Friday, September 30, 2011

California Registration Rates

Dan Walters writes at The Sacramento Bee:

California has the nation's second-lowest rate of voter registration and one of its lowest voter turnout rates, according to a new Census Bureau report on the 2010 elections.

Just 50.1 percent of California's 27.4 million voting-age residents were registered to vote for last year's election, higher only than Hawaii's 48.3 percent, the state-by-state breakdown of political participation found. The national rate was 59.8 percent.

The state's voter turnout, 39.2 percent of voting-age residents, was one of the lower rates, but not the lowest. Ten other states had lower voting levels with Texas, at 31.4 percent, the lowest; the national rate was 45.5 percent.

California's low participation is explained, in part, by the fact that many of its residents (17 percent, twice the national percentage) are non-citizens -- a factor that shows up in the racial and ethnic breakdown as well. Just 64.5 percent of voting-age Latinos are citizens, for example, which explains why just 33.6 percent of voting-age Latinos are registered to vote, while 52.9 percent of white voting-age Californians are registered.

There is an additional explanation for the low registration rate in California. The following are registration percentages for citizens only.

________________________USA___California

Total

65.1

60.9

Male

63.5

60.3

Female

66.6

61.4

White alone

66.4

63.6

White non-Hispanic alone

68.2

68.4

Black alone

62.8

56.1

Asian alone

49.3

50.1

Hispanic (of any race)

51.6

52.0

White alone or in combination

66.3

63.6

Black alone or in combination

62.7

56.5

Asian alone or in combination

50.2

51.5

The overall difference between California and the entire country is much smaller than if one includes noncitizens. But the topline percentage for California is still lower. Why? Note that registration among non-Hispanic whites is slightly higher in California than in the country as a whole. But both statewide and nationwide, Hispanic citizens have a relatively low registration rate. And because California has proportionately more Hispanic citizens, a lower registration rate among this group has a big effect on the overall registration figure in the state.


Bottom line for California politicians: if you want to change the shape of the state electorate, go out and register more Hispanic citizens.

New Turnout Numbers

Our chapter on political participation discusses voter turnout. There are now new data on the subject, according to a release from the Census Bureau:
Hispanics made up 7 percent of voters in the 2010 congressional election, the highest percentage for a nonpresidential election since the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting this information in 1974. Hispanics comprised 6 percent of voters in 2006.

Blacks also increased their share of the electorate, going from 11 percent in 2006 to 12 percent in 2010 (a figure not statistically different from the record high in 1998).

These numbers come from Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2010, a set of tables that compares voting and registration patterns by demographic, social and geographic characteristics. They also include state figures on voting and registration.

“These statistics show that the nation's electorate is becoming increasingly diverse,” said Tiffany Julian, of the Census Bureau's Education and Social Stratification Branch. “The electorate looks much different than when we first started collecting these data 37 years ago.”

The Asian share of the electorate in 2010 was not statistically different than the share in 2006 (2.5 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively). Non-Hispanic white voters decreased from 80.4 percent of the electorate in 2006 to 77.5 percent in 2010, a decline of 2.9 percentage points.

Other highlights from the tables:
  • Maine and Washington experienced voter turnout greater than 55 percent. Fewer than 40 percent of citizens in Texas reported voting.
  • The most common reason people did not vote was they were too busy (27 percent). Another 16 percent felt that their vote would not make a difference.
  • Homeowners were more likely to register and vote than renters; 74 percent of homeowners were registered to vote and 68 percent actually voted; 61 percent of renters were registered and 52 percent voted.
  • People with at least some college education made up 68 percent of voters. Individuals without a high school diploma comprised 6 percent of voters.
  • Veterans were more likely to vote (57 percent) than nonveterans (44 percent).
  • People living in families who earned $100,000 or more were more than twice as likely to vote as those who lived with families earning less than $20,000 (61 percent and 30 percent, respectively).
Two states with lower turnout are Tennessee and West Virginia.

