Thursday, June 30, 2011

All Whitey, all the time

I recently visited relatives in New England, and my visit roughly coincided with the FBI's apprehension of gangster Whitey Bulger. It's hard to express just how much this story has dominated the area's news. The newspapers have lead with the story of Bulger's arrest for a week now, and the local TV news have covered it nonstop.

Last week, I watched what I believe was the local NBC affiliate interviewing Whitey's neighbors in Santa Monica, where he'd resided since the mid-90s. (We were apparently neighbors for a year or so.) They then managed to get a rare interview with actor Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg, of course, was one of the stars of Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," in which Jack Nicholson played a fictitious character inspired by Whitey Bulger. Not surprisingly, Wahlberg had little to add to the coverage.*

All this media attention has a cost, of course. Boston reporter David Bernstein informs me that on Tuesday, the state of Massachusetts had to pass an emergency 10-day extension of its budget because the FY 2012 budget is late. That's actually pretty big state government news. Nonetheless, both the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe used Associated Press reporting to cover that story, since all their regular reporters are off in Whiteyworld.

*It's a pet peeve of mine when actors are interviewed about the political aspects of movies they're in or characters they've played. It's not that they're not smart or informed about such matters -- they certainly can be -- but it's just so far from their area of expertise. This is why I love "Inside the Actor's Studio," where actors get to talk about the challenges of acting and filmmaking. I could listen to Stallone tell the Rocky-esque story of the making of "Rocky" a hundred times and not be bored. In general, I'd much rather hear Julia Roberts talk about the difficulties of playing Erin Brockovich than hear her talk about Erin Brockovich's legal research.

Challenging a sitting president

Rhodes Cook says that Obama's in relatively good shape for reelection because he's not facing a challenge from within the Democratic Party:
For some time now there has been a political rule of thumb: Presidents with little or no opposition in their party’s presidential primaries go on to win reelection, while those who must weather a significant primary challenge are defeated in the fall election.
At this point, there are no signs of a Democratic primary challenge to Obama.
If there was, he would have reelection problems of the first magnitude. For if a president has trouble uniting his own party, how can he successfully reach out to independents and voters from the other party in the fall? The answer over the last century has been that he can’t.
I must respectfully disagree with the direction of Cook's causal arrow. Obama is not facing a challenge from within the party because he's in decent shape for reelection.

Yes, Carter faced a primary challenge in 1980 and lost in the general election, and the same thing happened to Ford in 1976. But the only reason those presidents faced primary challenges was because high quality candidates (Teddy Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, respectively) and their funders and endorsers calculated (correctly!) that their incumbent president was weak, would likely lose, and would likely drag down others in their party should they be at the top of the ticket.

Obama's path to reelection is far from certain, but it will largely depend on what happens with economic growth over the next year. Democrats with presidential ambitions realize that the economy will probably not slip into a recession in the next year and that presidents rarely lose their reelection bids unless the economy is in a recession. Just that much information is enough to keep the high quality challengers at bay until 2016.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To the blandest go the spoils

Beverly just rocked too
hard for Carson Daly.
I found the selection process on "The Voice" pretty interesting. Generally, whether the selecting was being made by the professional coaches (elites) or the audience (masses), the pattern was pretty much the same, with the more interesting artists being eliminated in favor of the blander but more broadly acceptable ones. The duos, the country singer, the chanteuse, the guy who sounded like a gal... all fell to generic pop singers. The final episode was no exception: the elimination began with both of the show's lesbians, leaving only the very attractive, versatile, but almost completely uninteresting Javier and Dia.

I think there's a lesson there for democratic elections. I'm not sure whether to consider "The Voice"'s electoral system nonpartisan or multi-partisan (the four judges had broad power to "nominate" their contestants). Regardless, it shows the down side of Downsian convergence. No one is really offended, but no one is really satisfied, either.

