Monthly Archives: July 2012

The likely electoral consequences of the eventual VP pick

A few posts out today on the likely effect of Romney’s eventual VP pick on the horse-race:,0,4413519.story

Most political scientists are in general agreement: the VP pick likely won’t move national support for Romney one way or the other. However, there’s some statistical evidence that Romney might get a small bump (<2-3%) in the VP’s home state. 

According to Larry Sabato, the top 5 finalists likely include: 

  • Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota
  • Rob Portman, Ohio
  • Marco Rubio, Florida
  • Bobby Jindal, Louisiana
  • Paul Ryan, Wisconsin

According to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, Obama is currently favored by 8 points in Minnesota, 7 points in Wisconsin, 3 points in Ohio, and is essentially tied with Romney in Florida. (Romney’s got a 20 point advantage in Louisiana.) 

If I were Romney, that would lead me to take an extra-hard look at Portman and Rubio. Both Ohio and Florida are close enough that a VP pick of either Portman or Rubio might be enough to tip the scales in those states.

Geographical patterns in support for Danville’s City Commission

The following post was produced with the invaluable assistance of my summer research assistant, Jordan Shewmaker:

The next election for the Danville City Commission is coming up quickly. Four seats are open and seven candidates (including the four incumbents) have filed to run. The incumbents are Norma Gail Louis, Ryan Montgomery, J. H. Atkins, and Kevin Caudill. They will be joined on the ballot by Paul Smiley, Paige Stevens, and Janet Hamner. As the election season in Danville is still young, we thought it would be a good idea to review and analyze the results of the 2011 Boyle County Exit Poll to see if there’s anything that might provide any insights into the dynamics of the upcoming Danville election. Specifically, we wanted to see if there is a geographic pattern in support for the various incumbent city commissioners. 

The results of the exit poll show that certain geographical areas in Danville do indeed tend to favor certain city commission members. For instance, Ryan Montgomery’s approval in the RECC precinct (south-west Danville) is 67% whereas his approval is only 15% in the Centre College precinct in the central-west part of the city. Kevin Caudill’s approval is 87.7% in the Lexington Avenue Baptist Church (central north Danville) precinct but is only 35.4% in the northern Streamland precinct.

Taking a broader look, support for Norma Gail Louis and Ryan Montgomery appears to be highest in the Hustonville Road area precincts in south-central Danville (R.E.C.C., Nazarene Church, Clark’s Run) and in northern precincts (Lexington Avenue Baptist Church, Danville High School, and Shakertown Road). In contrast, support for J. H. Atkins and Kevin Caudill appears to be highest in the downtown area precincts (Centre College, Saints Peter & Paul, Lexington Avenue Baptist Church) and west Danville precincts (Millennium Park and Boyle County High School).

We can also look at support for the city commission overall. The 2011 exit poll asked Danville voters for their approval (or disapproval) of the “commission as a whole.” We made a rough map of the various Danville precincts and shaded them according to their level of support for the current city commission:

The darkest blue precinct in the central north (Lexington Avenue Baptist) is where the commission support was the highest at 51% while the precincts colored in white are where support was the lowest at under 20%. The precincts in teal blue have commission approval levels in the 30% and 40% range.

We see a similar pattern as described above. The neighborhoods where overall commission support is highest are also where approval ratings for Commissioners Louis and Montgomery are highest. The neighborhoods where the overall commission support is lowest have the highest levels of support for Commissioners Atkins and Caudill. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who follows Danville politics closely.

Are there any wider patterns can that help make sense of these geographic differences? A quick glance suggests some very preliminary possibilities. For example, it is possible that there are some demographic factors at play. Precincts that have higher approval ratings of Commissioner Atkins and Caudill tend to be, very generally speaking, older and middle-to-upper class, while precincts with higher levels of approval for Commissioners Louis and Montgomery tend to be slightly younger, middle class, and blue collar.

In sum, this analysis suggests that there are some important class-based differences in levels of support the various incumbent Danville city commissioners. It will be interesting to see if this comes into play in the upcoming election.

Nativism strong predictor of Republican partisanship

A quick follow-up to my various posts about the role of nativism is our current campaign discourse. It begs the question of why the Romney campaign would be using the “foreigner” frame in characterizing the president or his policies. From my perspective, it’s straightforward: Romney needs to turn out his partisan base to win the election, and the Republican base of the last few years has become increasingly nativist. (I define “nativist” to mean that you would agree with the following statement: “Our American way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence.”)

Here’s data from the 2011 Pew Political Typology survey:

  Low nativism High nativism
Democrats and leaners 66.6% 33.4%
Pure independents 57.8% 42.2%
Republicans and leaners 43.5% 56.5%
Total 55.9% 44.1%

Whereas only about a third of Democrats express nativist sentiments, more than half of Republicans do, and this number climbs nearly 10% when looking specifically at “strong” Republicans – the ones most likely to turn out to vote.

