Archive | Campaigns and elections

Red State Blue State in 2012

Avi Feller, Boris Shor, and I write:

The so-called “red/blue paradox” is that rich individuals are more likely to vote Republican but rich states are more likely to support the Democrats. Previous research argued that this seeming paradox could be explained by comparing rich and poor voters within each state – the difference in the Republican vote share between rich and poor voters was much larger in low-income, conservative, middle-American states like Mississippi than in high-income, liberal, coastal states like Connecticut. We use exit poll and other survey data to assess whether this was still the case for the 2012 Presidential election. Based on this preliminary analysis, we find that, while the red/ blue paradox is still strong, the explanation offered by Gelman et al. no longer appears to hold. We explore several empirical patterns from this election and suggest possible avenues for resolving the questions posed by the new data.

I love that—”the explanation offered by Gelman et al. no longer appears to hold.” As I said to Boris, if someone’s going to shoot us down, I’d like that someone to be us.

Click through to the paper—we have lots of graphs. Not too many answers, but lots of questions.

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The Strange Court Case of Aleksei Navalny: What Comes Next?

The following guest post is from McGill University political scientist Maria Popova, the author of Politicized Justice in Emerging Democracies: a Study of Courts in Russia and Ukraine (Cambridge University Press, 2012).


On July 18th, Russia’s best known oppositionist, anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to 5 years in prison.  His co-defendant, Pyotr Ofitserov received 4 years.  After Judge Blinov from Kirov’s Leninskii District Court finished reading the verdicts, the convicted were taken into custody and sent to jail, where they would await the results of their appeals.  Few were surprised by the guilty verdicts, but many had expected the sentences to be suspended, rather than effective. Certainly, no one expected what happened next.  On July 19th, the prosecutor asked the court to release Navalny and Ofitserov on bail.  The prosecutor argued that Navalny had a constitutional right to contest the September 2013 Moscow mayoral election, for which he had been registered as an official candidate only a couple of days earlier.  Judge Blinov immediately granted the prosecution’s request and by the end of the day Navalny and Ofitserov were back in Moscow, where they addressed a crowd of jubilant supporters.  The unprecedented nature of what happened in the provincial Russian courtroom cannot be overstated.  Releasing a convicted person on bail, although possible under the Russian Criminal Procedural Code, is an exceedingly rare occurrence.  Rare, as in there may have been a handful of cases in recent memory.  A request for bail from the prosecution, rather than from the defense, experienced Russian jurists claim, is a first!

The convictions and the swift bail release are perceived in Russia and abroad as an indication of the subordination of the judiciary to political incumbents, rather than as a reflection of the vagaries of the legal process.  The bail release is not an unequivocal victory for the defendants, but, at best, a short respite.  Russian acquittal rates are below 1% and appellate courts usually decrease, rather than increase, this percentage.  At worst, as a prominent Russian lawyer, Genri Reznik, put it, by convicting and then releasing Navalny, the regime showed who was boss.  With the convictions the regime turned the court from an adjudicative organ into a punitive one and with the bail release it turned the prosecution from an accusatory organ into one employed by the defense  (text in Russian available here).

What comes next for Navalny?  He has re-stated his intention to contest the Moscow mayoral election and his determination to win the race.  However, he may not be able to finish the campaign and stand in the election due to the conviction that is now hanging over him.  Russian municipal election law prohibits persons with convictions “that have entered into legal force” from standing in an election.  If and when Navalny’s conviction “enters into legal force”, the Moscow election commission will be legally obligated to take down his registration and remove him from the ballot.  The question is when the conviction can or will enter into force.  According to the Russian Criminal Procedural Code, first-instance court convictions enter into force 10 days after they have been issued, if there is no appeal filed.  We can assume that Navalny will appeal.  Then the conviction enters into force on the day the appellate court upholds it.  If the appellate court in Kirov upholds his conviction before election day (September 8th), Navalny will be out of the race and will not be allowed to continue campaigning.  The prosecution and the Kirov court moved very quickly with the bail hearing, so it appears possible that the appellate court could rule on the appeal soon.

