Friday, April 27, 2012

Edwards and the Clinton experience

Ryan Lizza tweets:
I don't really understand the over-the-top contempt/hatred for John Edwards from same people who defended/have forgiven B. Clinton for same.
Jonathan Bernstein suggests that there are important differences based on the concept of representation. Clinton was known to be a philanderer and basically just promised to put that aside during his presidency. Edwards, conversely, made family and loyalty to his ill wife a central part of his campaign. His betrayal of Elizabeth was a betrayal of the whole purpose of his campaign.

Let me suggest another important distinction: In 2008, Democrats had the experience of 1998 to reflect upon; in 1998, they did not.

In terms of martial problems, Clinton's nomination and election in 1992 were highly unusual. Certainly, we'd had philandering presidents and presidential candidates previously, but rarely had it been such an open issue in the middle of a contentious nomination battle, and almost never had the purported philanderer not only not dropped out of the race (a la Gary Hart 1988), but actually won the nomination. Having dealt with the issue in the winter probably, as Jon suggests, helped to inoculate Clinton for the fall campaign. And yes, there was an implicit deal that active Democrats would not make a big deal out of this issue and that Clinton, in turn, would keep his pants zipped while in the White House.

Now, when Lewinsky's name became public, yes, Democrats ultimately defended Clinton. The Republicans made that easy by determining that oral sex was an impeachable offense. (Yeah, perjury, sure.) But before the impeachment hearings started ramping up, Democrats, particularly the active Clinton loyalists, were hugely pissed at him. He had broken the contract. They'd taken a chance on him but he'd betrayed their trust. Everything they'd worked for for six years was now in jeopardy, and now they'd have to jump into the breach again, not to elect him or his successor, not to fight for health reform or economic justice, not to protect a legacy, but to save his horny ass. Of course, they did it, and Republican overreach, combined with the fact that Clinton's presidency overall ended up looking pretty successful, made it easy for Democratic activists to ultimately defend him, maybe even to forgive him... but not to forget what happened.

So then 2008 comes around and John Edwards draws the exact wrong lesson from history. He figures that if Clinton could get away with it, so could he. But Democratic activists did not want to go through that again, not if they didn't have to. So they dropped him like a hot potato.

Now, there are some other key differences, as well. Edwards' dalliances became public after he'd already dropped out of the presidential race. No one had to defend him. He was of no value to the Democratic coalition. Yes, when your president is under attack, you defend him, even if you find his behavior disgusting. But when a failed presidential candidate is under attack? Who cares?

Related to this, Clinton already had five relatively successful years as president to point to when Lewinsky's name surfaced. Activists could rationalize, "Okay, he's a dog, but he knows how to govern." With Edwards it was more like, "Okay, he's a dog."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Obamacare also rises

I published some work recently (along with the ACA-Effects Posse of Nyhan, Sides, McGhee, and Greene) suggesting that voting for health reform was very costly for House Democrats in 2010, causing them to run 5-6 points worse in the November elections and quite possibly costing them control of the chamber. Well, there's a flipside to this, it turns out. The New York Times reports that two conservative House Democrats -- Reps. Jason Altmire and Tim Holden of Pennsylvania -- lost their primaries earlier this week largely because of their opposition to health reform. So they might well have lost their seats to Republicans in November 2010 had they supported the bill. Instead, they lost their seats to other Democrats because they voted against it. Sucks to be them.

Alert readers, please be on the lookout for other Democrats who opposed ACA and are now facing primary challenges as a result.

What apathy?

Along the lines of the story I mentioned the other day in which a writer claimed that there was no enthusiasm for Obama while providing evidence to the contrary, here's a story in the American Prospect claiming young voters are apathetic compared to how they were in 2008, entitled "Young, Restless, and Not Voting." Note that the entire premise of the story hangs on the following piece of data:
According to a poll released late last week, 61 percent of college-age Millennials (the futuristic-sounding name given to the generation born in the late 1980s and early 1990s) are registered to vote, but only 46 percent say that they will likely do so in November. By way of comparison, in 2008, 58.5 percent of the same age group was registered to vote, and 48 percent of them actually did.
Go ahead, read it again. Okay, let's sum up. Voter registration is higher today among this age group than it was four years ago. And 46 percent claim they will vote in November -- just two percentage points shy of the allegedly staggering 48 percent that voted four years ago. The poll on which that 46% figure was based, by the way, has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points (it says so on p. 40). In other words, predicted voter turnout among young voters this year is statistically identical to actual voter turnout four years ago.

