Category

Election

The traffic light turns green for German digitalization

Written by Sjoerd Bakker
September 30, 2021

Following Sunday’s elections, the greens and liberals are seen as kingmakers for the coming German government. Together they can decide whether to support a traffic light coalition with the Social Democrats, or a ‘Jamaica’ coalition with the Christian Democrats. While these two parties have many differences between them, e.g. on public spending, tax cuts and climate change, they do seem to agree on the need for Germany to catch up in terms of digitalization.

Germany is lagging behind the rest of Europe in terms of broadband connections, the use of digital services and digitalization of its industry and government. Fixing this situation, through public investments and more favorable regulations, should a be top priority for the new government. The greens and liberals could use such a plan to divert some attention away from issues that are politically more sensitive.

As citizens are still weary of information technology in general and e-government especially, cultural change should also be part of the ambition. From that perspective, it would be promising for the digital future of Germany if the deeply conservative CDU is left out of the coalition.

Burning questions:

  • How would a traffic light coalition go about public investments in the digital infrastructure, given the FDP’s fiscal conservatism?
  • Can and will sustainability be part of Germany’s digital agenda in terms of energy use of data centers, or the use of data and intelligence for sustainable solutions?
  • How can the government overcome Germany’s distrust in information technology?

The ‘Wechselstimmung’ after Merkel

Written by Sebastiaan Crul
September 30, 2021

Merkel’s main task was to hold things together and safeguard the nation’s prosperity. Looking back, she passed with flying colors. Merkel provided guidance and steered Germany through the financial crisis, the Eurozone crisis, the European migrant crisis and the COVID-19 crisis. The mother of the nation brought stability in turbulent times with her conservative moderate-right politics. Internationally, her calmness and rationality were the perfect antidote to the hysteria of emotional and short-tempered leaders such as Orbán and Bolsonaro.

Opponents point to the fact that Europe bouncing from crisis to crisis was also the perfect cover for Merkel’s lack of vision. When Trump entered the office, she somewhat shook off this image and naturally became the leader and face of liberal values. And with her stance in the refugee crisis, she won the hearts and minds of many worldwide. While outsiders mostly applauded this new face of Merkel, some Germans responded with disappointment or even felt abandoned. According to psychologist Stephan Grünewald, who is well-known for measuring the “Stimmung” of the country, confidence in Merkel has been showing cracks in the past years. After sixteen years of Merkel, the zeitgeist of the nation is now more ambivalent than it was at the beginning of the century. While the big challenges ahead have made many realize more structural change and progressive politics are needed (‘Wechselstimmung’), the perceived rising insecurity of a broad part of the population and the aftermath of a pandemic aren’t contributing. For many, change is exactly what is feared the most. Thus, even without Merkel, ‘Merkelism’ is likely to survive in German politics for some time.

Burning questions:

  • Will Merkel’s successor build on her image of “defender of the free world” or focus more on domestic policy?
  • With Scholz being a relatively conservative and technocratic politician, can we interpret his win as a sign that Germans are indeed afraid of change?

The future of the anti-establishment, conservative right

Written by Pim Korsten
September 20, 2021

Last week, many high-profile supporters of Trump voiced their support for incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro at the world’s biggest conservative, anti-establishment right political event. Bolsonaro is preparing for re-election next year, but his ratings and support have been falling to all-time lows. In other countries, the far right seems to have been losing ground as well recently, such as in France and the UK, or stalling, as in Germany. With many important elections in major economies next year, like Germany, France, U.S. (mid-term elections), Brazil, India, Sweden, Australia, next year could become a crucial year for the far right.

Reasons for this might be the mishandling of far-right governments of the coronavirus crisis, as in Brazil, Russia and the U.S. A second reason could be the resurgence of the Big Left and Big Government in the wake of the pandemic, fueled by calls of the general public for more government intervention (e.g. on inequality) and government spending. Lastly, there could be a general shift in consensus on what the core issue is; from identity politics and culture wars to fighting climate change and creating more resilient societies in a sustainable sense.

Burning questions:

  • Unlike in Western European countries, support for the far right is rising in Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal. Could we see a resurgence of the far right in these countries that were unaffected by the recent far-right wave that started in 2015?
  • Can far-right parties build momentum in the run-up to next year’s elections, as they have often done by proving polls wrong (e.g. remember Trump’s election odds?)
  • In what sense has the far-right agenda been taken over by “mainstream parties”, e.g. has the center become more right-wing and has identity politics become more for the middle parties?

Transatlantic troubles

Written by Alexander van Wijnen
December 18, 2020

Since the U.S. election victory of Joe Biden, there has been a widespread expectation of renewed transatlantic cooperation between the U.S. and Europe. However, while it is likely that the Biden administration will reinvigorate some alliances, as opposed to Trump and his strategic pressure on both adversaries and allies, it is unlikely that the U.S. and Europe will grow as close together as is widely expected.

The main issue is hegemonic shift. The rise of China is primarily a threat to the U.S., but while Europe is cautious and also feels threatened by China in several domains, it is much more open to the strategic opportunity of a rising China. An implication is that the U.S., aware of Europe’s position, will not allow Europe to freeload off U.S. security while refusing to follow American policy towards China. Overall, although we should expect policy proposals such as transatlantic strategies and agendas to emerge, they will be much more difficult to implement than is widely expected.

