Category Archives: Political Science

Research suggests that Kentucky GOP may lose votes for nominating Matt Bevin

A recent research article by Andrew Hall entitled “What Happens When Extremists Win Primaries?” asked whether parties who nominate more extreme candidates in a primary face a penalty in the general election. To test this question, he examined U.S. House elections from 1980 to 2010 and found that the party that nominates a more ideologically extreme candidate over an ideological moderate tends to lose, on average, somewhere between 9%-13% of the vote in the general election. This reduces the chance of winning the seat by anywhere from 35%-54%. The take-away from this research article is that parties stand to benefit from nominating more moderate candidates and take big risks when they nominate more ideologically extreme candidates.

Political scientists often argue that partisan and economic “fundamentals” matter more than campaign events or candidate characteristics when it comes to predicting the outcome of political elections. Thus, whether Republicans nominate Jeb Bush or Rand Paul, it will end up mattering only a little in terms of the final outcome of the election. This effect, however, is most strongly the case when it comes to nation-wide presidential elections. The further one goes “down the ballot,” the less the “fundamentals” tend to matter and the more campaign events and candidate characteristics come into play.

In the case of gubernatorial elections, I would argue that they’re roughly equivalent to U.S. House congressional elections in terms of the relative effect of “fundamentals” vs. campaign events and candidate characteristics. Thus, I don’t think it unreasonable to assume that, all other things being equal, the effect that Professor Hall found for U.S. House elections would generally apply to state-wide gubernatorial elections as well.

This suggests that the Kentucky Republican party did themselves no favors by nominating Tea Party ideologue Matt Bevin over establishment Republican James Comer on in the May 19th Republican gubernatorial primary. It may have potentially cost them up to 10% of the two-party vote come November, giving a respectable advantage to Democratic candidate Jack Conway.

Outline of “The Origins of Political Order” by Francis Fukuyama 2011

This is one of the best explanations of the origins of human political behavior that I have encountered. It deserves careful consideration.

The book is available here.

Outline based on portions of summary chapter 29.

 

