I highly recommend the following TED talk on the causes and consequences of contemporary political polarization by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt:
My only critique is that he puts a bit too much emphasis on and faith in the likelihood that a few institutional tweaks (like open primaries) will dramatically change the current state of partisan polarization. Most political science research has shown that the causes of polarization are wide and deep and likely won’t be reversed by looking only at institutional changes. (See here, here, and here.)
Other than that, I highly recommend this TED talk.
Henry Farrell applies the list experiment technique (see here or here) to investigate the prevalence of voter fraud:
One of the findings of a new working paper by John Ahlquist, Kenneth R. Mayer and Simon Jackman is that “the lower bound on the population reporting voter impersonation is nearly identical with the proportion of the population reporting abduction by extraterrestrials.” Roughly 2.5 percent of the population effectively admit to one or the other. The rationale for this comparison tells us a lot about how social scientists deal with complex and touchy political issues.
The implication here is that if one accepts that 2.5% is a valid lower bound for the prevalence of voter impersonation in the 2012 election then one must also accept that about 2.5% of the adult U.S. population – about 6 million people – believe that they were abducted by extra-terrestrials in the last year. If this were true then voter impersonation would be the least of our worries.
News came out today that the U.S. economy grew at 2.8% during the third quarter of 2013. This is positive news. It’s also interesting to note that, were the presidential election held this November 7 instead of one year ago yesterday, President Obama still would likely have cruised to reelection, despite his lower-than-average approval ratings.
Why? Because economic growth + presidential approval is a very reliable predictor of the outcome of presidential elections. This tool (link here), developed by political scientists at GW, Yale, and UCLA, predicts that even with Obama’s current 43% approval rating, he would have a 77% chance of reelection given the Q1-Q3 average economic growth rate of 2.1%, if the election were held today.
At this rate of economic growth, Obama’s approval rating would have to be in the low 30s before a challenger would have a good shot of knocking him out in a general election. Should this rate of growth continue for three more years, it suggests a tentatively positive outlook for Democrats keeping the White House in 2016.
Today’s USA Today headline story reports the results of a survey describing how Americans are supportive of a number of “fine-tuning” election reforms that could potentially alter the partisan gridlock which “could make a difference in the kind of government that follows.” These are: 1) put non-partisan commissions in charge of state legislative redistricting, 2) allowing Independents to vote in partisan primaries, and 3) enact voter ID laws.
The headline gives the impression that these proposals would make a big difference in our political system and could potentially assuage the gridlock and paralysis in D.C. Indeed, the deadline on page 6A reads: “Fine-tuning could free D.C. to function.” Although the author says that these ideas have the support of “some political scientists,” there is not much evidence (that I am aware of) that would suggest that any of these reforms would drastically alter election outcomes. To wit:
- One of the most popular misconceptions about contemporary political polarization in Congress is that it’s caused by partisan redistricting: partisan legislators redraw lines that create lopsided ideological districts. It’s an appealing argument. If that were the case, though, we would expect polarization to be absent in legislative bodies whose district lines never change… like the U.S. Senate. However, the Senate has become hyper-polarized without any partisan redistricting, so it follows that redistricting is not to blame for the polarization. (More here.) To be fair, the author acknowledges such in the article, but only after quoting in some detail individuals who think that nonpartisan redistricting commissions could likely make a substantial difference.
- The argument for allowing Independents to vote in partisan primaries has logical appeal: victorious candidates would have to appeal to ideological moderates in addition to ideological extremists, therefore the average candidate that emerges from a primary would be more ideologically moderate as a result. This assumes that Independents would vote at the same rates as ideological partisans in primaries, though, which is not the case. (According to the 2012 ANES survey, Independents vote at a rate somewhere around 20-30% lower than partisans.) Even in states were Independents can vote in primaries, it’s usually the more active, enthusiastic, and ideologically extreme partisans who dominate the primary electorate.
- Evidence also suggests that voter ID laws don’t substantially alter either voter turnout or partisan outcomes (see also here).