Generalizing from the Navalny trial about the functioning of the entire Russian judiciary is problematic, not only because this is only one case, but also because of the very high salience of the Navalny prosecution.  Research that goes beyond the high-profile cases has painted a more mixed picture of the performance of the Russian judiciary.  Yes, there is evidence that Russian judicial independence is circumscribed by strong discipline within the judicial hierarchy, court financing by the regional authorities, practices of ex parte communication, and other structural conditions (Solomon Jr and Foglesong, 2000; Baird and Javeline, 2010; Ledeneva, 2008; Popova 2012).  But Russian courts at all levels are also routinely used by comparatively high and ever increasing numbers of Russian citizens to settle civil and business disputes and to seek redress for the unlawful behavior of state representatives (Solomon Jr. 2004, Hendley, 2002, 2004, Trochev 2012, etc.).  Moreover, a comparison of Russian and Ukrainian judicial output in the late 1990s-early 2000s suggests that in two important legal issue areas (electoral registration disputes and defamation lawsuits against media outlets), the Russian courts were less politicized than the Ukrainian courts (Popova, 2010; Popova 2012).  In Russia, politically powerful plaintiffs had less advantage over other plaintiffs when they went to court.

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It’s possible indeed

This, from Megan McArdle:

My assertion that there’s a 70% chance that the GOP controls White House, Senate, and House in 2017 has attracted a lot of pushback. And it’s certainly possible that I’m wrong! Here’s my thinking, for what it’s worth: Since the Civil War, only two Democratic presidents have been succeeded by another Democrat. Both of them–FDR and JFK–accomplished this by dying in office. Since World War II, only four presidents have been succeeded by a member of their party. As I mentioned above, two of them accomplished this by dying in office. One of them accomplished this by resigning in disgrace ahead of his own impeachment. Only one of them, Ronald Reagan, left office at the end of his appointed term and was succeeded by a duly elected member of his own party.

reminds me of this classic cartoon by XKCD, which should be blown up into A0 format, and placed in a permanently visible position in front of the desk of every pundit tempted to make pseudo-quantitative oracular announcements about American politics (extremists might want to go the full Clockwork Orange with the eyeclamps but that strikes me as overkill).

Human beings are cognitively predisposed to perceive patterns in the world. Many, likely most of these patterns are garbage. Without good theories, and good ways of testing those theories, we’ll never be able to tell the garbage patterns from the real ones.

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The Republicans and Immigration Reform Redux

Now, perhaps there are unforeseen events that will permanently help the GOP among Latinos and that have nothing to do with immigration reform politics in 2013.  But if I’m the GOP, what I’d bet on is this: “We’ll be more likely to win presidential elections if we win more Latino votes.”  (And if that seems obvious, read Sean Trende’s counterpoint. Not everyone agrees.)  And supporting immigration reform, in turn, will make that more likely.

That was from yesterday’s post on why I think the GOP is better off getting behind immigration reform.  In response, Jay Cost and Sean Trende tweeted:


Cost is right in his initial tweet.  That was sloppy writing on my part about Trende’s argument about Latinos, which he has elaborated here and here.  But, despite the fact that the three of us are all skeptics that Democratic dynasty in the White House is imminent, I do think our opinions differ here—enough that I was surprised that both agreed with my post.  Here is where I think we differ:

1) While we agree that Latinos are not yet “locked in” as part of the Democratic base, Trende and Cost are more sanguine about the need for the GOP to appeal to Latinos.  Both Cost and Trende have emphasized that a (the?) key to understanding 2012 is what they allege are “missing white voters.” Thus, they argue, the GOP can succeed in national electoral politics—for at least a while—by shoring up its support among white voters and betting that black turnout will decline without Obama on the ticket.  (See Trende here.  Cost agrees here.  See also this rejoinder from Nate Cohn and two rejoinders from Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz.)  But I think a broader appeal to Latinos is a better bet for ensuring Republican electoral success in the long run—and it will take work on the GOP’s part beginning now.