Gannett reports:
Census bureau surveys dating back to 1990 show Tennessee has consistently ranked lower than most states in congressional election turnout. It has numbered among the bottom 15 in all but the 2002 election.
"Historically the southern states have had a lower turnout," said Mark Byrnes, a political science professor at Middle Tennessee State University. "Part of it's tied to education. We know that education is correlated to the likelihood to vote, and we have a low percentage of college-educated people."
Nationally, college-educated people made up 68 percent of voters in 2010, according to census figures. People without a high-school diploma accounted for 6 percent of voters.
Nationwide and in Tennessee, turnout was higher among older Americans than among young people.
About 16 percent of citizens between 18 and 24 voted in Tennessee, compared to 21 percent nationwide. Sixty-three percent of Tennesseans between 65 and 74 showed up at the polls -- consistent with national data.
Byrnes said high turnout among older voters isn't surprising.
"Those are by and large retired people who have a great interest in making sure that the government programs that serve them stay healthy," he said. "They have plenty of time to vote and to keep up with the issues, and if you add time to interest, you're likely to get voting."
Marybeth Beller, associated professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Marshall University, said the low turnout rates for young people are not surprising.

“Since we passed the amendment to the Constitution lowering the voting age to 18, we’ve seen a drop off in that cohort,” Beller said.

“Unless we have campaign issues that connect to people in that age group, they don’t tune in.”

In the past couple of years, much of the political debate nationwide has been on health care and health insurance, but that issue is not a priority for young people, Beller said. A discussion of college tuition or of jobs could bring more younger voters to the polls, she said.

Beller said she does not expect next week’s election for governor to bring out many younger voters.

“There’s very little about the Tomblin-Maloney campaign that has to do with issues young people deal with,” she said.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Did the Founders Fail?

Some critics of the American system have recently said that it is too democratic and responsive. As we note in our textbook (pp. 316-317), another school of thought has long held that it is not responsive enough and that parliamentary systems are superior in this respect. At the American Prospect, Harold Meyerson writes:
Those who defend our system concede—indeed, exult—that it places roadblocks in the path of major policy shifts. When the nation faces a genuine crisis, they argue, our government invariably rises to the occasion, as it did in Roosevelt’s time. Unfortunately, that’s a selective reading of our history. One hundred and fifty years ago, our government was not up to the task of holding the union together. Today, as the Great Recession grinds on, the different branches of government cannot agree on a course of action.

The root cause of all this inactivity is our peculiar form of democracy. While most democracies are governed by parliamentary systems, our Founders opted for a presidential system, which they consciously booby-trapped with multiple veto points to impede decisive legislative action and sweeping social change.

In America, for instance, presidents take office, but they don’t form a government, as prime ministers do in virtually every other democracy. Presidents can form no more than an executive branch. They appoint cabinet members, sub-cabinet officials, military commanders, ambassadors, and the heads of regulatory agencies. They don’t appoint congressional leaders; often as not, their party may not control either or both houses of Congress. Indeed, the White House, the Senate, and the House have been controlled by the same party during just 8 of the past 30 years. Even when the same party holds Congress and the presidency, the system still fragments power.
Meyerson suggests a remedy:
Although the federal government can’t go parliamentary, why can’t the states? Maintaining two legislative bodies at the state level has been pointless for the past 50 years, ever since the Supreme Court’s one-person, one-vote decisions; those rulings required state Senate districts, once apportioned by geographical unit (such as counties), to be apportioned by population, just as lower-house districts are. Talk about duplication and waste in government! Nebraska has long had a unicameral legislature. There’s no good reason why 49 other states shouldn’t follow suit. Nor is there a reason why at least a few more compact and homogenous states—Vermont? Oregon? Utah?—can’t go one step further to a parliamentary system. Two and a quarter centuries after the Philadelphia convention, America should be ready for some small-scale experiments in majority rule.
Mr Meyerson needs to explain away not only the New Deal, but pretty much everything he thinks America did right before and after. I should think it's a lot. Indeed, despite having such a lousy system of political institutions for centuries, America has somehow managed to become one of the world's wealthiest, most advanced societies, as well as something of a global hegemon. What might America have become without the handicaps heaped upon it by its myopic founders!?
...


