Saturday, April 30, 2011

TV ratings, partisanship, and voter turnout

The Atlantic put together this epic chart showing ratings of top TV shows along with the party identification and voter turnout of the audiences. If nothing else, it's a very nice demonstration of how to plot multiple dimensions on a two-dimensional chart. I really wish they'd shown "Friday Night Lights," -- I wonder how a high quality drama with mostly Republican characters skews. But I'm guessing it didn't have the ratings to qualify.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You never forget your first negotiation

From the Denver Post:
A GOP state senator admitted Wednesday that the redistricting maps Republicans drew were deliberately tweaked to give their side an advantage.
Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said Republicans started out drawing a fair map but then got wind that Democrats were "up to something."
"We're thinking, OK, they're trying to screw us, so we better come back with a new offer that is skewed to the right so that when we start negotiating and we come back to the middle it's a little closer to something that would be even," he said.
Um, yeah. Negotiations work like that sometimes. In other news, political candidates sometimes insult each other during campaigns even though they bear no personal animus towards each other.

A Dune Sea of red ink

If you haven't read this discussion on the economics of using the Death Star to destroy a planet, you really, really ought to. The writers have some very useful insights on why destroying Alderaan might make sense as a warning to other systems, even if it was costly in the short run. (Ever wonder why the Rebels were holed up on Hoth in Episode V? Because all the decent planet were too scared to give them shelter post-Alderaan.)

But there's a bigger issue here that I think needs addressing. Where did Palpatine get all the money? He apparently authorized the creation of the Clone Army (and all of its equipment, including some very large and costly star destroyers) before he was even emperor. And neither the Senate nor the Jedi Council knew about these expenditures until the clones just showed up. Surely the cloners wanted to see some kind of money up front.

On top of that, by the end of the Clone War, Palpatine's begun construction of a Death Star, something that is estimated to cost $15 septillion (although I think could be purchased for a few quintillion). Sure, it's far from completed, but he still would have had to purchased the raw materials, hired the laborers, etc. And we still see no sign that the Senate or the Council knew anything about it. (Remember how shocked Obi Wan was to learn of its existence in Episode IV?) Where did this money come from?

Frankly, it's amazing the Republic lasted as long as it did with such horrible budgetary oversight.

Update: Good point from David Bernstein that a vibrant media (all but invisible in Lucas' movies) would have shed light on this scandal early on. Similarly, the Trade Federation's denial of their invasion of Naboo in Episode I would have found fewer adherents had there been a single news crew there.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A request for contrition

It's still too early to know what the effect of the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate will be on those who have been maintaining that he is foreign-born. To be sure, the hard core folks will continue to maintain a conspiracy. But I'm going to guess that the release will affect at least some of them, and that birthers now comprise somewhat less than 45% of Republicans. I have a small favor to ask of those who have now decided to accept empirical evidence: a modicum of contrition.

To be sure, we are all capable of making mistakes in political judgment. The hard left is just as prone to believing untrue things about their opponents as the hard right is. But the birther episode strikes me as something unusual in that adherents were making a very specific claim that was directly refutable by existing evidence. This wasn't like saying that Obama's too liberal or Bush is stupid. This was an empirical, falsifiable claim. And it was clearly falsified.

A vague parallel in my own life is that I spent much of 2007 trying to convince people that John Edwards was not a douchebag. And I turned out to be wrong about that. And I felt bad about it and sort of apologized to some friends. So I know it's hard.

But it seems to me that after spending several years trying to convince people that the president was an un-American pretender to the throne and deserved to be removed from office immediately and then finding out that you were wrong, the decent thing is not to just say "Yeah, well Obama's still a socialist" or "Well why did he take so long to release it?" or things to that effect. Rather, one might say, "You know what? I have a lot of problems with the president, but I was wrong about this. I'm sorry."

How hard is that?

