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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Disability and Engagement in the Election

Pew reports:
More than 56 million Americans, or 19% of the population, are living with some form of disability – whether physical, mental or communicative, according to the Census Bureau. And recent projections suggest that 35.4 million disabled Americans will be eligible to vote in the 2016 election (roughly 17% of the electorate).
A new analysis of data from Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel finds a slightly different share than the Census Bureau: the Center found that 22% of Americans self-report living with a disability, defined here as a “health problem, disability, or handicap currently keeping you from participating fully in work, school, housework, or other activities.” Of those who say they have a disability, half (51%) say they have “serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs,” 31% say they have “serious difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions” and 19% say they have difficulty doing errands alone.
Those self-identifying as disabled are somewhat more likely than the general public to report being particularly engaged with this election. In a survey conducted in June, fully 71% of Americans with disabilities said it “really matters who wins the election,” compared with 59% of Americans who do not have a disability.
Similarly, 41% of those who are disabled were following the campaign “very closely” in June. By comparison, 33% of Americans without disabilities said the same.
These differences are driven primarily by the fact that the disabled, as a group, aredisproportionately older than the population. Though not all disabled Americans are older Americans, many of those 65 and older report being in some way disabled. And older Americans generally tend to be more attentive to politics and government than their younger counterparts. In other words, it is likely age and not disability status that drives their level of political engagement.

Friday, September 23, 2016

American Politics for International Students, Fall 2016

Ways in which America is different 


US stands out as rich nation highly religious

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." -- George Washington, 1796  Farewell Address

Similarly, see percentage who think that belief in God is necessary for morality:

Wealth and Attitudes Toward Morality

Being "truly American:


"Nothing is more annoying ... than this irritable patriotism of the Americans. A foreigner will gladly agree to praise much in their country, but he would like to be allowed to criticize something, and that he is absolutely refused."  -- Tocqueville, Democracy in America

More than six in ten (62%) Americans believe that God has granted America a special role in human history, while roughly one-third (33%) disagree. Views have not shifted significantly in recent years. In 2012, an identical number of Americans (62%) agreed that the U.S. was granted a special role in human history. There are sharp differences on this question by political ideology and religious affiliation.
Conservatives are nearly twice as likely as liberals to agree that God has granted the U.S. a special role in human history—80% of conservatives and only 45% of liberals agree with this statement. Half (50%) of liberals reject the notion that the country has a divinely sanctioned role in human history.
White evangelical Protestants are unique among religious Americans in their affirmation of American exceptionalism. More than eight in ten (83%) white evangelical Protestants agree that God has granted the country a special role in human history. Seven in ten non-white Protestants (73%) and Catholics (70%) and a majority (56%) of white mainline Protestants also believe in a divinely chosen role for the U.S. In contrast, a majority (53%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans disagree that God granted the U.S. a special role, compared to fewer than four in ten (39%) who agree.
More than eight in ten (83%) Americans say that it is important to publicly show support for the U.S. by doing things such as displaying the American flag; only 14% of the public disagree. Across political and religious spectrums, Americans embrace the importance of public demonstrations of patriotism.


Americans Stand Out on Individualism
One might think that socialists should beware:

Between now and the 2016 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates -- their education, age, religion, race and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be _____, would you vote for that person? June 2015 results

The self-made man:  Alexander Hamilton as immigrant and American hero.


Ranking Presidents

The Separation of Powers:

Congress and Bicameralism:


Federalism:  about 89,000 governments and about 513,000 elected officials

Federalism and ballot complexity

Partisan Polarization

Parties and Campaigns:

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters." --Frederick Douglass

Free Speech:  the Unusual First Amendment

Trump and Reagan

A couple of weeks ago, Mike Pence compared Trump to Ronald Reagan.  Indeed, there are some superficial similarities.
  • An entertainment background. Reagan became famous at the movies. Trump starred in reality TV and owned casinso. (Some Trump-branded facilities have strip clubs.)
  • Outsiderism.  Reagan launched his 1976 campaign by denouncing the Washington "buddy system." Trump talks about corrupt political insiders.
  • Age.  At 69, Reagan was the oldest person ever to take the oath for the first time.  At 70, Trump would be even older.
The differences, however, are much more significant.

