Category Archives: Political Science

Centre College convocation with Julia Azari and Dara Lind

On October 6, 2016 Centre College was pleased to host a convocation featuring Dr. Julia Azari of Marquette University and Dara Lind of Vox.com. They spoke for a little over an hour on the 2016 presidential election. Topics included:

  • What explains Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination?
  • What are common misperceptions about the election and what are more accurate ways to think about them?
  • Does this election teach us anything about the politics of gender and/or ethnicity that we didn’t already know?
  • What is the likely direction of both the Democratic and Republican parties going forward after the election is over?

Interested parties can listen to an audio recording of the convocation by CLICKING HERE.

We are grateful for their visit!

How many #nevertrump folks will change their mind?

Here is one of my (many) questions this morning: how many of the #nevertrump folks will ultimately change their mind and get behind their party’s presumptive nominee?
 
The usual pattern over the last several decades is this: partisans pick favorites in the primary and are angry when their candidate loses and vow never to support the person who beat them for the party nomination. Then they have a few months to think about it and turn their focus on the other party’s candidate. And then the convention happens and its a week of positive coverage of their party’s candidate and most of them end up saying “well, I didn’t support him in in the primary… but whatever, maybe he’s not so bad and he’s certainly better than the other party’s candidate.” Then the general election happens and 90%+ of Republicans vote for the Republican candidate and 90%+ of Democrats vote for the Democratic candidate.
 
Ordinarily that would lead me to be confident that most of the #nevertrump people will grumble for a few months but by September be on board the Trump train.
 
But Mr. Trump is no ordinary candidate. So my question is to what extent that pattern will hold or will we see something very different happen this time around?
 
I suppose only time will tell…

Are Donald Trump Supporters Merely “Unhyphenated Americans”?

One of the most interesting puzzles of this election cycle for both academics and pundits alike has been trying to explain exactly who exactly are all these Donald Trump supporters in the GOP voting base. Answers have focused on a variety of possible answers, including demographics, personality characteristics, and racial/identity attitudes. There is some evidence that there may be another factor at play, however: “American” ancestral self-identification.

The U.S. Census Bureau regularly asks Americans a version of this question: “What is this person’s ancestry or ethnic origin? (For example: Italian, Jamaican, African Am., Cambodian, Cape Verdean, Norwegian, … and so on.)” While most Americans indicate ancestries originating in Europe, Africa, or Latin America, in the 2010 Census about 20 million people (or 6.5 percent of the population) indicated “America” or “United States” as their place of “ancestry or ethnic origin.” Most of these individuals are obviously not Native Americans, but rather white Americans who for one reason or another choose to report that their ancestors came from America. Some have referred to this group as “unhyphenated Americans” as they reject labels such as “German-American,” or “Irish-American.” (See here and here for more information.)

Scholars have offered a variety of causal factors related to this “unhyphenated American” phenomenon among white Americans including education, patriotism and national loyalty, Evangelical religious identification, or a perceived threat to American culture and identity. My own research (forthcoming in Social Science Quarterly) points to a strong influence of racial context and attitudes.

An examination of Census data reveals that the majority of these unhyphenated Americans are concentrated largely in the Southern and Appalachian regions of the United States:

Compare the map in the link above to the geographical distribution of Donald Trump supporters in the GOP electorate:

Trumpmap

Of course, correlation is not causation and this possible connection is based entirely on aggregate data patterns making it impossible to conclusively link ancestral self-identification to voting patterns using only this information… but it is hard to ignore the similarities in the geographic concentration of unhyphenated Americans and Donald Trump supporters.

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan has is “Make America Great Again.” Perhaps this resonates with unhyphenated Americans who actively reject all non-American identities (even ancestral identities) and respond positively to his nativist, authoritarian rhetoric.

Note: this article was originally published in the Huffington Post; this version includes the graphics.

