Sep 15, 2014 7:00 am

In its peaceful nature and uncertain outcome, Scotland’s independence vote stands out

indepedenceThis week’s referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom appears to be a lot closer than many observers had expected. That, and the fact that the Sept. 18 vote is taking place in a context free of war, chaos or political violence, makes it stand out from most of the three dozen or so other officially sanctioned independence referendums in the post-World War II era.

The spectacle of the hotly contested Scottish referendum made us wonder how it compared with other similar votes over the years. After consulting several sources — from contemporary news sources to the Library of Congress’ “Country Studies” series of backgrounders –one thing we learned was that there haven’t been all that many referendums comparable to the Scottish vote. (Our analysis extended only to officially recognized independence referendums among the 193 United Nations members or their former colonial possessions; unofficial votes and votes in non-member states and territories of disputed sovereignty weren’t examined.)

During the great era of decolonization that followed the end of the war, only a handful of nations achieved independence via a popular vote. The west African nation of Guinea represents one such instance: In 1958, France held referendums in its colonies on whether to approve the new Fifth Republic constitution, which also established a French Community to replace the decaying empire. Guinea was the only territory where voters rejected the constitution, 95.2% to 4.8%, in favor of immediate independence. (The French Community, however, didn’t last very long, with most of its members withdrawing in the early 1960s.) Bahrain became independent in 1971 following not a referendum, but a United Nations survey that concluded “the overwhelming majority” of Bahrainis favored it.

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Topics: World Elections

Sep 10, 2014 7:00 am

Indians among most likely in the world to see extremist groups as ‘major threat’

Islamic Extremists As Threat to CountryAlthough India is home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population, al-Qaeda has so far had only a limited presence in the country. But last week, India’s intelligence agencies reportedly were put on high alert after the terrorist group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a video announcing the establishment of a new al-Qaeda branch on the Indian subcontinent and warning of additional jihadist activity in the region.

Al-Zawahiri also warned that al-Qaeda will be ramping up its efforts to recruit and train Indian Muslims to fight for the group. Al-Qaeda may hope to exploit the sometimes tense relationship between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority, which makes up 14% of the country’s population of 1.2 billion, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center estimate. In his video, al-Zawahiri specifically addresses Muslims residing in the Indian state of Gujarat, which in 2002 was the site of the worst religious riots since the partition of the subcontinent.

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Topics: Hindus and Hinduism, Muslims and Islam, Religious Extremism, Terrorism

Sep 9, 2014 10:00 am

The countries most optimistic and pessimistic about their economic future

Six years after the onset of the Great Recession, amid an uneven global economic recovery, people around the world remain wary about their economic prospects. A median of 46% across 44 countries surveyed in spring 2014 by the Pew Research Center expect their economy to improve. An equal proportion say conditions will remain the same (26%) or worsen (20%).

The public is upbeat in a handful of nations and particularly pessimistic in a number of others. These expectations are generally in line with economists’ predictions, but not always.  Read More

Topics: World Economies

Sep 9, 2014 7:00 am

The divide over ordaining women

The recent election of the Rev. Amy Butler as senior pastor of New York City’s influential and historic Riverside Church, as well as the installation of a number of other women at high-profile American congregations, has brought new attention to the theological divide among religious groups concerning the ordination of women.

where women can lead churches, ministriesWhile many major religious  denominations in the United States now allow women to pastor churches and synagogues, only 11% of American congregations were led by women in 2012, according to press reports of an upcoming National Congregations Study survey. That figure hasn’t changed since 1998. Many of the nation’s largest denominations, including Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, Mormons (Latter-day Saints), and the Orthodox Church in America, do not ordain women or allow them to lead congregations.

Other religious groups have taken small steps in the direction of female ordination. For instance, while there currently are no women in the U.S. serving as Orthodox Jewish rabbis, a number of women recently were ordained by one Orthodox seminary as maharats, or female leaders of Jewish law, spirituality and Torah – but they will not be given the title of rabbi.  Read More

Topics: Religion and Society

Sep 8, 2014 4:16 pm

Latino vote is small in nearly all states with hot Senate races

Latino Vote, 2014 MidtermsPresident Obama has delayed any executive action on immigration policy until after this year’s midterm elections. The president noted that part of the reason for this decision was to “make sure we get it right.” Meanwhile several analysts have said that any executive action might energize conservatives and jeopardize the Senate’s Democratic majority given the number of Democrats at risk in toss-up states, most of which have few Latino voters.

Last June, the president said that he was going to do what he could before the end of the summer with his executive powers to fix the nation’s immigration system since Congress had failed to pass any immigration reform. Among the many possible actions the president has been considering is deportation relief for some of the nation’s 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants, something which Latinos said was a greater priority than creating a pathway to citizenship, according to a Pew Research Center poll of Latinos last fall.