  • Fukuyama rejects the idea that all behavior is socially constructed. There are certain scientific facts about human biology that affect and constrain human behavior.
  • Humans never existed in a “state of nature”
    • The “state of nature” of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc. is a fiction. Humans never actually existed in such a state of isolated individuals. As long as there have been humans (and primates) we have organized ourselves into groups and behaved in terms of our group identities.
    • Thus, humans evolved the necessary “cognitive and emotional faculties” to exist efficiently in groups. The fact that we cooperate in groups isn’t purely a rational cost-benefit calculation, but also a biological instinct and urge that evolved over time.
  • Why do we cooperate with one another?
    • ANSWER 1: “kin selection.” Human beings have evolved to be altruistic toward those who share common genes. This is an evolutionary adaptation to promote gene survival and reproduction.
    • ANSWER 2: “reciprocal altruism.” Human beings learn from repeated interactions with other individuals/groups and develop either trust or mistrust based on the results of those interactions.
      • Since we interact most often with those who share our genes and learn that this is beneficial to us, we are predisposed to treat those in our kin groups better than those outside our kin groups.
      • We learned that our survival is enhanced by cooperating with members of our kin groups.
      • This explains the political behavior of PATRIMONIALISM – or favoring those in your kin group.
    • Why are human beings rule-followers?
      • Human beings have a natural inclination to create rules and institutions.
      • Humans can create rules rationally through an economic cost-benefit analysis based on a desire to maximize advantages, reduce costs, and solve “prisoner’s dilemma-type problems of social cooperation.”
      • The instinct to follow rules, however, is more a product of emotion, evolution, and instinct. These come through emotions like “guilt, shame, pride, anger, embarrassment, and admiration.” These are biologically transmitted more than culturally transmitted. This is evidenced in the fact that small children organize their behavior according to these emotions.
      • We have evolved a psychological predisposition to “endow rules with intrinsic value.”
        • This explains why there is a bias toward conservatism in societies.
        • Individuals and societies cling to rules long after conditions have changed because of the emotional investment in the “rightness” of those rules.
      • Why are human beings aggressive?
        • We are predisposed to violent behavior. This has been inherited from our primate ancestors who behave similarly.
        • Institutions have always arisen to help “control and channel violence.”
      • Human being desire “not just material resources but also recognition.”
        • Recognition is “the acknowledgement of another human being’s dignity or worth.” This is also known as “status.”
        • Status is relative, not absolute, and thus exists in a zero-sum environment.
          • We attain recognition only at the expense of others because we organize ourselves into hierarchies.
          • Those with higher levels of recognition (status) have greater access to sexual partners and thus a higher degree of reproductive success. Thus, we have evolved a desire for recognition and status.
        • Much of human political behavior revolves around the desire for recognition.
          • This involves recognition not just for oneself, but for one’s values, culture, religion, etc.
          • Liberal democracy is based on the desire/demand for “equal recognition.”
        • Political LEGITIMACY arises when humans transfer the object of recognition from an individual to an institution. AUTHORITY is based on that perceived legitimacy.
      • Ideas are causal factors in political behavior.
        • Humans have evolved to create “mental models of reality.”
        • These models attribute causal explanations to things. These can be visible and demonstrable or invisible and assumed.
          • Early human causal factors: spirits, demons, gods
          • Contemporary human causal factors: gravity, radiation, self-interest
        • All religions constitute a “mental model of reality” that explain cause and effect relationships.
          • Humans have evolved a desire for mental models that make the world “legible, predictable, and easy to manipulate.” Religion is a mental model. Science is a mental model.
        • Shared mental models are necessary for facilitating widespread collective action. Religion is especially useful for playing this role. Religion can motivate people to overcome the collective action problem because it gives people intrinsic motivation for action. Thus, religion is very useful to the formation of politics and the state.
          • Religion also helps motivate people to transcend kinship and friends as a “source of social relationships.”
          • At the same time, secular ideologies like Marxism or nationalism can accomplish the same function.
        • Religions persist because they are non-falsifiable to one extent or another, and the natural bias toward conservatism endows them with intrinsic value. Also, there is evidence that humans are “hardwired” for religion just as they are “hardwired” for language or following rules.
        • Contra Marx, religion is not an invention of the elites to control the masses. Religion was present long before social hierarchies became common.
        • Brahmanism in India and Catholicism in Europe helped establish political institutions and the rule of law in those areas.
        • Political legitimacy should be understood as an idea, similar to other ideas that people have about “God, justice, society, wealth,” etc.
        • Democracy and accountable government cannot be explained in the absence of the importance of ideas.
      • How do political institutions develop?
        • “Political systems evolve in a manner roughly comparable to biological evolution.” Variation and selection.
        • Human biology provides for the instinct to follow rules, but the content of those rules develops through an “evolutionary” process.
        • Differences:
          • Variation is planned.
          • Characteristics are transmitted culturally instead of genetically. This is an advantage because they can be changed at whim instead of being biologically “hardwired.” But it’s a disadvantage because of our conservatism bias.
          • Can spread through imitation, not reproduction.
        • Competition drives political development. This drives the selection process of political development.
          • Most competitive pressures have come from “violence and war.”

Ben Wyatt faces an uphill battle in 2018

This week Pawnee, Indiana City Manager Ben Wyatt announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for the Indiana 9th congressional district in the 2018 midterm election. While many are enthusiastic about his decision (especially Deputy Director of the Midwest National Parks Service Leslie Knope), I must admit that I’m not too optimistic about his prospects for electoral success.

First, campaign consult Jennifer Barkley informed Wyatt that he would be challenging the Republican incumbent. Challengers to sitting incumbents historically do very poorly in U.S. House races. Based solely on that information, Wyatt’s chances are already likely less than 10%.

Second, the southern Indiana 9th congressional district is a heavily Republican district, with a Partisan Voting Index score of R+9. Even if it the incumbent were to choose to retire, any Democratic candidate would have a strong uphill battle to fight in that congressional district.

Third, while we do not yet have enough information to accurately predict the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, we can apply political science forecasting models to say that if the election were held right now (January 2015), the Democratic candidate would be favored to win the election, given the incumbent Democratic presidential job approval rating of 46% and a 2014 economic growth rate of 2.6%. This means that the 2018 midterm congressional election will very likely favor Republican candidates, as the president’s party almost always loses seats during midterm elections.