The Wall.  Trump wants to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it.  In 1980, Reagan explicitly rejected that idea:
Rather than making them, or talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems. Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit and then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back they go back. And open the borders both ways by understanding their problems.

In 1986, Reagan signed legislation for comprehensive immigration reform.

Trade.  Trump opposes trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.  To a large extent, NAFTA was Reagan's idea.  From his 1979 announcement of candidacy:

American Exceptionalism.  Reagan believed in it, as he said in 1982:
But like you, I've always believed that we were put here for a reason, that there is a path, somehow, a divine plan for all of us and for each one of us. And I've also always believed that America was set apart in a special way, that it was put here between the oceans to be found by a certain kind of people, based on a quality that these people had in that they came from every corner of the world.
Trump rejects the idea:
 I don’t like the term. I’ll be honest with you. People say, ‘Oh he’s not patriotic.’ Look, if I’m a Russian, or I’m a German, or I’m a person we do business with, why, you know, I don’t think it’s a very nice term. We’re exceptional; you’re not. First of all, Germany is eating our lunch. So they say, ‘Why are you exceptional? We’re doing a lot better than you.’ I never liked the term.
Inclusion.  Trump insults his intraparty critics.  At a "unity meeting" during the summer, Trump predicted Senator Jeff Flake would lose his primary this year: Flake replied that he was not up for reelection in 2016. Reagan, on the other hand, strove to bring his GOP foes into the fold, naming primary opponent George H. W. Bush as his running mate and making Bush campaign chief Jim Baker his chief of staff.

Party shift.  Reagan gradually moved from the Democrats to the GOP, supporting Ike in the 1950s, and changing his registration in 1962.  Trump, by contrast, has flitted like a butterfly:
Ideas.  Books shaped Reagan's thinking.  Steve Hayward writes:
If Reagan wasn't the most intelligent or intellectual politician of his time, he instinctively grasped not only the power of ideas, but also the crucial relationship of ideas to power. It is a great injustice to suggest that Reagan got his ideas secondhand or in a superficial way. Lee Edwards recalls being once left along in Reagan’s study while then-Governor Reagan went to the kitchen to prepare cocktails. Edwards began browsing Reagan’s bookshelves, and was astonished to find dense works of political economy by authors such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek heavily underlined and annotated in Reagan’s handwriting.
Trump does not read books.  The Washington Post reports:
Trump’s desk is piled high with magazines, nearly all of them with himself on their covers, and each morning, he reviews a pile of printouts of news articles about himself that his secretary delivers to his desk. But there are no shelves of books in his office, no computer on his desk.
He said in a series of interviews that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


At Brookings, Michael O'Hanlon writes:
A president of the United States can, in theory, launch nuclear war by personal decision—without any checks or balances. Whether we really think any of the candidates for president in 2016 would cavalierly start a nuclear war, the bombastic and bizarre character of much of this year’s electoral debate should make us take this question seriously. Someday, the United States really could have a mentally ill president who chose to do the unthinkable. The odds are low, but we should seek to make them even lower, given the stakes at hand. Because it looks like humankind will be stuck with the nuclear bomb for many decades (if not centuries) to come, moreover, the solution to this problem cannot be simply to get rid of all existing nuclear arsenals. We need a more immediate answer.
To be sure, a president is required by the War Powers Act of 1973 to seek congressional approval for any military action within 60 days of its inception. But most presidents consider that act unconstitutional. In any event, a nuclear war could easily devastate the planet within just days or hours—long before the 60-day stipulation would be binding. Even if a president had obtained congressional approval for a war that began using only conventional weapons, no provisions of the War Powers Act would require subsequent congressional action prior to nuclear escalation.

