Monthly Archives: November 2013

Great TED talk on political polarization

I highly recommend the following TED talk on the causes and consequences of contemporary political polarization by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt:

My only critique is that he puts a bit too much emphasis on and faith in the likelihood that a few institutional tweaks (like open primaries) will dramatically change the current state of partisan polarization. Most political science research has shown that the causes of polarization are wide and deep and likely won’t be reversed by looking only at institutional changes. (See here, here, and here.)

Other than that, I highly recommend this TED talk.

People care more about the results than the process

This morning in my Introduction to American Politics we discussed the various arguments for and against the Constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. This included an examination of the history of the individual mandate as a policy idea, considering arguments from attorneys who argued both for and against the ACA in district courts as well as some of the arguments made against by Tea Party Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah. 

By the end of the class, only about 10% of my students thought that the individual mandate was Constitutional. However, about 80% of those who thought it was unconstitutional still said they supported the individual mandate and thought it was a good idea worth keeping.

For me, I interpret this as further evidence that most people don’t seem to care as much about the process of how government policy comes about, they care about the results and outcome.

About 2.5% of America admits to committing voter fraud… and alien abductions

Henry Farrell applies the list experiment technique (see here or here) to investigate the prevalence of voter fraud:

One of the findings of a new working paper by John Ahlquist, Kenneth R. Mayer and Simon Jackman is that “the lower bound on the population reporting voter impersonation is nearly identical with the proportion of the population reporting abduction by extraterrestrials.” Roughly 2.5 percent of the population effectively admit to one or the other. The rationale for this comparison tells us a lot about how social scientists deal with complex and touchy political issues.

They conclude:

The implication here is that if one accepts that 2.5% is a valid lower bound for the prevalence of voter impersonation in the 2012 election then one must also accept that about 2.5% of the adult U.S. population – about 6 million people – believe that they were abducted by extra-terrestrials in the last year. If this were true then voter impersonation would be the least of our worries.

If the election were held today, Obama would likely cruise to reelection (again)

News came out today that the U.S. economy grew at 2.8% during the third quarter of 2013. This is positive news. It’s also interesting to note that, were the presidential election held this November 7 instead of one year ago yesterday, President Obama still would likely have cruised to reelection, despite his lower-than-average approval ratings.

Why? Because economic growth + presidential approval is a very reliable predictor of the outcome of presidential elections. This tool (link here), developed by political scientists at GW, Yale, and UCLA, predicts that even with Obama’s current 43% approval rating, he would have a 77% chance of reelection given the Q1-Q3 average economic growth rate of 2.1%, if the election were held today.

At this rate of economic growth, Obama’s approval rating would have to be in the low 30s before a challenger would have a good shot of knocking him out in a general election. Should this rate of growth continue for three  more years, it suggests a tentatively positive outlook for Democrats keeping the White House in 2016.

Rand Paul is not the only politician guilty of plagiarism…

To my liberal friends having a field day this week with Senator Rand Paul’s plagiarism mini-scandal, recall that similar charges were made in President Obama’s 2008 campaign and also contributed to Vice President Biden’s failed 1998 presidential campaign.

Just another example of the strength of partisanship as a perceptual filter as well as how short our political memories really are.