Friday, October 30, 2009

Lieberman's intriguing idea

Way back in 1994, Joe Lieberman had dreadful things to say about the filibuster. (Using it to derail health care reform wasn't even a twinkle in his eye yet.) He proposed something interesting -- not its elimination, but a modification of Senate rules that would make it steadily less powerful. As Sam Stein explains,
The Senate would still need 60 votes on the first motion to end debate, (the cloture vote). But the next motion would require just 57 votes, the third motion 54 votes, and the fourth and final effort would need just 51 votes -- a simple majority. In all, roughly 25 days would elapse between the first and fourth vote.
As Ezra Klein explains, this would have still allowed the filibuster to do the things that Greg Koger likes, such as giving voice to minority sentiments, but it would have destroyed its ability to obstruct the will of the majority.

CA Dems love them some Jerry

SF Mayor Gavin Newsom has dropped out of the California gubernatorial race, effectively handing the Democratic nomination to Jerry Brown, who was last governor when I was my son's age. As Evan Halper reports,

Although Newsom had been effectively running for more than a year, his campaign never gained much traction. Even in his hometown, which Newsom touted as a model of cutting-edge policies, his candidacy was widely derided among civic insiders.

Perhaps most telling was the absence of support from the major San Francisco donors who helped underwrite Newsom’s successful campaigns in the city. He also drew relatively few endorsements from the ranks of his fellow elected officials.

This, of course, is how many, perhaps most, nominations are made. The party -- in the form of Democratic donors and elected officials -- has picked a candidate. Democratic voters will get to weigh in in next year's primary, but the decision has effectively been made for them.

Final proof that the white working class remains deeply Democratic

Springsteen fans in New Jersey skew sharply left:Corzine has been beating Christie by at least ten points in this demographic, even back when Christie was way ahead statewide. This proves that Thomas Frank is wrong and Larry Bartels is right: the white working class never left the Democratic Party.

Well, it only actually proves that if we believe that Springsteen fans are the same people he sings about. More research needed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rule of law in "Gangs of New York"

A while back, I posted a short essay about "Gangs of New York" (2002), discussing its portrayal of a party system de-polarizing and then re-polarizing around the issue of immigration. Jon Bernstein has a nice follow up touching on the film's treatment of interest-based politics.

One other feature I wanted to mention was the film's examination of the rule of law. A recurrent theme in the film is the utter lack of a central agreed-upon authority. Decisions are made by gangs and party organizations. If you're not a member of the gang or party that made the decision, you regard the decision as illegitimate, and the main recourse you have is killing the people in charge and making your own decisions.

A great example is an early scene when a fire breaks out in an apartment building. A fire brigade rushes to the scene, but they are not the fire brigade. Another fire brigade, sponsored by another gang, soon shows up, and rather than fight the fire, the two brigades fight each other. It's funny, but also quite telling about the costs of not having any sort of central acknowledged government. (It was also kind of ballsy for Scorsese to portray firefighters as thugs a year after 9/11.)
The lawlessness theme in the film is best exemplified in a conversation that Bill "the Butcher" Cutting (the local gang leader portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis) has with the area's top police officer, Happy Jack (John C. Reilly). Bill is instructing Jack to go hunt down and kill Bill's young rival, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio), but Jack appears reticent. As Jack says, "My allegiance is to the law. I'm paid to uphold the law." Bill thinks for a bit, and finally says, "What in Heaven's name are you talking about? You may have misgivings, but don't go believing that, Jack. That way lies damnation."

The line comes off somewhat humorous, but there's a real point to it. Bill has literally no idea what Jack is talking about. The notion that there is some legal principle of impartiality to which a government official is bound is completely alien to him.

The film's finale brings an end to this form of lawlessness. The old code of rival gangs ruling through force and some ancient code of honor ultimately gives way to the rule of the federal government. Of course, it does so through force: the U.S. Navy bombards lower Manhattan during the 1863 draft riots, vanquishing the gangs and clearing the way for Army soldiers. It's an open question whether rule of gangs has been replaced by rule of law, or whether the federal government was just the biggest gang in town.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Our political discourse suffers from a dearth of Rush songs

Robert Farley is right. Rand Paul's U.S. Senate campaign in Kentucky may be one of the best campaigns ever.

Not getting it

On Saturday, conservative blogger Hugh Hewitt tried to raise some concerns about Democratic criticisms of Fox by suggesting some future news stories, such as the following (note the dateline):
Oct. 28, 2009 12:43 PM. This just in from Speaker of the House Pelosi. In an interview with MSNBC's Keith Olberman last night, Nancy Pelosi announced that she would move to bring a vote to the floor of The House of Representatives as early as next week to ban Fox from covering Congress. "That Fox regularly grants access to Republican Congressman to spread their lies and propaganda on their airwaves is a violation of the public trust, and their continued desire to challenge such well documented facts as Global Warming, and the efficacy of single payer health insurance, proves that they are simply doing the work of the special interests. They should thus be stripped of their journalistic access in the halls of Congress," argued Pelosi.
He had a few other news items in there, all with future datelines.

