“Hugs, not gunshots”: How can AMLO convince Mexicans of a new approach to security?

Published on Political Violence @ a Glance on 18 October 2018

Guest post by Juan Masullo and Davide Morisi.

The same night Mexico’s President-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka AMLO), won the election, he announced a radical shift in the country’s “war on drugs”. “The failed crime and violence strategy will change,” he proclaimed, referring to the strategy of militarized public security initiated by President Calderón in 2006. Claiming that Mexico needs abrazos no balazos (hugs, not gunshots), AMLO made clear his intention to stop the militarized war on drugs and hand the security job back to professionally trained police. But can he convince Mexicans that they will be more secure once the military is taken off the streets?

Moving away from a heavy-handed, military-first approach is no easy task. Important sectors of the Federal Government continue to argue that militarization has been effective, and in December of last year the Congress approved a bill that “institutionalizes” the role of the army in fighting organized crime. Moreover, while notable civil society organizations such as Mexico United Against Delinquency openly oppose militarization, the army is still one of the country’s most trusted institutions. According to 2017 LAPOP data, around two thirds of Mexicans highly trust the armed forces.

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Workshop on political knowledge and information processing

On 24 and 25 November, Carolina Plescia and I organized a workshop sponsored by the Vienna Center for Electoral Research (VieCER). The workshop, entitled “Political knowledge and information processing: How do citizens learn about politics and what moderates information-processing strategies?”, has been a great opportunity to discuss cutting-edge research with several academics from across Europe. Around 15 scholars presented and discussed their latest work on topics related to political knowledge, elite influence, misinformation, and information processing across different political domains.

The complete programme is available here.

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New position at University of Vienna

On 1 September I started a new position as Assistant Professor (postdoc) at the Department of Government at the University of Vienna. It’s an exciting opportunity to join a fantastic group of researchers, and it will allow me to pursue my research agenda in the field of political behaviour and public opinion. The Department of Government runs the Austrian National Election Study (AUTNES), which is a high-quality, comprehensive source of data related to national elections in Austria.

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In Edinburgh at ISPP

From 29 June to 2 July I went to Edinburgh to attend the annual meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP). It’s been a fantastic chance to listen to renowned scholars, meet great colleagues, and present some of my recent work on motivated reasoning and referendum campaigns.

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Workshop on text analysis at the LSE

On 24 and 25 April I was at the LSE for a two-day workshop on text analysis organized and taught by Ken Benoit: https://github.com/kbenoit/ITAUR. The workshop covered basic text-related data processing using R, mostly relying on the quanteda package (https://github.com/kbenoit/quanteda) for the quantitative analysis of textual data .

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In Frankfurt debating direct democracy

On 6 April I was invited to a workshop on direct democracy organized by Goethe University of Frankfurt. The event, titled “Menace or Blessing? The Role of Direct Democracy in the Process of Political Representation”, featured several interesting presentations and discussions on the role of direct democracy in different countries. It gave me the chance to present some preliminary findings of our study on the recent Italian constitutional referendum.

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Risk-takers and referendums: what happens when voters are better-informed?

Published on Democratic Audit on 24 February 2017

Although they offer voters a simple binary choice, referendums imply substantially different decisions. On the one hand, voters can choose a “Yes” for a change, such as the introduction a new policy or a constitutional change. On the other, they can say “No” to such proposals and vote to maintain the status quo. Although maintaining the status quo is not necessarily the best solution, it generally represents the safest choice compared to the risks related to a change. The current uncertainties related to the UK’s future relationship with the EU clearly show that “Brexit is riskier than Bremain”, as Timothy Garton Ash put it.

This imbalance in terms of risks and uncertainties means the status quo option has an intrinsic advantage. A recent analysis of 268 referendums from democratic countries since 1990 (excluding Switzerland) shows that the change option won only in 40% of the cases, after accounting for the presence of turnout thresholds in some countries. The fundamental imbalance in direct democracy means that information is crucial when voters are making up their minds. In referendum campaigns, the arguments from both sides play a crucial role – not only because political parties play a weaker role than they do in general elections, but also because of the uncertainties related to referendum proposals.

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