Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rolling Stone makes the case

Rolling Stone's analysis of Obama's first two years is really quite good.  Tim Dickinson starts by noting the (largely liberal) case against the president, and then proceeds to describe what he's actually done in office.  The record is quite striking -- the piece accurately describes his first two years as two of the most productive years of any presidency since maybe Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt.  Obama is characterized as a very pragmatic but energetic deal-maker, one who was willing to get his hands dirty and work with Congress and disappoint some constituencies for the sake of delivering achievable and important goals.  In many ways, it sounds like the presidency we expected from Hillary Clinton rather than the inspiring idealist Obama was portrayed to be in 2008.

My one beef with the article is its conclusion.  It seeks to address the question: if Obama has accomplished so much, why is he relatively unpopular, and why are Democrats getting their asses kicked?  Dickinson suggests that the problem is salesmanship -- Democrats should be crowing about their accomplishments rather than running from them, they didn't explain health reform well, etc.  The truth, of course, is that first, legislative achievements don't affect approval ratings very much.  Second, something that does affect approval ratings quite a bit is the economy, and that's been pretty anemic lately.  If we had 3.5% growth right now, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Definitely worth the read.

Coupla things

  • There's a fine new poli sci blog called YouGov featuring interesting pieces by Larry Bartels (who explains how it's somehow a losing political issue to tax a very small percent of the population) and Lynn Vavreck (who notes that Republican leaders have been suffering in the polls as much, if not more, than Obama).
  • Boris Shor profiles some of the Republican candidates who may win seats in the U.S. House next month, finding that some of them are surprisingly moderate.
  • David Karol explains the fascinating history of trade policy battles between the parties and between the White House and Congress.
  • Early voting both decreases overall turnout and enhances the income-based voting gap.  Other than that, it's perfect.
  • Dan Maes is consistently polling under 10 percent.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Freakonomics: Midterm Edition

The NYT's Freakonomics blog has a forum out today on the congressional midterms featuring yours truly. Yeah, I wanted to toot my horn a bit, but I also wanted to point you toward Justin Wolfers' forecast, which is brilliant.  Basically, Wolfers is arguing that it is far worse for a pundit to be uninteresting than wrong, so he proceeds to predict big wins by Democrats next month:
And if I’m wrong? We both know there won’t be any real consequences. I’ll be sure to sell some clever story. You know, there was weather on election day (hot or cold, wet or dry — it all works!) and this messed with turnout. Or perhaps, This Time Was Different, and my excellent forecast was knocked off course by our first black president, by rising cellphone penetration or a candidate who may not be a witch. I’ll remind you how I nailed previous elections.... I’ll bluster and use long words like sociotropic, or perhaps heteroskedastic. And I’ll remind you that my first name is Professor, and I went to a prestigious school. More to the point, if I’m wrong, I’m sure we’ll all have forgotten by the time the 2012 election rolls around. Shhhh… I won’t tell if you won’t.
Definitely worth the read.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Breaking: Tea Party candidates not all freaks

Did Tea Party influence cause Republicans to nominate a large number of unqualified candidates?  Via John Sides, Brendan Nyhan looks at the backgrounds of the current Republican candidates for the U.S. House and finds that about half of them have previously held elective office.  (Political scientists usually consider previous elective office experience to be a useful proxy for candidate quality, which is otherwise very difficult to measure.)  Not only is this figure similar to those of previous election years, but it's considerably higher than the figure for current Democratic candidates.

Yes, there are a bunch of inexperienced candidates with Tea Party backing out there, but as Nyhan notes, they are largely concentrated in uncompetitive districts, so they're not really hurting the Republicans this year.  In more competitive races, the Tea Party has chosen to back experienced politicians.

All this suggests that the Tea Party, to the extent we can define it as a unified entity, is much more pragmatic than the media usually portray it to be.  Remember that Tea Party members enthusiastically backed Scott Brown for the Massachusetts Senate seat despite his very moderate credentials.  That is, he stood for basically nothing that they stood for, but they recognized the importance of depriving Democrats of their filibuster-proof majority, so they sucked it up.

