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Article

Stefaan Walgrave and Peter Van Aelst

Recently, the number of studies examining whether media coverage has an effect on the political agenda has been growing strongly. Most studies found that preceding media coverage does exert an effect on the subsequent attention for issues by political actors. These effects are contingent, though, they depend on the type of issue and the type of political actor one is dealing with. Most extant work has drawn on aggregate time-series designs, and the field is as good as fully non-comparative. To further develop our knowledge about how and why the mass media exert influence on the political agenda, three ways forward are suggested. First, we need better theory about why political actors would adopt media issues and start devoting attention to them. The core of such a theory should be the notion of the applicability of information encapsulated in the media coverage to the goals and the task at hand of the political actors. Media information has a number of features that make it very attractive for political actors to use—it is often negative, for instance. Second, we plead for a disaggregation of the level of analysis from the institutional level (e.g., parliament) or the collective actor level (e.g., party) to the individual level (e.g., members of parliament). Since individuals process media information, and since the goals and tasks of individuals that trigger the applicability mechanism are diverse, the best way to move forward is to tackle the agenda setting puzzle at the individual level. This implies surveying individual elites or, even better, implementing experimental designs to individual elite actors. Third, the field is in dire need of comparative work comparing how political actors respond to media coverage across countries or political systems.

Article

Elizabeth A. Oldmixon

Churches are at the fulcrum of religious politics, and as church leaders, religious elites have an important role to play in the political milieu. They possess many of the resources associated with potent activism, but more importantly their job is to provide guidance to participants in a vast voluntary network. They can engage in agenda setting, encourage the faithful to apply their religious values to political engagement, and create opportunities to learn civic skills. Even so, religious leaders are subject to influence even as they try to exercise influence. In the foreground, religious leaders have a predictable set of goals, the substance of which varies by race, ethnicity, gender, and social theology. In the background, religious leaders pursue their goals in different sociodemographic and institutional contexts. The political behavior of religious leaders, then, is the product of background and foreground balancing.

Article

Dramatic changes in the way the public acquires information and formulates its attitudes have potentially altered the opinion and foreign policy relationship. While traditional approaches have treated public opinion on domestic and foreign matters as largely distinct, the culmination of a series of changes may eliminate the effective distinction between foreign and domestic policy, at least in terms of how the American political system operates. All the factors central to the opinion and foreign policy process, such as information acquisition, attitude formation, media effects, the effect of opinion on policy, and presidential leadership now appear to mirror the processes observed at the domestic level. This analysis reviews historical trends in the literature on public opinion and foreign policy that has focused on the rationality of the public’s opinions, the structure of its attitudes, and its influence on foreign policymaking. The traditional Almond-Lippmann consensus portrayed an emotional public with unstructured attitudes and little influence on foreign policy; however, revisionist views have described a reasonable public with largely structured views on foreign policy that can, at times, constrain and even drive those policies. More recently, the rise of “intermestic” issues, contain both domestic and international elements, such as globalization, inequality, terrorism, immigration, and climate change, have interacted to transform the domestic and international context. The bulk of this analysis highlights emerging new research directions that should be pursued in light of the changes. First, scholars should continue to evaluate the “who thinks what and why” questions with particular attention to differences between high- and low-information individuals, the effect of misinformation, and information sources. In doing so, research should build on research from non-American contexts that points to the important influences of societal and institutional factors. In addition to continued examination of traditional demographic factors such as partisanship and ideology, additional attention should turn to consider potential genetic and biological foundations of attitudes. Finally, researchers should continue to evaluate how the new media environment, including social media, affects how the public accesses information, how the media provides information, and how political elites attempt to shape both. Given these changes, scholars should consider whether it continues to make sense to treat public opinion dynamics regarding foreign policy as distinct from domestic policy and its implications.

Article

Albania’s peaceful exit from the communist world, the adoption of NATO-guided changes in its military institution, the establishment of closer ties with the European Union in conjunction with the strong presence of political leaders in the country’s domestic and internal affairs and its latest economic growth offer the impression of a successful transformation of a former Communist state to a Western-type democratic political model and civil-military relations. However, what is often overlooked is that the country’s political elites, emerging from a lengthy, deeply rooted tradition of clan and tribal power structures, have dominated Albanian politics and its civil-military relations, whether under a monarchical or a communist regime. By combining a pro-Western civilianization profile with an efficient control over Albania’s sociopolitical culture and economic development, these traditional elites permitted the officer corps to take the Western-prescribed necessary steps, during the post–Cold War period, as long as their interests were not deeply affected. The small size of the officer corps, the absence of semiautonomous economic power, as well as of corporate unity in conjunction with the existence of a servile political culture and ideology toward the domestic political elites have forced the country’s civil-military relations to resemble the Western ones only in appearance. The inability/unwillingness of these elites to take some steps towards the country’s social, economic and political advancement raises the question of whether both domestic and external forces are truly committed to democracy or are going to be totally satisfied with only the process of putting “old wine in new bottles.”

