Monthly Archives: October 2010

Online discussion of the 2010 midterm elections

Tuesday is Election Day! I will be hosting a 45-minute online discussion of the 2010 midterm elections on Centre College’s website at 2:30 PM Eastern time (1:30 Central, 12:30 Mountain, 11:30 Pacific). Feel free to drop in and ask a question via the online chat feature. The link to the website and promotional text is below:

http://www.centre.edu/live/ - tune in Tuesday, 2:30 PM EST.

Predicting the Results of the 2010 Midterm Elections

Tuesday might be a very bad day for Democrats. It is widely expected that they will lose control of the House of Representatives and maybe even the Senate. Are bailouts, healthcare overhauls, and Tea Parties to blame? Or will the results of the election depend on more fundamental factors like the economy and presidential approval ratings? Come join our online discussion as we try to make sense of how things will shake out this election year. Be sure to bring your questions – there will be many opportunities for audience input. See you then!

Hypothetical KY Senate match-ups

A recent cn|2 poll (Oct 25-27) fielded a number of hypothetical match-ups for this season’s Senate election race. Would things be different if Mongiardo or Greyson had won their respective primaries, or if Jim Bunning had decided to run for re-election? The results of these hypothetical match-ups:

  • Rand Paul (R) 46%, Dan Mongiardo (D) 43%, +3% R
  • Jim Bunning (R) 50%, Jack Conway (D) 40%, +10% R
  • Trey Grayson (R) 44%, Jack Conway (D) 42%, +2% R

The same poll showed that under the real match-up, Rand Paul (R) was ahead 47%-39% over Conway (D), a difference of +8% R.

Substantively, this suggests that it didn’t matter much who emerged from the primaries back in the spring. The Republican candidate would likely win, and by a margin of roughly the same magnitude.

This is not overly surprising. In the 2008 congressional elections, 93% of Democrats voted for the Democratic senatorial candidates in their respective states and 81% of Republicans voted for the Republican senatorial candidate. While there are, of course, many factors that affect people’s voting decisions, it’s also the case that partisanship is by far  the strongest predictor of a person’s vote.

Thus, it’s unlikely that Dan Mongiardo would have done much better than Jack Conway in this election, or that Trey Grayson would have done much better than Rand Paul, because Democrats usually vote for Democrats and Republicans usually vote for Republicans, even if they’re perceived to be as ideologically extreme as Rand Paul.

The economic consequences of immigration reform

From an editorial by Darrell West on CNN.com:

It is time for candidates and political leaders to tell the real story about immigration. Even though illegal immigrants enrage many Americans, it would be prohibitively expensive to deport 11 million people. As a vivid illustration of this point, the Center for American Progress found that mass deportations would cost $285 billion over five years, or an average of $900 for every American.

If people actually are worried about government cost, they should support the creation of a pathway to citizenship based on paying back taxes, learning English and collection of a serious fine for illegal entry. Experts say that a full path to legalization would add $1.5 trillion to the American economy over the next decade. It would be cheaper to legalize illegal immigrants than keep them underground and outside the mainstream economy.

Voting Republican = racism?

A recent editorial by SUNY professor Ian Reifowitz suggests that the upcoming midterm election is a referendum on different versions of American national identity. One side, he says, is “Obama’s America”: multicultural and inclusive. Presumably, he is implying that those who advocate this version of American identity will vote Democrat next Tuesday. However, “another American nationalism is out there, one that is ethnic rather than civic,” he writes. Those on this side of the debate, he argues, believe that Sarah Palin’s “real America” really means white Anglo-Protestant. He goes on to strongly hint that those who advocate this more exclusionary conceptualization of America are simply racists who reveal their true intention to varying degrees through conspiracy theories of President Obama’s birthplace to racial campaign ads to questioning the president’s religion.