[T]he main thing the American state could have done, but did not do, to mitigate the effects of the great recession was to announce a higher inflation target and then do what it takes to hit it. But that's up to the Fed, which is meant to be independent of the democratic will, and a good thing it is, too. It's hard to see how a parliamentary system would have helped. Indeed, if America had had one, it strikes me that, given the cast of public opinion, America's centre-right government would have done much as David Cameron's centre-right government has done in Britain and pursued a programme of fiscal restraint. I assume that's not what Mr Meyerson wants.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Too Much Democracy?

At The New Republic, former Obama budget director Peter Orszag writes that there may be too much democracy in the contemporary federal government. Polarization, he argues, leads to gridlock. As remedies, he proposes automatic stabilizers (tax and spending provisions that kick in with changes in economic conditions), backstop rules (measures that go into effect unless Congress acts) and independent commissions.

THE PROBLEM WITH such commissions is that, like automatic stabilizers and backstop rules, they reduce the power of elected officials and therefore make our government somewhat less accountable to voters. Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution at Stanford puts it this way: “There is something undemocratic about entrusting the formation of big policy decisions to expert commissions.” And yet he also goes on to note that “the process is not less democratic than having nine unelected justices with lifetime tenure and no political accountability to anyone but themselves decide such basic questions as when a woman can have an abortion and where a child can go to school.” He concludes that, despite the risks, rising polarization justifies the increased use of these types of commissions.

As the debt-limit experience vividly illustrated, by polarizing ourselves, we are making our country more ungovernable—and no one has come up with a practical proposal to deal with the consequences. I wish it were not necessary to devise processes to circumvent legislative gridlock, but polarization isn’t going away. John Adams may have been exaggerating when he pessimistically noted that democracies tend to commit suicide, yet, as we are seeing, certain aspects of representative government can end up posing serious problems. And so, we might be a healthier democracy if we were a slightly less democratic one.

Mr. Orszag's attitudes were not popular with congressional Democrats in 2010, as Matt Bai reported at the time:

As much as anyone, Mr. Orszag has promoted and carried out an effort by the White House to pry away from Congress some of the responsibility for making hard decisions, especially when it comes to the budget.

...

And so, in a variety of ways, the administration has deliberately set out to create alternatives. The idea is to force Congress to make inevitable choices now, or at least to establish new mechanisms that can be used to make those choices later if the fiscal situation worsens. “The system as it is constructed now has prevented real progress on this issue,” David Axelrod, the president’s senior adviser, says flatly.

Leading Democrats in the House aren’t arguing that the legislative process, with its dueling constituencies and parliamentary procedures, is necessarily the most efficient way to cut spending. But they maintain that it’s what the framers intended — and that subverting the process amounts to an assault on the democracy.

The News-Observer (Raleigh, NC) reports:

File this in the random-things-politicians-say file. Speaking to a Cary Rotary Club today, N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue suggested suspending Congressional elections for two years so that Congress can focus on economic recovery and not the next election.

"I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that," Perdue said. "You want people who don't worry about the next election."

The comment -- which came during a discussion of the economy -- perked more than a few ears. It's unclear whether Perdue, a Democrat, is serious -- but her tone was level and she asked others to support her on the idea. (Read her full remarks below.)

...

Perdue's full statement (or hear what she said here):

"You have to have more ability from Congress, I think, to work together and to get over the partisan bickering and focus on fixing things. I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. The one good thing about Raleigh is that for so many years we worked across party lines. It's a little bit more contentious now but it's not impossible to try to do what's right in this state. You want people who don't worry about the next election."


