Author Archive | Jonathan Robinson

Graphiti: Social Media and the Iowa Caucus

The team at Oh My Gov made these predictions the day of the Iowa caucuses:

If Iowa Republican caucus-goers follow the trend shown in Facebook fans, then Romney will be the clear winner with Paul having a strong second place showing. Gingrich and Santorum will battle for third. This is consistent with recent Iowa polling data from Real Clear Politics.

Interestingly, a look at Twitter follower growth predicts Paul emerging as the winner, followed by Romney and Santorum.

Now, the day after the caucus and the Santorum Surge, they have a follow-up post:
Romney’s campaign made a targeted effort to attack Newt Gingrich in the final days leading up to the caucus, but had they taken a closer look at the former speaker’s social media following they might have realized that their attention was misplaced and resources could have been better used to target Santorum.

Today’s post also has a graph of the entire field’s social media trends and it matches the public opinion data quite well, suggesting that both Paul and Santorum have momentum going into New Hampshire.

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Graphiti: Income Inequality Edition

Over at his blog, Mike Sances investigates the claim that the Occupy Wall Street protests have made concerns about economic inequality an important item on the political agenda. A recent Washington Post poll found that about 60% of respondents believed there was a widening gap between the wealthy and the less well-off and that the government “should pursue policies that try to reduce the gap.”  Sances notes that this 60% figure is a historical high.  Drawing on data from the General Social Survey since the late 1970s, he writes:

Note that the “reduce income differences” category has always had a plurality, though never a majority. Could differences in the way the question is worded account for the apparent 20% jump between the GSS in 2010 and the Washington Post result in 2011?

In a 2008 article in Perspectives on Politics, Lane Kenworthy and Leslie McCall also addressed this topic.  Using the similar data from the GSS they found that:
Americans do tend to object to inequality and increasingly believe government should act to redress it, but not via traditional redistributive programs. We examine several alternative possibilities and provide a broad analytical framework for reinterpreting social policy preferences in the era of rising inequality. Our evidence suggests that Americans may be unsure or uninformed about how to address rising inequality and thus swayed by contemporaneous debates.

The question is whether Occupy Wall Street is one of those contemporaneous debates. Will it have a real lasting impact on the salience of income inequality and on government policy?

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This Week in Political Science: Money Edition

A central demand of the Occupy Wall Street protests—and among Americans generally—is to ‘take the money out of politics‘. This week Josh Tucker interviewed political scientists Adam Bonica and Andrew Therriault about campaign donations and the effect of campaign spending on electoral outcomes. Here is some other political science research about money in politics.

THE MEDIA, MISPERCEPTIONS, AND MONEY. In a 2005 article (gated), political scientists Stephen Ansolabahere, James Snyder, and Erik Snowberg found that the news media vastly overstates campaign expenditures, contributions, or receipts by focusing on competitive races where there is a larger amount of money being spent. In turn, public perceptions about the amount of money in politics are distorted to a similar degree.  The news media also exaggerates the percentage of funding that comes from PACs as opposed to individuals.

More educated respondents were more likely to overstate the amount of money in politics because they pay more attention to the news. Ansolabehere and colleagues find it particularly disconcerting that the media’s exaggerations can sway even the most informed citizens. The authors state:

In short, public perceptions of campaign finance are remarkably consistent with the picture that emerges from newspaper coverage of the topic. The segment of the electorate most likely to read the newspaper shows the greatest biases in their perceptions. The picture in people’s minds is of multimillion dollar elections in which individual donors are of secondary importance. That view is especially pronounced among the college-educated.

LOBBYING. Most lobbying does not change public policy. That is the crux of Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why (project website here), a book by political scientists Frank Baumgartner, Jeffrey Berry, Marie Hojnacki, David Kimball, and Beth Leech. They argue that there is much more inertia in public policy than is often thought, making it difficult to shift policies. This is even more true when two sides are putting substantial resources on both sides of an issue.  Ultimately, resources explain less than five percent of the difference between successful and unsuccessful efforts.  Money can matter, but more important are the constraints that governing institutions place on policy change.