In sum, the roots of partisan polarization are long and deep, and won’t be significantly altered by tweaking a few institutional rules here and there. The current polarization will end when the partisan ideological coalitions shift to produce more ideological diversity within the two major parties, or we change the Constitution to permit a nation-wide proportional representation system. And neither seems likely in the near future.
Debates over contraception and the economy represent only a few of the many issues illustrating the widening gap between the ideological left and right in the United States. While there are a number of different explanations for this change in American politics, we suggest that human mate choice plays some role in this process. Spouses tend to share political preferences, and parents pass on their political preferences to their children.
This said, spouses do not inﬂuence each other’s political preferences over the course of the relationship (Alford et al. 2011), and politics is not a salient factor at the outset of the dating process (Klofstad et al. 2011). To address this mystery, using a survey of online dating proﬁles we examined the dating preferences of liberals and conservatives. With a few exceptions, we ﬁnd that both liberals and conservatives prefer to date others who are like themselves. And, the non-political traits that those on the left and right assort on do have some role in political assortation. For example, liberals seek out dates with more education, and conservatives with less, and education has been found to correlate with tolerance (e.g., Bobo and Licari 1989). Consequently, it could be that the pervasive practice of assortation on non-political factors could be inadvertently leading to assortation on political preferences, which in turn leads to political polarization over time.
From a recently published article entitled “The Dating Preferences of Liberals and Conservatives” by Klofstad, et al. available here.
From my latest Huffington Post entry:
The results of this political science research suggest that GOP House members should not worry quite as much about a possible primary threat from a more anti-immigrant challenger if they support comprehensive immigration reform. Those in the Republican primary electoral base are not as concerned about the possible influence of foreigners on American culture as conventional wisdom would have us believe. Indeed, this research suggests that there is more “hidden” support out there for immigrant-friendly policies like comprehensive immigration reform, especially among Republican primary voters.
Full article available here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/benjamin-knoll/research-suggests-hidden_b_3581820.html
Ultimately, these studies indicate that to one degree or another, American congregants of all political stripes tend to follow the lead of their religious leaders when it comes to immigration. President Obama was smart to enlist their support as he works with Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul this year.
Full article available here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/benjamin-knoll/can-religious-leaders-swa_b_2974436.html
President Obama, talking about Nancy Pelosi and his predicted outcome of the 2014 midterm elections:
“… I expect that she’s going to be once again the Speaker of the House.”
Can Nancy Pelosi expect to be Speaker of the House come January 2015? It’s possible, but very unlikely.
In the modern political era (post-1940s), the president’s party almost always loses seats in the House during midterm elections, and this effect is almost always larger in a president’s second term than in the first (the two exceptions being the 1998 and 2002 midterm elections). From 1946-2006, the president’s party has lost an average of 16 House seats in a president’s first term midterm elections and 31 House seats in a president’s second term midterm election.
There are a couple of academic theories as to why this occurs. First, there are no presidential “coattails” to help co-partisan candidates of the winning president’s party during midterm elections. Second, another theory argues that the outcome of midterm elections is at least partially a “referendum” on the incumbent president’s performance, and a president almost always has lower approval ratings at the mid-point of their terms than when they began those terms. Finally, the “exposure” theory states that a president’s party will lose more seats in the midterm election because they simply have more to lose after gaining seats in the previous election thanks to the aforementioned “coattails” and “referendum” effects.
Also, it should be noted that even though Democrats technically won the popular vote for U.S. House in 2012 they gained only eight seats and failed to win a majority. One estimation suggested that Congressional Democrats would have had to win the national popular vote by upwards of 7% to have taken back the House in 2012. This does not bode well for their chances in 2014.
In sum, it’s certainly a possibility that the Democrats will re-take the House in 2014, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
For those who haven’t been following the issue of the Senate recently de-funding most NSF political science projects, here’s a concise summary along with four solid examples of how political science research benefits society:
For those so inclined, it wouldn’t hurt if you contacted your federal representatives to ask that this funding be restored in next year’s budget.
“Based on President Obama’s announced positions on actual legislation, we find that he is closer to the ideological center than any president since LBJ.”
This is based on an analysis of votes that the President has publicly spoken either in favor of or against. More available here: http://voteview.com/blog/?p=735