Sunday, March 25, 2012

Both parties "outsource"

I've been pleased to see some much-deserved recent pushback against articles that falsely equate both parties. (A recent favorite was Richard Cohen's article claiming that Republicans are irresponsible and Democrats likely soon will be, so they're both the same.) But Kevin Baker's piece in today's New York Times goes way too far in the other direction:
Republicans have fallen prey to one of the favorite tactics of just the sort of heedless, improvident, twenty-first century capitalism they revere. Their party has been outsourced.
For decades, Republicans have recruited outside groups and individuals to amplify their party’s message and its influence.
Baker frames this "outsourcing" as a strategic choice by the Republican Party, but one that has caused it to lose control of its message. And if the focus is solely on using conservative media (Fox News, Limbaugh, etc.) to echo or even generate its messages, then yes, this is a disproportionately Republican phenomenon. But outsourcing vital party tasks goes well beyond having news outlets echo talking points. Both parties have seen outsiders take over the key roles of fundraising, staffing campaigns, generating media strategies, and organizing volunteers over the past half century.

The recently departed James Q. Wilson noted the rise of the "amateur Democrat" back in the late 50s and early 60s. These liberal activists were taking over the party roles that had previously been filled by patronage workers in the old party machines, until a series of court cases and law enforcement crackdowns made it impossible for mayors and governors to keep all those party people employed on the public's dime. And it's not like the only people generating Democratic legislative and public opinion strategies are directly employed by the Democratic Party. A broad coalition of liberal interest groups famously worked together to craft a strategy to defeat the Bork nomination in 1987. Conservative interest groups helped defeat health care reform in 1994, and their liberal counterparts helped make another version law in 2010.

And as for fundraising, please read Karen Crummy's recent analysis of 527 and Super PAC spending in the Denver Post. Crummy finds that in the 2010 election cycle in Colorado, Democratic-leaning groups outspent Republican-leaning groups by a margin of 150 to 1. This helped Democrats retain control of the state senate and a U.S. Senate seat in an otherwise strongly Republican year. The people running this Democratic effort are mostly the same ones who organized in 2004 to get around campaign finance restrictions that hampered the formal parties but not the outside interest groups.

Now, one may legitimately quibble with the whole concept of party outsourcing here. Arguably, interest groups and prominent private citizens have always been key components of the major political parties. This is a key point that I and my co-authors (Kathy Bawn, Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller) argue in "A Theory of Political Parties." But to the extent that there has been a change in recent decades, it's really affected both parties.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Romney, McCain, and the long slog to 1,144

[Important updates below]

I've written a bit previously (here and here) about how Romney has been doing in this year's presidential nomination contest compared to how McCain did in 2008. One thing that makes it difficult to compare the two years is that the current calendar is so backloaded; more than half the delegates in 2008 had already been awarded by the first week of February. We're still not at that point in the 2012 cycle, and it's almost spring. But here's one way to compare them: Below, I've charted McCain's and Romney's delegate shares compared to the total number of delegates that have been awarded to date. So, for example, by the time 1,247 delegates had been awarded in 2008 (Super Tuesday), McCain had won 740 of them. (I've used RCP's estimates of delegate shares in 2008 and 2012.) I've projected a linear path for both years.
So the big thing to note here is that Romney is accumulating delegates at a slower pace than McCain did four years ago. Also of note: Romney will not get to 1,144 delegates (a majority) by the end of the primaries and caucuses assuming he keeps accumulating delegates at his current pace.

