Greg Michener: Recent Publications and Transparency Program Update

Recent publications by Greg Michener:

2018  Gauging the Impact of Transparency Policies. PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION RE-VIEW, 79 (1): 1-148

2017  Forest Governance without Transparency? Evaluating state efforts to reduce deforesta-tion in the Brazilian Amazon. ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY AND GOVERNANCE, 27(6): 560-574 (with Eduardo Bizzo)

2018  From Opacity to Transparency? Evaluating Access to Information in Brazil Five Years Later. REVISTA DE ADMINISTRAÇÃO PÚBLICA, 52(4) (with Evelyn Contreras and Irene Niskier)

Michener runs the Transparency at Brazil’s Fundacao Getulia Vargas, which has contributed two findings that have resulted in policy innovations by the Brazilian federal government: 1) a field experiment (paper now under review) provides evidence to show that public officials are identity-questing (Googling) freedom of information (FOI) petitioners and responding in preferential ways based on identities. As a result, the federal government now provides FOI petitioners with the option of protecting their identities. The is a first in Latin America. See the OECD policy innovation piece written on it; 2) Close to a thousand FOI requests and corresponding responses (or the lack thereof) show a significant positive relationship between the use of FOI request-and-response platforms and the likelihood and quality of responses. This is the first finding of its kind anywhere, and has spurred the Brazilian federal government to create a nation-wide request-and-response platform.

Influence from Abroad: How Foreign Voices Shape U.S. Public Opinion

by Danny Hayes

As Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi sought to suppress a popular uprising threatening his decades-long hold on power, a March 13, 2011 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll reported that 56% of Americans favored “the U.S. and other countries attempting to establish a no-fly zone” in the North African nation. Just a week later, 70% of Americans supported the action. Why did opinion shift so quickly in favor of intervention?

Numerous possibilities arise, but most analysts would point to the efforts of domestic political elites, such as Barack Obama, who sought to mobilize opinion in support of military engagement. After all, decades of research in political science has shown that public opinion is typically driven by the positions taken by presidents, members of Congress, and other influential elites inside the Beltway. When our political leaders call for action, we line up behind them. But new research by me and Matt Guardino suggests another explanation: the pro-intervention rhetoric emanating from overseas elites, which was widely reported in American media outlets. In contrast to what political scientists have historically believed, the U.S. public sometimes does respond to foreign voices when those voices receive media attention.

In an article recently published in the American Journal of Political Science, Guardino, a postdoctoral fellow at Syracuse University, and I report the results of a study of media coverage and public opinion in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War. We found that although American news outlets paid little attention to dissent to the Bush administration’s plan for a pre-emptive strike from domestic sources — liberal Democratic members of Congress and anti-war demonstrators, among others — they devoted significant air time to opposition to the war from abroad.

For instance, in our analysis of every nightly network television news story about Iraq in the eight months before the invasion — 1,434 in all — foreigners constituted one of every three sources that appeared on the air. And these foreign voices — U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, anti-war members of the British parliament, and officials from France, Germany and various European governments — accounted for 65% of all of the anti-war statements that appeared on the news.

The coverage had a substantial effect on public opinion, suppressing support for the Iraq invasion. According to our analysis of survey data, public support was about nine percentage points lower than it would have been without foreign opposition in the news.

Certain people were especially responsive to influence from abroad. College-educated Democrats, for example, were 37 percentage points less likely to support the war because of opposition from overseas. Independents with college degrees were 59 percentage points less likely to advocate invasion than they would have been in the absence of foreign dissent. Had the media ignored foreign consternation over the invasion, President Bush would have taken the country to war with an even larger reservoir of public support to draw on.

The Libyan intervention is, to be sure, not the Iraq War. For one, the United States and its allies were generally united about how to proceed in Libya. But there is no reason to think that the views of France, Italy and the United Nations were irrelevant to Americans as they contemplated yet another conflict in a far-off land. A growing body of research — including the Government Department’s own Terrence Chapman — suggests that the public does care what the inter- national community thinks when the United State contemplates military action. And as people are increasingly exposed to perspectives from international actors — through the internet and other non-traditional media outlets — the potential for the influence of foreign voices on U.S. public opinion will only grow.

Danny Hayes received his M.A. in 2004 and Ph.D. in 2006 (and a journalism degree in 1998). Hayes is an assistant professor at American University. His research focuses on political communication and political behavior in American politics.

Constitutional Reform in Eurasia

by Julie A. George

Snow started falling today in Chişinău, Moldova, where I have come to study state reforms and their impact on secessionist politics and territorial fragmentation. It is my third country in five months; I was in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) this summer and am spending most of the fall in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The countries share some interesting history that makes for rich comparison. All are postcommunist. All have stated aspirations of democratic governance. All profess a need to enhance the capability of the state to implement reforms. All experienced secessionist war in the 1990s and continue to face state fragmentation. In the case of Moldova and Georgia, the regions of Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia operate as de facto independent states, with their own institu- tions of government, foreign policies and, in the case of Transnistria, their own currency. The 1995 Dayton Accords kept Republika Srpska inside the pre-war boundaries of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but its separatist rhetoric has increased of late, making state governance in BiH challenging.

It is early yet to draw theoretical conclusions. My fieldwork is incomplete and as yet I am caught in a mire of domestic politics and country-specific nuance that bedevils parsimony. Yet some interesting parallels deserve mention. All three countries are exploring constitutional change. Political elites promise that the reforms under consideration would have an almost existential effect on the politics of the day. Some political leaders in Moldova and Bosnia-Herzegovina predict that institutional change will permit the implementation of political, economic and social programs that have been stymied by political infighting and territorial fragmentation. In Georgia, the ruling party casts constitutional reform as a way to finally achieve real democratic governance.

