More than half of funding for the major parties remains secret — and this is how they want it


Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute, and Tom Crowley, Grattan Institute

Political parties in Australia collectively received $168 million in donations for the financial year 2019-20. Today, Australians finally get to see where some of the money came from with the release of data from the Australian Electoral Commission.

While the big donors will make the headlines, they are only the tip of the iceberg. More than half of the funding for political parties remains hidden from public view. And that is exactly how the major parties want it.

What does the data tell us?

The Coalition and Labor received more in donations than all other parties combined. The Coalition received 41% of all funds (or A$69 million), while Labor received 33% ($55 million). The Greens came a distant third at 11% ($19 million), bumping Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party out of the position it held during the 2019 election.

The largest 5% of donors accounted for half of declared donations. For the second year in a row, the largest individual declared donation was made by Palmer’s company Mineralogy, which gave $5.9 million to his own party.



The Coalition’s largest donor, Richard Pratt’s Pratt Holdings, donated $1.5 million. Other major donations to the Coalition included the Greenfields Foundation ($450,000), an investment company linked to the Liberal Party; and Transcendent Australia ($203,000), a company owned by Chinese businesswoman Sally Zou.

Unsurprisingly, many of Labor’s largest donors are unions, led by the “Shoppies” union (the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, or SDA), which donated almost $500,000. Labor also received large donations from fundraising vehicles associated with the party, including Labor Holdings Pty Ltd, which donated $910,000.




Read more:
Eight ways to clean up money in Australian politics


Other large donors are bipartisan givers. The Australian Hotels Association gave $154,000 to the Coalition and $271,000 to Labor. Woodside Energy gave $198,000 to the Coalition and $138,000 to Labor. The Macquarie Group (including Macquarie Telecom) gave $254,000 to the Coalition and $184,000 to Labor. ANZ continued its regular donations to both sides with $100,000 each.

Total donations were smaller than the previous year (an election year). But those who donate “off-cycle” can still have substantial influence, whether they are political devotees, or playing the “long game” of using donations to open doors and wield political influence.

But a lot of the money remains hidden from public view

Declared donations are only a fraction of the total money flowing to our political parties.

Out of $168 million in party funding, only $15 million of donations were declared (or just 9%). Another $59 million — around one-third — is public funding provided by electoral commissions.

The rest? A murky combination of undeclared donations and a messy bucket of funds called “other receipts”, which includes everything from investment income to money raised at political fundraising dinners. This chart shows the breakdown for the two major parties.



More than half of the Coalition’s private funding is undisclosed, and 40% of Labor’s funds. This rises to about 90% across both parties when other receipts are included.

The major parties want it this way

The Commonwealth donations disclosure regime is incredibly weak compared to almost all Australian states and most other advanced nations. Let’s be clear: this is a political choice backed in by the major parties.

In December, both major parties rejected a bill introduced by crossbench Senator Jacqui Lambie to improve transparency of political donations. It wasn’t revolutionary — the bill didn’t ban donors, or limit donations, or restrict what parties could do with donations. It simply proposed giving the public more and better information on the major donors, including:

  • requiring donations over $5,000 to be declared by the parties (the current threshold is $14,300)

  • stopping “donations splitting”, in which a major donor can hide by splitting a big donation into a series of small ones

  • making income from political fundraising events declarable

  • publishing data about donations within weeks (rather than the current eight to 19 months).

Yet, the bill was whitewashed. The committee rejected it on the basis that “there is already an effective regime in place”.

Our current system doesn’t have the balance right

The Commonwealth donations disclosure regime is supposed to provide transparency and to “inform the public about the financial dealings of political parties, candidates and others involved in the electoral process”. But it clearly does not deliver on this in its current form.

There is a balance to be drawn between the interests of donors in protecting their privacy and the interests of the public in knowing who funds and influences political parties.




Read more:
A full ban on political donations would level the playing field – but is it the best approach?


But it is very hard to see how the current system – which keeps the majority of private money out of public view and unnecessarily delays the release of all donation data – has got the balance right.

A good disclosure system would close the loopholes that allow major donors to hide, while protecting the privacy of small donors.

Australians consistently say that they are suspicious that politicians are corrupt and that governments serve themselves and their mates rather than the public interest. Perhaps they’re right. Today’s donations release reminds us of the shortfalls of a system designed for donor and party interests over the public interest.The Conversation

Kate Griffiths, Fellow, Grattan Institute; Danielle Wood, Chief executive officer, Grattan Institute, and Tom Crowley, Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Myanmar’s military reverts to its old strong-arm behaviour — and the country takes a major step backwards


Adam Simpson, University of South Australia and Nicholas Farrelly, University of Tasmania

Just before the newly elected members of Myanmar’s parliament were due to be sworn in today, the military detained the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi; the president, Win Myint; and other key figures from the elected ruling party, the National League for Democracy.

