Friday, July 30, 2010

A murderous election season

According to the Denver Post, interest in being a county coroner is way up:
Only a handful of coroner races are contested during a typical election cycle, but this year 20 of Colorado's 64 counties have battles for the job of managing death investigations on their ballots.
Whether it's the " 'CSI' effect," the down economy or retiring or term-limited coroners, more people than ever are chasing after the office.
Okay, that's pretty interesting.  As far as I know, there isn't a general increase in candidates for all races.  This is centered on coroners.  Is this happening in other states?

If a TV show can have this effect on politics, may I suggest a new show called "County Tax Assessor"?  Maybe starring David Caruso?  It tends to be hard to find candidates for that one.

Weak growth means the House is in play

It's the end of July and second quarter 2010 economic figures are now available from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  And they're not good.  Anyway, these are the numbers I've been waiting for in order to calculate a forecast for the 2010 midterm elections.

Now, before I do that, a note about forecasts.  I do not claim to have any special powers to foresee the future.  I am not doing this to make money.  I think forecast models are helpful when issued before an election for two reasons.  First, they allow us political scientists to test what we know.  It's relatively easy to fit curves after the fact, but it can be very useful to say that this is what we think drives elections, and here's a test based on what's going to happen in the next few months.  Second, they give us a baseline for interpreting the election when it happens.  Republicans will no doubt crow about any electoral gains they make in the fall, but it's helpful to know whether they did better or worse than the models predicted.

Anyway, onto the forecasts.  In my previous posts on this topic (like here), my economic variable has been the growth in per capita real disposable income between the third quarter of the year prior to the election and the second quarter of the election year.  And growth for the current cycle has been pretty anemic -- just 0.88%, while the average prior to midterm elections since 1950 has been 1.69%.  The other figure I include in my calculations is the president's approval rating as of Labor Day, which I'm guessing will be 45%.  That's right about where he's been lately, and his numbers don't bounce around all that much.

Based on these figures, I calculate that Republicans will gain 40 seats in the House.  And guess what?  That's just one more seat than they need to control the chamber.  These figures also predict that the Democrats will lose control of seven state legislatures.

Now, it turns out that I can get a slightly better fit (an R-squared of .64 as opposed to .59) if I instead use the economic growth from the second quarter of the year prior to the election to the second quarter of the election year.  By that measure, Republicans stand to pick up 50 seats, and the Democrats could lose control of 10 state legislatures.

So what does this all mean?  Obviously, these numbers are aren't set in stone, and there are substantial error terms associated with these forecasts.  This is also a pretty simple model: I'm not using data on candidate quality or regional variations, which can be important.  I've used the two variables (economic growth and presidential popularity) that seem the most predictive of midterm election results, but of course these numbers could change drastically between now and November.  The economy could rally, or stall.  (A prediction based on second quarter economic numbers in 2008 would have totally missed the economic collapse that started in September of that year.)  Obama could capture Osama Bin Laden and beat him to death with a shovel on "The View," which I'm guessing would have some short-term impact on his approval ratings.  But barring any major surprises, this is where we are -- a very close contest with a better-than-even chance of a Speaker Boehner being sworn in next January.

Note: My data are available here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The 70s were so awesome

That's Billy Preston and George Harrison meeting with President Ford in 1974.  From TPM's wonderful photo series on musicians and lawmakers.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The politics of the Jedi

I was trying to avoid posting about Drezner's post on the Jedi, but then Bernstein goaded me.  I crumble under that kind of pressure.

Anyway, Drezner is trying to categorize the Jedi Order politically.  Are they libertarians or big government liberals?  As he says,
I think it would be more accurate to describe them as cartelistic -- they refuse to permit a free market in learning the ways of the Force. After all, the Jedi Council's initial inclination is not to train Anakin Skywalker despite his obvious talents, using some BS about fear as a cover. Only when Qui-Gon threatens to go rogue do they relent. The Council does not inform the Senate that their ability to detect the force has been compromised. They're reluctant to expand their assigned tasks -- they're keepers of the peace, not soldiers. Just as clearly, their anti-competitive policies weakened their own productivity, given the fact that they were unable to detect a Sith Lord walking around right under their noses for over a decade. [Emphasis in original]
I think his categorization is accurate, although I'd hasten to point out that the Jedi Council's original decision not to train Anakin was, in retrospect, the right call.  So there's something to be said for elitism.