Can early voting numbers tell us anything?

Last week, I cited some early voting numbers collected by Michael McDonald that suggested a Democratic advantage for the midterm elections.  This post at National Review's Online, however, compares these early voting numbers with those of 2008 and finds the Democrats wanting this year.  That is, even though Democrats still outnumber Republicans among early voters, their advantage has waned significantly:
The average of these states show that early voting has shifted from a D+16.6 partisan split to a D+1.7 partisan split for a Republican gain of +14.9% since 2008.
Over at the Washington Post, however, Karen Tumulty reports that the partisan balance among early voters is almost identical to that of 2006, when Democrats took over both chambers.

So are the early voting numbers a good sign for Democrats or Republicans?  What's the proper basis of comparison -- 2008 or 2006?

Probably the most important question here, though, is just how predictive are early voting statistics of actual election outcomes?  I've not seen a serious study of this (please let me know if you have), but my guess is they're not terribly helpful.  For one thing, widespread early voting is a relatively recent phenomenon, so we don't have a whole lot of data here.  For another, as McDonald reminds us, early voting doesn't tell us how people voted.  All we know is their party affiliation.  Yes, any registered partisan who bothers to vote early is extremely likely to vote her party registration.  But a) this doesn't tell us the percentages of registered partisans who will ultimately vote; and b) this doesn't tell us a thing about the preferences of independents, who comprise somewhere around a fifth of the early electorate thus far.

At this point, only around 5 to 10 percent of those who are casting a vote in 2010 have voted, and I feel confident in saying that that 5 to 10 percent is poorly representative of the ultimate electorate.

Covering my assumptions

Nate Silver recently noted just how uncertain most midterm election forecasts are.  He's expecting the GOP to pick up 50 seats in the House, although the actual outcome, he suggests, could vary by 20 or 30 seats each way.

This seems like a good point to point out that my forecast of 40 GOP pickups (which now seems relatively conservative) had a standard error of 14 seats.  Which means that I can state with 95% confidence that the Republicans will pick up between 12 and 68 seats.  That's not terribly useful, I know.  The best guess is still 40, but there's a large range there.  As a professor of mine once noted, when a 5-year old aims a bow and arrow, the most likely place for the arrow to land is at the target, but everyone still runs for cover.

When making forecasts previously, I have sometimes been led astray by late information and by a reliance on my "gut," which seems to have a bias toward my preferred political party.  So I'm sticking with my original forecast.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don't vote

Wow.  I really don't recall seeing an ad like this before, although this is reminiscent of the Colorado Springs Gazette urging uninformed people to stay home in 2008.



(via ColoradoPols)

The culture of poverty

The film "Trading Places" (1983) presents us with the amusing and comforting notion that street smarts can be an asset in the business world.  Eddie Murphy's character, a panhandler from a broken home, when given a modicum of training and a chance to lead an investment firm, thrives.  His understanding of the concerns of common people gives him insights that blue blood investors miss.

Of course, the real world doesn't work that way, and few have better explained why this is so than Ta-Nehisi Coates (h/t Yglesias).  As Coates explains, the skills you need for surviving poverty are frequently at odds with the skills you need to succeed in the professional world:
It defies logic to think that any group, in a generationaly entrenched position, would not develop codes and mores for how to survive in that position. African-Americans, themselves, from poor to bourgeois, are the harshest critics of the street mentality. Of course, most white people only pay attention when Bill Cosby or Barack Obama are making that criticism. The problem is that rarely do such critiques ask why anyone would embrace such values. Moreover, they tend to assume that there's something uniquely "black" about those values, and their the embrace.
If you are a young person living in an environment where violence is frequent and random, the willingness to meet any hint of violence with yet more violence is a shield. Some people take to this lesson easier than others. As a kid, I hated fighting--not simply the incurring of pain, but the actual dishing it out. (If you follow my style of argument, you can actually see that that's still true.) But once I learned the lesson, once I was acculturated to the notion that often the quickest way to forestall more fighting, is to fight, I was a believer. And maybe it's wrong to say this, but it made my the rest of my time in Baltimore a lot easier, because the willingness to fight isn't just about yourself, it's a signal to your peer group.
And yet a willingness to use violence is obviously shunned in the professional world and can easily lead to one losing one's job.  So to leave the street and get a real job involves an ability to change languages and demeanor in a very stark way.  But it's more than that.  To succeed, one must abandon the language, demeanor, and sometimes the friends of one's youth -- an act that is often defined in terms associated either with prostitution or treason.  In a real sense, succeeding in one realm almost requires failing in the other.

