Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Securing Digital Infrastructures for Democracies “Born Digital” – How States and Activists are Competing to Regulate the Political Internet

Post developed by Katie Brown and Muzammil M. Hussain.

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “Post-Arab Spring Formations of the Internet Freedom Regime,” was a part of the Political Communication panel “From the Middle East to the Million Man March: The Continuing Digital Revolution” on Saturday August 30th, 2014.


Photo credit: ThinkStock

In early 2011 through 2012, unexpected uprisings cascaded throughout the Arab World. News of this Arab Spring swept across the globe, which inspired several other cascades of political change. Communication systems, especially social media networks, offered an immediate and intimate glimpse into these movements, their successes and failures. So how have state powers and political activists responded to the political capacities of this shared and global digital infrastructure?

Communication Studies Assistant Professor and Center for Political Studies (CPS) Faculty Associate Muzammil M. Hussain studies the political economy of Internet freedom activism. In particular, he is interested in the fate of digital infrastructure in “born digital” states, or states which had successful regime changes that were enabled by digital media. The Arab Spring presents a fascinating and recent moment to consider these “born digital” states. Hussain asks what role governments – both the challenged authoritarian states and the emerging democracies – are playing in shaping communication networks. To address this, he focuses on the transnational activities of political activists promoting Internet freedom.

Hussain conducted fieldwork in the Middle East, North Africa, Western Europe, and North America between 2012-2013, after the Arab Spring protests subsided and a new kind of policy activism took root. Through this international network ethnography of policy makers, communications corporations, and political activists involved in the Arab Spring, Hussain collected a massive array of data. The data includes both interviews and participant-observation, with corroborative evidence of 5,000 individuals and their 84,000 social ties, as well as over 2,000 emails generated through their lobbying and activism work.

This meta-database encompasses the three main stakeholders in Internet freedom promotion: state powers, technology providers, and civil society actors. Hussain argues that Western democracies have been important and successful in launching several major initiatives for securing internet freedom and supporting digital activists currently working within repressive political systems. But these efforts to establish an Internet freedom policy regime are currently gridlocked in competing “communities of practice.”

On the one hand, the community of state-based stakeholders have come to narrowly regard digital media as a critical infrastructure, overvalued its significance as an economic interest and undervalued its significance to democratic activists. On the other hand, since the Arab Spring, the community of tech-savvy political activists has moved rapidly into many new communications policy arenas. Finally, revelations of warrantless surveillance by several advanced democracies have also threatened the viability of this Internet freedom regime. So what are democratic activists and Internet freedom promoters left to do? Stay tuned for Hussain’s next book project: Securing Technologies of Freedom: Internet Freedom Promotion after the Arab Spring.

Local to Global: Capacity-Building Workshops in Qatar

Post developed by Katie Brown and Michael Traugott, with input from Ghaydaa Yehia Fahim Ali. 

In 2008, Qatar University formed a partnership with the University of Michigan‘s Institute for Social Research (ISR) and Center for Political Studies (CPS) to develop a world-class public opinion research organization at Qatar University, the Social And Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI).  The partnership includes, among other activities, collaboration on organizational structure, recruitment and hiring, design of technical facilities, research, and analysis. As part of the cooperation, University of Michigan researchers also run training workshops in Qatar several times per year. Participants for the workshops come not only from Qatar University, but other private and public organizations from Qatar and throughout the Gulf region. Topics for the workshops have included research design, questionnaire design, cognitive interviewing, data analysis, and sampling.  The workshops are structured as lectures, with group exercises integrated into the flow. Between days, participants complete thought exercises to spur discussion the next day.

Photograph from first training workshop of 2014

This year, SESRI hosted three workshops.  In the first workshop, which was delivered by ISR researchers Nancy BurnsTed BraderKenneth ColemanAllen Hicken, and Ashley Jardina, trainees were introduced to key SPSS concepts and notions of hypothesis design and formulation. Causal inferences and random sampling were key areas of discussion. 

