Monthly Archives: May 2011

Danville politics and voter memory

A recent editorial in the Danville Advocate Messenger gave a rather scathing and critical review of certain members of our current city council. They describe that three of the commissioners (Hunstad, Montgomery, and Louis) are conspiring to undermine the current council-manager form of city government and appoint political allies to positions of influence:

http://www.centralkynews.com/amnews/opinion/amn-danville-city-politics-require-much-closer-look-20110530,0,2875052.story

The editorial board finishes with this rhetorical flourish:

The voters can only hope to make sure a light is shone on the city’s activities by watching closely. These commissioners are doing their dirty work early in their tenure because they think you will soon forget. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

While I have sympathy (to a certain extent…) for the editorial board’s rhetorical argument, political science research suggests that most Danville voters will forget about most of this by the time the next election rolls around. Most American voters have very short political memories, and by the time an election rolls around, most voters have forgotten most of the details of the entire campaign, not to mention things that happened before the campaign. This suggests that by the time the next Danville city council election comes around (November 2012), the recent city manager controversy will likely not be on the radar screen, unless the media (primarily the Advocate Messenger) and challenging candidates make a strong and concerted effort to rail on the issue ad nauseam during the campaign.

I’d like to think that such will not be the case, but observation and analysis of American voting behavior suggests otherwise.

Immigration and the 2012 GOP candidates

latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-immigration-politics-20110528,0,676131.story

Research on American immigration attitudes has shown that one of the primary sources of anti-immigration sentiments stems from “economic threat” – when people perceive the economy to be doing poorly they’re more likely to hold more restrictive immigration policy attitudes. This Los Angeles Times article, however, reports that many potential 2012 GOP candidates are presenting a less hard-line stand on immigration than their 2008 counterparts. I hope that this report is accurate and that this pattern continues throughout the campaign. 

The Tea Party and the 2010 midterm election

The latest issue of PS: Political Science and Politics contains an article by BYU professors Christopher Karpowitz, Quin Monson, Kelly Patterson, and Jeremy Pope that analyzes the effect of the Tea Party on the 2010 midterm election. Specifically, they examined the effect of a Tea Party endorsement on the outcomes of both primary and general elections. They found that a Tea Party endorsement in the Republican primary election resulted the candidate receiving an increase of 8-9% of the vote. They also found, however, that Tea Party endorsements had almost zero effect on the candidate’s performance in the general election. In other words, being backed by the Tea Party helped Republican congressional candidates win their primary election, but didn’t make much of a difference in the general election.

Polls and the 2012 presidential election

We’re about to get inundated with a year and a half of public opinion polls about the 2012 presidential election. The Monkey Cage blog recently reported a study that contains the following important graph (I apologize – it’s a little blurry):

Basically, it’s saying that 300 days before the election (about 10 months), public opinion polls have almost ZERO predictive power on the outcome of the election. They start to get about as good as a coin flip (i.e. 50%) about eight months before the election (around March during the election year). And it’s not until around three months before the election (i.e. August) that the polls reflect the eventual winner more than 75% of the time.

Bottom line lesson: take all public opinion polls regarding the outcome of the 2012 presidential election with a grain of salt (or feel free to ignore entirely) until about August 2012.

Centre College Graduation 2011

I finished my first year here at Centre this weekend. Graduation was Sunday and I enjoyed attending both the Baccalaureate and Graduation events in the Norton Center. When the senior graduates proceed from Old Centre to the Norton Center auditorium, they pass through two lines of faculty members standing on either side, applauding them and their accomplishments. Here’s myself and some fellow “newbie” first-year professors: (photos courtesy of Fumie Bouvier)

Kyle Anderson on the left and yours truly on the right.

From left to right: Matt Klooster, Abigail Manzella, and Robert Bosco.

A Tea Party “base” in northern Kentucky?

Yesterday Senate President David Williams won a surprisingly close GOP gubernatorial primary with 48% against Tea Party candidate Phil Moffett (38%) and Barbie Holsclaw (14%). cn|2 news reports that the Williams ticket did poorly, however, in the “golden triangle” of northern Kentucky between Louisville, Lexington, and Cincinnati. Moffett bested Williams in that area 44%-36%.

At first I was a little surprised, suspecting that the Tea Party candidate would do better in the more rural, poorer areas like southern and eastern Kentucky. Then I remembered that, despite popular stereotypes to the contrary, the Tea Party base is actually well-educated and economically affluent. It thus makes sense that urban northern Kentucky would put on a better showing for a Tea Party-endorsed GOP candidate.