Now, some very important caveats. (Speaker Gingrich, if you're reading this, you have enough to work with already, but the rest of you should keep reading.)
  • The two years are still very different. Note that huge jump in McCain's delegate share between acquiring just over 100 delegates to acquiring over 700 of them. Remember, more than a quarter of all the delegates that would be awarded in 2008 were given out on Super Tuesday. We don't really know what McCain's delegate shares would have looked like had delegates been awarded on a more staggered basis as they are this year.
  • Relatedly, due to the slower pace of delegate contests, few candidates have seen fit to drop out. McCain's dominance on Super Tuesday made it clear that no other candidate could win, and Romney dropped out at that point in 2008. Huckabee still won delegates in the South, but his campaign was essentially over by that point. If Romney had gone 12 for 20, instead of 6 for 10, on Super Tuesday 2012, it probably would have led to greater pessimism for Santorum and Gingrich. But there was no such day this year.
  • In a different year, Gingrich probably would have dropped out by now. Only the recent advent of the Super PAC has made his ongoing campaign a possibility. And if he weren't in it, Romney would be acquiring delegates at a quicker pace. (See Josh Tucker's important post on this topic.)
  • There's no real reason to believe Romney will continue to acquire delegates at this same pace this year. Romney looks likely to do well in Illinois tomorrow, as well as in some large winner-take-all states like New Jersey and California* later on. (And I like him for the winner-take-all Utah primary.) [*Note: California's primary is winner-take-all by state and congressional district. Thanks to Josh Putnam, Thomas Lavin, and DemConWatch for catching that.]
So my expectation is still that Romney will have this thing wrapped up before the primaries and caucuses are over. But it may take some time -- NJ and CA aren't until June 5th.

Update: Samuel Minter makes the very important observation that there are different total numbers of Republican delegates in 2008 and 2012, making a direct comparison of raw delegate counts misleading. I don't have a good excuse here. Anyway, I went ahead a changed the raw counts to percentages and produced... almost exactly the same chart:
I'm not really sure why his chart looks so different from mine. Perhaps it's because he's using Green Paper numbers rather than RCP numbers, perhaps because I use a linear projection and he doesn't....

Further update: Here's the chart post-Illinois. Romney's slope has increased ever so slightly.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Breaking: Student unimpressed with professor

I'm not quite sure how to react to this op/ed by a University of Kansas student complaining about tenure and the quality of undergraduate education. It's not like there are no legitimate concerns here. But my first reaction is to say that I don't feel like getting criticized by a student who, by her own admission, skips classes to watch "Seinfeld" and uses her friends and as her primary data sources.

On further reflection, though... No, you know what, I'm going to stick with my first reaction.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How not to cover academic research: Obamacare edition

I was pleased to see how much coverage the paper on the health reform vote I did with Brendan Nyhan, Eric McGhee, John Sides, and Steve Greene received last week. While I see this as an encouraging sign for both academia and political journalism (and blogging!), it also serves as a reminder of the different perspectives and professional goals of academics and reporters.

Basically, we analyzed the impact of a two-year old roll call vote on an election that occurred a year and a half ago. While that may be interesting scholarship to some, it's not really "news," in the sense that it's not, well, new. What is potentially newsworthy is the idea that the effect we reported in the paper -- voters turning against House Democrats for supporting health care reform -- could still be in play for 2012, possibly costing Democrats the Senate and the White House.

Now, notably, our paper doesn't mention this. In our blog write-ups of the paper last week, we offered some very tentative speculation about an impact on 2012. Sides noted several reasons why the Obamacare vote might not matter much this year, concluding in his op/ed that Obamacare may well end up a "sideshow" in the election. Nyhan notes that the economy will be the big salient issue in this year's election. Here's what I had to say:
One reason ACA might not have much of an effect in Congressional elections this year is that all the vulnerable Democrats were kicked out in 2010. The ACA supporters who remain have relatively safe districts. It may be that a few senators who were not up in 2010 could still pay a price (this may be part of Ben Nelson's reason for retiring), but that's much harder to say.
All pretty hedged, tentative stuff, as out-of-sample predictions really have to be. But some recent coverage has gone way beyond this. Doyle McManus at the LA Times thinks that the unpopularity of ACA could spell "serious trouble" for Obama's reelection prospects. And here's what Jeffrey Anderson and William Kristol at the Weekly Standard had to say:
[The authors] conclude that Democrats’ support for Obama-care led voters “to perceive them as more liberal,” “more ideologically distant,” and “out of step.” This was particularly true for independent voters. In other words, voters not only oppose Obamacare as policy but view it as a symbol of a commitment to big-government liberalism.