This got picked up as truth, however, by Recliner Commentaries, which editorialized:
This is an unbelievably shocking abuse of power! In the Orwellian world of the Democrats, apparently Freedom of the Press only applies to news organizations that promote the Democrats' Leftist, socialist agendas.
But that wasn't nearly as good as some of the comments, including:
She should be hanged.
A few noted that it wasn't real, but that, of course, just confirmed its truth:
While Hugh's futurist post was amusing, the fact that it could seem so plausible is a chilling indicator of how close we are to losing our country and our freedoms.
And, of course, demonstrating a patent inability to understand satire:
I emailed the Hugh Hewitt site to ask for a correction on the date. It could just be an error. Why would Hugh Hewitt just make something like this up? I think it would be in poor taste.
I respect conservatives for trying new tactics. Last spring, they were marching on Washington. Now they're trying satire. Good for them! They'll work out the kinks eventually.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's on

The creator of the poli sci book cake has a new one out. Her name is Sherry Zaks, and she's upped the game a bit by taking on my scatterplot cake and making her own, only this one with heteroskedasticity.I've got to think on this one.

Why they hate us

The Cinnabon Pretzel
Oh, wait, that's why I hate us.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pelosi's path

Ah, they've finally posted the papers from the State of the Parties conference. Here's that article on Pelosi that I mentioned earlier by Larry Butler of Rowan University. And here's the money graph, showing the ideological journey that House speakers have taken prior to becoming speakers:
The numbers show the ideological distance from the party median, as measured by standard deviations of NOMINATE scores. Each observation is a term in office, culminating with the session right before they are elected speaker. Note how Wright and Foley moved toward the ideological extremes prior to becoming speaker, while Hastert, Gingrich, and O'Neill basically stayed where they were. Only Pelosi had to moderate to become speaker.

It's also kind of interesting that there seems to be an ideological sweet spot for becoming speaker, somewhere between .2 and .6 standard deviations more extreme than the party median.

This is an empirically testable claim

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL): Dick Cheney is a vampire.

If this is so, we need more data. What kind of vampire? Scary demon? Cute teen? We need an NSF grant.

Newsflash: Senator actually reads academic paper

Props to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for actually looking at the findings presented by Prof. Lawrence Powell defending medical insurers' anti-trust exemption:

"The best possible outcome from repealing McCarran is continuation of the status quo," he said. "However, it is also likely that repealing McCarran would have negative consequences for consumers, by decreasing competition and accuracy in insurance pricing."

Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse pointed out that the professor was relying on outdated information.

"You cite for the proposition that insurance markets are highly competitive an article by Paul Joskow. Do I have the date of that article correct, it's 1973?" he asked Powell. "I believe so," came the answer.

Agenda control and state legislative polarization

The more I think about the Shor/McCarty graph showing legislative partisanship in the states, the more concerns I have. Don't get me wrong -- it's an amazing graph with a ton of important data behind it. But I'm increasingly concerned about the hidden role of agenda control.

The graph below is a density plot of the percent of the chamber voting yes on all the bills that came before it in the 1999-2000 legislative session. It charts this distribution for both the California and Florida assemblies. (The data come from the Representation in America's Legislatures project.)What do we see here? In Florida, the distribution is bimodal. Most pieces of legislation either get around 40% of the vote or around 80% of the vote. Why would so many bills get 40% of the chamber voting yes? They are minority party bills. The minority party usually loses, but they can still get their bills to a floor vote.

Contrast that with the distribution for California. Again, the distribution is bimodal, but the peaks are around 60% of the chamber (a narrow win) and around 90% (near unanimity). Almost no bills get below 50% of the chamber voting yes. In other words, the minority party's bills almost never make it to the chamber floor. The majority party makes sure that they die in committee.

This can have a substantial effect on the appearance of party polarization. In California, bills that might otherwise give the chamber more of an appearance of bipartisanship are being killed by the majority party before they can reach a floor vote. This may account for California having the most divergent parties in the Shor/McCarty graph. Or maybe it really is due to the legislators being so ideologically dissimilar. It's hard to tell, and I don't know of any multi-year measures of state-level agenda control that would allow us to factor this effect out.

One other issue. As some of the commenters at 538 noted, it's kind of weird to see California's GOP further to the right than any of the southern states' Republican parties. Now this is certainly possible. The Shor/McCarty data compresses everything onto one dimension. I'm guessing that the southern Republicans would look more conservative on cultural measures than the CA GOP, although the Californians are probably more conservative on economic measures. But I'm not sure.