A new design for the U.S. Congress

For their final class project, the students in my U.S. Congress course were given the opportunity to propose a revision to the way that Congress is organized. We spent the term examining the strengths and weaknesses of Congress as an institution and they had some very interesting ideas for how to improve our legislative branch:

  • Extend House terms to three years and limit representatives to three consecutive terms. They can stand for a fourth term only after they sit one term out to “re-connect” with their constituents.
  • Increase the size of the House to 500 members and make it a proportional representation election system (instead of the current winner-take-all, single-member-district system).
  • Increase the Senate to 150 members, 3 from each state. All three are appointed by the state legislatures: 1 senator from each of the two most  popular political parties in the state and a final senator that can be appointed at the legislature’s discretion. All senators must also have previous experience in public office.
  • The two houses of Congress have some influence in determining the rules of debate for the other (a check on each other).

There were a number of other interesting ideas, but these were some of the most drastic changes that they recommended. I commend my intrepid students for their creative proposals.

Political ideology and mate selection

A new study provides evidence that politics matter in determining spousal choices:

In an article published in the April issue of the Journal of Politics, researchers examined physical and behavioral traits of more than 5,000 married couples in the United States. They found spouses in the study appeared to instinctively select a partner who has similar social and political views.

“It turns out that people place more emphasis on finding a mate who is a kindred spirit with regard to politics, religion and social activity than they do on finding someone of like physique or personality,” said John Alford, associate professor of political science at Rice University and the study’s lead author.

It goes on to say that there is little evidence for “spousal persuasion”. It’s generally the pattern that spouses are similar in their political attitudes from the get-go.

The whole article write-up is available here and is worth a read:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110510151221.htm

Transparency and openness in Danville city government

This week Danville’s city commission voted 3-2 to fire City Manager Paul Stansbury. This comes after several weeks of speculation as to the commission’s intentions regarding the city manager.

On one hand, there’s nothing technically wrong with a city council dismissing a city manager, who serve at the pleasure of the city council. This is a check in reformed council-manager city government systems designed to ensure that the city manager is held accountable for the performance of his or her duties through the elected representatives of the city residents (i.e. the city council). The city council of my previous community, Iowa City, fired the city manager in 2008 and gave no public explanation or advance notice, to either the public or the manager. This is not an inappropriate course of action for a city council to take.

On the other hand, many of Danville’s current city commissioners, including Mayor Hunstad, were elected to office in 2010 on a platform of transparency and openness. While it’s been rumored for several weeks that the city commission was considering taking action against Stansbury, there were no official public announcements or explanations (to my knowledge) until the vote was taken earlier this week. The commission created suspicion by going into numerous closed-door executive sessions over the last few months. And the commission decided to hold the vote this week during a meeting with few community attendees, rather than at the April 25th meeting where public interest in the matter was high and attendance was greater. Further, the City Commission approved a document outlining their justifications for firing Stansbury; this document contained some specific grievances, but also some more vague complaints about “failing to provide strong, pr0active leadership” and even a complaint about how Stansbury sometimes doesn’t return phone calls.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I very likely do not know the entire story behind this issue. My familiarity with the situation is limited to what I read in the newspaper, like the majority of Danville citizens. But based on the information that has been made public, my impression is that the City Commission is looking for an excuse to fire Stansbury and is carrying out the process in a semi-secretive, non-transparent manner. If the Commission feels that it has a strong case to fire Stansbury, I would like to see them make the case more publicly (i.e. to the people, outside of a resolution document available online that likely only less than 1% of Danville’s population will actually read), and explain why Stansbury’s transgressions are serious enough to warrant the termination of his employment. In general, I would like to see the city commission be much more transparent and open about this particular decision.

Again. I don’t necessarily disagree with this decision on the part of the city commission. I simply do not have enough information to fully assess the situation, and I feel that the commission should address this by being more forthcoming and transparent on this issue. Questions that I still have include:

  • Are the grievances against Stansbury “substantial”, or would they be considered relatively minor in the eyes of peer city council bodies? (To me, they seemed relatively minor, but I’m not an “insider” in Danville’s city government so I could be wrong.)
  • Were the grievances against Stansbury made known to him in advance? Was he given a chance to correct or address the issues that the Commission laid against him before firing him?
  • Given the sensitive nature of this issue, is the Commission planning on making a more public case to Danville residents as to why we need a new city manager?

If a 2012 GOP primary election were held today…

Mitt Romney would probably get the nomination. But the primary season is still several months off and the field has not yet crystalized. A lot can, and will, change in the coming year and I don’t think that anyone can claim any sort of “front-runner” status at this point.