The military later announced it had taken control of the country for 12 months and declared a state of emergency. This is a coup d’etat, whether the military calls it that or not.

A disputed election and claims of fraud

In November, the NLD and Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in national elections, with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) faring poorly in its key strongholds.

Humiliated by the result, the USDP alleged the election was subject to widespread fraud. However, international observers, including the Carter Center, the Asian Network for Free Elections and the European Union’s Election Observation Mission, all declared the elections a success. The EU’s preliminary statement noted that 95% of observers had rated the process “good” or “very good”.




Read more:
Aung San Suu Kyi wins big in Myanmar’s elections, but will it bring peace — or restore her reputation abroad?


Reputable local organisations, such as the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE), agreed. These groups issued a joint statement on January 21 saying

the results of the elections were credible and reflected the will of the majority voters.

Yet, taking a page out of former US President Donald Trump’s book, the USDP pressed its claims of fraud despite the absence of any substantial evidence — a move designed to undermine the legitimacy of the elections.

Supporters of the Myanmar military protest the election results in Yangon last weekend.
Thein Zaw/AP

The military did not initially back the USDP’s claims, but it has gradually begun to provide the party with more support, with the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, General Min Aung Hlaing, refusing to rule out a coup last week.

The following day, the country’s election authorities broke weeks of silence and firmly rejected the USDP’s claims of widespread fraud — setting the stage for what Myanmar historian Thant Myint-U called

[Myanmar’s] most acute constitutional crisis since the abolition of the old junta in 2010.

Tensions have been running high ahead of this week’s opening of Myanmar’s parliament, with roadblocks set up in the capital.
Aung Shine Oo/AP

The civilian-military power-sharing arrangement

It is difficult to see how the military will benefit from today’s actions, since the power-sharing arrangement it had struck with the NLD under the 2008 constitution had already allowed it to expand its influence and economic interests in the country.

The military had previously ruled Myanmar for half a century after General Ne Win launched a coup in 1962. A so-called internal “self-coup” in 1988 brought a new batch of military generals to power. That junta, led by Senior General Than Shwe, allowed elections in 1990 that were won in a landslide by Suu Kyi’s party. The military leaders, however, refused to acknowledge the results.

In 2008, a new constitution was drawn up by the junta which reserved 25% of the national parliament seats for the military and allowed it to appoint the ministers of defence, border affairs and home affairs, as well as a vice president. Elections in 2010 were boycotted by the NLD, but the party won a resounding victory in the next elections in 2015.




Read more:
Ethical minefields: the dirty business of doing deals with Myanmar’s military


Since early 2016, Suu Kyi has been de facto leader of Myanmar, even though there is still no civilian oversight of the military. Until this past week, the relationship between civilian and military authorities was tense at times, but overall largely cordial. It was based on a mutual recognition of overlapping interests in key areas of national policy.

Indeed, this power-sharing arrangement has been extremely comfortable for the military, as it has had full autonomy over security matters and maintained lucrative economic interests.

The partnership allowed the military’s “clearance operations” in Rakhine State in 2017 that resulted in the exodus of 740,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh.

In the wake of that pogrom, Suu Kyi vigorously defended both the country and its military at the International Court of Justice. Myanmar’s global reputation — and Suu Kyi’s once-esteemed personal standing — suffered deeply and never recovered.

Nonetheless, there was one key point of contention between the NLD and military: the constitutional prohibitions that made it impossible for Suu Kyi to officially take the presidency. Some NLD figures have also voiced deep concerns about the permanent role claimed by the armed forces as an arbiter of all legal and constitutional matters in the country.

A backwards step for Myanmar

Regardless of how events unfold this week and beyond, Myanmar’s fragile democracy has been severely undermined by the military’s actions.

The NLD government has certainly had its shortcomings, but a military coup is a significant backwards step for Myanmar — and is bad news for democracy in the region.

It’s difficult to see this action as anything other than a way for General Min Aung Hlaing to retain his prominent position in national politics, given he is mandated to retire this year when he turns 65. With the poor electoral performance of the USDP, there are no other conceivable political routes to power, such as through the presidency.

A coup will be counterproductive for the military in many ways. Governments around the world will likely now apply or extend sanctions on members of the military. Indeed, the US has released a statement saying it would “take action” against those responsible. Foreign investment in the country — except perhaps from China — is also likely to plummet.

As Myanmar’s people have already enjoyed a decade of increased political freedoms, they are also likely to be uncooperative subjects as military rule is re-imposed.