Please read the whole thing.

POTUS stalking me

I visited DC last week to give a talk on this paper at the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).  During my brief 36-hour visit, I encountered President Obama not once but twice. My first encounter was when I exited the Metro Center Metro stop to find my hotel.  The intersection was blocked by police.  A few minutes later, Barack drove by:

video

The next day, I decided to walk past the White House on my way down to the Mall.  And then guess who flew overhead.
video

Really, Mr. President, I'm impressed and all, but there are other voters you should be working on right now besides me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Evidence for a wave

I'm sticking with my predictions about the midterm elections, although there are a bunch of anecdotes that would tempt me to move into either the Dems-will-hold-the-House camp or into the Dems-will-lose-8,000-seats camp.

In the latter category, I am hearing rumors that Colorado Democrats are worried about several of their Denver statehouse districts, including HD3, held by Rep. Daniel Kagan, who was appointed to the post last year.  The latest voter registration stats show that HD3 is 40% Democratic and 26% Republican, with 32% unaffiliated.  Is it possible that a Democrat could lose a district like that?  Suffice it to say that if Democrats can't hold onto statehouse seats in Denver, they're not holding onto much else.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Pi-rate Cake

Sherry Zaks is on fire.  I only wish I'd done this one:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Seeing the world through party lenses

Did something happen in 2008?  Must've been important.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rights

The following is the text of Colorado's amendment 63, which is on the November ballot:
Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the right of all persons to health care choice, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting the state independently or at the instance of the United States from adopting or enforcing any statute, regulation, resolution, or policy that requires a person to participate in a public or private health insurance or coverage plan or that denies, restricts, or penalizes the right or ability of a person to make or receive direct payments for lawful health care services; and exempting from the effects of the amendment emergency medical treatment required to be provided by hospitals, health facilities, and health care providers or health benefits provided under workers' compensation or similar insurance? [emphasis added]
Note the highlighted phrase.  The authors are asserting the right to health care choice.  I'm quite confident these very same people were denying that there was even a right to health care less than a year ago.  Funny how things change.

Please think of the children

Yes, this may be the best attack ad ever.

Political science bloggers

While you're over at The Forum reading Hans Noel's piece, you might want to check out the article there by me and the one by John Sides and Henry Farrell.  I spend some time in my piece looking at evidence of political scientists' relative withdrawal from the political world, a trend of which I'm not a huge fan.  Both articles look at the utility of blogs (among other things) in reconnecting political science and practical politics.

Two must-reads

I wanted to call your attention to two recent pieces by friends of mine.  These articles are concise, accessible, and interesting, and I'll surely be assigning them to my students in the future.

The first is Hans Noel's recent Forum article "Ten Things Political Scientists Know that You Don't."  He touches on a number of the key findings that political scholars have more or less settled on that are nonetheless at odds with the conventional wisdom, from the importance of the economy in elections to the fiction of electoral mandates to the necessity of interest groups and parties to a functioning democracy.  He also does a very nice job explaining a pretty complex topic -- the difficulty of translating voters' preferences into a coherent policy agenda.  He concludes with a short section on things that the public just kind of knows but that political scientists haven't been able to prove one way or the other.