The bookless library in the news

Inside Higher Ed has picked up on the story about DU's library restructure. They note two important points that hadn't received much attention earlier. First, there's been somewhat of a bait-and-switch:
The original plans -- which did not cause alarm -- called for 80 percent of the materials to return to the renovated library, leaving behind seldom-accessed journals and those with digital replacements, government documents, and little-used books.
But the university announced to faculty members last week that the renovated library would now only hold 20 percent of its current collection, much to the surprise of professors.
The second is that something similar was tried two years ago at Syracuse University and met with massive protests by faculty and students, forcing administrators to change course. I have no idea if DU students or faculty will mount a similar push-back -- the campus is not particularly known for its history of political activism.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Field offices data

I've received a few requests for the data from my POQ paper "Did Obama's Ground Game Matter?" So I'm posting the dataset here. The first sheet is the dataset, the second sheet is a short codebook. Have at it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

For want of a retina, the majority crumbles

An amazing story out of the Colorado statehouse illustrating the dangers of narrow majorities: State Rep. Larry Liston, a Republican from Colorado Springs, just had surgery for a detached retina. His ophthalmologist told him he's not allowed to go above 7,000 feet for the next two weeks while it heals. This means he can't drive up to the Capitol in Denver, as I-25 exceeds that altitude at one point.

With Liston, the Republicans have a 33-32 majority. Now, the chamber has no majority party for the next two weeks, with just 2 1/2 weeks left in the legislative session. And there's a lot of legislative business still to finish. Add to that the fact that Democrats control the state senate and the governor's office, and there's a lot of pressure on Liston's retina.

(h/t Scott Adler)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mixed nuts

Who wants some?

Civil disobedience at DU's library?

I wrote last week about the radical restructure of the University of Denver's Penrose Library, which will remove roughly 80 percent of the books in order to create study spaces and public venues for students. I am now hearing of some symbolic pushback efforts by faculty, although I have no idea how widespread such resistance will be. One faculty member is urging colleagues to withdraw as many books as possible and just keep them in their offices. (We only have to renew books once a year, and I have no idea if we have a limit on how many books we can check out.) I've heard another idea to conduct "read-ins" on the lawn in front of the library during the construction.

Why does no one write about the Civil War like this today?

From a Denver Post front page editorial, April 24, 1861:
The full particulars of the taking of Fort Sumpter by the Charleston traitors, together with the intense excitement created all over the country in consequence, occupied so much of our space Saturday, that we were unable to comment upon that affair as its merits demand. We are at a loss for language sufficiently strong and condemnatory to characterize as it deserves this greatest outrage ever committed against the Republic. The treason of Benedict Arnold, — all the sympathizing efforts of the tories of the Revolution, to give aid and comfort to the British cause, — assume a virtuous hue when compared with this last crowning treachery of the Slave oligarchy.

Do consensus candidates make sense?

Like many Denverites, I've found myself torn between candidates for mayor (although Westword's "Speed Candidating" feature has been both entertaining and helpful). By most accounts, Chris Romer, the son of the former governor, seems to have the broadest range of mainstream Democratic backers. But he's also got a pretty impressive array of Republican endorsers, including some conservative students of mine, as well as former state senator Josh Penry. (Penry, BTW, is the guy who probably would be governor today if he hadn't been pushed out of the Republican nomination race in late 2009.)

It's interesting to consider the perspective of Republicans living in a Democratic city having to choose among a bunch of Democrats to be their mayor. Romer's probably the most centrist of the major candidates, and the fact that he stuck it to the teachers' unions no doubt appeals to Republicans. And on one level, it's impressive that such a broad ideological array of people are backing Romer.