2) Trende downplays the significance of immigration to Hispanics, arguing that other issues matter more to them and that not all Hispanics even agree with the liberal or Democratic view on immigration reform.  He suggests that Hispanics will affiliate with a party in similar ways as white voters, and not because of each party’s immigration policies per se.  I am less sure of that.  My post hypothesized a different causal process—one in which Latino voters, many of whom are unaffiliated with a party, take signals from opinion leaders about which party “stands with them.”  (I should note that voters of all ethnicities take signals from opinion leaders about all kinds of things, so I am not suggesting that Latinos are unique here.  What makes them unique is that, like many immigrant populations, more of them have weaker partisan attachments to begin with.)  In general, I don’t think most voters make decisions based on calculations about the details of policy.  But I do think that they often respond to broader “symbolic” messages—in this case, “is that party for us or against us?”

I’m not suggesting that all Latinos will end up believing the GOP is against them.  I’m not suggesting that there aren’t some Latinos who now identify or will identify as Republicans for other reasons.  I’m not suggesting that the GOP won’t win larger numbers of Latino voters in individual elections than they did in 2012 because of cyclical factors like the economy or idiosyncratic factors like the particular candidates who are running.  I’m just suggesting that the GOP should be asking itself, “How do we convert some of these unaffiliated Latino voters into habitual Republican voters?”  And that takes more than economic growth or, say, nominating Marco Rubio.

3) Thus, I think that supporting comprehensive immigration reform is a necessary, though not sufficient, step for the GOP to accomplish that goal.  Immigration may not be every Latino’s highest priority but, again, I see that issue as important to winning over at least some Latino voters and many Latino opinion leaders.  I don’t perceive that Cost and Trende oppose immigration reform per se, although Cost is certainly opposed to the Senate bill.  I just see them as assigning immigration reform a relatively low priority.  Here is Trende:

The GOP and Democrats should pursue the policies they believe are best for the country. If they govern competently, the coalitions will take care of themselves.

Right now, the the majority of Republicans in Congress seems to think that the best policy is not comprehensive immigration reform as it is currently envisioned—e.g., with a path to citizenship, etc.  (That could be wrong, however, for the reasons Jon Bernstein suggests.) So if I’m interpreting Trende and Cost correctly, they are giving the GOP license to do something that I think is more likely to hurt the GOP’s appeal among Latinos than help it.

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Could the GOP Lose Generations of Latino Voters?

The handful of studies on Latino party identification tends to emphasize its variability across elections as a result of the candidate position-taking on key issues, and the fact that parental socialization of American politics is nonexistent for immigrants (Wong 2000; Alvarez and Bedolla 2003; Nicholson and Segura 2005; Uhlaner and Garcia 2005).  A common understanding in the scholarly research on partisanship is that today’s immigrants do not have fixed or set party allegiances.  There is no research to date that non-citizen immigrants have pre-existing party attachment that they take with to their naturalization ceremony. Rather, immigrants are seen as responsive to the political environment in which they find themselves and develop party attachment as they become citizens, register, and start voting.

In fact, an empirical look at the data confirms this theory.

That is Adrian Pantoja writing over at the Latino Decisions blog.  Their polling shows that 71% of non-citizen Latinos identify as independent or with a minor party, or have no attachment of any kind.  There is a large number of Latinos who, once naturalized, will seemingly be up for grabs.

This gets at my concern about what would happen to the GOP if immigration reform fails.  I am not someone who believes that the 2008 and 2012 elections—and Obama’s success in winning Latinos votes—mean we are heading to a Democratic dynasty in the White House.   There are plenty of other reasons why Republicans may win presidential elections and other elections even if they do not immediately broaden their appeal to Latino voters.

