Trump’s State of the Union: Immigration, Abortion, and No Policy Content

Graduate students working with the Policy Agendas Project (Connor Dye, Laura Quaglia, Katie Madel, Maraam Dwidar, and EJ Fagan) published an analysis in the Monkey Cage showing that Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address was the first since 1948 to mention abortion; that Trump has emphasized immigration more than any other president; and that his speech included the most statements containing no policy content:

Monkey Cage – Trump’s State of the Union

Machiavelli and Realism in International Politics

Zachary Bennett recently wrote the following for Politics and Strategy.

Machiavelli and Realism in International Politics

“Few, if any, works of political philosophy have been more important for grand strategy and diplomacy than The Prince. Written by the Florentine philosopher and statesman, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), The Prince, along with Machiavelli’s other major work, Discourses on Livy, brought about a transformation in political theory and political practice. Indeed, in composing The Prince and Discourses, Machiavelli founded modern political philosophy, which is also to say he intended to overthrow classical and medieval political philosophy.”

Michael Gibbs: Brumley Program Interview

Michael Gibbs is the ISP Fellow in the Brumley Next Generation Graduate Fellows program.  His faculty mentor, ISP Director Stephen Slick, has aided Michael in his research on the inner workings of insurgencies, specifically Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula and in Iraq.  Michael updates us on his progress in his Brumley Program interview:



Will Brazil Impeach its President?

Calla Hummel and Ryan Lloyd published this Monkey Cage post:

Will Brazil impeach its president? Here’s a handy guide to the process and politics in play

They write: “Even though public opinion appears dead-set against Rousseff, she may persevere. The nature of the Brazilian impeachment process and electoral system puts a large degree of power in the hands of self-interested, largely unbound political actors whose votes can change very quickly. While much of the opposition and many members of parties like the PMDB will certainly vote to impeach her, others will be a good degree more malleable. That might be enough to keep her in power.”

The Man Who Invented the Educated Political Operative? Vincent Harris and the importance of higher education

If you pay serious attention to American party politics, it is hard to imagine you have not yet heard of Vincent Harris. As featured in a recent BloombergPolitics piece, Harris is “The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet.” To summarize and oversimplify, Harris has taken the stereotypical stodgy Republican candidate, mixed with Twitter, and won some very high-profile elections. Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, Dan Patrick – Vincent Harris ran their digital campaigns, and in news that broke recently, Rand Paul has signed Harris as chief digital strategist.

But Vincent Harris is also a graduate student in the Department of Government, and wearing his academic hat, he believes political practitioners have ignored academic research for too long. He thinks there is a big gap between the two worlds, and he is doing his part to bridge that gap. For example, he says, “if you are going to hire a pollster, wouldn’t you like that pollster to have a Ph.D. in statistics? Or, don’t you, personally, want to be able to look at a poll and have a deeper understanding of what that poll is saying?”

Harris’ broader argument is that too much of the campaign industry operates on Beltway conventional wisdom, and to him that just makes no sense. Why spend millions of dollars and risk your political future based on gut feelings, when there is an academic universe churning out research with real data to deploy in campaigns? Harris says that many people in politics do not trust math, but, for him, data do not lie. And on the Republican side he says many have a misconceived notion that academics are out to get Republicans. Harris sees no partisan agendas at the university, just research agendas.

Numbers do not lie – that is one side of Harris’ argument in support of the academic enterprise. The other is much deeper, much more intellectual, and arguably much more powerful. It is one of gaining perspective, asking different questions, and finding different paths to the answers. “Being a graduate student has helped and forced me to read things, to discover research, and to sit down and think about questions that I never would have thought about.”

Are we spending money in the rights ways? How are voters perceiving information we are sharing with them? These are some of the questions Harris has pursued and continues pursuing, and he transfers his studies to his real work.

That these intellectual exercises have had direct payoff in the business world is evidenced, in abundance, by the success of Harris Media. “My classes here have been so helpful in giving me different perspectives than the norm, and it is so valuable … more people in the industry should pursue graduate degrees and force themselves to keep learning, otherwise the execution of practical politics stagnates.”

Harris offers the same advice to undergraduates thinking of pursuing a career in practical politics: “Undergraduate is just the surface, you have to dig deeper.” Harris says there is a huge creative aspect to it, spurred in part by curiosity: “I have gone down so many rabbit holes, I have been opened to so much rich literature and research, not just in American politics, but in other fields too, and it all has a practical application.”