The 2020 general election demonstrated, once again, the distaste in Myanmar for the political role of the armed forces and the enduring popularity of Suu Kyi. Her detention undermines the fragile coalition that was steering Myanmar through a perilous period, and could prove a messy end to the profitable détente between civilian and military forces.The Conversation

Adam Simpson, Senior Lecturer, University of South Australia and Nicholas Farrelly, Professor and Head of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Polls say Labor and Coalition in a 50-50 tie, Trump set to be acquitted by US Senate


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The first Newspoll of 2021 has the major parties tied at 50-50 on two-party preferred, a one-point gain for Labor since the final 2020 Newspoll in late November. The poll was conducted January 27-30 from a sample of 1,512 people.

Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one point), 36% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (up one).

63% were satisfied with PM Scott Morrison’s performance (down three) and 33% were dissatisfied (up three), for a net approval of +30 points. While this is still very high, analyst Kevin Bonham says it is Morrison’s lowest net approval since April.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese had a net approval of -2, down five points. Morrison led Albanese by 57-29 as better prime minister (60-28 in November).

While much commentary has written off Labor for the next election, a source of hope for the opposition is that while the Coalition has usually been ahead since the COVID crisis began, the two-party-preferred margin has been close.




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Morrison’s great approval ratings have not translated into big leads for the Coalition. It is plausible that by the middle of this year COVID will not be a major threat owing to a global vaccination program.

A return to a focus on normal issues could assist Labor in undermining Morrison’s ratings and the Coalition’s slender lead on voting intentions.

Albanese has come under attack from the left owing to Thursday’s reshuffle in which Chris Bowen took the climate change portfolio from Mark Butler.

But the Greens lost a point in Newspoll rather than gaining. With the focus on COVID, climate change appears to have lost salience.

On Australia Day and climate change

In an Ipsos poll for Nine newspapers, taken before January 25 from a sample of 1,220 people, 48% disagreed with changing Australia Day from January 26, while 28% agreed.

But by 49-41 voters thought it likely Australia Day would be changed within the next ten years.

In a Morgan SMS poll, conducted January 25 from a sample of 1,236 people, 59% thought January 26 should be known as Australia Day, while 41% thought it should be known as Invasion Day.

In an Essential poll conducted in mid-January, 42% (down 20 since January 2020) thought Australia was not doing enough to address climate change, 35% (up 16) thought we were doing enough and 10% (up two) thought we were doing too much.




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But there was a slight increase in those thinking climate change was caused by human activity (58%, up two since January 2020), while 32% (steady) thought we are just witnessing a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate.

Trump set to be acquitted in impeachment trial

I related on January 20 that Donald Trump was impeached by the US House of Representatives over his role in inciting the January 6 riots with his baseless claims of election fraud.

Donald Trump boarding a helicopter as he leaves the White House.
Donald Trump departs the White House.
Alex Brandon/AP/AAP

The Senate is tied at 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving Democrats the majority with her casting vote. But it requires a two-thirds majority to convict a president, so 17 Republicans would need to join the Democrats for conviction.

On January 26, a vote was called on whether it was constitutional to try a former president. The Senate ruled it constitutional by 55-45, but just five Republicans joined all Democrats.

That is far short of the 17 required to convict, so Trump is set to be acquitted at the Senate trial that begins February 8.

Only ten of over 200 House Republicans supported impeachment. It is clear the vast majority of Congressional Republicans consider it more important to keep the Trump supporters happy than to hold Trump accountable for the rioters that attacked Congress.

In a late January Monmouth University poll, 56% approved of the House impeaching Trump while 42% disapproved. When asked whether the Senate should convict, support dropped to 52-44.




Read more:
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FiveThirtyEight has started an aggregate of polls to track new President Joe Biden’s ratings. His current ratings are 54.3% approve and 34.6% disapprove for a net approval of +19.7 points.

While Biden’s ratings are better than Trump’s at any stage of his presidency, they are worse on net approval than all presidents prior to Trump this early in their terms.

Prior to Trump, presidents were given a honeymoon even by opposition party supporters, but it is unlikely the 30% or so who believe Biden’s win illegitimate will ever approve of him.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Liberal right-winger Kevin Andrews defeated in preselection by Afghanistan veteran


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Right-wing Liberal backbencher Kevin Andrews – the father of the House of Representatives – has lost preselection to a barrister and former special forces veteran who served in Afghanistan.

Keith Wolahan, 43, defeated Andrews, 65, who held a number of portfolios in the Howard and Abbott governments, by 181 to 111 for the blue ribbon Victorian seat of Menzies, which Andrews has occupied since he won it at a byelection in 1991.