But part of my skepticism about the Democratic dynasty is predicated on the notion that, over the longer run, parties aren’t irrational.  They adapt to secular trends in the country—shifting public attitudes on certain issues (like gay marriage), shifting demographics, etc.  Or they adapt enough that those trends won’t prove fatal and then they can go on to win (or lose) elections based on other things, like the cyclical trends in economic fundamentals.  This prevents dynasties from occurring.

If I were the GOP, I’d be thinking about the long game.  They don’t need to win the majority of Latino votes now or even in the near future.  But, other things equal, they should want to shape the “political environment,” to use Pantoja’s term, so that many of these unaffiliated Latinos will, once naturalized, view the GOP as a party that could represent them.

One prominent theory of party identification is that people identify with the party that they associate with social groups they like or belong to.  So it’s not so much about policy, or what the parties “stand for.”  It’s who the parties “stand with.”  The challenge for the GOP is that even if it supports other policies that many Latinos support, its hostility to immigration reform may be the driving force behind a broader impression: that the Democrats are “the party of Latinos.”  And once those impressions are formed, they are very difficult to change.  As I’ve noted, the perception that the GOP is the “party of the rich” really has not changed for 60 years.

Now, how firmly established is any impression that the GOP is not “the party of Latinos”?  Probably not that firmly established, especially in the minds of Latinos that are not yet citizens.  Most are unaffiliated, as noted, and only 25% identify as Democrats and 3% as Republicans.  But among those that are naturalized citizens? Nearly half, 44%, identify as Democrats and only 15% as Republicans.  In other words, the 22-point advantage Democrats have among non-citizen Latinos becomes 29 points among Latino citizens.  This, to me, suggests that the “political environment” is not currently working in Republicans’ favor.

And if immigration reform were to fail, it is hard for me to see the environment becoming any more favorable.  Think of the “meso-layer” of Latino opinion leaders—the priests, the Spanish-language media personalities, activists, etc.  These are the people that Latinos who may not follow politics closely hear day in and day out, in the pew and on the radio while driving and on their television sets.  What are they going to say if reform fails?  I think the indications are they’ll blame the Republicans, especially if this sort of frame dominates Spanish-language media:

La frase ya se está haciendo recurrente en el Capitolio: “No me gustaría estar en los zapatos del presidente de la Cámara de Representantes John Boehner (R-OH)”. En un lado tiene al extremo de su partido que no acepta nada que se acerque a la legalización. En el otro, enfrenta las amenazas que auguran un futuro político fatídico si no permite un voto con esta opción.

How is the GOP going to be able to get information in front of Latinos that helps them view the party in favorable ways if Latino opinion leaders won’t provide it?

Now, perhaps there are unforeseen events that will permanently help the GOP among Latinos and that have nothing to do with immigration reform politics in 2013.  But if I’m the GOP, what I’d bet on is this: “We’ll be more likely to win presidential elections if we win more Latino votes.”  (And if that seems obvious, read Sean Trende’s counterpoint. Not everyone agrees.)  And supporting immigration reform, in turn, will make that more likely.

That’s a not a sure bet, of course.  But it strikes me as the safer one.

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Are the Democrats still at a disadvantage in redistricting?

To what extent are Democrats inherently disadvantaged in congressional elections because of where they live?  This was a hot topic of conversation just after the 2012 congressional elections, when the Democrats won a majority of the popular vote but a distinct minority of the seats in the House of Representatives.  The subject has recently resurfaced in public debate, and the issues are important enough that they deserve some consideration.

First, some background.  Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden (hereafter, C&R) have developed a computer program that draws thousands of simulated districts using precinct-level data and a handful of systematic criteria. They then compare the actual redistricting plan to the simulated ones.  If they don’t differ substantially, then any bias in the district lines cannot be blamed on gerrymandering.  Or so goes the argument.