Traugott and Lepkowski shake hands with a workshop participant at “commencement”

Michael Traugott of CPS and James Lepkowski of ISR’s Survey Research Center (SRC) traveled to Qatar to administer the second workshop, a course on sampling and weighting methods and techniques. Arriving Friday, the team took the weekend to adjust to the eight-hour time change and set up for the training. Monday through Thursday, sessions ran from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., with a break in the middle for lunch and prayers.


Lepkowski interacts with workshop participants

Materials from sampling courses previously taught by Lepkowski were adapted with consideration of language and culture. Courses are taught in English with an Arabic translator on hand, while all materials are available in both languages. Technical terms associated with social science concepts and principles were provided in a glossary, in which some terms were accompanied by animations created by Rafael Nishimura to illustrate the ideas with video. Furthermore, all exercises were designed to be completed in Excel for reasons of accessibility. At the end of the course, Excel spreadsheets with key formulas were provided to all participants.

Traugott returned in May, along with Elizabeth GerberAnn Lin, and Monica Bhatt to facilitate a workshop on policy evaluation and spur debate on the purpose of evaluation in public policy, the primary components of policy and program evaluation, and methods of designing preliminary, defensible program evaluations. Workshop materials were tailored to ensure local relevance, including the identification of public policy issues in the cases of Qatar’s traffic woes and evaluations of changes to the education system in Qatar.

The workshop series has caught the attention of the Qatari press. The Qatar Tribune wrote that “The trainees who came from backgrounds in statistics and other diverse fields found the workshops to be useful in introducing them to concepts outside their direct frame of work.”

More than 100 beginner and intermediate-level researchers benefited from the workshops this year, which continue to grow in popularity. More information about the workshops can be found here.


Is Russia “normal”?

Post developed by Katie Brown and William Zimmerman.


Photo credit: Thinkstock

Russian President Vladimir Putin often makes headlines. This week, U.S. sanctions against Putin in the wake of the Ukraine crisis dominated the news, while Putin’s rewrite of recent music history appeared in popular culture news. Why is Putin such an interesting figure in America? Is it because he challenges our notions of “normal”?

On April 27, Princeton University Press released Ruling Russia: Authoritarianism from the revolution to Putin, the latest book by Center for Political Studies (CPS) Professor Emeritus William Zimmerman. Ruling Russia traces Russia’s history over the last century. The definition of normalcy varied with Russia’s leaders. Gorbachev and Yeltsin for all their differences conceived normalcy to correspond with Western political systems while the leaders of the failed coup against Gorbachev in 1991 and Putin more recently have defined normal to equate with stability, security, and absence of change.

Zimmerman argues that there have been plural Soviet systems and plural Russian political systems and provides a typology to encompass the government types across the century from the revolution to today which distinguishes among democratic, competitive authoritarian, full authoritarian, and totalitarian regimes.

With that as background we can consider the last two decades to better understand current politics in Russia. From 1996 to 2008, after a brief move toward democracy, Russian elections became less open, less competitive, and more meaningless. This time period witnessed Putin’s first (2000) and second (2004) election to President. With Putin unable to run for  a third consecutive term in 2008, Dmitry Medvedev ran for President and Putin became Prime Minister.

Then, Medvedev and Putin “castled” in 2012, with Putin running again for President and Medvedev being named Premier. While some believe this move was agreed upon between Putin and Medvedev back in 2008, there is no evidence of this. Zimmerman believes Putin put forth the idea in 2011. Regardless, and interestingly, the 2011-2012 election cycle was more competitive and less predictable than its predecessors. Putin ran a campaign supporting the status quo, stability, and nationalism – a return to normalcy.

The book’s historical analysis ends in 2013. Zimmerman sees full authoritarianism as the most likely near term evolution. This would map onto recent events, including the crackdown on homosexuality during the Sochi-hosted Olympics and military aggression in Ukraine.

From an American vantage point, each move away from democracy was a move away from normal. But for Russia, the idea of “normal” moved toward authoritarianism.