In sum, the cards are stacked against a Ben Wyatt victory in 2018. This could be an opportunity for him to get his name out, however, and to build a campaign infrastructure for an election year when the fundamentals would be more favorable to a Democratic candidate.

My students’ choices for American electoral reform

This semester my POL 330 “Parties, Campaigns, and Elections” class at Centre College has been examining a variety of proposed electoral reforms. At the end of each discussion, we held a vote on whether or not to stick with the status quo on a particular issue (e.g. campaign finance, primary electoral systems, direct democracy, etc.) or go with a proposed alternative. I recorded the plurality winner for each electoral domain, and then the last week of class I presented the batch of reform choices to my class as a single up-or-down “package” of reforms. By a 2-1 margin, my students voted to recommend the following slate of electoral reforms:

  • Abolish direct elections to state judicial offices
  • Promote more state-level direct democracy (initiative, referendum, recall) throughout the country
  • Limit legislative redistricting to once per decade
  • Maximize the number of uncompetitive elections
  • Replace open/closed primaries with a Top-2 primary system
  • Eliminate the current presidential nomination process with a single national popular Top-2 primary vote
  • Eliminate the Electoral College and replace with a direct popular vote
  • Retain the current campaign financing system with the exception of reversing Citizens United

2014 midterm election: results vs. predictions

As of November 14, there are still a handful of Congressional races yet to be called. Nonetheless, if those that are currently leaning toward the GOP end up in the Republican column, we’ll begin the 114th Congress with 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House, a pickup of 13 seats for the GOP. Assuming that Mary Landreiu loses reelection in the runoff election on December 6, the Senate will have 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats, a pickup of 9 seats in the Senate for the GOP.

In October, PS: Political Science and Politics published a collection of forecasts of the 2014 midterm elections. These were forecasts done by political scientists who make predictions based on election “fundamentals” such as presidential approval and economic conditions, and done several months before the election took place. (Notably, these models do not include information on things like campaign spending, candidate competence/appeal, etc.) The average (median) prediction was that the Republicans would pick up 14 seats in the House and 5 or 6 seats in the Senate.

All in all, not a bad showing for the science of political science election forecasting in 2014.

Predicted result Actual result Margin of error (difference / total seats)
House + 14 GOP + 13 GOP 0.2%
Senate + 5 or 6 GOP + 9 GOP 3.5%

Highlights from “Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons in American Politics” (2014)

David E. Campbell, John C. Green, and J. Quin Monson have recently published Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics. This is the first large-scale, in-depth, academic quantitative analysis of Mormon political behavior in the United States. While this book is geared toward a scholarly audience, it is easily accessible for anyone in a general audience who has even a small familiarity with statistics, charts, and graphs. While I certainly recommend interested parties to read the book for themselves, here are some of the highlights that I thought interesting:

CHAPTER 1

  • The Mormon Paradox: they want to be a “peculiar” people but also want to be accepted as mainstream and “quintessentially American.”
  • This chapter contains a brief introduction to Mormon demographics, theological beliefs, and geographic distribution.

CHAPTER 2

  • Are Mormons an “ethnic group”? While some would argue yes and others no, the authors settle on “no” and instead describe Mormons as constituting a “subculture” meaning that they “combine points of contact with, as well as points of distinction from, the broader culture” (30). They are similar to the subculture of modern Evangelicals or Catholics of the mid-20th
  • For purposes of scholarly analysis, Mormons are better understood as an “ethno-religious” group who, despite their internal diversity, still have religious behaviors that lead them to behave similar to how an ethnic group would behave. “To convert to Mormonism means more than joining a church; it means becoming part of a people” (37).

