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Comparative Government

So Mitt Romney won what the Washington Post calls a “decisive victory” in Florida yesterday, and while the Republican presidential primary isn’t quite over (a majority of the votes still went to his three remaining rivals, donations keep coming in to Newt Gingrich especially), the former Massachusetts governor is now well-positioned to lock up the nomination on “Super Tuesday,” March 6, where people in eleven states cast their votes. If Romney becomes the candidate, a closer look at his current campaign can help us understand how he will fight the general election. In past cycles, most recently of course in 2008, the way candidates fought their primary gave many clues to how they ended up fighting the general election—in terms …

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire. Over Christmas I visited Boston and had the occasion to walk the famous freedom trail: 3 miles of sights commemorating American independence. As I walked this hallowed ground I pondered on those fighting for freedom today, in the streets of Cairo, Homs and Tunis. Having met some of these people, I wondered at the suspicion we direct at the Islamic parties now gaining power, as if we forgot our own history. American democracy was born of Puritan principles of self-government, but that did not prevent it from evolving into the (more or less) secular body it is today.  Ignoring this …

Newt Gingrich’s clear come-from-behind victory in the January 21 South Carolina primary has made the Republican Presidential Primary a lot more exciting than it looked after Iowa and New Hampshire. Clearly, many Republicans remain reluctant to embrace Romney. If the opposition coalesce around Gingrich, the not-Romney of the moment, the party is in for a long grind of a primary. One question right now is whether Gingrich has the organization to make the most of his momentum. Florida, January 31, is the first test. Romney has been ahead in the polls there lately, but his support is eroding and as recently as December, Gingrich had a solid lead. The political climate in the sunshine state can be fickle and is …

When Boko Haram killed nearly 70 civilians over the Christmas holidays, many observers in the Western media were quick to chalk it up to wanton Islamic extremism. The attacks, it was concluded, reflected global jihadist activity. Emphasis was placed on the group’s links to al Qaeda. This narrative is shortsighted. For one, it ignores Christian retaliation just days later, including the bombing of a madrasa that injured seven. More broadly, it decontextualizes the violence. Nearly 500 Nigerians were killed in the northeast in 2011 due to sectarian conflict. Suicide attacks, car bombings, and assassinations-by-machete have been documented throughout the country, Africa’s most populous and the linchpin of Western engagement with the continent. Such killings are not new to Nigeria: religious strife has been a constant for decades, …

Religious freedom, if it means anything at all, must mean the ability of people of all faiths and none to practice their religion, to form religious associations and perhaps, if necessary, to be exempt from some civil laws, as Sikhs are relieved of the requirement to wear motorcycle helmets. These exemptions should be offered uniformly, based upon the religious beliefs and the impact of the exemption, not on the constitutional status of the religious organization involved. Religious equality means treating all religions the same: Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists Muslims and Jews, as well as all denominations within each of them. However, religious establishment (a term that may well be essentially contestable in British constitutional law) necessarily carries privileges with it …

The Guardian and the LSE have partnered up on an impressive journalistic-cum-sociological analysis called “reading the riots”, examining the unrest that rocked England this summer on the basis of interviews with people involved, massive social media datasets, and various forms of secondary sources. This is a very laudable attempt to make sense of what happened why in August, important questions at the heart of both journalism and social science. The collaboration examines many different themes, today the role of different “social media” (and more generally, digital networked media) in the riots. The material released provides both qualitative and quantitative evidence for dismissing the claims—frequent in August, and spread by for example by an  Associated Press story still up on thousands …

Elections and the elusive quest for peace and stability in the eastern DRC: A perspective from the ground, based on fieldwork carried-out in North Kivu province in August and September, 2011 By Lindsay Scorgie Driving down the dusty main road of Butembo – a city of over half a million people, in the eastern DRC province of North Kivu – I hear the usual urban Congolese noises of motorcycles and lorries driving madly by. But these days there is a new sound too: shovels hitting the ground. All along the main road, construction is underway, as the central thoroughfare of Butembo is being paved for the first time. Not only is this an extremely rare sight in Congo, but it …

Christine Cheng has recently co-published an article with Margit Tavits in Political Research Quarterly  arguing that  female party presidents in Canada are more likely to nominate female party candidates. The research is based on original data from Canada’s 2004 and 2006 federal elections. When the party’s gatekeeper or president is female, the candidate is also six percent more likely to be a woman. The effect is small, but statistically significant, making it important to consider in policies aimed at increasing female representation in politics. Namely, beyond parties’ formal rules to encourage female participation, informal interactions matter. Having more women in top political posts can be just as effective for attracting women to politics as formal party regulations. Another important finding …