BUYING LEGISLATIVE CAPACITY. In a 2007 paper (ungated), political scientist Kevin Esterling describes a very different way of thinking about money and politics than is portrayed in the news media. Esterling writes:

I demonstrate that groups and their political action committees tend to give contributions to “workhorse” committee members who have higher capacities to engage in analytical discourse at hearings, and hence a greater demand for analytical information in their legislative work.

For Esterling, lobbyists do not donate to people in order to influence or persuade them, but to reward important and prominent members of committees. Esterling looked at what kinds of activity in committee made for a powerful member besides just seniority or chairmanship and found that PACs donated more money to those politicians. Looking at Medicare hearings from 2000-2003, Esterling finds:

Members with a higher analytical capacity to work on policies receive more contributions from groups and at the same time are more likely to ask analytical questions regarding the conditions, internal mechanics, or the current or likely future effects of policies at Medicare hearings…The aggregate pattern of contributions does give members a strong incentive to increase their analytical capacity in the long run. In addition, assuming greater contributions increase the probability that a member gets reelected, the electoral process may tend to select high capacity legislators across election cycles.

A LITTLE HELP FOR YOUR FRIENDS. A working paper (that is part of a book project) by political scientist Eleanor Neff Powell focuses on giving by members of Congress to the campaigns of fellow members of their party.  Her results suggest that giving money to colleagues promotes career advancement in Congress, specifically promotion to a leadership position of some kind, although this effect seems to have declined in more recent Congresses.  She concludes:

…party leaders are creating incentives to encourage their members’ contribution behavior with the goal of maximizing the party’s electoral success. To achieve that end party leaders have incentivized and encouraged their members to take actions that maximize the party’s success, not just their own personal success. This effort to encourage contributions has met with tremendous success, leading to dramatic increases in the scope and scale of contribution activity by members of Congress. In fact, it has been so successful, that there is now relatively little variation in the contribution activity, which is consistent with the diminishing size of the e ffects over time.

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This Week in Political Science

RETIREMENT. This week the New York Times reported that Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who caucuses with the Democrats, has been speaking with previous contender Linda McMahon, a Republican campaigning for her party’s nomination for Lieberman’s seat, drawing the ire of many establishment Democrats.  Lieberman’s retirement and that of other members of Congress this year raises this question: how does the replacement of incumbents (and particularly moderates) by new members affect the polarization of the parties in Congress?  University of Texas political scientist Sean Theriault finds (ungated) that the replacement of moderates by more ideologically extreme members has driven polarization:

As southern Democrats, the bulk of whom were in the middle third of the ideological continuum, died, lost, retired or otherwise vacated their seat, they have been, for the most part, replaced by conservative Republicans. Quite simply, when extremists replaced moderates, the ideological middle disappeared and the parties diverged.

Within the GOP, replacement has also mattered:

Same-party replacements in the Republican Party have polarized the parties more than same-party replacements in the Democratic Party up until the 2002 elections, during which Senators Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Frank Murkowski, Phil Gramm and Bob Smith were all replaced by more moderate Republicans.

REDISTRICTING IN THE COURTS At the moment, there are legal challenges to redistricting plans in 9 states. In a 1995 paper (gated), political scientist Ronald E. Weber examined legal battles over  redistricting and found:

My discussion of the congressional and state legislative redistricting processes in the 1990s shows that the level of litigation activity has expanded and that judicial activism has increased due to the larger number of court-drawn plans adopted when compared to the 1980s. Except for the greater frequency of court-drawn plans, the record shows the incredible difficulty for plaintiffs to challenge successfully a state plan.

Perhaps because courts so rarely overturn state redistricting plans, opposition parties  like the  Democratic Party in Ohio have tried to circumvent the judiciary, fighting successfully for the new congressional map to be put to vote as a  referendum on the 2012 ballot.