This was the first time in decades that a federal member has lost a preselection ballot in Victoria.

His defeat is a blow for the Liberal conservatives, who campaigned hard to shore him up, and will hearten the local Liberal critics of outspoken NSW right-winger Craig Kelly, who has been a thorn in the government’s side over COVID and a hardliner on climate issues.

Kelly confirmed to The Conversation on Sunday night that he was seeking another term and was “absolutely confident” he would have Scott Morrison’s support and that of “all my colleagues”.

Andrews has been a strongly conservative voice on issues ranging from euthanasia and abortion to climate change, and also a player in leadership battles. His last ministerial post was in the defence portfolio in the Abbott government, a job he lost when Malcolm Turnbull became leader.

In the Howard years Andrews introduced the private member’s bill that quashed the Northern Territory’s euthanasia law.

Andrews had endorsements from Morrison, John Howard and Tony Abbott, as well as from a raft of ministerial colleagues, including the deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg. In his letter of endorsement Morrison wrote that Andrews “provides wise counsel to ministers and colleagues, including myself”.

But the result shows that high profile endorsements don’t always impress locals – the Menzies preselectors responded to the call for renewal at the centre of Wolahan’s campaign. It is an embarrassment particularly for Assistant Treasurer and Victorian conservative faction leader Michael Sukkar.

Wolahan has a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Cambridge, as well as degrees from Monash and Melbourne universities. He was an army reserve commando – he did not serve in the regular army.

He said after the result: “Today was a vote by the members for the future”.

Frydenberg said: “Today the Liberal Party in the seat of Menzies has started a new chapter”.

Before the ballot Liberal sources had predicted a close result that could go either way – the size of the margin was a surprise.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Albanese throws a bone to Labor’s Right, but Joel Fitzgibbon remains off the leash



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mark Kenny, Australian National University

Anthony Albanese’s sudden change of heart, swapping out Labor’s climate spokesman Mark Butler in favour of the more conservative Chris Bowen, can be read in two ways.

First, as a shrewd chess move: one that sharpens the economic arguments in favour of green jobs, boxes in Bowen’s Right faction behind existing climate ambition, and perhaps constrains Bowen as a potential leadership aspirant.

Alternatively, critics could view Albanese’s decision as more self-serving — the manoeuvring of an opposition leader desperate to shore up his defences.

The NSW Right’s outspoken convener Joel Fitzgibbon had made unusually public attacks on the Left-aligned Butler. Albanese will have a job of convincing people he has not blinked under pressure, throwing an ally under a bus.

That perception could, in turn, be dangerous. It may even trigger existential discussions on his leadership. Not merely because of the loyalty questions it invites, but because of the policy implications in an area of chronic political miscalculation.

Anthony Albanese, left, and Mark Butler
Mark Butler, right, is a factional ally of Albanese’s.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Judging by his behaviour, Fitzgibbon surrendered his frontbench spot last year to free his arms for the move against Butler, and by proxy, the campaign against Albanese’s leadership.

The Hunter-based MP is trenchantly pro-coal and anti-progressive. He’s made no secret of his antipathy for green-tinged inner-city politics, which he believes has alienated the party’s industrial origins.

Fitzgibbon blames Labor’s obsession with climate change for everything from the 2019 election failure – where it pledged a 45% emissions cut by 2030 – to the party’s dwindling purchase in the outer suburbs and regions.

Albanese’s position, like all opposition leaders, relies on a mixture of support: in his case, a foundation of Left MPs and the crucial backing of key NSW and some Victorian Right figures. Unsurprisingly, these supporters were the main beneficiaries of the reshuffle.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Albanese’s reshuffle sharpens focus on ‘jobs’ but talk about his own job will continue


Deputy leader Richard Marles gets a super-portfolio combining national reconstruction, employment, skills, small business and science. Another Victorian Right figure, Clare O’Neill, gets a frontbench promotion as spokeswoman for senior Australians and aged care services – assisting the relocated Butler in health and ageing.

And Ed Husic, also an influential player in the NSW Right, is elevated to shadow cabinet in industry and innovation.

Taken separately, these moves may be justified. Together, however, they might also hint at Albanese’s vulnerability, given his own Left faction’s minority position.

Joel Fitzgibbon
Joel Fitzgibbon is trenchantly pro-coal and anti-progressive.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The bigger concern for progressives in the short-term will be what these personnel changes amount to in policy terms, if anything.

Does Albanese intend to scale back Labor’s climate ambitions? Fitzgibbon has explicitly called on his party to ditch interim targets entirely, and simply adopt the government’s goal of 26% emissions reduction by 2030.