In a regression analysis (not shown), nativism predicts Republican partisanship, even controlling for gender, age, education, religiosity, race, and income. In fact, it’s a stronger predictor than gender, age, education, or income. Only race and religiosity are stronger predictors of Republican partisanship.

Notice here, though, that I’m not passing judgment on whether nativism is “good” or “bad,” simply that this can help explain why Romney has been so quick to emphasize Obama’s “foreignness” lately. 

Nativism is real in the current presidential campaign

I post about nativism a lot, but that’s because 1) this is a concept that often gets overlooked in explaining American political attitude, and 2) I’ve been thinking and writing about it for the better part of the last five years.

Here’s some more evidence that it’s becoming a central part of the campaign discourse:

Mitt Romney has also sought to “other” President Obama, to present him as “not American” on a number of other occasions throughout this campaign. He did it on Dec. 7, 2011, and on Jan. 2, 2012.

Once could be a mistake. Twice (or more) is a pattern. The Romney campaign has clearly made a strategic decision to characterize Obama as “foreign.” Yes, they can say they are talking about his “ideas,” but that’s a distinction without a difference. The decisions he makes as president flow from his ideas. Romney is saying that Obama’s presidency would be “foreign.” There can be no question about that.


More pros and cons of the modern debate format

In my previous post I summarizes some of the “highlights” of Alan Schroeder’s Presidential Debates: Fifty Years of High-Risk TV. His concluding chapter outlines the pros and cons of the modern debate format, as he sees them.


  • In an era where presidential campaigns are incredibly micro-managed and scripted, live debates are one of the few opportunities that voters have to see the candidates “in action,” specifically how they respond to unanticipated events. In effect, debates are like “job interviews” for the candidates that give us the opportunity to show how they can perform under pressure.
  • They are “the only even on the presidential campaign trail untainted by money” (288). No amount of money can “upgrade a candidate’s performance” or get a better set of “ground-rules.”
  • They possess “an aura of civic virtue” (289).
  • They are very educational to the voting public. Most voters don’t start paying attention until a few weeks before the election and for many, this is their only exposure to the candidates outside of campaign ads. Studies have shown that voters are able to correctly describe candidate positions after watching debates (290).


  • They tend to emphasize style over substance. It was once argued that Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Wilson all would have performed very poorly in our current debate format.
  • Debates allow for a maximum of 4-5 minutes of discussion on any given issue. This encourages over-simplification on the part of the candidates.
  • The sorts of skills needed for to be a good debater are arguably not all the same sorts of skills needed to be a good president. Debates are won by those who are quick on their feet and can memorize one-liners. Governing requires “time, improvisation, and compromise with opponents” (295). 

Summary of “Presidential Debates: Fifty Years of High-Risk TV”

The latest in my debate-prep reading is Presidential Debates: Fifty Years of High-Risk TV by Professor Alan Schroeder. While this book does not go into much detail explaining presidential debates, it is an excellent overview and description of the history and process of presidential debates in the modern television era. He goes through every stage of game, from the campaign debates over the format and number of the debates to the ultimate effect on their audiences after all is said and done. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The role of the vice presidential debaters is simply to “lambaste the opposing presidential ticket” (75). Because they’re not at the top of the ticket, they have more latitude to “go negative” and it often makes for more lively and entertaining debates.
  • Former president George H.W. Bush is not a fan of the current debate format. In 1999 he told Jim Lehrer that “I think it’s too much show business, and too much prompting, too much artificiality, and [they're] not really debates” (150).
  • Janet Brown, the current director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, prefers live audiences of a few hundred people. The more intimate, the better. Also, average citizens stand almost ZERO chance of getting to see the debate in person. The tickets are split up into thirds: a third to each candidate’s campaign and a third to the hosting institution. There aren’t many to go around.
  • During the 2000 campaign, Al Gore’s pre-debate prep ritual consisted of “a heavy intake of energy-boosting food and drink” including “four or five diet colas and … several protein bars” (229). 
  • Post-debate “spin” has now become professionalized. This is the practice where candidate supporters start “spinning” the events of the debate in a manner favorable to their particular candidate (256). (In times like this, reality becomes a silly afterthought.)
  • Nevertheless, the post-debate news coverage and “spin” seems to matter in shaping people’s judgments about the events of the debate (275). 

My next post will outline the final chapter which discusses the pros/cons of the modern debate format, as Professor Schroeder sees them.

Partisan differences in the link between nativism and opposition to health care reform

Last summer I posted a bunch of evidence suggesting that nativism, the  opinion that a traditional American culture and way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence, is associated with higher levels of opposition to the ACA health care reform law. (See the whole post for a detailed recap.) My big research project here at Centre College over the summer (thank you FDC funding and Jordan, my research assistant!) is to polish it all up for a paper that I’ll be presenting at the American Political Science Association conference this September in New Orleans. 