Part of the utility of his studies has come in forcing him to take the time to step back from his work and look at it in a setting he never would have otherwise. Harris has worked on campaigns, collected data, and then investigated the data in term papers he wrote for courses. “I have looked at and analyzed my own datasets and built stuff out of them. Taking a step back in this way, this is something that there is not time for in the real world. Being in graduate school has forced me into an environment where I have had to look at these data in different ways than I would have, and it has been huge.”

And what about Harris’ studies? What exactly is he working on, and are the strategies he devises for clients rooted in the research he is so firm in advocating for? The answers to both are related.

Harris believes that to reach voters, campaigns have to break through the clutter, particularly the entertainment clutter in a media world dominated by the likes of Kim Kardashian and Jon Stewart. In short, he believes effective campaigns are entertaining campaigns. As for data, he knows that entertaining campaigns reach more people – the number of people seeing the information campaigns put out increases when the content is entertaining and funny. But, reach is only half the game.

What is happening at the level of the individual voter? Does more entertaining content affect the speed and extent of voters changing their preferences, or whether they are more likely to recall information? Harris now has a wealth of campaign data to answer such questions, and he plans to do just that.

Joe Tafoya: Summer in Grad School

My work for the summer started before I hit the Spring semester’s finals week. I was brought on board by my undergraduate adviser and her colleague, a Princeton University professor, to work as a research assistant in a Get Out the Vote field experiment of theirs. My tasks were to organize and later run a volunteer phone bank that aimed to mobilize Latino voters in three local communities for the California Primary Election at CSU Los Angeles. Our aim was to test the effectiveness of ethnic centered messages; we tested “Latino” script against an “American” one and a “Recycle” placebo. From Austin, I recruited, interviewed, and scheduled 28 L.A. area high school students that were bilingual to participate. We successfully landed over 1,500 live contacts and produced promising results.

The second half of the summer I was once again brought on board as a research assistant by my undergraduate adviser but on a completely different project. This time my task was to interview 25 undocumented Latina/o youth or “DREAMers” in the Los Angeles area. I was to get a hold of them through Snowball Sampling. The 25 that I collected there were but 1/4 of the 100 perspectives that others would gather nationwide and later analyze into a book length treatment. The questionnaire for the qualitative interviews focused on how social and political realities affect the political socialization and material opportunities of undocumented youth. Having originated from the same community as them and holding a personal understanding of their struggles put me in a unique position to collect their stories – they unabashedly opened up and shared everything. The best part though was that I received the opportunity to include  interview questions to test my own hypotheses. Without hesitation, I produced a political knowledge questionnaire and political sophistication measures. I attained 25 respondents in California and 25 from South Texas that another RA collected for my exclusive use. I’ll get to analyzing those data soon and describe what I have a found in a paper that I will title “Watching and Learning from the Shadows.”

We Have Never Been Secular

by Bill McCormick

“Secularism” is an academic word that somehow slipped into everyday conversation, but what in the world does it mean?

The eminent Canadian political and moral thinker Charles Taylor recently offered a three-fold understanding of the concept, and it’s a worthy beginning to unraveling this complicated term. The two obvious senses of secularism are (1) the autonomy of public spheres from God or religious concerns and (2) the decline in religious practice among individuals. Yet secularity also involves, Taylor writes, (3) a shift from a society in which belief in God is axiomatic to one in which such belief is simply one among many options.

This shift affects everyone, and not only because any and all would-be truths are questionable, including those of science, but because now no one can ignore the question it raises: if belief in God is no longer the unquestionable foundation for goodness and truth, for what makes us human, has man any such foundation?  And can human community survive with such uncertainty as we grapple with this question?

I write that “everyone” must feel this shift, but that is not quite true, as Taylor makes clear. This is a story about the West, a confluence of Greek, Jewish and Christian traditions that were in different ways very ambiguous about the relation between politics and the divine. We not only ignore this history when we act as though the modern “separation” of religion and politics were simply self-evident, but risk hypocrisy when we embrace notions of rights, the person, conscience, liberty, universality and even the “secular” that are distinctly Judeo-Christian legacies. When one hears modern Westerners discussing whether Islam distinguishes between politics and religion, one must wonder: can a Westerner really know what such a statement even means?

Such amnesia is not our only problem. For what seems to characterize our age is not merely a fuller sensation of man’s autonomy, but also a deep and lingering dissatisfaction with it. We claim to have emancipated politics from questions of transcendence, yet we have little trust in human reason. We claim to have developed a post-religious society, but we take a poor view of other people and are far from any consensus on the common goods of our society. The resultant desolation, alienation and plain anger are amply reflected in our art, our literature, our friendships and our politics.