Zimmerman dedicates the book to his students, stating that insights from their dissertations inspired multiple parts of the book.

Digital activism – looking to the Arab Spring and new media to understand Ukraine and Venezuela

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Muzammil Hussain


Photo credit: Thinkstock

In recent weeks, massive protests have swept through Venezuela and Ukraine. Instagram and Twitter have been featured as playing a key role in the latter. Digital activism is increasingly attributes to helping spark rapid waves of mobilization across several recent international cases.

Center for Political Studies (CPS) faculty associate and assistant professor of communication Muzammil Hussain studies the role of technology in protest. With Philip N. Howard of the University of Washington, Hussain published an article weighing the roles of Internet infrastructure and mobile telephony in the Arab Spring mobilizations.

Though in a different area of the world, understanding the role of communication systems, the political uses of digital media, and the politicization of internet infrastructure in the Arab Spring can help shed light on the current wave of democratization. Hussain argues that information technologies do not cause political change, but they have become a consistent tool and space to afford and act out political contentions.

To understand the relative success of the Arab Spring across different countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the authors look at a variety of contextual factors, including income, wealth distribution, unemployment, demographics, digital connectivity, censorship, and economic dependence on fuel. In the article, they examine the impact of these factors on regime fragility and social movement success. Interestingly, they argue that the inciting incidents in each country were digitally mediated. The describe how digital communication sets off a six-stage process of political mobilization experienced in both successful and failed attempts for regime change.

The authors conclude that “information infrastructure – especially mobile phone use – consistently appears as one of the key ingredients in parsimonious models for the conjoined combinations of causes behind regime fragility and social movement success.” That is, digital communication networks, especially mobile phones, drive political upheaval. In addition to offering insight into the Arab Spring experiences, this may also help explain the recent successful ousting of Ukraine’s president.

What hobbles online activism in non-democracies? It’s more than just repression

Post developed by Katie Brown and Yuen Yuen Ang.


Photo credit: Thinkstock

What hobbles online activism in autocracies? The intuitive answer: repression. In a recent article titled “Authoritarian Restraints on Online Activism Revisited: Why ‘I-Paid-A-Bribe’ Worked in India but Failed in China” in Comparative Politics, Center for Political Studies (CPS) faculty associate, assistant professor of political science, and Center for Chinese Studies faculty associate Yuen Yuen Ang looks beyond repression — she brings attention to the deeper organizational problems rooted in authoritarian rule.

In 2008, social activists in India created (IPAB), a crowd-sourcing website that collects anonymous reports of bribe extraction. By 2014, more than three million users visited India’s IPAB site, with over 20,000 bribe reports filed. Major news outlets covered IPAB. And IPAB soon spread to 17 other countries, including China in 2011.

But, whereas IPAB flourished in India, within two months, all of China’s IPAB sites disappeared. Why?


Photo credit: Thinkstock

Given that China is an authoritarian state, the assumption is that censorship and repression killed the sites. As asserted in the New York Times:

“They [IPAB sites] are threatening enough that when a rash of similar sites popped up in China last summer, the government stamped them out within a couple of weeks.”

Ang’s research, however, finds a more nuanced and complex story. Chinese authorities did not in fact stamp out the sites resolutely, but instead wavered between approval and suppression. More importantly, even before the final shut-down, the IPAB sites had already begun to crack from internal organizational problems. Chinese netizens used the sites to vent, exact personal revenge, and even extract profit and bribes from posting reports.

These problems are rooted in prolonged restrictions that deprive China’s civil society the opportunity to learn the norms of constructive participation and to professionalize. Anonymity on the Internet exacerbates the challenges of self-governance.

Thus, Ang cautions against sanguine views about the revolutionary power of online activism in checking corruption and authoritarian power. The challenge of civic empowerment runs deeper than escaping the shackles of repression. As she concludes,

“Authoritarian rule provides an inhospitable environment for nurturing online citizenship in the full sense of the word, involving not only the exercise of rights and free speech, but also accountability, responsibilities, and trust.”