HORSE RACE ELECTION COVERAGE Many people rail at election media coverage, in particular because it so frequently features stories about the “horse race.”  But does this kind of coverage actually affect the race?  Political scientist Diana Mutz looked whether horse race media coverage drives donations to candidates, focusing on the 1988 presidential primary (ungated). She found that donors did take cues from the media:

To the extent that contributors are motivated by strategic considerations, mass media portrayals of the opinions of others may influence the decisions of potential contributors. Just as this consideration is sometimes important to people’s vote choices, it is also important in determining the flow of money into campaigns.

Mutz concludes:

In this sense the political reasoning observed in this study is of a highly evolved nature; horse race coverage may be a shallow and lazy form of election coverage, but primary activists are anything but lazy in the uses they make of it.

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This Week in Political Science

NEGATIVE ADVERTISING: As the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination continues to heat up, we can expect more websites like this one and advertisements like this:

Many commentators lament negative campaign advertising, and some are even predicting that the 2012 presidential election will be the “most negative campaign in modern US history”.  While political science doesn’t dispute this possibility, it does not necessarily believe that negative campaigning has negative consequences for voters.  In one study (gated), political scientists Deborah Jordan Brooks and John Geer conducted experiments that exposed subjects to ads that varied on two dimensions: (1) “civil” negative ads vs. “uncivil” negative ads vs. positive ads and (2) a focus on issues vs. candidate traits.  They conclude:

Uncivil attacks in campaigns do not appear to be as worrisome as its detractors fear. While uncivil messages in general—and uncivil trait-based messages in particular—are usually seen by the public as being less fair, less informative, and less important than both their civil negative and positive counterparts, they are no more likely to lead to detrimental effects among the public. In fact, incivility appears to have some modest positive consequences for the political engagement of the electorate.

In an earlier, John also summarized the positive  findings of Geer’s book In Defense of Negativity:

Negative ads are more likely than positive ads to discuss policy-related issues (and to provide evidence for their claims). If you want the candidates to discuss the issues, it’s actually counterproductive for them to stay positive.

AUSTERITY IN EUROPE: This week, the unemployment rate in the United Kingdom reached its  highest point in 17 years (8.1%), bringing into question the effectiveness of government austerity measures. Despite this, the Cameron government says it will not change course.  This means that many public-sector workers will lose their jobs. Political scientists Christopher Anderson and Jonas Pontusson examined government policies that affect job insecurity in 15 OECD countries (ungated, gated).  Their findings suggest several ways to alleviate insecurity:

First, government legislation restricting the ability of employers to fire workers and/or imposing costs on employers who do fire workers appears to have a quite significant impact on individuals’ assessment of how secure their jobs are. Second, government spending on labor market programs designed to improve the employability of unemployed workers and to help them find new jobs reduces labor market insecurity.Third, generous unemployment compensation reduces worries about the income loss associated with unemployment.

THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE: This year’s prize was given to 3 female African political activists, were recognized for: “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” One of the Laureates, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, is credited with helping her country to transition out of violent civil war and into stability. Not only that, but she is the first and lone female head of state in Africa. Why are women so politically underrepresented in sub-Saharan Africa?

Political scientist Mi Yung Yoon addresses this question in a 2004 paper (gated). She finds that patriarchal culture suppresses female representation in legislatures, while proportional representation systems and gender quotas increase female representation. She concludes:

Without such explicit and deliberate political mechanisms, equitable legislative representation between men and women will be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish because of current social, economic, and cultural inhibitions on women in sub-Saharan Africa.

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This Week in Political Science: Divisive Primary Edition

The “Niggerhead” incident and related mudslinging among the GOP presidential candidates prompts the question: how competitive is too competitive when it comes to primaries? Political scientists have long studied what is called the divisive primary hypothesis, and John wrote a post back in early 2008 (see also the comments) that presented some relevant research. John suggested that divisive primaries had little effect on the nominee’s performance in the general election:

The logic is this: a divisive primary is more likely to arise if an incumbent is unpopular or presiding over a weak economy, simply because this incumbent will attract more challengers. Leaving the economy and presidential popularity out of the equation risks overestimating the effects of divisiveness.

