Category Archives: Current Events

Crime in Sweden: What the Data Tell Us

by Christopher Fariss and Kristine Eck

Christopher Fariss, University of Michigan and Kristine Eck, Uppsala University

Debate persists inside and outside of Sweden regarding the relationship between immigrants and crime in Sweden. But what can the data actually tell us? Shouldn’t it be able to identify the pattern between the number of crimes committed in Sweden and the proportion of those crimes committed by immigrants? The answer is complicated by the manner in which the information about crime is collected and catalogued. This is not just an issue for Sweden but any country interested in providing security to its citizens. Ultimately though, there is no information that supports the claim that Sweden is experiencing an “epidemic.”

In a recent piece in the Washington Post, we addressed some common misconceptions about what the Swedish crime data can and cannot tell us. However, questions about the data persist. These questions are varied but are related to two core issues: (1) what kind of data policy makers need to inform their decisions and (2) what claims can be supported by the existing data.

Who Commits the Most Crime?

Policymakers need accurate data and analytical strategies for using and understanding that data. This is because these tools form the basis for decision-making about crime and security.

When considering the reports about Swedish crime, certain demographic groups are unquestionably overrepresented. In Sweden, men, for example, are four times more likely than women to commit violent crimes. This statistical pattern however has not awoken the same type of media attention or political response as other demographic groups related to ethnicity or migrant status.

Secret Police Data: Conspiracy or Fact?

In the past, the Swedish government has collected data on ethnicity in its crime reports. The most recent of these data were analyzed by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention’s (BRÅ) for the period 1997-2001. The Swedish police no longer collect data on the ethnicity, religion, or race of either perpetrators or victims of crime. There are accusations that these data exist but are being withheld. Such ideas are not entirely unfounded: in the past, the Swedish police have kept secret—and illegal—registers, for example about abused women or individuals with Roma background. Accusations about a police conspiracy to suppress immigrant crime numbers tend to center around the existence of a supposedly secret criminal code used to track this data. This code is not secret and, when considered, reveals no evidence for a crime epidemic.

For the period  of November 11, 2015 through January 21, 2016 the Swedish police attempted to gauge the scope of newly arrived refugees involvement in crime, as victims, perpetrators, or witnesses. It did so by introducing a new criminal code—291—into its database. Using this code, police officers could add to reports in which an asylum seeker was involved in an interaction leading to a police report. Approximately 1% of police reports filed during this period contained this code. It is important to note here that only a fraction of these police incident reports actually lead to criminal charges being filed.

The data from these reports are problematic because there are over 400 criminal codes in the police’s STORM database, which leads to miscoding or inconsistent coding. Coding errors occur because the police officers themselves are responsible for determining which codes to enter in the system. The police note that there was variation in how the instructions for using this code were interpreted. The data show that 60% of the 3,287 police reports filed took place at asylum-seeker accommodation facilities, and that the majority of the incidents contained in these reports took place between asylum seekers. Are these numbers evidence of a crime epidemic?

Is there any Evidence for Crime Epidemic in Sweden?

If asylum-seekers are particularly crime-prone, then we would expect to see crime rates in which they are overrepresented relative to how many are living in Sweden. Sweden hosted approximately 180,000 asylum-seekers during this period and the population of Sweden is approximately 10 million. Therefore, asylum-seekers make up approximately 1.8% of the people living in Sweden, while 1% of the police reports filed in STORM were attributed to asylum-seekers.

While the Code 291 data are problematic because of issues discussed above, the data actually suggests that asylum seekers appear to be committing crime in lower numbers than the general population and does not provide support for claims of excessive criminal culpability. There were four rapes registered with code 291 for the 2.5 month period, which we find difficult to interpret as indicative of a “surge” in refugee rape. We in no way want to minimize the impact that these incidents had on the individual victims, but considering wider patterns, we consider a rate of four reports of rape over 76 days for a asylum-seeking population of 180,000 as not convincing evidence of an “epidemic” perpetrated by its members.

