In the Mood for Democracy? Democratic Support as Thermostatic Opinion

Paper by Christopher Claassen: “Public support has long been thought crucial for the survival of democracy. Existing research has argued that democracy moreover appears to create its own demand: the presence of a democratic system coupled with the passage of time produces a public who supports democracy. Using new panel measures of democratic mood varying over 135 countries and up to 30 years, this paper finds little evidence for such a positive feedback effect of democracy on support. Instead, it demonstrates a thermostatic effect: increases in democracy depress democratic mood, while decreases cheer it. Moreover, it is increases in the liberal, counter-majoritarian aspects of democracy, not the majoritarian, electoral aspects that provoke this backlash from citizens. These novel results challenge existing research on support for democracy, but also reconcile this research with the literature on macro-opinion….(More)”.

Truth and Consequences

Sophia Rosenfeld at The Hedgehog Review: “Conventional wisdom has it that for democracy to work, it is essential that we—the citizens—agree in some minimal way about what reality looks like. We are not, of course, all required to think the same way about big questions, or believe the same things, or hold the same values; in fact, it is expected that we won’t. But somehow or other, we need to have acquired some very basic, shared understanding about what causes what, what’s broadly desirable, what’s dangerous, and how to characterize what’s already happened.

Some social scientists call this “public knowledge.” Some, more cynically, call it “serviceable truth” to emphasize its contingent, socially constructed quality. Either way, it is the foundation on which democratic politics—in which no one person or institution has sole authority to determine what’s what and all claims are ultimately revisable—is supposed to rest. It is also imagined to be one of the most exalted products of the democratic process. And to a certain degree, this peculiar, messy version of truth has held its own in modern liberal democracies, including the United States, for most of their history.

Lately, though, even this low-level kind of consensus has come to seem elusive. The issue is not just professional spinners talking about “alternative facts” or the current US president bending the truth and spreading conspiracy theories at every turn, from mass rallies to Twitter rants. The deeper problem stems from the growing sense we all have that, today, even hard evidence of the kind that used to settle arguments about factual questions won’t persuade people whose political commitments have already led them to the opposite conclusion. Rather, citizens now belong to “epistemic tribes”: One person’s truth is another’s hoax or lie. Just look at how differently those of different political leanings interpret the evidence of global warming or the conclusions of the Mueller Report on Russian involvement in the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. Moreover, many of those same people are also now convinced that the boundaries between truth and untruth are, in the end, as subjective as everything else. It is all a matter of perception and spin; nothing is immune, and it doesn’t really matter.

Headed for a Cliff

So what’s happened? Why has assent on even basic factual claims (beyond logically demonstrable ones, like 2 + 2 = 4) become so hard to achieve? Or, to put it slightly differently, why are we—meaning people of varied political persuasions—having so much trouble lately arriving at any broadly shared sense of the world beyond ourselves, and, even more, any consensus on which institutions, methods, or people to trust to get us there? And why, ultimately, do so many of us seem simply to have given up on the possibility of finding some truths in common?

These are questions that seem especially loaded precisely because of the traditionally close conceptual and historical relationship between truth and democracy as social values….(More)”.

From City to Nation: Digital government in Argentina, 2015–2018

Paper by Tanya Filer, Antonio Weiss and Juan Cacace: “In 2015, voters in Argentina elected Mauricio Macri of the centre-right Propuesta Republicana (PRO) as their new President, following a tightly contested race. Macri inherited an office wrought with tensions: an unstable economy; a highly polarised population; and an increasing weariness towards the institutions of governance overall. In this context, his administration hoped to harness the possibilities of digital transformation to make citizens’ interactions with the State more efficient, more accountable, and ‘friendlier’.

Following a successful tenure in the City of Buenos Aires, where Macri had been Mayor, Minister Andrés Ibarra and a digital government team were charged with the project of national digital transformation, taking on projects from a single ‘whole-of-government’ portal to a mobile phone application designed to reduce the incidence of gender-based violence against women. Scaling up digitisation from the city to the national level was, by all accounts, a challenge. By 2018, Argentina had won global acclaim for its progress on key aspects of digital government, but also increasingly recognised the difficulties of digitisation at the national scale. It identified the need, as observed by the OECD, for an overarching strategic plan to manage the scale, diversity and politics of federal-level digital transformation. Based on interviews with key stakeholders, this case discusses the country’s digital modernisation agenda from 2015 to 2018, with a primary focus on service provision projects. It examines the challenges faced in terms of politics and technology, and the lessons that Argentina’s experience offers….(More)”

Co-Creation Of Public Services: Why And How

Paper by David Osimo and Francesco Mureddu: “Co-creation” and “design thinking” are trendy themes – the topic of innumerable conferences and a growing number of academic papers. But how do we turn co-creation into a reality for Europe’s 508 million citizens? In Co-Creation of Public Services: Why and How, Co-VAL’s new Policy Brief, co-authors Francesco Mureddu and David Osimo propose a ten-step roadmap for delivering genuinely user-centric digital government. The authors argue that it is time to put co-creation at the core of government functioning.