The rest of the article goes on to try to offer some rationale for why this trend that isn't actually occurring is occurring.

I certainly understand the desire to force findings into a theory, even if they don't fit perfectly, but here the evidence is precisely the opposite of the narrative. Maybe we could change the narrative?

Enough with the "only in America" crap

Great post from Paul Waldman, pointing out not only that there isn't huge income mobility in America, but also that America isn't the only place that people of modest means can make it big:
There are lots of places where somebody can come from modest circumstances and achieve wealth and/or power. South African president Jacob Zuma's father was a cop, and his mother was a maid; he grew up without any formal schooling. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's father was an accountant. Evo Morales was a subsistence farmer who turned to growing coca, and now he's the president of Bolivia. Now those are some bootstraps! And you know who else pulled himself up from modest circumstances? Saddam Hussein, that's who. 
Why is it necessary to assert that every good thing about America can only be found in America? We should continue to be enormously proud of the fact that we were the first democracy, but sometimes we act as though America is the only place in the world that isn't still ruled by a king. Are we so insecure about ourselves and our nation that we have to be constantly told that we're the most terrific country that ever was or ever will be, and there's nobody else even remotely like us?


Newt's out. I don't suppose I can say anything about him that hasn't already been said. But I will offer one mea culpa. I used to say that Gingrich had never won an election outside of Georgia and never would. I was wrong. He won Georgia and South Carolina. So there's that.

I would say I'll miss him, except I'm sure I'll be seeing him on TV multiple times a week for at least the next 20 years.

Remembering Paul Sandoval

Colorado Democrats lost a major figure the other day. Paul Sandoval, a one-time Colorado state senator, became a powerful but informal leader of Denver Democrats over the course of his life.

I had a chance to speak with him in 2005, and it was a great interview. It was one of the first confirmatory pieces of evidence I'd collected suggesting that the Informal Party Organization model I used to describe California politics transported well to other states. Here was a guy who made his living running a tamale shop but managed to become highly influential in city and state politics through his control of the resources needed to win primary elections. As one story has it, Sandoval sat in the back of his La Casita restaurant with the Salazar brothers in the 1990s and determined which one of them would run for which office and when, charting out a career that ultimately led to Ken in the U.S. Senate while his brother John served in the U.S. House.

It's hard to know just what sort of title to give such a man. Yes, he was a restauranteur and a former state senator, but his power, his energy, and his legacy were devoted to building and managing a Democratic coalition in Denver and Colorado politics, even though that doesn't appear on a business card. I suppose "godfather" or "boss" are appropriate, if perhaps unnecessarily pejorative. I'll stick with "leader" for now.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Primary whiffs

Jim Newell's rundown of bad presidential nomination forecasts is a bit dickish, but quite funny. Unsurprisingly, I take some issue with his attack on political scientists, mainly Jonathan Bernstein, for thinking Tim Pawlenty had a better shot than was generally acknowledged.

Newell treats pretty much every wrong prediction as equally wrong. And fine, if you make a prediction, you take a chance at being ridiculed, even if your candidate "should" have won. But Pawlenty was a serious player -- a governor with conservative credentials from a moderate state. That's just the sort of person that often gets nominated! Saying a Pawlenty prediction is no better than a Bachmann or a Trump prediction is like saying that predicting the Broncos to win the last Superbowl was no better than predicting the Calabasas High JV Coyotes to win it. One had a legitimate shot. The other never did.

Lack of enthusiasm for Obama demonstrated by enthusiasm for Obama

Here's another entry for the "Problems Obama Doesn't Actually Have" file. An article in today's Denver Post tries to make the case that young voters' enthusiasm for Obama isn't quite what it was four years ago:
When then-junior Sen. Barack Obama came to the University of Denver in 2008, the Democratic presidential hopeful was greeted by long lines and a crowd full of youthful enthusiasm. And while his return to the state for tonight's appearance at the University of Colorado at Boulder more than four years later has produced similarly long waits for tickets, the other response — enthusiasm — is lurching along.
That's the first paragraph. Let that sink in for a second. The one piece of hard evidence we have so far that would allow us to measure student enthusiasm -- long lines to obtain tickets -- suggests just as much enthusiasm as existed four years ago. So where's the evidence that there's less enthusiasm?