It might then seem surprising that, for many political theorists interested in religion, the first question is not “Where is God?” but “Where is reason?” Yet even if one disagrees with Taylor’s definitions of secularism, he is surely right that the doubtful status of secularism reopens not only the relation between religion and politics, but also the connection between faith and reason, or our time’s images of faith and reason, anyway. Thus the great thinkers of recent times, whether religious, atheist or somewhere in between, have recognized that faith and reason must be re-evaluated together.

Are humans capable of forming rational communities that seek their good? Does man even have a purpose, a good that he must seek? If he does, how would he uncover it? Could it bind him in peace to other people? These are urgent questions, and there can be no “neutral” answer to them. Yet the fear of observers like Taylor is that we will stop asking them, either because we think they are no longer genuine questions, or in despair of finding answers to them. Whether we take up their challenge is at present another unanswered question.

Bill McCormick is a Ph.D candidate. He studies medieval political thought and anything related to theology and politics. A native Texan, McCormick graduated from the University of Chicago in 2007 and has recently returned from a year studying Thomas Aquinas at the University of Cambridge. When not doing all of that, he enjoys horses, whiskey and collecting flags.

Women in the 2012 Elections

by Megan Moeller

The 2012 elections will be noteworthy for women in elected office. The number of women in the Senate is currently at a historic high of 17. The 2012 elections will also see a historic high of female Senate incumbents up for re-election — one Republican and six Democrats. Five other women — four Democrats and one Republican — are the presumed nominees in Senate races, meaning 12 women could be vying for Senate seats next year. The 113th Congress would have the greatest number of female Senators ever if at least eight of them win.

But since many of the candidates are Democratic, a losing year for Democrats could mean a losing year for women in the Senate. If just one female incumbent loses a seat with no new women winning, the number of women in the Senate would decrease for the first time in 34 years. Such a blow would come on the heels of 2010, when the number of women in the House decreased for the first time in 30 years. Whether we see a new ‘Year of the Woman’ or the continuation of a losing trend for women, the 2012 elections will likely prove notable for female representation in Congress.

Women will also be crucial in the 2012 elections as voters, as they hold great weight in determining electoral fortunes. The female vote was pivotal to Barack Obama’s success in 2008: Men’s votes were split between John McCain and Obama while Obama earned 56% of the female vote. Additionally, women turned out at a rate of 65.7% compared to the 61.5% rate of their male counterparts, according to the Pew Research Center. Female voters are historically important to a Democratic victory, but in 2010 less than half of them voted for Democrats — possibly cause for concern for Obama and Democrats in 2012.

Of likely voters in the Republican primaries, most recent polls (through October 2011) reveal that women would most like to see Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee, followed by Herman Cain. When asked for whom they would vote if the election were between Obama and Romney and held today, 50% of women surveyed in a Quinnipiac University poll said that they would vote for Obama and 38% for Romney.

Following the ‘Year of the Woman’ in 1992, women have made impressive gains in their share of congressional seats. But since then, pre-election polling numbers have consistently underestimated the eventual vote share for female candidates in Senate and gubernatorial races. Christopher Stout and Reuben Kline dubbed this phenomenon the “Richards Effect” (after former Texas governor Ann Richards) in their September 2011 article in Political Behavior. The “Richards Effect” is most pronounced in states that hold more culturally conservative views regarding gender roles.

In a recent AP poll, 83% of respondents indicated that the gender of the candidate in a presidential election would have no effect on whether they would vote for that candidate, and 9% of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate if the candidate were a woman. Michele Bachmann, the only female candidate participating in presidential debates, has polling numbers averaging in the single digits for the last three months (through October 2011). It appears Republican women are no more likely to support her than are Republican men, as gender differences in preferring Bachmann as the Republican presidential nominee are within the margin of error. It looks doubtful the Richards effect or voters’ willingness to elect a woman will be enough to help her chances in the election.

Megan Moeller is a Ph.D. student. Her fields of study are American Politics and Methodology, with specific interests in legislative institutions, gender and politics, and public policy. She was recently awarded the competitive Janet Box-Steffensmeier scholarship for women in the social sciences to attend the ICPSR summer program in quantitative research methods. Megan received a B.A. in political sci- ence from the University of Michigan.

An Insider’s Look at Tunisia’s First Free and Fair Election

by Matt Buehler

As an international observer with the Carter Center of Atlanta, I witnessed Tunisia hold one of the freest elections in Middle East history on Oct. 23, 2011. It was inspiring to see many Tunisians voting for the first time in their lives. I visited 10 different polling stations and can attest to the election’s transparency and fairness.