Commentaries on Ang’s article have appeared on the websites of Personal Democracy Media,, and

Jacobson Lecture’s David Victor talks Global Warming and International Law

Post developed by Katie Brown.

2013 came in at the fourth hottest on record. Yet,  the Alberta Clipper plummeted the nation’s temperatures this week, a return of the polar vortex that descended earlier this month. These extreme weather patterns have renewed debate over climate change.

Recently, the Center for Political Studies (CPS) featured an expert on national agreements around climate change as part of their Harold Jacobson lecture series. Established in 2002 to honor Jacobson, the Jacobson Lecture is an annual talk by leaders in the fields of  international organization, international law, foreign policy, and the environment.

This year, CPS welcomed David G. Victor, a professor at the School of International Relations and Director of the Law and Regulation Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego. In his talk entitled, “The Global Climate Crisis: Will International Cooperation be Effective?,” Victor outlined a rather dire situation around international law concerning the climate. Despite the current state of affairs, Victor posited that we are at a turning point.

Photo by Eva Menezes/ISR

Photo credit: Eva Menezes

To leverage this turning point effectively, Victor pointed to four key things that can make for more effective international negotiations:

  1. Create flexible “clubs” instead of global treaties. That is, stop thinking about the climate as a global problem. Instead, set up small groups that take direct responsibility for parts of the problem.
  2. Celebrate the lower emissions enabled by technological innovation. These advances are fortuitous and promise to keep helping the situation.
  3. Focus on solidifying and clarifying trade rules.
  4. Seek small steps in the right direction. Or, as Victor describes it, seek “singles and walks, not homers.”

Victor’s conclusion hits notes of optimism. The last twenty years have not worked, he laments. But the system is headed in the right direction. Following the four steps outlined above will help steer us toward more effective, cooperative climate regulation.

Turkey climbing Utility Ladder of Freedoms, according to World Values Survey data

Developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Ronald Inglehart.

The World Values Survey tracks values and cultural change over time and across the world. Conducted in five waves from 1981 to 2007 – with a sixth wave being collected now – the survey samples from 90% of the world’s population.

The World Values Survey is especially interested in human empowerment. To map the process of empowerment, World Values Survey researchers created the Utility Ladder of Freedoms. Climbing the ladder means moving from a life based in threats to a life based in opportunity. Nations can climb the ladder as their citizens have more ways to improve their daily lives, like education. Typically, the higher a nation climbs on the ladder, the more universal freedoms are tolerated and practiced within that nation. Here, we use the ladder to take a closer look at the country of Turkey.

In August 2013, the Center for Political Studies (CPS) Blog featured a post about the protests in Turkey, suggesting that the government’s violent response was related to Turkey’s weak democracy. Since that time, the protests in Turkey have settled down. However, Turkey’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics has replayed some of these earlier tensions. Some have expressed that the political transformation and violence would make the selection of Turkey a risky choice. After Japan was instead selected to host the 2020 Olympics, some Turkish citizens actually celebrated, using the opportunity to criticize the Turkish government.

So, where is Turkey in its climb up the Utility Ladder of Freedoms?

graph1Let’s start with Happiness. The World Values Survey asks about happiness and life satisfaction – what we’ll call Subjective Well Being. An article by CPS Researcher Inglehart, Roberto Foa of Harvard University, the late pioneer of positive psychology Christopher Peterson, and Christian Welzel of Germany’s Leuphana University, looks at the determinants of Subjective Well Being.  As the chart to the left shows, Subjective Well Being rises very quickly as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rises, but then levels off. An earlier Inglehart study from 1991 also finds a connection between GDP and life satisfaction. So, earning more money means higher well being, but only to a point.

Now let’s consider Turkey. The graph below plots the GDP of specific countries against their reported Subjective Well Being. Turkey has a lower GDP and a Subjective Well Being at the mid-point between survival and well being. Inglehart’s earlier work finds that the as Subjective Well Being increases, so does democratic potential. So, Turkey’s mid-level happiness correlates with its weak democracy.