During the 2019 election, then leader Bill Shorten struggled to quantify the negative impact on economic growth arising from Labor’s proposed 45% cut in emissions.

It was a strategic vulnerability on which Prime Minister Scott Morrison capitalised. He argued relentlessly that Labor’s formula would cost Australian jobs and send household and business electricity prices soaring.




Read more:
Labor’s climate policy is too little, too late. We must run faster to win the race


Albanese’s decision to defer interim targets until closer to the next election had already invited doubts about whether Labor is truly committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Butler’s removal is likely to exacerbate those doubts.

The hold-fire approach leaves Labor’s left flank exposed to the Greens’ claims it is equivocating on climate action, just as the rest of the world finds new resolve.

As Albanese put the final touches on his reshuffle, the Climate Targets Panel of scientists and economists released a chastening report. It showed Australia would need to slash emissions by 50% by 2030, and achieve zero emissions by 2045 (rather than 2050) to be in line with the Paris commitment of keeping global warming inside 2℃.

Freshly installed US president Joe Biden has used a series of executive orders to accelerate US restructuring. He hopes to spur global momentum for climate action, calling on developed economies to rapidly increase their commitments.

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden will call for developed economies to act on climate change.
Evan Vucci/AP

Albanese, however, denies any diminution. He maintains that Bowen, a former treasurer, is better placed to reframe climate policy in more starkly economic terms, stressing the opportunities for new green jobs against the risks cited by the Coalition.

This may well be sound. Bowen’s established economic standing could allow a “green jobs of the future” rebranding of Labor’s emissions approach.

That would be a breakthrough, given the widening divide between Labor’s professional and blue-collar constituencies, and claims by Fitzgibbon and others on the party’s Right that it has abandoned regional workers through its green emphasis.

There’s little doubt that, as an experienced minister, Bowen has the skills and the policy depth for the job.

But there’s a judgement question. His role in the 2019 election loss – chief advocate of an unwieldy suite of adventurous tax proposals – was arguably more central to Labor’s shock defeat than any perceived overreach on climate.

Not finished yet, Fitzgibbon has described Butler’s removal as a good start but called for further policy change.

Fitzgibbon’s Right-aligned parliamentary colleagues seemed willing to accept his public undermining of Butler. It will be interesting to see whether they allow the same treatment of Bowen.




Read more:
Biden’s Senate majority doesn’t just super-charge US climate action, it blazes a trail for Australia


The Conversation


Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Embattled Albanese uses reshuffle for a political reset



AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Anthony Albanese will attempt a political reset to shore up his leadership with a major frontbench reshuffle, shifting climate and energy spokesman Mark Butler and bringing shadow defence minister Richard Marles into a more frontline portfolio.

Butler’s job will go to Chris Bowen, from the right, currently health spokesman, as Albanese faces the challenge of forging a climate policy that straddles Labor’s dual suburban/ regional and progressive constituencies.

Until recently, sources close to Albanese have said the reshuffle would be minor. But Albanese starts 2021 facing widespread criticism from within the party as well as from commentators, and the imminent reshuffle has presented an opportunity to get more vigour into Labor’s performance.

He told the ABC on Wednesday the reshuffle “will achieve a stronger team going forward with the right people in the right jobs. And it will be, I think, a positive move”.

Butler, from the left and personally close to Albanese, held the climate portfolio under Bill Shorten and is strongly identified with the policy that Labor took to the election. He has resisted calls to water it down.

Faced with public urging from former frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon to move Butler, Albanese last year refused to do so.

Shifting Butler will facilitate reshaping the policy, which Albanese has started to do, and send a signal about a more pragmatic position. But it could also lead to a backlash from progressive supporters and give the Greens room to score points.

Butler will become spokesman for health and ageing. This will ensure he is to the fore in the next few months, with the release of the royal commission report that will be highly critical of the aged care system.

He is a former minister for ageing and has written a book on the area, titled Advanced Australia: the Politics of Ageing.

Butler said in a statement: “The job of every frontbencher is to serve in the portfolio allocated by their leader. That’s always been my position under the four leaders I’ve had the privilege of serving under”.

As expected, Ed Husic, who joined the frontbench as resources spokesman when Fitzgibbon moved to the backbench late last year, will go to another post.

There is speculation Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong might move from foreign affairs.

UPDATE

Here is the new shadow ministry line up, which Anthony Albanese announced on Thursday.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump’s time is up, but his Twitter legacy lives on in the global spread of QAnon conspiracy theories



http://www.shutterstock.com

Verica Rupar, Auckland University of Technology and Tom De Smedt, University of Antwerp

“The lie outlasts the liar,” writes historian Timothy Snyder, referring to outgoing president Donald Trump and his contribution to the “post-truth” era in the US.