Proud of sparking the Arab Spring, Tunisians are now celebrating another first in this long revolutionary season: a free and fair election.

“After the revolution of Jan. 14, 2011, when Tunisian dictator Zinedine Ben Ali fled, we didn’t celebrate. We were afraid. We didn’t want the old regime – the Constitutional Democratic Rally Party (RCD) – to come back and steal the revolution,” as Abdelhamid Lamine, of the Tunisian independent election commission, explained. “Now after election day, we can celebrate. We know the people are dedicated to the revolution.”

The election creates a 218-seat assembly that will draft a constitution and form a one-year transitional government. Events surrounding the election, however, suggest that challenges remain for Tunisia as it becomes the first fully democratized state of the Arab Spring.

With voter turnout exceeding 90 percent in some of the 27 electoral districts, more than 4 million Tunisians cast their ballots for 100 different political parties. Rachid Ghannouchi’s al-Nahda, the formerly banned Islamist party, received 91 seats (40 percent). Moncef Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic Party (CPR) and Mustapha Ben Jafar’s Ettakatol Party came in second and third places with 30 and 21 seats, respectively. These opposition parties that voters perceived to be farthest away from the ancien régime were the election’s victors.

The Islamists asserted their organizational effectiveness during the campaign, recruiting more than 12,000 volunteer party representatives for polling stations. When a voter’s intent is clear on the ballot but marked invalid for a technical reason, these representatives advocate for the vote to be counted in their party’s favor.

Secular opposition parties had less success in recruiting party representatives. In Nabul II, a rural-urban electoral district with 238 polling stations, Nahda had a surplus putting forward 379 representatives. CPR and Ettakatol had only 45 and 96. The secular parties remain elite-based organizations with less capacity than the Islamists to mobilize their supporters.

Despite a legal ban on becoming candidates in the elections, former Ben Ali RCD officials founded 30-40 parties in the post-revolution period and had electoral success. Kamal Morjane, Ben Ali’s foreign minister, for example, formed the Initiative Party and won five seats in the assembly. One election official estimated to me that more than 50 percent of Morjane’s party is comprised of RCD officials. Another party of Ben Ali allies, the Petition Party, received 19 seats nationally. The Initiative Party has grassroots support, recruiting 600 party representatives nationally and 87 in the electoral district of Nabul II (exceeding several opposition parties).

Unlike de-baathification laws that purged Saddam Hussein’s allies from Iraqi politics, Tunisian electoral code as stands does not legally bar former RCD officials from obtaining high posts within parties. It’s clear, moreover, that a significant portion of Tunisian voters seem to support these parties emerging from the RCD.

More troubling, some of these parties do not respect Tunisia’s new rules of democratic competition. After the independent election commission invalidated some of its seats for violating campaign finance laws, the Petition Party’s activists in Sidi Bouzaid – the Arab Spring’s birthplace – rioted and burned down the Islamist party’s regional office. The Petition Party subsequently withdrew from the new constitutional assembly in protest, escalating the political showdown.

Responding to this threat, the Islamist party has proposed a coalition with the CPR and Ettakatol. Through this alliance of unlikely ideological bedfellows, uniting Islamists and socialists, they intend to shepherd Tunisia through this unstable period.

“We don’t have many common ideological denominators, but we have one objective: that’s the national interest,” Mohammed Bennour, of the Ettakatol Party, said. “The country needs all sections of society to escape this situation and enhance stability.”

Hope remains that this cross-ideological alliance between Islamists and socialists can do away with the leftovers of the RCD regime that monopolized Tunisian politics for the last 55 years.

“On today’s political scene, parties are not divided by ideology,” Samir Ben Amor, of the Congress for the Republic Party, explained. “The real division is between parties of the revolution and those that opposed it. Between parties that struggled for the revolution, and those that did not take honorable positions towards it.”

Matt Buehler, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Government, was recently selected by the Carter Center in Atlanta to act as an international election observer for the first post-Ben Ali elections in Tunisia.

Democracy Rocks the Casbah

by Matt Buehler

From Tunis to Cairo, Tripoli to Damascus, the Middle East has undergone some of the most dramatic changes in its history over the last four months. As a Boren Graduate Fel- low funded by the International Institute for Education, I’ve had the opportunity to witness these events first-hand while conducting my doctoral field research in Morocco.

