Thursday, April 10, 2014

Redistricting ... Again!

I've not been blogging for a LONG time. I've just been too busy and I'm not sure I had anything particularly insightful to say. But gross mischaracterizations of what is happening in the political universe always tend to get me writing again. So ... thank you Chris Cillizza!

Cillizza posted some great charts on ideological polarization put together by the National Journal Vote Ratings.

Chris Cillizza argues that redistricting “plays a major role” in explaining this and implies this is the most important reason but then (grudgingly) says that “Self-sorting -- the growing tendency of people to live around like-minded people -- is also a major factor in the disappearance of the ideological middle in the House.”

Of course, then he shows the data from the Senate, where there is no redistricting, and the exact same thing has happened ... and the reason is “unknown.” That’s some pretty poor social science!

What he calls “self-sorting” is absolutely a big part of the story here though people not only move to where others like them live (remember, people are more mobile than they used to be) but people are more likely to think like others around them over time. In other words, we don’t just move; we tend to take on the ideological viewpoints of those near us over time.

But there are other reasons. The rise of 24-hour cable news and the rise of the internet have made compromise and deal-making more difficult. More speed and “sunshine” means less deliberation and wiggle-room for dealmakers. Changes to campaign finance rules (rise of soft money in the 80s followed by Super-PACs, etc.) and campaign finance practice (direct mail, rapid response, internet fundraising “moneybombs”) have also eroded the power of party leaders to shield members of Congress from primary challenges by more ideologically extreme members of their own party. At the same time, party leaders within the Congress (especially in the House but also in the Senate) have been given more power by their caucuses. This means more carrots and sticks these party leaders can use to punish members who defect on key votes.

Finally, liberal Republicans (particularly in the Northeast) found it harder and harder to win so as they retired or lost, they were replaced by liberal Democrats. Similarly, conservative Democrats (particularly in the South) also found it harder and harder to win so as they retired or lost (or, in a few cases, switched parties), they were replaced by conservative Republicans. Political scientists refer to this process as “replacement” as opposed to the argument that sitting members have become more conservative or more liberal over time because of the factors I discuss above (this is called “conversion”).

All of that is to say that Cillizza is just over-simplifying and lazy in his analysis on this at best and really just wrong at worst. Whether you believe this process has been caused more by conversion or replacement, redistricting is really just not a big part of this story.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Go Out and Win an Election

President Obama just made remarks on the end (for now) of the showdown with Republicans on the debt limit and the budget.

For the most part, he took the high road talking about what kinds of things the two sides have in common and can work on right now. But buried in the remarks, the President said that, if Republicans disagree with him, they should make that argument, they should negotiate, and they should "go out and win an election." That last clause was the one sharp elbow Obama was willing to throw today.

There is much hopeful talk from some quarters today about the possibility of a "grand bargain" on the budget coming out of this. I don't see that happening. For one, Democrats on the President's left are not in a negotiating mood. They are (wrongly) emboldened by what they perceive as their victory on the showdown. They are likely to point to the "scoreboard" and scream that Republicans lost so they need to give in now. When the President comes to Democrats and argues for modest cuts in Social Security, for instance, they are going to balk. More importantly, Republicans will not be willing to give on taxes. The President will not make a deal that doesn't include tax increases and Republicans just won't go for it.

So, that is the way in which the President's remark that Republicans should "go out and win an election" is more than just a sharp elbow. For Obama, it is the only endgame here ... the only way he moves forward. He is going to spend the next year arguing that we need a change in the House of Representatives and the series of government funding and debt limit showdowns to come are going to be the evidence he uses to convince voters to make that change.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Braveheart

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) insisted today that the Republicans are not going to back down in the shutdown/debt limit impasse. According to Roll Call:
Gingrey said Republicans were “absolutely” prepared to lose the House to extract concessions on the CR and the debt limit, and he said the White House is “missing the determination of the Republican Party.”