There is no doubt that crime occurs in Sweden. This is a problem for Swedish society and an important challenge for the government to address. It is a problem shared by all other countries. There is also no doubt that refugees and immigrants have committed crimes in Sweden, just as there is no doubt that Swedish-born citizens have committed crimes in Sweden as well. But if policy initiatives are to focus on particular demographic groups who are overrepresented in crime statistics, then it is essential that the analysis of the crimes committed by members of these groups be based on careful data analysis rather than anecdotes used for supporting political causes.

The Government of Sweden’s Facts about Migration and Crime in Sweden: http://www.government.se/articles/2017/02/facts-about-migration-and-crime-in-sweden/

Christopher Fariss is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Faculty Associate at the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan.  Kristine Eck is Associate Professor at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University.

 

Top 10 Most Viewed CPS Blog Posts in 2016

Post written by Catherine Allen-West.

Since it’s establishment in 2013, a total of 123 posts have appeared on the Center for Political Studies (CPS) Blog. As we approach the new year, we thought to take a look back at which of these 123 posts were most viewed across 2016.

 


 

01. Tracking the Themes of the 2016 Election by Lisa Singh, Stuart Soroka, Michael Traugott and Frank Newport (from the Election Dynamics blog)

“The results highlight a central aspect of the 2016 campaign: information about Trump has varied in theme, almost weekly, over the campaign – from Russia, to taxes, to women’s issues, etc; information about Clinton has in contrast been focused almost entirely on a single theme, email.”

 


 

02. Another Reason Clinton Lost Michigan: Trump Was Listed First on the Ballot by Josh Pasek

“If Rick Snyder weren’t the Governor of Michigan, Donald Trump would probably have 16 fewer electoral votes. I say this not because I think Governor Snyder did anything improper, but because Michigan law provides a small electoral benefit to the Governor’s party in all statewide elections; candidates from that party are listed first on the ballot.”

 


 

03. Motivated Reasoning in the Perceived Credibility of Public Opinion Polls by Catherine Allen-West and Ozan Kuru

“Our results showed that people frequently discredit polls that they disagree with. Moreover, in line with motivated reasoning theories, those who are more politically sophisticated actually discredit the polls more. That is, as political knowledge increases, the credibility drops substantially for those who disagree with the poll result.”

 

 


 

04. Why do Black Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat? by Vincent Hutchings, Hakeem Jefferson, and Katie Brown, published in 2014.

“Democratic candidates typically receive 85-95% of the Black vote in the United States. Why the near unanimity among Black voters?”

 


 

05. Measuring Political Polarization by Katie Brown and Shanto Iyengar, published in 2014.

“Both parties moving toward ideological poles has resulted in policy gridlock (see: government shutdowndebt ceiling negotiations). But does this polarization extend to the public in general?”

 


 

06. What makes a political issue a moral issue? by Katie Brown and Timothy Ryan, published in 2014.

“There are political issues and then there are moral political issues. Often cited examples of the latter include abortion and same sex marriage. But what makes a political issue moral?”

 


 

07. Moral Conviction Stymies Political Compromise, by Katie Brown and Timothy Ryan, published in 2014.

Ryan’s overarching hypothesis boils non-compromise down to morals: a moral mindset orients citizens to oppose political compromises and punish compromising politicians. There are all kinds of issues for which some citizens seem resistant to compromises: tax reform, same-sex marriage, collective bargaining, etc. But who is resistant? Ryan shows that part of the answer has to do with who sees these issues through a moral lens.

 


 

08. Exploring the Effects of Skin Tone on Policy Preferences Among African Americans by Lauren Guggenheim and Vincent Hutchings, published in 2014.

In the United States, African Americans with darker skin tones have worse health outcomes, lower income, and face higher levels of discrimination in the work place and criminal justice system than lighter skinned Blacks. Could darker and lighter skinned African Americans in turn have different policy preferences that reflect their socio economic status-based outcomes and experiences?