On another level, it's disconcerting. I have a great deal of respect for Josh Penry, but if you were to compare our voting records over the past decade, I'd be shocked if we voted the same way more than 15 percent of the time, and even then it was probably just voting no on some of the sillier initiatives. Really, we should not be supporting the same candidate, and if we are, at least one of us has made a serious miscalculation about who that candidate is.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Game Change

I finally read "Game Change." In some ways, it's a bit of a disappointment. For the most part, it really doesn't tell you anything you wouldn't have known by closely following the news in 2008, which, if you bought this book, you probably did. I would say that "Game Change" is to "What it Takes" as "CSI" is to "The Wire" -- entertaining enough, to be sure, but lacking in depth, quality, and revelatory power.

That said, there are two aspects of "Game Change" that make it worth reading, and possibly assigning to undergrads. The first is the coverage of the early efforts by party leaders to groom Obama for a presidential run. You really get the impression of Obama as a made guy: he'd certainly thought about running for president, but not so early in his national political career. But party elites (broadly defined) from Harry Reid to David Geffen were looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton and directly urged Obama to run. The book's treatment of the Republican nominations process is breezy and uninformative (although I loved the descriptions of McCain and his potty mouth), but these early sections on the Democratic process were really quite good and would fit well into a parties class. (They also suggest that 2008 was a better case for The Party Decides than it originally seemed.)

The second is the examination of how the McCain campaign managed Sarah Palin. Palin comes through in the book as an odd but somewhat sympathetic character. She was initially very eager to help out the McCain ticket and dove into memorizing world facts and developing speeches, but she was soon overwhelmed, thrown into a media firestorm without much preparation. The book makes it sound like she was clinically depressed at one point, sleeping rarely, losing weight, and going blank during conversations. Just prior to the vice presidential debate, the campaign managers decided to intervene, essentially demanding she eat better and take sleeping pills, limiting the amount of information she was expected to memorize, and reuniting her with her family for debate prep. I might use a chapter from this when discussing the role of campaign managers in my campaigns class.

You are my density

My son's entry in the Denver Post's Peeps contest -- "Peep to the Future" -- didn't win or even place. But it did get posted on the Post's website, which made his day.

A library without books

The University of Denver's Penrose library is undergoing a dramatic change starting this summer. The library promises all sorts of wonderful new features -- lots of public space, more study areas for students, lecture and discussion rooms, a café with a patio, among other things. But how will they achieve this without expanding the building? By removing the books.

The library is betting on a vision of the future. It figures that print is dead or dying, that the vast majority of books just sit in the stacks for decades untouched, and that students and faculty are increasingly relying upon electronic texts. So they're switching to an almost completely digitized library. I'm honestly not sure of all the details here. If I want to get an obscure but brilliant text on California legislative parties in the mid-20th century, will I obtain a hardcopy from an off-site facility, or will they have scanned the text to make it available to me as an e-book?

Frankly, I can cope either way. I have fond memories of wandering library stacks and browsing books that just happened to be located near the book I was seeking. In the summer of 1990, I had a stack pass to the Library of Congress, which was a rare honor. I had a research job there reading letters from African-American soldiers to President Roosevelt written during World War II -- physically touching the yellowed letters was an important part of my development as a scholar. But I don't really research that way any more, and I find myself increasingly doing my reading on an iPad. The rise of on-line data collection has been a real boon to me, as well, as I'm old enough to remember actually walking to the FEC to photocopy campaign finance data, which was a true pain.

I recognize, however, that not everyone researches like I do. I've spoken with some folks in the humanities who aren't thrilled with the transformation of the library. Examining old maps or paintings or hand-written texts is not quite the same in electronic format, particularly when your work involves literally staring at something for hours looking for patterns or connections to other works.

I also find myself wondering whether students will actually utilize all this new public space. If we don't need physical books, do we need meeting rooms and quiet study spaces? Or are chat rooms enough? I don't really like being an e-hermit, but these students are at least 20 years younger than I am. How will they study in the years to come?

The university is gambling quite a bit -- $32 million, plus the school's reputation -- on one particular vision of the future. Maybe it's the right one. Or maybe we'll finally develop a national brand identity, only as the school with the bookless library.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The rise of Huntsman?