This method has attracted considerable attention because it appears to show that Democrats suffer because they are concentrated in urban areas and “waste” votes on big wins, not because Republicans have drawn the lines that way.  In other words, Democrats are “unintentionally gerrymandered.”  C&R are not the only ones to make this claim (for a recent example, see Nate Silver’s post here), but those who make it commonly cite this research.

Michael McDonald, a respected expert on redistricting, recently offered a thoughtful critique of the C&R method, calling it unreliable and divorced from the reality of redistricting.  He has pointed to the many fair and apparently usable maps drawn by the public in the last redistricting cycle—including in key states where C&R had claimed a strong bias against the Democrats—as evidence against the C&R conclusions.

It does not help C&R’s case that they recently updated their analysis for Florida—the first and most famous application of their method—with more recent presidential election data and found a very different result.  Instead of an inherent bias against Democrats and no clear sign of gerrymandering, they found no inherent bias and a strongly gerrymandered outcome.

So what does this mean?  Is the C&R method reliable, and is it telling us something useful about redistricting? McDonald argues that algorithms will often produce “nonsensical, spaghetti-like districts” that would never be part of a real plan.  Worse, he argues we will never know how often an algorithm like C&R’s will make this mistake, so the product of the algorithm can’t be trusted.

I don’t doubt McDonald’s experience with these algorithms, but I think his criticism misses the point of the C&R approach.  Unlike many past efforts at automated redistricting, this algorithm isn’t meant to replace human line-drawers by generating maps that would clear every legal and political hoop. Instead, it offers some sense of the range of unbiased possibilities given the realities of political geography. It asks, “What if we drew districts at random according to a few simple rules?  Would the results be any different than the actual plan?”  If the answer is “no,” then the humans drew lines as if they were unbiased computers, regardless of any other factors that led them to choose one set of lines in particular.

As for whether the algorithm produces weird districts, all of C&R’s simulated maps for Florida are posted on the web, and to the naked eye they don’t look much worse than many legally adopted plans in other states.  And that’s without directing the algorithm to favor compactness.  When C&R take that extra step, the results are downright boxy.

To be fair, C&R sometimes imply that in certain states it’s impossible to draw compact districts that are fair to both parties.  I don’t think that’s quite right.  Their method does not tell us what is possible—only what is likely in the absence of any partisan intent.  By contrast, the authors of the publicly-drawn districting plans McDonald points to may have had a partisan intent—specifically, the intent to undo the underlying geographic bias.  That suggests something important about redistricting reform: the map-makers may need to take explicit account of partisanship to avoid reproducing the inherent bias in the underlying political geography.  That’s a little ironic, since redistricting reformers often propose that map-makers ignore partisanship completely.  But it may be true all the same.

What about Florida?  Doesn’t the complete reversal of C&R’s original finding suggest serious flaws in their method?  Not necessarily. In fact, the same shift in political geography that C&R uncover is visible in the raw data. Democrats won 50% of the presidential vote but only 47% of the precincts in 2000, while in 2012 they won 51% of both.  In other words, measured this way the bias disappeared.  There are problems with using only these raw data, to be sure.  A better method would correct for large differences in population between precincts, and would take into account how the precincts are related to each other in geographic space.*  In other words, it would do exactly the things the C&R method already does.  Nonetheless, the fact that multiple methods all point to a similar result should give us some confidence that the C&R method isn’t doing something screwy.

But if the C&R method is valid and useful, doesn’t the result in Florida then prove that “unintentional gerrymandering” isn’t a factor anymore?  It certainly might, though it’s too soon to say.  We need to apply the C&R algorithm to more recent presidential results in other states.  There may have been similar change outside Florida, but given the continued concentration of Democrats in urban areas I’d be skeptical it has been too widespread.

What the Florida case does highlight, however, is a point that John and I have made before: redistricting doesn’t guarantee results.  Consider how quickly the reality in Florida has shifted.  In 2001, Republicans in Florida drew districts that reflected the state’s anti-Democratic geographic bias, but by 2008 (the year of the updated C&R numbers) this bias had disappeared and in 2011 Republicans were shoring up an eroding position.  Could their efforts hold back the tide for the next 10 years?  Maybe.  But based the last 10, I wouldn’t be terribly confident.