 


 

09. What We Know About Race and the Gender Gap in the 2016 U.S. Election by Catherine Allen-West

As of October, the latest national polls, predicted that the 2016 Election results will reflect the largest gender gap in vote choice in modern U.S. history. If these polls had proven true, the 2016 results would indicate a much larger gender gap than what was observed in 2012, where women overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. University of Texas at Austin Professor Tasha Philpot argues that what really may be driving this gap to even greater depths, is race.

 


 

10. How do the American people feel about gun control? by Katie Brown and Darrell Donakowski, published in 2014.

As we can see, the proportion of the public supporting tougher regulation is shrinking over the time period, while satisfaction with current regulations increased. Yet, support for tougher gun laws is the most popular choice in all included years. It is important to note that these data were collected before Aurora, Newtown, and the Navy Yard shootings. The 2016 ANES study will no doubt add more insight into this contentious, important issue.

 


 

Helping the Courts Detect Partisan Gerrymanders

Post written by Lauren Guggenheim and Catherine Allen-West.

In November, a federal court ruled that the Wisconsin Legislature’s 2011 redrawing of State Assembly districts unfairly favored Republicans deeming it an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. This ruling is the first successful constitutional challenge to partisan gerrymandering since 1986.  The case will now head to the U.S. Supreme Court—which has yet to come up with a legal standard for distinguishing between acceptable redistricting efforts and unconstitutional gerrymandering.

While there have been successful challenges to gerrymandering based on racial grounds, most recently last week in North Carolina, proving partisan gerrymandering—where the plaintiffs must show that district lines were drawn with the intent to favor one political party over another—is more difficult. One reason is that research shows that even non-partisan commissions can produce unintentional gerrymandered redistricting plans solely on the basis of the geography of a party’s supporters. Also complicating matters are legislatures’ lawful efforts to keep communities of interest together and facilitate the representation of minorities. Because traditional efforts can produce results that appear biased, showing partisan asymmetries—the main form of evidence in previous trials—is not sufficient to challenge partisan gerrymandering in the courts.

However, in recent years, scientists have devised several standards that could be used to effectively measure partisan gerrymandering. In last month’s Wisconsin ruling, the court applied one such mathematical standard called the “efficiency gap“- a method that looks at statewide election results and calculates “wasted votes.” Using this method, the court found that Republicans had manipulated districts by packing Democrats into small districts or spreading them out across many districts, which ultimately led to Republican victories across the states larger districts.

Another method to determine partisan gerrymandering, developed by political scientists Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden, uses a straightforward redistricting algorithm to generate a benchmark against which to contrast a plan that has been called into constitutional question, thus laying bare any partisan advantage that cannot be attributed to legitimate legislative objectives. In a paper published last year in the Election Law Journal, Chen, a Faculty Associate at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies and Rodden, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, used the controversial 2012 Florida Congressional map to show how their approach can demonstrate and unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

First, the algorithm simulates hundreds of valid districting plans, applying criteria traditionally used in redistricting decisions—compactness, geographic contiguity, population equality, the preservation of political communities, and the protection of voting rights for minorities—while disregarding partisanship. Then, the existing plan can be compared to the partisan distribution of the simulated plans to see where in the distribution it falls. If the partisanship of the existing plan lies in the extreme tail (or outside of the distribution) that was created by the simulations, it suggests the plan is likely to have been created with partisan intent. In other words, the asymmetry is less likely to be due to natural geography or a state’s interest in protecting minorities or keeping cohesive jurisdictions together (which is accounted for by the simulations). In this way, their approach distinguishes between unintentional and intentional asymmetries in partisanship.