“I mean, they seem to think that we will miss this opportunity for a ‘Braveheart’ moment to do the right thing for the American people and that we’ll back down for fear of losing the House and not gaining control of the Senate,” Gingrey said.
I haven't seen Braveheart in a long time but ... isn't Scotland still part of the U.K.? Also, Wallace gets tortured and beheaded in that one, right? The thing about martyrs is they're all dead.

If I'm in the Republican Conference, I'm hoping for a Plan B.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Shutdown and the 2014 Election

I've gone dark on the blog for a long while but I'm back. It turns out politics continued to happen.

I saw a Quinnipiac poll this morning that gave Democrats a 9-point lead on the generic ballot for the 2014 election. Before Democrats get too giddy about this, let me throw (A LOT of) water on the idea that Democrats are somehow likely at this point to win a House majority in 2014.

The short version is ... no, they're not.

The longer version is this:

1) We're more than a year away from the election. Sure, voters are angry and they're going to be increasingly angry as this moves on. And sure, more voters blame Republicans and this will continue to be the case as long as the shutdown and the debt crisis (see "coming attractions") roll on. But a year is a LONG time in politics. The most likely long-term effect of the current crisis is that it reinforces views that most voters already have about Washington and the views that most Democrats already have of Republicans. That doesn't lead to significant shifts in the 2014 election landscape. Unless this drags on for a very long time and there is much more pain on the street-level than I think there is going to be, the long-term impact of this particular crisis is likely to be minimal. If it drags on for a long time or if we default on the debt in a significant way ... that could start to be a different story.

2) A 9-point lead in the generic ballot sounds like a lot. Perhaps it is. But that's probably about what the Democrats would need to see in polling in order to win a slim majority in the House in 2014. Because of the way voters are distributed (this is mostly not because of gerrymandering so don't blame that) and because of turnout patterns in midterm elections, Democrats need a significant lead in general polling in order to actually win the House back.

3) Beware of funky polling questions. There is no doubt Republicans are getting more of the blame from the public here. But the Quinnipiac poll asked voters "Do you support or oppose Congress shutting down major activities of the federal government as a way to stop the health care law from being put into place?" There are many headlines touting the fact that 72% of voters say they oppose this tactic. But that's a bit of a leading question. The same poll asked (just a few questions earlier) "Who do you blame for gridlock in Washington, Democrats, Republicans, or both equally?" 58% of voters said "both equally." Among those who picked one side or the other, more blamed Republicans than Democrats but the vast majority see this as a problem of the political system being broken, not as a Republican problem. In fact, there are more registered Democrats in the poll than there are people who blame Republicans more.

The bottom line is that Republicans can get hurt in the 2014 elections by this crisis ... but not by what's happened to this point. It will take the current crisis dragging on a lot longer and it would take some reinforcing events over the next year (especially next year) to make it stick. We're still a long way from a Democratic takeover of the House.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why Republicans Are Right to Worry About Hillary

I've long held the view that demographics drive elections - and especially presidential elections - more than the campaigns do. So, heading into the 2016 presidential campaign, Republicans are in a bit of trouble as the demographic trends continue to move against them. Indeed, an argument could be made that the climb for Republicans will get even steeper as a new Harvard study finds that race probably cost President Obama about 4 points in the 2008 and 2012 elections. Even discounting that study (and there are good reasons to that I won't bother covering here), the Republican Party has well-documented problems with various demographic groups from African-Americans to Latinos to women to young people and so on. Indeed, the base of the Republican Party is well ... old, white guys. And there aren't enough of them for Republicans to win.

Republicans should be worried about Hillary because she's strong in demographic groups where Obama isn't/wasn't. Hillary isn't going to beat any Republican among old, white guys. But she's a very good bet to run a little bit stronger than Obama among them. She's a sure-fire bet to run better among women - a group Obama won but not as handily as a generic Democrat might have. Finally, for those voters who worried about Obama's lack of foreign policy credentials in 2008, Hillary's credentials are unrivaled among all candidates in the field, Republican or Democratic.

If the 2016 election were held today, a generic Democrat would handily beat a generic Republican. But actual Republican candidates have good reason to worry about Hillary as they're even further behind her right now.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Obama Caught on Open Mic ...