According to the authors, “today, co-creation is a mature subject. There is an extended theoretical and applied research effort underway, led in many places by members of the Co-VAL consortium, whose research informed the new policy brief.  And there is a solid professional community, ready to deliver, and staffed by people with clearly identified job profiles, such as “user researcher” and “service designer.” There are even success stories of entire countries that scaled up design thinking at national level, such as Italy’s Government Commissioner and Digital Transformation Team and the United Kingdom’s legendary Government Digital Services.”…(More)”.

Three Companies Innovating Democracy

Matt Harder at Beyond Voting: “….Below, we’ll explore three websites that allow citizens to communicate better with their governing systems. makes it easier to know what your representatives are voting on, and to tell them how you think they should vote. For each upcoming bill, you can suggest a yea or nay to your representative via email or can even send video messages. Each bill also has a lively debate section so the yeas and nays can share, upvote their opinions and learn from each other. The result is seeing more informed and better arguments in favor of your preferences, and perhaps more importantly, against. is similar to Countable in that you give your opinions to your representatives. But IssueVoter puts a different spin on it by giving you a “scorecard” highlighting how closely your representatives votes align to your preferences. The site is still new, so the functionality is not as great as it could be, but the concept is worth note.

Bang the Table focuses on engagement at a local level. They create civic engagement dashboards for cities that allow residents to stay informed and share opinions about city projects. They offer several levels of engagement, from simply dispensing information for the city to engaging citizens in collective discussions and decision making. Fayetteville, AR used them to make the engagement page Speak Up Fayetteville, which informed citizens about projects such as the Cultural Arts Corridor.

While none of these are driving massive change just yet, it’s easy to imagine how they could be enormously impactful if embraced at scale. First, they will all have to figure out how to design websites which are appealing enough to bring the masses, yet meaningful enough to benefit decision-makers. We’re stuck in the in-between phase where the internet is the most powerful communication medium, but we haven’t learned to utilize it for productive democratic purposes….(More)”.

Information, Technology and Control in a Changing World: Understanding Power Structures in the 21st Century

Book edited by Blayne Haggart, Kathryn Henne, and Natasha Tusikov: “This book explores the interconnected ways in which the control of knowledge has become central to the exercise of political, economic, and social power. Building on the work of International Political Economy scholar Susan Strange, this multidisciplinary volume features experts from political science, anthropology, law, criminology, women’s and gender studies, and Science and Technology Studies, who consider how the control of knowledge is shaping our everyday lives. From “weaponised copyright” as a censorship tool, to the battle over control of the internet’s “guts,” to the effects of state surveillance at the Mexico–U.S. border, this book offers a coherent way to understand the nature of power in the twenty-first century…(More)”.

Disinformation Rated As Significant of a Problem As Gun Violence and Terrorism

Report by the Institute for Public Relations: “Sixty-three percent of Americans view disinformation—deliberately biased and misleading information—as a “major” problem in society, on par with gun violence (63%) and terrorism (66%), according to the 2019 Institute for Public Relations Disinformation in Society Report.

The 2019 IPR Disinformation in Society Report surveyed 2,200 adults to determine the prevalence of disinformation, who is responsible for sharing disinformation, the level of trust in different information sources, and the parties responsible for combatting disinformation.

“One surprising finding was how significant of a problem both Republicans and Democrats rated disinformation,” said Dr. Tina McCorkindale, APR, President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations. “Unfortunately, only a few organizations outside of the media literacy and news space devote resources to help fix it, including many of the perceived culprits responsible for spreading disinformation.”

More than half (51%) of the respondents said they encounter disinformation at least once a day, while 78% said they see it once a week. Four in five adults (80%) said they are confident in their ability to recognize false news and information. Additionally, nearly half of Americans (47%) said they “often” or “always” go to other sources to see if news and information are accurate….(More)”.

