Wonkblog: Political Science

Sorry Democrats, you’re likely to lose House seats in 2014

Sorry Democrats, you’re likely to lose House seats in 2014

Our friends at the Monkey Cage are starting to forecast the 2014 House election and the conclusion, basically, is that there's not going to be a wave in 2014. There won't be one for Democrats, certainly. But there probably won't be one for Republicans, either. The baseline forecast right now is that Democrats lose five seats in the House.

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What Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor can teach us about political science

What Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor can teach us about political science

Toronto mayor Rob Ford has admitted to smoking crack while in office. He's endured a stream of stories all year about his substance abuse and erratic behavior. The major Toronto papers have called on him to resign. Yet he remains surprisingly popular — and refuses to step down. Last week, his approval rating even appeared to rise to 44 percent.*

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Just knowing about fact-checkers makes politicians less likely to lie

Political fact-checkers, like our own Glenn Kessler or the Tampa Bay Times's PolitiFact, are in an unenviable position. There so many politicians and pundit spreading so many misinterpretations, misleading characterizations, and outright falsehoods that it'd be impossible for the checkers to catch them all. They'd be forgiven for occasionally wondering if their project was actually useful.

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The lesson of the food stamps vote: Party is all that matters now

The lesson of the food stamps vote: Party is all that matters now

Late Thursday, the House of Representatives voted, 217-210, to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly (and popularly) known as food stamps, by $39 billion over the next 10 years, a 5 percent cut relative to current law. As Brad explained Thursday, the plan would kick 3.9 million people off the food stamp rolls the coming year. After next year, it would reduce the rolls by about 2.8 million people each year.

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What political scientists can tell us about war, Syria and Congress

What political scientists can tell us about war, Syria and Congress

This week, lawmakers are debating whether Congress should approve a military strike on Syria. As it happens, this involves two topics — international relations and the behavior of politicians — that political scientists have spent decades studying in detail.

So, to add to the reading list on Syria, here are some of the best political science papers and discussions we’ve come across on Syria, Congress, war and other related topics.

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Do presidents really reward the states that voted them into office?

Do presidents really reward the states that voted them into office?

One of the most interesting papers I’ve seen at this year’s American Political Science Association convention comes from Douglas Kriner and Andrew Reeves, who took a close look at the federal grantmaking process and concluded that presidents tend to reward states and counties that vote for them, states and counties that they’re hoping will vote for them, and crucial congressional allies.

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How Obama demobilized the antiwar movement

How Obama demobilized the antiwar movement

As the Obama administration considers military action in Syria, Rosie Gray wonders why the antiwar movement has been strangely muted: ”Though some groups have organized online petitions and some real-life protests,” she reports, “the antiwar crowd that was on fire before the war in Iraq has made hardly a dent in the conversation surrounding Syria.”

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Larry Bartels confuses Washington and the economy

Larry Bartels confuses Washington and the economy

On Monday, I wrote a post responding to Frank Rich's question about whether "altruists" could really get anything done in Washington at a time when the "corporate fix" is in.

Now Vanderbilt's Larry Bartels has weighed in -- which should be exciting! Bartels is one of my favorite political scientists for his relentless efforts to cut through emotional debates with cold, hard data. His essay on the irrationality of voters, for instance, is a minor classic.

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We asked science if Eliot Spitzer could win. It said yes.

We asked science if Eliot Spitzer could win. It said yes.

The year 2013 is looking to be a banner one for politicians recovering from scandals. Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who admitted to an extramarital affair during an odd, rambling news conference in 2009 and had to fight off subsequent impeachment attempts, won back his old Congressional seat in May. Former congressman Anthony Weiner is the frontrunner in the New York City mayoral race, only two years after resigning from Congress due to a sexting scandal. And now, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer is running for New York City comptroller, five years after resigning the governorship after confessing that he was a client of an escort service.

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When businesses give judges money, they usually get the rulings they want

When businesses give judges money, they usually get the rulings they want

You're probably pretty familiar with the way the federal government picks its judges. The president selects a nominee, the Senate confirms or rejects the nominee (or else declines to bring them up for a vote), and if the Senate confirms, then the pick gets to serve as long as he or she likes. If they serve for 15 years and make it to age 65, and aren't on the Supreme Court, they can even enjoy a genteel form of semi-retirement known as "senior status," where they get to oversee cases but don't have to work full-time.