I just did an interview on the possible entry of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman into the GOP presidential race. Now, he's not a candidate I've been following particularly closely, but I found it interesting that he managed to hire Whit Ayres as a pollster. Ayres is a major player in the world of Republican pollsters, and as I said in the interview, while I don't think it's a big deal to hire a pollster, hiring this one sends a signal to the rest of the field that Huntsman is someone to take seriously. To be sure, Huntsman has some issues -- he currently works for Barack Obama as the U.S. Ambassador to China, for one thing, and also he's currently pulling sub-Bachmann numbers on Intrade. But surely the hiring of Ayres helps a bit. Of course, Ayres did work for Lamar!...

It remains fascinating to me that for all the unserious GOP candidates out there, there have been very few confirmed serious candidates entering the race, and we're just a human gestational cycle away from the Iowa Caucus. Romney is almost certainly in, as is Pawlenty, but a lot of other folks who would normally make for very solid presidential candidates are either staying out or being very tepid about entering. Is it because they think Obama's a shoe-in and they're waiting until 2016? Because the economy's shaky enough that they want to wait and see just how strong the recovery is? Because the Tea Party folks have thrown a wrench into the invisible primary signaling game and it's harder to tell if you have the support to run a reasonable campaign? Because technology makes it easier to organize and fundraise on the downlow without publicly committing?

If you own an iPhone, Apple is tracking you

This is admittedly disturbing news. Apparently, the iOS4 operating system periodically records your location information. It gets transferred to your computer when you sync, and it can be hacked by anyone who has access to your phone or computer.

Go ahead, try it. My computer generated the map below in about 20 seconds. The big blob on the center-right is Denver, but you can also see my travels to Boulder and some ski trips to Winter Park and Copper. Obviously, I don't mind if other people know about this information, but it's rather jarring to learn that this has been recorded without my knowledge by a company from whom I bought a phone.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Passover!

I didn't update my haggadah since last year, but if you're in a jam, feel free to download and print.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Drawing lines over the drawing of lines

The Colorado legislature began its arguments yesterday over the new congressional redistricting plans drawn up by its redistricting committee. I found the arguments over the plans fascinating. Yes, they fell along party lines, but not for precisely the same reasons.

The Democrats are accusing the Republicans of engaging in a pretty typical form of partisan gerrymander: packing all the Democrats into as few districts as possible while making the rest safer for Republicans. And indeed, most of the Republican plans (you can see the maps here) draw a district for Denver and a district for Boulder and a few relatively-liberal nearby ski counties. These would give Jared Polis and Diana DeGette very safe districts but make it harder for Democrats to win the other five districts.

Interestingly, the Republicans aren't accusing the Democrats of doing the converse. Rather, their accusations are more geographic in nature. As Western slope Republican Rep. Don Coram said, "I'm looking at a map that more than likely would have seven congressmen living within a mile of DIA." Looking at the maps, he's not nuts:

Again, the argument isn't that the districts would give an unfair advantage to Democrats or would be too competitive. It's just that it's theoretically possible for every district to be represented by someone from the Denver metro area. I'm not sure whether that would actually happen, but it seems likely that pretty much every primary in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th districts would be a fight over urban vs. rural values.

I should probably add here that I don't have strong views on which is the "right" kind of map. Granted, the 3rd district in the above map looks kind of ridiculous, encompassing Western Slope cities like Cortez and Durango as well as Pueblo on the Front Range and Lamar near the Kansas border. Hell, the district borders five other states. But try drawing up seven "normal" looking districts that respect "natural" communities and still contain the requisite 700,000 or so residents. It ain't easy.

Besides, efforts to draw districts to form permanent majorities rarely have much staying power. People move. Districts change. And candidates and parties adapt. Back in 2002, very few people expected that Colorado's 4th CD would be remotely competitive. Bush beat Kerry by 17 points there in 2004. But four years later, Betsy Markey took it. Still, these sort of efforts can make a difference in the short term, but the outcomes are not always obvious.