In short: A president could push the button all by himself or herself, legally- and constitutionally-speaking. Physically, military personnel would need to carry out the strike of course. They could choose not to, perhaps at the instruction of the secretary of defense or the four-star officer leading Strategic Command—who together constitute the chain of command between the president and the trigger-pullers. But any military officer ignoring a presidential order would be in open insubordination, subject to dismissal and court martial.
Only twelve Americans have ever held this power:

  1. Truman
  2. Eisenhower
  3. Kennedy
  4. Johnson
  5. Nixon
  6. Ford
  7. Carter
  8. Reagan
  9. GHW Bush
  10. Clinton
  11. GW Bush
  12. Obama 
Every one had flaws and made mistakes.  Some did very bad things.  But all twelve had the good sense not to launch a nuclear attack.  Will our luck run out with number 13?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Problem with "Designated Survivor"

Designated Survivor, a new series that premieres tonight on ABC, is about a low-ranking cabinet officer who becomes president after a terror attack wipes out most of the government.

Federal law (3 U.S. Code § 19) provides that the speaker of the House and the president pro tem of the Senate follow the vice president in the line of succession.  If there are vacancies in both jobs, it goes to Cabinet officers in this order:  Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of Homeland Security.

But there is a big problem with the series premise. From the law:
An individual acting as President under this subsection shall continue so to do until the expiration of the then current Presidential term, but not after a qualified and prior-entitled individual is able to act, except that the removal of the disability of an individual higher on the list contained in paragraph (1) of this subsection or the ability to qualify on the part of an individual higher on such list shall not terminate his service.
In other words, as soon as the House or Senate can reassemble and choose a speaker or president pro tem, that person takes over from the cabinet member serving as acting president.  The Congressional Research Service explains:
The House elects a new Speaker, who, upon meeting the requirements, i.e., resigning as a House Member and as Speaker, then “bumps” the cabinet secretary, and assumes the office of Acting President. The President Pro Tempore serving as Acting President could be similarly bumped by a newly-elected Speaker. Both persons would be out of a job under this scenario: the President Pro Tempore, by virtue of having resigned as Member and officer of Congress in order to become Acting President and the senior cabinet secretary, by virtue of the fact that, under the act, “The taking the oath of office
... [by a cabinet secretary] shall be held to constitute his resignation from the office by virtue of the holding of which he qualifies to act as President.”
In the show's scenario, most of the members of the House and Senate die in the terror attack, presumably meaning that there would not be enough to elect a speaker or president pro tem.  In such circumstances, the law allows for expedited special elections to the House. As a practical matter, though, it might take months to repopulate and organize the House.  In the Senate, on the other hand, the 17th Amendment gives states the choice of  gubernatorial appointment or special election.  Thirty-six states take the first route, allowing the governor to fill the vacancy until the next regularly-scheduled, statewide general election.  Fourteen states require a special election, but nine of them allow for a short-term appointment until the election takes place.  So it would probably be possible to reconstitute the Senate in a matter of weeks, at which time it would choose a president pro tem, who would then take over.

Maybe the series will explain this complication away, or perhaps just simply ignore it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Undocumented: the Numbers

The U.S. unauthorized immigrant population – 11.1 million in 2014 – has stabilized since the end of the Great Recession, as the number from Mexico declined but the total from other regions of the world increased, according to new Pew Research Center estimates based on government data.
Among world regions, the number of unauthorized immigrants from Asia, Central America and sub-Saharan Africa rose between 2009 and 2014. The number from Mexico has steadily declined since 2007, the first year of the Great Recession, but Mexicans remain more than half (52%) of U.S. unauthorized immigrants.
Across the United States, most states saw no statistically significant change in the size of their unauthorized immigrant populations from 2009 to 2014. In the seven states where the unauthorized immigrant population declined, falling numbers of unauthorized Mexican immigrants were the key factor. Meanwhile, among the six states that had increases in their unauthorized immigrant populations, only one – Louisiana – could trace this to a rise in the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico. 1

Monday, September 19, 2016

Confidence in Media

Gallup reports:
Americans' trust and confidence in the mass media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly" has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year.


While it is clear Americans' trust in the media has been eroding over time, the election campaign may be the reason that it has fallen so sharply this year. With many Republican leaders and conservative pundits saying Hillary Clinton has received overly positive media attention, while Donald Trump has been receiving unfair or negative attention, this may be the prime reason their relatively low trust in the media has evaporated even more. It is also possible that Republicans think less of the media as a result of Trump's sharp criticisms of the press. Republicans who say they have trust in the media has plummeted to 14% from 32% a year ago. This is easily the lowest confidence among Republicans in 20 years.