Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Democracy in Minnesota

Minnesota Public Radio has an interview with the person who claims to have voted for “Lizard People.”

þ: Rick Hasen.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Voters are stupid

That is the only valid conclusion I can draw from these ballots from the Minnesota recount. (þ: Democracy in America) All hail our new overlords, the Lizard People, or at least the folks who vote for them—which may be worse.

Mind you, Frequent Commenter Scott and I used to cast write-in ballots for one of our professors for Lafayette County (Miss.) Sheriff, and I’ve run half-assed campaigns for public office twice, so I’m hardly in a position to complain about people not taking the democratic process seriously.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Putting the southern politics hat on

As James Joyner posts today a recent Strange Maps entry has produced a bit of buzz by showing the overlap between cotton production in 1860 and Democratic voting in 2008. Of course, a map of cotton production in 1860 and Democratic voting in 1908 would also look very similar, but for very different reasons, as Key points out in Southern Politics in State and Nation:

In its grand outlines the politics of the South revolves around the position of the Negro. Whatever phase of the southern political process one seeks to understand, sooner or later the trail of inquiry leads to the Negro.

For those not familiar with Key’s argument, he essentially argued that understanding the politics of the south (at least through the late 1940s, the time Southern Politics was written) required an understanding of how the political structures of the cotton belt states were designed to reinforce the supremacy of “black-belt whites,” the plantation owners who would have been outnumbered politically if blacks had a meaningful right to vote. Democratic single-party rule in the south, and the Democrats’ fortunes nationally, rested on this core of rabid support which saw Republican rule in the south or federal interference as nothing less than an existential threat. Obviously things have changed a great deal due to generational replacement and the changes wrought by the Civil Rights Movement, but it remains an interesting correlation as James points out.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum argues that the South has lost influence in Washington due to the return of unified government under the Democrats, although a look at the chamber median (I haven’t run CJR on the latest House data, but I assume the results are likely to be similar) suggests that the “Blue Dogs,” most of whom are moderate-to-conservative southern Democrats, will have far more influence over what passes and fails in the 111th Congress than Drum might like.

Also of potential interest, Andrew Gelman looks at the relationship between county-level returns and race in various regions of the country.

Incidentally, I usually juxtapose two similar maps (one from Key, one from Gavin Wright’s work on southern economic history) in my Southern politics course—although I’m damned if I know when I’ll ever get the opportunity to teach it again, which is one of the drawbacks of teaching outside the “real” South.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Raining on the realignment parade

John Sides posts a necessary and timely corrective to those commentators hyperventilating over some alleged “realignment”:

For a realignment to occur, there has to be a dramatic and permanent shift in the party coalitions. That shift then ushers in an extended period of party control, which in turn brings with it a notable shift in policy. ... [T]here is little evidence that the 2008 election constitutes a realignment. Why?

* First, even if it did, we wouldn’t know for a while. Years, in fact. As Andrew Busch writes here, “No one can tell whether a particular election is a realigning election until the long-term arrives and one can look back.”

* Second, things didn’t change that much. This is why I posted the maps below. Yes, Obama won states that Democrats hadn’t won in a while, and perhaps demographic trends suggest Democrats will have a chance to win those states in the future. But these small shifts in state-level vote margins don’t signal any wholesale change in partisan loyalties or party coalitions.

* Indeed, if you look at the exit polls (see Phil’s earlier post), Obama does better than Kerry among most every demographic. His vote share among the young and Latinos stands out, but the results don’t suggest a reordering of the party’s coalitions. Instead, it looks more like voters of all stripes were displeased with the economy and President Bush and so voted for the opposing party’s nominee.

* The final nail in the coffin is this analysis from Larry Bartels. He compares the 2008 results in each state to the 2004 results. He finds remarkable continuity across these two elections. His further comparison of 2008 to 1932, where you in fact do see big shifts, is further evidence.

Sides also points out that “the concept of realignment isn’t in such good standing anymore,” which is true, although largely because (a) not everybody has been willing to concede that the 1960s saw a realignment in electoral politics due to the reenfranchisement of African-Americans and the connected emergence of the two-party south and (b) the whole concept of “dealignment” had to arise around the same time and substantially muddy the waters.

