Archive | Blogs

Think Messaging Will Change Health Care Attitudes? Think Again.

Might the efforts of Oprah Winfrey and others encourage Americans to sign up for health insurance?  Sure—and a separate vein of research in political science provides evidence that Americans’ actual experiences with social policy programs can have a pronounced influence on their views.  Signing up people, not shifting public opinion, is the aim of the Obama administration’s latest efforts.  But after five years of debate, it is clear that public opinion on the Affordable Care Act is unmoved by catchy slogans alone.

That’s from my post today over at Wonkblog, summarizing a working paper on the parties’ messaging on health care reform and its surprisingly weak impacts on public opinion.  For more, head here.

Continue Reading

Detroit and the Origins of the Urban Crisis

My examination of Detroit in the quarter-century after World War II suggests that the origins of the urban crisis are much earlier than social scientists have recognized, its roots deeper, more tangled, and perhaps more intractable.  No one social program or policy, no single force, whether housing segregation, social welfare programs, or deindustrialization, could have driven Detroit and other cities like it from their positions of economic and political dominance; there is no simple explanation for the inequality and marginality that beset the urban poor. It is only through the complex and interwoven histories of race, residence, and work in the postwar era that the state of today’s cities and their impoverished residents can be fully understood and confronted.

That’s from the introduction of historian Thomas Sugrue’s seminal book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit.  It is one unparalleled starting place for anyone trying to understand the events of the last several days in Detroit.  Even in Detroit’s heyday just after World War II, when it was the fifth-largest city in the U.S., Professor Sugrue finds the seeds of its decline.  And the dynamics between the state government in Lansing and the City of Detroit are certainly one part of the story, as Professor Sugrue told The Globe and Mail recently:
The governor and state legislature have mostly been elected by voters who are profoundly suspicious of Detroit, who see it as a sinkhole, a corrupt Third-World country, emblem of urban misrule. They believe that if their tax dollars go to the city, the money is going to be wasted on more mismanagement.

For  the full post-bankruptcy interview with Professor Sugrue, see here.

Continue Reading

The Fox News Effect

In the wake of a presidential election, there is an understandable focus on what is holding back the losing party. But we shouldn’t ignore the factors that have advantaged the GOP in recent elections. And as a pair of recent studies show, the Fox News cable channel is one such advantage.

That’s from my post today over at Wonkblog, describing two papers on the political impact of Fox News during its roll-out.  The first is a 2007 paper by Stefano DellaVigna and Ethan Kaplan, while the second is more recent work I’ve undertaken with Jonathan M. Ladd.  For more, head here.

Continue Reading

Land reform and sex selection in China

Doug Almond, Hongbin Li, and Shuang Zhang write:

Following the death of Mao in 1976, abandonment of collective farming lifted millions from poverty and heralded sweeping pro-market policies. How did China’s excess in male births respond to rural land reform? In newly-available data from over 1,000 counties, a second child following a daughter was 5.5 percent more likely to be a boy after land reform, doubling the prevailing rate of sex selection. Mothers with higher levels of education were substantially more likely to select sons than were less educated mothers. The One Child Policy was implemented over the same time period and is frequently blamed for increased sex ratios during the early 1980s. Our results point to China’s watershed economic liberalization as a more likely culprit.

Here’s what was going on:

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 10.57.22 AM

Powerful stuff. I just have a few suggestions on these graphs:

1. A light vertical line at x=0 would help.

2. Also, get rid of the horizontal lines at 1, 1.05, 1.1, etc. Instead, put a horizontal line at the natural sex ratio.

3. I’d prefer to present this as percentage girls (48.5%, etc) rather than sex ratio. To me, the percentage is easier to understand. But I respect that the tradition in this field is to work with the ratio.

4. Label the lines directly on the graph. For chrissake, don’t use a legend, that’s just silly.

Also, please do something about Figure 1 in the paper (not shown here). That sort of double-y-axis graph is at best confusing and at worst misleading. And I don’t really like Figure 3B. I just have an intuition that there’s a better way of displaying this information. Maybe using a series of maps? Finally, I’d replace all the tables with graphs (of course).