The second is a recent blog post by Jonathan Bernstein, entitled "Sterner Stuff." Here, Jon makes the case for political ambition as a good thing.  A sample:
The system needs -- is dependent on -- people who crave election and re-election so badly that they're willing to do whatever it takes. Madison recognized the downside of that in Federalist 51, but he also realized that all that energy could be an enormous positive as well, because it could be harnessed. Ambitious politicians are going to work hard to figure out what voters really want, and deliver it to them. They're going to want a healthy economy...because that will get them re-elected. They're going to take the nation to war reluctantly and only when positive outcomes seem very likely at low costs (or if avoiding war will be highly costly)...because it will get them re-elected.
He also suggests that one of the things that made George W. Bush a relatively unimpressive president was his lack of ambition.  (While I agree with this characterization of Bush's personality, I think it was augmented somewhat by the fact that Bush's vice president had no aspirations for the presidency, creating even less incentive to do the stuff that voters care about.)

There. You have your orders.

Women Connecting in Connecticut

In last Wednesday's New York Times, Raymond Hernandez noted a recent CNN poll (PDF) on the Connecticut Senate race between Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Richard Blumenthal.  Hernandez notes the substantial gender gap in the race: there's a 13-point gap between the sexes in their evaluations of the candidates.  Blumenthal is basically tied among men (48 Blumenthal, 47 McMahon), while women overwhelmingly prefer him to McMahon (61-34).  Hernandez's explanation for this: "Many female voters are turned off by her campaign."  She is allegedly failing to "connect" with female voters due to her previous work with professional wrestling and her current tough campaign style.

You know what would have been helpful to mention in this article?  There's a substantial gender gap in virtually all partisan races, regardless of the sex of the candidates.  In fact, there was a 13-point gender gap (identical to the current one!) in Connecticut in the 2008 presidential race.  Indeed, we've had a measurable gender gap in presidential elections since the 60s -- one that seems unaffected by the presence of female vice presidential candidates on the ticket -- and it's been in the 10-point range since the 90s.

Now, one thing that's kind of interesting from 2008 is that the gender gap in Connecticut voting was higher than it was nationally.  Is the gap in the Blumenthal-McMahon race higher than in other races?  That would be useful to know.  But all the Times story provides us with is some sex-based rationalizations for how people probably would have voted anyway.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dems doing well in early voting

As of today, over 700,000 Americans have already voted in the 2010 congressional midterm elections. Michael McDonald is once again reporting on early voting statistics as they come in.  Interestingly, some states provide the party affiliation of early voters, which allows us to make a halfway decent guess as to how they actually voted.  It turns out that the Democrats are doing reasonably well so far.  In Iowa, for example, the breakdown of early voters is 42% Democrats, 29% Republicans, and 29% independents.

Doesn't this violate everything we've heard so far about the likely makeup of the 2010 electorate and the enthusiasm gap?  Well, to the extent this trend holds up, it suggests an interesting divergence in party strategies.  Republicans seem to be focusing on winning the air war, while Democrats are apparently pushing mobilization.  I say this extremely tentatively, but this may just be one of those situations where everyone thinks the Obama folks are losing because they're not winning the daily skirmishes, but they're actually husbanding their resources for when it actually counts.

The growth in early voting is really an interesting and under-developed area for campaign scholars.  Researchers have noted, for example, that when someone of the president's stature comes to down town for a rally, it can give him or some other candidate a short-term boost in the polls.  That boost will soon disappear, so it doesn't matter too much.  But if the visit gets thousands of people to walk over to an early polling station and vote, it can matter quite a bit.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

π

While certainly not ignoring my cake-baking responsibilities, I'm attempting a few forays into the pie world.  A successful apple-picking trip in Penrose, Colorado, yielded a surplus of apples, and I've baked a few of them into pies using this surprisingly simple recipe.  (I'd recommend adding dashes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla to the mix.)  A recent sample can be seen at left.  I'm not yet baking my own crusts, but I suppose that's the next goal.