 CHAPTER 3

  • Mormons share an unusually high level of cohesiveness in terms of their religious beliefs and practices, as well as a high level of adherence to the tenets of their faith, more so than just about any other religious group with the exception in some cases of Evangelicals or Black Protestants.
  • Ironically, 86% of Mormons say that polygamy is “morally wrong,” a higher percent than say that pre-marital sex is morally wrong (79%).
  • The authors introduce four indices to measure various kinds of “Mormonness”: 1) activity (degree of religious practice), 2) authority (degree of obedience to the institutional church), 3) insularity (degree of social separation from wider society, and 4) identity (degree of self-identification and affinity with the group).
    • Activity: Mormons are almost uniformly on the highest end of this scale. About 75% rank either a 9 or 10 on a 0-10 scale.
    • Authority: most Mormons are on the higher end of this scale, with about 85% being higher than the halfway point, meaning that the vast majority report being obedient to the teachings and mandates of the institutional church. That being said, there’s more variation within the high end than in the activity scale. (Only 10% score a perfect 10 out of 10 on this scale.)
    • Insularity: this is a normal-curve looking distribution. Most Mormons are in the middle in terms of their integration/separation with wider society.
    • Identity: average around a 6 or 7 on a 10-point scale. Most Mormons are proud to identify as such and defend their in-group.
  • “Utah Mormons” are more insular than non-Utah Mormons and are slightly more likely to hold a calling. They are not, however, any different when it comes to other religious activities, levels of belief orthodoxy, or identity commitment.
  • Converts are slightly lower on each of those scores than non-converts.

 CHAPTER 4

  • Mormons are the most Republican religious group in America. No big surprise there. 65% are Republican (or Independent-lean-Republican) while only about 22% are Democrats (or Independent-lean-Democrat). This is ironic given that the Republican Party was founded partly on an anti-Mormon platform.
    • Unlike in other religious traditions, younger Mormons are slightly more likely to be Republicans than older
  • The two strongest predictors of Republican identification are authority (belief orthodoxy) and Mormon identity. Activity and Insularity wash out in the multivariate statistical models.
  • This was not always the case. Historically, Mormons were fairly evenly split between the two major political parties. They didn’t veer Republican until around the 1960s and especially the 1980s and onward.
  • Mormons are the religious group least likely to hear overt political messages over the pulpit at church, but they talk about politics a LOT with other Mormons outside of church.

 CHAPTER 5

  • Mormons are very conservative and cohesive on many issues, including pro-Israel, opposition to affirmative action, preferring small government, favoring death penalty, opposing Obamacare, opposing government aid to the poor, opposing environmental laws, and favoring preemptive military action.
  • About 75% of Mormons say that it’s better for the husband to be the achiever and the wife to stay at home. Compare this to 43% of black Protestants and 39% of Evangelicals.
  • “The fact that women do not hold the priesthood sometimes bothers me.” 8% of Mormon men say yes, 14% of Mormon women.
  • “Women do not have enough say in the LDS Church.” 14% of Mormon men say yes, 17% of Mormon women.
  • Mormons are more likely than Evangelicals or Catholics to oppose elective abortion, but less likely to oppose abortion in the case of health, rape, or incest.
  • Mormons are the religious group most likely to oppose same-sex marriage in the U.S., but more Mormons favor civil unions than oppose same-sex marriage. (Given the option between same-sex marriage, civil unions, and neither, 49% prefer civil unions, 40% prefer neither, and 11% prefer same-sex marriage.)
    • Interestingly, Mormons have a higher level of support for civil unions (49%) than any other religious group.
  • Mormons are split on immigration, but those who have served a mission and especially a foreign language mission are more favorable toward immigrants than those that have not.

 CHAPTER 6

  • This chapter deals with how Mormons can effectively be mobilized by church leaders on a particular cause. They are like “dry kindling” just waiting to be “lit” because they have “tight-knit social networks, extensive civic skills, strong attitudinal cohesion, and a deep respect for religious authority” (135).
  • Mormons vote at higher rates and are more engaged with the community than non-Mormon counterparts from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Mormons are most likely to follow their church leaders in politics when two conditions are met: 1) “public internal agreement among the leadership”, and 2) “Church leaders offer an official endorsement of a political issue” (142).
  • Three case studies on Proposition 8, the MX Missiles, and Immigration Reform.
  • “LDS leaders are most persuasive when they take a liberal position, given the conservatism of Mormons. Statements that mention a specific political position by the Church are typically more persuasive than general statements of principles. Finally, Mormons who have the strongest adherence to authority are most consistently persuaded by the Church.” (pgs. 155-156)

 CHAPTER 7

  • Mormons are among the least-liked religious groups in America, ranking higher than only Muslims and Atheists.
  • Mormons are subject to a mix of positive (patriotic, caring, strong families) and negative (insular, strange beliefs) stereotypes.
  • Old, married Republicans tend to like Mormons while younger, single Democrats tend to dislike Mormons.
  • Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Jews tend to be neutral toward Mormons, while Evangelicals, Black Protestants, and other minority religious tend to dislike Mormons.
  • Mormons are viewed most negatively by the most religious and least religious.
  • Having correct factual knowledge about Mormons tends to increase favorability toward Mormons, and having a close Mormon friend or family member tends to increase favorability.