Article

The historical role of landed elites as obstacles to democratic consolidation in Latin America has been widely studied. Four decades after the onset of the third wave, however, the issue of how these elites have adapted to the new democratic context remains unexplored. The question of why these elites who supported military coups each time a government threatened their interests have mostly played by the democratic rulebook during the past four decades still needs to be answered. Important structural and political transformations took place in Latin America during the last half of the 20th and the first decade of the 21st century that affected agrarian elites’ incentives and capacity to organize politically. The first change was urbanization, which undermined agrarian elites’ capacity to mobilize the votes of the rural poor in favor of their political representatives. The second was an increase in the importance of agricultural exports as a source of foreign exchange and revenue for Latin American countries thanks to the commodity boom of the 2000s. The third change was the arrival to power of left-wing parties with redistributive agendas, threatening agrarian elites’ interests in the region with the highest land inequality in the world. However, the fact that these governments relied on revenues from agriculture to fund their policy agendas created tension between the leftists’ ideological preferences for a more equal distribution of land and their fiscal needs. Dominant theories in political science suggest that democratization should lead to redistribution from the rich to the poor, as democracies represent the preferences of a wider spectrum of citizens than nondemocracies. Landowners, given the fixed nature of their assets, should be easy targets for increased taxation or expropriation. However, these theories understate landowners’ capacity to organize politically and use democratic institutions to their advantage. In fact, if we look at contemporary Latin America, we see that four decades of democracy have not changed the region’s extremely high land inequality. Agrarian elites in Latin America have deployed a variety of political influence strategies to protect themselves from redistribution. In some cases, such as Chile and El Salvador, they have built conservative parties to represent their interests in Congress. In others, like Brazil, they have invested in multiparty representation through a congressional caucus. Lastly, in other countries such as Argentina and Bolivia, agrarian elites have not been able to organize their electoral representation and instead have protected their interests from outside the policymaking arena through protests.

Article

In many African countries, armies played a key public role in the aftermath of independence. For this reason, no study of African politics can overlook the militarization of the state. Postcolonial Madagascar, for example, was ruled for over two decades by personnel from its army. National armies often present themselves as neutral entities that can guarantee a country’s political stability. However, there is no such thing as neutrality, whether in Africa or elsewhere. The best hope for armies to become and remain as politically neutral as possible is the demilitarization of political power. The withdrawal of the military from politics and their subordination to civilian decisions is important but does not suffice to ensure the army’s political neutrality. Such a withdrawal was widely carried out through the third wave of democratization, the historical period during which there was a sustained and significant increase in the proportion of competitive regimes. Democratization processes cannot succeed without efforts toward neutralizing the military, and thus, toward demilitarizing the political society and depoliticizing the army. Post-transition regimes striving for democracy should bring about and preserve a formal separation of power between the political and the civilian spheres. For these regimes to establish a solid mandate, the army and the security apparatus need to be placed under democratic control. In Africa, the disengagement of the military from the public sphere came about with the political transitions of the 1990s. But changes in political regimes over the past decade have challenged the democratization process, as the return of praetorianism (an excessive political influence of the armed forces in the Sahel and Madagascar) testifies. Hence, demilitarizing politics, on the one hand and depoliticizing and reprofessionalizing the army on the other remain essential issues to be addressed.

Article

The idea of satisficing as a decision rule began with Herbert Simon. Simon was dissatisfied with the increasingly dominant notion of individuals as rational decision-makers who choose alternatives that maximize expected utility on two grounds. First, he viewed the maximizing account of decision-making as unrealistic given that individuals have cognitive limitations and varying motivations that limit cognitive ability and effort. Second, he argued that individuals do not even choose alternatives as if they are maximizing (i.e., that the maximizing account has predictive validity). Instead, he offered a theory of individuals as satisficers: decision-makers who consider a limited number of alternatives, expending limited cognitive effort, until they find one that is “good enough.” At this point, he argued, the consideration of alternatives stops. The satisficing decision rule has influenced several subfields of political science. They include elite decision-making on military conflicts, the economy, and public policy; ideas of what the mass public needs to know about politics and the extent to which deficits in political knowledge are consequential; and understanding of survey responses and survey design. Political and social psychologists have also taken Simon’s idea and argued that satisficing rather than maximizing is a personality trait—stable characteristics of individuals that make them predisposed toward one or other type of alternative search when making decisions. Research in these subfields additionally raises normative questions about the extent to which satisficing is not only a common way of making decisions but a desirable one. Satisficing seems superior to maximizing in several respects. For example, it has positive effects on aspects of decision-makers’ well-being and is more likely to result in individuals voting their interests in elections. There are, however, a number of directions in which future research on satisficing could be taken forward. These include a fuller incorporation of the interaction of affect and cognition, clearer tests of alternative explanations to satisficing, and more focus and understanding on the effects of the Internet and the “information age.”