There are no great analogues for the Jedi in modern American society.  They are a secretive, powerful religious sect contracted by the Republic to do vital governing tasks that include policing and diplomacy.  Perhaps the Knights Templar were similar in some ways, although I don't think the Knights had any real authority within European society.  Their jurisdiction was the Holy Land.  In some ways, the Jedi sound more like the Taliban than anything we've got going in the U.S.

Politically, it's really hard to categorize the Jedi, or the Galactic Republic in general, because Lucas gives us so few policy issues to work with.  The Republic turns a blind eye to slavery, not so much because they like slavery but because they just largely ignore what goes on on the Outer Rim planets.  That's not so much liberal or conservative as weak.  It's also largely unable to resolve a trade dispute among its own members.  Bernstein's analogy to the Articles of Confederation is spot on.  But the Jedi don't really seem to take positions on any of this stuff.

Update: Welcome Atlantic Wire readers!  Wait, I'm a libertarian?  How will I tell my children, Rand and Galt?

Over-representation in the electorate

Ezra Klein put together some Census and exit poll data yesterday to produce a table showing which income groups are over- or under-represented in the electorate and how those groups voted in 2008.  But why do a table when you can make a graphic?  In the chart below, higher red bars indicate more Democratic income groups, and higher blue bars indicate over-representation of particular income groups in the electorate.
The chart nicely shows that the most under-represented segments of the population are, in fact, the most Democratic.  (Ezra calculates this cost Obama 2.3 percent of the vote.)  Interestingly, the most over-represented groups are not the wealthiest, but those making between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.

Monday, July 26, 2010

It was business as usual in campaign office 619

Via Josh Marshall, here's a fine essay by Joel Pollak, Republican candidate for Congress in Illinois' 9th district, in which he compares himself to Steve Biko.  Because, as we all know, being criticized by an opposing campaign is exactly like being beaten to death by racist police in a jail cell.

Yihla moja.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The party scrambles

Via Colorado Pols, this story, if true (the sourcing is spotty), is quite interesting. For those of you not following Colorado's gubernatorial race, Scott McInnis, the likely GOP nominee, has been damaged by a scandal. Basically, it turns out he got paid $300K to write a bunch of water policy articles a few years ago, had some water policy expert write them for him, and then passed off the work as his own. When caught, he tried to blame the policy expert, who wouldn't play ball. Anyway, even thought this hasn't hurt him in the polls much yet, state Republicans are concerned this will really hurt him in the general election, which is already looking like a tight race.

However, they're not asking McInnis to bow out yet, because they want him to beat Dan Maes in the August 10th primary, since Maes is a Tea Partier type who would almost definitely lose in the general. So they're basically waiting for McInnis to beat Maes and then they're going to try to talk McInnis into dropping out. I'm not sure whom they'd replace him with. Possibly State Sen. Josh Penry, who was pushed out of the race last winter.

Anyway, it's an interesting case of party insiders thwarting primary voters, making estimations of future public opinion, etc.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mapping the Tea Partiers

Building off Eric Ostermeier's profile of the congressional Tea Party caucus, Michael Tofias decided to map them:
Tofias notes how different the Tea Partiers are from the GOP caucus as a whole:
For the 111th House, the mean of the Tea Party Caucus members on the first dimension of DW-NOMINATE is .7 and for Republican non-caucus members the mean is .61. On the second dimension, the Tea Party Caucus mean is .15 and for non-caucus members it is -.06. Both these differences are statistically significant.
To me, though, the striking thing is how similar they are to the rest of the caucus.  Yes, on average, they're somewhat more conservative than the typical GOPer, but not that much.  Indeed, the most liberal Republican in the House, Walter Jones (NC), is a Tea Partier.