This strongly suggests that the more Obama-care becomes an issue in the fall, the more it will highlight President Obama’s liberalism in the minds of voters—particularly independent voters. It correspondingly suggests that the more this election is focused simply on stewardship of the economy, the less Obama’s big-government liberalism will be highlighted in voters’ minds.
A few things here. First, the electorate of 2010 will look rather different from the electorate of 2012. To say that our study shows that "voters... oppose Obamacare as policy," as Anderson and Kristol do, is to elide some pretty important differences between the two elections. Second, we really don't know (and our study didn't say) what kind of effect health care reform would have on President Obama. Voters go into a congressional election typically not knowing a great deal about the congressional candidates. A highly salient roll call vote on health care reform could provide a convenient (and not terribly inaccurate) information shortcut for such voters, helping them fill in the blanks in their assessment of the incumbent. But does the health reform vote provide any new information about Barack Obama, whom is already pretty well known by the 2012 electorate? He ran for president in support of this legislation four years ago and championed it throughout 2009 and 2010. What does his support of health care reform tell you that you didn't already know about him?

Meanwhile, Paul Bedard at the Washington Examiner goes even further:
Democratic support for Obamacare cost House Democrats their majority in 2010 and could whack Senate Democratic backers of the president’s health care plan this year, according to a new analysis provided to Washington Secrets.
Well, I suppose it could still hurt Senate Democratic backers of ACA, but we really didn't say that. Here's more:
With the Supreme Court and both parties gearing up for another bruising fight this year over Obamacare, the issue is likely to crash into the fall elections. Masket said that could undermine Democratic efforts to keep control of the Senate, since far more Democratic senators who voted for health care reform are up for reelection this year than in 2010.
That may be true about more ACA supporters being up for reelection this year, but I don't recall saying it or even thinking it. I can't find any claim to this effect in our paper or in our later write-ups. As far as I can tell, Bedard's "Masket said..." statement is pure fiction.

News reporting of academic research is inevitably tricky. Hedged conjecture becomes certain prediction. Statistical controls are often ignored. Discussion is often projected outside the data that produced the original findings. Key concepts about statistical significance are often missed. But it would be nice if columnists and reporters could acknowledge some of the uncertainty inherent in such research, or at least refrain from making stuff up.

Update: Yesterday was a ski day for me, so I'd missed that Jonathan Bernstein made many of the same points about presidential elections. My bad.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Dowager Caketess

Made this for my wife's birthday. Please forgive me, Maggie Smith.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How does Romney measure up?

To follow up on my post about how Romney is doing so far, the following seems like a good point of comparison. It's the share of the delegates held by the main four candidates in the 2008 Republican presidential contest at the end of Super Tuesday (2/5/08). The information comes from RealClearPolitics:
Again, Super Tuesday 2008 isn't a perfect point of comparison with Super Tuesday 2012, as a lot more states had their contests in the former year, but it's a rough parallel. As we can see, McCain held about 60% of the delegates by this point.

Compare this to 2012. According to RCP's numbers, Romney has 381 of the 881 delegates that have been contested -- that's about 43%. So yes, that's lower than McCain's share by this point. But again, the rules are very different this year. More states are using some form of proportionality, whereas more contests were winner-take-all four years ago. So what if the states were all using winner-take-all this year? Here's what it would look like, assuming the plurality winner in each state got all the state's delegates:
Yes, Romney would have about 60% of the delegates, just like McCain did four years ago. Santorum would actually be doing slightly better than he currently is. Gingrich would have the same number of delegates, and Paul would have nothing.

Now, there are all sorts of reasons why this is an imperfect analysis. For one thing, RCP (and other organizations) are making a lot of assumptions when they calculate delegate shares, and these assumptions may turn out to be wrong. Additionally, the caucus states usually end up producing delegates who support the eventual nominee, although there's no reason that has to happen this year. And this doesn't really account for the superdelegates. Furthermore, the system four years ago wasn't entirely winner-take-all. Finally, it's not like John McCain's nomination was all that typical! 

Still, I think this should give us some confidence that, if not for some changes in the calendar and delegate allocation rules, Romney would be broadly considered to be in solid shape and a strong candidate. And even with the new rules, he's still looking pretty good. He is hardly flawless as candidates go, but we shouldn't blame him for institutional rules outside his control.

