Adapting the ITN framework for political interventions & analysis of political polarisation

by OlafvdVeen1 min read27th Apr 20205 comments

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Political Polarization
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As a student attaining their Bachelor's in political science, I have in my thesis tried to bridge some of the gaps between political science and EA that critics often allude to, focusing on how to best adapt the ITN framework to political interventions and highlighting political polarisation as a potential topic of interest. I submitted this last month and thought it would be worthwhile to share with you all. Looking forward to your thoughts and feedback!


Thesis: https://drive.google.com/file/d/179yTM3BhF2zPMnHh3iOjpvooqFG3DJ8S/view?usp=sharing


Abstract:

This paper builds on approaches from political science and cause prioritisation to create a framework that can effectively compare solutions to different political institutions, arguing that these solutions have tended to be undervalued in cause prioritisation. It will show that frameworks from cause prioritisation can effectively be adapted to the political context by changing measurements and adding categories that can be excluded in non-political contexts. Then, this framework will be applied to compare solutions to political polarisation, or the increase of ideological and emotional cleavages around political issues in both the public and the political elite. This paper concludes that the most effective solution to political polarisation depends on context, but that increasing intergroup contact through citizens’ assemblies appears to be the most generally promising solution reviewed.

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Great work, thanks for sharing! It's great to see this getting more attention in EA.

Just for those deciding whether to read the full thesis: it analyses four possible interventions to reduce polarisation: (1) switching from FPTP to proportional representation, (2) making voting compulsory, (3) increasing the presence of public service broadcasting, and (4) creating deliberative citizen's assemblies. Olaf's takeaway (as far as I understand it) is that those interventions seem compelling and fairly tractable but the evidence of possible impacts is often not very strong.

Thanks Tobias, that's helpful.

Thanks for this Olaf, good work! I think improving institutions is a good intervention and is probably good to have in portfolio of measures to improve longterm. As well as this I think EA public discussion is overly focused on the question on what to do with an amount of money, not with a set amount of political influence, campaigning time. Though GPI and FHI seem to do some amount of govt advising.

From a UK perspective

1) Though changing voting systems seems good would change the likely outcome elections, (more PR systems tend to favour more left parties) so would likely only be supported by parties it would benefit. This has impact even if it went to a referendum, as the alternative vote in the UK was not a PR system, and the government strongly against it which contributed to their loss.

2) Increasing voter turnout also seems quite good. Compulsory voting seems not to be talked about much in the UK, though plausibly could be supported by public(55% in 2015 yougov poll https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2015/04/09/majority-support-compulsory-voting ), such as automatic registration (10.1016/j.electstud.2016.03.005) , increasing opening hours of polling stations (doi:10.1007/s11558-018-9305-8) or decrease voter age to 16 (10.1016/j.electstud.2012.01.007)

3) The public broadcaster BBC has had its funding cut, and more funding cuts look likely. This as well as decreasing quality, allowing less investigative journalism, will make less independent. This is because as funding is cut new organisations have to depend on outside sources of information, which is mostly legacy print media which is non-partisan in the UK.

As well 'revolving doors' exist in public service broadcasting, where many journalists and editors gain positions in government. This gives disincentive to criticise the government.

In terms of how to improve this above securing funding for BBC. Independent (in terms of funding not political positions) media organisations that are readership funded, the economist, novora media come to mind, though doubt this would be very cost effective.

From first principles I expect that improving institutions by decreasing partisanship, to be very hard. Any measure will negatively impact one side, there are a lot of people trying to change the needle either way. So I also doubt that each of the measures you proposed had as little variability in how easy it would be to implement. Likely institutional changes that do not favour one political side over the other may be more feasible at least in short term, such as political ombudsman etc. I suspect that reviewing changes to attitude towards low risks in civil service, is valuable, and seems reasonable especially post covid. Though I dont have anything groundbreaking to add, on how to do this, likely easier to see what to change if you have worked in these positions, lots of tacit knowledge. Which is why I suspect that APPG (cross party MP working group, that has outside advisors) is likely to more effective than think tank work in this area. Though it seems acceptable to have more researchers for think tank than APPG is my impression.

Looks interesting, though it's pretty long, whereas the abstract is very brief and not too informative. You might get more input if you write a summary roughly the length of a standard EA Forum post.

I thought about it, but decided that the difference in input if I rewrote it would not outweigh the amount of effort required to write the summary. I hope interested people will be able to read the sections that interest them in this format, but if this ends up being a larger concern then I may reconsider if I want to write that summary.