Using data from the Florida case, Chen and Rodden simulated the results of 24 districts in 1,000 simulated plans. They kept three African-American districts intact because of Voting Rights Act protections. They also kept 46 counties and 384 cities together, giving the benefit of the doubt to the legislature that compelling reasons exist to keep these entities within the same simulated district. The algorithm uses a nearest distance criterion to keep districts geographically contiguous and highly compact, and it iteratively reassigns precincts to different districts until equally populated districts are achieved. The figure below shows how this looks in one of the 1,000 valid plans.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-12-15-45-pm

Next, to measure partisanship, Chen and Rodden needed both the most recent data possible and precinct-level election results, which they found in the 2008 presidential election results. For both the existing plan and the simulated plans, they aggregated from the precinct to the district and calculated the number of districts where McCain voters outnumbered Obama voters. The figure below shows the partisan distribution of all of the plans. A majority of the plans created 14 Republican seats, and less than half of one percent of the plans produced 16 Republican seats. However, none of the simulations produced the 17 seats that were in the Florida Legislature’s plan, showing that the pro-Republican bias in the Legislature’s plan is an extreme outlier relative to the simulations.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-12-16-41-pm

Because the simulations they created were a conservative test of redistricting (e.g., giving the benefit of the doubt to the Legislature by protecting three African-American districts), Chen and Rodden also tried the simulations by progressively dropping some of the districts they had previously kept intact. Results suggested the Legislature’s plan was even more atypical, as they had less pro-Republican bias than the simulations with the protected districts.

Chen and Rodden note that once a plaintiff can show that the partisanship of a redistricting plan is an extreme outlier, the burden of proof should shift to the state.  Ultimately in Florida, eight districts were found invalid and, and in December 2015, new maps were approved by the court and put into use for the 2016 Election.

Support for the Islamic State in the Arab World

Post developed by Catherine Allen-West in coordination with Michael Robbins.

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “Passive Support for the Islamic State: Evidence from a Survey Experiment” was a part of the session “Survey and Laboratory Experiments in the Middle East and North Africa” on Thursday, September 1, 2016.

On Thursday morning at APSA 2016, Michael Robbins,  Amaney Jamal and Mark Tessler presented work which explores levels of support for the Islamic State among Arabs, using new data from the Arab Barometer. The slide set used in their presentation can be viewed here: slides from Robbins/Jamal/Tessler presentation

Their results show that among the five Arab countries studied (Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine and Algeria) there is very little support for the tactics used by Islamic State.

Picture1

Furthermore, even among Islamic State’s key demographic –  younger, less-educated males – support remains low.

Picture2

For a more elaborate discussion of this work and the above figures, please see their recent post in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, “What do ordinary citizens in the Arab world really think about the Islamic State?

Mark Tessler is the Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. Michael Robbins is the director of the Arab Barometer. Amaney A. Jamal is the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics at Princeton University and director of the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice.

 

Trading hard hats for combat helmets: The economics of rebellion in eastern Ukraine

Post developed by Yioryos Nardis in coordination with Yuri Zhukov.

In March and April 2014, angry mobs and armed men stormed administrative buildings and police stations in eastern Ukraine. Waving Russian flags and condemning the post-revolutionary government in Kyiv as an illegal junta, the rebels proclaimed the establishment of ‘Peoples’ Republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk, and organized a referendum on independence. Despite initial fears that the uprising might spread to other provinces, the rebellion remained surprisingly contained. While 61% of municipalities in Donetsk and Luhansk fell under rebel control during the first year of the conflict, just 20% experienced any rebel violence. What explains these local differences in rebellion across eastern Ukraine? Why have some towns remained under government control while others slipped away? Why might two municipalities in the same region experience different levels of separatist activity?

Yuri Zhukov

Yuri Zhukov

The latest research by Yuri Zhukov, faculty member in the Center for Political Studies and Assistant Professor of Political Science, uses new micro-level data on violence and economic activity in eastern Ukraine to examine these questions. In the paper “Trading hard hats for combat helmets: The economics of rebellion in eastern Ukraine” (forthcoming in the Journal of Comparative Economics) Zhukov evaluates two prominent explanations on the causes and dynamics of civil conflict in eastern Ukraine: ethnicity and economics.

Identity-based explanations expect conflict to be more likely and more intense in areas where ethnic groups are geographically concentrated. According to this view, the geographic concentration of an ethnolinguistic minority – in this case, Russians or Russian speaking Ukrainians – helps local rebels overcome collective action problems, while attracting an influx of fighters, weapons and economic aid from co-ethnics in neighboring states.