Indeed, the mass rejection of reason that erupted in a political mob storming Capitol Hill mere weeks before the inauguration of Joe Biden tests our ability to comprehend contemporary American politics and its emerging forms of extremism.

Much has been written about Trump’s role in spreading misinformation and the media failures that enabled him. His contribution to fuelling extremism, flirting with the political fringe, supporting conspiracy theories and, most of all, Twitter demagogy created an environment in which he has been seen as an “accelerant” in his own right.

If the scale of international damage is yet to be calculated, there is something we can measure right now.

In September last year, the London-based Media Diversity Institute (MDI) asked us to design a research project that would systematically track the extent to which US-originated conspiracy theory group QAnon had spread to Europe.

Titled QAnon 2: spreading conspiracy theories on Twitter, the research is part of the international Get the Trolls Out! (GTTO) project, focusing on religious discrimination and intolerance.

Twitter and the rise of QAnon

GTTO media monitors had earlier noted the rise of QAnon support among Twitter users in Europe and were expecting a further surge of derogatory talk ahead of the 2020 US presidential election.

We examined the role religion played in spreading conspiracy theories, the most common topics of tweets, and what social groups were most active in spreading QAnon ideas.

We focused on Twitter because its increasing use — some sources estimate 330 million people used Twitter monthly in 2020 — has made it a powerful political communication tool. It has given politicians such as Trump the opportunity to promote, facilitate and mobilise social groups on an unprecedented scale.




Read more:
QAnon and the storm of the U.S. Capitol: The offline effect of online conspiracy theories


Using AI tools developed by data company Textgain, we analysed about half-a-million Twitter messages related to QAnon to identify major trends.

By observing how hashtags were combined in messages, we examined the network structure of QAnon users posting in English, German, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish. Researchers identified about 3,000 different hashtags related to QAnon used by 1,250 Twitter profiles.

Protestors with flag showing US flag and QAnon logo
Making the connection: demonstrators in Berlin in 2020 display QAnon and US imagery.
http://www.shutterstock.com

An American export

Every fourth QAnon tweet originated in the US (300). Far behind were tweets from other countries: Canada (30), Germany (25), Australia (20), the United Kingdom (20), the Netherlands (15), France (15), Italy (10), Spain (10) and others.

We examined QAnon profiles that share each other’s content, Trump tweets and YouTube videos, and found over 90% of these profiles shared the content of at least one other identified profile.

Seven main topics were identified: support for Trump, support for EU-based nationalism, support for QAnon, deep state conspiracies, coronavirus conspiracies, religious conspiracies and political extremism.




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Far-right activists on social media telegraphed violence weeks in advance of the attack on the US Capitol


Hashtags rooted in US evangelicalism sometimes portrayed Trump as Jesus, as a superhero, or clad in medieval armour, with underlying Biblical references to a coming apocalypse in which he will defeat the forces of evil.

Overall, the coronavirus pandemic appears to function as an important conduit for all such messaging, with QAnon acting as a rallying flag for discontent among far-right European movements.

Measuring the toxicity of tweets

We used Textgain’s hate-speech detection tools to assess toxicity. Tweets written in English had a high level of antisemitism. In particular, they targeted public figures such as Jewish-American billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, or revived old conspiracies about secret Jewish plots for world domination. Soros was also a popular target in other languages.

We also found a highly polarised debate around the coronavirus public health measures employed in Germany, often using Third Reich rhetoric.

New language to express negative sentiments was coined and then adopted by others — in particular, pejorative terms for face masks and slurs directed at political leaders and others who wore masks.

Accompanying memes ridiculed political leaders, displaying them as alien reptilian overlords or antagonists from popular movies, such as Star Wars Sith Lords and the cyborg from The Terminator.

Most of the QAnon profiles tap into the same sources of information: Trump tweets, YouTube disinformation videos and each other’s tweets. It forms a mutually reinforcing confirmation bias — the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information that confirms prior beliefs or values.




Read more:
Despite being permanently banned, Trump’s prolific Twitter record lives on


Where does it end?

Harvesting discontent has always been a powerful political tool. In a digital world this is more true than ever.

By mid 2020, Donald Trump had six times more followers on Twitter than when he was elected. Until he was suspended from the platform, his daily barrage of tweets found a ready audience in ultra-right groups in the US who helped his misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric jump the Atlantic to Europe.

Social media platforms have since attempted to reduce the spread of QAnon. In July 2020, Twitter suspended 7,000 QAnon-related accounts. In August, Facebook deleted over 790 groups and restricted the accounts of hundreds of others, along with thousands of Instagram accounts.