Maybe the evidence lies in the quotes? The article includes quotes from four CU students. The first is unapologetically pro-Obama. The second describes Boulder as pro-Obama. The third, an officer in the campus Republican group, is vaguely critical of Obama, and the fourth is somewhat lukewarm toward Obama. This is the basis for a conclusion that enthusiasm is waning? (The other quotes are from a political consultant and a political scientist seeking to explain the enthusiasm gap for which there is no evidence.)

Oh, the article also cites a study showing that fewer than half of younger voters are "absolutely certain" about whom they will vote for in November, but that doesn't really tell us anything about enthusiasm or expected voter turnout.

So, to review: the quantitative evidence suggests that there's just as much enthusiasm for Obama as there was four years ago, and the qualitative evidence is mixed. I'd love to know how the author or the headline writer reached their conclusions.

Now, this isn't to say that enthusiasm for Obama isn't down since 2008 -- it may very well be, although this article certainly hasn't provided the evidence to support that conclusion. But to the extent we're seeing fewer Obama stickers on backpacks and laptops this year than we did in 2008, we might note an important contextual difference: the lack of a primary opponent. I had several students take leave four years ago to volunteer in Democratic contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Ohio. The fact that they're not doing so this year has less to do with an enthusiasm gap than the lack of Democratic contests in those states. My guess is that enthusiasm will be running plenty high on both sides come September.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Squid links

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Poor Obama failing to raise funds he doesn't need

Last September, Nick Confessore wrote in the NYT that the Obama campaign was failing to secure funds from small donors like it did in 2008. Today he's written almost the complete opposite story and still gotten it wrong, which is kind of amazing, really. As he writes:
President Obama’s re-election campaign is straining to raise the huge sums it is counting on to run against Mitt Romney, with sharp dropoffs in donations from nearly every major industry forcing it to rely more than ever on small contributions and a relative handful of major donors.
So now Obama is relying upon the small donors who allegedly weren't contributing to him. Okay. But what does Confessore mean by "sharp dropoffs in donations"? Well, it turns out that's compared to the same time period in 2008. Why might that be a bad comparison? Confessore provides an explanation further down in the article:
With no primary to excite his base, the economy struggling to rebound, and four years of political battles with Wall Street and other industries taking their toll, Mr. Obama’s campaign raised about $196 million through March, compared with $235 million at the same point in 2008 [emphasis added].
The lack of a primary is really important! At this point in 2008, Obama was locked in a tight contest with Hillary Clinton that would go on until June. He really needed the funds. He might not need them as much today, as Confessore again points out:
And with no primary to fight, Mr. Obama is spending much less than he was at this stage in 2008: He had about twice as much money in the bank at the end of March than he did four years ago.
So Obama is suffering compared to 2008 even though he has twice as much cash on hand?

It is, admittedly, hard to find a good point of comparison for Obama at this stage. Here's one, though: George W. Bush was an incumbent president facing no primary opponents in 2004. By the end of March 2004, his campaign had raised around $186 million, which is something like $225 million in 2012 dollars. So Obama's a bit shy of that, although the story notes that Obama has spent a lot of effort doing fundraising with the DNC, which might make for an important distinction. It is also possible that the fundraising environment today is so completely different from what it was eight years ago as to make comparisons meaningless. But the direct comparison to 2008 is highly misleading.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Palin, Secret Service, and dog whistles

Somewhat related to the Secret Service prostitution scandal, it was revealed last night that one of the agents recently fired in the scandal had been assigned to then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008 and was "checking her out" and posting about it on Facebook. Obviously, that's truly unprofessional behavior and shouldn't be tolerated. And obviously, that won't faze Palin, who has a famously thick skin about these sorts of things.

No, wait, I forgot that Palin has the thinnest skin in politics, and whenever anyone disses her, she gets to go on Fox to talk about it. (Damn, I want that deal.) So here's the transcript of a truly painful interview with Greta Van Susteren in which Palin repeatedly tries to link the Secret Service agent's behavior to Barack Obama (who was a U.S. Senator at the time of the incident) and Van Susteren tries (unsuccessfully) to keep the train on the rails. A few key moments:
Palin: Well, this agent who was kind of ridiculous there in posting pictures and comments about checking someone out. Well, check this out, bodyguard. You're fired. And I hope his wife kicks his ocoli and sends him to the doghouse, as long as he's not eating the dog, along with his former boss.
Oh my God, she totally went there! No, I don't know what an ocoli is, but she totally jumped on the Obama-eats-dog meme, giving a subtle shout-out to all the hockey moms out there who disapprove of presidents who eat dogs, or something.