My quick take on the 2016 Iowa Caucus results

Since people are asking me about it today… here’s my quick take on the Iowa Caucus results last night:

The “political science” perspective is that one key way that Iowa Caucus results matter is in driving the media narrative that emerges the week afterwards leading up to the New Hampshire primary. Objective results matter less than results compared to expected results. Those who over-perform relative to expectations get a boost from both media and donors which gives them an additional boost going into the NH primary while those who under-perform suffer from less media attention and fewer donors than they were getting before. (See Why Iowa, chapters 7-8, see also Vox’s write-up.)

Based on this I make the following quick observations:

Marco Rubio is probably the biggest winner from last night: over-performing relative to expectations in the range of 5-8%. I expect that he’ll get a boost in media coverage and that this will translate into a boost in his New Hampshire performance, putting him in a good position for the rest of the primary campaign.

Donald Trump is probably the biggest loser, as all the media hype was about him possibly winning Iowa. By losing (even though he came in a strong second), he under-performed relative to expectations (by about 7-ish%) and this may translate into a lower performance in New Hampshire than he might have otherwise had if he had won Iowa.

Ted Cruz’s performance is maybe a draw, perhaps a slight advantage. He was polling well in Iowa and did about as well as expected in the media narrative leading up to last night’s Caucuses. The real question is whether he can do well in northeast New Hampshire or whether this was his high-water mark like Rick Santorum in 2012 or Mike Huckabee in 2008.

On the Democratic side, I’d say it’s roughly a draw between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, both objectively and relatively, with perhaps a slight edge to Sanders. Hillary Clinton was expected to win by 3-5% leading up to the Caucuses and she ended up barely squeaking out a win of 0.29%. Given that O’Malley dropped out last night, I think that Sanders will pick up most of his 2-ish% in New Hampshire and likely win by a respectable margin. The real test for Sanders will be whether he can come in close in more diverse states like South Carolina and Nevada. If he gets trounced in those two states it’s likely an easy path for Hillary Clinton to the nomination.

Back on the Republican side, my hunch is that it will soon boil down to either a drawn-out Rubio-Trump contest or a Rubio-Cruz contest, depending on which way things shake out in the next few primaries… unless either Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or John Kasich can somehow edge out a very strong second or third showing. If not, it’s Rubio or bust for Republicans who want to win this fall.

Drew Curtis is pulling about even from potential Conway and Bevin voters

Yesterday’s release of the most recent Kentucky gubernatorial election Bluegrass Poll showed Jack Conway 42%, Matt Bevin 37%, and Drew Curtis 7% (MoE 3.8%), meaning that the gubernatorial race is a statistical tie. Given, however, that the same poll two months ago showed virtually identical results, it gives more confidence to the reality of Conway’s lead.

One question that has come up in the gubernatorial campaign so far is the effect of Drew Curtis in the race. Is he pulling more from potential Conway or Bevin voters?

By doing some quick arithmetic with the cross-tabulations on the most recent Bluegrass Poll, we find that 2.5% of likely voters in Kentucky are Republican Curtis supporters while 2.8% are Democratic Curtis supporters[1]. This suggests that Curtis is pulling roughly evenly from Conway or Bevin, which further suggests that he won’t likely play a “spoiler” role for either candidate.

Further, by the same method we can see that 6% of likely Kentucky voters are undecided Republicans while 5% are undecided Democrats. If the undecideds break in favor of their partisan identities (and there’s little reason to suspect that they won’t), this suggests that neither candidate will gain much of an advantage from the “undecided” folks.

All told, the polling evidence is still giving a very slight, but consistent, advantage to Jack Conway in the upcoming gubernatorial election. That being said, it’s still close enough that campaign events might “matter” enough to sway the election one way or another.

[FN1] I arrived at these figures by multiplying the total proportion of the sample in a particular sub-category by the proportion of voters for the particular candidate (or “undecided”) and then adding the categories together. For example, the 2.5% of Republican Curtis supporters is arrived at by multiplying his 1% by the 17% of strong Republicans, adding 9% of the 14% weak Republicans, and 8% of the 13% Republican leaners, for a total of about 2.5%

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.”