I wrote my dissertation on “nativism” – the opinion that a uniquely American culture and way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence. Nativism is certainly a factor, among many, in driving support for groups like the Tea Party. Most scholars who have studied nativism, however, tend to agree that nativism and racism are related, but not identical concepts or attitudes. While there is evidence to support the argument that nativism and racism are moderately correlated (r=0.32 among non-Hispanic whites in a 2006 Pew survey), I also spent much time in my dissertation arguing that the two are conceptually and empirically distinct attitudes and that they shouldn’t be combined or confused. For example, a recent study found that the majority of Tea Party rally signs are not racially charged, although there are certainly a few.

To double-check, I ran a logistic regression analysis on this same 2006 Pew survey data, predicting Republican party identification using a variety of independent variables, including nativism, racism, and several demographic control variables. The results? Yes, Republicans tend to be more nativist. That’s simply part of their classical liberal understanding of American culture. But the racism variable was not a factor in explaining Republican party identification.

While there has been some research suggesting that anti-black bias had an effect on voting in the 2008 presidential election, I think that Professor Reifowitz’s argument is a bit of a stretch. I disagree that veiled racism will be the predominant factor in most people’s vote choices in the upcoming midterm election. I do believe, however, that nativism will play a small role in driving people’s vote choices, but to an extent MUCH smaller than attitudes about the state of the economy and simple partisan identification. In fact, most political science research shows that the overall state of the economy is one of the single largest factors that explains results on most national American elections.

In sum, I think that the results of the upcoming midterm election will be more a statement about what Americans think about their financial fortunes, and less a referendum on the nature of American national identity, as Prof. Reifowitz is arguing.

Thank you, Ezra Klein…

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post recently wrote an editorial on “the five people Obama should hire right now“. Among them:

A political scientist: In general, Washington is split between people who specialize in governing (most of them economists or lawyers or public policy graduates) and people who specialize in running elections. Political scientists, who study the history and run the numbers on both pursuits, are not invited to the table. Adding to the snub, the president has hosted at the White House groups of journalists, pundits and historians. Again, no political scientists.

That’s a shame, because the White House could use some political science. If the administration wanted out of the 24-hour news cycle that obsesses over who’s up and who’s down, it should’ve grabbed some of the people who’ve studied the waxing and waning of the liberal and conservative brands since the 1930s. (Did you know that on the eve of FDR’s 1936 rout of the Republican Party, a majority of Americans polled by Gallup identified themselves as conservative?) The White House, which was shocked by the Republican Party’s unwillingness to offer early cooperation, could have benefited from congressional scholars who knew that both history and electoral incentives ensured that Republicans would obstruct from Day One.

I could go on. Pick an issue, or a political quandary, and odds are there’s a wealth of political science literature on the topic. The White House needs someone who can bring the profession’s best insights and evidence to the administration’s deliberations. And I hear there are even free desks for them to sit in.

Thanks for the vote of confidence!

At-large vs. district elections

In last night’s mayoral candidate forum, Bernie Hunstad said that he supported changing Danville’s system of city commission elections. (Jamey Gay supported keeping things the way they currently are on that issue.) As it stands, there are no separate geographical districts for city commissioners. All Danville residents vote on all city commission candidates and each commissioner represents “all” of Danville instead of a smaller neighborhood. This is called an “at-large” system. Mr. Hunstad said that he supported changing to a district, or “ward” system where each commissioner would represent a smaller section of Danville and be elected only by those who live in that section.

This is not an unreasonable proposal. District elections are currently used in about 40% of municipal governments in the United States. There are some important things, however, to take into consideration:

Accountability – who would you like your city commissioner to be accountable to: you and your neighbors or all of the city? When something goes wrong, do you want to be able to have a single person who is YOUR representative who you can contact? Or would you prefer to contact ALL of your commissioners who are all partially accountable to you?

Focus – Who would you like your commissioner to represent? Would you prefer that you have ONE commissioner representing your neighborhood that you and your neighbors get to elect all by yourselves? Or would you prefer being able to vote on ALL commissioners and have them, in turn, focus their attention on all of Danville and not just your neighborhood?

Minority representation – racial/ethnic minorities usually stand a better chance of being represented on city councils and commissions with district elections.

Voter turn-out – Hajnal and Lewis (2003) provide evidence that district elections tend to depress voter turn-out. However, there have been other studies that show that voter turn-out is not really affected by at-large vs. district elections.

