Monthly Archives: January 2012

Voting behavior of Muslims in America

This is certainly interesting:

[This research study] will show that the cultural and religious traditions of Islam have resulted in most mosque-attending Muslim-Americans being social conservatives and, as a result, report having voted for Bush in 2000. It will also show that increasingly negative perceptions of the manner in which the United States war in Iraq has affected Muslims living American led many to switch loyalties and cast their ballots for Kerry in 2004.

By the time 2007 rolled around, American Muslims were 63% Democrat and only 11% Republican. (See here for data.)

This is interesting because rarely does a single demographic group change voting behavior or partisan identity so quickly.

Religion and Congressional voting on the Iraq War

A newly-published article in Politics and Religion examines whether or not the religious affiliation of members of Congress were associated with a likelihood to vote either for or against an Iraq War funding bill. 

They find that Catholics and members of minority religions were less likely to vote to fund the Iraq War, even after controlling for other possible factors like gender, race, previous military service, district partisanship, and individual partisanship and ideology. Mormons were less likely to vote for funding when controlling for only for ideology but not partisanship. Protestants were no more or less likely to support Iraq War funding after accounting for the effects of partisanship and ideology.

The bottom-line message seems to be that representatives who are Catholics or are affiliated with minority religions are more likely to deviate from their party in foreign policy measures in Congress, but Mainline or Evangelical Protestants are not.

Full article available here.

Republicans, Democrats, and space exploration

I’ll admit that Newt Gingrich’s major speech on space exploration is leaving me a little puzzled. To me, I would have thought that space exploration would be a higher priority for Democrats than Republicans. After all, popular stereotypes would suggest that Democrats would tend to be more of the science-and-research types. Also, as the known universe gets larger the easier it may be for some to make the case for multiculturalism, relativism, and even secularism. And I’ll go out on a limb to suggest that there are more Star Trek and science fiction fans who vote Democrat than vote Republican (see here, here, and here for some non-systematic, anecdotal evidence).

Contrary to my expectations, however, it’s the Republican GOP candidates, especially Newt Gingrich, who are talking about beefing up NASA and space exploration these days. President Obama, on the other hand, outlined his administration’s space policy in 2010 which, among other things, downplays the government’s role in future space exploration endeavors.

Survey results from the 2008 ANES survey confirm this general anti-space exploration bias among Democrats in the general public as well. Democrats are about 11% more likely to say that we’re spending “too much” on the space exploration program (40% of Democrats compared to only 29% of Republicans).

So what explains this? My off-the-cuff guesstimate is that space exploration might be associated with national strength in the eyes of many Republicans. The importance of a strong space exploration program may be perceived as similar to the importance of a strong military. Alternatively, fiscally-minded Republicans might be enthusiastic for the possibility of investment in space-related economic resources.

Still, this doesn’t account for the relatively lower levels of enthusiasm for space exploration among Democrats, unless I’m simply wrong about the connection that Democrats might perceive between scientific advancement and space exploration.

The economy, presidents, and elections

My cousin-in-law posted this article in a comment on the blog a few weeks back (thanks!), and I wanted to call attention to it because the author makes a very good point about the economy and U.S. presidents. It’s especially relevant given the focus on the economy in President Obama’s State of the Union address last night.

Ezra Klein describes how Republicans blame every economic woe on President Obama. The president, in turn, takes credit for every economic success. Klein then explains:

To buy much of this requires you to hold deeply ridiculous beliefs about the American economy. You must believe that Obama bears responsibility for events that predate his presidency and deserves applause for the demand created by aging cars and worn- down machinery. You must believe that Congress, which controls fiscal policy, and the Federal Reserve, which controls monetary policy, bear little or no responsibility for the economy, but that the president, who controls neither fiscal nor monetary policy, is the primary driver of job creation. You must believe that governors have absolute power over state economies and that global demand is irrelevant. You must also renounce belief in Christmas — or at least its influence on the consumer-driven economy.

Klein then interviews a number of economists who all agree that U.S. presidents ultimately have very little, if any, major influence on the state of the economy. For the most part, they argue, economic performance is driven primarily by forces outside of the president’s control. (I would take this with caution, though. I’ve read opinions from many other economists, including one who won the Nobel Prize, who disagree.)

Either way, this leads to one of the great ironies of American politics: economic performance is the key determinant of the outcome of presidential elections, and presidents ultimately have less control over economic performance than they or their opponents commonly believe. 

“I am the one candidate who can clearly defeat Obama in a series of debates.”

Newt Gingrich’s argument:

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who won the South Carolina primary yesterday and is heading to Florida to campaign, said he is best-suited to face Democratic President Barack Obama in debates. “My job in Florida is to convince people that I am the one candidate who can clearly defeat Obama in a series of debates and the one candidate who has big enough solutions that they would really get America back on track,” Gingrich said today on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “We’re a big country, we have big problems, and we need big solutions.”

It certainly sounds reasonable. After all, presidential debates are very useful. They allow voters to get an up-close look at the candidates in a format other than a campaign commercial. They help set the “tone” for the campaigns. They also help voters learn more about the candidates. So logically, the best debater will win the election, right?

Maybe. But probably not. Gingrich’s argument is based on the assumption that debates dramatically change minds and predominantly affect the outcome of presidential elections. While debates change some people’s minds and do affect the ultimate electoral outcome, most research has shown these effects to be small. Most people (including most Independents) vote for their party’s candidate in general presidential elections, no matter how spectacular or dismal their candidate’s debate performance.

Ultimately, research suggests that debates can potentially contribute between 1-3% to a candidate’s final vote total in a presidential election (see here and here). But ultimately, more fundamental forces like the economy and international conflict will have much more to do who wins in November than who schools who in the three presidential debates. GOP primary voters should consider this before basing their vote primarily on the potential for a strong general election debate performance.

CAVEAT 1: These effects hold for explaining general presidential elections. As can clearly be seen by the 2012 GOP race, debates have a much larger effect on primary campaigns where partisanship is not a salient factor.
CAVEAT 2: There is an outside possibility that the 2012 election will end up being very close. If that’s the case, the 1-3% that a debate performance might affect could very well make a difference in the ultimate outcome. I hesitate, though, to opine that Gingrich would do better than Romney in the debates though. Given Gingrich’s history of hyperbole, personal aggrandizement, and rhetorical extremism, I would dare say that Romney, while certainly being less entertaining, would likely be the more effective debater.
Note: A more detailed version of this argument will be published in an upcoming issue of Centre’s alumni magazine

Camelot simulation write-up on Centre’s homepage

Laura Pritchard at the Communications Office posted an excellent write-up on our Camelot city council simulation today:

Take a look – and be sure to watch the short YouTube video:

Thanks to Laura for taking the time to cover our course this week!


Maureen Dowd on Romney vs. George. H. W. Bush

Their [Romney and H.W. Bush] political philosophies were not shaped by a passion for ideas as much as a desire to serve and an ambition to climb higher than their revered fathers. Pragmatism trumps ideology; survival trumps conviction. Both men, to the manner born in Greenwich and Bloomfield Hills, adapted uncomfortably to the fundamentalist tent meeting mood of the modern G.O.P., knowing their futures depended on Faustian deals with the right.

While Maureen Dowd is a tad extreme for my taste, this article did make me chuckle a little, especially when characterized Romney as similar to a 19th-century tightly-wound aristocrat. And as someone who is a cynical-leaning pragmatist, I don’t think that this (“pragmatism trumps ideology”) is the worst characteristic in the world for an elected official to have, especially for the President of the United States.

Full article available here.