According to economic explanations, as real income from less risky legal activities declines relative to income from rebellious behavior, participation in the rebellion is expected to rise. This framework maintains that violence should be most pervasive in areas potentially harmed by trade openness with the EU, austerity and trade barriers with Russia.

Zhukov finds that local economic factors are much stronger predictors of rebel violence and territorial control than Russian ethnicity or language. Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are “pro-Russian” not because they speak Russian, but because their economic livelihood depends on trade with Russia.

The study uses new micro-level data on violence, ethnicity and economic activity in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, to understand how these two explanations are related to rebel violence and territorial control. The spatial units are 3037 municipalities (i.e. cities, towns, villages) in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. For each municipality, Zhukov estimated the proportion of the local labor force employed in three industries: machine-building (which is heavily dependent on exports to Russia), metals (less dependent on Russia, and a potential beneficiary of increased trade with the European Union), and mining (vulnerable to International Monetary Fund-imposed austerity and cuts in state-subsidies). He also calculated the proportion of Russian speakers in each locality.

Rebel violence data are based on human-assisted machine coding of incident reports from multiple sources, including Ukrainian and Russian news agencies, government and rebel press releases, daily ‘conflict maps’ released by both sides, and social media news feeds. This yielded 10,567 unique violent events in the Donbas, at the municipality level, recorded between the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and the second Minsk ceasefire agreement of February 2015. To determine territorial control, particularly whether a populated place was under rebel or government control on a given day, Zhukov used three sources: official daily situation maps publicly released by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (RNBO), daily maps assembled by the pro-rebel bloggers ‘dragon_first_1’ and ‘kot_ivanov’, and Facebook posts on rebel checkpoint location.

zhukov_allTo evaluate the relative explanatory power of ethnic and economic explanations of violence in the Donbas, the study uses Bayesian Model Averaging. It finds that a municipality’s prewar employment mix is a better predictor of rebel activity than local ethnolinguistic composition. Municipalities more exposed to trade shocks with Russia experienced a higher intensity of rebel violence throughout the conflict. Municipalities where machine-building represented a small share of local employment (2%, the lowest in the data) were 38% less likely to experience violence than municipalities where the industry was more dominant — and the local population more vulnerable to trade disruptions with Russia. Such localities also fell under rebel control earlier – and took longer for the government to liberate – than municipalities where the labor force was less dependent on exports to Russia. On any given day, a municipality with higher-than-average employment in the beleaguered machine-building industry (26%) was about twice as likely to fall under rebel control as a municipality with below-average employment in the industry (4%).

By contrast, ethnicity and language had no discernible impact on rebel violence. Municipalities with large Russian-speaking populations were more likely to fall under rebel control, but only where economic dependence on Russia was relatively low. In other words, ethnicity only had an effect where economic incentives for rebellion were weak.

The seemingly rational economic self-interest at the heart of the conflict stands in sharp contrast with the staggering costs of war. In the twelve months since armed men began storming government buildings in the Donbas, over 6000 people have lost their lives, and over a million have been displaced. Regional industrial production fell by 49.9% in 2014, with machinery exports to Russia down by 82%.Suffering heavy damage from shelling, many factories have closed. With airports destroyed, railroad links severed and roads heavily mined, a previously export-oriented economy has found itself isolated from the outside world.

References:

2001 Ukrainian Census (State Committee on Statistics of Ukraine, 2001).

Bureau van Dijk’s Orbis database (Bureau van Dijk Electronic Publishing, 2015).

Segodnya, 2015. Ekonomika donetskoy oblasti v upadke iz-za voyny – gubernator kikhtenko. [Donetsk region’s economy in stagnation because of the war – Governor Kikhtenko]. Segodnya.

Stasenko, M., 2014. Novaya ekonomika ukrainy budet stroit’sya bez rossii i donbassa [Ukraine’s new economy will be built without Russia or the Donbas]. Delo.ua.

Can negativity be a good thing?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Stuart Soroka.

51udIBKzNKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_News content is dominated by negativity. Does this have negative consequences for political attitudes, or interest, or policymaking? Professor of Communication Studies and Center for Political Studies (CPS) researcher Stuart Soroka considers these questions in his book Negativity in Democratic Politics.

Drawing on a combination of survey data, lab experiments, and large-scale content analyses, Soroka finds strong evidence for both the predominance of negative information in political news, and the increased impact this negative information has on public attitudes (in contrast with positive information). He finds, for instance, that negative information has a stronger impact than positive information on individuals’ assessments of political candidates. He finds that individuals are more physiologically activated by negative news. At the aggregate level, Soroka also finds that negative magazine covers sell more copies than positive versions; and that negative shifts in the economy have a bigger impact on public opinion than do positive shifts. Interestingly, this holds true across many different countries, as Soroka’s analyses include most OECD countries. Negativity biases are not just an American peculiarity, then – they are evident around the world.

What are the consequences of all this negativity? Soroka suggests that a negativity bias may well be an efficient way of dealing with very complex information environments. There is just too much information about politics for us to keep track of it all, and selecting information based on negativity might be one useful way of focusing on the information that matters most. As a consequence, humans focus on negative information; and we seem to have designed institutions that focus on the negative as well. That said, there may be long-term consequences of a political information environment that is predominantly negative. So while assessing the long-term impact of negativity is difficult, it is probably an important step in both understanding political behavior and in developing objectives for the design of mass media and political institutions.

Does Presidential Party Impact Inflation Estimates?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Cassandra Grafström.

113690314So-called “inflation truthers” have made recent news waves with claims that inflation is actually much higher than reported. Mainstream financial news organizations have debunked the inflation truthers charges with the simple math of averages. But what if the truthers are just looking in the wrong place? That is, is there systematic bias not in reported inflation but projected inflation?

Enter the work of Cassandra Grafström, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science and affiliate of the Center for Political Studies (CPS) at the University of Michigan. Grafström, along with Christopher Gandrud of the Hertie School of Governance, conducted research to trace potential partisan biases of inflation estimates.

Grafström and Gandrud began with the widely accepted notion that under more liberal governments, the United States Federal Reserve tends to predict higher inflation. But why? Democratic administrations tend to try to lower unemployment, which causes higher inflation. Under more conservative governments, on the other hand, the Federal Reserve predicts lower inflation. Yet there exists little empirical support for these ideas. Instead, most work on inflation comes from the field of economics, with a focus on comparing Federal predictions with money market predictions.

To test these commonly held ideas, Grafström and Gandrud looked at the Federal Reserve’s predictions across time. The authors took Presidential party and actual monetary and fiscal policies into account. They found that, regardless of actual monetary and fiscal policies, under more liberal presidents, the Federal Reserve over-estimates inflation while under more conservative presidents, the Federal Reserve under-estimates inflation.

In the graph below, perfect predictions would create an error of 0. Points above the line correspond to over-estimation and points below the line correspond to under-estimation. As we can see, when a Democrat is president, estimate errors tend to be above the line, while the average of Republican errors falls below the line.

 Errors in Inflation Forecasts Across Time by Presidential Party

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Grafström and Gandrud also wondered if control of Congress plays a role. To test this, they considered the joint influence of presidential party and the majority party in Congress. As the graph below shows, presidential party drives the trend. Interestingly, a Republican controlled Congress makes the original results stronger. That is, with a Democratic president and Republican congress, there is greater over-estimation of inflation. Likewise, with a Republican president and Republican congress, there is greater under-estimation of inflation. The graph below illustrates these findings (0 would again represent a match between predicted and actual inflation)

Errors in Inflation Forecasts Across Time by Presidential and Congress Majority Parties

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Given the clear links between presidential partisanship and inflation forecasts, the authors worry that this likely translates into biased monetary and fiscal policies. That is, over-estimated inflation under Democratic presidents may lead to more restrictive monetary and fiscal policies. On the other hand, under-estimated inflation under Republican presidents may lead to more expansive monetary and fiscal policies. In both cases, the policy changes would be based on forecasts biased by flawed but accepted rules of thumb about inflation under Democrat vs. Republican presidents.