Transparency in the EU Institutions – An Overview

Paper by Gianluca Sgueo: “The concepts of transparency of the public sector has been in existence, in various forms, for centuries. Academics, however, agree on the fact that transparency should be qualified as a modern concept. The wave of government reforms that occurred in the 1950s and the 1960s fostered the culture of transparent, accessible and accountable bureaucracies. In the 1990s, following on the spread of technologies, terms like “Government 2.0” and “open government” were coined to describe the use that public administrations made of the Internet and other digital tools in order to foster civic engagement, improve transparency, and enhance the efficiency of government services.

Transparency has come to the fore again over the past few years. National and supranational regulators (including the European Union) have placed transparency among the priorities in their regulatory agendas. Enhanced transparency in decision-making is considered to be a solution to the decline of trust in the public sector, a limit to the negative impact of conspiracy theories and fake news, and also a way to revitalise civic engagement.

EU institutions promote transparency across different lines of action. Exemplary are the ongoing debates on reforming the legislative procedure of the Union, regulating lobbying activities, making available data in open format and digitalising services. Also relevant is the role of the European Ombudsman in promoting a culture of transparency at the EU level. 

Studies suggest that transparency and participation in public governance are having a positive impact on the accountability of EU institutions, and hence on citizens’ perceptions of their activities. The present briefing offers an overview of the actions that EU institutions are implementing to foster transparency, analyzing the potential benefits and briefly discussing its possible drawbacks…(More)”.

Supreme Court rules against newspaper seeking access to food stamp data

Josh Gerstein at Politico: “The Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to businesses seeking to block their information from being disclosed to the public after it winds up in the hands of the federal government.

The justices ruled in favor of retailers seeking to prevent a South Dakota newspaper from obtaining store-level data on the redemption of food stamp benefits, now officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

The high court ruling rejected a nearly half-century-old appeals court precedent that allowed the withholding of business records under the Freedom of Information Act only in cases where harm would result either to the business or to the government’s ability to acquire information in the future.

The latest case was set into motion when the U.S. Department of Agriculture refused to disclose the store-level SNAP data in response to a 2011 FOIA request from the Argus Leader, the daily newspaper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The newspaper sued, but a federal district court ruled in favor of the USDA.

The Argus Leader appealed, and the U.S. Appeals Court for the 8th Circuit ruled that the exemption the USDA was citing did not apply in this case, sending the issue back to a lower court. The district court was tasked with determining whether the USDA was covered by a separate FOIA exemption governing information that would cause competitive injury if released.

That court ruled in favor of the newspaper, at which point the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group that represents retailers such as grocery stores, filed an appeal in lieu of the USDA….(More)”.

The great ‘unnewsed’ struggle to participate fully in democracy

Polly Curtis in the Financial Times: “…We once believed in utopian dreams about how a digital world would challenge power structures, democratise information and put power into the hands of the audience. Twenty years ago, I even wrote a university dissertation on how the internet was going to re-democratise society.

Two decades on, power structures have certainly been disrupted, but that utopianism has now crashed into a different reality: a growing and largely unrecognised crisis of the “unnewsed” population. The idea of the unnewsed stems from the concept of the “unbanked”, people who are dispossessed of the structures of society that depend on having a bank account.

Not having news does the same for you in a democratic system. It is a global problem. In parts of the developing world the digital divide is defined by the cost of data, often splitting between rural and urban, and in some places male control of mobile phones exacerbates the disenfranchisement of women. Even in the affluent west, where data is cheap and there are more sim cards than people, that digital divide exists. In the US the concept of “news deserts”, communities with no daily local news outlet, is well established.

Last week, the Reuters Digital News Report, an annual survey of the digital news habits of 75,000 people in 38 countries, reported that 32 per cent now actively avoid the news — avoidance is up 6 percentage points overall and 11 points in the UK. When I dug into other data on news consumption, from the UK communications regulator Ofcom, I found that those who claim not to follow any news are younger, less educated, have lower incomes and are less likely to be in work than those who do. We don’t like to talk about it, but news habits are closely aligned to something that looks very like class. How people get their news explains some of this — and demonstrates the class divide in access to information.

Research by Oxford university’s Reuters Institute last year found that there is greater social inequality in news consumption online than offline. Whereas on average we all use the same number of news sources offline, those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale use significantly fewer sources online. Even the popular tabloids, with their tradition of campaigning news for mass audiences, now have higher social class readers online than in print. Instead of democratising information, there is a risk that the digital revolution is exacerbating gaps in news habits….(More)”.