Okay, there are important differences between being The Voice and being, say, The President. Beverly or Xenia or someone else could have been chosen as a pop star and done the job very well, while, say, Dennis Kucinich or Michele Bachmann, while very interesting candidates, would not make particularly good presidents, in my opinion anyway. The nature of the job makes it vitally important to have allies who can help pass legislation, and bomb-throwers really don't have those kinds of allies. A pop singer doesn't need such alliances.

Okay, comparison over.

Slow summer links

I haven't been posting much lately, as you've probably noticed, but I do occasionally see some good links. Here are a few:
  • There are some great details about New York's gay marriage vote in this NYT piece. John Sides expands a bit here and here on what the vote means for political science, particularly the part about the Republican-controlled state senate allowing a vote on which Republicans got rolled.
  • Chris Matthews predicts that Michele Bachmann will beat Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. I assume he's trying to distract us from his prediction that Donald Trump would actually run for president.
  • Reihan Salam explains that running modest deficits is actually good public policy a lot of the time.
  • Jonathan Bernstein notes that the downside of being a country that doesn't back down from a fight is being a country that can be goaded into stupid, self-destructive conflicts.
  • I can't remember who recommended this to me, but the History of Rome podcast series is great.
  • "Usher of the Black Rod" is an actual job title. And the man who holds it is very busy.
  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie orders flags to be flown at half mast in honor of Clarence Clemons. Here's one of the Big Man's greatest solos:

Taking the pledge

Shira Schoenberg:
During his presidential campaign, [George H.W.] Bush signed Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes. The candidate then made his famous statement at the 1988 Republican National Convention: “Read my lips: no new taxes.’’
But the deficit soared, Democrats controlled Congress, and Bush was forced to raise taxes. Democrat Bill Clinton used the broken pledge against Bush during his reelection campaign — and Bush lost.
Read my lips: don’t break promises.
Not so fast. Yes, pledges are important, and the stories of candidates taking them, or refusing to do so, chronicled in this article are interesting and relevant to the current race. And I don't think it's a huge stretch to say that pledges matter in elections, although they're probably much more important in nominations battles than general elections. Mitt Romney may face real difficulties wrapping up the nomination due to his refusal to sign an anti-abortion pledge -- that sends a signal to pro-life activists, who are major contributors of money and volunteers for Republican candidates, that he may not be their best choice of candidate.

And back in 1992, George H.W. Bush's decision to renege on his anti-tax pledge cost him significant support among Republicans and contributed strongly to Pat Buchanan's primary challenge. But to suggest that Bill Clinton only won the general election that year because Bush broke a promise is an extraordinary leap and goes against most of what we know about how elections work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Dream

Matt Yglesias' post on the rather meager ambitions of the liberal vision of the American Dream reminded me of Pink Floyd's "The Gunner's Dream":

A place to stay, enough to eat
Somewhere old heroes shuffle safely down the street
Where you can speak out loud about your doubts and fears, and what's more,
No one ever disappears, you never hear their standard issue kicking in your door.
You can relax on both sides of the tracks
And maniacs don't blow holes in bandsmen by remote control
And everyone has recourse to the law
And no one kills the children anymore.

Roger Waters' vision wasn't particularly radical, but even three decades later, it still sounds pretty appealing.

There can be only two

In a recent column, Mike Littwin simultaneously condemns and engages in the practice of lumping Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann together in the Republican presidential nomination contest. He's hardly the only one doing this -- many political journalists seem to believe there's only room for one conservative woman in the contest. Later in the same column, he seems to suggest that Bachmann or Tim Pawlenty would quickly dispatch with the other, since there can only be one Minnesotan in the race. Meanwhile, Holly Bailey tells us that Jon Huntsman has to distinguish himself from Mitt Romney, since there's only room for one moderate Mormon former governor in the contest.

