Monthly Archives: September 2011

Utah’s new congressional map

At least, this is the proposed map that’s emerged from the redistricting committee in the legislature. It’s likely to pass the full legislature, though.

I lived in Utah when they redistricted following the 2000 census. Liberal-leaning Salt Lake County was split into three different congressional districts in hopes of defeating Utah’s sole Democrat Jim Matheson (he actually survived by a nail-biter and serves to this day). With this map, at least, Salt Lake City proper is kept together (which is an improvement), but they stick SLC with all of southern and western Utah which includes predominantly rural areas (and beautiful natural parks!) that tend to vote predominantly Republican.

Since Utah’s gaining a 4th congressional seat this year, many Democrats were hopeful that they’d FINALLY get a seat all to themselves in Salt Lake County where they could have their safe token Democrat while the other three districts could have their safe Republicans to make four incumbent-friendly, uncompetitive races. It looks like, however, that there will be three uncompetitive Republican districts and one fairly competitive district.

All in all, it’s a rotten day for Democrats in Utah (as usual). However, I think this map is at least mildly less blatantly partisan than the existing map that splits SLC between the three districts. At least with this map, three of the four districts group similar communities together (Northern Utah, Wasatch Front/Eastern Utah, and south Salt Lake county). For the final district, however, Salt Lakers will be miserable with their rural representative or the entirety of southern Utah will be miserable with their urban representative. Such is political life in the State of Utah…

P.S. As with all things, there’s good and bad from this. Competitive districts are good because they keep representatives honest and force them to represent a broad constituency. However, uncompetitive districts can also be good because it stinks to be a “political loser” – those on the losing end have less faith in government and tend to participate at lower rates than “political winners.”

PolitiFact grades of the 2012 GOP candidates

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight put together an interesting look at the PolitiFact grades of the various 2012 GOP candidates. PolitiFact is a Pulitzer Prize-winning organization that looks at various statements that politicians make and gives them a “grade” from True or Mostly True to False and even “Pants on Fire”. The report is here:

Michele Bachmann wins the prize for least truthful – only about 19% of her scored statements were in the “true” range. She even managed to get a 25% “Pants on Fire” rating. Jon Hunstman wins the prize for most truthful – only 14% were rated as “mostly false” and he has not garnered a single “false” or “Pants on Fire”.

The thing that strikes me is that there is almost a 1-to-1 correlation between the relative extremity of the candidate’s conservative ideology on social issues and truthfulness of the candidate’s public statements. The more socially moderate the candidate (Huntsman, Romney, and even Paul), the more “true” ratings they tend to get. The more socially conservative candidates (Bachman, Santorum, Cain) get the most “false” statement ratings.

To be fair, Nate also looks at President Obama’s ratings. The President has 28% “false” or “mostly false” with 1% “Pants on Fire.” He’s at least half right on 71% of the statements that PolitiFact scores, with almost half of his statements as either “mostly true” or “true.”


Political ideology and voting rates among the under-30 crowd

Last week I received two different questions (on the same day) about the political behavior of college-age individuals and how it has changed over time. One of my colleagues asked if younger people tend to participate more or less than they did in previous generations and another asked if younger people had become more or less conservative over the past few decades. So I put the question to my GOV 336 students. This semester they’re learning how to analyze public opinion survey data to answer interesting questions about politics. Rather than do the work myself, I offered them extra credit if they could come up with a good answer to these questions. Their results?

First: college-age people have shown no consistent change in voting rates from the 1970s to now. They turn out somewhere between 45-60% of the time, depending on the election, and there’s no consistent upward or downward trend over the years. However, there has been a slight drop in “interest” in politics: young people of today are about 5-10% less likely than people in the 1970s to say that they feel that their vote matters or that they’re interested in politics or that they participate in political campaigns.

Second: there is no consistent evidence that young people of today are any more or less conservative than they were in the 1970s. Younger people were about 5-10% more likely to say that they were conservative in the 1980s (Reagan years) but that went back down in the 1990s and 2000s to 1970s levels.

Bottom line: young people of today aren’t appreciably different from young people of the 1970s, at least in terms of ideology and voter-turnout. They’re just slightly more cynical toward the political system.

Jennifer Hormell, Jordan Shewmaker, CJ Donald, Tyler Sanderson, and Malcolm Richerson contributed to this report.

Personal religiosity and economic views: Part 2

In my previous post I discussed my skepticism about the conclusions drawn in a USA Today report of a recent Baylor Religion survey (see post below for details and the conclusions). Just because I’m a data geek, I went to the 2008 ANES survey to try to get to the bottom of this.

The 2008 ANES survey has questions measuring a person’s political ideology, their levels of religiosity (Biblical literalism, frequency of church attendance), as well as a preference for 1) needing a strong government to solve complex problems, or 2) the free market can handle problems without government involvement.

The 2008 ANES did not include a question specifically asking the degree to which the individual sees God as actively engaged in the daily workings of the world (that was what the Baylor survey specifically measured). For our purposes, I’ll assume that we can use Biblical literalism and frequency of church attendance as proxy measures for being more likely to see God as actively engaged in the world. It’s not perfect, but I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch, either.

First, we see that only 30% of Biblical literalists prefer a purely free market approach as opposed to a stronger government. However, only 32.6% of non-Biblical literalists also prefer a free market approach. This suggests that there is very little difference of free market economic policies in terms of personal religiosity. (For the data geeks out there, the gamma is -0.061 and it’s not significant, p=0.219.)

Here are the results from a logistic regression analysis. Essentially, this analysis sorts out the competing effects of several different variables in terms of its usefulness in explaining a particular outcome variable. In this case, I wanted to see if religiosity makes a difference in explaining a preference for a purely free market economic philosophy once political ideology and other standard demographic variables are accounted for. (I hypothesized in my previous post that the association between religion and economic views was really just showing differences in political ideology.)