Political scientist engages in politics

Did you know that the Nebraska Democratic Party currently has no candidate for governor?  Well, Larry Sabato knows, and he's hopping mad about it.  Here's a selection from his (gated) interview with the Omaha World-Herald, as reported by Kyle Michaelis:
"You should absolutely be embarrassed," argued Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "To be unable to put up a candidate for the highest office in your state is not only pathetic, its shirking your duty as representatives of one of the two major parties in this country".....
"It just doesn't happen because, like the presidency, the governor of a state has enormous executive auhority," he said. "You'll see House and Senate seats go unopposed sometimes, but not races for governor".....
"There's got to be someone there," Sabato said. "Some state senator? Someone with a little name recongition and experience?....When everbody knows it's hopeless, I'd think voters - heck, voters from both parties - would be appreciative that someone was brave enough to stand up and take one for the democratic process."
"[Democrats not finding a candidate] would diplay such weakness," Sabato said. "And really, for a group that receives special privileges under the law because they provide Americans a choice, it would be a dereliction of duty."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dinosaurs are obsolete; tenure is still around

In the new Atlantic, Megan McArdle decides to go after academic tenure.  While I think there are plenty of grounds on which to criticize the tenure system (Disclaimer: I was recently tenured), McArdle's attacks strike me as somewhat off-base.

For one, she seems concerned for the well-being of the many struggling young academics who do not make tenure:
They've invested their whole youth, and are back on the job market near entry level at an age when most of their peers have spent ten years building up marketable skills. Many of them will have seen relationships ripped apart by the difficulties of finding not one, but two tenure-track jobs in the same area. Others will have invested their early thirties in a college town with no other industry, forcing them to move elsewhere to restart both their careers and their social lives. Or perhaps they string along adjuncting at near-poverty wages, unable to quite leave the academy that has abused them for so long.
Honestly, I have no idea how many people this describes.  Many who are denied tenure at one school go on to receive it somewhere else.  But yes, there are certainly some academics who are functionally disbarred as a result of a tenure committee's decision.

What would happen if tenure were abolished?  Would that ensure that these folks who try the academic career only to get drummed out of it could somehow keep their jobs?  No, of course not.  It just means that the one big veto point in an academic's career -- the tenure vote, which occurs usually 5 to 7 years into the job -- is spread out over a wider range of years.  A school might fire an underperforming professor in her third year or in her tenth.  And that person would still face the fate of trying to start over somewhere else.  So McArdle's concern for the plight of the denied tenure applicant is noted, but it would hardly be ameliorated by abolishing tenure.

McArdle also goes after the whole idea that tenure protects academic freedom:
Most scholars in their sixties are not producing path-breaking new research, but they are precisely the people that tenure protects. Scholars in their twenties and thirties, on the other hand, have no academic freedom at all. Indeed, because tenure raises the stakes so high, the vetting of future employees is much more careful--and the candidates, who know this, are almost certainly more careful than they would be if they were on more ordinary employment contracts.
Again, what would happen if tenure were abolished?  Scholars would still be careful, because they could still be fired.  At least in McArdle's framework, that caution would just extend until later in life.  However, it's my impression that, to the extent scholars refrain from writing up truly radical ideas, they do so not to suck up to their tenure committee, but to improve their chances of publication.  The biggest hurdle in gaining tenure is usually not teaching sufficiently well nor earning the respect and friendship of more senior colleagues.  It's amassing a publication record.  One does this by submitting manuscripts to academic journals, most of which utilize anonymous peer review.  It's the peer review process that quashes most radical ideas, and really, most of them deserve to be quashed.

Now, of course, there are radical ideas and there are radical ideas.  Some might perceive it as radical for a political scientist to suggest that legislative parties have no power to influence congressional votes.  However, when this argument was crafted well and supported by compelling evidence and innovative methods, it got published, and its provocative nature encouraged further publications and a fascinating debate.  On the other hand, if a political scientist writes 25 pages insisting that the nation that controls magnesium controls the universe and offers little in the way of theory or evidence, that paper will go unpublished, and its author, unless he can think up something else to say, will go untenured.