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The people have taken over American politics, and they hate it

The people have taken over American politics, and they hate it

Power has devolved to the people. And the people hate it.

In his book "Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics," Stanford University political scientist Morris Fiorina considers this "the great irony" of American politics: that the more Americans participate in their political system, the angrier and more disillusioned they become. We have met the enemy, and it is us. Or at least some of us.

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Republicans and Democrats can't even agree on baby names

Republicans and Democrats can't even agree on baby names

Poli-Sci Perspective is a weekly Wonkblog feature in which Georgetown University's Dan Hopkins and George Washington University's Danny Hayes and John Sides offer an empirical perspective on the issues dominating Washington. In this edition, Sides looks at the politics of baby names. For past posts in the series, head here .

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If you pay them money, partisans will tell you the truth

If you pay them money, partisans will tell you the truth

One of the most infamous and dispiriting findings in recent political science research is that partisans can't even agree on basic facts, at least when those facts bear on politics. Princeton's Larry Bartels found that, in 1988, Democrats were much less likely than Republicans to correctly answer questions about whether inflation went down under President Ronald Reagan (it did) and whether unemployment also fell (it did):

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Here's why remote state capitals are often more corrupt

Here's why remote state capitals are often more corrupt

Why are some capital cities more corrupt than others? Two recent economic working papers offer a novel theory — geography might be to blame. In particular, capitals that are more isolated from the rest of the state or country tend to be more corrupt.

The first NBER paper, written by Filipe R. Campante of Harvard Kennedy School and Quoc-Anh Do of Singapore Management University looks at state capitals in the United States and finds that "isolated capital cities are robustly associated with greater levels of corruption."

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A new study says politicians don't favor the rich. That's debatable.

A new study says politicians don't favor the rich. That's debatable.

Who does Congress represent best: the rich, the middle class, or the poor?

That question may sound absurd on first blush. Of course Congress represents the rich, and couldn't care less about the rest of us. And that may be right. But a new study casts doubt on that assumption.

The case that Congress is bought

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Has the American Bar Association kept our judges white and male?

Has the American Bar Association kept our judges white and male?

No organization wields more influence in judicial confirmation battles, be they at the district, appellate or Supreme Court level, than the American Bar Association.

For over half a century, the ABA has issued ratings of federal judicial nominees as "well-qualified," "qualified" or "not qualified," which have shown considerable influence in the Senate confirmation process. For example, the ABA's judgment that Mildred Lillie and Hershel Friday were "unqualified" prevented their likely nominations to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon.*

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Why Frank Underwood's coup wouldn't have worked

Why Frank Underwood's coup wouldn't have worked

This post spoils a medium-sized plot point midway though the Netflix drama, "House of Cards." If you don't want the spoiler, stop reading. You've been warned.

A key moment in "House of Cards" comes when House Majority Whip Frank Underwood pulls off a very complicated — and very quick — coup that involves Underwood threatening to unite the Congressional Black Caucus and a handful of House Republicans to vote for a new speaker of the House.

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The political science of papal elections

The political science of papal elections

Pope Benedict XVI — n Joseph Ratzinger — has announced that he will step down at the end of this month. In doing so, he becomes the first pope to resign in 598 years. The last resignation, in 1415, occurred when Gregory XII stepped down to end the Western Schism in the Catholic Church, in which rival popes and antipopes, each recognized by a different set of secular governments in Europe, claimed sovereignty over the church.

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Hispanic immigrants are assimilating just as quickly as earlier groups

Hispanic immigrants are assimilating just as quickly as earlier groups

Proponents of immigration reform tend to spend a lot of time emphasizing the need for immigrants to assimilate into American culture.

One of the provisions in the Senate's bipartisan plan on immigration reform tasks immigrants with "learning English and the basics about America's history" before attaining permanent residency, as Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) emphasized Monday afternoon when the senators unveiled their blueprint. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) noted that this was a first in American history.

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Is America a 'kludgeocracy'?

Is America a 'kludgeocracy'?

In "Kludgeocracy: The American Way of Policy," Johns Hopkins political scientist Steven Teles argues that "[w]ith the frontiers of the state roughly fixed, the issues that will dominate American politics going forward will concern the complexity of government, rather than its sheer size." To that end, he says, "The great agenda of the next four years of the Obama administration, and probably the nation's next thirty, is coming to grips with kludgeocracy." That's a bold statement. Teles and I spoke about it late last week.

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Monday we celebrated our presidential democracy. Juan Linz thinks that's mistaken.