Moreover, none of this considers the imperfect link between the presidential vote and the vote for Congress.  While the two are more closely linked than ever these days, they are still different.  Incumbents routinely outperform their party’s presidential candidate, and strong challengers or uniform partisan swings can overwhelm the most carefully drawn redistricting plan.  John and I estimated that incumbency alone could account for the entire discrepancy between the national seat share and vote share this cycle.

Gerrymandering is certainly real, and it was egregious in a number of large states this last election cycle.  Since even a single unfair outcome is one too many, independent commissions ought to be the preferred way to ameliorate the problem.  But we should be cautious about expecting too much from such reforms.  A neutral process will always carry the risk of a biased outcome, so we should either require plans to eliminate bias or accept that sometimes bias will happen without intent.

(Thanks to Jowei Chen for sharing precinct-level data from Florida.  Naturally, he is not to blame for any errors in the manner they are used.)

*However, size was largely uncorrelated with Democratic vote share in the precincts, so its impact on the raw numbers presented here is probably modest.  If anything, it may understate the degree of bias against Democrats since larger precincts were very slightly more Republican than smaller ones.

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Why Electing Minorities Matters

This is a guest post by David Broockman, a PhD student in political science at Berkeley.


Many have already commented on the significant implications last week’s Supreme Court decision will have for racial minorities’ equal access to the ballot box, consequences that began to materialize within hours of the Court’s decision.

Less attention has been paid to another of the VRA’s missions the Court also undermined last week. By fostering the creation of majority-minority districts, the VRA has for decades helped minorities overcome opposition to their candidates of choice and elect representatives of their race. In wake of the Shelby County decision, the Justice Department will have much greater difficulty encouraging the election of minorities to office.
Does it matter whether racial minorities can elect members of their group to Congress, state legislatures, and school boards? In two articles forthcoming in the American Journal of Political Science, I present results from field experiments illustrating the unique role officeholders who are members of racial minority groups play in advancing minorities’ political interests.

Minority Elected Officials Work Harder To Advance Minorities’ Interests When Their Constituents Aren’t Watching

Elected officials often make important decisions when partially or even fully hidden from voters’ watchful eyes, such as in legislative bargaining behind closed doors, during oversight hearings, or on the many votes that escape public attention. In such settings, legislators’ own personal priorities and desires—their intrinsic motivations—may influence their choices a great deal more than their desire to win their constituents’ favor.

In late 2010, I conducted a field experiment to test whether black politicians are significantly more intrinsically motivated to advance blacks’ interests—that is, whether they are more likely than their non-black colleagues to advance blacks’ interests in settings where voters (and researchers) cannot usually watch them closely. The simple intuition behind the experiment came from a black state legislator I interviewed while conducting fieldwork in 2010. When I asked the legislator to substantiate his insistence that he worked harder to advance blacks’ interests than his non-black colleagues, he responded: “Every time I get a letter from a black person outside my district, I respond.”

The experiment systematically tested whether black legislators act like this legislator suggested, expending more time and effort than their colleagues to advance blacks’ interests even when it is unlikely to help them win re-election. Specifically, in the experiment, I randomly assigned American state legislators to receive an email from an ostensibly black individual asking for help signing up for unemployment benefits. Crucially, I randomly assigned whether the writer claimed to be from a city in each legislator’s own district or from a city far across the state, thus manipulating the degree of political incentive the legislators had to respond.

The results show that this legislator was right. As shown in the figure below, all legislators were somewhat less likely to respond to the letter when ostensibly from an individual living outside their district. However, although non-black Democrats were far less responsive to the out of district letter, 39 percentage points, black Democrats were far less sensitive to this lessening of their incentives. Once the incentive to respond dramatically diminished black legislators typically responded nonetheless, although their colleagues typically did not.