Here is my novel addition to the analysis this summer:

This is based on an analysis of the 2011 Pew Political Typology Survey (N= more or less 1,500). The vertical axis is how likely one is to disapprove of the ACA health care reform bill on a 0-1 scale. The horizontal axis is the person’s level of nativism.

The interesting finding is that nativism is associated with less favorable views toward the ACA among Democrats as well as Republicans. However, the effect is three times as strong for Republicans than it is for Democrats.

Why is this the case? From 2009 to present we’ve had lots of Republican elected officials calling health care reform “un-American.” Apparently it made a difference! Those who are worried about “un-American” influence on our culture are more likely to oppose health care reform as a result. And since it’s generally only Republican politicians making that claim, it affects Republican partisans in the public at a much higher rate than Democrats.

Also, when there are many Americans who think that the chief advocate of health care reform (the president) is himself a foreigner (i.e. birth certificate conspiracy theory), they begin to associate the policies he supports as “foreign” as well.

Nativism and the 2012 campaign

I wrote my dissertation on nativism: the individual-level attitude that a uniquely American culture and way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence, broadly-speaking. As can be imagined, nativism plays an important role in shaping public opinion attitudes toward immigration, and my upcoming 2012 APSA paper (which Centre student Jordan Shewmaker is helping me out with) shows that it also shapes attitudes toward health care reform.

Now we see some inklings of nativism creeping into the 2012 election campaign discourse:

From Romney campaign surrogate and New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, earlier today:

He has no idea how the American system functions, and we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, another set of years in Indonesia, and, frankly, when he came to the U.S. he worked as a community organizer, which is a socialized structure, and then got into politics in Chicago. … I wish this president would learn how to be an American.

Notice the key words “Hawaii” (not technically foreign, but still suggestive), “Indonesia”, “socialized” and then the explicit assertion that he is not an American.

Then from Governor Romney himself earlier today, talking about the president’s approach to economic matters:

“It is changing the nature of America, changing the nature of what Democrats have fought for and Republicans have fought for,” Romney said, adding: “celebrating success instead of attacking it and denigrating it makes America strong.”

“That’s the right course for this country,” Romney continued. “His course is extraordinarily foreign.”

Again, the key words the cue nativist attitudes: “nature of America” and “foreign”.

I’m not saying this to criticize. At any given time, somewhere between 40%-60% of the country responds in public opinion polls that they believe that “our American culture and way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence.” The interesting thing is that in addition to responding to Spanish-language TV and Muslim mosques, many with nativist attitudes also link “foreign” with President Obama. This is largely due to elite rhetoric like the kind we’re observing today. 

In an election where the winner will likely owe his victory largely to a faithful turnout from his partisan base, emphasizing pre-existing beliefs about the President Obama, for better or worse, is smart politics.

More evidence on the (absence of an) effect of restrictive voter registration laws on election outcomes

Back in February I described that most political science research has provided only mixed evidence that more restrictive voter registration laws (like what’s going on in Florida) result in a substantively different election outcome in states where they’re implemented. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight recently released another sophisticated analysis showing much of the same: the passage of restrictive registration laws in state at most results in about a 1% gain for Republicans (and possibly much less). That’s hardly enough to tip the scales, except in extremely rare circumstances where the election comes down to a razor-thin margin. 

Again, this doesn’t speak to whether or not these laws are “morally” or “ideologically” a good idea, but it does suggest that the electoral consequences are likely to be minimal.

See more here:

Contemporary polarization creates “parallel universes”

One of the most unfortunate side effects of the contemporary form of political polarization (partisan “sorting” where all conservatives are Republicans and all liberals are Democrats) is that we’re now living in what essentially amounts to “parallel universes”:

Even in an election year, the current dysfunction in Washington reflects a worsening partisan divide that has created what amounts to parallel political universes seemingly unable to comprehend or deal with each other. …

“It’s worse now than it’s been in years,” said Darrell West, the vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “Our leaders are deeply polarized, and ‘compromise’ has become a dirty word.”

Indeed. I agree that this is why “compromise” has become so out-of-fashion of late. Back in the 1950s, there were liberals in both the Democratic and Republican camps, and conservatives in both the Republican and Democratic camps. Thus, partisans could find like-minded ideologues to compromise with in the other party. In other words, Democrats and Republicans could find common ground because the conservative Democrats could pair up with the conservative Republicans to support policy objectives and the liberals in each party could do the same.

Nowadays, however, there’s pretty much no one in the other party that sees the world in the same way that you do. So compromise has become more difficult. Who do we compromise with when virtually everyone in the opposing party has a worldview diametrically opposed to your own?

As I’ve written about before, my hunch is that our taste for compromise will return only when some new issue emerges on the political landscape that will create an ideological rift in the current party structure, leading to new ideological constituencies for the two major parties.