Neighborhood representation – with at-large systems (like the one Danville currently enjoys) there is the possibility that all five city commissioners could live in the same part of town – or even the same street! Would you prefer that the city commission be geographically representative of the city? Or would you prefer more freedom to vote for candidates from any part of the city, even if they happen to be geographically clustered?

Demographics: in the U.S. today, at-large systems are more common in more affluent, racially homogenous communities. District systems are more common in larger, urban areas with socioeconomic and racial diversity. District systems are also more common in cities with strong mayor systems and at-large systems are more common in cities with council-manager type systems.

Clearly, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. It all depends on your preferences for city government and how you like to be represented and what you think would be better for your neighborhood and the city at large.

Follow-up to “Aqua Buddha”

Senate candidate Jack Conway has recently caused a stir by releasing the following campaign commercial.

This commercial was the topic of much heated debate at the Conway-Paul debate on Sunday evening. Referring to the commercial, Paul angrily asked Conway: “Have you no decency? Have you no shame?” (More available here.)

When the “Aqua Buddha” issue first emerged in late August, I blogged that the issue likely would not make much of a difference in the campaign because most people would forget about it by the time November rolled around. This has turned out to be true, in that the issue has been off everyone’s radar screen for the better part of the last two months.

In releasing this ad, however, Conway is putting the issue back on the radar screen. This may serve to push the needle at least a little bit in the minds of more middle-of-the-road voters. As I explained previously, this issue may cause some fence-sitters to update their “running tally” evaluation of Rand Paul with just enough to change a few people’s minds.

I maintain, though, that it likely by itself will not be enough to alter the outcome of the election. Providing that it doesn’t backfire on Jack Conway, however, he may be able to get enough milage out of this and the $2,000 Medicare deductible issue to make it a legitimate toss-up.

Centre-in-Yucatán

As part of its core institutional mission to promote “global citizenship,” Centre College is well-known for its fabulous study abroad program. More than 90% of Centre graduates spend a semester studying in either England, France, China, Mexico, or a host of other countries. This last weekend a group of Centre faculty members, myself included, visited Mérida, Mexico to learn more about the Centre-in-Yucatán program. Centre has recently purchased a new property in downtown Mérida to host its study abroad program. This building includes two or three classrooms, a residence for the program director, and a backyard which includes a guest house, a pool, and extensive foliage.

We had a great time on our trip. The current director, Professor Rick Axtel, organized a wonderful two-day agenda that included a bus tour of the city, trips to museums, a tour of the new Centre program facility, and a visit to a home-stay family. All students in the program live with home-stay families who are instructed to speak only Spanish in their home. We also took some time on Saturday to take a trip to the nearby Maya site of Uxmal.

I learned a lot about Yucatecan culture in a very short amount of time. I had never been to Mexico before (a day trip to Tijuana in 2005 doesn’t count…), but I have had extensive exposure to Mexican culture and the Spanish language from my interaction with Mexican immigrants living here in the United States. Consequently, I had formed a very specific impression of what constituted “Mexican culture.” The Mexico of the Yucatán peninsula, however, is very different from the central and northern Mexico.

For instance, the food is distinctly Yucatecan. I was expecting carne asada, refried beans, Spanish rice, and lots of jalapeño peppers. Instead, I ate a lot of chicken, turkey, white rice, fish, and fruit. I was expecting people in black sombreros playing Mariachi trumpet music for the tourists in the city squares. Instead, I saw several ladies in traditional Maya clothing selling crafts and clothes. I was expecting to hear the very strong, sing-song-y accent of northern Mexican spoken Spanish. Instead, I heard very soft accents and several words in Mayan being spoken in the streets. I was expecting to see an eagle on a cactus in the dessert eating a snake (or, at least, something similar). Instead, I saw toucans and colorful birds in lush, green trees in a very tropical environment. To be honest, I was even expecting to see a lot of trash in the calles and shady characters on the street corners. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mérida is a bright, clean, and very safe city that I would love to live in for a few months while directing the study abroad program in a few years.