Q&A on Ukraine: Troop movements, sanctions, and Russia’s plans

Written by William Foreman for Global Michigan. Reblogged here with permission.

Pro-Russian militants in Eastern Ukraine. (Credit: VOA)

Pro-Russian militants in Eastern Ukraine. (Credit: VOA)

As the conflict grinds on in Ukraine, there are more questions about Russia’s intentions, the effectiveness of sanctions and what the West can do to end the fighting. These issues were discussed in a Global Michigan interview with Yuri Zhukov.

Zhukov is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan and a faculty associate at the Center for Political Studies. His expertise is in international and civil conflicts.

Yuri Zhukov

Yuri Zhukov

The scholar has several projects ongoing on the fighting in East Ukraine. He’s interested in rebel movements in the region, the economics behind the conflict, military operations and the “information war” in the Russian and Ukrainian media. He recently wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs.

What is Russia up to now?

Zhukov: Last week, NATO accused Russia of sending tanks and artillery into Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reported seeing a column of unmarked military trucks heading toward Donetsk. Russia denies these claims, and accuses Ukraine of concentrating its own forces near the front line. In fact, both sides of the conflict have been steadily ratcheting up tensions since elections this fall, in government and separatist-controlled areas of Ukraine. The outcome in each election simply reinforced the status quo, but both sides may now feel they have a stronger mandate to take bold steps.

Are the reported troop movements into Ukraine part of a plan to create a land bridge with Crimea or annex more of the country?

Zhukov: These troop movements are not large enough to take significant territory outside rebel-held areas in Donetsk and Luhansk. They are more likely reinforcements for rebel units fighting in Donetsk airport and other contested areas and a deterrent against sudden moves by Ukraine.

Are the sanctions helping or hurting Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Zhukov: In the short term, the sanctions may have created a “rally-around-the-flag” effect, which boosts Putin’s domestic popularity. But historically, Putin has owed much of his popularity to perceptions of sound economic management. Russian consumers are seeing higher food prices, and the ruble has lost over a third of its value since the crisis began. Putin’s poll numbers are still high, but beginning to fall.

If the fighting escalates, should the U.S. and EU provide arms to Ukraine?

Zhukov: Some countries have already provided military aid, on a bilateral basis, most of it nonlethal. The larger question is whether Western military aid can actually change the military balance of power on the ground. Russia will surely see such a policy as a major provocation and will respond in kind. This could trigger an arms race along the lines we have seen in Syria, with increasing flows of weapons and fighters to both sides. This is also a commitment that the West would need to sustain for some time. Major military aid may deter rebels from taking more ground but is unlikely to reverse existing rebel gains in the near future.

Should there be more sanctions?

Zhukov: It depends. Some types of sanctions—like freezing the assets of wealthy Russians in Europe—actually align with Putin’s policy goal of “de-offshorization.” Anything that makes it more difficult for powerful Russians to park their money abroad is a win for Putin. Some of the new measures currently on the table—like blocking Russian banks and businesses from the SWIFT financial transaction system—will have bigger impact.

Sanctions can and are already hurting Russia’s economy. Whether they can also change the course of the Ukrainian conflict is a different matter. There is no “magic switch” that Putin can press to stop the fighting. The rebel high command has been replaced by a cadre of more professional, manageable leaders, but the rebellion as a whole is still a diverse, fractious lot. Many rival militias are looking to carve a place for themselves in the new “Peoples’ Republics,” and quite a few locals feel betrayed that Russia did not intervene more forcefully. Sanctions are unlikely to change the decision calculus of these actors.

What more can the West do?

Zhukov: The West has limited options, and many of them—like military aid, alliance commitments to Ukraine, even sanctions—are more likely to escalate the conflict than stop it. Russia has made clear that it is ready to intervene if the tide of the war turns decisively against the rebels—as it did, temporarily, in August this year. Any future steps—in Kyiv or the West—will take place against the background of this latent threat of force. What’s worse, the terms of the current ceasefire agreement are suboptimal for all parties. Rebel leaders want to eliminate pockets of government forces and create a more contiguous, governable territory. The Ukrainian president is under pressure from hard line elements in the government to take bolder action. The best course of action for the U.S. is to tread carefully, and do everything possible to restrain both sides.