Read more:
Trump’s Twitter feed shows ‘arc of the hero,’ from savior to showdown


In January this year, all Trump’s social media accounts were either banned or restricted. Twitter suspended 70,000 accounts that share QAnon content at scale.

But further Textgain analysis of 50,000 QAnon tweets posted in December and January showed toxicity had almost doubled, including 750 tweets inciting political violence and 500 inciting violence against Jewish people.

Those tweets were being systematically removed by Twitter. But calls for violence ahead of the January 20 inauguration continued to proliferate, Trump’s QAnon supporters appearing as committed and vocal as ever.

The challenge for both the Biden administration and the social media platforms themselves is clear. But our analysis suggests any solution will require a coordinated international effort.The Conversation

Verica Rupar, Professor, Auckland University of Technology and Tom De Smedt, Postdoctoral research associate, University of Antwerp

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After riots, Donald Trump leaves office with under 40% approval



AAP/EPA/ Yuri Gripas /pool

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At 4am Thursday AEDT, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated as president and vice president of the United States, replacing Donald Trump and Mike Pence. What follows is a discussion of US political events over the past two weeks.

On January 5, Democrats won the two Georgia Senate runoffs. Raphael Warnock (D) defeated Kelly Loeffler (R) by 2.0%, and Jon Ossoff (D) defeated David Perdue (R) by 1.2%.

After November’s elections, Republicans held a 50-48 Senate lead, so these results enabled Democrats to tie the Senate at 50-50, with Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote. Democrats gained a net three Senate seats from the pre-November Senate.

On January 6, pro-Trump rioters stormed Congress as it met to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory. The rioters were clearly influenced by Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. Despite the riots and the courts’ resounding rejections of Trump’s claims, two state certifications were contested: Pennsylvania, which Biden won by 1.2% and Arizona (Biden by 0.3%).

Seven Republican senators out of 51 objected to Pennsylvania’s certification, as did 138 Republicans in the House of Representatives, with smaller numbers objecting to Arizona. The House objectors included House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.

Just 64 House Republicans opposed the objection, so of those who cast a Yes/No vote on objecting to Pennsylvania, 68% supported the objection. Democrats were unanimously opposed.

It is not just Trump or the rioters, but also these Republicans in Congress who objected to the certifications on baseless election fraud claims who deserve to be condemned for anti-democratic behaviour.

I had two articles for The Poll Bludger about Georgia and the anti-democratic nuttiness of Trump and Republicans. The first was a preview, while the second was a live blog on the Georgia results and the events in Congress the next day.

In response to the riots, on January 13 the Democrat-controlled House impeached Trump for the second time by a 232-197 margin. All Democrats and ten Republicans supported impeachment. It requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict. Trump’s Senate trial will not start until after he leaves office.

Since the riots, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have blocked Trump’s accounts. But for two months after the election result was called by the media, Trump was able to use his Twitter account to rant that the election was stolen from him.

It is not surprising Trump’s supporters believe him: in a recent poll for the US ABC News and the Washington Post, over 70% of Republicans do not believe Biden was legitimately elected.

In the wake of the riots, Trump’s ratings have slumped. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, 38.5% approve of Trump’s performance and 57.9% disapprove, for a net approval of -19.4%. His net approval has dropped nine points since the riots. Trump’s net approval is his worst since December 2017.

FiveThirtyEight has charts of presidential approval since Harry Truman (president from 1945-53). Two previous presidents (Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy) did not reach Trump’s four years as president. Of those who had at least four years, Trump’s final net approval is worse than all except Jimmy Carter at this point in their terms.

In a Marist poll, 47% thought Trump would be remembered as one of the worst presidents, while 16% thought he would be remembered as one of the best.

Detailed US election report

After results are finalised, I have published a detailed report on every US presidential election since 2008. My 2008 and 2012 reports are at The Green Papers here and here, and my 2016 report is at The Conversation. My 2016 report had a massive surge in views in October and November last year.

My 2020 election report, published December 11, is at The Poll Bludger. Here are the highlights:

  • Biden won the Electoral College by 306 to 232, but he only won the tipping-point state (Wisconsin) by 0.6%. The tipping-point state is the state that puts the winning candidate over the magic 270 Electoral Votes needed to win.

  • Biden won the national popular vote by 4.5% or just over 7 million votes. So the tipping-point state was 3.9% more pro-Trump than the popular vote.

  • Trump’s vote held up well with the non-University educated whites who had given him his upset 2016 win. Biden owed his Electoral College victory to gains in the suburbs, where there is a higher amount of university education.