Still, for my money, no one seems to be falling for this trope harder than Time magazine, which has likened the GOP nomination contest to a March madness bracket. The metaphor only works in the narrow sense that there are currently many competitors and there will eventually be only one, but the mechanism for determining the winner is obviously entirely different. Every candidate will appear on the New Hampshire and Iowa ballots.

Let me just make a quick point here: in the long run, there's only room for one candidate, period. By this point next year, the Republicans will have settled on a single nominee. Prior to that, of course, there may well be just two candidates competing in the post-New Hampshire primaries and caucuses. But there's no reason those candidates can't be two women, or two Minnesotans, or two Mormons, or two Protestant white guys (although no one seems to have concerns about that).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More on unemployment and presidential elections

Carlisle Rainey, a poli sci and statistics graduate student at Florida State, has written a response to my earlier post in which I argued that there was no relationship between unemployment levels and presidential election results. Carlisle's post is definitely worth a read. His main objection to my argument is that there are only 16 elections since WWII on which to draw conclusions. It is possible, he says, that there is an important relationship between unemployment levels and election outcomes, but we just can't detect it because we have so few observations.

This is certainly a valid concern. Unfortunately, those are the data we have. Now, we can look to other elections, as well -- notably, unemployment levels don't seem to affect congressional elections, either -- but if our concern is specifically over presidential elections, we're limited to very few cases.

And perhaps it's incumbent on me to revise, or at least recast, what I said a bit. I wasn't so much trying to argue that unemployment has nothing to do with elections as I was trying to call out journalists who seem to think unemployment has everything to do with elections. If you're going to argue that Obama is in trouble because the unemployment rate will be above 7.5% next year, you really need to deal with the fact that some very easily obtainable data do not support that claim. Reagan won in an historic landslide during a time of very high unemployment, while the Democrats lost control of the White House in 1952 during the lowest unemployment on record.

Interestingly, Carlisle drills down into the data a bit more, finding an important trend if you isolate just those elections in which the president had been previously elected:
Nice catch. And there's a plausible story there, suggesting that voters hold incumbents accountable for unemployment rates but not necessarily parties. (The trend would still hold if you counted LBJ '64 and Ford '76 as incumbents.) My one concern would be that if 16 elections are too few to make good inferences, we should be even more concerned about seven. Also, as Brendan Nyhan points out, we have plenty of measures, like the growth in real disposable income, that explain elections quite well whether or not there's an incumbent running.

All in all, Carlisle has written a thoughtful post about the use of statistics in elections. I look forward to reading more on his blog.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I'm on my way to the Political Networks conference in Ann Arbor. I was signed up to take a day-long course on exponential-family random graph models (I'll explain another time) with Garry Robbins, who was flying in from Australia to teach it. However, he can now not fly to the States due to volcanic activity in Chile, which has sent soot into the air all over the southern hemisphere. Luckily, Carter Butts, who has written a good deal of software on the course topic, has agreed to fill in. 

This is actually the second conference I've attended in the last year that has had to make substantial changes to the schedule because of volcanoes. It's an interesting lesson in the interconnectedness of our world, and also more evidence that the Earth really does want us to leave.

Coordination in the Republican presidential nomination contest

To what extent are Republican insiders managing to coordinate on a candidate for the presidential nomination? There have been a few gubernatorial endorsements (Heineman is backing Romney, for example), and there's some evidence that insiders have already knee-capped Palin, but for the most part it's hard to discern just who the insiders' preferred candidate is or how they're helping him or her.

But before you lose faith, be sure to check out this fascinating post from Adam Bonica and Kevin Collins (via the Monkey Cage). Bonica and Collins use campaign donations to assess candidates' ideology (here's a PDF chapter from Bonica explaining just how he goes about doing that) and then compare those ideology scores with the percentage of all the candidates' donations that were at the sub-$500 level. That produces this chart (Some former candidates are included in there to give a sense of scale.):
Note what the graph shows: the more conservative the candidate, the greater the percentage of his/her donations coming at the sub-$500 level. What does this mean? Well, consider how elites donate --- usually at the highest possible level. Those who give at lower levels are probably enamored of a particular candidacy in a particular year but aren't that central to the party. So this chart suggests that elites seem to be coordinating on the more electable (moderate) candidates and freezing out the less electable (extreme) ones.