PS: Just to get a sense of the challenges that lie before me, check out Sherry Zaks' cake page.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The curious case of 1982

Several months ago, Brendan Nyhan took issue with political commentators who were urging Obama to campaign more like Reagan.  Jon Judis, in particular, had argued that economic models in 1982 had predicted Republican House losses of around 50 seats, but Reagan's communications skills limited Republican losses to only 26.  Brendan argued that this was silly -- that midterm elections tend to turn on the fundamentals rather than the president's political skills.

Of course, I'm in sync with Brendan on this point, but when I look at my midterm data, I find that 1982 really was a significant outlier.  Below is a graph showing how the president's party did in every midterm election since 1950 relative to my forecast (based on growth in real disposable income and the president's popularity).  Each data point is the actual gain in seats minus the expected seat gain.  So positive numbers means the president's party did better than expected, even if they still lost seats.
Interestingly, 1982 is the biggest positive outlier in the whole series.  My model forecasts the Republicans losing 47 seats that year, but they only lost 26.  How did they pull that off?

Some possible explanations:
  1. My model isn't very good.  In Brendan's post, he cites Alan Abramowitz' somewhat more complex model that pretty much nails Republican seat losses for that year.  So maybe my bias toward parsimony has some down sides. 
  2. Related to point 1, Republicans held only 192 seats going into the 1982.  It's just hard to lose 47 seats when you only control 192 of them -- you're pretty much cutting bone at that point.  By contrast, the Democrats today control 257 seats, which necessarily includes some districts that aren't generally friendly to Democrats.  A modest Republican wave can take out a bunch of those. (Notably, when I include the number of seats held by the president's party, the forecast for 1982 drops from 47 to 33 -- much closer to reality.)
  3. Maybe Reagan and the Republicans really did have a better campaign and communications strategy than Obama and the Democrats do this year.  Again, though, I doubt this -- both presidents were quite aggressive in trying to pin the economic failures on the previous administration.  What's more, Obama actually enjoys slightly higher approval ratings than Reagan did at this point in his first term.

She got the moon in her eye

I've never read and Joan Vennochi column before today, and I hope never to do so again.  This piece on witches and Christine O'Donnell is astonishingly bad.  Let me comment on a few excerpts:
During this autumn of our discontent, the Delaware Senate race is like every other race in the country. It comes down to a choice between a Democrat and a Republican and which one can do the best job of putting people back to work. Voters just might go with the witch, if they believe she has a job creation potion that is potent enough to succeed. Her Democratic rival — who is up in polls by double digits — has to show that it’s all smoke.
Okay, quick point: if O'Donnell is trailing by double digits, I'd say the burden of proof is on her, not her opponent.
As for the conventional wisdom that Delaware voters could never elect someone like O’Donnell — remember the conventional wisdom that Massachusetts voters could never elect Republican Scott Brown as Ted Kennedy’s successor. Brown never expressed an affinity for the occult, nor did he take up other extreme positions embraced by O’Donnell. But he did overcome the nude centerfold he posed for as a law student.
Um, yeah, well, here's the thing: Scott Brown was an accomplished, moderate state legislator with clear political talents, and he was running against someone who was astonishingly politically tone-deaf.  Neither of those conditions obtain in Delaware right now.  I suppose Vennochi is just saying, "Hey, you never know what might happen," which is certainly true, but isn't much on which to hang a column, no less a political campaign.
Here’s another problem with the attacks on O’Donnell. Casting female candidates of all political persuasions as witches — or bitches — is standard operating procedure for their rivals.
Barbara Bush did it to Geraldine Ferraro (rhymes with rich). The Drudge Report did it to Hillary Clinton. Brown supporters did it to rival Martha Coakley. And the entire liberal establishment — with Mitt Romney’s blessing — is trying to put Sarah Palin on a broomstick to oblivion.... 
Female voters may finally be sick of the “witch’’ line of attack, and O’Donnell, of all people, could be the beneficiary. Who said American politics isn’t flush with irony?
Okay, a few points here.  One, insinuating a female candidate is a bitch is rude and sexist, but it has nothing to do with a female candidate conceding that she was once an actual witch.  As far as I know, no one is seriously calling O'Donnell a witch, either in the occult sense or the sexist one.  She mentioned this herself, both on "Politically Incorrect" many years ago and just this week in her "I'm you" ad.  It's a bit disingenuous to cloak (heh) this witch talk as sexism.