 

What can statebuilding tell us about ISIL?

Post developed by Katie Brown and David A. Lake.

ISIL (a.k.a. ISIS, a.k.a. Da’ish) in Syria and Iraq. Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Boko Haram in Nigeria. Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. All of these insurgent groups have risen to power in failed states, or “ungoverned spaces.” Can we fix these failed spaces?

DSC_0013David A. Lake, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of California San Diego and Director of the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research, addressed this question in a talk titled “The Statebuilder’s Dilemma: Legitimacy, Loyalty, and the Limits of External Intervention” at the annual Harold Jacobson Lecture in International Law which was held on October 23rd, 2014.

Statebuilding seeks to bring stability to unstable regions. Typically, an outside political power, e.g., the United States, will create a new government in a volatile region. In doing so, they attempt to bring a monopoly to legitimate violence. Usually this means supporting a political leader who can build a political coalition to overcome the conflicts. Often, the statebuilder marches in, plants a stake in the ground, and declares a new order. They guarantee this order as long as the different factions honor the new regime.

Statebuilding presents challenges. First, it is very expensive, with the bulk of the cost falling on the failed state. The key to success is balancing legitimacy and loyalty, which proves to be a delicate balance. That is, the new leader must remain loyal to the statebuilder but also seem legitimate to the local population. The more interest the statebuilder has in the region, the more they will require loyalty. Statebuilding fails when the new leader balks at the loyalty. Instead, money meant to be invested in building infrastructure is diverted into building his political coalition.

With the exception of Japan and Germany post-World War II, statebuilding tends to fail. The opening examples exemplify this. So Lake poses the important question: What can be done?

Lake facetiously suggests not engaging in statebuilding as the best solution. Recognizing abstention to be unlikely, he offers a few other guidelines. First, better strategy and implementation is needed, especially around election timing and monitoring. Second, an international coalition should monitor statebuilding and the process of transferring power completely to the new state.

What do Birthers have in common? (Besides believing Obama was born outside the U.S.)

Post developed by Katie Brown and Josh Pasek.

The Birther movement contends that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Even after releasing Obama’s short form and long form birth certificates to the public, which should have settled the matter, the rumors to the contrary continued. Some contend Obama was born in Kenya. Others argue he forfeited American citizenship while living in Indonesia as a child.

What drives these beliefs?

Obama's Short-form Birth Certificate, courtesy of whitehouse.gov

Obama’s short form birth certificate, courtesy of whitehouse.gov

Center for Political Studies (CPS) Faculty Associate and Communication Studies Assistant Professor of  Josh Pasek – along with Tobias Stark, Jon Krosnick, and Trevor Tompson – investigated the issue.

The researchers analyzed data from a survey conducted by the Associated Press, GfK, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan. The survey asked participants where they believed Obama was born. The survey also asked about political ideology, party identification, approval of the President’s job, and attitudes toward Blacks.

21.7% of White Americans did not think Obama was born in the U.S.; their answers included “not in the U.S.,” “Thailand,” “the bush,” and, most frequently, “Kenya.”

Further analyses revealed that Republicans and conservatives were more likely to believe Obama was born abroad. Likewise, negative attitudes toward blacks also correlated with Birther endorsement. Importantly, disapproval of Obama mediated the connection between both ideology and racism on the one hand and Birther beliefs on the other.

The authors conclude that, “Individuals most motivated to disapprove of the president – due to partisanship, liberal/conservative self-identification, and attitudes toward Blacks – were the most likely to hold beliefs that he was not born in the United States.” Put simply, the key feature of Birthers wasn’t that they were Republicans or that they held anti-Black attitudes, but that they disapproved of the president. It was this disapproval that was most closely associated with the willingness to believe that President Obama was ineligible for his office.

The full Electoral Studies article can be found here.