Monthly Archives: August 2011

Do governors make for better presidents?

CNN reports today that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker thinks that governors (or former governors) make for better presidents:

“As you can imagine, I have a bias towards governors,” he said Tuesday during an interview on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight. “I think chief executives, whether it is a mayor, a county executive, a governor, ultimately on your way up to president, I think that’s been a pretty proven theory over time.” Walker’s affinity for governors translates to his 2012 preferences as he admitted, “That gives me a bias towards both Gov. Romney and Gov. Perry.”

John Balz published an article in PS: Political Science and Politics that analyzed the relationship between pre-presidential careers and “presidential greatness” rankings, as determined by academics, historians, and the general public. In other words, he looked to see if there’s a relationship between the president’s ranking and whether they were a mayor, congressman, governor, military general, etc. before becoming president.

He found that governors do indeed tend to have higher presidential greatness rankings, but only by a very small margin. The pre-presidential career that’s most strongly associated with higher rankings is being a military leader or general (think Washington, Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, etc.). The author is quick to point out that only so much can be inferred from a study based on a very small sample size (43 presidents) and that domestic/international conditions and the fate of world history seem to determine great presidents to a far greater degree than their former careers.

That being said, military service does seem to count for something, and the only two serious GOP candidates with significant military experience are Ron Paul and Rick Perry.

Was Centre College responsible for wet Danville?

In March 2010, Danville residents voted to “go wet” and allow the sale of alcohol in city establishments. Earlier today, I was informed by Jordan Shewmaker, a second-year student here at Centre College and local political activist, that there were some grumblings by city residents that the Centre community was responsible for the outcome of that vote. Was that indeed the case?

The vote was 2,365 in favor of going wet (56%) versus 1,856 in favor of staying dry (44%). The Centre College precinct (which includes some of the western part of the downtown and south-western residential neighborhoods in Danville off of Hustonville Rd.) was indeed the strongest “pro-wet” precinct in the Danville, with 188 votes in favor (nearly 76%) and 60 votes against.

If all 188 “pro-wet” voters in the Centre College precinct had switched sides and voted to stay dry, however, it would have changed the final city-wide vote to 2,177 for and 2,044 against. In other words, the wet vote would still have won with 51.6% of the vote.

The bottom line: the Centre College community certainly helped the wet vote pass, but was not exclusively responsible for the final outcome.

Why Democrats should renominate Obama in 2012

Nate Silver from 538 on the New York Times has an interesting and, I think, spot-on analysis of why the Democrats would be unwise to nominate anyone other than Obama in 2012. (Not that it’s a serious possibility in the first place.) In sum:

  • Obama’s approval ratings, while not great, are actually higher than they “should” be based on the dismal economy.
  • Despite his lower approval numbers, his personal favorability ratings aren’t too shabby. In general, most Americans think he’s a nice guy with a nice family, even if they aren’t thrilled with how slow the economic recovery is going.
  • It’s unlikely that any other Democrat would do substantially better than Obama on turning the economy around at a faster rate.

See the full post for the data that these conclusions were drawn from:


The Obama administration finally pays more than lip service to immigration

The Obama administration announced Thursday that it would suspend deportation proceedings against many illegal immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety. The new policy is expected to help thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as young children, graduated from high school and want to go on to college or serve in the armed forces. White House and immigration officials said they would exercise “prosecutorial discretion” to focus enforcement efforts on cases involving criminals and people who have flagrantly violated immigration laws.


See also:

It’s a move in the right direction, but Roberto Lovato explains:

While there will be a temporary jolt of excitement amidst the confusion and diversionary euphoria of Thursday’s announcement, Latino voters are no longer apt to forget President Obama’s failure to fundamentally alter or abolish devastating immigration policies… In this sense, the Obama Administration’s announcement represents a (Less Than) 3% Solution to the crisis that his administration has caused in the lives of the more than 1 million immigrants he has already deported, the majority of whom have committed no crime other than seeking a better life for them and their families.


Who’s to blame for the deadlock in government?

Sheryl Stolberg of the New York Times says that we, the American public, are to blame:

If Americans want to know why their elected officials can’t compromise, these scholars and pundits say, perhaps they ought to look in the mirror. … “Americans are self-segregating,” said Bill Bishop, author of “The Big Sort,” a 2008 book that examined, in the words of its subtitle, “why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart.”

I have my own critiques of the finer points of Bill Bishop’s analysis, but his basic point, I think, is largely accurate. The American public, just like Congress, has sorted itself over the last several decades, into ideologically homogenous political parties, which is reflected even in geographic residential patterns. Stolberg continues:

Marketers … offer another explanation. Americans, they say, may profess an interest in compromise, as an abstract goal or principle. But they don’t want to make the trade-offs necessary to cut a deal. … “Every time I see surveys saying people want compromise, I just kind of chuckle,” Mr. Smith said. “To me a question like that is more a gauge of people’s frustration with the process than it is necessarily a true indication that people are willing to accept any sacrifice in order to come to some agreement.”       

Yes. Public opinion polls have regularly shown that everyone wants to cut the budget, but when asked for specifics, no one actually wants to make a cut to any particular program, with the possible exception of foreign aid and culture/arts programs (see here and here).

To over-simplify things: our elected representatives do what we incentivize them to do through the mechanism of re-election. The constituencies of the American political parties are more ideologically homogenous than they’ve been in several decades, tolerating very little diversity. When those homogenous constituencies elect strongly ideological partisans to our legislative bodies, we should not be surprised that they are so unwilling to compromise.

Why NOT just wreck the economy?

In our long, long drive back to Kentucky from visiting family in Texas last week, my wife and I were listening to a political news report on NPR. (Like I said, it was a long drive…) The news report focused on Texas Governor Rick Perry and his “electability” in 2012. My wife has listened to me explain to others, on several occasions, that Obama’s reelection chances in 2012 are largely, but not entirely, tied to how the economy fares over the next year or so. She perceptibly asked me what the political incentive is for any Republican, including those in Congress, to do anything that might benefit the economy. If a wrecked economy is the best thing to help the GOP win in 2012, why should the GOP not do everything possible to send us over the cliff?

I did some research and found that this question was already tackled by some more prominent political scientists than myself. Their answers can be found in these posts:

To briefly summarize, possible explanations include:

  1. Republicans might not be familiar with, or believe, political science research on the economic determinants of voting.
  2. Republicans also need to keep their base happy, and the GOP base includes many business groups. American businesses surely do not want the economy to tank.

In a happier world, we might also include a third option: that an incentive not to wreck the economy is because of the harm it would do to America’s families. But that’s assuming that politicians are not rational, self-interested, re-election seekers. And that’s a much broader debate that we’ll save for another day.

Random sampler – Russ Douthat from the New York Times uses political science literature to make a persuasive argument for the importance of political compromise. He also, I think correctly, notes that “the next Republican president might find himself as hemmed in and frustrated as President Obama has become.” The president can only do such much, the context (partisan make-up of Congress and the electorate, other players, etc.) matters very much.,0,128833.story – Why a successful third-party or Independent presidential candidate might not solve all our political problems. – What political science forecasting models can help us predict about the 2012 election… at this point. – Same as above. It’s too early to make any safe bets about the outcome of the 2012 election.