Even if tenure were abolished, young scholars would still be generally averse to associating themselves with discredited ideas.  That's true of pretty much every profession.  To the extent that a publication record were still necessary for promotions, salary increases, transfers to better schools, etc., scholars would still be interested in crafting arguments that their peers find credible.  So yes, the discipline has a built-in resistance to outlandish ideas.  And maybe, in some cases, that's regrettable, quashing ideas that really should be out there.  But I still fail to see how abolishing tenure solves this problem.

The 4.0.1 upgrade

I recently updated my iPhone from OS 4.0 to 4.0.1.  The update had something to do with how the firmware determines the strength of the cellular signal.  Near as I can tell, all it did was change this:
to this:
See how the first bar is slightly higher than it used to be and the slope is more curved?

Time well spent.

More on state legislative elections at midterm

Arrr... Tim Storey be stealin' me thunder.  Over at Sabato's Crystal Ball, Storey suggests some ominous signs for Democrats who are trying to hold onto state legislatures across the country this fall.  He produces a nice graph (below), going back much further than I did, basically showing that the president's party never gains state legislative seats in midterm elections.*  The only two exceptions were 1934 (huge economic growth in the middle of the Depression) and 2002 (following the 9/11 boost for Bush and Republicans).
Storey doesn't really venture a forecast at this point, except to note that there are several large states, including New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with legislatures that could easily flip to Republican control, and this would affect congressional redistricting in a big way.

*For some reason, using Klarner's data, I find that Democrats gained 10 state legislative seats in 1998, while Storey finds them losing a handful.  Can anyone explain this discrepancy?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Does the economy affect state legislative control?

Earlier today, I wondered if it was possible to predict patterns in state legislative elections the same way we do for congressional and presidential elections.  Well, political scientist, heal thyself.  The NCSL has data on partisan control of state legislatures going back to 1938.  So I plugged that into my dataset on midterm elections and produced the following graph.  The horizontal axis charts the growth in real disposable income between the 3rd quarter of the year preceding the election and the 2nd quarter of the election year.  The vertical axis shows the increase in control of state legislatures by the president's party.
Some observations:
  1. The president's party never gains state legislatures in a midterm election, at least as far back as the data go.  The best a president can hope for is to lose no state legislatures, as happened with Truman in 1950 and Clinton in 1998.
  2. The national economy predicts changes in control of state legislatures even better than it predicts changes in the composition of the U.S. House.  The R-squared for this bivariate relationship is an impressive .54.  It was only .13 for House elections.
  3. The change in control of state legislatures correlates with the change in House seat shares at .82.
  4. While the national economy does a good job explaining changes in control of state legislatures during midterm elections, it falls flat during presidential elections.
You can make of this what you want, but this strikes me as good fodder for the debate over whether the economy structures everything that happens in elections or only structures about 95% of what happens in elections.

UPDATE: Tim Storey at NCSL was kind enough to share his data on state legislative seat shares.  I've used that to make the following scatterplot:
I used percentages rather than raw numbers since the total number of state legislative seats isn't constant over time (Hawaii and Alaska add theirs in starting in 1962).  The relationship between national economic growth and changing state legislative seat shares is statistically significant (p=.003), suggesting that for each percentage point drop in disposable income, the president's party will lose just shy of one percent of its share of state legislative seats.  This bivariate regression has an R-squared of .28, only about half of what it was for statehouse turnover above.

I hope my publications follow a different trajectory

Via Brendan Nyhan, here's Marginal Revolution's chart of the remarkably steady decline in the quality of M. Night Shyamalan's films:
Okay, it's not perfectly linear.  "Signs" is the only case of a film being ranked more highly than its predecessor (although I think I'd prefer "Unbreakable" slightly).  But it's impressive.  And kinda sad.  Is this typical for creative artists?

I assume his next film will be a remake of "Xanadu."  There's no other way to continue the trend.