While the Arab chapter in the democratization story remains unfinished, few doubt that optimism has surged following these rapid, revolutionary changes. I have felt particularly close to the process, and I’m proud that my many friends across the Middle East have decided to assert themselves. They’ve organized into popular protest groups akin to Eastern Europe and Latin America’s ‘people power’ movements of the late 1980s.

Yet, from a fieldwork perspective, such circumstances pose complications for both established and aspiring scholars. How should a researcher conduct fieldwork in such a period of unrest? How should one collect information on popular movements, which have attracted public attention, without endangering his informants or himself ? While academic seminars taught me much about conducting research overseas, nothing could have prepared me for what I found upon my arrival in Morocco. I’d like to share three lessons I think I’ve learned about doing research in such unrest. I hope they benefit other members of the Texas community who may, someday, find themselves in a similar situation.

(1) Be there, but don’t be involved! While doing fieldwork in a revolutionary situation, it’s important to soak up as much information as possible by collecting media articles, passively observing events, and speaking with activists. Such information will enhance your research project and give you an insider-account of excit- ing political developments. Rather than interviewing activists on the spot, however, I’ve found it best to trade contact information with them, and arrange to meet another day in a more formal setting (such as their office or organization’s headquarters) to talk with them about their experiences. One doesn’t want to give the impression that you, as a foreigner, are participating in protests, which could endanger your safety and is prohibited by domestic law.

(2) Be sympathetic, but don’t be known as a sympathizer! Many scholars, especially those interested in democratization, admire activists in popular movements who often join them to advocate for fairer elections, less corruption, and greater political freedom. While you might naturally have such feelings, it’s better to keep them to yourself. In many research studies, you’ll also want to interview the regime’s supporters in order to balance your analysis. There’s no better way to shut off your own access to interviewees than by becoming known as a biased researcher.

(3) Get photographs, but don’t take any! In Morocco, as in many non-democracies, taking pictures of political protests is illegal for foreign nationals. It’s always preferable to get your contacts involved in the popular movement (and by now you’ve made a few) to share their favorite photos with you. Photos are always a great way to spice-up your personal website when you go on the academic job market.

These three lessons, though far from sufficient, have helped guide me while doing my fieldwork in North Africa. It’s been an amazing experience thus far, and I hope to continue learning about the important changes taking place in Morocco while also respecting its laws and protecting my interviewees.

Matt Buehler is a third year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government. He earned his M.A. in government in 2010 and is currently conducting fieldwork in Morocco. Next year, he hopes to continue his dissertation fieldwork on opposition political coalitions in Algeria or Tunisia.

Man vs. Machine in the Middle East

by Rachel Sternfeld

On December 17, 2010 a 26-year-old Tunisian, Muhammad Bouazizi, self-immolated. Protests began in his home city within hours and spread to Tunisia’s other cities in days. In the weeks and months that followed, similarly dissatisfied individuals organized and participated in small demonstrations and massive uprising across the Middle East and North Africa. Demonstrations forced aging presidents from office in Tunisia and Egypt; protesters in both countries returned to the streets and won additional leadership changes.

As of April 1, demonstrations continued across the region, from the beginning of events in Syria to protracted protests and state responses in Bahrain and Yemen. Colonel Gadhafi’s forces were retreating from armed rebels in Libya, backed by an UN-sanctioned and NATO-enforced no-fly zone. Simultaneously, millions from Morocco to Iraq anticipated political and economic reforms promised by presidents and kings seeking to stem public challenges to their continued rule.

Why now? Explanations that point to the sparks of momentous historical events as their root causes often leave us unsatisfied, yet the richer significance we gain when we examine underlying social, political and economic conditions cannot explain the precise timing of events. Focusing on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as the cause of World War I ignores the tensions that were building in Europe for more than a decade before. Similarly, spotlighting the desperate act of a young Tunisian overlooks decades of increasing inequality in the Middle East that, combined with pervasive corruption, resulted in widespread frustration.

For this reason, as well as individual political predispositions, journalists and commentators offer middle-range causes for the protests in the Middle East. We largely dismissed the overtly political and American-centric explanations: President Obama’s and former Secretary of State Rice’s speeches in Cairo; U.S. involvement in Iraq; Wikileaks’ release of U.S. diplomatic cables. On the other hand, technological developments – satellite television, the Internet, and smart phones; a.k.a. al-Jazeera, Facebook, and Twitter – permeate the debate.