Obamacare: The roll call and the damage done

It's become an article of faith that Democrats in Congress paid a price for having passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or ACA, or Obamacare) in 2010. I'm pleased to report the publication of a new paper that not only demonstrates that this price was real, but also shows just how it happened. The paper, "One Vote Out of Step: The Effects of Salient Roll Call Votes in the 2010 Elections" (ungated version here), just published in American Politics Research, is the product of some earlier research by Steve Greene and me and by Brendan Nyhan, Eric McGhee, and John Sides. We decided to join forces as an Asia-like supergroup to produce this new paper.

Consistent with the earlier research, we found that those House Democrats who voted in favor of ACA ran around six points behind those Democrats who voted against it in the 2010 midterms. We conducted thousands of simulations and found that, in the majority of simulations, Democrats retained at least 25 additional seats if they had all voted against ACA. That's enough for them to have held the majority.

Politicians and political observers often talk about the demands of party ("Sometimes party loyalty asks too much," said John Kennedy), but it's rare that we see such an explicit tradeoff. Nancy Pelosi actively pushed to pass this bill, achieving a goal that the Democratic Party had been pursuing for decades. And the price of the goal was that she lost her speakership and a few dozen of her colleagues lost their jobs.

Now, how exactly did this happen? Why did a vote for ACA cause a Democratic House members' voters to turn against her? We examine this at the level of the individual voter using a CCES survey. The findings suggest that voting for health reform caused voters to perceive a member as being more liberal, even controlling for the members' overall voting record. In the graph below, respondents were asked to evaluate the ideology of their member of Congress. The solid line represents voters in the districts of Democratic House members who voted against ACA; the dotted line represents those in the districts of ACA supporters:
That one yes vote had an enormous effect on voters, causing them to perceive their representative as being substantially further to the left. And as numerous studies have shown, being ideologically extreme tends to reduce one's vote share.

A final question, which goes somewhat beyond the paper, is whether the effect of ACA goes beyond the 2010 election. Will it hurt Democrats again this year? Some early polling suggests it might, although Bernstein is skeptical. John Sides gets into this issue in a recent op/ed. One reason ACA might not have much of an effect in Congressional elections this year is that all the vulnerable Democrats were kicked out in 2010. The ACA supporters who remain have relatively safe districts. It may be that a few senators who were not up in 2010 could still pay a price (this may be part of Ben Nelson's reason for retiring), but that's much harder to say. 

My co-authors are blogging on this issue, and I'll link as those posts become available. Here's what Sides had to say this morning, and here's a post from Nyhan on this topic. Greene had this to add. We got a bit of pushback from the likes of Jonathan Chait, so here's Sides' excellent followup.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Perhaps our expectations for Romney are a tad high

There is an emerging narrative that Mitt Romney is simply not a good candidate. As Paul Begala said on CNN last night:
We come here, every week, this is the week he'll close the deal, as we say.... It's not the campaign. He's got good people. He's got the biggest super PAC of them all. He's got good ads. He's just not very good at this. I mean, look what we've got. He's just not that talented a politician.
Is this fair? I mean, I haven't been particularly impressed with some of his Mr. Burns-esque gaffes or his tepid response to Limbaugh, but it's hard to demonstrate that those have really hurt him. But he keeps getting criticized for failing to "close the deal." This strikes me as a case of unrealistic expectations.

As Nate Silver observes, Romney has been averaging between 35 and 40 percent of the vote in the contests so far. That puts him right about on par with Carter in 1976, Mondale in 1984, and Dukakis in 1988 -- in other words, well on track to become the nominee and have the party unify behind him.

Why hasn't he "closed the deal"? Because this year's calendar and delegate allocation system are a major departure from what we've seen in previous years. As Matthew Dickinson points out, by Super Tuesday in 2008, more than half of the Republican delegates had been allocated. And that was in early February! As of today, only 36% of the delegates for 2012 have been awarded. The contests are simply more spread out than they used to be. And while the Republicans haven't gone full-proportional for the most part, they're not exactly winner-take-all in most of these states, either, while they largely were four years ago more states were so four years ago.