Politicians often make decisions that their constituents cannot observe about what to advocate or how hard to work on their behalf. The experiment suggests that black legislators expend much greater time and effort than their non-black colleagues to advance blacks’ interests even when their constituents are unlikely to reward their efforts. Those interested in details can read more here.
Minority Elected Officials Hear More Often From Minority Constituents, Even In The Same Districts

Legislators of course do not only rely on their own opinions when deciding how to vote and what issues to focus on; they also rely extensively on communications from constituents (see evidence here). A second experiment I conducted shows how biases in the communication legislators receive from constituents can lead even well-intentioned legislators to exhibit racial favoritism because they are more likely to hear from constituents of their race.

The experiment was inspired by extensive research in social psychology which shows that people are typically more willing to communicate to other individuals of their race in day-to-day life. The experiment examined whether people act much the same way when deciding whether to communicate to their legislators, being more willing to communicate to legislators of their race.

To test this hypothesis, the experiment exploited the fact that many multi-member state legislative districts in Maryland are served by both black and white state legislators. In the experiment, I contacted thousands of residents of these districts and asked them whether they would contact their legislator about a political issue. Crucially, I randomly assigned individuals to be asked whether they would like to communicate to their black or their white legislator. The individuals did not know they were being studied and were initially led to believe the call were a routine effort to connect constituents and their legislators.

Were people equally likely to contact legislators of their race? The results are shown in the figure below. Constituents in these districts were markedly more likely to agree to contact legislators of their race—black constituents were about 50% more likely to agree to contact their black legislators, while white constituents were about 25% more likely to contact their white legislator.


Such differences in who legislators hear from are likely to have important consequences: two legislators serving the very same district may nevertheless have very different visions of their constituents’ priorities if they hear much less from people not of their race. Such distorted communication may lead non-minorities who represent minorities to unwittingly underrepresent their views, even they make every effort to be even-handed. Those interested in the details can read the article here.

These results suggest that measures like “minority influence” districting that do not ensure the election of minorities to office may not be enough to ensure minorities’ equal political voice. First, minorities in government appear significantly more likely to work to advance minorities’ interests in the many settings where political decision-making is not on prominent public display. Moreover, even if legislators did make every effort to represent their constituents even-handedly, the distorted communication they receive from their constituents may still lead them to provide unequal representation to those not of their race.

These findings are only two of many works relevant to the important debate over majority-minority districting and minorities’ political interests. However, as the nation considers how to protect political equality in light of the Shelby decision, the findings underscore that ensuring minorities continue to be able to elect candidates of their choice is of utmost importance. As John Adams wrote when helping design our nation’s Congress, “equal interests among the people should have equal interests in it.”

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2013 Albanian Post-Election Report: The Quick, Quiet Albanian Elections and the End of Transitional Politics

Continuing our series of Election Reports, the following Albanian post-election report is provided by Dr Odeta Barbullushi, Lecturer and Vice-Rector for Research at the European University of Tirana.


As the general elections in Albania on June 23rd approached, many people agreed it was high time for Sali Berisha, the first post-communist Albanian President and the oldest leader of the opposition parties in post-communist countries still in power, to leave. Yet, few predicted the large difference between the winning center-left coalition led by the Socialist Party and the Democratic Party-led coalition of the center-right. Even more unpredictable was the quiet resignation of the 67-years old Democratic Party leader Berisha just three days after the elections and the lack of any contestation of the electoral process, or its results.

The 2013 general elections, the quickest and most peaceful ones in the history of post-communism in the country, put an end to the eight year administration of the center right coalition, Alliance for Employment, Welfare and Integration (AEWI), led by the first opposition party in post-communist Albania, the Democratic Party, and brought to power the Alliance for European Albania (AEA) led by the Socialist Party (SP) and its leader, the 49-years-old, artist and former mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama.