There is no doubt that protest organizers in Egypt and beyond deployed social media and other new media technologies as part of their overall strategies, or that al-Jazeera’s near constant coverage brought information to the average Arab. Evidence from Egypt, however, suggests that new media technologies were not the principle cause of the protests. Prior to January 2011 Egyptian youth sought to organize protests using new media, but despite large online support, attendance at events was disappointingly low. Additionally, organizers made a point of keeping details of the routes for their January 25th protest offline to reduce the likelihood that the government would discover the plans. Moreover, some Egyptian youth leaders reportedly travelled to Serbia and received training in various methods of nonviolent protest from Otpor, a group important to the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic.

The rapid spread of events from Tunisia to other Arab countries is not unprecedented. The 1848 French Revolution sparked demonstrations in Berlin, Prague and other European cities only weeks after Parisians won political change from the barricades. Similarly, during the Civil Rights Movement, a wave of sit-ins spread across the southern United States just a week after four African-American students occupied the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro. The quick diffusion of events in 1848 preceded the invention of the radio; both these events, of course, predate satellite television, the Internet and smart phones.

Thus, while difficult to quantify, it is the bravery of the individuals – men and women, young and old, rich and poor – who risked arrest, injury and death to demand representation and respect from governments known for their corruption and brutality that we should prioritize when explaining these events. The actions of American politicians and the power of technology pale in comparison.

Rachel Sternfeld is a fourth year graduate student in the Government Department. Her work focuses on the role of media under authoritarian governments in the Arab world. Her previous work compared repression of journalists and bloggers in Egypt (M.A. in government from UT-Austin, 2009) and ex- plored the role of blogging in post-Saddam Iraq (MSc from SOAS at the University of London, 2006).

Texas Redistricting – To Whom Go the Spoils?

by Ernest McGowen

Tom Delay has moved on from the Texas political stage but this current round of redistricting may be no less contentious. The traditional goal of redistricting in a one-party dominated government is increasing party strength. Given the supermajority of Republicans in the state House of Representatives, we should not expect 2011 to be any different. What will be different, however, is the population explosion in Texas, the groups that have fueled this increase, and the geographical regions in which they reside. If Tom Delay’s mantra was that in our Republican state the congressional delegations should look Republican, what happens when much of the population increase is amongst traditional Democratic groups in Democratic areas?

If we look at the presidential popular vote from Texas in the last four cycles, Delay’s words may come back to haunt him. After a lukewarm 49% Republican share in 1996, Texas became solidly Republican in the next two cycles with a 59% Republican share in 2000 and 61% in 2004. However, the Republican share fell to 55% in 2008 and Democrats got their largest vote share (43.68%) since 1996. Yet these gains have not translated into a shift in party identification. The number of Texans identifying as Democrats did increase in 2008, but so did the number of Republicans, with slightly more independent identifiers leaning Republican.

The question is whether the new districts will be drawn to reflect the new elected officials or the new population? According to the Census most of the Texas population gains have come from Latinos and African Americans. The Latino population has grown by 42%, the African-American population by 22%. Compare this to the modest 4.2% of growth in the White population.

If we look at population growth by county, the numbers become starker. Only 22 of 253 counties (8.6%) saw any kind of decline in their Latino populations, and 6.7% saw their Latino populations more than double. For African Americans the average decline by county was only 17.8% while the average increase was 87.9%. Whites saw an average decline of 6.4% and an average increase of only 15.2%. The White population is stagnant, Latinos are fast moving into Texas and African Americans are concentrating in metropolitan areas.

If we look at the cities and surrounding counties with the largest population growth (in order) Ft. Worth, Laredo, Plano, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, we see that these were the areas with the largest Democratic vote shares in 2008. These particular cities grew at an average of 22.2% and Obama received an average of 52% of the vote. Even the traditional Republican counties of Tarrant, Williamson, and Ft. Bend had an average Obama vote share of 44.8%, higher than the state average.

So while it is clear by almost any measure that Texas is still a Republican identifying state, it is also clear that most of the population gains that have produced the four new seats have come from minorities in urban areas, a majority of whom voted for Obama.

What is unclear is who will get the state’s new four seats. The numbers could allow another majority African American seat in the Houston area, but that is unlikely. If three of the four are majority Latino and one of the seats should come from Southern Texas, Republicans may appease both sides given the recent defection of Rep. Aaron Peña of Edinburg. In this state, it is difficult to bet against the conservatives in power, and there are good reasons to believe that the Republicans may once again (remorselessly) rule the day.

Ernest McGowen is an assistant instructor of government. He earned a government B.A. with honors in 2003, took a master’s degree in 2008 and will receive his Ph.D. this year. He becomes assistant professor of political science next academic year at the University of Richmond.