Sure enough, political ideology has the single largest effect on free market preferences, with conservatives being more in favor than liberals. No surprise there. However, Biblical literalism and church attendance still play a role even after controlling for ideology… but in the opposite direction than the USA Today article described. Here, higher religiosity is associated with a lower support for a pure free market economy, even after controlling for political ideology. Substantively, this means that even though conservatives are more likely to favor the free market, highly religious conservatives are slightly less likely to do so than less religious conservatives (but still more than liberals).

The bottom line? Political ideology is the key driver of economic preferences in the United States. Religion does play a role, but, if anything, higher levels of religiosity tend to be associated with lower levels of support for a libertarian free-market economy.

Personal religiosity and economic views

USA Today has a report today of the latest Baylor Religion Survey administered by Baylor University. The juicy parts:

About one in five Americans combine a view of God as actively engaged in daily workings of the world with an economic conservative view that opposes government regulation and champions the free market as a matter of faith. “They say the invisible hand of the free market is really God at work,” says sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor Religion Survey, released today  by Baylor University in Waco, Texas. …

At the opposite pole, another one in five Americans don’t see God stepping in to their daily lives and favor reducing wealth and inequality through taxation. “So they’re less likely to see God controlling the economy. Liberal economic perspectives are synonymous with the belief that there is no one ‘ultimate truth,’” Froese says.

I suppose this explanation is plausible. I’ll admit, though, that I’m a little skeptical and would like to be able to play with the survey data myself. I question this conclusion simply because of the “correlation is not causation” rule that’s important to remember when looking at public opinion survey data. To me, it seems that this pattern could simply be expressing differences in political ideology. Conservatives are both more religious and more likely to favor free-market economic principles. Liberals are both less religious and more likely to favor regulatory economic principles. That being said, I don’t doubt that individual religious opinions inform economic views; I just don’t see religiosity as the prime mover for most people.

And I think Mr. Froese exaggerates his case a bit when he says “liberal economic perspectives are synonymous with the belief that there is no one ‘ultimate truth’.” Although I agree that there’s likely a tendency for the one to go with the other, I doubt very much that there’s a 1-to-1 correlation between those two measures.

My 2012 GOP preferences

In order of preference:

1. Jon Huntsman

2. Mitt Romney



3. Ron Paul








4. Rick Perry

5. Rick Santorum

6. Newt Gingrich

7. Michele Bachmann

8. Herman Cain

Maybe this will change as the campaign progresses…

Review of “Henry Clay: The Essential American”

Last night I finished the long slog through Henry Clay: The Essential American - a recently-released biography of Kentucky’s most famous senator. It was a pleasant slog, though. I enjoyed it a great deal. This was one of the better political biographies that I’ve read (and I’ve read many!). It was especially helpful for me because, as a Kentucky newcomer, the first few chapters paint a vivid portrait of what Kentucky life was like in the 1800s. In many ways, the “rugged individualism” of Kentucky in the early 19th century still persists here in the early 21st century.

I especially liked this book because it provides an in-depth look into the political personalities and struggles of Jacksonian America. In high school and college classes, we Americans get an idea of what the American Founding was like and what the Civil War was all about. The intervening decades, however, are often a gap in our historical knowledge, and this biography does a good job of filling that gap. The authors provide interesting looks at people like Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, John Calhoun, Daniel Webster, James K. Polk, John Tyler, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, and others.

In other regards, this was a very human biography. The authors portray Clay as hot-headed, independent, and tempermental in his youth (thus, making him an excellent personification of Kentucky’s political “personality”), but growing more mature and less rash in his later years. They don’t sugar-coat the fact that he opposed slavery in principle but owned slaves throughout his life. They do report, though, that he freed a number of his slaves and was relatively gentle toward the rest, especially compared to other slave-holders of his day.

The most depressing portions of the book concerned his family. Henry Clay and his wife Lucretia had eleven children, only four of whom outlived their parents. It was sad to read about the deaths of each of those seven children, including every one of their daughters. As the father of a two-year-old little girl, it was more personal to me than it probably would have been a few years ago!

All in all, it was a great biography. I feel like I understand Kentucky and its political heritage a bit better as a result.

The paradox of political discussion

I came across something interesting as I was preparing material for my upper-division course on public opinion this week. A few years ago, Diana Mutz published a book entitled Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative vs. Participatory Democracy. The “take-home” points from the book are as follows:

Compared to several other industrialized democracies, Americans rank dead last in terms of how often we engage in political discussion with people we disagree with. Less than 25% of us have regular political discussions that expose us to “cross-cutting” viewpoints that differ from our own.

The good news: those who do engage in “cross-cutting” discussion more frequently are more tolerant toward diverging opinions and tend to have stronger friendships and other forms of social bonds.

The bad news: those who engage in “cross-cutting” discussion more frequently are less likely to vote and participate in politics. She theorizes that exposure to conflicting viewpoints increases ambivalence toward political controversies and lessens the motivations to take action to do something about them.

To me, the most frightening conclusion of this is that those who are voting regularly and active in the public sphere are least likely to be receiving and considering alternative viewpoints.

This is why Jon Huntsman needs to win the GOP nomination

Start watching at the 10:40 mark:

Then watch this:

Unfortunately, it looks like he’s just too reasonable to win the GOP nomination this time around…

The effects of the 2009 economic stimulus

CNN has a decent summary of the effects of the 2009 economic stimulus bill. The good: it’s likely that the stimulus bill created somewhere around 4 million jobs. The bad: about 9 million jobs were lost from the economic recession. The bottom line: the stimulus didn’t “fix” the economy, but it’s likely that it kept it from being much, much worse.