This is hardly iron-clad proof of coordination, but it's consistent with a party that sees the 2012 election as difficult but, given the shaky economy, potentially winnable with the right candidate.

Now, of course, there's always a balancing act: insiders want someone electable, but they (usually) aren't willing to give up everything they stand for. Judging from the above graph, Huntsman seems to be doing well among elite donors, but he may prove to have just too moderate a set of stances. Romney, if anyone, looks to be in the sweet spot.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Covering a scandal

Let's say you're the editor of a prominent newspaper covering a competitive election. Your reporters are hearing rumors about a sex scandal involving one of the leading candidates, but your newspaper has endorsed the other candidate. It's just a few days before the election. Do you run the story, potentially affecting the outcome of the election? If you do, what if it turns out the rumors were wrong? On the other hand, if you sit on the story, what happens if it turns out the rumors were right, and through your passivity, voters elect a time bomb?

Well, we needn't speculate further, because this is happening right now. Last Tuesday, Denver voters elected Michael Hancock as their next mayor over Chris Romer by a 58-42 margin. Yesterday's Denver Post, however, detailed a story that the Post had clearly been sitting on for some time: the records of a defunct prostitution service known as Denver Players show that a "Mike Handcock"* who worked for the city and had the same cell phone number as the mayor-elect had hired hookers from them on at least three occasions.

This is actually a pretty interesting case study in media politics in a one-newspaper town. These allegations were first publicized by a local Drudge-style blog shortly before the election, but were never circulated in the print or televised media or even most major blog coverage. I was following the mayoral race pretty closely, and I never heard anything about this until election night, when a reporter made an offhanded comment about it to me (even though he didn't actually report on the story). And one can certainly sympathize with the Post's awkward position** -- this could have tipped the race. Yeah, I know Hancock won by 16 points, but my impression is that a lot of those votes were pretty malleable and would have been swayed by this sort of news.

I'm curious where this goes from here. Does anyone know of a similar situation, where a candidate is elected but a serious scandal emerges before he/she takes office? What happens?

*Hee hee.
**Interestingly, the Post's coverage yesterday was not "Hancock has a hooker problem" but rather "Hancock promised us his phone records and is now reneging."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I must be hopelessly jaded, but I am just failing to find Rep. Anthony Weiner's actions a resignable offense. I've been kind of fascinated by the topic of scandal-related resignations... well, for a long time... but really since reading Cramer's What It Takes, which chronicles some high quality presidential candidates (Gary Hart and Joe Biden) dropping out of the 1988 race because they were plagued by scandals (allegations of infidelity and plagiarism, respectively). What fascinated me in those cases was that the candidates didn't necessarily have to drop out. As far as we know, no one pulled an endorsement or threatened to stop funding them (although that may have happened if they'd stayed in the race), and the pullouts happened long before people started voting. They just became convinced that the horrible media coverage of them would never end, and that only by dropping out could they stop the assault on their lives and their careers.

Of course, had they stayed in the race, the horrible coverage would have ended, or at least changed focus in some way. Bill Clinton proved that. If you just take Matt Yglesias' advice and don't resign, the media will eventually find something else to discuss, or even find a different way to discuss you. Clinton, after all, went from the dope-smoking, draft-dodging womanizer to the Comeback Kid in just a few weeks.

Now, there are scandals and there are scandals, but given that Weiner, as far as I know, didn't engage in criminal activity and didn't send his tweets to a minor, I don't see why this is anything beyond bad judgment, which happens once in a while when middle-aged guys use social media. (Believe me, I know.) If Weiner finds the current media barrage intolerable, then sure, he should resign. But if he thinks he can handle it for another few days until the press finds something else to express moral outrage about, then he should stick it out.