Continue Reading

Turnout Rates Among the Rich and Poor

A while ago Andy asked “Is India unique in having higher voter turnout among the poor than the middle class and rich?“. I recently attended the 2013 International Society for New Institutional Economics Annual Conference, and just watched a very interesting presentation by Columbia University political scientist Kimuli Kasara on “When do the Rich Vote Less than the Poor and Why? Explaining Turnout Inequality across the World”. The full paper she presented is available here, but the following figure caught my eye as an answer to Andy’s question:


Note that although it does not include India, the figure (which can be enlarged by clicking on it) does provide some comparative context. Note as well the role of the US – and, interestingly, Poland and Zambia – as outliers in terms of having over-representation of the well-off citizens among voters.

Continue Reading

Knowing When to Take off the Robe: Who Should Decide?

July the 4th weekend is always a good time to think about political power wielded arbitrarily by unelected, berobed rulers who may serve until their death.

In that light,this Reuters interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in which the octogenarian vows to stay on the high court “several more years” raises the issue of whether the U.S. is best served by retaining the system of life tenure for Supreme Court Justices.

In fairness, unlike George III, Justice Ginsburg is of humble origins,earned her credentials and was appointed and confirmed in her post by elected officials, albeit twenty years ago. So far there is no sign that she is losing her faculties the way he eventually did. Her robes are also significantly less flashy than the monarch’s or even Justice Rehnquist’s. Still, she, like all of her colleagues, exercises a great deal of arbitrary, unaccountable power and may do so for life. It’s much more in keeping with monarchical tradition than the Spirit of ‘76.

There was already discussion by liberal legal scholars about the desirability of Ginsburg retiring before the 2012 election and her recent comments are likely to spark further discussion and perhaps some agita on the part of liberal court-watchers.

We don’t know how seriously to take Justice Ginsburg’s claim that Justice John Paul Stevens, who served until he was 90, is her “new model.” No one wants to be a lame duck and Ginsburg also might not want to admit that political considerations would guide her retirement decision, although she has hinted as much before and legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin, who also recently interviewed the Justice, said that “she would like to retire while a Democrat is in the White House.”

Right now this is a concern for liberals (as should be the continued tenure of 75 year-old Justice Breyer, given the shorter lifespan of men compared to women), but the shoe has been on the other foot often enough. By refusing to step down before the very close 2004 election despite his own advanced age and, eventually, terminal illness, Chief Justice Rehnquist, who died at 80 in 2005 without retiring,despite missing many oral arguments, ran the risk of having his successor be named by the President Kerry who nearly was.

The broader point is that the whims of one unaccountable person, whatever their age, abilities or ideology should NOT matter so much in a democracy. Term limits for the Supreme Court would address the much discussed possibility of strategic retirement, in which a Justice chooses to leave the bench at a time when there is a President likely to appoint a replacement with similar views, reduce the variation in the number of appointments each President gets, reduce the likelihood of Justices serving into their dotage and keep the Court from becoming too out of touch with society. This is an issue that Monkey Cagers have addressed in the past, without reaching consensus, but it is again timely.

Such a reform could be structured in various ways, but if, for example, Justices knew that if they retired during the term of a President with similar views he or she would only be able to appoint someone to serve out the remainder of their term, their incentive to retire strategically would disappear. At the same time the term limit would keep Justices from staying on the Court beyond the time when they could serve effectively, as Justice Thurgood Marshall and others did, in hopes of waiting out a Chief Executive they disliked.

Life tenure for a Supreme Court is an anomaly among democratic political systems at home and abroad. Other democratic countries with judiciaries ranked as equally independent as the American courts and 49 out of the 50 American states do not use life tenure. (Rhode Island is the exception.) Some nations and states have mandatory retirement, others have fixed terms. Some have both. (In some states a judge can serve for an indefinite period at any age, but is subject to periodic reappointment or re-election.) When this system was instituted in the late 18th century Alexander Hamilton argued that there were very few men qualified to serve and that they would be unwilling to give up their lucrative law practices without the prospect of life tenure. Does anyone believe that is still true?