Monday we celebrated our presidential democracy. Juan Linz thinks that's mistaken.

Juan Linz is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Social and Political Science at Yale University, where he holds appointments in the departments of sociology and political science. He is famous for his work comparing styles of authoritarian and totalitarian governance, and, since the Cold War, his argument in pieces like "The Perils of Presidentialism" that presidential democracies are inherently less stable than their parliamentary peers, and particularly prone to devolve into dictatorships. The United States has long been the exception to that pattern, but with a new debt or budget crisis every few months, that could be changing. I spoke to Linz on Friday; a lightly edited transcript follows.

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What if it were illegal NOT to vote?

Even though there's social pressure to vote in the United States, no one makes you go to the polls.

Other countries, however, take a heavier hand. According to the CIA World Factbook, 23 countries have compulsory voting, including Argentina, Brazil, Greece, Peru and Australia.

Some nations, such as Italy or the Netherlands, have mandatory voting but don't enforce it.And even in countries that do enforce it, the penalties are typically modest. Australia's punishments start with a AUS$20 (about $20.87 in the United States) fine, and scale up from there for repeat non-voters.

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Study: Unemployed voters could turn out in droves on Tuesday

Study: Unemployed voters could turn out in droves on Tuesday

At first glance, unemployed people don't appear to be the likeliest of voters. For one thing, they're often in tough economic straits, and, all else being equal, poor people vote less often than rich people.

But according to new research* by Matthew Incantalupo, unemployed people are an exception to that rule when times are tough. At full employment that is, when the unemployment rate is at 5 percent, as it was in the 1990s and part of the 2000s being unemployed either very slightly increases or very slightly decreases one's likelihood of voting.

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Whats a good ground game worth? About one point.

It all comes down to the ground game.

Thats perhaps the biggest cliche in electoral politics. And with national polls deadlocked and the election coming down to a few key swing states, its more pertinent than ever. It also represents a key advantage for the Obama campaign, which has gotten many more supporters out to vote early than the Romney campaign has. But how much can a good get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort really get a candidate?

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Was George McGovern doomed to lose in 1972?

Was George McGovern doomed to lose in 1972?

Former senator and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern died this weekend at age 90. While celebrated for his work fighting world hunger after leaving the Senate, his loss to Richard Nixon has gone down in history as one of the most lopsided defeats in U.S. history. McGovern lost every state but Massachusetts, and D.C., including his native South Dakota, and lost the popular vote by 23.2 points, the fourth largest margin ever.

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Study: Conservatives and liberals are equally charitable, but they give to different charities

Study: Conservatives and liberals are equally charitable, but they give to different charities

While Mitt Romney pays a lot less in taxes than people who make a great deal less than him, defenders point to his generous charitable contributions as evidence that he’s giving back nonetheless. Paul Bedard at the conservative Washington Examiner, for example, touted the fact that Romney paid 57.9 percent of his income in either taxes or charitable donations in 2011. More generally, Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, frequently claims that conservative Americans are more generous with their charitable giving than their liberal counterparts.

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Why Facebook campaign ads are a sucker’s bet

Why Facebook campaign ads are a sucker’s bet

Much has been made of the use of social media this campaign cycle, from the Democratic National Committee’s Web site mocking Mitt Romney’s tax plan to President Obama’s citation of “Mean Girls” on his own site’s Tumblr page to the Romney campaign’s tweets showing the nominee’s family playing Jenga before the first presidential debate. But does this really have an impact on potential voters?

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Mitt Romney’s policies are really vague. But voters like vague.

Mitt Romney’s policies are really vague. But voters like vague.

One of the hard things about writing about Mitt Romney’s tax plan is that no one really knows what it is. The cuts are well-specified, but they cost $480 billion in 2015 alone, or close to $5 trillion over 10 years. Romney says he’ll make up the difference by cutting tax breaks. It’s not clear that’s possible, but more to the point, Romney hasn’t specified how he’d cut breaks. He flirted with a $17,000 cap on deduction, and, as Suzy reports, has now upped that number to $25,000 or $50,000, but has only said that’s a possibility, not his actual plan. At any rate, none of those policies are likely to bring in enough revenue to pay for his plan.