Another option, as Jon Bernstein notes, is the Phil Gramm model: resign and then run in the following special election. It recognizes that there's a question over your conduct, and you submit yourself to the voters (who really have more of a say in this than Nancy Pelosi or Eric Cantor or I do) to see whether you should remain in office.

Would Weiner survive such an election? John Sides highlights an interesting piece of research from David Doherty, Conor Dowling, and Michael Miller showing how the public feels about various hypothetical scandals. Voters, it seems, don't like immoral actions, but they're more tolerant of those than they are of financial scandals or abuses of power. So, as scandals go, this one's probably relatively mild in the eyes of Weiner's constituents.

As for the question that so many news commentators are asking -- "How can Weiner survive?" -- the answer is pretty straightforward: by turning off his TV, and not reading (or posting on) Twitter for a few days.

Negativity and the Denver Mayor's Race

Michael Hancock won yesterday's election for mayor Denver, beating opponent Chris Romer in the runoff by a 16-point margin. This comes after a poll last week showing Hancock with only a ten-point lead. An earlier poll showed only a four-point lead for Hancock, and Romer actually had more votes than Hancock in the early May first-round election. How did Hancock do this?

It's a good question, but the consensus answer from Denver's political elites -- that Denver residents turned against Romer because of his negative advertisements -- almost certainly has to be wrong.

For one thing, for advertising to have moved a race from a four-point gap to a 16-point one would be a shockingly large campaign effect. Advertising effects are difficult to measure, although Alan Gerber, James Gimpel, Donald Green, and Darron Shaw came up with a pretty good experiment. In their large-scale field experiment, they found that roughly $2 million in TV and radio advertising could shift roughly five percent of the vote as measured by tracking polls, although this effect was very short-lived, lasting only a few days to a week. Conversely, Hancock's lead over Romer was not only larger than that but grew over time. Keep in mind that the Gerber et al experiment was ideal in many senses. Most campaign advertising is far less effective and is often countered by the opposing campaign.

Second, this purported campaign effect was in the wrong direction. Romer's negative ads (and yeah, they were pretty negative, although to my knowledge they didn't fabricate anything) are alleged not only to have had no effect on Hancock's numbers, but to have boomeranged and pulled down Romer by 12 points. This is highly improbable. In a multi-candidate race, it's possible for a negative ad to be effective but for voters to lose interest in the candidate running the ad, as well. (Arguably, this is how John Kerry won the 2004 Iowa Democratic caucus -- Gephardt and Dean, who had better initial organization, tore each other down with negative ads, and the voters transferred to Kerry.) But in a two-candidate race, it's far less likely that the attack ads will harm the candidate running them, unless the ads are completely off the wall (which these really weren't). It's not impossible for this sort of boomerang effect to happen, but it's rare, and the notion that Denver residents are so fragile that they can't see a fact-based negative ad without clutching their pearls and fainting is rather silly (and, personally, at least slightly offensive).

Let me suggest a more plausible story: Romer's internal polling numbers last month suggested he was in serious trouble. Despite his win in the nine-way first-round race, there was a clear ceiling on his support, while many other voters who had not voted for Hancock initially were at least open to the idea of doing so. Romer realized the only way he could win this was to pull down Hancock's favorability ratings. Hancock, meanwhile, provided Romer with some convenient flubs, and Romer made the best out of them. Flubs rarely cost a candidate an election (recall George W. Bush?), but that was the best Romer had to work with. The ads just didn't work. Meanwhile, Hancock stuck with his ground game of turning out supporters, and that did work.

I don't have the direct evidence to back this up (at least not yet), but this strikes me as eminently more likely than one of the largest campaign effects in human history occurring in the wrong direction.