This sounds like a must-read:
Klingon speakers, those who have devoted themselves to the study of a language invented for the Star Trek franchise, inhabit the lowest possible rung on the geek ladder. Dungeons and Dragons players, ham radio operators, robot engineers, computer programmers, comic book collectors – they all look down on Klingon speakers…
That's from Arika Okrent's new book In the Land of Invented Languages, a study of the 900 languages that people have invented for one purpose or another.  I must put this on my list.

(h/t Charli Carpenter)


Over at RCP, Sean Trende points to some recent polling data suggesting that Republicans are liable to pick up a substantial number of governors' seats in November, leaving Democrats with their smallest percentage of governors since Reconstruction.  I'm not sure this will happen (Trende is also quite confident that the GOP will take over the House, which is far from certain.  Also, as Trende notes, the latest polling doesn't account for some recent meltdowns like Scott McInnis' here in Colorado), but this strikes me as an important topic that doesn't get enough attention in election coverage.

What would it mean for the GOP to occupy three quarters of the governors' mansions? Well, as Trende points out, the big impact in the near term would be in the area of redistricting.  In states where the legislature gets to draw up the new maps, those legislatures would suddenly need to accommodate the views of a Republican governor.  That could mean an entirely different approach to redistricting: A Democratic-run legislature might seek an incumbent-protection approach, protecting everyone's districts, rather than trying to gain new seats for Democrats.  A Republican-run legislature might do the opposite, claiming more House seats for their party.

It gets more complicated in other states where commissions determine the shape of the new legislative maps.  The governor may have an impact on those commissions, but it's far less direct.

Has anyone seen projections for the number of state legislative seats Republicans are poised to pick up or lose?  That would be an extremely useful statistic, although I don't know of any website dedicated to this.

(h/t Kyle)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Light week

Light posting this week due to some travel.  However, if you haven't seen it, I just wanted to call your attention to Ezra Klein's wonderful article on the economy, the deficit, and the 2010 midterms in the Washington Post.  And I say this not just because it quotes me (although wouldn't that be enough?), but also because he's a non-academic who made the effort to address an interesting substantive issue in current politics by reading and synthesizing some relevant political science research.  Good on ye, mate.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Barbara, Where You Bound?

Is Barbara Boxer moderating?  According to Simon Jackman's latest numbers (PDF), she's now the 30th most liberal member of the Senate, with Dianne Feinstein at 31.  In the 110th Congress, according to Keith Poole's numbers, Boxer was the 4th most liberal senator, with Feinstein at 34.

Funny what a tough election year will do.

Nebraska: The Next Frontier

I've previously mentioned some research by Boris Shor, who managed to collect nearly-complete roll call datasets from every state legislature spanning the past two decades.  This dataset really stands to  revolutionize the study of state politics once it's released.  For a taste of what's in there, check out this working paper by Shor and Nolan McCarty (PDF).  It looks at a whole range of issues, including representation and polarization, from the vantage point of this new dataset.  It's extremely rich.

Shor and McCarty make a few interesting comments about Nebraska, which has the only nonpartisan state legislature in the country. What they find runs a bit counter to what Wright and Schaffner found a few years ago in their APSR paper (gated) comparing Nebraska to Kansas:
When we pool the state’s APRE statistic for the first dimension, we find that it is relatively low at 27%. However, four other states (Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia and Wyoming) score lower on this measure of fit. Similar results hold for a two-dimensional model.
We can also use a party-free measure of polarization – the average ideological distance between members – to compare Nebraska to other states. Just like many other states, Nebraska is polarized, and becoming increasingly more so. On average, Nebraska’s Senate is more polarized than 17 other chambers. In fact, it is actually polarizing faster than many other states. By the party-free measure, it polarized faster than 75 other chambers over 1996-2008.
How is it that a nonpartisan legislature is more polarized than 17 partisan ones?  What makes a nonpartisan legislature polarize rapidly?  These strike me as really interesting questions that party scholars should be trying to answer.  I'm on it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The newspapers versus the bloggers

We are writing today to lodge notice with you of our clients' objection, and their intent to seek relief if no corrective action is taken, to your firm's flagrant and persistent theft of our clients' intellectual property.
Whoa.  That's from a letter from MediaNews (the owners of the Denver Post and 16 other Colorado newspapers) to ColoradoPols.  Read about the spat.