Second, yes, it would be ironic if O'Donnell won this year.  It would also be ironic if Osama Bin Laden won the Nobel Peace Prize.  The same things that make these events ironic also make them very, very unlikely to occur.

The Tea Party and 2008

I've been getting a lot of questions from students and reporters about what to make of the Tea Party.  Fareed Zakaria had a whole panel on the topic this morning, which included some interesting discussions on the role of racism in the movement and its similarity to other populist movements in the nation's past.

One thing I rarely hear mentioned, though, is the link between the Tea Party movement and the 2008 election.  To me, the former cannot exist without the latter.  That is, the Tea Party is a response by conservative activists to decisions made by the formal Republican Party in 2008.  John McCain, we must remember, was neither loved nor trusted by conservatives going into 2008.  His nomination only occurred because conservatives could not agree on a champion: Huckabee was squishy on taxes, Thompson was lousy on the stump, Giuliani was soft on cultural issues, Romney was maybe not quite a Christian, etc.  The only thing conservative activists could agree on was that they distrusted McCain, but that wasn't enough to prevent his nomination.

In the end, conservative activists sucked it up and backed McCain.  They were reassured by party leaders that he was the best they could do in a tough year.  And guess what?  He lost anyway.  By a considerable margin.  To a liberal, northern, urban black guy with a Muslim name.

When parties endure a substantial repudiation at the polls, they tend to go through some sort of soul-searching, which sometimes manifests through divisive primaries.  The fact that the "anti-incumbent" trend during the 2010 primaries seemed to occur almost exclusively within the Republican Party suggests that the GOP is going through this sort of internal debate right now.  They are struggling to determine what exactly it means to be a Republican.  On one side you have establishment types like Karl Rove who say that if you nominate unqualified extremists, you'll lose elections.  On the other you have hardcore activists who say, look, we tried it your way in 2008 and we lost anyway.  Let's try standing for something and see what happens.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Making causal claims with correlative data

Via Steve Greene, here's an excellent Will Saletan piece interpreting the new National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior.  (Seriously, why can't Saletan's articles all be this good?)  Saletan is trying to explain the somewhat counter-intuitive finding that anal sex seems to more reliably produce female orgasms than either vaginal or oral sex.  His explanation:
Only 6 percent of women who had anal sex in their last encounter did so in isolation. Eighty-six percent also had vaginal sex. Seventy-two percent also received oral sex. Thirty-one percent also had partnered masturbation. And the more sex acts a woman engaged in during the encounter, the more likely she was to report orgasm. These other activities are what gave the women their orgasms. The anal sex just came along for the ride.
So why did the inclusion of anal sex bump the orgasm figure up to 94 percent? It didn't. The causality runs the other way. Women who were getting what they wanted were more likely to indulge their partners' wishes. It wasn't the anal sex that caused the orgasms. It was the orgasms that caused the anal sex.
Loyal readers will recognize that I usually do not write about anal sex, except of course as a metaphor.  So why do I mention this here?  Because it's a great demonstration of how we make causal claims when all we have is a correlation.  A lot of social science data, particularly those derived from surveys, are just correlations.  There may be a causal relationship, but without some sort of experiment, it's usually difficult to be sure.  This is where theorizing plays a role.  We don't know for sure that Saletan's got the story right, but his explanation is plausible and empirically testable.

Better state legislatures variable

In my dataset used for forecasting midterm elections, I have changed the variable regarding state legislatures.  It is now the total number of state legislative chambers won by the incumbent president's party.  Thanks to Hans Noel for calculating this.

