis of Consensus and Majoritarian Systems.” The American Political Science Review 91, no. 1 (1997): 66–81. https://doi.org/10.2307/2952259.

Grönlund, Kimmo, and Maija Setaïa. “Political Trust, Satisfaction and Voter Turnout.” Comparative European Politics 5 (2007): 400–422. https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.cep.6110113.

Linde, Jonas, and Joakim Ekman. “Satisfaction with democracy: A note on a frequently used indicator in comparative politics.” European Journal of Political Research 42, no. 3 (May 2003): 391–408. https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6765.00089.

Quaranta, Mario, and Sergio Martini. “Does the economy really matter for satisfaction with democracy? Longitudinal and cross-country evidence from the European Union.” Electoral Studies 42 (2016): 164–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2016.02.015.

 

Daniel Devine and Viktor Valgardsson are Ph.D. students at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Southampton. Their doctoral research focuses on voting behaviour and public opinion in Europe.