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Is the government making Washington rich? (In charts, of course)

Is the government making Washington rich? (In charts, of course)

Of the 10 richest counties in America, seven are in the D.C. area. To some pundits, that looks like strong evidence of crony capitalism. “Whence comes this wealth? Mostly from Washington’s one major industry: the federal government,” Ross Douthat writes in the New York Times. “Not from direct federal employment…but from the growing armies of lobbyists and lawyers, contractors and consultants, who make their living advising and influencing and facilitating the public sector’s work.”

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Do Democrats have a 74 percent chance of retaking the House?

Do Democrats have a 74 percent chance of retaking the House?

Most pundits give Democrats a pretty slim chance of retaking the House. But a new model out of Princeton says they not only have a shot — they’re the odds-on favorites.

Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton who works on election modeling as a hobby, has found than in recent elections, national polling that asks voters which party they plan on supporting in House elections has done an excellent job of predicting what percent of the popular vote each party will get in House elections in November. For example, in 2010 Republicans had a 7 point lead in national generic ballot polls, and won the national House popular vote by 6.7 points.

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The Ad Wars: Obama has been outspending Romney and the superPACs

“The ad wars” is a series Wonkblog will be running semi-regularly until the election, in which George Washington University political scientist (and Monkey Cage founder) John Sides shows you what’s really happening on the airwaves.

The Washington Post has a neat feature displaying the presidential election’s political advertising — who is airing it, where, and how much. Using these advertising data, which come from CMAG|Kantar Media, I want to take stock of the the ads, starting back in January and continuing through Sept. 9.

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Obama leads in (at least) eight of 13 election forecasts

Obama leads in (at least) eight of 13 election forecasts

Political scientist James Campbell has an article in the upcoming edition of the journal PS: Political Science and Politics that surveys 13 models that attempt to forecast the presidential election. Larry Sabato got an early peek at the table, and the bottom line is that eight of them foresee Barack Obama’s reelection and five of them predict that Mitt Romney will be our next president. Here’s the table:

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The economy (slightly) favors Obama, not Romney

The economy (slightly) favors Obama, not Romney

“It is becoming clear that if President Obama is reelected, it will be despite the economy and because of his campaign,” writes Charlie Cook. “If Mitt Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign.”

“Its a paradox,” writes Niall Ferguson. “The economy is in the doldrums. Yet the incumbent is ahead in the polls. According to a huge body of research by political scientists, this is not supposed to happen.”

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Do 15% of Ohio Republicans think Romney killed bin Laden? Probably not.

Do 15% of Ohio Republicans think Romney killed bin Laden? Probably not.

Public Policy Polling has a new poll(pdf) out of Ohio showing Obama with his biggest lead since May. Given how hard it would be for Mitt Romney to win the White House without winning Ohio, that’s a big deal.

But a secondary finding in the poll has gotten a lot of attention. PPP asked voters who they thought deserved more credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden: Obama or Romney. 63 percent said Obama, 31 percent weren’t sure, and 6 percent said Romney.

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Are political parties growing more unified?

Are political parties growing more unified?

We’re two nights into the Democratic National Convention, and the themes could not be more distinct from those championed at the RNC last week. Whereas the RNC heavily emphasized the role of personal initiative in economic success, the DNC’s speakers have focused on the many barriers that keep success away from even determined, hard-working Americans.

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Forecasting the election: Most models say Obama will win. But not all.

Forecasting the election: Most models say Obama will win. But not all.

This year’s American Political Science Association (APSA) conference was set to be in New Orleans this weekend. Suffice it to say, that didn’t happen.

It’s a shame, not least because one of the panels was going to highlight five new studies on how to forecast American presidential and congressional elections, all of which are highly relevant to 2012. But just because those studies’ authors didn’t get the chance to present their work in person doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at it here, at least at the four papers we’ve obtained from the authors (the author of the fifth is in the process of updating his, and we’ll post it when it’s ready). So how do the models work, and what do they predict for this year’s elections?

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Forecasting the election: Most models say Obama will win. But not all.

This year’s American Political Science Association (APSA) conference was set to be in New Orleans this weekend. Suffice it to say, that didn’t happen.

It’s a shame, not least because one of the panels was going to highlight five new studies on how to forecast American presidential and congressional elections, all of which are highly relevant to 2012. But just because those studies’ authors didn’t get the chance to present their work in person doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at it here, at least at the four papers we’ve obtained from the authors (the author of the fifth is in the process of updating his, and we’ll post it when it’s ready). So how do the models work, and what do they predict for this year’s elections?