For what it's worth, my model predicts that the Republicans will take over 16 state legislative chambers this year.

Why can't they be more like those nice Confederate re-enactors?

Robert Farley is right. Nazi impersonators whitewashed of anti-Semitism and Aryan nationalism are not exactly the same thing as Confederate impersonators whitewashed of racism and treason, but they're equally weird.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Unfortunate dialogues with iPhone's Voice Command

Me: "Play Bruce Springsteen."
iPhone: "Now playing songs by Sting."

Dammit, iPhone, are you just going to play anyone from the 1988 Amnesty Tour?  Throw in some Tracy Chapman, why don't you?

Defying the district

I'm pleased to report that the Charlotte Raleigh News & Observer has picked up my article (with Steve Greene) on the electoral consequences of the health reform vote.  That article was based on my blog post in which I found that Democrats who voted for health care reform were running about three points behind those Democrats who voted against it.  It didn't seem appropriate within the article, but I would like to weigh in on some of the normative implications of this finding.

It's pretty easy to interpret this finding as a plus for Republicans.  They said the bill was a clunker that would be rejected by the American people, and here's a good chunk of evidence in support of that.  But what do we think of people, like Reps. John Salazar and Betsy Markey, who are in conservative districts but nonetheless voted for the bill with full knowledge that it would make some of their voters angry?  Are they heroes or fools?

Well, they may have made a strategic calculation that, while the vote would be costly among voters, it would earn them some love from liberal donors and the party establishment, and surely it has done that.  Still, even essentially bottomless campaign coffers aren't likely to overcome a three-point hit.

Beyond this strategic thinking, though, should we be thinking of these representatives as heroes?  After all, they cast a vote based on what they believed was right even though they knew it might cost them their jobs.  Isn't that something we should celebrate?  Are they like Jeannette Rankin, who refused to vote for American engagement in either WWI or WWII, and subsequently shattered her political career?  Or Gov. Ralph Carr, who gave up his future in Colorado's Republican Party by opposing the internment of Japanese Americans?  Or Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, whose vote in support of Bill Clinton's first budget ended her political career?

Jonathan Bernstein has written extensively on this subject, arguing that politicians should worry more about being good representatives than doing "what's right."  And we should be particularly wary of politicians who are trying to do "what's right," if for no other reason than the definition of "right" is rather vague.  This also goes to the more complicated question of whom exactly representatives are supposed to be representing.  Every person in their district?  Every voter?  The people who elected them?  Their party?

I don't really have answers for these questions.  I'm just not convinced that the interpretation of representatives defying their constituents is all that straightforward.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Only One Major Party?

ColoradoPols highlights one of the particular dangers facing the Colorado Republican Party right now resulting from the bizarre governor's race.  According to state law, a "major" party is one whose gubernatorial nominee received at least ten percent of the vote in the most recent election.  Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes is now polling below 17 percent and is still dropping like a stone.

If Maes finishes below ten percent, then the Colorado Republican Party is technically not a major party for the next four years.  This, it turns out, strongly affects how the party can raise money.  Major party candidates are allowed to raise money in both the primary and general election cycles.  Minor parties, however, can only raise money in a primary cycle if there's a primary challenger.  This would substantially reduce Republican candidates' ability to fundraise during the next two cycles.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why are Dems losing their advantage among Latinos?

Ezra Klein posts this Gallup graphic showing net Democratic approval among black, Latino, and white voters:
Whites and blacks have been pretty stable in their feelings towards the Democrats this year.  But can someone explain to me why Latino support for Democrats is plummeting during a year when Republicans have been falling all over themselves to back Arizona-style crackdown laws?  I don't get it. Gallup's explanation, that Latinos are upset with the Democrats for not passing immigration reform, doesn't quite ring true to me.  The passage of the Arizona initiative just has to be a higher salience change than the national government's failure to act.