 CHAPTER 8

  • Analysis of general “willingness to vote for a Mormon candidate” on the part of the American public.
  • Case studies of the presidential campaigns of George Romney, Mo Udall, Orrin Hatch, Jon Hunstman, Jr., and Mitt Romney.

 CHAPTER 9

  • How did attitudes toward Mormons affect Mitt Romney’s performance in the 2012 election? “While Mitt Romney’s Mormonism mattered a lot to very few voters, it mattered little to most voters. The net result is that, on Election Day 2012, Mitt Romney’s Mormonism turned out to be the dog that didn’t bark” (227).
  • Mormons themselves were no more or less likely to vote for Romney after factoring in their partisanship. Democratic Mormons voted for Obama and Republican Mormons voted for Romney (lack of significance in “Mormon” variable on page 252).
  • While Mormonism did not much affect Romney’s chances in the 2012 campaign, it mattered much more during the 2008 primary campaign. This is because it was “new” and a little strange in 2008, but “old news” in 2012.
  • In the 2008 primary campaign:
    • Personal familiarity with Mormons had an interesting pattern: those who did not know a Mormon or who had a Mormon family member or friend were more likely to vote for Romney than someone who had a Mormon acquaintance.
    • “Framing Mormonism as a non-Christian religious had a negative reaction among voters” (240).
    • “The More people knew about Mormonism, the less it concerned them” (240).
  • People were no better able to answer factual questions about Mormonism in 2012 than in either 2010 or 2008. People learned that Romney was Mormon, but they didn’t learn much about Mormonism due to his candidacy.
  • Romney’s candidate produced no discernable effect in the average level of favorability toward Mormons. However, Republicans became more favorable and Democrats less favorable (partisanship at play). It remains to be seen whether this effect is permanent.

 CHAPTER 10

  • The Mormon Church has tried different strategies to address the original paradox: how to remain a “peculiar people” but also be accepted as mainstream and normal. After ending polygamy in the early 20th century, they veered mainstream in the first half of the 20th century then “retrenched” in the second half of the 20th There are advantages and disadvantages to each strategy.
  • There are signs that the Mormon Church is currently adopting a strategy of “alignment, increasingly allying themselves with other religious and social conservatives” (259).
    • While this may produce some results that the Mormon Church sees as advantageous, there are serious drawbacks to such an approach. 1) Within the Church, it risks marginalizing Democrats, minorities, and moderates who may become less active and potentially just leave. 2) Outside the Church, it risks alienating Democrats, minorities, and moderates, limiting the potential pool from which to draw converts to only strong religious and political conservatives. It also can alienate the younger generation of Mormons who are leaving the Church similar to Millennials in other faiths. It can also “limit the effectiveness of the LDS leaders’ voices in the public square. Prophetic voices are most likely to be heard and heeded when they rise above the partisan fray” (261).

Campaign Advice for Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes

[ Note: this essay is cross-posted on Huffington Post and the Commonwealth Duel Blog ]

There’s no shortage of campaign strategy advice in this year’s Kentucky Senate race. In that spirit, I’ll add my own two cents.

If I were advising the McConnell campaign, I would say…

Don’t screw up.

You’re the incumbent and incumbents already enjoy somewhere between a 5%-10% advantage right off the bat, although this does tend to fade over time so it’s not going to be worth as much as it was in the past when you first ran for reelection. Also, the economic and political “fundamentals” are on your side, which is why all the numbers geeks are giving you anywhere between a 78% and 99%+ chance of winning (see here, here, andhere). So basically, just make sure to keep up with the fundraising and campaigning, give your conservative Republican base a reason to turn out to vote for you by railing on Obama and by talking up the strong possibility of a GOP Senate takeover.