(h/t T.R. Donoghue)

White voters hold the key, whatever that means

I have to admit I'm a bit confused by Chris Cillizza's piece on white voters and the 2010 midterm elections. He does a nice job drilling down into polling data, to be sure.  But I'm not sure how to square this statement:
Four years after Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) lost the white vote by 17 percentage points, Obama lost it by 12.
with this one:
White voters... almost certainly hold the key to Obama's and the Democrats' chances in the fall.
So... white voters hold the key to the election, but you can still win an election even while losing whites by a substantial margin.  Um, okay.  We could really use a definition of "hold the key" here.  It clearly doesn't mean that Democrats need to win white voters outright.  So maybe it just means that they're important in some way?  If so, couldn't we say the same about any large subgroup of Republican-leaning voters?  I mean, Cillizza notes that "Obama's approval rating among white voters has dropped from better than 60 percent to just above 40 percent." But Obama's overall approval rating has dropped from the mid-60s to the high-40s since his inauguration, so we're really talking about a similar drop across the board.  What makes white voters so special?

Of course, if the administration were planning some sort of special outreach exclusively to white voters, that would strike me as newsworthy.  But Cillizza provides no evidence for such a campaign.  The evidence presented just shows that Obama is doing just about how we'd expect him to be doing among white voters given his overall standing and given white voters' conservative bent.

I'm also a bit confused here:
One senior strategist, speaking candidly about his concerns on the condition of anonymity, noted that white voters made up 79 percent of the 2006 midterm electorate, while they made up 74 percent of the 2008 vote. If the white percentage returns to its 2006 level, that means there will be 3 million more white voters than if it stayed at its 2008 levels.
Er, no, there won't be 3 million more white voters.  Turnout will be well below 2008 for all subgroups.  It will just likely be the case that the dropoff in turnout will be less for whites than for nonwhites.

(via Brendan Nyhan)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bennet caves to Big Yard Sign

If you live in Denver, you've probably noticed that Andrew Romanoff seems to have a lock on the demographic known as "voters with yards."  For months now, the only visible Democratic Senate yard signs have been Romanoff's, even in Bennet's own neighborhood.  Despite my candidate preferences, I was sort of excited by the possibility that Bennet might win the primary without having any yard signs.  After all, there's painfully little evidence that these things affect voters at all.

Well, it looks like Bennet's putting up yard signs after all.  I suppose there's a natural experiment in there somewhere.  Maybe we can see if Bennet's support goes up noticeably once the signs are installed.  But given the paucity of polls, I'm not expecting a great study out of this.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Discover something; blow it to Hell

I've seen a few folks posting this NPR video about a U.S.-launched space-based nuclear explosion in 1962.  The video is creepy enough.  But I hadn't read the scientific background of the test.  The story starts four years earlier, when scientist James Van Allen discovers radiation belts around the Earth.  (These are now called the Van Allen Belts.)  Apparently, the same day that Van Allen announced the existence of these belts, he
agreed with the military to get involved with a project to set off atomic bombs in the magnetosphere to see if they could disrupt it.... The plan was to send rockets hundreds of miles up, higher than the Earth's atmosphere, and then detonate nuclear weapons to see: a) If a bomb's radiation would make it harder to see what was up there (like incoming Russian missiles!); b) If an explosion would do any damage to objects nearby; c) If the Van Allen belts would move a blast down the bands to an earthly target (Moscow! for example); and — most peculiar — d) if a man-made explosion might "alter" the natural shape of the belts.
The article quotes Colby College's James Fleming as saying, "This is the first occasion I've ever discovered where someone discovered something and immediately decided to blow it up."

Not the same sort of ethical debates we usually have in the social sciences.

Why does this water keep flowing around my hand?