Chechnya’s Refugees

By Michael Dennis

When most people hear about Chechnya, they immediately think of war, terrorism, and political violence. Indeed, suicide bombings, purportedly committed by the so-called Black Widows (Chechen women driven to violence by personal loss), rocked the Moscow subway system the last week of March, killing dozens. While this tragedy reveals the consequences of Russia’s decade-long war in the North Caucasus, there is another stark reminder of the human suffering created by these wars – refugees. The recipient of a multi-country Fulbright Fellowship to explore attitudes toward political violence among Chechen refugees, I spent more than two years living with Chechen refugees in the Republic of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Poland, and Belgium, and, in doing so, I came to appreciate the exceptional suffering Chechens endure.

Driven from their homes by Russian guns, Chechen refugees lost most of their worldly possessions and, for many, the lives of loved ones, and once they escaped Chechnya, they were confronted with appalling circumstances and a bleak future. By any measure, the vast majority of Chechens live in abject poverty, barely scraping by on subsistence packages from human rights groups. There are few employment opportunities and many suffer from a host of physical ailments and psychological trau- ma. Many Chechen refugees fear returning home because they expect retribution from the Russians and Chechnya’s pro-Moscow government run by President Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov has been accused of orchestrating his own regime of terror and torture in recent years. According to Memorial, a prominent Russian Human Rights organization, a state of fear reminiscent of Stalin’s Terror pervades contemporary Chechnya.

Despite the poverty, I was always treated as a special guest in each Chechen dwelling, a trademark custom throughout the Caucasus. Precious foods like mutton, a rarity in refugee diets, and bread, pickled vegetables, and cheeses were laid out with copious amounts of tea and sugar. Often I arrived at a refugee dwelling expecting only to conduct an interview, but ended up spending an unexpectedly cheerful evening with my hosts, many of whom were no doubt grateful for a return to some sort of normalcy. These were surprisingly good times amidst many less enjoyable times. A sick mother unable to afford medical fees for her ill children; the young men who left on an errand but never returned; families unable to afford the most basic needs and cramped together in crowded shan- ties, deserted old-mountain villages, abandoned factories, and discarded train-cars.

A generation is growing up either in destroyed villages in Chechnya, under constant threat, or in dilapidated refugee camps. This generation, much like the Afghan refugees in Pakistan after the So- viet invasion, is growing up without any conceivable hope for a normal future. The Afghan refugees eventually formed the core of the Taliban movement. Will history repeat itself in the North Caucasus and the refugee camps in Europe? Only time will tell. For now, the most pressing concern for the vast majority of Chechen refugees is to provide for their families and to live in peace and security – a simple goal in troubling times.

Michael Dennis is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government. His research specialties include political violence, ethno-nationalism, political Islam, trans-national and regional terrorist organizations, and militarized refugee communities.

Chile’s political transition will not impede relief

by Matthew Johnson

In the days since the Feb. 27 earthquake, the focus in Chile has turned away from the natural disaster itself and toward the recovery efforts in afflicted areas. In the wake of this transition comes another one: the political changing of the guard from President Michelle Bachelet to President-elect Sebastián Piñera on March 11. Thus, during one of Chile’s gravest crises ever, the question of whether and how the political transition will affect the cohesiveness of the recovery effort is extremely salient.

Just as the earthquake left visible cracks in many of Santiago’s buildings, the reported rumors of preexisting, behind-the-scenes tensions between Piñera and Bachelet have been on prominent display since the terremoto (earthquake). In the days immediately following the tragedy, Bachelet and Piñera maintained high profiles, but separately.

Chile’s earthquake response has largely been directed by President Bachelet, leaving President-elect Piñera with seemingly little input, save for the numerous press conferences he has held after visiting damaged sites. While Piñera was able to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it was only President Bachelet on the runway to greet her. Nor has there been visible evidence of cabinet members of the current government and the government-elect working on logistical issues together and addressing the press corps in tandem. In short, it seems the current government is largely making the bed that the incoming government will have to sleep in. To be sure, the gravity of the situation demanded immediate action by the current government. However, Bachelet has crafted a seemingly unilateral response to one of Chile’s direst crises, surprisingly enough, in the wake of her own exit.

Unlike the U.S., where presidents have the opportunity to hold two consecutive terms, the Chilean constitution disallows concurrent reelection. As a result Bachelet, despite her extremely high approval ratings (above 80 percent in January 2010), was unable to run in the recent elections. Opposed to the 2008-09 transition in the U.S. when a very popular president-elect was waiting in the wings for an unpopular incumbent’s term to expire, Chile’s “lame duck” president still enjoys the constitutional legitimacy to create a response to the earthquake, as well as the social legitimacy to do so.