Based on the data so far, the only possible candidate groups to have motivated “party coalition shift” are young voters and Cuban-Americans; the latter group, while significant in borking up our policy towards Cuba over the post-Soviet era, are insubstantial outside Florida making them weak agents of realignment. There may be a stronger case for youth voting, but my suspicion is that this has more to do with differential partisan activation (GOP-inclined young voters were not motivated by the McCain-Palin ticket, and turned out at lower rates than Democrat-inclined young voters) rather than a definitive pro-Democratic break in the demographic group.

A further corrective: take the graph in Josep Colomer’s post about the election and replace “Obama 2008” with “Carter 1980” or “Mondale 1984” and is there anyone who seriously thinks that it would be wrong? Realignments result from dimensional shifts (parties and candidates capturing a new majority-winning position that was unavailable in the past due to a reconfiguration of voter preferences) that just aren’t in evidence in this election. Colomer seems to believe that this election is “realigning” but there is no more evidence for that than in any presidential election since Nixon.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Being the center of attention

Given that the networks didn’t call the election until 10pm CST, things worked out last night at the event organized by the US Consulate General to Nuevo Laredo well from a “keeping people at the event” perspective, although the evening was somewhat less festive than it should have been due to the plane crash that claimed the life of Mexican interior secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño Terrazo and seven others Tuesday afternoon. Despite the tragedy and my very limited command of Spanish, however, everyone was very gracious and I think a good time was had by most, if not all.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

On investigation

I think James Joyner nicely captures the dynamics at work when trying to investigate whether or not someone can engage in criminal behavior—in this case, make a contribution to a political campaign under an assumed name. I would only make the point that I doubt Mark Kleiman would object to the use of similar tactics by those investigating airport security or, for that matter, that perennial local TV sweeps favorite of sending an investigative reporter undercover into the meat department of a local grocery store to document all the horrifically bad things that go on behind closed doors—or, for that matter, would object to anyone bragging about having done so, even if violating the law (which I am pretty sure both of these other examples involve).

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Say it ain't so: Joe target of database snoops

Via my Facebook updates feed, the Columbus Dispatch reports that records of “Joe the Plumber” have been looked up in various Ohio databases, potentially in violation of various privacy laws. As I noted over at OTB during the Obama/Clinton/McCain passport snooping controversy, the snooping in this case was almost certainly the result of what was called “imprudent curiosity” in those incidents rather than a concerted effort to dig up dirt on everyone’s favorite small-business owner. That isn’t to excuse the snooping, mind you.

Update: Michelle identifies a broader issue at work here.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Going the full Krugman

The Economist says Larry Bartels’ recent effort to claim Democrats are better for the economy than Republicans is “a political case masquerading as economic analysis.”

Update: Meanwhile, “Michael Walzer would be happier with foreign policy if Obama were president, which is fine, but the article is not as objective as he wants to make it out to be.” Fellow political scientists: there’s only 13 shopping days left to prostitute your reputation forever in the service of a guy who’s going to be elected anyway!

It would be so nice

IHE today has an article on whether or not faculty should give their students Election Day off to go vote. While I’d certainly excuse a student who was working as an election clerk all day, given the ample opportunity for early and absentee voting here I really don’t think I could justify a blanket election day holiday for all students in my courses.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Electronic voting machine injunction in Laredo

The GOP challenger in the local state senate contest plans to seek an injunction against the use of electronic voting machines, and in the meantime has gotten the county elections administrator to require paper ballots for non-disabled voters during early voting. While I’m not very convinced by the fear of widespread vote fraud, having worked as an elections officer over the last year in New Orleans (where we used electronic machines) I can’t say that I’m incredibly confident in the workings of most electronic voting systems as a practical matter, especially given the limited training that most election workers get and the generally low level of technical expertise of those workers. And, particularly given the problems with the recounts in the Webb County sheriff contest earlier this year, serious caution with electronic machines would seem to be advised.

At least for non-disabled voters I think the best solution I’ve seen to date is to use optical-scan ballots with at-precinct scanning (which is what was used in my precinct when I lived in Oxford); that method ensures a paper trail that can credibly be recounted later, along with reasonably fast counts and instant feedback to the voter if their ballot cannot be recorded.

Friday, 17 October 2008

I'd better have plan B ready

If the networks are planning for an Obama blowout, I suppose I need to dump some notes on my PDA about key Senate and House contests so I have something intelligent to say on election night when 7 pm rolls around and the election is effectively over.