In Moldova, the president is selected by super-majority of parliament; in a multi-party system with a coalition in power, the high-threshold requires support from not only the three parties in the ruling coalition, but also some members of the opposition parties — a deadlock that led to the dissolution of parliament in 2009 and a current stalemate. The Dayton Accords included a constitution for Bosnia-Herzegovina that constructed an ethnicized state with three presi- dents (Bosniak, Croat and Serb) and each major ethnic group given essential veto power over any law in the case that it “destructs the vital interest” of that group. This clause has been invoked for almost any instance of central state reform, including efforts to construct a country-wide tax system (ultimately successful) and significant police reform (ultimately a failure). Underscoring the dramatic politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina is a view amongst the Bosniak population that the veto power held by Republika Srpska was obtained through ethnic cleansing of that territory’s Muslim population. In both Moldova and BiH, powerful political forces seek constitutional change to subvert coalition politics and ethnic fragmentation. At the time of writing, both countries have failed in this endeavor.

Georgia, which is not encumbered by powerful opposition forces, coalition politics or free-wheeling political competition, faces conditions of too much executive energy. Its state capacity reforms fall in a dizzying array of efficacy, leading to expansion of gas and electricity infrastructure, new roads across previously impassable mountain territories, a new tax and customs system, and a total eradication of petty corruption. Memorably, this regime also permitted a brutal crack- down on protesters in 2007 and a war with South Ossetia and Russia in 2008. Georgia’s executive-dominated system has recently undergone overhaul with little discussion and negligible parliamentary opposition. The new constitution, which will come into full force after the current presidential term expires in 2013, creates a parliamentary system with a powerful prime minister and a weak, although directly elected, president.

What conclusions might we draw? Institutions matter, yet in new states, among newly empowered elites, they are avenues to obtain and maintain personal influence. They likewise can be altered to maintain that hegemony. Georgia has amended its constitution significantly at least twice since it was first ratified in 1995. Moldova has overhauled its constitution once; the proposed changes will enhance the power of the ruling coalition and be a death knell to the formerly dominant Party of Communists. But new constitutions also can freeze untenable political conditions. The constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina was designed to end a war, not to run a state. The outcome is an impoverished polity that must maintain three separate administrations for each dominant ethnic group, isolates non-Slav ethnic minorities, and cannot even create a tax system without nationalist struggle. Small wonder that they cannot combat corruption.

Julie A. George received her Ph.D. in 2005. George is an assistant professor at Queen’s College, the City University of New York. In 2010 her first book was published, The Politics of Ethnic Separatism in Russia and Georgia.

Africa’s Volatile Politics

By Laura Seay

It’s an exciting time in Africa as 22 states prepare to hold presidential elections in 2010 and 2011.

Sudan has emerged from decades of turmoil be- tween the country’s northern elites and the oil-rich south. This month’s elections are supposed to be
a significant step on the path to restoring stability, but the most important opposition party, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, recently decided to pull out of the elections due to fears of cheating. Other opposition parties followed suit. The SPLM is banking most of its hopes on a January 2011 referendum on southern indepen- dence. Their decision to boycott the April elections reflects the desire to focus on southern secession, as well as the sense that the presidential elections are highly unlikely to be free and fair.

Ethiopians vote in May. However, the credibility of the elections is already in question as reports of intimidation and human rights abuses against opposition politicians spread. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling party used repression to suppress dissent after the country’s 2005 elections, and most observers doubt that the upcoming elections will be free or fair. Zenawi recently accused the U.S. government-funded Voice of America of broad- casting “destabilizing propaganda” and jammed its radio signal to prevent citizens from listening to the station. The VOA responded by broadcasting its service via satellite.

In Central Africa, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are preparing to hold presidential elections. Reports of opposition candidate intimidation led the International Cri- sis Group to issue a warning about possible elec- tion-related violence in Burundi, whose citizens vote in June. In Rwanda, the Tutsi-dominated government is trying to rebuild its public image after reports of opposition candidate intimida- tion surfaced in the Western media. Opposition candidates accuse the government of using the country’s vaguely worded genocide-prevention laws (which prohibit inflammatory statements about ethnicity) to prevent a serious electoral challenge in the August 2010 polls. Meanwhile, DRC President Joseph Kabila insists that the MONUC peacekeeping force must leave the country prior to elections scheduled for late 2011. No observers believe this is a serious possibility; the DRC government does not control its eastern territories and the absence of the UN peacekeeping mission would be disastrous.

Finally, frustration continues in the Cote d’Ivoire, where elections originally scheduled for 2005 have been delayed yet again. Ivoirian President Laurent Gbagbo has held off the elections due to instability in the country’s north and disputes over the citizenship status of northern Muslims. Once a shining beacon of stability and economic development in West Africa, the Cote d’Ivoire’s descent into ethnic tension and instability has dismayed many Africa-watchers.

As we see from these cases, instability, candidate intimidation, and electoral fraud are problems for many states. It is clear that the process of democratic consolidation requires more than just holding elections. Stable, well-functioning political institutions, a robust civil society, and an independent media are also necessary to ensure democratic outcomes.

Laura Seay received her Ph.D. in government in 2009. She is assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College. She researches African politics, conflict, and state failure.