But what happens after Bachelet’s term? Will the political transition allow Piñera a reshaping of the recovery effort to his liking? I would argue that Chilean response will not be altered dramatically after March 11. Political scientists often speak of something called “path dependence,” whereby extant political institutions and decisions are often difficult to change once in place. As a result, although President-elect Piñera will have discretion over long-term recovery efforts (for instance the rebuilding of roads), he will also likely find it difficult to retreat from commitments made by Bachelet. Piñera, however, should not see these constraints as a bad thing — consistent and stable government policies tend to work much better than erratic ones.

Thus, in this country known for its recent economic and political stability (and now for the stability of its infrastructure) the ensuing political transition will change the face of the Chilean response to the earthquake, but not necessarily the character of the response itself, regardless of the fault lines between Bachelet and Piñera.

Matthew Johnson is a doctoral candidate conducting dissertation field research in Santiago, Chile.

Summer in Beijing

By Yuval Weber

Thanks to a generous grant from the Department of Government, I was able to conduct research during May and June in Beijing, China. Peter Trubowitz arranged for Professor Sun Zhe to invite me as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for US-China Relations at Tsinghua University. I organized my trip by arranging for interviews with Chinese political scientists, sociologists, and UT’s own visiting professor, Liu Xuecheng, whose primary affiliation is as Senior Fellow of the China Institute of International Studies, the think tank of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I did about two interviews a day, which sounds light, but between preparation, doing the interviews, and then getting around Beijing, those were very full days (and in formal shoes and clothing with unrestrained humidity).

My dissertation is about natural resources, foreign policy, and international security. My main focus is Russia’s use of natural resources, including oil, gas, and diamonds, as a foreign policy lever. The purpose in going to China was to investigate the energy relationship between China and Russia. Russia has abundant natural resources to export, while China does not have nearly enough to indepen- dently maintain its expanding industrial production. My research in China focused on trying to gauge whether the two countries can overcome security concerns for their mutual benefit. I returned from China with a better understanding of the Chinese-Russian security and energy relationships and the international relations of East Asia. It was an invaluable trip for dissertation research, and I will hopefully return for a longer visit after advancing to Ph.D. candidacy.

I set aside two days for tourist activities. The first was for going to Tiananmen Square, because I have a personal project of visiting the graves and mausoleums of dictators and other political figures across the world. In Moscow I have visited Lenin and Stalin, and I hope visiting Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain and Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam is not too far off. So I took a cab to Tiananmen Square, which at 100 acres is the largest public square in the world. For comparison, the entire UT campus, from the Drag to I-35 and Dean Keeton to MLK, is 350 acres.

I went through the metal detectors and for all the world I looked like a total narc Western journalist, given my camera and notepads. It was two days before the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square “Incident”, so the amount of angry, hateful looks directed at me was fully palpable. There might have been more plainclothes police (young, angry muscular guys with earpieces in cargo pants and collared shirts), city police, army soldiers and other uniformed personnel whose organizational affiliations I couldn’t divine, than in the entire Austin Police Department.

I went straight to the Mao Mausoleum. Perhaps for occasion of the anniversary or perhaps he wasn’t feeling his freshest, but the Chairman wasn’t taking visitors – the Mao Mausoleum was closed. The consolation prize was the rest of the attractions. Tiananmen Square is part of a larger complex that includes the Forbidden City, the National Museum of China, the Great Hall of the People, and other government buildings. For Chinese tourists, it is essentially having the entire Washington, D.C. historical and civic tourist attractions in a single area, which is handy.

My other free day was spent fulfilling a childhood dream: visiting the Great Wall of China. The closest portion of the Wall to visit from Beijing is called Badaling, and it was far more impressive in person than I had ever imagined. Designed to protect Beijing from northern invasion, this section of the Wall was restored in the 1950s, and it is an engineering marvel. High up in the mountains, Badaling is so large, tall, and steep that many people there struggled in modern shoes to go up and down the passes between guard towers. Making it up more than one kilometer above sea level, the warm day was left behind for some of the coolest and most refreshing breezes I have ever experienced. Looking out on the endless Wall stretching into the distance over the hills, it was one of those rare moments when a dream came true and expectations were fulfilled.

Yuval Weber received his B.A. in the plan II honors program in 2004. He also holds a M.A. from the University of Chicago, is currently earning his Ph.D. in government, and held a H. Malcolm Macdonald Fellowship in 2008-09.