A mandatory retirement age would be an improvement on the status quo, but would still encourage Presidents to nominate young Justices, to maximize their long-term impact ,e.g. Clarence Thomas. An 18 year term would greatly reduce that incentive. Our system is backward. We limit the terms of the elected President, but not those of the unelected Judges.

There was a flurry of interest in this idea circa 2005 among law professors before Justice O’Connor retired because there had been so little turnover on the Court for so long. I wrote an essay in this 2013 volume aimed at undergrads edited by Richard Ellis and Michael Nelson.

George III stayed on his throne for life, although he was unable to really rule due his insanity in later years. By contrast, this year we’ve already seen two monarchs who exercise less power than he did choose to abdicate at the ages of 75 and 80, respectively. Some Justices, including Scalia and Ginsburg, have children who are attorneys. Maybe they would retire if they, like Beatrix, Queen of the Netherlands or Albert, King of the Belgians, knew their children would inherit their positions? Or maybe we as a country could revisit an 18th century political arrangement that has outlived whatever usefulness it may have once had.

Continue Reading

Public Opinion, the Court, and Justice Kennedy

It has been rather challenging for legal scholars to portray the Supreme Court opinions of the past few days as somehow following logically from precedent or even from the past judgments of individual justices. As University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner puts it on Slate:

[..] trying to find a jurisprudential explanation for this opinion, like the opinions in Fisher and Shelby Country, is a fool’s errand. Same-sex marriage is advancing while affirmative action is receding because that’s what the relevant majorities of the justices care about.

This interpretation fits with what political scientists call the “attitudinal model” of Supreme Court decision making: judges decide cases according to their personal policy preferences even if they cloak their motivations in legal language. The point is not that the law doesn’t matter but that especially on value laden cases with ambiguous precedents justices often manage to find legal interpretations that fit their personal belief systems.

There is an intriguing alternative, or perhaps complementary, explanation: that gay rights are advancing while affirmative action is receding in the Court because that’s what the American public wants. This argument is implied by Patrick Egan’s terrific post here yesterday.[1]

But why would the Court respond to public opinion? Judges are not elected by the public. Isn’t the purpose of a counter-majoritarian institution precisely that it does not follow swings in public mood? Still, political scientists have amassed an impressive array of evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the Court follows changes in public opinion. But why?

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

Do Anti-Immigration Stances Cost the GOP Votes from Latinos?

The question at hand is whether the Latino respondents became less likely to support the GOP ticket in 2012, after Arizona’s SB1070 and Romney’s advocacy of “self-deportation.”  As it turns out, Latino McCain supporters were more likely to leave the GOP camp than any other demographic group analyzed here.  McCain supporters who were not Latino stuck with Romney 84 percent of the time, while the senator’s Latino backers only stayed with Romney 70 percent of the time.

That’s from my newest post over at Wonkblog, where I look at the claim that anti-immigration stances cost the GOP votes from Latinos.  For more, and to learn about the shift in Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Latino support between 2004 and 2008, head here.

Continue Reading

The Oversight of too much Oversight

Below is a guest post from Tobias T. Gibson, an associate professor of political science and security studies at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. 


The recent revelations that the National Security Agency collects mass amounts of online data internationally and domestic phone calls has led to President Obama and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper to reassure United States citizens that the actions are legal and that all three branches of the national government have oversight duties of the programs in question. In fact, the entire House of Representatives was briefed on the previously secret surveillance programs. Clearly, the purpose of the presidential press conferences, DNI Clapper’s testimony ,and the House briefing, was to reassure American citizens that there is enough oversight of the NSA’s programs specifically and the intelligence community (IC) generally.

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading