Issue 1/2024: Press freedoms in Sub-Saharan Africa, negative social media communication and Donald Trump, political conflicts in Southern Europe, outgroup bias, migration in Germany, attitudes towards the EU agricultural policy and more

The whole issue of 1/2024 can be found here.

CONTENTS

Articles

State of the Art – Review Articles

THE NULL HYPOTHESIS

Early Results

RELATED CONTENT

PSR Interviews #21: Perceiving Freedom: Civil Liberties and COVID-19 Vaccinations – Dr Hayley Munir and Dr Syed Rashid Munir

In their research, Hayley Munir and Syed Rashid Munir address the question of why certain countries have experienced greater success in their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts compared to others. As they assert, “civil liberties—especially long histories of protections for civil liberties—complicate the government’s job in two ways regarding vaccine rollouts.” Some factors influencing the vaccine rollout can be related to very deep elements of the social tissue. For instance, as the authors claim, “Groups with conservative religious values in developed democracies had a slower rate of vaccination in comparison with residents of the same area who did not share the conservative ideas.”

The interview is based on the PSR article Perceiving Freedom: Civil Liberties and COVID-19 Vaccinations – Hayley Munir, Syed Rashid Munir, 2023 (sagepub.com)

PSR: Your theory posits that nations with greater civil liberties will experience lower COVID-19 vaccination rates. Could you elaborate on your findings?

Hayley Munir, Syed Rashid Munir: Our hypothesis builds on the observation that economically developed and consolidated democracies had a harder time achieving high vaccination in comparison with less economically developed, authoritarian states. All of the literature on development, regime type, and institutional characteristics leads to the expectation that the former category of states should have been more successful, and yet we did not observe this. To explain this, we suggest that civil liberties – especially long histories of protections for civil liberties – complicate the government’s job in two ways regarding vaccine rollouts. First, they imbibe within the citizenry a sense of freedom from government overreach, which allows them to resist directives they perceive to be insufficiently inclusive or transparent. Second, institutional regard for civil liberties also ties the governments’ hands: they cannot simply force their citizens to follow their orders. These two mechanisms combine together to produce the result.

Have datasets you analysed confirmed this hypothesis? If so, to what extent?

Yes, we have seen promising empirical evidence so far, even though the data is fairly limited with regard to its time coverage. We set a cut-off date of November 2021 and measured vaccination rates from the first availability of COVID-19 vaccines until the cutoff. Improvements in technology and data collection allow for such analysis, and we are currently working on extending our idea and findings since more data has become available now.

We suggest that civil liberties – especially long histories of protections for civil liberties – complicate the government’s job in two ways regarding vaccine rollouts.

What are the additional variables that can influence the proportion of a population that is vaccinated?

One factor that we could not satisfactorily include in our analysis is the role of misinformation around government policy in general and COVID-19 vaccines in particular. Access to the internet could be one reasonable proxy, but it would require abstractions in the theory that we did not think were suitable. Prevalence of alternative sources of media – somewhat tied to internet access – could be a more definitive way to capture this effect, but empirical data in this regard is still quite new. Beyond that, there might be other group-level dynamics and socio-cultural factors at play; for instance, we observed that groups with conservative religious values in developed democracies had a slower rate of vaccination in comparison with residents of the same area who did not share the conservative ideas. We expect this pattern to be present in less-developed countries, too.

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/flag-coronavirus-covid-19-uk-5201916/

What about the countries with only a slight difference in levels of civil liberties? For instance: the UK vs Poland. The average number of vaccinated people is significantly much higher in the UK (93%)[1], compared to Poland (62% – the first dose)[2]. The same applies to civil liberties (UK 93/100, Poland 81/100, according to Freedom House)[3]. What other variables could have influenced such a result?

We know that the UK government was pretty forceful in its demand for citizens to be vaccinated, so directed government campaigns could be one explanation. It is entirely possible that the Polish government was also vocal in its efforts, but such efforts are not easily observable due to a language barrier. Furthermore, it could be that social elites other than politicians (religious leaders, for instance) could play a role in vaccine uptake. This effect could be expected to be more pronounced in more conservative countries, such as Poland.

Would there be any policy implications that follow from your analyses?

One major implication is that civil liberties – a most cherished feature of democracies – can become a hurdle in the way of policy efficacy in crisis situations. This does not mean that we ought to do away with civil liberties in such extenuating circumstances, but only that they can be an additional constraint on state policy. Beyond just COVID, other crises like natural disasters also require governments to respond quickly and effectively, but we typically do not see opposition regarding government efforts to provide welfare. With pandemics in the current day and age, however, we have seen that politics can become a causal factor towards predicting citizen response. For the future, governments ought to keep this hurdle in mind.

We observed that groups with conservative religious values in developed democracies had a slower rate of vaccination in comparison with residents of the same area who did not share the conservative ideas.

What are the key contributions your paper brings to the field?

We started out trying to address two specific grievances. First, Political Scientists were not addressing the effect of the pandemic towards their theories. Some of this was related to timing and data availability, but reasonable theoretical conjectures could still have been made. This had the expected result of explanations regarding political behavior being sidelined in discussions regarding the pandemic. Second, we wanted to show how state leaders, health officials, and media were missing the `political’ side of things. In other words, while there was wide-ranging consensus about the need for safety and vaccinations, efforts to promote the same were being met with resistance. Typical explanations centred around health infrastructure, economic development, literacy rate, etc. failed to account for this behavioral anomaly, and we think that political explanations have a central role here.

ABOUT

Hayley Munir is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Science at the Illinois State University. She specializes in law and courts.

Syed Rashid Munir is a Political Scientist doing research on domestic sources of foreign policy. I am presently serving as an Assistant Professor of Politics at LUMS, and have previously served as an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at Forman Christian College University (FCCU) and as a Lecturer at the University of Management and Technology in Lahore, Pakistan.

Questions and production

Dr Eliza Kania, PSR/Brunel University London

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Issue 4/2023: Social democracy in Europe, economic understanding of populism, election winner–loser gap, the kafala system, political normativity and more

The whole issue of 4/2023 can be found here.

CONTENTS

Articles

State of the Art – Review Articles

Early Results

RELATED CONTENT

Issue 3/2023: Normative Behaviourism, The Substantive Representation of Disadvantaged Groups, Political Theory, Immigration and Voting and more

The whole issue 3/2023 can be found here.

CONTENTS

Symposium: “Do Actions Speak Louder Than Thoughts? Normative Behaviourism Reconsidered”

Symposium: “The Substantive Representation of Disadvantaged Groups – Taking Stock and Moving Forward”

Articles

State of the Art – Review Articles

The Null Hypothesis

Early Results

RELATED CONTENT

The Null Hypothesis: now up to 8000 words

Many research projects produce results where the hypotheses are rejected, but where the results are nonetheless interesting. PSR publishes papers where there was a sound theoretical reason for stipulating hypotheses but where these hypotheses had to be rejected.

The PSR Null Hypothesis papers can now have up to 𝟖𝟎𝟎𝟎 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐬, just like regular Research Articles.

THE NULL HYPOTHESIS PSR PAPERS

2023

2022

2021

2020

More about article types

PSR Interviews #19: Nightly News or Nightly Jokes? News Parody as a Form of Political Communication: A Review of the Literature – Caroline V. Leicht

“Research has found that citizens in the United States are more likely to turn to late-night comedy programs than to national newspapers for their election news. As we continue to observe these phenomena, it is increasingly more important to expand the research agenda as well” – claims Caroline V. Leicht. In this interview, based on the research article Nightly News or Nightly Jokes? News Parody as a Form of Political Communication: A Review of the Literature, Leicht elaborates on the consequences of the increasing popularity of political satire, gender stereotypes and US Politics.

PSR: In your PSR article, you argued that for some people, political satire is not only entertainment but also a source of political information. How widespread is this phenomenon?

Caroline V. Leicht: In the United States, it is certainly a widespread phenomenon. Political satire is a key element of the US-American entertainment industry. Programs like Saturday Night Live (SNL) have been on the air for almost 50 years and more recently, news parody shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report or Last Week Tonight have had wide success as they rose to prominence in the age of social media where content is spread more rapidly and more widely. The jokes and humour on these programs are highly political; however, it is not just a means to make fun of politics but also a means to provide political commentary and contextualization. In a way, it can help in making political processes and issues more accessible to viewers. A prominent example that comes to mind is John Oliver’s segment on Last Week Tonight about Net Neutrality in which he explains the issue in more depth and provides the background that citizens would need to engage in informed discourse about the topic. And there are many other examples like this. As I detail in my PSR article, studies have shown that there are real learning effects associated with watching these types of programs. In addition to this, research has found that citizens in the United States are more likely to turn to late-night comedy programs than to national newspapers for their election news. As we continue to observe these phenomena, it is increasingly more important to expand the research agenda as well. In my PhD project, I examine the role of gender in political satire representations of candidates, a subject that I believe is immensely important for this research area but has unfortunately remained substantially unexplored to date.

You argue that “Research has shown that these programs have real effects on political attitudes and candidate evaluations”. How does political satire affect its audiences? How can political satire programmes influence political behaviours or electoral behaviours?

In my PSR article, I identified three key strands of the literature that reflect the different types of audience effects: political knowledge acquisition, political attitudes, and political participation. First, research has found that political satire programs like The Daily Show feature substantive information about politics that is comparable to traditional news media, and experimental studies have confirmed that exposure to political satire can lead to higher levels of political knowledge. Second, the literature on political satire suggests that this media format can affect issue salience and candidate evaluations. We know that news media have the power to set the agenda for their respective audience, making some political issues or characteristics of political actors more salient than others through editorial decisions and filtering. The same is true for political satire, so the issues or versions of politicians presented in these programs could become more salient for audience members. And third, prior research has found that political satire can mobilize its viewers politically, for instance through calls to action. Political participation is often measured through voting, but a slightly different “real world example” that comes to mind is the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” organized by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in 2010, just a few weeks before the midterm elections in the US that year. Over 200,000 people turned out for this rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC – that certainly shows that political satire can mobilize audience members politically and in the real world. Taking these three types of audience effects into account and considering the similarities with more traditional news media, it just becomes even clearer that political satire is a media format that should receive more research attention in political science.

We know that news media have the power to set the agenda for their respective audience, making some political issues or characteristics of political actors more salient than others through editorial decisions and filtering. The same is true for political satire, so the issues or versions of politicians presented in these programs could become more salient for audience members.

In your recent research, you’ve undertaken an impressive analysis of SNL sketches from the 2016 election cycle, referring to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Could you elaborate on the conceptual framework of this research, as well as on your latest research on the 2020 Democratic Primaries?

We know that citizens turn to political satire for election news, and we know that political satire can have real effects on its audiences; however, there are still significant gaps in the research on political satire. The literature has thus far been primarily concerned with audience effects studies, the format of news parody shows, and partisanship as a mediating factor. In my PhD research, I thus decided to address these limitations by exploring the role of gender as a mediating factor for candidate representations and focusing on an understudied genre of political satire, namely sketch comedy. My current paper combines frameworks from the research on gendered media representations and political satire to make a novel theoretical and methodological contribution to the field. Role congruity theory and gendered framing built the basis for my research questions and hypotheses as I wanted to test whether the gender stereotypes and biases that have been observed in traditional news media are also present in political satire. Understanding these gendered representations of candidates is important because it provides insights into how voters perceive political processes and actors, particularly if we take into account that political satire has effects on candidate evaluations. To test my hypotheses, I examined all Saturday Night Live sketches about the 2016 and 2020 Democratic Primaries and general elections, using a mixed-methods approach consisting of content analysis – for which I developed a comprehensive coding scheme – and framing analysis.

Saturday Night Show highlights: Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, and Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton, Creative Commons License

What kind of gendered stereotypes were the most visible in your research?

It is still a working paper, so the results are preliminary, but the initial results reflect observations from studies of more traditional news media. Female candidates were often framed through more personal characteristics or relationships. For instance, sketches about Hillary Clinton often referenced her husband, former President Bill Clinton. In 2020, Kamala Harris was often portrayed as a maternal figure. An example of this is the SNL sketch about the first presidential debate: Harris (played by Maya Rudolph) enters the stage and tells Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin) and Joe Biden (Jim Carrey) to calm down, apologize for their rowdy debate behaviour, and then says she has snacks for them backstage for after the debate. She even refers to herself as “Momala” which is what the real Harris’ stepchildren call her. My initial results indicate that the male candidates were more likely to be framed through issues and policy proposals than the female candidates. So far, the results reflect a number of “typical” gendered stereotypes and show that representations and framing of candidates in political satire are indeed gendered. This is an important observation to make as it helps in tracing the origins of gendered biases observed in political processes and voting behaviours: Voters who watched the SNL sketches will have been exposed to gendered representations of the candidates as well as framing mediated by gender stereotypes, and this could influence their candidate evaluations.

What were the major differences in portraying the three analysed candidates in terms of masculine and feminine traits?

For my study, I built on existing works on gendered traits to categorize the SNL characterizations of the candidates. As an example of initial results: In the 2016 general election, Hillary Clinton was often characterized as “assertive” or as a “leader”, both of which are categorized as masculine traits in the coding instrument. A possible explanation for this portrayal could be that the real Clinton was “performing” a political leadership role as the presidential candidate and political leadership roles are still regarded in more masculine terms, as research has shown. We know that gendered characterizations of candidates have been observed in traditional news media coverage, so my results could be evidence that SNL is comparable to news media in this way. This would link back to what we talked about earlier: That political satire is comparable to traditional news media in several ways and therefore warrants more research attention as a political information source

My initial results indicate that the male candidates were more likely to be framed through issues and policy proposals than the female candidates. So far, the results reflect a number of “typical” gendered stereotypes and show that representations and framing of candidates in political satire are indeed gendered.

Can you think of any examples of political satire sketches/ shows reflecting on recent political turmoil, for instance in Ukraine or Iran?  

Political satire does not always have to be something to laugh about, and I think certainly with the examples you mention, there is nothing funny about them at all. But political satire, at its core, is about speaking truth to power and about reflecting opinions, discourse or the mood of a given audience. And we can definitely observe this in the examples you mentioned. For instance, the Saturday after Russia invaded Ukraine, SNL did a very somber yet also political cold open. They had the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York perform “Prayer for Ukraine”. No wigs, no costumes, no jokes – just a somber two-minute song. I think that really captured the mood at the time. A few weeks later, SNL opened with a sketch about a fictional “Fox News Ukrainian Invasion Celebration Spectacular” in which Tucker Carlson (played by Alex Moffat) and Laura Ingraham (Kate McKinnon) “apologize” for previous comments in support of Russia and then proceed to host guests like Donald Trump (James Austin Johnson) to raise money for “the real victims of this invasion, the oligarchs.” The sketch does not make fun of the war, but rather offers a critique of media coverage, the focus on the war’s effect on oligarchs, and politicians’ statements. That is certainly something we can observe for these types of political topics, like the war in Ukraine or the current turmoil in Iran: Political satire offers critiques of news media coverage, critiques of international responses and politicians’ actions or lack thereof.

What are the key contributions your paper brings to the field?

As I outlined before, my research addresses gaps in the current literature on political satire. There was a bit of a trend for more political satire research around the 2008 and 2012 US elections, but there is still a lot that has not been explored. The research has thus far been focused primarily on news parody shows, audience effects and partisanship. My PhD research, including my current paper which we talked about earlier, instead focuses on sketch comedy, an understudied genre of political satire, and examines the role of gender in candidate representations. My current paper combines and builds on frameworks from different sub-fields and introduces a comprehensive coding scheme for the content analysis of sketches, thus making a novel theoretical and methodological contribution to the field as well. We know that citizens use political satire programs as news sources, so it is important that we, as researchers, consider these programs news sources as well and direct more research attention to this media format. Gendered representations and framing of candidates can lead to biases in voter perceptions and can affect voting behaviour. So, it is vital to understand these biases in the coverage, examine when and how they appear, and how they are perceived by audiences. And that is precisely what I am doing in my PhD research.

