The Monkey Cage

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Why Now? Micro Transitions and the Arab Uprisings

We are pleased to welcome the American Political Science Association’s Comparative Democratization Section as the second section to take up our offer to provide a selection of articles from their newsletter free to the public here at The Monkey Cage. (See here for past posting of articles from Section newsletters.) Over the next three days we will post articles from the current issue of the Comparative Democratization Section Newsletter; if you like these, you should consider joining the section so you can have access to the full content of the newsletter!

Occupy the Web

AP Photo/John Minchillo

This is a guest post from sociologists Neal Caren and Sarah Gaby of UNC-Chapel Hill.  The paper they are discussing is available here.

While Occupy Wall Street has received most of its attention for its sustained public displays of numbers and commitment in New York City and many other locations, the movement also has an impressive online infrastructure. In addition to individual websites, multiple Twitter hashtags and dozens of Livestreams, more than 400 Facebook pages have been established in support of various US Occupy mobilizations. In order to begin to understand how activists and their supporters are using Facebook, we have been creating an archive of all the posts and comments shared on these pages since the movement began. In our working paper, we detail the data we have collected, including trends by location and major categories of posts; here we highlight some of the basic trends we have identified. The data here includes information collected up until October 17th.

A total of 911,822 posts or comments had been contributed to occupy related Facebook pages. Daily Occupy activity on Facebook peaked on October 11th with 64,410 posts. On the day when 129 people associated with Occupy Boston were arrested, 20,912 people contributed to 64,410 posts or comments on 352 Occupy related pages.

More than 400 US Occupation related Facebook pages have been established. The largest of these is the page associated with the original Wall Street Occupation. More than 40,000 individuals have contributed over 200,000 posts or comments to this page. Of the 50 largest Facebook pages in terms of users, 43 of them are associated with specific local occupations. The largest of the local Occupy Facebook is Occupy Boston, with almost 8,000 users.

Most Occupation pages were started between September 23th and October 5th. Only a handful of pages were created in the first few days of the Wall Street Occupation. This number jumped on September 23rd, a date that doubled the total number of Occupation pages. The increase in the number of pages during this time period was likely a combination of the efforts of Occupy Together and Occupy Colleges to facilitate local occupations, combined with the increased media attention that the movement received. Most of the pages starting during this time were designed to spur a local occupation,

A total of 153,056 people have been active on Occupation related Facebook sites. This number counts only those who have contributed to a page, either by posting or through a comment, and does not count those who have only “liked” or “shared” a page or post. This includes 55,150 individuals active on Occupy Wall Street related pages; 23,641 on national pages; 5,989 on state or regional pages, and 99,664 on local pages.

Before September 28th, a majority of new users posted on the Occupy Wall Street page. Since then, two-thirds have been first observed active on local pages. There isn’t much overlap between the Wall Street and the non-Wall street folk, as 90% of individuals who became interested enough in a local Occupation to comment on it first became involved in their local sites.

Facebook pages may play less of a role as the movement develops its own online and offline structures, but it has been a mechanism for a large number of people to encounter and interact with other potential supporters in a familiar setting.

Digital Cameras Reduce Electoral Corruption

Elections in developing countries commonly fail to deliver accountability because of manipulation, often involving collusion between corrupt election offcials and political candidates. We report the results of an experimental evaluation of Quick Count Photo Capture—a monitoring technology designed to detect the illegal sale of votes by corrupt election offcials to candidates—carried out in 471 polling centers across Afghanistan during the 2010 parliamentary elections. The intervention reduced vote counts by 25% for the candidate most likely to be buying votes and reduced the stealing of election materials by about 60%.

More on Qadaffi’s Death: Violent Leader Removal Increases Likelihood of Democratization

In response to my request for research on the effect of the death of dictators on the future prospects of the country in question, Michael Miller of the Australian National University sent along the following comments:

You pose some very interesting and timely questions related to Qaddafi’s violent ouster and what this implies for Libya’s democratic prospects. I have some research here directly on this question.

The gist is this: On average, the violent removal of an autocrat (whether by coup, rebellion, assassination, threat, or foreign assistance—it doesn’t seem to make much difference) makes it three times more likely that a country will democratize in the immediate future. About half of democratic transitions occur within five years of a violent ouster, and another quarter after a peaceful turnover between autocrats. Hence, there’s a big association between an autocratic leader leaving office and autocracy ending. I argue the main reason is that violence indicates and contributes to regime weakness. The periods of chaos following violence, when elites are divided and citizens are engaged, provide the best possible openings for democratic actors to make their demands.

But here’s the rub: That opening only matters if there exist democrats in the country and they have sufficient support and power to win over the next wave of opportunistic autocrats. For this reason, I find that the aftermath of violence is when socioeconomic conditions matter the most for predicting democratization. In particular, average income predicts
democratization if and only if there’s been a recent violent turnover. In other words, violence shakes up the system, but what you get out of it is largely a product of structure.

What does this say for Libya’s democratic prospects? If we only consider economic development, they’re quite good. Libya is wealthier (~$13,000/capita) and more urbanized than most people think, even accounting for oil wealth. This simple model suggests about a 59% likelihood of democratization within five years. However, if we add some political characteristics (like the current Polity score and the regional level of democracy), the picture is much more pessimistic, around 10%. Again, this would be lower still without Qaddafi’s death. Obviously, other factors, like international support and the democratic trajectories of Tunisia and Egypt, will also play a role.

The central point remains that violent leader removal does increase the likelihood of democratization. For Libya’s citizens, this is their best chance in decades to achieve self-rule.

Change from Within

In this dialogue with Matt Miller, Ezra Klein channels a lot of political science to poke holes in Miller’s case for a third party.  Via Facebook, a political scientist friend adds this:

Here’s a question for the third-party types: Why a third party, instead of capturing one of the two? Most third party boosters tend to agree with a lot of what the Democrats want, but not everything. Why not move the party in their direction, from the inside?

In the 1940s/1950s, the Democratic Party wanted what most liberals at the time wanted, but they differed on some issues, most notably on race. Democrats were against civil rights, liberals were for it. But liberals worked WITHIN the party to change its direction, and they succeeded. And that change eventually worked its way through the entire party, from the presidency down through congress and the states. Why is that not the strategy, instead of the incredibly difficult “create a party from scratch” approach?