Chris Christie on American Exceptionalism

Our textbook looks at different ideas about American exceptionalism. Last night, at the
Reagan Library, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addressed the topic:
A lot is being said in this election season about American exceptionalism. Implicit in such statements is that we are different and, yes, better, in the sense that our democracy, our economy and our people have delivered. But for American exceptionalism to truly deliver hope and a sterling example to the rest of the world, it must be demonstrated, not just asserted. If it is demonstrated, it will be seen and appreciated and ultimately emulated by others. They will then be more likely to follow our example and our lead.

At one time in our history, our greatness was a reflection of our country's innovation, our determination, our ingenuity and the strength of our democratic institutions. When there was a crisis in the world, America found a way to come together to help our allies and fight our enemies. When there was a crisis at home, we put aside parochialism and put the greater public interest first. And in our system, we did it through strong presidential leadership. We did it through Reagan-like leadership.

Unfortunately, through our own domestic political conduct of late, we have failed to live up to our own tradition of exceptionalism. Today, our role and ability to affect change has been diminished because of our own problems and our inability to effectively deal with them.

To understand this clearly, one need only look at comments from the recent meeting of the European finance ministers in Poland. Here is what the Finance Minister of Austria had to say:

"I found it peculiar that, even though the Americans have significantly worse fundamental data than the euro zone, that they tell us what we should do. I had expected that, when [Secretary Geithner] tells us how he sees the world, that he would listen to what we have to say."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Deliberative Perspective on Presidential Campaigning

At The Washington Examiner, Byron York interviews Fred Thompson, a former senator who launched a late and unsuccessful bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. Thompson makes a point that many analyses of presidential races overlook: candidates need time to think and deliberate about their positions.

There's no off-Broadway," Thompson says as he recalls the campaign's early days. "It's all compressed. You don't get a chance to knock the rough edges off."

Starting late brought a variety of troubles. "If you as a candidate have not spent the last year or two putting together your organization and lining up the key people, that's a problem," says Thompson. "It's not a date on the calendar as much as it is what you've done over the previous year. By definition, a person who is getting in late and making up his mind late has not done some of those things."

There are plenty of other issues -- raising money, lining up support, dealing with the press -- but the biggest challenge for any late candidate is the most basic one: thinking things through.

"I think a candidate under these circumstances has to have skills and equilibrium that are superior to the other candidates," Thompson explains. "You have to have time to think. You've had a lot of experience. You've had life experience, you've had government experience. What has all that taught you? You can't just relate statistics and points and employment records and promise to repeal Obamacare on day one. Those are just ornaments that you put on the tree. You need the time to think things through."

Does candidate Rick Perry give the impression of a man who has had time to think deeply about how he's running for president, or why he's doing it in the first place? The short answer is no.

Take Perry's recent problems with immigration. The Texas governor's views conflict with a significant portion of the Republican base. But what if, by the time he was attacked for those views during last week's Republican debate, Perry had been making his case for months? What if he had been answering sometimes angry immigration questions in diners and town halls across Iowa since last winter? There's no way he would have made a mistake like the "no heart" remark at the debate, which did incalculable damage to his image among conservatives.

The simple secret of campaigns is that good candidates get better with practice. Watch one give a stump speech in March, and then watch again in December, and it will likely be a lot better. There's a reason Mitt Romney's debate performances have been so much improved in this campaign than in 2007-2008. He's been working at it a long time.

Politics in Social Media, Social Media in Politics

Our chapters on political participation and political campaigns discuss the growing political role of social media. Our chapter on mass media notes that media corporations are themselves important interest groups. There are new developments involving both of these themes.
v
A release from Brigham Young University:

Chock-full of questions about Twitter and Congress, political science major David Lassen found a mentor in Professor Adam Brown (@utahdatapoints) willing to guide him through the process of answering one significant question.

Are members of Congress more likely to use Twitter if they are vulnerable to losing their seat in the next election?

Surprisingly, the duo from BYU found that electoral vulnerability has nothing to do with whether these elected officials exercise their right to tweet.

In fact, the main things that influenced whether a member of Congress got on Twitter were their age and whether their party leadership encouraged tweeting.