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Study: People think recessions are much rarer than they actually are

Study: People think recessions are much rarer than they actually are

Quick, how many recessions has the United States had in the past half century? The answer is eight. Since 1960, the country has gone through one or two recessions per decade, on average. Yet both voters and politicians seem to think economic slumps are far rarer than they actually are — with odd effects on elections and policymaking.

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Do voters punish politicians for natural disasters? (cont’d)

Do voters punish politicians for natural disasters? (cont’d)

Earlier this week, I asked whether the drought in the Midwest could end up costing President Obama votes this fall. At first glance, it seems like a preposterous question—why would voters punish a politician for a natural disaster?

And yet, there’s some evidence that voters often do punish politicians for freak weather events. Here’s a 2004 paper (pdf) by Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen: “We find that voters regularly punish governments for acts of God, including droughts, floods, and shark attacks.” It may be irrational, but the effect seems to be more than a mere coincidence. Bartels and Achen even suggest that severe droughts and floods may have cost Al Gore up to 2.8 million votes in 2000, enough to sway the presidential election.

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Do voters punish politicians for natural disasters? (cont’d)

Earlier this week, I asked whether the drought in the Midwest could end up costing President Obama votes this fall. At first glance, it seems like a preposterous question—why would voters punish a politician for a natural disaster?

And yet, there’s some evidence that voters often do punish politicians for freak weather events. Here’s a 2004 paper (pdf) by Larry Bartels and Christopher Achens: “We find that voters regularly punish governments for acts of God, including droughts, floods, and shark attacks.” It may be irrational, but the effect seems to be more than a mere coincidence. Bartels and Achens even suggest that severe droughts and floods may have cost Al Gore up to 2.8 million votes in 2000, enough to sway the presidential election.

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Could the drought cost Obama votes this fall?

It seems like a bizarre question to ask. Why would voters punish Obama for a severe drought across the United States? The president can be plausibly blamed for lots of things, but a hot, parched summer seems like a bit of a stretch. (Even if climate change is contributing to the current drought, the Obama administration has at least taken a few steps to rein in U.S. carbon emissions, after all.)

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How’s our model doing?

A while back, Ezra — with the help of political scientists at Yale, UCLA, and George Washington University — developed Wonkblog’s very own presidential election model. It uses only three variables: economic growth during the first three quarters of the election year; the president’s average approval rating as measured by Gallup in June of the election year; and whether or not a candidate is a member of the incumbent party.

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The myth of the presidential mandate

The myth of the presidential mandate

Forget what President Obama and Mitt Romney say they want to do next year. The better question might be: How do they intend to get any of it done? To use a phrase that was popular during the Democratic primary in 2008, what’s their “theory of change”?

One common theory is that the two parties are so far apart that this election, finally, will provide a mandate for the winner and shock the losing side into cooperating. “We’re going to have as stark a contrast as we’ve seen in a very long time between the two candidates,” Obama told donors in Minneapolis. “My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again.”

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Study: Republican primaries polarize. Democratic primaries don’t.

Are moderates more likely to lose primaries? Not particularly, say the political scientists at VoteView. The 19 incumbents who have lost primary challenges since 2006 — 11 Republicans and 8 Democrats, in case you’re wondering — were slightly more moderate than their counterparts in Congress. But not much.

More interesting, however, is the voting records of their replacements. Six of them couldn’t be assessed because they lost in the general election. But of the five challengers who defeated incumbent Democrats and went on to serve in Congress, two were more liberal their predecessor, two were more conservative, and one voted pretty much the same. Of the eight Republican challengers who won the election, six proved more conservative than their predecessor, and only two were more liberal.

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Olympia Snowe is right about American politics. Will we listen?


(Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images)
According to the Voteview ideological ranking system, the most moderate Democratic senator in the 112th Congress — that’s this session, for those keeping track — is Nebraska’s Ben Nelson. The most moderate Republican senator is Maine’s Olympia Snowe. And as of today, they’re both retiring.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. For years, our increasingly polarized political system has been culling moderate members. To see this in video form, click the clip below. It’s a visualization of congressional polarization beginning with the very first Congress and running right through today. And if you fast forward toward the end, where we are, you’ll see the pattern progress right in front of you: The Ds and the Rs in the middle — those are the centrists — keep disappearing, and the masses of Ds and Rs keep moving farther away from each other.

That’s American politics today: two parties, no touching. And that’s part of why Snowe is retiring. “[W]hat I have had to consider is how productive an additional term would be,” Snowe said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.”

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Obama: The most polarizing moderate ever

In 2011, Gallup’s polling showed that President Obama averaged an 80 percent approval rating among Democrats and 12 percent among Republicans, making his third year in office one of the most polarizing on record. For a candidate whose campaign promised an era of post-partisan unity, it must be a disappointing reality check.

But on Friday, political scientist Keith Poole released a study that probably cheered the White House. According to Poole’s highly respected classification system, Obama is the most moderate Democratic president since World War II. Which raises a question: How can Obama simultaneously be one of the most divisive and most moderate presidents of the past century?


(Keith Poole, VoteView.com)

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For 2012, the unemployment rate doesn’t matter. The change in it does.

How fundamental is the state of the nation’s economy to election outcomes? So fundamental that 75 percent of the time forecasters can correctly predict which party will win the general election without even knowing the candidates’ names.

In fact, they can do this months in advance of the election, before the party conventions. But they’re not looking at what many pundits and politicians think they’re looking at. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the unemployment rate will likely decide the election. This even appears to be what Mitt Romney thinks. But it’s wrong.

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Presidents keep their campaign promises


(Chris Carlson - AP)
I’ve been taking a hard look at the policy platforms of the Republican presidential contenders — and with some surprising results. For all the attention that former governor Jon Huntsman of Utah got as the race’s sole moderate, his plan called for more — and more regressive — tax cuts than anything Mitt Romney put forward, and his approach to entitlement reform was well to Romney’s right. Rick Santorum’s post-Iowa boomlet focused on his blue-collar credentials, but on close analysis, his plans were far more regressive than those offered by silver-spoon candidates Romney and Huntsman. And though Romney is probably the most moderate candidate in the race, his campaign is well to the right of George W. Bush’s 2000 effort.

But I keep running into the same reaction: Who cares? It’s a fool’s game to spend too much time analyzing campaign policy proposals. Everyone knows that politicians make all kinds of crazy promises during elections that they jettison as soon as they take office.

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The reason South Carolina’s primary turns so mean

It’s not because of who lives there, writes Jordan Ragusa. It’s because of when they vote. South Carolina is usually the last real chance that second-tier candidates have to topple the front-runners, and so they have little choice but to pull out all the stops:

Because the primary system is an iterated process (rather than a one-shot, 50 state election), political “momentum” is critically important (see this paper by John Aldrich for a formal proof of this dynamic). Simply put, candidates who win early primaries like Iowa and New Hampshire are likely to receive greater support in subsequent states because of sophisticated or “front runner” voting (see this paper) as well as generate greater campaign donations and support. This, in turn, improves their chances of winning subsequent primaries. Because South Carolina is third in this sequence, there is an incentive for opposition candidates to go negative independent of the state’s demographics.

Are the Iowa caucuses representative?

The Iowa caucuses are small, but that doesn’t matter so much if the participants are representative of the political parties they’re meant to speak for. And, in 2008, they were.

-In 2008, Iowa caucusgoers aren’t much more strongly partisan than registered party members generally. In an October 2007 poll, 50% of Republicans were “strong” Republicans. In a January 2008 post-caucus poll, 56% of Republican caucus-goers were “strong” Republicans. The comparable fractions among Democrats were 45% and 49%. These are pretty small differences.

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Column: No Labels gets congressional dysfunction right


John Holman, of Denver, Colo., right, and others with the group No Labels, take part in a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 18, 2011, to urge Congress and the president to find a bipartisan solution to the fiscal crisis. (Jacquelyn Martin - Associated Press)
“No Labels.” Even the name is annoying. For one thing, it’s a label. There’s no branding quite like anti-branding, which in this case is even perched atop a slogan: “Not left. Not right. Forward.”

It reminds me of nothing so much as the cartoon character Kang’s stump speech from “The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VII”: “My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball, but tonight I say, we must move forward not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom.”

The problem, of course, is that Americans disagree about which direction is forward. Is it toward universal health care? Or away from it? Toward policies to curb climate change? Or away from them? Toward more rights for gay and lesbian couples? Or toward a constitutional amendment enshrining the primacy of traditional marriage?

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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s pledge to empower ideologues


Howard Schultz, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks Corp., speaks during the company's annual meeting in Seattle, Washington. (Kevin P. Casey - BLOOMBERG)
I’m going to go ahead and disagree with my friend Steve Pearlstein on this one: If Washington isn’t working the way you want it to work, the very last thing you want to do is pick up your proverbial toys and head home in protest.