... dissing Congress.



David Hawkings is aghast:
If overseas travel is a sort of elixir of truth for the president, then this “in vino veritas” moment couldn’t have come at a less opportune time. Republicans are wondering openly whether they should take as for real, or only for show, this month’s ballyhooed Obama “charm offensive” of senatorial dinners and House caucus meetings. Rank-and-file Democrats, too, are wondering if the president’s visits to them will lead to their becoming more regular legislative collaborators or if they’ll still be mostly taken for granted.
Yeah, because the Republicans were thinking about coming to the table and getting serious but then President Obama joked to Netanyahu that he enjoyed getting a break from Congress and the Republicans were offended.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Vilsack Not Running, Propaganda Aplenty

Tom Vilsack announced he's not running for the Iowa Senate seat being vacated by Tom Harkin. This immediately had the intended effect. The NRSC and the DSCC issued dueling statements worthy of any Soviet-era propaganda minister.

From the NRSC:
The [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] tried and failed to prevent Sen. Harkin's hand-chosen candidate, Rep. Bruce Braley, from a clear path to the nomination because they know his brand of liberalism is too far outside the mainstream for most Iowans. Now Democrats are stuck [with] a slick former head of the trial lawyers association and one of the most partisan members of Congress as their candidate, Bruce Braley.
From the DSCC:
In an attempt to distract from their waning influence within their own party, the NRSC has released a false and incomprehensible statement about Congressman Braley that only adds to the committee's embarrassment. Perhaps they should be more concerned about a field of candidates out of touch with mainstream Americans and a potential primary that will push the eventual nominee even further to the right.
Is there any point to this? Is it some kind of useful signaling game? Are there voters who donors or activists who find any of this useful?

No. This is pure nonsense that achieves nothing. Enter the political scientist. I think there's actually an interesting political science question here. Both committees employ people to write this stuff and send it out there. The AP or Reuters or whoever scoops it up and runs with it. Why do these various political actors waste time on this? There's something interesting in the (at least seemingly) wasted resources (time, money, etc.).

Discuss.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Obama and His Base

I like Ben Smith a lot. He writes a lot of good stuff. This is bad stuff. Really stupid to be honest.

Smith argues Obama is about to "screw his base" because Obamacare is going to raise health care costs for the young (Obama's base) and reduce health care costs for the elderly (they vote for the other guy - ANY other guy). Ezra Klein points out various reasons Smith is just wrong. But the worst part of it is this:
Imminent elements of Obama's grandest policy move, the health-care overhaul known as ObamaCare, are calculated to screw his most passionate supporters and to transfer wealth to his worst enemies.
What in the world are you talking about Ben??? Obamacare is "calculated to screw his most passionate supporters?" Come on. And he's transferring wealth to "his worst enemies?" Obama is not Nixon. Old, sick people are not his "enemies." The provisions Smith is referring to are a BADLY needed fix the health care system needs. Young people need to pay in when they are healthy and they have been behaving as free riders. It is a collective action problem. Obamacare fixes it.

And guess what else? Young people hope to someday ... ya know ... be old. They get the benefits of Obamacare back then.

This is horserace, slice-and-dice politics at its worst. Awful Ben. Just awful.

Monday, February 11, 2013

ST6 and the Raid on bin Laden's Compound

An absolutely riveting piece by Phil Bronstein of Esquire on the Navy Seal who shot bin Laden and, more importantly, on the life of Navy Seals both in the military and after the military. Tough piece. But this is my favorite snippet from the long piece:
One of the snipers who'd seen the disabled helo approached just before they went into the main building. He said, "Hey, dude, they've got an awesome mock-up of our helo in their yard." I said, "No, dude. They shot one of ours down." He said, "Okay, that makes more sense than the shit I was saying."
I guess keeping their sense of humor even in the most scary and dark moments is the only way to move through it.

Papal Elections Are Complex

This ought to make it harder to reform the presidential selection process. The Electoral College looks democratic and simple in comparison.