Lassen and Brown will publish their research in a forthcoming issue of Social Science Computer Review.

During the early days of Twitter, Republican leaders invited youngsters like Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah (@jasoninthehouse) to speak before House Republicans about using the technology. Today Republicans continue to have a larger majority on Twitter than they do on Capitol Hill.

Though fewer in number, the Democrats do have some shining Twitter stars. Prof. Brown names Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri (@clairecmc) as one of the best at interacting with constituents through Twitter.

Lassen recently graduated from BYU, and the mentored research experience helped him launch into a Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin.

"What we measured was an exploratory period where members of Congress were taking a look and dabbling with the technology," Lassen said. "Now the bigger question is how they are using it instead of if they are using it."

Currently about three-fourths of all members of Congress use Twitter, but many of those accounts have been delegated to staff members to run. Prof. Brown provides a rule of thumb for how "we the tweeple" can tell the difference.

"The actual members of Congress tweet about things like hamburgers and football games," Brown said. "When it's staff, the messages are all links to speeches and interviews. The strategy is to simply help the local press stay on top of the schedule."

[See their 2010 MPSA paper.]

Tina Nguyen writes at The Daily Caller:

Long known for wielding “soft” power in Washington, D.C. and influencing American politics through the use of its online platform, Facebook now wants to drive the political process with an infusion of cold, hard cash.

Hillicon Valley broke the news yesterday that Facebook had begun the process of forming its own political action committee. The social networking company has purchased two domain names, FBpac.org and FBpac.us.

A Facebook spokesman confirmed the PAC’s existence, saying “FB PAC will give our employees a way to make their voice heard in the political process by supporting candidates who share our goals of promoting the value of innovation to our economy while giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

The company filed the paperwork for incorporation yesterday in the District of Columbia. Federal law requires Facebook PAC to register with the Federal Elections Commission upon its formation.

The creation of the PAC comes hot on the heels of COO Sheryl Sandberg’s exclusive fundraising dinner hosting President Obama, a $35,800-per-head affair (the maximum legal donation) attended by Lady Gaga. There has also been a growing series of Facebook-related public policy events.

Seth Cline writes at the Open Secrets blog:

Three years ago, Facebook did not have a presence in Washington, D.C. But since then, the company has been significantly stepped up its politicking efforts, as OpenSecrets Blog has previously reported. During the first six months of 2011 alone, Facebook spent $550,000 on lobbying, nearly as much as it spent the previous two years combined. The company has also hired nearly two dozen lobbyists this year -- up from just two lobbyist last year.

Facebook's lobbying efforts have targeted governmental agencies such as the Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as Congress. Much of this lobbying has involved issues like Internet privacy, online location-tracking and reform of patent and copyright laws.

Facebook's Washington push has also included new personnel hires. In the past year, it has added several Washington insiders to its staff and its board of directors, including Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, as OpenSecrets Blog previously reported.

With the creation of FB PAC, the group will now be able to back specific candidates using the donations of employees, who have benefited from some of the estimated $1.6 billion Facebook earned in revenues in the first half of 2011. The company's political push also coincides with lawmakers recent interest in tech companies such as Google, Microsoft and to some extent, itself.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dissatisfaction and Distrust

Our chapter on civic culture discusses American distrust of government. Gallup finds that this distrust is higher than ever:
A record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, adding to negativity that has been building over the past 10 years.

Majorities of Democrats (65%) and Republicans (92%) are dissatisfied with the nation's governance. This perhaps reflects the shared political power arrangement in the nation's capital, with Democrats controlling the White House and U.S. Senate, and Republicans controlling the House of Representatives. Partisans on both sides can thus find fault with government without necessarily blaming their own party.

The findings are from Gallup's annual Governance survey, updated Sept. 8-11, 2011. The same poll shows record or near-record criticism of Congress, elected officials, government handling of domestic problems, the scope of government power, and government waste of tax dollars.

