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: – 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

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.