Update: Boris Shor responds.

Later update: Boris is probably right that agenda control isn't biasing these results all that much. As he notes, the U.S. House and Senate have very different agenda control rules, yet members show remarkably consistency in their ideal points when they move from one chamber to the other. However, I don't know whether the differences between the House and the Senate are on par with the differences across state legislatures. The differences between Florida and California strike me as pretty huge.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jenny McCarthy is slowly killing us

Social scientists are supposed to observe society with a bit of detachment, maybe even bemusement. But this piece from Wired about the anti-immunization movement will likely get your blood boiling. I don't know what's more outrageous:
  • The folks who are angry at immunologists for getting rich by injecting kids while content to have hucksters take their money in exchange for advice like, literally, “No vaccines + more vitamin d = no autism."
  • The fact that children's diseases long thought eradicated in the U.S. are now on the rise due to various populations refusing to immunize their children.
  • Jenny McCarthy claiming that her child has been cured of autism through dietary changes.
  • Jenny McCarthy being accepted as an authority on anything.
But I think the author is right about the following:
Looking back over human history, rationality has been the anomaly. Being rational takes work, education, and a sober determination to avoid making hasty inferences, even when they appear to make perfect sense. Much like infectious diseases themselves — beaten back by decades of effort to vaccinate the populace — the irrational lingers just below the surface, waiting for us to let down our guard.

Polarization among state politicians

In a post about NY congressional candidate Dede Scozzafava, political scientist Boris Shor (who generally does what I do, only better and faster, which is a problem), produces the graph below. Just to explain what this is, Shor and Nolan McCarty have collected the NPAT scores for state legislators in all fifty states. The NPAT (National Political Aptitude Test) is administered by Project Vote Smart. He managed to produce a common scale across all the legislatures. The graph shows the ranges of issue stances within the legislatures.
This graph is very cool for me, in particular, because, well, look how darned polarized California looks! It's got the most divergent parties in the nation. This interests me because some roll call studies (particularly Jerry Wright's data) suggest that California has one of the most polarized legislatures, but not the most. It's occassionally surpassed by Wisconsin, Iowa, and a few others.

What Shor's data show, if I understand them correctly**, is that the ideologies of California's elected officials are the most polarized -- not as manifested in roll call votes, but as simple expressions of issues stances. This gets around the issue of agenda control, by which the majority party can pick votes that make the parties look more divergent than they really are. California's parties have been the most effective in the nation at screening out the moderates. There really is No Middle Ground. (Sorry for the shameless plug.)

*NPATs have a fairly high non-response rate, as I understand it. One presumes, however, that the non-response rate is uncorrelated with ideology or region.

**Late correction: I apparently did not understand them correctly. As Boris explains in comments, the ideal points are, in fact, derived from roll call data. Apparently 15 years of roll call votes from each state legislature. (I really need to know how they pulled that off.) They used the NPAT scores to create a common space across legislatures. So agenda control is still potentially an issue, but probably not a huge one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What do political scientists do?

Well, Sen. Coburn's attack on political scientists has had at least one upside -- people outside the discipline are noticing us. It's even prompted a pretty interesting piece in the NY Times. I like most of what's in there -- it discusses the Perestroika movement within poli sci from a few years back, it seems to get that there is a vast diversity of methods and approaches within the discipline today, it notes that there is a debate within poli sci about how involved we should be in policy disputes, etc. All relevant stuff.

But let me briefly disagree with this statement:
Rogers Smith, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who has been active in the “Perestroika” movement, said that the question should determine the method. If you want to test cause and effect, “quantitative methods are the preferred way to go,” he said, but they can’t tell “how political phenomena should be understood and interpreted” — whether a protest, for instance, is the result of a genuine social movement or an interest group, whether it is religious or secular.
Actually, quantitative methods are pretty terrible at testing causality. They are great at examining relationships, but they can't tell us what is causing what. For example, quantitative methods might help us see that there is a firm relationship between ice cream sales and drowning deaths, but it requires either interviews, reading, or human intuition to figure out that neither is causing the other, and that temperature is causing both. This is why I favor a mixed-methods approach, although it can be challenging to get that published sometimes.

Wrong question, weird answer

Via Yglesias, the Economist asks conservative author Reihan Salam an odd question:
What are some areas where you think Republicans can successfully work with Democrats in the future?
This strikes me as the wrong question, as it assumes that Republicans working with Democrats is some sort of goal worth working towards. It isn't, or at least it shouldn't be. Republicans and Democrats agree on some issues; they disagree on a lot of others. Most important things governments do involve differences of opinion, and it's pretty typical for those differences to fall roughly along party lines. Asking where Republicans can work with Democrats is like asking where boron and molybdenum can bond. Sure, it will happen in some circumstances (won't it?), but it's not necessarily a goal in itself.

