October 2017

Turnout and Voter Insecurity in the French Elections

Do economically vulnerable voters care more than the average voter about politics and elections—or less? Weatherhead Scholars Program Fellow Adrien Abecassis, former political advisor to French President François Hollande, offers three explanations.

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One of the key questions in the current debate on the causes of the rise of populism is whether the economic harshness and distrust in traditional political parties increase or decrease election turnout.

This question was debated in a recent roundtable discussion, organized by the Weatherhead Research Cluster on Global Populism, on the economic and cultural causes of populism’s prevalence. Would voters struck by economic shocks—those whose futures seemed to be vulnerable, and who have lost their sense of security about their own lives and that of their children’s—tend to vote to prevent this from happening? Or would their suffering cause them to retreat and withdraw from political elections?

And indeed, the answer is not obvious: Luigi Guiso et al. found that economic security shocks significantly increased the likelihood of abstention, while David Autor et al. showed that economic shocks due to foreign trade competition raised—not lowered—voter turnout.

Without seeking to settle the debate, I would like to offer some hypotheses based on my experience as a political advisor to French President François Hollande. Of course, this question was one of importance for us: What would the most insecure French voters do in elections? Would they turn out or not? If they did, would they vote for the National Front Party? From what I observed, there is no single answer, and many dynamics are at play. But we can make some conjectures.... Read more about Turnout and Voter Insecurity in the French Elections

What We Think about When We Think of Crime

How does perceived vulnerability to crime pervade politics, markets, and democracy? Professors Jean and John Comaroff compare the United States to South Africa. 

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Jean and John Comaroff, professors in the Departments of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology, divide their teaching and research between Harvard and universities in South Africa. Their scholarship has focused on colonialism and the transformation of societies in the postcolonial and late modern worlds. A recent joint effort, The Truth about Crime, documents their “existential engagement” with the interplay of crime, policing, and sovereignty, in response to what they see as a rising global preoccupation. 

The Comaroffs joined the academic boycott of South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s until the transition of power and formal end of apartheid in 1994. Upon their return to Cape Town, they immediately noticed an overwhelming preoccupation with crime in South Africa. Their desire to unpack this obsession, and what it says about modernity and our relationship to the state, is the subject of their book. Together, the Comaroffs consider the economic, political, and sociological shifts that underlie modern attitudes toward criminality and how these shifts have contributed to the fear of one another, to racial violence, and to public distrust in government.

The Weatherhead Center spoke to the Comaroffs from their home in Cape Town, and asked them to tease out some of the complex relationships between crime and policing and how they affect the concept of citizenship.

... Read more about What We Think about When We Think of Crime