Subjective Well Being vs. GDP


But, Turkey’s Subjective Well Being is on the rise. The chart below shows that Turkey’s Subjective Well Being is increasing faster than most other nations. By that logic, Turkey’s democratic potential should also be on the rise.

Subjective Well Being


Position on the Utility Ladder of Freedoms depends on choice, equality, autonomy, and voice – all qualities that also act as keys to democracy. Turkey’s Subjective Well Being and its potential for democracy are on the rise. So, Turkey seems poised to climb the ladder. However, the sometimes disconnect between the country’s government and citizens, occasionally to violent ends, suggests that moving up the ladder can be a rough climb.

Objectivity without detachment: the academic journey of Mark Tessler

Developed by Katie Brown and Mark Tessler

Mark TesslerIf you ask Mark Tessler about the trajectory of his work, he smiles. His career path was never planned; rather he took advantage of unexpected opportunities along the way.  Among these was the chance to spend part of his undergraduate education as a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and part of his graduate education as a student at the University of Tunis.

Since completing his studies, Tessler has conducted research in Tunisia, Morocco, Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt. He has also lived and taught university in several Sub-Saharan African countries.

Not surprisingly, one of Tessler’s areas of research is the Israel-Palestine conflict. Spending time in both Israel and Palestine has enabled him to witness first-hand the legitimate aspirations of both sides and has shaped his perspective on the conflict.  He has published extensively on the subject. His scholarship, which emphasizes rigor as well as political and cultural sensitivity, includes articles in World Politics, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, International Studies Quarterly, and a prize-winning 1000-page book, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Tessler describes his approach to the conflict as “objectivity without detachment.”

Tessler’s broader research questions focus on the individual-level of analysis and investigate the normative and behavioral orientations of ordinary citizens in the Middle East and North Africa. In particular, he studies how people sort out who they are, what kind of society they want to live in, and by what kind of political system they want to be governed.  Some of the findings from this research are brought together in his 2011 book, Public Opinion in the Middle East: Survey Research and the Political Orientations of Ordinary Citizens.

Currently, Tessler is working on a new and original public opinion database. With support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the database pulls together data from 44 nationally-representative surveys conducted in 15 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Tessler carried out some of these surveys with support from the National Science Foundation and other foundations and agencies. Other surveys are from the Arab Barometer, which Tessler co-directs, and from the World Values Survey.

Key variables in this unique database include respondent attitudes toward a wide range of political and social issues, particularly those pertaining to governance and to Islam. Also included are major political, economic, and demographic characteristics of the country of which the respondent is a citizen. The database thus permits both separate and integrated individual-level and country-level analyses.

Though not planned, Tessler’s choice to dive into opportunities as they appeared helped to create an illustrious career. He has authored, coauthored, or edited 15 books and published over 125 book chapters and journal articles. Mark Tessler is a Center for Political Studies (CPS) Researcher and Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan.

Cause to effect to cause to effect to…

Developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Robert Franzese

blog28_1The map to the left shows Europe during World War I, including Italy and Romania. Can a graph illustrate how Italy’s decision to enter the war influenced Romania’s decision to do so?

Social scientists seek to understand social, political, and psychological phenomena. Quantitative research methods used by scientists can help investigate what factors cause specific outcomes (effects). Often, however, a factor in one unit causes an outcome in that unit, and that outcome then becomes a factor that causes outcomes in other units. Center for Political Studies (CPS) researcher and Professor of Political Science Robert Franzese, along with his coauthor and former member of CPS Jude Hays, has been studying ways to understand the relationships not just between cause and effect in one unit, but between causes and effects across multiple units, over time.  That is, how to identify and estimate what is called spatial and spatiotemporal interdependence.

Franzese, along with Hays and their colleague Lena Schaeffer, presented a paper at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) that outlines the shortcomings of most approaches to the connection between causes and effects across multiple units over time. Then, the paper highlights some more promising models.