Mostly, I'm just enjoying the show.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Aye, aye, oh God aye!

I'm currently reading what may be the most erotic depiction of legislative procedure ever committed to ink:

I'll have what they're having.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'll have the lot

So much to say, so much to say...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Comparing Shutdowns

I haven't seen a whole lot of ink comparing the results of the 1995-96 government shutdown with those of last week's almost-shutdown, so I sought out the opinions of Jonathan Bernstein, Sarah Binder, and Peter Hanson. The following are some reflections, informed by their input, on two key questions I keep asking:

Why was Obama apparently so eager to make a deal?
The conventional about the 1995-96 shutdown is that the event helped Bill Clinton and hurt congressional Republicans. We can certainly understand the logic of that: the president has the bully pulpit, he is a single voice facing off against numerous congressional leaders who don't always agree, he was defending popular programs, etc. And yes, the Republicans made a number of policy concessions to Clinton to end the shutdown. And Hanson tells me that veteran Republicans staffers on Capitol Hill widely regard the 1995-96 shutdown as a colossal screwup on their part. So why wouldn't Obama see a shutdown as his best friend? Why didn't he say, like Josiah Bartlett, "Shut it down."?

Well, part of the answer is that the shutdown didn't necessarily help Clinton as much as is generally believed. As John Sides shows, Clinton's approval ratings dropped during the shutdown and did not improve until roughly two months after it ended. Maybe that later rise was the result of the public processing the details of the shutdown, or maybe it had nothing to do with the shutdown at all. Obama can read polls and might be aware of this.

Second, John Boehner is no Newt Gingrich. To the extent the earlier shutdown was considered a Clinton win, that may have been entirely the result of Newt's antics, in which he whined about his seating assignment on Air Force One on the way to Yitzhak Rabin's funeral and wore unforgivably awful sweaters. While I don't envy Boehner's position, he certainly has more discipline as a politician and seems to be a better negotiator than Newt.

Third, the economy in the winter of 1995 was on surer footing than that of spring 2011. A multi-week shutdown now could have a much bigger impact on economic growth next year than $40 billion or so in budget cuts. Obama understands the relationship between economic growth and presidential vote shares and took this seriously.

Fourth, somewhat surprisingly, Obama does not seem impressed with the power of his own oratory. As with the tax cut deal late last year, Obama eschewed bully pulpit tactics and engaged in a ton of inside negotiations with congressional Republicans. (Bill Clinton, conversely, was happy to demonize Republicans publicly while still negotiating more privately, presumably to "go public" and enhance his negotiating hand.) Why is Obama, of all people, not using the bully pulpit? Well, it might be because he knows how to read a poll and understands that going public doesn't necessarily work in such a simplistic fashion. We have a lot of beliefs about how the president can change the public's mind and thus force Congress to do what he wants, but it's hard to point to many examples of this actually happening. Speeches, as Obama will surely tell you, can inspire people to service, encourage them to vote, rally your base, and many other things. But can they actually change your mind? Can they change the mind of a member of Congress? Not often.

Did Obama get more or less than Bill Clinton did?
This is really hard to answer. In some sense, they had similar outcomes from their respective moments of budgetary brinksmanship: they accepted certain levels of spending cuts while still protecting key priorities (Medicare in Clinton's case, health reform funding in Obama's, etc.) and kept most policy riders off the budget bills. We still don't know the entirety of the deal Obama struck, and it hasn't been approved by all the key people yet, so it's hard to assess everything. It's also worth restating that the 1995-96 shutdown did not have much of an effect on Clinton's approval rating, and while he may have been publicly labeled the "winner" of that round, within a year he would sign welfare reform and adopt deficit elimination as a goal, both of which were Republican priorities at the time.