Steve is endorsing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s campaign to convince “concerned Americans” to “withhold any further campaign contributions to elected members of Congress and the President until a fair, bipartisan deal is reached that sets our nation on stronger long-term fiscal footing.” If enough Americans took that pledge, Steve says, it might just be “the significant shock” needed to upset Washington’s current gridlock.

I’m skeptical. Consider the difference between a primary election and a general election. In primary elections, much of the middle is absent, and so politicians swing further left or right in order to pick up the remaining pool of voters. In general elections, the middle is present, and so politicians drift back toward the center. What Schultz wants is for politicians to pay more attention to the center, much as they do in general elections. But he wants to do this by making the money race less like a general election and more like a primary election.

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Supercommittee: Built to fail

Now that we know the supercommittee failed, one question is whether it ever had a chance. This post by Nolan McCarty suggests not.

McCarty tested every member of the supercommittee against a standard measure of congressional polarization. The Republicans on the supercommittee, he found, were significantly farther to the right, and the Democrats farther to the left, than the median member of their parties. He even ran an experiment where a computer randomly drew 12 members of Congress, six from each party, 1,000 times. Only 90 of the draws led to panels that were more polarized than the actual supercommittee. The supercommittee was built to fail, or at least to vehemently disagree.

A lab experiment for politicians

A lab experiment for politicians

There’s a fascinating discussion going on at the Monkey Cage and elsewhere about what factors actually help determine the results of U.S. elections. Many political scientists have argued that the state of the economy plays a huge, often decisive role in presidential elections (here’s Nate Silver’s exhaustive attempt to figure out just what specific economic variables have mattered). But what about campaigns themselves? Do all those ads and gaffes and millions of dollars in spending have an impact at all?

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Candidate ideology probably only accounts for 1-2 percent in elections

In a recent New York Times Magazine story, Nate Silver put forward a model for forecasting the 2012 presidential election. Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jacob Montgomery put it through its paces and conclude that it predicts elections pretty well, but not quite as well as existing forecasting models.

In particular, they say, it overestimates the effect of candidate ideology on election outcomes. Statistics wizard Andrew Gelman agrees with them. “The difference in vote, comparing a centrist candidate to an extreme candidate, is probably on the order of 1-2%, not the 4% that has been posited by some,” he writes.

Why Obama is no FDR

The left and the right don’t agree on much these days, but they do agree on this: Barack Obama is no FDR.

For liberals, this is a disappointment. They had hoped for, as Time magazine put it after Obama’s victory, “a new new deal.” Instead, they find themselves mounting an unexpected rear-guard defense of Medicare and Keynesian economics.

For conservatives, it’s a relief. Two short years ago, they feared an FDR-like realignment. Today, they thrill to the idea of undoing much of the original New Deal, or at least the Great Society.

But for political scientists and historians of the Great Depression, the agonies and ecstasies of both sides are a continual annoyance — an example of how the past and the present are distorted by America’s fixation on the president and inattention to almost everything else in the political system.

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Why Christie’s endorsement of Romney matters

This afternoon, Chris Christie endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Political junkies are agog over the news. But what do political scientists think? Here’s an old interview with Georgetown’s Hans Noel, who co-wrote “The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform.” He argues that insider endorsements like Christie’s can prove quite significant:

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Are most campaign ads a waste of money?

“The effects of television advertising appear to last no more than a week — a ‘rapid decay,’ write the eggheads. A study of the 2000 presidential election finds the same decay. Campaigns may be wasting millions of dollars running ads weeks if not months before election day, only to have any effects of those ads dissipate. Case in point: the approximately $20 million that Bill Clinton spent in advertising between July 1995 and January 1996 — months before the 1996 election. The mastermind of this strategy, Dick Morris, wrote that ‘the key to Clinton’s victory was his early advertising.’ But there is little evidence that the ads mattered at all.” — John Sides rounds up the political science evidence on the effects of campaign advertising.

Why Republicans have less to fear from high unemployment

“Republican and Democratic voters seem to have different expectations of officeholders. The economist Douglas Hibbs has found that, historically, Democratic voters were more likely to punish incumbents for presiding over periods of high unemployment, while Republican voters were likely to punish incumbents for presiding over periods of high inflation. And a study of gubernatorial elections found that Democrats who presided over increases in taxes and spending were rewarded by voters, while Republicans who did the same were punished. Voters, it seems, don’t expect Republicans to do much about jobs, so they’re not penalized as much for inaction. Uncooperative Republicans are really just delivering what their constituencies expect.”--James Surowiecki’s New Yorker column this week explains why obstructionism is a perfectly viable political strategy for the GOP.