And don’t screw up.

If I were advising the Grimes campaign, I would say…

You and I both know that you have an uphill battle to fight. You’re a Democratic challenger in a red state where the sitting Democratic president is very unpopular. But then, your incumbent opponent is also very unpopular in your state, but that tends to matter less than the economic and political fundamentals which are currently giving you a 1-in-5 chance, at best. You’ll need a strong campaign combined with some luck to come out on top this year.

Right now it seems that one of your key strategies is trying to appeal to women, presumably in an attempt to entice Republican women over to your team (seehere, here, and here, e.g.). While it makes for a great media narrative and may possibly work, there are strong reasons to think that this may not be the most effective strategy. To put it bluntly, women simply don’t tend to be swing voters. Oodles of political science research has shown that, after controlling for partisanship, there’s not much of a difference between men and women in their voting patterns. In other words, women are just as reliably partisan as men. The fault lines of American politics do not tend to fall around gender, but rather partisanship and ideology. Thus, there are likely not very many Republican women who are going to “defect” in this high-profile partisan election.

So who are more likely targets where you could concentrate your efforts? I took the liberty of doing some number crunching on an exit poll of Kentucky voters from the 2008 Kentucky Senate election where McConnell narrowly beat Bruce Lunsford 53%-47%. In that election, only about 14% of Republicans voted for Lunsford, and they made up only 5% of all voters total. Further analysis shows that these Republican defectors tended to be a little younger than their loyal partisan counterparts (about 22% of Republican defectors were under age 30 compared to 15% of Republicans who stayed in the fold). They also tended to be poorer (46% of Republican defectors made less than $50K/year compared to 33% of loyal Republicans) and more ideologically moderate (56% of those Republican defectors identified as moderate and 34% as conservative, while those who stuck with McConnell were 37% moderate and 70% conservative).

Perhaps most importantly, there was ZERO difference when it came to gender. 50.7% of Republicans who voted for Lunsford were women compared to 50.4% who voted for McConnell – a statistically indistinguishable amount. This suggests that women are very likely not the persuadable demographic among Republican partisans. Instead, it seems to be younger, poorer, more moderate Republicans.

On the other hand, nearly a quarter of self-identified Democrats switched sides and voted for Mitch McConnell in 2008. They made up a full 11% of all voters in that election. What did these Democrats look like? They were more ideologically conservative (34% of Democratic McConnell voters said they were conservative compared to only 15% of Democratic Lunsford voters), more likely to be white (95% of Democratic defectors were white compared to 72% of loyal Democrats), and more likely to approve of George Bush (34% compared to 10%). They were also slightly more likely to be men, making up 48% of Democrats who voted for McConnell compared to 41% of Democrats who voted for Lunsford. There were also no differences when it came to age, education levels, income, or religiosity. This suggests that in 2008, Lunsford lost Democratic partisans who looked a lot like Republicans – conservative white men who were more approving of President Bush. This suggests that you might have success keeping your Democratic partisans “in the fold” by veering toward the middle and appealing to cultural conservatives in Kentucky as much as possible.

That presents a tough choice: appeal to younger, more moderate Republicans who might be persuaded to defect or appeal to conservative white Democrats who may be likely to switch sides. Given that there were more than twice as many voters in the latter category (11% of all voters) than the former (5% of all voters) in 2008, it stands to reason that veering toward the middle and trying to retain moderate Democratic partisans may be the option with the higher pay-off. That being said, you don’t want to veer too far toward the middle or you might risk alienating your loyal liberal base so much that they don’t care enough to turn out to vote on Election Day. Trying to balance that tightrope walk will be a delicate endeavor indeed.

One thing is for certain, at least: there is little evidence from the 2008 Kentucky Senate election that Republican women were a persuadable demographic in that campaign. It’s possible that the 2014 Senate campaign will be different, but given how consistent and predictable American voting patterns are, I wouldn’t bet on it. Perhaps consider altering the approach slightly. Forget about “peeling off” Republican women and instead focus on loyal Democratic women (to make sure they show up to vote on Election Day) and moderate or conservative-leaning Democratic women (to encourage them to stay in the fold).