Article

Work on the Latin American right mainly assumes it is a political phenomenon, despite recognition that it emerges from, and can be supplanted by, groups of actors from within and across business, in the media, in the intellectual sphere, and indeed in the military. A broader approach is provided here to help integrate these (f)actors, using Michael Mann’s work on social power and Nancy Fraser’s concepts of progressive and reactionary neoliberalism. It is argued that elites from these sectors, espousing neoliberalism, and supported by powerful transnational elites with similar views, dominate the areas of ideology, economics, military, and politics in order to install, maintain, extend, and naturalize neoliberalism in the region. This dominance has been challenged from the left and indeed from the right, resulting in at minimum progressive and reactionary forms of neoliberalism centered on inequalities of recognition. Nevertheless, the range and depth of possible change, particularly in stalling and reversing distributive inequality, may be limited, due to the embeddedness of neoliberalism in national, regional, and transnational governance systems.

Article

Youngmin Kim, Ha-Kyoung Lee, and Seongun Park

Confucianism is a principal category and term of analysis in most discourses on Chinese culture. However, when it is defined in very stylized terms, it turns out to be of little use for understanding long-term historical changes, as its meaning varied greatly over more than a millennium. The Confucian tradition has fluctuated primarily because rulers and elites made use of inherited Confucianism for their ideological ends. In this light, Confucianism, Chinese elite, and politics are closely interconnected. Confucius, who has often been regarded as the founder of Confucianism, did not entertain a chance to materialize his political vision through a powerful government office, even if he had wished to do so. However, after his death, the early imperial rulers of China actively appropriated the textual tradition of what would later become Confucianism and used it to legitimize their political powers. Throughout the late imperial periods, Neo-Confucianism gained wide currency among those who did not hold governmental office and yet sought to engage in public matters at a local level. At the same time, donning the ideological garb of a Confucian sage-king, late imperial rulers instituted the civil service examinations and adopted Neo-Confucian commentaries on classical texts as the official curriculum. As there was almost no other access to office except through these examinations, Neo-Confucianism had become required knowledge for anyone who aspired to become a member of the elite until the early decades of the 20th century. In the late 19th century, China found itself in a disadvantageous position in the new world order, where aggressive European imperialism advanced across Asia. At that time, Chinese reformers regarded Confucianism as a cause of China’s failure to industrialize as adeptly as Western countries had. During the Mao Zedong era, Confucianism continued to be held responsible for the static nature of Chinese society, which robbed it of the possibility of progress. As Communism ceases to be a satisfactory model for China, the country’s politicians and intellectuals have sought a new identity and model whereby they can fashion their future. As a consequence, although discarded at the beginning of the last century as the cause of China’s demise, Confucianism has been gaining new currency as the model for modern China.

Article

Like many other African military forces, the Gabonese national army was a direct offshoot of a colonial army—the French one, in this case. Like many of their former brothers in arms on the African continent, the Gabonese military has had difficulty finding their bearings in the newly independent nation, with which they have experienced no bonding. A coup carried out by a handful of officers in 1964 dealt an early blow to the development of civil‒military concord. As of 1965, the political leadership, then firmly in the hands of the Bongo family, made sure it would keep the military under control. An important part of the security belt created by the Bongo regime was the propping up—and corresponding generous endowment—of a Presidential Guard and the paramilitary forces of the Gendarmerie. With the regime feeling more and more secure, among other reasons thanks to the agile management of an extensive patronage system fuelled by the country’s oil wealth, the army was allowed to grow and develop somewhat, although it never reached the capacity to defend the country’s sovereignty against any serious threat. Over the more than four decades of Omar Bongo’s rule (1967‒2009), Gabon’s defense remained outsourced to France through a range of initially secret and later publicly “legitimized” defense treaties. Occasional tensions, such as in the mid-1970s, did not significantly alter that pattern. With its security firmly guaranteed by the Garde Républicaine, the Gendarmerie, and the French, the regime worked to integrate the army into its control system. This was done though accelerating creation of a large number of senior officers’ posts, and these officers were gratified with honors, financial rewards, and at times official government posts. Meanwhile, the rank and file were kept at bay. Consequentially, a two-tier army that mirrored the country’s sociopolitical makeup evolved. Small pockets of professional soldiers did emerge in the country over the years, especially among up to colonel-rank commissioned officers, who benefited from excellent training abroad and were able to perfect their skills on peacekeeping operations. However, professionalism did not percolate through the institution. In 2020, 10 years into the reign of Omar Bongo’s son, Ali, the relationship of the military to the political power is unclear. On the one hand, the army may be an instrument of repression used by a ruling elite that is less and less benevolent in distributing benefits because it has lost the resources to do so. Such was the case in response to unrest after the 2016 elections. On the other hand, it cannot be excluded that part of the army’s lumpenmilitariat could side with the people in a revolt against the government. Because the legitimacy of the clientelist order is under duress, the coercive force provided by the carriers of arms can provide one line of defense, but the military may also turn against their increasingly anemic patron.

Article

The basic economics of international trade imply that globalization will have driven in the developed democracies of the Western world an increasing divergence between the material advancement of human, physical, and financial capitalists—a minority of the population—and the material stagnation or even decline of labor—a majority. This article reviews that theory and the strong comparative-historical empirical record substantiating those effects, and explains how the rise of xenophobic, nationalistic, anti-elite populism has its complementary roots in these economic developments.