Paul-Henri Gurian, author of this working paper, disagreed and responded in the comments:
We find that a divided party will lose up to 5% nationally in the general election, as well as losing up to 2% in individual states that had divisive state primaries.

See also this blog post by Josh Putnam for more.

The 2008 election afforded a fresh opportunity to examine this question, especially because of the lengthy battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Several studies of 2008 suggest that the Democratic primary contest had little impact on Obama’s general election performance.

Using a survey that tracked individual voters from the primary to the general election, Michael Henderson, D. Sunshine Hillygus, and Trevor Thompson (gated, ungated) examine whether and why Clinton supporters did or did not support Obama in the general election.  They find that 71% of Clinton supporters ended up voting for Obama.  Moreover, supporters of Clinton and the other Democratic candidates were no more likely to stay home on Election Day.  The most important factors that predicted a vote for McCain among supporters of the other Democratic candidates were not frustration with the primary election’s outcome but ideology and political issues, especially the Iraq War.  The authors conclude:

Our analysis offers individual-level results that call into question the longstanding assumption that thwarted voters will necessarily stay home or defect to the opposing-party candidate because of hard feelings from a divisive nomination phase.

In a 2010 paper, Amber Wichowsky and Sarah E. Niebler (gated) argue that then Senator Obama was actually helped by the primary’s competitiveness. Wichowsky and Niebler seek to disentangle competitiveness  (the closeness of the election) from divisiveness (the negativity of the campaign) and then estimate their respective effects on Obama’s general election performance.  The authors find that more competitive primaries featured more political ads, but a smaller proportion of negative ads. Competitiveness did not breed divisiveness.  Moreover, the more competitive the state’s primary or caucus, the better Obama did in that state in the general election:
After controlling for Democratic performance in the previous presidential election, a one percentage point increase in the relative competitiveness of the Democratic contest over the Republican contest leads to three tenths of a percentage point increase in Democratic vote share, a relatively small effect, but opposite that suggested by earlier research.

Wichowsky and Niebler explain why the 2008 Democratic primary battle may have helped Obama:
For one, Obama was an unknown candidate with an issue position on Iraq that was popular among Democrats and many Independents. Second, he was able to flex his substantial organizational and financial muscle throughout the primary season. Indeed, the protracted nomination may have helped Obama increase his donor and volunteer base…Moreover, absent geographic, demographic, and ideological factions, such as those characterizing the contests of 1968, 1976, and 1980, a more unified Democratic party may have been in a better position to reap the benefits of a vigorously contested nomination.

In general, political commentators still exhibit more concern about the effect of divisive primaries than the evidence warrants.

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This Week in Political Science

THE DEFICIT  SUPER COMMITTEE.  A few weeks ago, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction began meeting for the first time. However, recently journalists reported that until the first hearing the co-chairs of the committee had not met before. Does  strong relationships between legislators make for the greater likelihood of compromise? In the most recent issue of the Journal of Politics (gated, ungated), Justin Kirkland addresses how different kinds of relationships  in Congress lead to changes in the outcomes of legislation. Kirkland uses co-sponsorship data from the House of Representatives to measure the strength of a relationship: the more direct co-sponsorships, the stronger the ties. Having strong ties means having cosponsored a bill together, weak ties are forged through non direct  co-sponsorship connections to other legislators. Kirkland finds that:

The weak ties we observe between legislators are strategic attempts by legislators to alter their base level of support and increase their legislative success…By generating ties to legislators with dissimilar qualities, new avenues of influence and support can be created.

He concludes that:
Legislators interested in increasing their chances of achieving their own agendas best accomplish this through cooperation with legislators unlike themselves. Highly clustered or polarized chambers provide little opportunity for the bridging ties necessary for legislative success.