MORE

Leicht, C. V. (2022). Nightly News or Nightly Jokes? News Parody as a Form of Political Communication: A Review of the LiteraturePolitical Studies Review. https://doi.org/10.1177/14789299221100339

ABOUT

Caroline V Leicht received her MA from the University of Liverpool and is currently a PhD researcher at the University of Southampton. Her research focuses on political satire as a form of political communication in electoral contexts in the United States.

Questions and production

Dr Eliza Kania, PSR/Brunel University London

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PSR Podcast #21: Dr Tsung-han Tsai, When “Don’t Know” Indicates Nonignorable Missingness: Using the Estimation of Political Knowledge as an Example

“In some cases, don’t know can be considered as valid responses rather than missing values. For example, in the case of measuring political knowledge, the conventional approach is categorizing don’t know into incorrect responses. However, more and more research suspects whether it is appropriate to treat don’t know as an absence-of-knowledge category. This research pays attention to partial knowledge hidden within don’t know.” – says Dr Tsung-han Tsai.

Dr Tsung-han Tsai proposes a model to extract the information from don’t know responses and to formally test partial knowledge within don’t know. To learn more listen to the podcast and read the PSR article When “Don’t Know” Indicates Nonignorable Missingness: Using the Estimation of Political Knowledge as an Example – Tsung-Han Tsai, 2023 (sagepub.com)

PODCAST SCRIPT

In survey research, researchers usually design a battery of questions to measure some concepts such as democratic values and political knowledge. Owing to the limitations of the questionnaire length, three to five questions are used to measure a defined concept.  Since there are only limited questions for a concept, responses to these questions matter. However, respondents sometimes provide nonresponses to these questions such as don’t know. One widely used approach to deal with nonresponses is to treat them as missing values. Treating nonresponses as missing values indicates that there is no information extracted from these questions.

In some cases, don’t know can be considered valid responses rather than missing values. For example, in the case of measuring political knowledge, the conventional approach is categorizing don’t know into incorrect responses. However, more and more research suspects whether it is appropriate to treat don’t know as an absence-of-knowledge category. This research pays attention to partial knowledge hidden within don’t know.

In this paper, I propose a model to extract the information from don’t know responses, on the one hand, and to formally test partial knowledge within DK. In specific, I combine item response theory and the shared-parameter approach which is presented in the literature on missing data mechanisms. Unlike the conventional approach, I treat DK as missing values and assume that they are missing not at random. The logic is that whether a response to political knowledge questions is correct or not and whether a don’t know the response is provided is determined by knowledge levels.

I applied the proposed model to analyze survey data from Taiwan’s Election and Democratization Study project. In specific, I study the gender gap in political knowledge. It has been argued that men appear to know more about politics than women. Even though some studies recognize the gender gap in knowledge, others argue that the higher percentage of DK responses from women exaggerates the gap in political knowledge.

That is if there is knowledge hidden within DK responses, treating DKs as incorrect responses would make women appear less knowledgeable than they actually are. According to the results of the analysis in this article, we do find hidden knowledge within nonresponses for women. This phenomenon, however, occurs only in one of the three political knowledge questions. These results suggest that the gender gap in political knowledge is not seriously exaggerated by women’s higher percentages of nonresponses because most of the time these nonresponses indicate the absence of knowledge.