One key difference is that Republicans emerged from the 1995-96 showdown terrified of another one. That strengthened Clinton's hand in future budget negotiations. This doesn't seem to be the case this time around, although it's still early. Republicans could again threaten a shutdown and just keep using it as a negotiating tactic. Perhaps actually having a shutdown would force them to reconsider that strategy, but it's difficult to know how that would affect them.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Little Cake on the Prairie

At my daughter's request. The log cabin and corral are made from pretzels. The crops (asparagus?) are cut strips of green licorice. Chocolate buttercream frosting served as cement and soil for the crops. The cows are made of sugar. Basically, everything's edible except the horses, the tree, Jack the dog, and Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" Laura Ingalls.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Learning guitar

Me during my midterm.
One of the things I've been doing during my sabbatical is taking guitar lessons. I've been attending classes once a week with a graduate student in classical guitar. He's actually taught me how to read music, something I haven't been able to do since middle school.

Guitar isn't totally new to me -- my friend Marc taught me some chords in college -- but I'm basically learning a completely new skill that's totally divorced from my career choice. I can't remember the last time I did that. (Perhaps making fondant.) It's surprisingly difficult. If my brain was ever wired to do this, it really isn't now. But making beautiful music after days or weeks of struggling with a piece is a very satisfying experience. The trick now is to keep at it after classes end.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reflections of a non-essential employee

I was working in the White House Correspondence Office during the budget shutdown of 1995. Here's what I remember:

  • The executive branch had a pretty strict definition of the term "non-essential personnel." As I recall, pretty much everyone below the level of deputy assistant to the president was sent home. We weren't allowed to work, even for free. (Something about the 13th amendment.) They wouldn't let us in the doors. Interns, however, could still show up, and were given unprecedented access to senior staff. Among these interns was one Miss Lewinsky....
  • The Congress got to make its own determination about which employees were essential. I had several friends who were legislative aides on Capitol Hill, and they continued to work throughout the shutdown.
  • I got to spend roughly a month at home, mostly reading, following the news (it was an eventful time, with the shutdown and Rabin's assassination), and catching up on my coursework for the night classes I was taking at GW. I wore sweatshirts every day and shaved infrequently. We were not getting paid at this time, although we were hopeful that we would eventually get back pay. (We did, but the uncertainty put a damper on my holiday spending.)
  • Society managed to function -- we still had a postal service, a military, police, hospitals, Social Security, etc. We could not use national park facilities. We could not go to museums. We could not tour federal buildings or memorials. It was not a very fun time in the District of Columbia, but it wasn't exactly 1991 Sarajevo, either.
I'm sort of curious how things would be different today. With the rise of e-government, a lot more governing functions (research, tax filing, benefit applications, etc.) can be done without employees, at least in the short term. I'm assuming those servers would continue to function. Also, John Boehner strikes me as a lot less prone to temper tantrums and bad sweaters than Newt Gingrich was, so maybe the Republicans would have a somewhat easier time controlling the news cycle than they did in 1995. Still, I think the public would end up siding with the president on this one.

You are the weakest candidate. Goodbye.

I'm not sure how I feel about this development. Tonight, NewEra Colorado is hosting
an alternative candidate debate for the Denver Mayor’s race, free and open to the public, that will involve a ‘survivor’ theme where candidates will go through several rounds, culminating with a round where the audience will be voting for their favorite candidates using text message voting.
Yeah, this probably provides candidates with all the wrong incentives, and it's pretty tacky. At the same time, it may increase public interest in a pretty low-salience (thus far) election. Generally, my favorite candidates (not the ones whom I'd necessarily vote for, but the ones who I think do the greatest service to democracy) are the ones who can combine both spectacle and substance. Obama is great at this, as is Schwarzenegger. So if a candidate can get through this debate while still sounding reasonably knowledgeable about the issues facing Denver, well that's only good for the city, I think.