The execution of Troy Davis last week in Georgia became a worldwide news story and debate about the use of the death penalty in the American penal system. Political scientists Frank Baumgartner, Suzanna De Boef (now Linn), and Amber Boydstun published a book in 2008 entitled The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence, seeking to explain why the use of the death penalty is at such a historic low. Despite the fact that a majority of people support the death penalty and politicians seek to be tough on crime, the framing of the debate on the death penalty to focus on  the possibilities of error in the system has shaped attitudes about the death penalty in specific cases.

Despite Davis’s execution bringing the death penalty to the forefront of public consciousness, this book provides concrete evidence that the use of the death penalty  is diminishing and may be on its way out.


Last week, Ohio Republicans released a preliminary version of its decennial redistricting plan.  Political controversy and fervor is likely to ensue as more and more states release their newly drawn out districts. Michael McDonald, writing in PS earlier this year (gated) made several predictions of the possible results of those plans:

At present, the Republicans are not in a dramatically better position than they were 10 years ago, which is surprising, considering the magnitude of their electoral victory in 2010. The reason for this lack of change is that Republicans were also in a great position 10 years ago. Now, they control only three more critical states—North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee—than they did 10 years ago (numerically, they control more states, but these three are the most consequential).

Republicans however, will have to deal with the possibilities of more wave elections in the next decade:
A major change of the past decade is that electoral volatility has increased. As a consequence, less certainty exists about what constitutes a safe district. A Republican incumbent will want a seat that can withstand a 2006 or 2008 electorate—years favorable to Democrats—while a Democratic incumbent will want a safe district for a 2010 electorate—a year favorable to Republicans

Democrats can still be hopeful:
Democrats control the Department of Justice for the first time during a redistricting since the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The Department of Justice’s judgment regarding what constitutes an effective minority district could affect the overall political character of redistricting plans, and it may be able to bring suit under Section 2—a general prohibition on voting discrimination—of the Act.


Earlier this week, President Obama promised to veto any deficit plan that didn’t include some kind of tax increases. As political scientists Charles Cameron put it his book Veto Bargaining: The Politics of Negative Power. By setting a formal ‘veto point’ in which he promises to use his veto, President Obama is attempting to constrain the possible outcomes of policy to fit to his liking. Cameron finds, the threat of the veto is powerful, especially under divided government. It is unclear whether Congress will heed President Obama’s threat, but as Cameron shows, from the time period from 1945-1992, 80% of vetoed bills included the provision the President wanted concessions to be made on.

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In honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Wired Magazine visualizes the uncertainty around the true number of Iraqi casualties since the US military engagement began in 2003. While the US military has accurate, continuously updated numbers on casualties amongst its servicemen and women, there is considerable disagreement about the level of Iraqi casualties.  Wired has provided all the data and their sources for these and related graphs for its readers.

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Source: Paul Peterson, William Howell and Martin West in Education Next.

The dislike of pie charts is prevalent enough to have its own entry on Wikipedia.  Nevertheless, this graph is still interesting. It shows the views of three subgroups of respondents: the whole (national) sample, the affluent (defined as college graduates who are in the top income decile in their state), and teachers.  Each group assessed the state of their local schools and the nation’s schools via a letter grade. Their assessments mirror the research findings on assessment of members of Congress versus Congress as an institution, known as “Fenno’s paradox.” Just as people consistently disprove of Congress but not of their own elected representative, respondents think the nation’s schools are much worse than their own local schools.

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This Week in Political Science

ANATOMY OF THE 9/11 RALLY EFFECT. The increase in support for the president and government in the wake of crisis is known as a “rally effect.”  Political scientists Marc Hetherington and Michael Nelson quantified the rally effect after 9/11 (gated, ungated), concluding that:

First, of all the recorded rally effects, it is the largest. Bush’s approval rating soared in the Gallup Poll from 51% on September 10 to 86% on September 15.1 This 35-point increase nearly doubles the previous record, the 18-point boost triggered by his father’s launch of Operation Desert Storm in January 1991. Second, the further increase in Bush’s approval rating to 90% on September 22 represents the highest rating ever recorded for a president (Morin 2001). Third, the September 11 rally effect has lasted longer than any in the history of polling.