Carbon border tax

What do semiconductors and artificial intelligence have in common? Both have great impact on the economy as well as national security. Historically, such “strategic technologies” trigger a predictable pattern of politics, as shown by Jade Leung. The pattern pertains to the role of the state, firms and researchers, whose roles change in each phase of technological development. During the first phase of emergence, there is primarily synergy between them as the state supports its firms.

However, in the second phase of commercialization, fearful images arise as the impact on security gains more attention, and in the third phase of maturation, a big shift occurs as the state attempts to take back control to prevent foreign actors from gaining access to its strategic technology. We have seen this happening in the semiconductor industry and it is likely to happen in AI as well. Part of the pattern is that some firms will cooperate with the state (e.g. Palantir), whereas others publicly distance themselves from the state (e.g. Google). Overall, the politics of strategic technology will shape the future of semiconductors and AI.

Trump is making opposition media great (the platform becomes the bubble)

On November 5th, CNN interrupted a speech by President Trump because he was making unfounded claims about electoral fraud. Twitter and Facebook have also repeatedly labeled statements by Trump as misinformation. Moreover, Twitter has announced that it will not grant him anymore special treatment when he is no longer president and will delete his account if necessary. Supporters of Trump and his ideas have long sought alternative news sources and platforms where they can freely express their views.

When Trump began retweeting Newsmax, a conservative American news and opinion website that refuses to acknowledge Biden winner of the elections, it saw its visitor numbers soar (from an average 500,000 to 7.3 million a week). Conservative Twitter alternative Parler is currently even the most downloaded app in the U.S. Trump may start his own media outlet, but in any case, his departure from the White House will considerably boost these existing “opposition media”. Slowly but surely, completely separate universes will arise, even more so than now, with different groups each inhabiting their own platforms.

The not-so United States of America

Short Insight written by Pim Korsten
October 7, 2020

In the run-up to the U.S. elections, a lot of attention is paid to partisan, generational, ethnic and socio-economic dividing lines. These differences, however, are transcended by the various American “nations” with their distinct geography and economic systems and unique history and culture. For example, the East and West Coast share a “Yankee” mentality of individualism, combined with belief in reform and social engineering by the state. In Yankeedom and the Left Coast, support for egalitarian and liberal policies is highest.

Washington, around Tidewater, on the other hand, was founded by English gentry who created an aristocratic and very unequal society. The central regions of Greater Appalachia and the Midlands were founded by Irish and Scots with a fierce warrior ethic. These nations have suffered from deindustrialization, and still support Trump against Yankee domination, while also opposing southern nations they see as “El Norte”. Within these southern nations, large differences also loom, such as the difference between Texas and California, which hold different views about the future of the U.S. In fact, the United States might be even less united than we think.

Trump faces opposition from his own party for upcoming election

What happened?

The Trump campaign for the 2020 presidential election has not started yet, as we recently explained. However, campaigning against Trump already began months ago. Many forces are trying to keep Trump from winning the elections in 2020, but one of the most striking attempts to do so stem from representatives of the Republican Party itself. Examples are the Republican Voters Against Trump and The Lincoln Project, which were both founded with the explicit goal of preventing the reelection of Donald Trump. Founders of the Lincoln project even ran successful campaigns for Republican candidates before (like Bush senior and junior). The Lincoln Project has created a set of ads that have had a large number of views on social media (its founders are each reaching hundreds of thousands of social media followers with their own accounts) and are aired on conservative news channels such as Fox. For instance, its commercial called “Mourning in America,” riffing off Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” campaign, was aired in May during Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.

What does this mean?

The main reason why Trump faces this unprecedented opposition from his own party is that multiple famous Republicans consider him a danger – a threat to the Republican party, to the constitution, to the country. One of the arguments the campaign brings up is that Trump has proved to be unqualified to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting economic downturn. The goal is thus to convince just enough disaffected Republican voters that it is in the best interest of the nation – even of Republican voters – to support the Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The Lincoln Project aims to win over 3-5% of Republicans in certain states, to assure them that it is OK to change their mind. The Republican Voters Against Trump group has a different strategy. Instead of flashy and funny ads, it has collected hundreds of testimonials from 2016 Trump voters who are planning to vote for Biden in 2020 and airs them in swing states, trying to persuade with real, uncut voices. Interestingly, endorsements from individuals were also part of Obama’s strategy, and seem effective in persuading voters during a time when trust in conservative institutions or notable politicians is low – especially among Republican voters.

What’s next?

It remains to be seen whether these ads and testimonials are persuasive enough to get inside the heads of voters to affect the election. However, the Hillary Clinton defeat taught us how even small gains can mean the difference between a Republican and Democratic win. Furthermore, Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen has explained that the ads have already been successful at getting inside Trump’s head. The Lincoln Project ads garnered so much attention that Trump personally responded by tweeting and addressing the matter to reporters, which in turn has helped the campaign to gain attention and donations. As a result, the group has sufficient funds to better target Trump’s supporters in tight Senate races.