By way of explanation: I have been invited to speak at an election night gala being hosted by the U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo, which will be my first foray into real-time election night commentary (along with being my first foray into Mexico and, for that matter, the developing world). I never figured on being plunged into the deep end with an audience who probably understand about as much about U.S. politics as the average American understands about Mexican politics, but at least that keeps things exciting. And it gets me out of teaching my graduate public policy class that night, so there’s a small bonus there.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Hey, you ignorant rednecks! Vote for me!

Rep. John Murtha (D-Racist Part of Pennsylvania) further confirms his idiocy. There is certainly an undercurrent of anti-black racism behind some of the opposition to Obama, just as there is/was an undercurrent of sexism behind some of the opposition to Hillary Clinton and Palin, and much of that undercurrent is concentrated in the Appalachian homeland of (some of) my ancestors, but surely a sitting House member facing reelection could articulate that sentiment in a way that doesn’t insult all of his constituents.

Friday, 10 October 2008

I've been waiting for a miracle

Via Dale Franks, the only political commentary that will be appearing on my office door this election season:

Campaign fail

Friday, 26 September 2008

Suspend this!

Fresh off contributing exactly nothing to the bailout debate in Washington, John McCain has decided to grace us with his presence at the first presidential debate tonight in Oxford. In case he hasn’t run his campaign enough into the ground this week, may I suggest that his handlers arrange a lengthy photo-op at the Cavalier Shoppe on his way to or from Oxford just to put the finishing touches on his apparent efforts to outdo Mondale and McGovern as a presidential loser.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Hilzoy: Not a public opinion scholar

Hilzoy wonders why more people think Barack Obama will raise their taxes than think John McCain will, despite fancy graphs indicating that neither will raise most peoples’ taxes. Three broad hypotheses spring to mind:

  1. Voters do not believe Democrats (and Obama in particular) are credible on promising tax cuts or holding the line on taxes. Obama’s vote for a budget resolution that contemplated raising taxes (even if, in of itself, it did not raise them) does not help his credibility on this score. The inscrutability of how Washington works to the average voter strikes again—a similar procedural-versus-substantive vote issue, after all, was the basis for John Kerry’s “for it before he was against it” problem.
  2. Voters do not believe that the promises on the campaign trail regarding taxes reflect the situation that both candidates will face after the election. Presidents do not decide fiscal policy in a vacuum; instead, both will face a left-of-center Congress committed to both the appearance of fiscal responsibility and more progressive tax rates. For example, a “solidarity” tax increase on a greater portion of the “middle class” than anticipated by Obama (however “middle class” is defined) to fund programs like universal health care is not unlikely.
  3. It’s all heuristics. Voters have no actual knowledge of either candidates’ tax plans (rationally or irrationally—I’d argue rationally, due in part to point 2) and are relying on a schematic conception of politics in which Democrats are seen as more likely to raise taxes than Republicans.

Notice in the full report of the poll results the graph labeled “Economic Groups Perceived to Benefit Most in an Obama or McCain Presidency,” in which the heuristic perceptions of the public comport to a greater degree to the promised tax plans, in large part because both candidates are promising plans that—in their effects on various subsets of the population—are more consistent with what we’d expect Republican and Democratic fiscal policies to emphasize.

Incidentally, none of these explanations require voters to even be aware of the campaign spin regarding Obama’s tax positions; one suspects most voters aren’t.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Third-world elections

Via Marvin King and Dad comes word that a minor blow-up is happening in Mississippi over the placement of the Musgrove-Wicker Senate contest on the state’s ballot, after Gov. Haley Barbour approved a sample ballot issued by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (both Republicans) placing that election at the bottom of the ballot, in apparent contradiction of a state law that requires federal contests to be listed at the top of the ballot. Following my general rule not to attribute to malice what may simply reflect ignorance or an honestly-held, different interpretation of the law, I won’t leap to the conclusion that Hosemann, who drafted the ballot and is relatively new to the job, is engaged in partisan shenanigans. But Hosemann and Barbour should nonetheless fix the sample ballot forthwith and save the state’s taxpayers the cost of litigation. (I have no particular dog in this fight; both Wicker and Musgrove are, in my opinion, unworthy of election to any high office beyond that of class dunce, given their track records in office.)

Over the longer term, while I am not fully convinced that “independent” electoral arrangements are in practice much more fair than partisan ones, the state legislature should at the very least modify the election code to ensure the full board of election commissioners—which also includes the state Attorney General—reviews the ballot before it is issued.

Jargon obsession

One of the more annoying experiences of my high school career was my AP American History course—and not just because I scored a 5 (the maximum score) on the AP exam and was the senior class award winner in social studies, yet somehow only earned a B in the course. The annoying-before-I-saw-my-grade aspect was that often it seemed like we were learning the textbook authors’ pet names for certain events in American history, or overly cute quotations, in lieu of whatever substantive event was being described. (AP history being 15 years in my past, I can’t remember any specific examples alas.)

Which gets me to the mini-brou-ha-ha about Sarah Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson. Without wasting my time watching it, I’ll gladly concede the point that she is almost certainly as clueless about domestic and international politics as approximately 98.9% of the American public—which, if we were auditioning her for a slot on “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” would probably be less alarming than her current public audition to serve on the National Security Council.

That said, I can’t get too worked up about Palin’s apparent failure to recognize the term “Bush doctrine.” Indeed, most of the instances of the term a cursory Google search of uncovers come in questions from the media, mostly “gotcha” questions of the form “Is such-and-such an action consistent with the Bush doctrine?” By all means it is reasonable to inquire into Palin’s thoughts on how to combat al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, but a failure to recognize a cutesy inside-the-beltway label for a particular policy strikes me as rather less damning that whatever lack of substantive knowledge was displayed (again, given that I’m not going to waste any of my life watching the interview or reading the transcript).

Update: This argument is bolstered by the fact that Gibson apparently doesn’t know what the “Bush doctrine” is either. Oops.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

What she said

Like Megan, I have to say that even though expected policy under McCain-Palin is better (= closer to both my preferences and general economic sanity) than under Obama-Biden, I still can’t bring myself to vote for the GOP ticket.* Perhaps I’m just taking solace in the fact that the Democrats can’t even govern as Democrats under unified government, much less divided government (see 1993–94).

* No doubt to the infinite surprise of my readers, I have never voted for a Republican presidential candidate, although I have voted for a Democrat for president.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


Is it November 5th yet?

Thursday, 4 September 2008

QotD, Obama needs a better line of attack edition

Megan McArdle on McCain’s big speech:

The words “I fought corruption” should never pass the lips of a charter member of the Keating Five.

My free advice to Obama and (particularly) his increasingly-boring surrogates like Sully: less Sarah Palin, more Charles Keating. Bad judgment isn’t a failure to follow the media-annointed process for selecting a vice-presidential nominee, it’s pay-for-play inside the beltway.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


I don’t know about y’all, but to my mind the Sarah Palin pandemonium is getting a tad overheated. I’m not going to sit here and defend the pick, in part because I wasn’t going to vote for John McCain anyway and in part because you can read the pros and cons elsewhere. As far as comparing the vice-presidential choices go… well, let me just say that I think Joe Biden is more of an amoral beltway used-car-dealing sleazebag than John Kerry and John McCain combined, so Palin wins that contest pretty much by default. And no, that’s not much of a compliment.

I do, however, want to propose a minor thought exercise to my more “progressive” friends who think this is going to be like shooting fish in a barrel (I know you don’t know anything about guns, but bear with me). Nate at FiveThirtyEight points out that, on paper, Palin’s positions are outside the mainstream of public opinion, and—to the extent public opinion is meaningful on issues—that is true. Of course, both Obama and Biden’s positions are also outside of the mainstream—for example, both support the right to abortion under all circumstances, a minority position (something like 25% of the public support abortion rights under all circumstances), and both support prioritizing the environment and fighting global warming over jobs and the economy (a minority position).

The Democrats’ problem, as I see it, in demonizing her positions on cultural issues—and by extension McCain’s, most of which he shares—is not that they’re outside the mainstream of current opinion (they are), but that they aren’t outside the traditional beliefs held in Western society. America isn’t a “Christian nation”—that’s nonsense; the United States is fundamentally a product of enlightenment thought, albeit a country that has been much more tolerant of a diverse and heterodox set of Christian beliefs (including Palin’s) than many nominally Christian nations—but most Americans were raised to believe that traditional moral values are important even if we sometimes observe them in the breach and even if we don’t always believe the state should use its power of coercion to enforce them. Furthermore, out-of-the-mainstream views on the right have the dubious virtue politically of having been in the mainstream, if not outright consensus, in the past—in some cases, within living memory of most voters; non-mainstream views on the left, by contrast, have never held such a position. I’m not saying Palin is invulnerable on these positions, but it’s going to take a lot more than liberal echo-chamber snarkiness about how “insane” her positions are to convince most voters.