Women for Woody

I saw the above magazine on a coffee table in the historic Byers-Evans House in Denver yesterday. I thought it kind of interesting that the Wilson campaign was reaching out to women in 1912. Only six states, containing less than 10 percent of the American population, had enfranchised women by then. But apparently it was enough. According to Jo Freeman, women were playing a very active role in that election, and the major presidential campaigns, cognizant of the growing power of the suffragette movement, sought to woo women for the first time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

MPSA highlights

I posted earlier about the King, Orlando, and Sparks paper, but I wanted to recommend a few other interesting papers that caught my eye at last week's meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago.

  • Jenna Bednar and Liz Gerber show that roughly a third of congressional campaign donations are made by people who live in the candidate's metropolitan area but not in that candidate's district. Food for thought about the whole idea of geographic representation.
  • John Sides and Henry Farrell (of Monkey Cage fame) had a nice paper demonstrating a "Kos Bump": when a candidate is mentioned on the DailyKos blog, that candidate sees a short term boost in fundraising. Mentions by Markos himself are particularly valuable. They haven't put the paper up on the web yet, but it's worth waiting for.
  • According to Sarah Poggione and Janna Deitz, female House members pay a greater electoral price than do male House members for being too liberal for their district. Interestingly, though, women who are too conservative for their district do not suffer for it at all at the polls, although men who are too conservative do. No wonder when Steve Greene and I were looking for examples of candidates who suffered for being too ideologically extreme, we came up with Jeannette Rankin, Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky, and Hillary Clinton.
  • If you have 30 minutes to kill, just ask Justin Buchler and me to talk about the Tea Party. We have no shortage of opinions.
  • The service at Russian Tea Time was somewhat wanting this year, and they continue to water down the vodka flights. But the food is still good and I always have a great time there. Speaking of food, there should be a law preventing MPSA from convening until Miller's Pub has smelt on the menu. I need smelt.


I saw some very good papers at MPSA this year, but one that struck me as simultaneously novel, fun, and useful was this one by Duke grad students Aaron King, Francis Orlando, and David Sparks. The authors are interested in figuring out just how much it helps to be ideologically extreme in a primary contest. Unfortunately, we don't have very good measures of candidate ideology, unless the candidates are incumbents (in which case we can approximate their ideology from their roll call voting records). We're mostly left with guessing at candidates' ideological positions from their speeches, donors, endorsees, etc.

King et al decided to look at candidates' Twitter accounts to see who was following them. In theory, the decision to follow or not follow someone on Twitter is in some ways analogous to the decision to vote/not vote for them or to donate/not donate to their campaign. (No, it's not exactly the same -- I follow Sarah Palin but wouldn't give her money or vote for her. But there are certainly similarities.)

The authors use social networks techniques to boil down the literally millions of connections between hundreds of candidates and other political elites to come up with something akin to ideal points for each person. You can see some lists of these ideal points for House and Senate incumbents and their primary opponents here. The authors also scaled some media figures just to see if the results would be credible. (It turns out that Brendan Nyhan is just to the right of Regis & Kelly but just to the left of Toby Keith.) It doesn't appear on the charts, but they scaled me, as well. I have an ideal point of -.077, putting me to Nyhan's left but to the right of Jesse Jackson. (This is believable.)

This is hardly a perfect measure of candidate ideology, as the decision to follow someone is often made for non-ideological reasons. But it works surprisingly well, confirming other studies' findings about ideology and primary elections. Their ideal points almost perfectly predict party for candidates, with the exception of Mickey Kaus. (Frankly, I'd have distrusted their method more if it had gotten Kaus correct.) Within party, the measures are a bit noisy. Interestingly, they have Andrew Romanoff to the right of Michael Bennet, although not by much. It would probably help if they could bootstrap some sort of standard error equivalent in there just so we could tell whether these differences matter.

One other praiseworthy item: the authors distributed a full-color handout during their presentation which contained a QR code, linking to the project's website. Very cool.

Anyway, this is a project worth watching.

Friday, April 1, 2011


I'm at the Midwest Political Science Association conference in Chicago, tweeting when appropriate/possible.