Oh, Salam's answer, in part:
In the far future, I imagine that there will be bipartisan cooperation on space colonisation and efforts to terraform Mars.
Oh, great.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Well endowed

From the Monkey Cage:
My school had the wisdom not to even build an endowment. Think of all the money we saved this year!


Let me just flag an interesting article by my colleague Nancy Wadsworth on the tendency of those on the left to demonize those on the right. Of course, this relationship is reciprocal, but Wadsworth is really trying to break down attempts by liberals to paint all conservatives as stupid evangelical white bigots. She's spent too much time following racial reconciliation movements to believe these broad stereotypes:
I have also sat in countless churches, conferences, and living rooms and watched white Christians and their counterparts of color dig deep into their faith and deeper into their consciences to find a way to reach across the gulf that racism and resultant segregation has created in American Christian communities. It's often awkward, it's never perfect, and it sometimes involves faith-based rituals like footwashing that make outsiders squeamish. But it's real, it's emotionally genuine, and it's one of the few paths to social change in matters of race in socially conservative communities that is, in fact, ideologically coherent, if you actually believe the Bible. Compared to the "diversity forums" and "difference" encounters I've participated in through academic and political settings, which, after all these years, still often manage to degenerate into the Oppression Olympics, evangelical racial change efforts are refreshingly vulnerable.... I'd love to see my secular lefty allies exert that kind of effort in facing their own ghouls.
She adds that university faculties, newsrooms, etc. -- citadels of the left -- aren't exactly models of diversity today.

Definitely worth the read.

A moment of sanity in federal drug policies

The feds will honor states' laws on pot:
People who use marijuana for medical purposes and those who distribute it should not face federal prosecution, provided they act according to state law, the Justice Department said on Monday in a directive with far-reaching political and legal implications.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Contender

I recently showed "The Contender" (2000) in my film class. I haven't seen the film since it first came out, and I didn't recall especially liking it then, but I wanted to give it another shot. I have to say that it's both better and worse than I remembered.

The premise is that the vice president has died, and the president (a delightful Jeff Bridges) is looking for a replacement. Governor Jack Hathaway (William Peterson), who recently became a national hero for attempting to save a drowning woman, is clearly the inside favorite and would likely win swift confirmation, but the president wants Sen. Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) for the job. The film charts Hanson's confirmation hearings and her battles with conservative Rep. Shelley Runyon (Gary Oldman), who clearly has some issues with women in positions of power and also has an old axe to grind with the president. Rumors of Hanson's sexual past color the entire proceedings, and Hanson believes it is her job to not respond to those rumors at all.

On the plus side, the subplot about Gov. Hathaway is actually pretty good. It's an intriguing story about runaway ambition. What starts as a ploy by a politician to impress the president results in a young woman's death. The details of the plot unfold slowly and cleverly. It's all set within an environment of constant political gamesmanship, as so much of the story turns out to be part of an ongoing pissing match between the president and Rep. Runyon. Finally, the sexism encountered by Sen. Hanson as she seeks to be appointed to the vice presidency is a bit bald-faced but still pretty believable. And if you doubt that, recall the media's treatment of Hillary Clinton last year.

While the film deals with intrigue pretty well, however, it demonstrates profound ignorance about basic facets of American politics. During her confirmation hearings, for example, Gary Oldman accuses Joan Allen of condoning murder for supporting a woman's right to choose and basically says that any woman who has an abortion is a murderer. Even the Congress' most ardent opponent of abortion wouldn't state it in those terms. The usual tact is to describe women, rather patronizingly, as "misguided," not to call them murderers. There are other obvious flaws, such as the Senate president pro-tem being younger than the Speaker of the House, and the president giving an address to a joint session of the Congress in which he demands that they immediately vote on confirmation and calls for a roll call vote, as though he were a member of the Congress or something.

But the main problem is the character of Laine Hanson herself. She seems like some bizarre focus-grouped amalgam of issue stances that are vaguely popular in West L.A. Hanson herself sums up her beliefs:
I stand for a woman’s right to choose. I stand for the elimination of the death penalty. I stand for a strong and growing armed forces because we must stomp out genocide on this planet and I believe that is a cause worth dying for. I stand for seeing every gun taken out of every home, period. I stand for making the selling of cigarettes to our youth a federal offense. I stand for term limits and campaign reform.