Is Peter Orszag against democracy?


(MIKE SEGAR - REUTERS)
Peter Orszag’s New Republic article arguing that “we need less democracy” is getting a lot of attention, but mostly for the wrong reasons. “We need less democracy” is a good headline, but if you read the piece closely, that’s not actually what Orszag is arguing. Rather, he’s arguing that we need less Congress. And that’s a bit different.

Orszag is really worried about the way party polarization leads to “paralyzing gridlock” in our system. But that’s often because Congress actually isn’t that democratic. The filibuster foils majority rule and exacerbates the consequences of political polarization in the Senate, and the six-year election cycle and lack of proportional representation further insulate the chamber from democratic trends. Legislators also pulled toward party discipline and away from their voters by the desire to chair committees and secure campaign cash through the party’s fundraising apparatus. And as for whether Congress works this way because this is how the American people want it to work, a quick look at the legislative branch’s poll numbers will disabuse anyone if that notion.

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Rick Perry loves science. Political science.

Rick Perry loves science. Political science.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry doesn’t have a reputation as the most scientifically inclined of candidates. On the campaign trail, he told a child that Texas schools teach both evolution and creationism because kids are “smart enough to figure out which one is right.”

It’s an interesting approach to education: Ever tried to figure out if the periodic table is accurate? Ever tried it before you turned 12?

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Why Democrats underperformed in 2010

Why Democrats underperformed in 2010

If you looked closely at the charts I posted earlier comparing incumbent party support to GDP growth in 31 international elections, you might have noticed something interesting: In America, Democrats underperformed in the 2010 election. They did worse than the economy predicted they would do by three percentage points. Political scientist Larry Bartels, who worked up the graph in question, thinks he knows why: the health-care law and the cap-and-trade vote.

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Do special elections predict general elections?

Democrats suffered two nasty losses in special elections last night. One in a Nevada House district where John McCain and Barack Obama had split the vote in 2008 and another in a New York district that Obama had won by 10 points. But do these special elections have anything to tell us about the upcoming election in 2012? Yes, say political scientists. The elections might be able to tell us quite a bit. And what they say is not good for the Democrats.


Bob Turner, center, joined by his wife Peggy, right, and family smiles as he delivers his victory speech during an election night party, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011 in New York. Turner says his shocking win in a heavily Democratic New York City district is a "loud and clear" message to Washington. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Political scientists David Smith and Thomas Brunell looked at (pdf) special elections going back to 1900 and found that “those special elections that result in a change in partisan control do have predictive power for the general election.” How much predictive power, and through what mechanism? That’s where it gets complicated.

Smith and Brunell find that only one sort of special election has substantial predictive power: special elections in which the partisan control of a seat flips. And a simple look at the data suggests they have quite a bit of predictive power. “When the Republicans have a net gain in special elections they also tend to win seats in the following general election (66.7 percent of the time). For the Democrats, the relationship is even stronger as that they take seats away from the Republicans in the special elections they follow that up with a seat gain in the general election 82.35 percent of the time.”

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Voters don’t award points for effort

After yesterday’s discussion about the role that policy plays in securing or undermining a party’s election chances, Vanderbilt political scientist Larry Bartels e-mailed a paper (pdf) he had written testing this very question against a data set of 31 parliamentary elections conducted in developed countries between 2007 and 2011. His results will not be encouraging for politicians who hope doing a good job will be enough for them to keep their jobs.


(DARREN HAUCK)
To try to separate whether abnormally good policies led to abnormally good results, Bartels constructed a model that tried to predict election outcomes based on relative growth rates -- that is to say, the country’s growth rate subtracted from the average growth rate of developed nations. “This would be a more appropriate measure of economic conditions if voters in each country were comparing their own economy’s performance against that of other OECD economies—in effect, making rough allowance for the impact of global economic forces on national performance,” he writes.

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The unique importance of the 2012 election

The unique importance of the 2012 election

You hear it every four years: This is the most important election in a generation. So if I say it to you about 2012, you’ll probably tune me out as just another hyperbolic pundit. Which is why I’ll make it more specific: For the future of America’s two political parties, this is the most important election in a generation.

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