  • Trump improved greatly from 2016 with Hispanics, leading to large swings in his favour in diverse places like Miami-Dade county, Florida and New York City.

  • There was disappointment for Democrats relative to expectations in Congressional races, although the Georgia runoff results have improved this.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Biden’s economic centrism isn’t exciting, but right for these divisive times


Evan Vucci/AP

Richard Holden, UNSW

In an age of hyperpartisan politics, the Biden presidency offers a welcome centrism that might help bridge the divides.

But it is also Biden’s economic centrism that offers a chance to cut through what has become an increasingly polarised approach to economic policy.

On the Republican side of politics, there is strong support for neoliberal economic policies – that is, economic policies that don’t just emphasise the importance of markets but represent a kind of free-market fanaticism. Ronald Reagan aptly expressed this view in his 1981 inaugural speech, in which he said “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”.

On the Democratic side, the centrism of the Bill Clinton era (1993- 2001) has given way to much more left-wing policies. Indeed the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been in the ascendancy for several years.

If you have any doubt about this, consider two facts.

First, Sanders came very close to being the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2016. Second, the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries were dominated by candidates with similar views – such as Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party presidential primary debate held on February 7 2020.
Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party presidential primary debate held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on February 7 2020.
Elise Amendola/AP

Biden, of course, ran on a much more centrist economic platform.

This was perhaps best captured by his approach to health care – seeking to build on Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) and insure more people, rather than adopt the “Medicare for All” policy advocated by Sanders and Warren.

In a whole range of areas Biden and his nominees for important cabinet posts have signalled the new administration’s economic policies will be responsive to the demands of the left but still be sensitive to the concerns of the right.




Read more:
Who’s who in Joe Biden’s cabinet


Big spending, but within limits

One of the most important things the administration will do in its early days is to orchestrate a large spending package to help deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

This will include spending on the vaccine roll-out, helping schools reopen, extending unemployment insurance and cheques to households.

So the spending package is likely to be huge. But the administration is not going to spend with complete abandon and without acknowledging constraints.

As Biden’s pick for Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, said in her confirmation hearing:

Neither the president elect, nor I, proposed this release relief package without an appreciation for the country’s debt burden. But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big. In the long run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who’ve been struggling for a very long time.




Read more:
Vital Signs: Janet Yellen, the very model of a modern Madam Secretary


Treading cautiously on health care

Sanders and others’ “Medicare for All” plan involves single-payer (i.e. the government) universal coverage and ending private health insurance. This would be similar to the approach in Scandinavia, Canada and Britain.

Biden has strongly resisted this on two fronts.

One, it would be incredibly expensive, costing US$30-40 trillion over a decade. Two, it would involve more than 150 million Americans losing their current insurance.

Instead, Biden wants to expand the Affordable Care Act with more incentives to push towards truly universal coverage. This is something Mitt Romney (the Republicans’ 2012 presidential candidate) might easily have proposed. Don’t forget that as governor of Massachusetts (from 2003 to 2007) he enacted a plan almost identical the Affordable Care Act – an idea championed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

US President Joe Biden swears in political appointees in a virtual ceremony on January 20 2021.
US President Joe Biden swears in political appointees in a virtual ceremony on January 20 2021.
Evan Vucci/AP

Likewise with tax reform

Biden’s tax plan certainly involves raising taxes but not to anywhere near the levels called for by the democratic socialist wing of his party. Nor will he embrace a wealth tax like Warren championed. Under her plan, people with assets of more than US$50 million would be taxed 2% of that amount a year (and 3% for more than US$1 billion).

But he does plan to raise the top income tax rate (on income more than US$400,000) from 37% to 39.6%. He will raise the flat 21% corporate tax rate introduced by Trump to 28%.

US companies will need to pay a minimum tax of 21% on foreign income – addressing the issue of companies avoiding taxes through legal set-ups in low-tax overseas jurisdictions (such as Apple in Ireland).

Biden will even introduce a tax penalty on companies that move jobs overseas if their products are sold in the US.

This is not a package any Republican administration would be likely to introduce. On the other hand, it falls dramatically short of what Sanders, Warren and Ocasio-Cortez want.

Responsive but responsible

The Biden economic plan is responsive to the current – almost shocking – state of the US economy. His health care and tax policies are sensitive to concerns about inequality.




Read more:
Joe Biden sends a clear message to the watching world – America’s back


His approach acknowledges, rightly, that with interest rates at historic lows there is room for considerably more spending than in the past, despite already huge deficits. But it also acknowledges there are limits to what the government can or should do.

In that sense it is something even conservative Republicans ought to be able to live with – and common ground is something the US desperately needs to find.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.