Update: Some solid analysis here from Patrick Doyle. He makes some reasonable suppositions about the stability of the vote from the May to the June elections, although an exit poll would be really helpful.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Someone doesn't know how to manage expectations

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 6/6/44:
You will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.... We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

The bookless library - Update

Website claim:
We aim to deliver requested materials within two to four hours using delivery vans running in a continuous loop during library hours.
Reality, according to Penrose library staffer:
It's taking about 24 hours right now.
I suppose those two statements aren't necessarily in conflict; you can aim to do something quickly while in fact doing it very slowly. It's hard to prove intent.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Democrats experience neither highs nor lows. What's it like? Eh.

I missed Mike Sances' post about the "partisan trust gap" at the Monkey Cage when it first came out, but it's really quite interesting. Sances notes that Republicans tend to have much more trust in government during Republican presidential administrations, and Democrats do the same when their party controls the White House. One thing that is not really discussed in the post, though, is the asymmetrical responses by the parties. Note Sances' graph:
It looks like there's a lot more variance in Republicans' feelings toward government than in Democrats' feelings toward government. What's up with that?

Defending economic forecast models

I wanted to elaborate a bit on my reaction to Nate Silver's recent post on the limits of economic forecasts of elections. Silver's post is a good one. He explains one of the better forecasting models out there, Hibbs' bread-and-peace model, which explains something like 90 percent of the variance in elections just by examining real disposable income growth and troop fatalities in American military engagements. But then he notes that the model doesn't do a great job predicting out-of-sample elections. Silver produces this nice chart showing the difference between the model's forecasts and the actual presidential election results:
It's really not a shock that a model would do somewhat less well predicting out-of-sample results. After all, the model was based on only 10 elections -- if we add the data from more recent elections, we get a better model. And really, the model does just fine in post-sample elections. The one marginally large miss is 2000, for which the model over-estimated Gore's vote share by about five points. And just about all forecast models made similar errors with that election. We could chalk this up to poor campaigning skills by Gore, but really, should it be that much of a shock that the party whose president was impeached would underperform in the election a year later?

Where the model really falls down, though, is in the 1930s and 40s. There are some very good reasons why most economic forecast models of presidential elections begin with 1948:
  1. World War II was not really politics as usual in America. Criticism of the incumbent president was rather muted on the most central issue in American life for two election cycles, and troop deaths were atypically high in an atypically popular military engagement. 
  2. The elections of the 30s and 40s encompass the Great Depression, during which economic growth vacillated in fantastic and horrifying ways. Real per capita disposable income dropped by 24 percent in 1932! It grew by 26 percent in 1942! It turns out that voters' partisanship is somewhat robust to these shifts; even when Americans have lost a quarter of their income in a single year under Republican leadership, 40 percent of the country is still willing to vote Republican.  We shouldn't abandon a forecast model for falling down in such extreme circumstances.
  3. Prior to FDR's presidency, the federal government simply had a smaller role in influencing economic booms and busts. It wouldn't be shocking if voters had different expectations with regards to the government back then and voted accordingly.
I don't want to overly apologize for all errors in a model. These really are based on very few data points, and occasionally they'll get it wrong. But Silver makes a huge jump when he concludes, "It’s the economy, stupid. And everything else too." If you were to construct a forecast model of elections based on charisma, optimism, some the-candidate-you-want-to-have-a-beer-with variable, campaigning skills, or even unemployment, you would be catastrophically wrong a good deal of the time. You'd probably do no better than a basic coin-toss. Income growth, unpopular wars, and moderation/extremism really do affect votes on a large scale, while most other stuff really doesn't, despite the quantity of ink spilled over it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Give businesspeople a little credit

I'm with Jonathan Bernstein on this one: the reason that the economy isn't growing robustly just can't be that American businesspeople are terrified of tight new regulations that the Democrats are going to impose any day now but just haven't gotten around to imposing yet.