MORE

Tsai, T.-H. (2023). When “Don’t Know” Indicates Nonignorable Missingness: Using the Estimation of Political Knowledge as an Example. Political Studies Review21(1), 99–126. https://doi.org/10.1177/14789299211058543

Tsung-Han Tsai is an Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica and jointly appointed associate research fellow in the Election Study Center at National Chengchi University (NCCU), Taipei, Taiwan

Personal website: Tsung-han Tsai – Home (weebly.com)

production

Dr Eliza Kania, Brunel University London

PSR Interviews #18: Far-Right Local Governments and Civil Society: Findings from France and Italy – Seongcheol Kim

“The rise of far-right parties across Europe and their entrance into government at the local, if not regional or national, levels pose challenges for established civil society actors”, – writes Dr Seongcheol Kim ( Far-Right Local Governments and Civil Society: Findings from France and Italy – Seongcheol Kim, 2023 (sagepub.com). He analyses early findings from an ongoing research project based on two case studies of far-right local governments in small industrial towns in France and Italy: Hayange and Sant’Agata Bolognese. In this interview, Dr Kim provides insights into his research design and on how far-right parties influence civil society.

PSR: You suggest that a trend of “far-right parties making increasingly visible attempts to appeal to the world of labour and trade unions” is quite a new phenomenon. What are the roots of this process?

Dr Seongcheol Kim: As I write at the beginning of the introduction, this is hardly a new phenomenon. Parties like Vlaams Blok in Belgium and Front National in France openly courted organised labour with their May Day events in the mid-1990s. In Italy, the history of this courting goes much longer, not only with the experience of fascist corporatism but also the fact that the postwar Movimiento Sociale Italiano had its own trade union front, the CISNAL. When the MSI became Alleanza Nazionale, CISNAL turned into UGL, which is still the fourth largest trade union centre in Italy and has closely cooperated with Matteo Salvini’s Lega in recent years. In France, too, one could draw a longer arc with the long history of yellow unionism, which also fed into the pro-Pétain “Chartist” tendencies during the Second World War and provided a basis for the right-wing to far-right “independent unions” that developed a significant presence in parts of the automotive sector in postwar France.

In the context of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and Salvini’s Lega, you discussed mainstreaming far-right politics. Could you clarify the meaning of this concept?

There is a sizable literature around the mainstreaming thesis, which I refer to in the paper. Scholars like Aurélien Mondon have shown how the FN (later RN) has come to take on an agenda-setting function in French politics, with governments of the centre-left and centre-right vying to outbid each other on issues like law and order and immigration. Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign and numerous measures taken by the Valls government were cases in point. But while the FN/RN has been consistently excluded from coalitions by other parties, the far right in Italy has been much more integrated into centre-right alliances since the mid-1990s, ever since Silvio Berlusconi formed an electoral bloc with Alleanza Nazionale for the 1994 elections. Notably, the Lega under Umberto Bossi eschewed a radical right image at the time but ultimately joined Forza Italia and AN in government (contrary to Bossi’s pre-election promise of “never with the fascists”). Even though that first coalition government was short-lived, the three-party setup has lasted with shifting accents up to the present, with Fratelli d’Italia taking up the post-fascist mantle in recent years and the Lega under Salvini having turned into an overtly radical right party.

In both cases, it seems clear that far-right local administrations are not interested in wooing established local trade unions with their deep roots in the industrial history of each region.

You analyse interviews conducted in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Poland, focusing on two towns in France and Italy. What was the rationale behind that selection and your research design?

The six-country study was on far-right actors in the workplace with a focus on the automotive industry, featuring a case study of a factory in each country. The exploratory research design was based on a diverse-case selection geared toward examining a wide-ranging universe of national contexts to allow for an initial mapping out of far-right strategies at the workplace level, which was a novel contribution to the literature beyond the single-country studies that have been done previously. Within this wider research project, which was published as a book titled The Far Right in the Workplace (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022), the Early Results article focuses on two towns in (or near) which the factory case studies for France and Italy were located, which were also selected due to the local context of far-right mayors who have been re-elected with overwhelming shares of the vote: Fabien Engelmann (FN/RN) in Hayange and Giuseppe Vicinelli (independent, later Lega) in Sant’Agata. 

Political rally in Rome, source: Flickr, FRANCO600D

How have European far-right parties generally affected trade unions and civil society actors at the local level in the countries you analysed?

