Why gender equality matters

When my six-year-old daughter saw Hillary Clinton’s recent announcement for the presidency, her first response was to say, very innocently and matter-of-factly, “Oh! I didn’t know that women were allowed to be president.”

While I don’t mean this as an endorsement of Clinton’s candidacy (far from it – I strongly believe that an uncompetitive presidential primary and an assumed “coronation” is not a healthy thing in our electoral democracy), I’ll admit that my daughter’s response surprised and shocked me just a bit. My first reaction was to think “where did she get the idea that women were not allowed to be president?”

Is it the implicit signals from the “American presidents” dinner place mat she sometimes uses that features the faces of an all-male presidential line-up?

Is it the messages from the culture she’s growing up in where, despite great strides made over the several decades, women are still less likely to be in positions of leadership, prominence, and visibility?

Is it the patterns she internalizes at the church we attend were women are not eligible to serve as the chief pastors in our congregations or in the highest governing councils of the worldwide organization?

Of course much of the responsibility is ultimately my own. After all, it’s my job as her father to teach her about the world. I suppose I’ve dropped the ball by never explicitly explaining to her that “women are of course eligible to serve as U.S. president but no one ever has yet for a variety of reasons…” So my immediate response was to make it clear that YES women are eligible to be elected president and then I showed her on my smartphone pictures of other female heads of state around the world (e.g. Angela Merkel, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Dilma Rousseff, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, etc.).

In a few weeks my wife and I will be welcoming two more twin girls into our family. I hope that by the time they’re six years old that their environment will have more egalitarian messages and signals about the role of women in society than is the case today.

“Rifts of Rime” Poems

Poems inspired by The Rifts of Rime by Steven Peck. Written by Abigail Knoll, age 6, with grammatical and editing assistance from yours truly.



The Quickening are all helped by the Wealdend,

Protected by the Saffre, the Grays also help with the Folk.

Paper makers and poets are Folk or Keppla.

The philosophers and healers are the Marmots.

The wolves travel around the world:

Tell the Foreteller what they saw!

Ants, the Strange Quickening, no one knows…

But maybe Pinecone and Leaf have the right nose!

Those are the jobs of the Quickening.



Our teeth are sharp

Our howl is strong

Our run is steady and fast

Our claws have the power to take down a moose

But the thing to be aware of the most is the Saffre on the loose!



The foxes are enemies

Their teeth are sharp their claws are sharp

Their feet are slow but quiet

I rush up the tree to escape these features

There’s one thing that’s clear

If you are a trained warrior

This is an opportunity.



The power of the oak, the elm, the pine

Are nothing compared to the power of the Wealdend

Their Foreteller keeps us safe, so does the Saffre.

The Grays have some power,  but nothing like the Wealdend.

We must honor and respect the Wealdend and their helpers.

We are grateful to the Wealdend.

We are grateful to the Wealdend for the Quickening.

Because of the Grays, the Marmots, Folk, and Wolves

We thank the Quickening for the elm, oak, and pine

For they make our nests and our homes divine.

We thank the Wealdend for the water and land

Best of all, for the Quickening of all creatures.

Ben Wyatt faces an uphill battle in 2018

This week Pawnee, Indiana City Manager Ben Wyatt announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for the Indiana 9th congressional district in the 2018 midterm election. While many are enthusiastic about his decision (especially Deputy Director of the Midwest National Parks Service Leslie Knope), I must admit that I’m not too optimistic about his prospects for electoral success.

First, campaign consult Jennifer Barkley informed Wyatt that he would be challenging the Republican incumbent. Challengers to sitting incumbents historically do very poorly in U.S. House races. Based solely on that information, Wyatt’s chances are already likely less than 10%.

Second, the southern Indiana 9th congressional district is a heavily Republican district, with a Partisan Voting Index score of R+9. Even if it the incumbent were to choose to retire, any Democratic candidate would have a strong uphill battle to fight in that congressional district.

Third, while we do not yet have enough information to accurately predict the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, we can apply political science forecasting models to say that if the election were held right now (January 2015), the Democratic candidate would be favored to win the election, given the incumbent Democratic presidential job approval rating of 46% and a 2014 economic growth rate of 2.6%. This means that the 2018 midterm congressional election will very likely favor Republican candidates, as the president’s party almost always loses seats during midterm elections.

In sum, the cards are stacked against a Ben Wyatt victory in 2018. This could be an opportunity for him to get his name out, however, and to build a campaign infrastructure for an election year when the fundamentals would be more favorable to a Democratic candidate.

My students’ choices for American electoral reform

This semester my POL 330 “Parties, Campaigns, and Elections” class at Centre College has been examining a variety of proposed electoral reforms. At the end of each discussion, we held a vote on whether or not to stick with the status quo on a particular issue (e.g. campaign finance, primary electoral systems, direct democracy, etc.) or go with a proposed alternative. I recorded the plurality winner for each electoral domain, and then the last week of class I presented the batch of reform choices to my class as a single up-or-down “package” of reforms. By a 2-1 margin, my students voted to recommend the following slate of electoral reforms:

  • Abolish direct elections to state judicial offices
  • Promote more state-level direct democracy (initiative, referendum, recall) throughout the country
  • Limit legislative redistricting to once per decade
  • Maximize the number of uncompetitive elections
  • Replace open/closed primaries with a Top-2 primary system
  • Eliminate the current presidential nomination process with a single national popular Top-2 primary vote
  • Eliminate the Electoral College and replace with a direct popular vote
  • Retain the current campaign financing system with the exception of reversing Citizens United

2014 midterm election: results vs. predictions

As of November 14, there are still a handful of Congressional races yet to be called. Nonetheless, if those that are currently leaning toward the GOP end up in the Republican column, we’ll begin the 114th Congress with 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House, a pickup of 13 seats for the GOP. Assuming that Mary Landreiu loses reelection in the runoff election on December 6, the Senate will have 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats, a pickup of 9 seats in the Senate for the GOP.