Look, I've never started a business. But my impression of businesspeople is that if they think they have a money-making idea and they can get the necessary capital together, they're going to start a business regardless of which party controls the White House or the Congress. And if they think they can make more money by expanding, they're going to do that as well.

It may well be true that a substantial chunk of business leaders, perhaps even a majority, prefer that Republicans control the government. But, generally speaking, they're in business to make money, not to prove some political point. They're also capable of doing a little research, and they know that businesses did very well in the last Democratic presidential administration.

If businesses aren't hiring right now, it's probably because they're not convinced that taking on more employees will be a profitable move at this point in the economic recovery. That's not nuts. Demand for a lot of products is still low thanks to the nastiest recession since World War II. But to suggest that businesses aren't hiring because they're terrified of the socialist takeover that's coming any day now but somehow just hasn't come yet strikes me as silly and more than a little insulting to entrepreneurs. I doubt most of them are that irrational or timid.

Similarly, I question Denver mayoral candidate Chris Romer's claims that removing red tape will allow Denver's businesses to suddenly start hiring. If there truly are regulations that protect no one and just annoy businesspeople (an iffy proposition), sure, get rid of them. But I just can't imagine there are business owners sitting around saying, "I could make a mint by expanding my business right now, but I just don't want to fill out all those damned forms."

A la carte

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is West Virginia legally a state?

Susan Schulten has a great post up about the birth of West Virginia (a.k.a. Kanawha) during the Civil War. But one thing I remain a bit fuzzy on is just how West Virginia legally became a state. Note Article 4, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution:
New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress. (Emphasis added)
West Virginia was formed from part of Virginia. According to the Constitution, Virginia's legislature would have had to accede to that, which would have meant the largest state in the Confederacy ceding a quarter of its territory to its enemy. Needless to say, that didn't happen. As I understand it, a Union occupation government in Virginia's northwestern counties simply declared itself to be the legitimate government of Virginia and passed the statehood resolution.

The Constitution doesn't offer the federal government the power to slice apart states to create new ones in the event of insurrection. So I'm wondering how this is even legal. Anyone?

Update: A reader points me to this amazing, if slightly tortured, defense from Abe Lincoln:
The consent of the Legislature of Virginia is constitutionally necessary to the bill for the admission of West Virginia becoming a law. A body claiming to be such Legislature has given its consent.... The division of a State is dreaded as a precedent. But a measure made expedient by a war, is no precedent for times of peace. It is said the admission of West Virginia is secession, and tolerated only because it is our secession. Well, if we can call it by that name, there is still difference enough between secession against the Constitution, and secession in favor of the Constitution.
The whole thing is worth a read.

Unemployment and presidential elections

Binyamin Appelbaum, in today's New York Times:
No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent. Seventeen months before the next election, it is increasingly clear that President Obama must defy that trend to keep his job.
I feel a scatterplot coming on...
Well, let's for a moment ignore the obvious problem with Appelbaum's claim: Reagan won reelection in a landslide with annual unemployment at 7.5 percent. (I'm assuming Appelbaum is working with monthly or quarterly data or something.) The fact is, as the above scatterplot demonstrates, the unemployment rate does not predict presidential elections at all. The Democrats failed to hold the White House in 1952 during the lowest unemployment on record. Parties have both lost and retained the White House during periods of high unemployment. And the biggest reelection margins have occurred with unemployment between five and six percent -- right around the middle of its historic range.

What does matter a great deal is growth in real disposable personal income. As Harry Joe Enten (via Brendan Nyhan) shows, that's actually not looking particularly good for Obama right now:
According to the BEA's prior April report, RDPI grew at 1.8% in the fourth quarter of 2010 over the preceding quarter and 2.9% in the first quarter of 2011. Last Friday, the BEA re-adjusted those numbers to 1.1% and 0.8%.
Of course, what will matter far more for Obama's reelection prospects is how personal income grows between now and next summer. But the nation's unemployment status by itself is not going to affect Obama's.