So when you consider that it's harder for any candidate to amass delegates quickly and that the Republican calendar was designed for a prolonged battle, just what are people expecting Romney to have done? Also, given that his nomination is virtually a mathematical certainty at this point, perhaps we could cut the guy a bit of slack on this narrative.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Health care reform and the bully pulpit

Scott Lemieux has a nice review up of George Edwards' new book On Deaf Ears, which it sounds like I'll need to read/assign soon. It's about the basic ineffectiveness of presidential speeches in changing congressional minds, something our pundit class seems to have a hard time wrapping its head around. I particularly like the discussion of Bill Clinton's experience with health care reform.
The particularly striking example, which Edwards spends a lot of time on, is Clinton and health care. Clinton, in short, did everything that armchair critics of Obama assure us would have produced a better bill than the ACA. The administration crafted a plan itself rather than waiting for Congress to act, and using extensively tested strategies made a conscious decision to “go public” and try to indirectly pressure members of Congress to support its bill by making it more popular. Of course, this approach couldn’t have worked out any less well; presidential communication didn’t make Clinton’s proposals any more popular, and Democrats in Congress who had been largely cut out of the loop didn’t have Clinton’s back.... Granted, Clinton’s health care strategy might (or might not) have worked better if he had Obama’s margin in the Senate to work with. But 1)Obama had very good reasons for not wanting to emulate that approach. and 2)there’s than no reason to think it would have produced a better result and 3)there was a very real risk it would have ended up in health care reform failing entirely yet again.

"Sith" > "Jedi"

I must give Kevin Drum full marks for bravery. It can't be easy to admit that you think that "Return of the Jedi" is the greatest Star Wars film, especially when it so obviously isn't, and when there are so many blogging dorks out there who rightly understand "Empire" to be the best of them.

I will give "Jedi" some credit -- it neatly ties up a complex story with a very satisfying conclusion. It has a solid story arc: Luke's quest to save his father without losing his own soul. And while I find the whole plot to rescue Han absolutely ridiculous, it does, as noted in this epic No Machete Juggling post, demonstrate some important aspects of Luke's development as a Jedi. He's clearly developed some mad skills by the beginning of the film, but his lightsaber is still writing checks his midichlorians can't cash. He assumes he can win any fight, and he assumes his mind tricks will work on anyone. He's also flirting with some dark side stuff, Force-choking one of Jabba's guards. And the final space battle in "Jedi" remains quite awesome, and I still love Admiral Akbar, no matter how stupid he looks.

And I suppose there are simple matters of personal taste here. But I think Drum goes too far when he tries to get us to ignore the Ewoks, which he admits are loathesome:
There are, basically, two extended Ewok sequences. The first, when the Ewoks capture Luke and Han, is inexcusable. I won't even try. But it's only ten minutes of a two-hour movie. The second sequence is the battle for the shield generator station, and in that one the Ewoks really don't matter. It's a set-piece fight, and the Ewoks are just the extras — small, furry extras, but still extras. Ignore them. If someone recut the film to excise most of the first, infuriating Ewok sequence, I honestly think a lot of people would see the rest of it in a whole different light.
No, the Ewoks were not extras in the battle for the shield generator. The Rebels went down to the moon with somewhere around 20 soldiers, right? Everyone was packed into one Imperial shuttle. They expected to find only a small group of guards and stealthily destroy the shield generator. But they instead found hundreds of stormtroopers who were waiting for them. These Rebels were about to get slaughtered. What saved them was the Ewoks. The Ewoks were essential to the Rebels' victory on Endor. And that is among the things that makes "Jedi" irredeemably bad. It is as though three Roman legions were wiped out at the Teutoburg Forest by gerbils.