Contrary to what national polls, surveys, media analysts and other electoral pundits predicted, the difference was deep and clear: 60% for the SP led coalition, and 40% for the Democrat-led coalition, which translates to 66 seats for the Socialist Party (SP), 16 seats for its ally the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI), and 49 seats for the Democratic Party. Whereas in the 2009 general elections, the Socialist Party won 65 out of 66 total seats won by the center-left coalition, and the Democratic Party won 68 out of 70 seats won by the center-right coalition, the 2013 elections showed a wider gap between the two main Parties and a stronger positioning of the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI). Out of 12 constituencies, the Democrats stood in clear advantage in Kukës only, falling behind the Socialists-led coalition in all the rest. More surprisingly, the Socialist-led coalition reaped success even in traditional strongholds of the Democratic Party, such as the northwestern city of Shkodra, where it got 4 MPs, plus one seat won by the coalition party, the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) leading to a total of 5 parliamentary seats out of a total of 11 seats for the entire constituency. In fact, the Socialists, by themselves, did not fare any better when compared to 2009: they won the same number of votes in 2013 (4). However, when combined with 1 vote won by the Socialist Movement for Integration, the AEA 5 seats overall in the district. The Democratic Party won 5 votes, faring worse than in the 2009 general elections, when it won 7 out of 7 seats won by the Alliance for Change.

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“Blue-collar whites” as a Republican constituency?

I received the following in the email:

I have been thinking about how some of the most conservative people I know and know of are wealthy whites (especially older white men) who made their wealth in businesses and industries that did not necessarily require a great deal of formal education. Self-employed “blue-collar” individuals, owners and managers of large farms, many “small business” owners, which includes franchise owners and contractors…my point being, a lot of these are occupations that one can potentially make a lot of money in, without having to have much formal education at all in many cases.

Might there be something of a cultural and socioeconomic identity that a lot of the working class whites who DO vote Republican share with their employers? For example, many of the local employers in many small cities and towns and rural parts of the country (where conservative Republicanism, as you know, is increasingly dominant) could also be described as “blue-collar” in that the businesses they own and manage require a lot of manual labor and not so much formal education.

I’d imagine many of these people—-workers and employers alike—-are similar in their educational backgrounds, their family backgrounds, their local history with the towns in which they grew up in, their religious backgrounds, and their overall attitudes toward society at large, which includes political views.

So my question is—-what are your thoughts on this? Is there any data that you know of that points to people in certain occupations being more likely to vote for Republicans, or more likely to be from rural areas or small cities?

My reply:

Here are some data from the National Election Study showing trends in support for the Republican candidates for president (after subtracting off the national vote in each year) among different occupation groups. Indeed there have been changes during the past few decades. The income-and-voting correlation hasn’t changed much, but the mix of occupations supporting each party has changed:

Regarding income, education, and voting, we have found that, within each education class, the richer people are more likely to vote Republican. At the low end of education, the higher-income people include some of those successful blue-collar workers and business owners you mention. The high end of education includes relatively low-income professionals such as social workers who are likely to vote for Democrats.

In most groups of the population—-especially the more conservative and Republican groups—-richer people are more conservative. For example, military officers are much more conservative than military enlisted personnel.

Finally, I think “blue-collar” is a somewhat loaded term, in that is typically men, not women, whose jobs are categorized as blue collar, and men are more likely to vote Republican.

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The Future of the VRA: Six Findings from Polisci to Keep in Mind

In my post at Wonkblog this week, I reviewed several of the findings from political science research that bear on how the formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act could or should be revised in the wake of the Shelby County decision.  This includes what Bernard Fraga wrote about here as well as findings from amicus briefs and other relevant analyses.  Here’s the conclusion:

Taken together, these findings could easily be leveraged in defense of Section 4, as many have done.  At the same time, these facts do not necessarily imply that the exact formula should stay the same in perpetuity.  But they do suggest that a new formula could defensibly include many of the areas that were covered by Section 4 of the VRA as of 1964.

In other words, times have changed, but perhaps they haven’t yet changed enough.

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