And, Mr. Chairman, I stand for the separation of Church and State, and the reason that I stand for that is the same reason that I believe our forefathers did. It is not there to protect religion from the grasp of government but to protect our government from the grasp of religious fanaticism. Now, I may be an atheist, but that does not mean I do not go to church. I do go to church. The church I go to is the one that emancipated the slaves, that gave women the right to vote, that gave us every freedom that we hold dear. My church is this very Chapel of Democracy that we sit in together, and I do not need God to tell me what are my moral absolutes. I need my heart, my brain, and this church.
She is an avowed athiest, but the film treats her pro-choice stance as the controversial one. It's a bit ridiculous. Oh, by the way, she is a recent convert to the Democratic Party, having grown up a Republican, and she voted for Clinton's impeachment for some weird reason.

The film posits itself as some sort of feminist statement -- the end credits begin with the statement "For our daughters." That's all well and good, but if they wanted to make a feminist movie about politics, how about one in which a woman actually runs for office and wins, rather than getting appointed by a man? Also, the fact that Gov. Hathaway is goaded into increasingly ambitious behavior by his shrewish wife kind of undermines any progress this film makes for the representation of women in film.

The new Jimmy Carter?

I saw this billboard in NJ last weekend:
How long will Democrats be able to hang W around Republicans' necks? If memory serves, the Republicans claimed that electing both Mondale and Dukakis would herald a return to the Carter years. Will Bush have similar endurance?

Undocumented lobbying

Here's a little tidbit I learned at the conference that wasn't presented in a panel: it is possible to send a text message from one Blackberry to another that leaves no electronic record. These are called PIN-to-PIN messages, which allow users to contact each other by identifying the unique PIN number associated with each Blackberry rather than using a phone number.

How does this relate to politics? Members of legislatures and their staffers will give out their PIN numbers to lobbyists. The lobbyists, watching legislative proceedings from through a window or even on TV, can directly instruct the members how to vote via text messages. No money changes hands, no meeting takes place, no communication is recorded. But lobbying has occurred.

I'm guessing you don't have the PIN numbers for your elected officials' Blackberries. Just sayin'.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Future Speakers

Larry Butler is giving an interesting talk about the careers of U.S.
House Speakers before they became Speaker. Most recent Speakers have
started out as relative moderates relative to their party but moved
toward the ideological extremes around the time they became Speaker.
Pelosi is the exception. She started as deeply ideologically extreme,
and is the only recent Speaker who moderated prior to getting the

The post-partisan presidency

Richard Skinner is giving a presentation noting that presidential approval gaps (the approval of a president among voters in his own party minus approval among voters of the other party) used to be in the 40s a few decades ago.  Under Reagan and Clinton, the gaps were in the 50s.  Today, Obama's approval gap is 71.


Michael Steele (yes, I took that photo) was a bit of a disappointment. To be fair, he has a very friendly, easygoing style, and when I met him he seemed quite personable. His speech was filled with some rather unoriginal homilies about fighting for what you believe in and letting parents and business do what they want to without government interference, blah blah blah. That was actually okay, if not terribly inspiring.

But then he answered some questions at the end, and he seemed to go off the rails. A woman mentioned that she'd heard that 50-65 year olds have a hard time getting health insurance, and she wanted to know what was the Republican plan to deal with this problem.

Steele started by agreeing that this was a problem and saying that something like 8 to 10 million of these folks are actually eligible for Medicare or Medicaid but haven't filled out the necessary paperwork. He said we need to do more to put these people on the federal rolls, maybe making sure that doctors properly inform their patients about these options. He then went on a bit of a rant about how reforming health care was really complicated, so we needed to slow down and take our time about it so that everyone can understand what's going on.

So, to boil it down, we can help solve a big part of the uninsured problem by tracking down people and enrolling them in a large health plan run by the federal government. Glad a Republican suggested this. But how do we do it? Maybe we could force doctors to enroll their patients! Maybe we could hire ACORN to track down these folks! I don't know. And the bit about health reform coming at us too quickly seemed pretty disingenuous since we've been talking about this since Woodrow Wilson was in the White House.

Anyway, nice guy, but I wasn't hugely impressed.

Community organizers

David Magelby reports that the biggest single fundraising day for the
Obama campaign was the day during the Republican convention when Rudy
Giuliani and Sarah Palin attacked community organizers in their
speeches. Obama fundraisers promptly sent out an e-mail addressing
this issue. They raised $12 million in the next 24 hours.

Balloon boy

I watched the CNN interview with the Heene family this morning. It
made me ashamed to be both a Coloradan and a CNN viewer. I had to
shower twice afterwards.


There was an enjoyable presentation on Unity08 this morning by Kira
Allmann, Ron Rapoport, and Daniel Maliniak. I wasn't sure why this
was an organization worth studying, but the authors pointed out that
this was essentially the first political party that had organized
entirely on the Internet. It had no discernable leaders to rally
around, it had no formal meetings – just a web presence. So that's
kind of interesting. Just because Unity08 failed, I think, doesn't
mean that you can't organize a party on-line. The party failed
because it was completely incoherent. It purported to be a radical
party devoted to the cause of… bipartisanship. What's more, it rested
on the idea that you could organize a party of passionate moderates,
people who barely exist. It was basically a David Broder fantasy
camp. The fact that they managed to claim roughly 200,000 members is
pretty surprising.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Michael Steele!


Nancy Rosenblum, the author of On the Side of the Angels, was giving a presentation this morning about how "independent" voters are elevated in American political discourse while "partisan" is a dirty word.  I asked her if the U.S. was unique in this regard.  She suggested that partisans are pretty widely derided across democracies, but the U.S. seems to stick out in the number of voters who call themselves independents.

Getting primaried

Robert Boatright had some interesting takes on members of Congress
getting primaried. It gets a lot of attention but actually doesn't
happen that much, although ideological challenges to incumbents are on
the increase over the 2000s, particularly within the GOP. Still, the
numbers are nowhere near historic highs. But then they really don't
have to be. The threat from a group like the Club for Growth is
effective, Boatright says, until the group actually follows through.
Then the legislative campaign committee will invariably kick in and
help the incumbent, who usually prevails.

Here I disagree. I would guess that Joe Lieberman would rather have
avoided the Ned Lamont challenge if he could have. It weakened his
national profile, it destroyed his chances of becoming the Democratic
nominee for president, he ended up owing people like Barack Obama
favors, etc. Even if they're likely to win, incumbents would rather
avoid the challenge if possible. Challenges require too much work and
put you in the debt of others.

The stability of party ID

Quin Monson of BYU has some cool findings about the stability of party
identification, drawing on these wonderful CCAP panel studies. The
greatest stability in party ID is found among strong partisans and
independents. There's an interesting campaign effect, too: People who
exposed to heavy campaigning and zero campaigning have the most stable
PID. Shifts are found among those with only partial campaign exposure.

I am not a crackpot

There's a cool old crank who describes himself as a retired
stockbroker and current bum who keeps asking decidedly non-academic
questions during the panels. He asked if campaigns are designed to
jerk people's emotions around. Then he asked if presidents are of
lower quality than they used to be. The fun part is the non-verbal
exchanges among panelists as they decide who gets to answer these

State of the Parties, day 1

I found one corner of the meeting room at the Cuyahoga Falls Sheraton
that has intermittent access to wi-fi, so I'm trying to blog from
there. It's a tad annoying – I like being able to stay wired while at
conferences so I can pull down data or blog or Facebook chat with
others in the room without disrupting others. Grumble.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I just arrived in Akron for the quadrennial State of the Parties conference. I'm hoping to blog a fair amount of the proceedings here. But things are starting off well. When I got off the plane, the PA system at the Akron/Canton airport was blaring Duran Duran's "New Moon on Monday." Hope the rest of the conference is this fun.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

That one

I saw this billboard in Elizabeth, NJ. Pretty obvious who has the higher favorability ratings there.

Spotted in SoHo

ZZ Top is being used to sell high end clothes on Spring Street. To whom, I have no idea.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Partying in Newark

I'm in Newark, NJ, for a wedding right now (this is actually my second trip to Newark this year). We went out with some friends trolling for a restaurant along Ferry Street, near Penn Station. Ferry is filled with a bunch of lively, moderately pricey Portuguese restaurants that seemed to be doing some brisk business. We ate at a pretty decent, inexpensive Mexican place (Mi Pequeño Mexico) with the kids.

I'm not saying Newark is the next big thing. But I've seen worse.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Today's media

Hee hee.


I was a very active participant in the party system in the UC Berkeley student government (the Associated Students of the University of California) back when I was an undergrad. They have great parties there, some of which live on for decades. I was a senator, a presidential aide, a party activist, and, for a short time, the ASUC beat reporter for the Daily Californian. And now I study local parties for a living!

So naturally I was thrilled to be interviewed for a Daily Cal story on the history of parties in the ASUC. And I was thrilled to see my name on the front page of the Daily Cal. I feel like I'm 21 again.

Meanwhile, I would love to see a serious comparative study of campus politics. I am curious why some schools seem to have venerable party systems while others just seem to form ephemeral slates around some popular students that dissipate as soon as those students graduate.

And when they came for the political scientists, I said nothing, for I was not a political scientist...

So Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has apparently had it with political science. He's proposed eliminating the political science program from the National Science Foundation.

As Andrew Gelman notes, it's odd that Coburn finds poli sci wasteful, but seems to have no problem with sociology or economics or other social sciences. What is it about us?

You know, in the original miniseries "V" (1984), the aliens attempted to demonize scientists, largely because they saw scientists as a threat who could reveal the aliens' true identities. (Lizards.) Perhaps Coburn is worried that we'll reveal his dark secret.

Just sayin'.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Monkey Baby

I watched about three minutes of "My Monkey Baby" on TLC last night and can easily say it was about the sickest thing I've seen all year. This is a show about people who adopt monkeys, not really as pets so much as surrogate children. They dress them up, sleep next to them, refer to them as their kids, etc. And the best part, as one of the "moms" said, is that these children won't grow up and move away.

The particularly jarring segment I saw was when a couple went to a breeder to buy their new baby monkey. This baby was taken out of a large cage it shared with its parents and given to its new human owners. The people were amused at the fact that the monkey parents didn't seem particularly nice.

Let's just review that for a second. This was an infant monkey living with its parents. We're not talking about dogs or cats, who plop out a dozen of babies at a time. We're talking about primates who have one child at a time and nurture it throughout its young life. The infant was taken away from its parents and given to some humans who just felt they needed a monkey in their lives.

I have sympathy for people who somehow feel so lost or lonely that they need to have a baby monkey in their lives. But I'm pretty sure they need treatment, not a monkey.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ethics or systems?

In the spring of 2008, I attended the University of Denver's graduation cermonies, at which former chancellor Dan Ritchie delivered a blistering tirade against the investment moguls who seemed to be undermining our economy with their greed. Some of us were surprised to hear such a screed by such a congenial, relatively conservative businessman. But his target was interesting. He wasn't blaming America's regulatory laws or policymakers for the eroding economic conditions. He was claiming that there were simply too many unscrupulous people in charge of too much money. A new ethic could fix that, he argued.

Similarly, note David Brooks' article from the other day:
In the three decades between 1950 and 1980, personal consumption was remarkably stable, amounting to about 62 percent of G.D.P. In the next three decades, it shot upward, reaching 70 percent of G.D.P. in 2008.

During this period, debt exploded. In 1960, Americans’ personal debt amounted to about 55 percent of national income. By 2007, Americans’ personal debt had surged to 133 percent of national income.
What's the cause of this?
These numbers are the outward sign of a values shift. If there is to be a correction, it will require a moral and cultural movement.
For Brooks, as for Ritchie, the problem is one of morality. People with money simply aren't using it properly. Investors are becoming reckless. Households are spending themselves into credit card debt because they're not being careful.

I don't buy it. Brooks notices that something seems to have happened around 1980. Well, yeah, it's called deregulation. There was a Supreme Court decision in 1978 and some changes in lending laws in the early 1980s that allowed credit card companies to set higher lending rates. This, combined with the decline in interest rates in the early 80s, made credit cards a hugely profitable industry, and they started giving out cards to pretty much everyone.

In 1988, I was covering the student senate at UC Berkeley for the Daily Californian. There was a small hubbub for a while because Citibank was giving out credit cards to college students, but only to those with certain majors -- computer science, chemistry, etc. -- that were likely to feed into profitable careers. A bunch of senators representing humanities majors got angry about this and, as I recall, wrote a stern letter to Citibank about it. To their credit (heh), Citibank sent a representative to the next student senate meeting (the guy looked like Gordon Gecko) who apologized and said that they've decided to end that form of discrimination. And the humanities majors rejoiced and got cards.

Of course, what was going on there was that the bank was loosening its standards. Granting cards to everyone seems like a very democratic thing to do, but it tends to lead to more poor people going into debt.

My point is that borrowers didn't become less scrupulous. They only used to seem scrupulous because no one was handing them credit cards with ridiculously high ceilings. Similarly, Wall Street investors haven't become more reckless. Washington just stopped policing them.

The puzzle of liberal Jews

Over at Monkey Cage, Andrew Gelman has a nice discussion of Norman Podhoretz's new book Why Are Jews Liberals? Gelman summarizes the argument for why Jews should really be Republicans as follows:
1. The economy. Economic growth (which Podhoretz associates with conservative, business-friendly economic policies) is good in itself and also leads to a culture of affluence in which economically-successful minorities such as Jews are respected rather than resented.

2. Social issues. Socially conservative attitudes are more consistent with the Old Testament values of Judaism.

3. Israel. In recent decades, Podhoretz argues, the Republican Party and its allies in the conservative Christian evangelical movement have been more supportive of Israel than have the Democratic Party and its allies on the left.
I'll take these in turn. As for economic growth, Andrew notes that basically everyone is in favor of economic growth. There's no particular reason Jews should like this more than any other group. Also, there's no reason anyone should prefer the Republican record on economic growth to the Democratic one. Both parties push for growth when in office, and Democrats actually have a better record of producing it for a broader segment of the population.

I'm blanking on the exact source, but I once read an interesting discussion of Jewish voters by a former member of the California Assembly.* As he argued, unlike most minorities, Jews don't become more conservative as they start to make more money -- Jews aren't so quick to abandon old ideas once they become unfashionable, which probably accounts for their still being Jewish.

Second, people's social stances aren't necessarily determined by the stances of their religion's founding documents. And to a large extent the values articulated in the Old Testament don't really map onto today's world very well. If you believe a person should be put to death for wearing two kinds of fabric or for insulting his parents, or if you think a man should be banished for having sex with a menstruating woman, which party do you belong in today? I don't think you'd be comfortable in either one. Besides, another ancient tradition taught by Judaism is social justice, one that probably maps onto modern liberalism better than onto conservatism.

And as for Israel, Republicans have been more supportive than Democrats of Israel in recent years only to the extent that they keep saying they're more supportive than Democrats of Israel. Leaders of both parties have gone out of their way to provide assistance to Israel. Also, some Jews may be rightly leery of Christian Evangelical support of Israel, since such support is designed to help bring about the End of Days when Jews and other non-Christians are burnt to a crisp.

*James Mills, A Disorderly House: The Brown-Unruh Years in Sacramento, 1987.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Irritating yet addictive

I've had Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" stuck in my head for a few days. Rob Rushing helps explain why this song is so catchy and how it breaks all the rules.

Oh, and this is a cool cover.

Deep breaths... don't panic...

This chart courtesy of Catherine Rampell (via Ezra). Look, I'm no economist, but most of those curves look pretty symmetrical. If our current job loss curve follows a similar pattern, we won't see net job growth until past the 48-month mark. That's 2012.

"The second derivative is positive" is not a winning campaign slogan for the Democrats next year.

Another "Glee" plug

So I was watching episode 4 of "Glee" last night, which ends with a gay high school student coming out to his father. Now, the kid himself is something of a cartoon, and the whole episode was a bit silly (although a lot of fun to watch). But I thought they really handled the coming out part with a great deal of dignity and sweetness. The kid was so obviously fearful of disappointing his father, but he wanted to be honest with him nonetheless. And the father's reluctant-but-loving acceptance just came across as very authentic.

I don't watch a lot of current high school shows, so I don't know if such scenes are becoming typical fare. Regardless, it was new to me. I don't recall seeing a coming out scene handled so well. And on a sit-com, no less.

My favorite protester

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Questions for epidemiologists

I have been caring for people in my house with H1N1 for a week now. I've been expecting to come down with symptoms all week, but nothing so far. Yes, I've been washing my hands a lot, but I just have to have been exposed by now.

So what's going on? I remember getting a swine flu vaccine in '76. Could that be affording me some protection today? Is my hand washing just that good? Could the incubation period be really long?

(In)Civility in Politics

I did a panel discussion on a local PBS station last night on the topic of civility in American politics. It was an interesting discussion, but one that went quite beyond politics. I felt comfortable talking about standards of discourse in the Congress and party polarization, but then the subject veered a bit more into the "Why don't kids respect their elders?" area. I was definitely not an expert there, but I was not without opinions! Anyway, you can watch it here. I come in at the 16 minute mark. (I was late, coming from a campus engagement.)

For what it's worth, my feelings on this subject are that it's an interesting topic, but somewhat overblown. I don't think, contra David Brooks and Tom Friedman, that's there's been a sudden increase in coarseness in American public discourse. We've always had our Joe Wilsons, Kanye Wests, and Serena Williamses. George W. Bush was regularly compared to Hitler by anti-war demonstrators. Bill Clinton was vilified as a murderous tyrant by the likes of Jerry Falwell. FDR was accused of stabbing America's soldiers in the back through his concessions to Stalin at Yalta. John McEnroe was a strutting ass on the tennis court long before it was fashionable.

What's different today, I think, is that the explosion in the number of news outlets in recent years has heightened the competition for market share. In the 1950s, the three news networks held to pretty high standards of journalism, but they also conspired to ignore some opinions they found unsavory. Today, news sources compete with each other by trying to find the most shocking stories out there. The kind of behavior that was once ignored is now highlighted. As I suggested on the PBS show, the percentage of jackasses in our society is probably constant over time, but this is a relatively good time to be a jackass if you like attention.


I'm a few weeks late to this party, but "Glee" is pretty damned good TV. It's a nice blend of musical stuff and public high school comedy stuff. The writing is good and the delivery (particularly by Jane Lynch) is brilliant. It ain't "The Wire," but not every show has to be that intense.

They're only five episodes into the season, so you can catch up on Hulu.

New layout

I received an award-winning masthead suggestion from Cousin Eric, which I am now using. I'm also trying out a new color scheme. Feedback welcome.