I would submit that "Revenge of the Sith" is actually a better film that "Return of the Jedi." I recognize that this view, while probably not as controversial as Drum's, is still not the mainstream one. But the "Sith"story is much more coherent, staying fully focused on Anakin's fall. And the fall is masterfully executed and so complete in its outcome. The entire movie is basically a sting, with Palpatine constantly playing on Anakin's weaknesses (his failure to save his mother, his fears over losing Padme, his insecurities over his treatment by the other Jedi) to bring about a crisis. Why did Palpatine demand that Anakin be seated on the Jedi Council, if not to force the Council to resist, adding to Anakin's insecurities? Why did Palpatine so easily slaughter three Jedi in his council chambers but leave Windu -- whom Anakin knew didn't trust him -- appearing to be beating him, even though Palpatine could have killed him at any moment, if not to force Anakin to rise up against Windu?

And Anakin's final fall is so complete, leaving him a smoldering, limbless pile of hate, screaming impotently at the best friend he'd been manipulating into despising, while the woman he was trying to save lays dying. And Obi Wan's final words to Anakin involve (finally!) something like acting. Ewan MacGregor somehow achieves the impossible, delivering an impassioned performance in a George Lucas film, venting both his disgust in Anakin and his own remorse for having trained him.

Mercifully, "Sith" doesn't try to distract us with humorous or furry creatures. Jar Jar is silent. The droids do their jobs. The film is dark and bleak and allowed to remain that way. The few final scenes not focused directly on Anakin -- finding homes for the twins, the remaining Jedi going into hiding, the Death Star under construction -- serve only to set up Episode IV.

I won't call it a perfect film ("Nooooooo!"). But it's really very good, and apart from "Empire," probably the most adult film of the whole series.

Update: Dan Drezner jumps in to assert that "Jedi" > "Sith" and that every film of the original trilogy is better than every film of the prequel trilogy. Fine, be that way.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sandra Fluke and Martin Luther King

Anyone else noticing some similarities between the recent Rush Limbaugh attack on Sandra Fluke and the arrest of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1960? Okay, they're far from perfect analogues -- Fluke was insulted, not jailed, and she wasn't a movement leader or household name until Limbaugh made her one. But there are still some interesting parallels.

In October of 1960, King was arrested as part of a sit-in at Rich's Department Store in Atlanta. John Kennedy, just a few days before the presidential election, made a highly publicized phone call of support to Coretta Scott King, and Robert Kennedy intervened as an attorney to have King freed on bond. Nixon, who had enjoyed a cordial relationship with King, made no public gestures of support at this time, apparently believing it would be inappropriate for him to do so as vice president. These events notably occurred at a time when the African American vote was far less uniformly Democratic than it is today. JFK was making a play for a competitive voting bloc, potentially risking the support of southern whites.

This year, we once again see the presidential candidates seeking the best way to respond to a high-salience political event that could affect the votes of a powerful voting bloc. And the responses are telling. Obama has responded by calling Fluke directly (and publicizing the call). Romney's response has been much more measured, saying simply, "It's not the language I would have used." It's hard to say what Romney really should have said, but given that Limbaugh's own half-hearted apology today went further than Romney did, my guess is that few people will be impressed with Romney's courageous stance.

Now, it should be noted that JFK's stance in 1960 was somewhat gutsier than Obama's today; JFK risked alienating his white southern supporters, without whom Democrats of that time just couldn't win the White House. Conversely, women today (particularly pro-choice women) reliably vote more Democratic than men. Obama hasn't alienated anyone who was likely to vote for him. It's all win for him. But Romney faced a situation similar to that of Nixon and similarly whiffed.

I'll be curious to see if we see this reflected in the polls.

Friday, March 2, 2012

More spending on presidential elections and the peculiar case of 1896

A few commenters at this last post on presidential campaign spending suggested examining spending as a function of annual real GDP. Check it out:
What this chart mainly demonstrates is what an enormous outlier 1896 was. 0.06% of GDP went toward campaign spending. Another way to say that is that for every $1,000 spent in the U.S. in 1896, 60 cents went to finance a presidential campaign. And as we can see, that figure dwarfed those of other years.

My understanding is that spending in 1896 was largely driven by the Republican side, which outspent Democrats roughly 5 to 1. And that spending mainly came from large corporations enlisted by Marcus Hanna to beat back the silver-coining advocates they (correctly) perceived as a threat to their interests.

Another observation: 2008 looks pretty unremarkable.