The 9/11 rally contradicted previous research, which suggested that members of the Presidents party rally in greater numbers to their leader. The authors found that after 9/11, “Democrats and Independents rallied in much greater numbers than Republicans to rally in response to the War on Terrorism.” This was in part because of  what Hetherington and Nelson identify as: “the hesitancy of Democratic leaders to criticize the president’s conduct of the War on Terrorism.” These factors helped then President Bush to reap historic electoral victories in 2002, the first midterm election since 1934 where the sitting president’s party actually gained seats in both houses.

9/11, US, AND THEM. After 9/11,  public opinion researchers Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam sought (gated, ungated) to see what underlying attitudes and beliefs best helped to explain support amongst the American public for the growing war on terror.  Leaders pushed what Kinder and Kam call ethnocentrism, defined as “the commonplace human tendency to partition the social world into virtuous in-groups and nefarious out-groups.” Kinder and Kam point to the rhetoric of leaders like President Bush, who framed terrorists as an out group when he gave a speech imploring that “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” The authors reasoned:

Support for the war on terrorism, undertaken against a strange and shadowy enemy, should come disproportionately, we propose, from Americans possessed of an ethnocentric turn of mind.

Utilizing a natural experiment (the fact that a American National Elections Study panel survey was fielded the year before  and after 9/11 attacks), they find that:

American support for the war on terror is indeed derived in a significant way from ethnocentrism. Americans who believe their own group to be superior to others are also inclined to say that we should be spending more on homeland security, on keeping our borders impregnable, and on building a strong national defense. They want foreign aid cut. They think President Bush has been effective in responding to the terrorist attacks and in managing relations with other nations, and they evaluate him warmly.

Kinder and Kam concluded from the natural experiment that the relationship between ethnocentrism and political attitudes was stronger after 9/11 than before it, and helped drive support for the growing scope of anti terror efforts.

LIBYAN INSURGENCY. Political scientists Mitchell Seligson and Edward Muller showed (gated, ungated) that income inequality, conditional on “the repressiveness of the regime, governmental acts of coercion, intensity of separatism, and level of economic development.” helps to spur political violence and insurgency movements. Libya’s reliance on fossil fuel extraction and exports likely benefited a wealthy elite and created substantial inequality (though data is few and far between). Libya also illustrates the importance of other factors Seligson and Muller identify, including a repressive regime that pushes citizens to the breaking point. In a prescient statement, the authors wrote:

…political rights must either be granted fully, in which case the government is allowing for the real possibility of being voted out of power, or not be granted at all, in which case the government must enforce a degree of totalitarian control over the populace that is costly to maintain and is probably inherently at odds in the long run with a capitalist economic system.

Gaddafi is certainly paying the costs of totalitarian control as insurgents have removed his repressive regime from power.

THE FUTURE OF THE EURO. In 1996, political economist Barry Eichengreen characterized (gated) the European monetary union as having:

an Excessive Deficit Procedure limiting the freedom to borrow of governments participating in the European monetary union. One justification is to prevent states from over- borrowing and demanding a bailout which could divert the European Central Bank from its pursuit of price stability.

Eichengreen predicted that there would be no relationship between monetary union and restraints on borrowing by sub-central (EU member states’) governments. He concluded with this dire note:

The implications for the EU are direct. That EU member states control their own taxes should strengthen the hand of authorities seeking to resist pressure for a bailout. But in the longer run, borrowing restraints may weaken the financial position of Brussels, transferring bailout risk from the member states to the EU itself.


Our results suggest that the more dependent sub-central governments are on financing by the central government, the more likely is a bailout in the event of a financial crisis, and the greater is the incentive for sub-central jurisdictions to engage in excessive borrowing.

If policy makers had heeded what Eichengreen wrote in 1996, perhaps the world economy would be on sounder footing today.

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