Van Susteren then tries to suggest that maybe Obama should just be held accountable for things that happened during his presidency. But Palin wasn't buying:
Well, Greta, it's not just this particular issue, though, with GSA or with the Secret Service, it's everything that's going on in our federal government right now. What are we getting for the tax dollars that are being taken from our incomes, being sent to the federal government today? 
We're getting higher unemployment numbers than when Barack Obama first took over. We're getting less energy [security] than when Barack Obama took over.... 
And the number one thing, Greta, that he is responsible for is -- he today violating Article I, Section [9], Clause 7 of the United States Constitution in not having a budget. Going on three years, over a thousand days with no budget, no blueprint to run our federal government!
Is this a conservative talking point that I missed? Obama is violating the Constitution by not having a budget? Because you know who's supposed to create a budget? Yeah, the Congress -- that's why is mentioned in Article I. Not that the president plays no role here, but suggesting that Obama is somehow violating the Constitution is a real stretch.

Then Van Susteren concedes that the buck does stop with the president. And Palin's all over that.
Yes. Exactly. That's the bottom line. And thank God we live in America, where in this republic, we have these democratic votes that are taken, you know, every four years in November. And we get to decide whether we want the positive change that we so seek, that we so need in order to keep our nation solvent. 
Thank God that we have that freedom. Thank God that we have the United States military fighting for the defense of freedom!
Yeah, well spoken. You might have thought that after four years with a lot of interviewing experience, Palin would be less of a trainwreck on camera than she was in 2008. You'd have been wrong. For the life of me, I don't know why these interviews keep happening. Are they good for Fox? Are they good for Republicans? Are they good for Palin? I'm kind of doubtful on all three counts.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Colorado Democrats back legalized marijuana

So a majority of delegates at last week's Colorado Democratic Convention and Assembly voted to express support for Amendment 64, the "Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act," which will be on the November ballot. Big news, right? A state party endorsing the legalization of marijuana?

Well, not exactly. First of all, according to the party's rules, only the state central committee can officially endorse an initiative; delegates can just indicate their support. Second, consider who was a delegate to the convention. These were largely people who were elected at their county conventions and who had been originally selected at the precinct caucuses in early March. And the Democratic precinct caucuses contained very few contested races -- only one presidential candidate, no gubernatorial or senatorial races, etc. So these were really the die-hard Democrats who bothered to show up. Chances are, they're not very representative of state Democratic voters as a whole or of state Democratic officeholders.

Now, just by indicating their support for the initiative, they may put some pressure on Democratic candidates to do the same, just to avoid alienating the die-hard activists. But at least so far, prominent Democrats haven't been scrambling to endorse the thing.

"Attack ads work perfectly"?

Via Sullivan, the American Psychological Association Monitor has a nice piece up describing some current research in the use of campaign advertisements. Most of the findings in there emphasize just how modest and ephemeral advertising effects are. That's not to say that there are no effects, just that the effects are small and usually wash away after a few days, but they could matter in a very close race. This strikes me as the appropriate interpretation, and it's consistent with much of what I've seen on the topic within political science. But then there's this part:
In the past, campaigns have been wary of deploying negative ads for fear of backlash, says [political scientist Travis] Ridout. However, that may be changing as campaign operatives see evidence that negative ads can break through party affiliations and also sway independent voters. A case in point: Mitt Romney’s February landslide in the Florida Republican primary came on the heels of the “most negative advertising campaign in history,” according to the nonprofit Campaign Media Analysis Group. The week before the primary, 99 percent of Romney’s ads were negative, while 95 percent of Newt Gingrich’s ads were negative. 
“I wish candidates wouldn’t use them, but attack ads work perfectly,” says Joel Weinberger, PhD, a psychology professor at Adelphi University. “Democrats know it, Republicans know it, and it’s going to get ugly this year.”
A few points here. First, I have a hard time believing that the Florida Republican primary was the "most negative advertising campaign in history," although I guess it depends on how we're defining our terms. History's pretty long. But more importantly, just because a lot of money was deployed by Mitt Romney and his allies against Newt Gingrich and Romney won hardly proves that Romney won because of the negative ads. It's possible -- John Sides has some tentative evidence suggesting that the ads mattered -- but we'd need a lot better data than we currently have to prove that negative ads swayed independent voters away from Gingrich and toward Romney.