Latinos make up 5% or less of eligible voters (U.S. citizens ages 18 and older) in eight of the nine states with toss-up Senate races (as indicated by Real Clear Politics, FiveThirtyEight and CNN). The one exception is Colorado, where Latinos are about 14% of eligible voters.  Read More

Topics: 2014 Election, Hispanic/Latino Vote

Sep 8, 2014 12:34 pm

Who makes minimum wage?

federal minimum wage over timeGiven the continuing campaigns by unions, workers, politicians and others to raise the federal minimum wage, it bears asking: Just who are minimum-wage workers, anyway?

Perhaps surprisingly, not very many people earn minimum wage, and they make up a smaller share of the workforce than they used to. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year 1.532 million hourly workers earned the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour; nearly 1.8 million more earned less than that because they fell under one of several exemptions (tipped employees, full-time students, certain disabled workers and others), for a total of 3.3 million hourly workers at or below the federal minimum. Read More

Topics: Economics and Personal Finances, National Economy

Sep 5, 2014 12:21 pm

What drove spike in public comments on net neutrality? Likely, a comedian

Since the Federal Communications Commission announced its proposed rule changes governing net neutrality in May, the agency has released nearly 450,000 comment records that it received from the public. The Pew Research Center analyzed the full corpus of comments from the open comment period that ended on July 18th on the agency’s proposal to allow internet providers to create and charge a premium for “fast lanes” to deliver internet content.

While other researchers analyzed the content of the comments, we focused on the volume and submission dates of when the FCC received comments from the public in order to deduce possible influences on the public’s response. While some evidence suggests that the amount of news media coverage mirrored that of the public’s comments, our analysis found that more likely drivers were grassroots efforts, as well as a popular comedian’s 13-minute segment on net neutrality that aired on cable television and found a large audience online.  Read More

Topics: Digital Media, Federal Government, Internet Activities, News Content Analysis

Sep 5, 2014 7:00 am

Journal Study: Half of government-rebel power-sharing agreements fail

Study: Most government-rebel power-sharing agreements fail
Protestors attacked riot police in central Kiev, Ukraine last January. Efforts to reach a power-sharing agreement between government and opposition failed. (AP Photo / Efrem Lukatsky)

One approach in trying to deal with the violent internal conflicts that have gripped countries like Iraq and the Ukraine is the idea of power sharing between the regimes and those challenging them. The former Russian-backed president of the Ukraine tried it — unsuccessfully — in January. And, in Iraq, the U.S. and its allies have pressed the Shiite-dominated government to pursue such a strategy by bringing more Sunni factions into the fold in hopes of defusing challenges from Sunni militants.

A new study, published in the journal of Conflict Management and Peace Science, looked at power-sharing agreements negotiated after civil conflicts and found that they have a mixed record.

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Topics: Wars and International Conflicts

Sep 4, 2014 1:14 pm

5 takeaways on how Americans view a world in crisis

After a decade of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, surveys by Pew Research have depicted an American public weary of foreign conflicts and wanting to turn attention to issues back home. Our poll last November found that half of Americans (52%) said the U.S. should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own, a view held by only 30% in 2002. But since then, there have been a host of new foreign crises that have further shaped public opinion about the threats facing the U.S. and what role the nation should play in the world.

Here are some key indicators of how Americans view U.S. standing in a time of turmoil abroad:

1 The American public is still wary about the U.S. getting too involved in military action. The public’s reluctance about U.S. engagement in foreign conflicts was evident in earlier surveys during the uprising against former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and the lack of support for U.S. intervention in the civil war in Syria in 2012. Our August survey found that the public backed President Obama’s decision to launch air strikes against the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) by a 54% to 31% margin, but the sense of caution about new U.S. involvement was still there. About half (51%) of Americans expressed concern that the U.S. would go too far in getting involved militarily in the conflict with ISIS. Read More

Topics: Foreign Affairs and Policy

Sep 4, 2014 10:30 am

Moonlighting is less common now, despite what you might have heard

Americans who have more than one jobBased on recent media reports, many people may think that, because of the tough economy and stagnant wage growth, more and more people are working multiple jobs. You may have read that more Americans are moonlighting with a part-time night shift at Target, selling homemade jam at farmers’ markets on the weekend, or cobbling together two, three or more part-time jobs to approximate a living income.

However, that assumption would be wrong. Both in terms of raw numbers and as a share of all employed people, fewer Americans are working more than one job than in the mid-1990s. Working two jobs or more has become less common, not more, since the end of the Great Recession. Read More

Topics: Work and Employment