This varies a lot across countries and localities, and it goes beyond the scope of this research. In the book, too, we examined the local level only in certain factory case studies where far-right actors of various stripes held the mayoralty, most notably in France, Hungary, and Italy. In France and Italy, the local contexts in Hayange and Sant’Agata Bolognese had some similarities as small industrial towns governed by the far-right after decades of left-wing rule (more so in Sant’Agata, with the Bologna area being the historical stronghold par excellence of the Italian Communist Party, whereas the Moselle region in which Hayange is located has always been more mixed). In Hungary, the situation is different altogether because Jobbik came to power in Dunaújváros and Eger (the two towns we examined) in alliance with centre-left parties as part of anti-Fidesz coalitions. Notably, trade unions and civil society practitioners in Hayange and Sant’Agata observed in the interviews a deterioration in relations with the local administration after the far right won the mayoralty, which I discuss in the article.

What were the more specific patterns you have uncovered in the case of small industrial towns in France and Italy, such as Hayange and Sant’Agata Bolognese?

A striking similarity between Hayange and Sant’Agata is the coexistence of two faces: on the one hand, the far-right-led town hall cultivates a caring image with highly visible measures for improving or prettifying the local infrastructure; on the other hand, there is a far-right politics of suppressing by various means (including financial pressure) civil society initiatives deemed unpalatable, such as left-wing cultural or charity associations. This latter aspect is even more pronounced in Hayange, which has gained notoriety for the town hall’s union-busting and the annual pork festival as a form of cultural exclusion of the town’s Muslim minority. It should be noted, however, that these experiences are hard to generalize even within these countries. Engelmann has always been something of a special case due to his left-wing past and the vindictive anti-trade unionism that he has become known for in office. With the RN winning mayoralties in larger towns like Perpignan in the south, more systematic analyses will be needed across localities and regions. The same goes for the Lega, with its wider reach in terms of holding executive office at the local and regional levels, including in cities such as Ferrara (where, anecdotally speaking, there are similar accounts as those encountered in Sant’Agata).

A striking similarity between Hayange and Sant’Agata is the coexistence of two faces: on the one hand, the far-right-led town hall cultivates a caring image with highly visible measures for improving or prettifying the local infrastructure; on the other hand, there is a far-right politics of suppressing by various means (including financial pressure) civil society initiatives deemed unpalatable, such as left-wing cultural or charity associations

What are the most significant strategies used by far-right politicians to approach trade unions at the local level?  

When it comes to trade unions specifically, the strategy in Sant’Agata seems to be more about bypassing or ignoring the trade unions to the extent possible, whereas Hayange has gotten considerable notoriety with reports in national-level media about widespread harassment of trade unionists in the public sector. In both cases, it seems clear that far-right local administrations are not interested in wooing established local trade unions with their deep roots in the industrial history of each region. Another question is to what extent far-right local governments try to form alternative (yellow) unions or analogous administration-friendly initiatives in civil society from their positions of power. While there are not so many clear-cut indications of this in the two cases examined, this is a question that deserves more systematic investigation across contexts.

What are the key contributions your paper brings to the field?

It bears emphasizing that this is an Early Results article, but even so, I think it provides numerous insights into how far-right parties govern in these two industrial towns and their relations to civil society. The interplay of a performatively enacted claim to serve the entire community with public goods on the one hand and the exclusion of undesirable elements of civil society on the other is a notable finding and may help us to understand the success of these far-right local administrations in getting re-elected on overwhelming majorities after their initially surprising victories with razor-thin margins in 2014. There is certainly a lot of potentials here for more wide-ranging comparative research on the basis of these results, both within the two countries in question and beyond.

ABOUT

Dr Seongcheol Kim is a postdoctoral researcher in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Kassel and a visiting researcher in the Center for Civil Society Research at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. His research is centred on the application of post-foundational discourse theory for the study of party politics from a comparative European perspective, especially concerning nationalism, populism, and radical democracy.

MORE

Kim, S. (2023). Far-Right Local Governments and Civil Society: Findings from France and Italy. Political Studies Review21(1), 183–189. https://doi.org/10.1177/14789299221079990

Questions and production

Dr Eliza Kania, PSR/Brunel University London

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