In October, PS: Political Science and Politics published a collection of forecasts of the 2014 midterm elections. These were forecasts done by political scientists who make predictions based on election “fundamentals” such as presidential approval and economic conditions, and done several months before the election took place. (Notably, these models do not include information on things like campaign spending, candidate competence/appeal, etc.) The average (median) prediction was that the Republicans would pick up 14 seats in the House and 5 or 6 seats in the Senate.

All in all, not a bad showing for the science of political science election forecasting in 2014.

Predicted result Actual result Margin of error (difference / total seats)
House + 14 GOP + 13 GOP 0.2%
Senate + 5 or 6 GOP + 9 GOP 3.5%

2014 Boyle County Exit Poll: How accurate are the results?

Here is a comparison of the 2014 BCEP results for various races and the actual results from the Kentucky Secretary of State‘s website:

Race Actual results Survey results Difference Survey results with sample weighting Difference
McConnell 56.5% 50.2% 6.3% 51.8% 4.7%
Grimes 40.5% 47.3% 6.8% 46.1% 5.6%
Patterson 3.0% 2.4% 0.6% 2.1% 0.9%
Guthrie 62.5% 58.4% 4.1% 59.2% 3.3%
Leach 37.5% 41.4% 3.9% 40.6% 3.1%
McKinney 55.0% 59.9% 4.9% 61.4% 6.4%
Harmon 45.0% 40.1% 4.9% 38.6% 6.4%
Mike Perros 51.0% 43.8% 7.2% 45.4% 5.6%
Paige Stevens 49.0% 56.2% 7.2% 54.6% 5.6%
Steve Becker 20.3% 18.8% 1.5% 19.6% 0.7%
Lowery Anderson 15.9% 17.7% 1.8% 18.4% 2.5%
Susan Matherly 25.7% 24.4% 1.3% 23.8% 1.9%
Paige Matthews 23.6% 24.7% 1.1% 23.9% 0.3%
Elaine Wilson-Reddy 14.6% 14.4% 0.2% 14.3% 0.3%
Rick Serres 17.0% 17.7% 0.7% 17.7% 0.7%
Denise Terry 17.1% 15.9% 1.2% 15.5% 1.6%
Kevin Caudill 20.1% 20.4% 0.3% 20.7% 0.6%
Kent Mann 13.2% 12.3% 1.0% 12.3% 1.0%
J. H. Atkins 19.8% 20.4% 0.6% 19.7% 0.1%
Buck Graham 12.3% 13.4% 1.1% 14.2% 1.9%

A reminder that a sample weighting was applied to figures reported on this blog, which is a standard procedure used to correct for differences in how different demographic groups respond to the initial invitation to take the survey.

In general, it seems that the exit poll sample tended to overstate support for Democratic candidates in the partisan races as well as the implicitly liberal-leaning candidate in the non-partisan Danville mayoral election by anywhere from 3%-6%.[1] When it comes to the Danville city commission and school board, however, the exit poll sample was only about 1% off from the actual final results. The average difference between the exit poll sample and the actual sample for all races is 2.8% which is reduced slightly to 2.7% once a sample weighting procedure is applied.

Given that the results vary by about an average of 2.5%-3%, we can confidently assume that the other responses from the survey questions are likely somewhere in the same ballpark. This range is well within the standard accepted margin of error of 3% for most national surveys and professional polling firms.

[FN1] There are a number of explanations that can account for this, including the possibility that people were slightly less likely to accurately report their voting patterns for these higher-profile offices on the survey form. However, it is ultimately impossible to definitely verify this one way or the other.

Boyle County Exit Poll 2014: Minority religious affiliation of Boyle County voters

Among many other socio-political and demographic questions, the 2014 Boyle County Exit Poll asked respondents to report their religious affiliation. As reported previously, Evangelical Protestants made up 38% of the sample, with 27.5% Mainline Protestants, 0.7% Black Protestant, 9.9% Catholic, 8.6% religiously unaffiliated, 4.2% “atheist/agnostic,” 5.7% “other” religion.

Here is the breakdown of what respondents wrote in the “other” religious category. The first column indicates what was written, the second reports exactly how many individuals wrote that answer (or some close variant of it).

“Just believe in God and love” 1
Adventist 1
Baptist 4
Buddhist 1
Calvinist 1
Catholic 2
CBF Baptist (not evangelical) 1
Christian 32
Christian Buddhist 1
Church of Christ 2
Church of God 1
Deist 1
Greek Orthodox 1
Independent Baptist 1
Jewish 6
Lutheran 2
Messianic Jew 2
Monotheistic Pagan 1
Mormon/LDS 3
Native American 1
Nazarene 1
None of your business 1
Pagan 1
Pentecostal 2
Presbyterian USA 1
Spiritual 3
Unitarian Univeralist 1

It was reported previously that about 7% of the adult population of Boyle County, Kentucky was included in this survey sample. Thus, if you multiply the above figure by about 14, you’ll get a very approximate “ballpark” estimate of about how many people in Boyle County, Kentucky self-identify with that particular religious affiliation.