The NY Times has a story today about for-profit companies that are still managing to get earmarks from sympathetic members of Congress, despite a formal ban on such activities.  How?  They set up nonprofits, which are exempt from the ban:
Just one day after leaders of the House of Representatives announced a ban on earmarks to profit-making companies, Victoria Kurtz, the vice president for marketing of a small Ohio defense contracting firm, hit on a creative way around it.
To keep the taxpayer money flowing, Ms. Kurtz incorporated what she called the Great Lakes Research Center, a nonprofit organization that just happened to specialize in the same kind of work performed by her own company — and at the same address.
Now, the center — which intends to sell the Pentagon small hollow metal spheres for body armor that the Defense Department has so far declined to buy in large quantities and may never use — has $10.4 million in new earmark requests from Representative Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio.
I suppose this is another great example of the difficulty of regulating the flow of federal money.  Although I can't help thinking that this is less an indictment of the earmark ban and more an indictment of the rules governing nonprofit corporations.  I mean, if the leaders of a for-profit company can set up a nonprofit and have federal funds for it go to benefit the for-profit company, that kind of makes a mockery of the whole "nonprofit" idea, doesn't it?

APSA needs more contests

Anyone who has attended recent APSA conferences knows that the “audience” for many panels, even on the official program, is now no more than the panelists themselves.
The above quote is from Lawrence Mead's "Scholasticism in Political Science" (gated), out in the recent Perspectives.  Mead's overall point is about the declining relevance of political science due to hyper-specialization.  I'll have more to say about that soon enough.  But he's right -- even while conference attendance is up, attendance at individual panels is quite low.  So what to do?

I propose a panel in the style of "Iron Chef" or "Chopped" in which four scholars have to produce a piece of scholarship in a set time period (say, 20 minutes), to be judged by a small panel.  The model I have in mind works best for quant types but could probably be adapted to qualitative work quite easily.  Basically, at the beginning of the time period, the scholars are given a small dataset consisting of four variables.  Ideally, these variables have little or no obvious relationship to each other.  (e.g.: Annual GDP in the U.S., Florida's alligator population, undergraduate acceptance rates at Ohio State, and incidences of flooding in the Lower Mississippi River.)  Then the scholars must each produce a graph or table that manages to incorporate all of the variables in some compelling way.  Their laptops could all be connected to an LCD projector, which would alternate between each of them showing the audience how the projects are developing.

At the end of the appointed time period, the judges would render a decision.  I'm not sure whether it would be best to eliminate one scholar at that point and then do two more rounds, or whether two or three repeated rounds of the four scholars would work best.  Either way, a winner would emerge.

Trivial?  Sure.  Insulting to the pursuit of science?  Possibly.  But I tell you that the section that tries this will experience a substantial boost in its panel attendance and will be rewarded with more panels the following year.  And God help us, it might be fun.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Polarized voters in California

Over at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, Alan Abramowitz has a nice post about California's recent adoption of the top-two primary, suggesting that it really won't do much to affect legislative polarization.  Why?  Because the state's voters are already incredibly polarized -- more so than the American people in general.  Note this helpful chart:
As the chart suggests, California Democrats are much further left than national Democrats, although California Republicans look pretty much like national Republicans.  Also, Abramowitz notes, liberals and conservatives are geographically concentrated in a few key areas.  If San Francisco liberals are so far left, and there are pretty much no conservatives in the area, then legislative districts in that area will keep electing far-left liberals.

It's interesting to note the slight discontinuity between Abramowitz's voter graph above and Boris Shor's graph of elected officials.  In the latter, California's Republican legislators constitute the most conservative legislative party in the country.  And in general, it's worth remembering that elected officials tend to be more ideologically extreme than their districts.  So the graph above only tells a part of the story about legislative polarization.

(h/t Brendan Nyhan)

Anthropomorphism on Steroids

From Arnold Schwarzenegger's Twitter feed:
Northern CA is the upper body, Southern CA is the lower body, and the Central Valley is the abs. You can't neglect the abs, candidates.
And I presume that the Inland Empire is the glutes, Mts. Shasta and Whitney are the pecs, etc.