Meanwhile, Marc Ambinder has reached a minor epiphany:

[T]he more I think about it, the more I realize that if Palin answers her critics tomorrow night, these process stories might not matter much.

You don’t say. The Democrats have misunderestimated an opponent before in a year the “numbers” said they should win, and he was a hell of a lot dumber than Sarah Palin appears to be.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

On journalism

You’d think the first thing a journalist would do if hearing 17th-hand that the McCain campaign didn’t search the archives of Sarah Palin’s hometown newspaper would be to find out whether or not archives of that paper exist at other locations besides the one the Democratic opposition researcher allegedly used. I’m told that public and academic libraries (a search here says at least five of them) tend to keep back issues of newspapers, for example. I’d also think the entire exercise of trying to keep one’s veep pick secret might be undermined by waltzing into a newspaper office in the middle of nowhere and saying “hey, I’m a random person from out of town you’ve never heard of, can you please dig up all your articles on Sarah Palin? Thanks!”

This is a basic undergraduate-level research skill. Is anyone this year even trying?

Granted, if the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman is anything like most small-town newspapers, I doubt you can believe a word that was written in it anyway (particularly since a fair percentage of them will be misspelled or appear in sentences in more-or-less random order), and I’ll submit that there’s a fair chance the McCain campaign didn’t think the archives of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman would contain anything worth reading, but you’d think the Democrats could come up with a better line of attack. Then again if their imagination is limited to questioning the parentage of one of Palin’s children, maybe such stupidity is par for the course—and if they don’t yet have a perceived misogyny problem, they soon will.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Reviving the experience argument

John McCain’s choice of little-known Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate at first blush does somewhat undercut the McCain’s campaign’s effort to go after Barack Obama on his lack of experience. Nevertheless I think there is a way to keep attacking Obama on inexperience without it rebounding against Palin.

I think McCain’s best argument with moderate voters—who, since Palin has now shored up the GOP social conservative base, are the only voters he needs to worry about—is that he’s the best positioned candidate to deal with a Congress that is, and will be after this election, well to the left of the average American voter. Even assuming Obama is willing to govern from the middle and represents something other than “politics as usual,” his inexperience—surrounded by a vice president even more liberal than he is and Democratic congressional leaders with more experience and savvy—will lead to an orgy of congressional spending and incompetent lawmaking not seen since the first two years of the Clinton presidency, when a similarly naïve Clinton who promised to govern from the center was steamrolled by a corrupt Congress, his wife, and every liberal interest group in Washington. Without any GOP resistance in the White House, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, and Hillary Clinton—not Barack Obama—will be setting the domestic and foreign policy agenda. And can we really afford another four—or eight—years of an inexperienced presidency hijacked by an ideologically-committed, far-more-experienced vice president primarily concerned with foreign affairs, a vice president who took—some might say plagiarized—political inspiration from one of the weakest left-wing political party leaders in modern memory?

All that said, I basically agree that the Palin pick is born from the same desperation that led Walter “49–2” Mondale to the door of Geraldine Ferraro; it didn’t work for Mondale and it probably won’t work for McCain either, but then again nothing is working for McCain now, so why not take a shot?

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Giving yourself a backhanded compliment

Even Sully apparently realizes his current schtick is becoming tedious.

I wish I could go hide in an abandoned nuclear missile silo until November 5th. Alas unsubscribing Sully from Google Reader (where he joins a merry bipartisan dustbin of waaay-too-enthusiastic McCainites and Obamaites, who all seem deeply convinced that this presidential election is The Most Important EVER in some bizarrely-exaggerated sense) is about as close as I’m likely to get…

Monday, 4 August 2008

QotD, everyone is clueless on energy policy edition

Kevin Drum on Barack Obama’s effort to out-flank John McCain in the race to advocate the dumbest energy policy proposal:

[B]etween the two of them, McCain and Obama have now pretty much written the handbook on idiotic energy pimping: a gas tax holiday, offshore drilling, opening up the SPR, a windfall profits tax, and nukes for all. I don’t think either one has come out for a massive coal liquification [sic] program yet, but since that’s about the only thing left that’s worse than what they’ve offered so far, I assume it can’t be more than a few days away.