And then there's Weinberger's sweeping conclusion that "attack ads work perfectly" and that everyone knows it. Yes, a lot of people are convinced that they work, but that's far from proof that they do. To cite Sides again, "We haven’t remotely arrived at a place where 'research' suggests that negative ads 'work.'" Quite a bit of research suggests they don't do much at all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

With my mind on my money and my money on my mind

Thomas Edsall brings us this beautiful piece of microtargeting, showing the partisan breakdown of various alcohol choices:
Now, call me a cynic, but I'm just not sure how useful this information is to a political campaign. I mean, with a decent political list, you should be able to figure out my party ID, my age, my race, my marital status, my religion, my voter turnout history, and my area of residence. Just how useful is it to also know that I prefer scotch to bourbon?

That said, it's a fun chart. I would not have thought that cognac -- the drink of Louis XIV, Kim Jong Il, and Winston Churchill -- would be the furthest left, but there you are. I also like that Budweiser (which is union made) is to the left of Coors (which is not).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Political scientists, bloggers, and journalists

I'm just back from a truly delightful meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago. Other than a creepy me-stalking meme and some underwhelming smelt at Miller's Pub, it was a big success both professionally and socially (as though I could still distinguish between the two).

I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion called "Toward a Greater Dialogue: Political Scientists Meet Journalists," chaired by Lynn Vavreck. John Sides and I represented the world of political scientist-bloggers, while the journalists were Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and James Warren of the Chicago News Group. (Gilbert maintains the Wisconsin Voter Blog. And be sure to check out Warren's recaps of MPSA for The Atlantic, here and here.) The roundtable made for a really nice discussion (and should be available in podcast format soon), but I wanted to revise and extend my remarks a bit here.

Journalists-meet-political-scientists panels are becoming a regular feature at academic conferences, and I think this is a positive development. If I may draw an historically inspired (if probably inappropriate) analogy, journalism a few years ago was like Kate Winslet in Titanic -- lovely, enjoying first class, but lost in its own world and its own problems. It was largely oblivious to political science (Leonardo DiCaprio in this scenario) -- smart, wanting to impress journalism, but carrying a bit of a chip on its shoulder. In recent years, though, we've begun seeing each other, dancing to Irish music, enjoying the occasional hook-up in the jalopy, enriching both our lives.

Obviously I don't want to push this metaphor too far, since it results in political science frozen to death at the bottom of the North Atlantic. But I think one of the things that has brought us closer together in recent years (other than Billy Zane or sea ice) is blogging. Nyhan, Drezner, Bernstein, PutnamGreene, Dionne, Glassman, the crews at the Monkey Cage and LGM, and many others have been working at making political science research more accessible to journalism and to political observers at large. (I've been trying to do my part, as well.) It was extremely heartening to read, for example, Mark Blumenthal's coverage of the early presidential primaries and caucuses, or this article from the Idaho Spokane Spokesman Review quoting four political scientists on the topic of Tea Party influence in state legislatures. I took these as evidence of the political science perspective working its way into mainstream political coverage, and while these things could have happened without blogs, I'm pretty sure blogs made them more likely.

While I believe this growing relationship between journalists and political scientists has helped to improve the quality of political coverage, it's clear we're not reaching everyone. I was curious if it was possible to measure political science's penetration of journalism. Below is one attempt: I used a Google News search to count the number of times the term "political scientist" appears in the text of New York Times and Washington Post articles annually. This is far from a perfect measure. Nonetheless, two trends emerge: we are quoted more in election years, and we are quoted with decreasing frequency.
Now, as Sides pointed out, if our perspective is being adopted by journalists, maybe they don't have to quote us at all. But it's also possible we're just reaching a small group of journalists, although perhaps they will influence their colleagues. I certainly don't expect us to reach everybody. I imagine the Chris Matthewses and Maureen Dowds of journalism will continue to claim that politics is driven by "narrative" and personality and manliness and tone and clothing and that elections are won by the taller candidate with the best smile whom you most want to have a beer with. But I still imagine we can reach more people. The question is how.