In short, I can highly recommend this program to any potential students who might be considering it.

Pictures are available here:

Link to photos of Mérida city and the different places we visited

Link to photos of the new Centre study abroad facility

Link to photos of the Uxmal archeological site and a visit to an underground cave geological site

More information on the Centre-in-Yucatán program is available here: http://www.centre.edu/studyabroad/mexico/mexico.html

A recent article on the Centre-in-Yucatán program by Centre’s media department can be found here: http://www.centre.edu/news/2010/yucatan.html

Predicting the Danville election results

There are a little over two weeks before Danville, KY voters go to the polls to choose a new mayor, city commission, and a slew of county officers. Political science research can help shed some light into who might win next month.

While research on local elections is not nearly as extensive (or definitive) as research on national elections in the U.S., there are some clear trends that have been discovered. The three largest factors that determine the results of local municipal elections in the U.S. are: 1) incumbency, 2) endorsements, and 3) fund-raising. We can use these to make some tentative predictions.

First: incumbency. Currently, Commissioners Caudill, Hamner, and Crowley are the incumbents running for reelection. Commissioner Gay is not technically the incumbent in the mayoral race, but he’s currently serving on the commission. Bernie Hunstad, on the other hand, is the newcomer.

Second: endorsements. While The Advocate-Messenger has yet to make any official endorsements this election cycle, I am aware that Commissioner Gay has been endorsed by both the Danville Professional Firefighters Association as well as the Centre College Democrats. Perhaps there are other endorsements out there, but I am not aware of them.

Third: fund-raising. In local elections, the number of yard signs is usually a pretty good indicator of fund-raising. If that’s the case, it’s safe to imagine that Commissioners Caudill, Hamner, and Crowley, as well as Norma Gail Louis, hold the edge in the fund-raising battle. My impression is that J.H. Atkins has a lower level of financial resources devoted to the campaign, and that James Cline, T-Y Isaacs, and Ryan Montgomery have little, if any, resources to speak of, as I have yet to see a yard sign or advertisement for any of the three of them. On the mayoral side, my impression is that Gay and Hunstad are about evenly matched.

Finally, there are the results of the May primary vote. In a three-way race, Jamie Gay received 50.2% and Bernie Hunstad received 47%.

Based on these four factors, I tentatively predict that Gay will win the mayoral race, but by a fairly close margin. I am also going to more confidently predict that Caudill, Hamner, Crowley, and Louis will win the four city commissioner seats by a wide margin, with J.H. Atkins coming in a distant fifth.

Don’t forget to show up to the candidate forums this week being sponsored by the Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce: http://www.amnews.com/stories/2010/10/16/loc.269151.sto

“Who Likes Political Science?”

In 2009, Senator Tom Coburn proposed an amendment to HR 2847 which would prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding political science research. He claimed that political science “is really not science at all” and said that while political science professors might have some “interesting theories,” explaining modern politics is best left to “CNN, pollsters, pundits, historians, candidates, political parties, and the voters.” He further argued that since no political science had found the cure for cancer, it wasn’t worth funding because it hasn’t done anything to actually improve anyone’s lives.

I blogged about the absurdity of this argument last year. Fortunately, the amendment was defeated 62-36.

A new article in PS: Political Science and Politics discusses the factors that help explain why Senators voted in favor of this amendment. They found:

  • Partisanship was by far the largest factor. All other things being equal, Republicans were 56% likely to vote to cut funding to political science NSF research, while Democrats were only 6% likely to do so.
  • Senators who got a B.A. degree in political science in college were  13% less likely to vote to cut funding.
  • Senators from states with Top-50 Political Science Ph.D. programs in their universities were about 30% less likely to vote to cut funding.
  • Senators from states with higher levels of education and advanced degrees were 31% less likely to vote to cut funding.
  • Senators who were up for reelection that year were 24% more likely to vote to cut funding than those who had more than five years until their next election.

Good to know that those who got Political Science degrees in their youth thought well enough of their education to vote to continue funding valuable political science research.