To illustrate how these more promising models work, let’s consider a specific application: investigating the decision of nations to enter World War I. This decision depends not only on domestic and international structural factors, but also on the decision of other nations to enter the war.

With this in mind, how did Italy’s decision to enter World War I influence Romania’s decision to do so? The below graph shows a simulation of 1,000 different possible outcomes (as dots on the graph), using Franzese’s model. From the set of simulations on the graph, we learn that when Italy joins the war (as indicated by the number of dots which appear to the right of the vertical cutoff line), Romania also joins the war 15.6% of the time (as indicated by the number of dots which appear above the horizontal cutoff line). Furthermore, when Italy does not join the war, Romania still joins the war 12.3% of the time. The difference between these two numbers – 3.3% – is thus the the impact of Italy’s decision to enter the war on Romania’s decision to enter the war.


This simulation is just one illustration of an application of spatiotemporal interdependence. Models such as these can help social scientists understand a variety of scenarios where interdependence occurs, with some of many other examples being:

  • the relationship between the votes of legislators, the votes of citizens, and election results;
  • the outcomes of coups, revolutions, and riots; and
  • the entry of countries into treaties or alliances.

Strife in Egypt – using the Arab Barometer to understand the relationship between Islam and MENA politics

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Mark Tessler.

Egypt attracted international attention as a key participant in the Arab Spring. Along with Tunisia, it was among the first countries to witness the fall of a decades-long authoritarian regime. In early 2011, protestors demanded that then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak step down. In February 2011, Mubarak relented, turning over power to the military.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

In November of 2011, the country held parliamentary elections and these were won by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. In June of 2012, the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt. Over the next year and a half, Morsi pushed remaining officials from Mubarak’s reign out of government, all the while consolidating his power.

With the economic situation deteriorating, and with conflicting claims about who was responsible, anti-Morsi protests spread throughout Egypt in summer 2013. Then, on July 3, 2013, in response to the growing unrest, the military removed Morsi from office. Violent clashes between the military and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood followed and have continued sporadically since that time.

A key question raised by these events, and by post-Arab Spring developments in a number of other Arab countries, concerns the role to be played by Islam in government and political affairs.  As expressed by Egypt’s Grand Mufti in April 2011, following the ouster of Mubarak, “Egypt’s revolution has swept away decades of authoritarian rule but it has also highlighted an issue that Egyptians will grapple with as they consolidate their democracy: the role of religion in political life.”

Center for Political Studies (CPS) Researcher and Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science Mark Tessler is making major strides to understand what ordinary citizens in Egypt and other Arab countries think about the complicated and contested relationship between religion and politics in the Middle East. Among the data on which Tessler is drawing is the multi-country Arab Barometer survey project, which Tessler co-directs.  Arab Barometer surveys in Egypt in 2011 and 2013 offer insights about how recent events have influenced the way the Egyptian public thinks about Islam’s political role.

One finding from these surveys is that most Egyptians believe democracy and Islam to be fully compatible, and this view did not change between 2011 and 2013.  On the other hand, while most Egyptians have confidence in Islam itself, there has been a dramatic decrease over this period in the proportion that believes that the country is better off when religious people hold public office. Some Egyptians describe this as wanting Islam but not Islamists.

These Arab Barometer surveys are part of a larger dataset pertaining to Islam and governance that Tessler has constructed with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The dataset pulls together information from 44 nationally representative surveys conducted in 15 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and includes not only respondent political and social attitudes but also major characteristics of the country of which the respondent is a citizen.

Tessler’s analysis of these data will be published in a forthcoming book, Islam and the Search for a Political Formula: How Ordinary Citizens in the Muslim Middle East Think about Islam’s Place in Political Life.  The book will offer a deeper understanding of the desired role of Islam in politics across the Middle East, a religion and region often misrepresented in American media, politics, and minds. In addition, the database will be placed in the public domain for use by other scholars who study the relationship between religion and politics.