I was heartened during the roundtable to hear the journalists (including one in the audience) say that they actually want our input in their stories -- they seem to think we have something useful to say. One reason they don't always include us is because there are only so many hours in the day, and we have a penchant for droning on and on with caveats and jargon. I think many of us are guilty on this count, and it would frankly be good for us to learn how to describe our research, and that of our peers, with the journalistic audience in mind. Many of our schools offer media training, teaching us how to talk to reporters. We should do this training. Not to dumb down our work, but to learn how to describe it in a way that seems interesting to a broader audience than three reviewers for the American Political Science Review.

I'd also like to encourage more blogging by political scientists. The ability to boil down ongoing research into a few punchy paragraphs is a great skill to have, and not just for talking to reporters. Lynn Vavreck also suggested some sort of poli sci boot camp for journalists, where we spend a day talking to reporters and describing how we approach research questions. And as the reporters made clear, just getting into each others' Rolodexes is a great start. They'll call us if they know who we are, and we should feel free to call them if we have an idea for a story.

I left the roundtable feeling quite encouraged for the future of both political science and political journalism. I'm hoping this conversation is just getting started.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Politicians care about spelling and grammar

Last year, Dan Butler and David Broockman published an article showing that African American constituents who wrote to state legislators were less likely to receive a response than white constituents were. Jayme Neiman, a graduate student at the University of Nebraska, has applied this same framework to a new idea -- the quality of written correspondence. She details the results in her MPSA paper "Does Quality Matter? State Legislative Response to Constituent Communication."

Basically, she sent out e-mails to a random selection of state legislators across the country. Half received a well-written request for information on registering to vote, and the other half received a poorly-worded, poorly-spelled piece of drivel on the same topic. Neiman reports than 62 percent of the well-written e-mails received a response, while only 45% of the poorly-written ones did. Legislators were also more likely to respond themselves (rather than refer the letter to a staffer for response) to the well-written ones.

From my own experiences answering mail for politicians, poorly-written letters are less of a concern than crazy ones -- aliens, fluoride conspiracies, etc. But I admit that's a lot harder to operationalize in a study.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The peculiar issue of medical marijuana

I'm teaching a bit about medical marijuana in my state & local politics class this week. It turns out it's a really useful issue for understanding not only the conflicts between state and federal governments, but also between state and county governments. For a really nice review of the issue, check out Sam Kamin's article on medical marijuana in Colorado. As Kamin writes,
[Medical marijuana use] is seen as a serious felony (albeit an under-enforced one) at the federal level, as something akin to a constitutional right at the state level, and as either a nuisance to be regulated or as a tax source to be exploited at the local level. No other issue of the day -- not abortion, not alcohol, not prostitution, not gambling, not health care -- is treated quite so disparately by those various government entities that regulate it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Surfboard Cake

I made this for my daughter's Hawaiian-themed birthday party. I traced a hibiscus die cut onto fondant to make the flower shapes on the board. It went nicely with the shave ice.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Imagine no campaign donations. It's easy if you try.

Imagine, for a moment, that you didn't need to raise money to run for office, that the government would pay you to run. Who would that help? Would it encourage more moderate candidates, who are usually pressured out of nomination contests by party money because they don't stand for anything? Or would it enable the extremists, whom are normally de-funded due to concerns about their toxic views?

Well, we actually don't need to imagine. Arizona and Maine had just such a system in place for state legislative elections during the last decade. So Michael Miller and I collected roll call votes from those states and compared those who first got elected through "clean" funding with those who achieved offices through traditional funding methods. We report the results in our new paper "Buying Extremists," which we're presenting next week at the meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. Here's a summary of what we found:

  • Clean-funded legislators were more ideologically extreme relative to their districts and parties than traditionally-funded legislators were.
  • The extremism difference faded with time, with clean-funded legislators becoming socialized after several sessions to mirror the views of their traditionally-funded colleagues.
These findings suggest that it's the more ideologically extreme candidates who take advantage of clean funding to run for office. Under the traditional funding system, party donors function as gate-keepers, reducing the power of extreme candidates by channelling money away from them. Take away the gate-keepers, and it's the extremists who break through, contributing to the polarization of the legislature.

Really bad blogger

Apologies for the lack of posting lately. I've been unusually busy. Like really, crazy busy. And on top of that, I got sick and developed vertigo, which makes reading difficult and writing torturous. But I'm trying to get back in the game.