Key Findings:
  • 82% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.
  • 69% say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government, an all-time high and up from 63% in 2010.
  • 57% have little or no confidence in the federal government to solve domestic problems, exceeding the previous high of 53% recorded in 2010 and well exceeding the 43% who have little or no confidence in the government to solve international problems.
  • 53% have little or no confidence in the men and women who seek or hold elected office.
  • Americans believe, on average, that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, similar to a year ago, but up significantly from 46 cents a decade ago and from an average 43 cents three decades ago.
  • 49% of Americans believe the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. In 2003, less than a third (30%) believed this.

The Irvine 11

Our chapter on civil liberties discusses controversial cases involving freedom of expression. In the recent "Irvine 11" case, both the defense and prosecution made free-speech arguments. Inside Higher Ed reports:

After a rare prosecution related to a campus protest, 10 Muslim students who are Palestine supporters were found guilty of misdemeanors Friday for heckling the Israeli ambassador to the United States when he spoke at the University of California at Irvine.

...

“It seems as if the rules have been rewritten,” said Jarret Lovell, a professor of politics at California State University at Fullerton, who has studied and written on protest. He said he sees universities as a place for trial and error, where students can try to apply civics lessons in practice -- even if the result is rude and, as he described the interruptions, “absolutely silly.”

...

[D]uring the speech, 11 students, some from Irvine and others from the University of California at Riverside, repeatedly interrupted, rising one at a time to shout criticism of Israel and drawing applause from others in the crowd. (A video distributed by a pro-Israel group documented the interruptions.) Officials pleaded with the audience, both before the speech and after the interruptions, to let Oren continue; he did so, but ended his speech before a scheduled question-and-answer session.

The university condemned the heckling. While the protesters argued that theirs was a case of academic freedom and free expression, most campus policies defend the right to protest outside a talk, or to ask critical questions afterward, but not the right to interrupt repeatedly.

After an investigation that found that the Muslim Student Union had organized the protest, Irvine officials suspended the group for a quarter -- an unusual step, since college officials rarely discipline political or religious groups. And while the university then considered the matter settled, the Orange County district attorney decided to proceed with a trial, charging all 11 students with two misdemeanors: conspiracy to disrupt a public speech, and disrupting it. The prosecution argued that the students acted as censors by disrupting the speech. The defense countered that the protests were legal and the prosecution infringed on the students' rights, emphasizing that the students' comments took up a small fraction of Oren's 30-minute speech.

Some who had criticized the students’ actions, including Lovell, said taking the case to a jury was going too far and could have a “muting effect” both on student activism and on universities’ willingness to invite speakers who could be controversial.

Others, including the president of the Israel on Campus coalition, said the verdict was important for academic freedom and sent a message that shouting speakers down would not be tolerated.

“It was an important vindication of the right of academic institutions and communities to protect academic freedom and academic integrity,” said Stephen Kuperberg, president of the coalition, which has not taken an official position on the case. “The court reached the appropriate verdict.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

President Obama's Religious Rhetoric

A major theme of our book is the influence of religion on American politics. One sign of this influence is the abundance of presidential references to the Bible. In his address to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, for instance, President Obama referred to the third chapter of the Book of Daniel.
You know, being here with all of you -- with all the outstanding members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- reminds me of a story that one of our friends, a giant of the civil rights movement, Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, told one day. Dr. Lowery -- I don't think he minds me telling that he turns 90 in a couple weeks. (Applause.) He’s been causing a ruckus for about 89 of those years. (Laughter.)

A few years back, Dr. Lowery and I were together at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma. (Applause.) We've got some Selma folks in the house. (Applause.) And Dr. Lowery stood up in the pulpit and told the congregation the story of Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. You know the story -- it’s about three young men bold enough to stand up for God, even if it meant being thrown in a furnace. And they survived because of their faith, and because God showed up in that furnace with them.

Now, Dr. Lowery said that those three young men were a little bit crazy. But there’s a difference, he said, between good crazy and bad crazy. (Applause.) Those boys, he said, were “good crazy.” At the time, I was running for president -- it was early in the campaign. Nobody gave me much of a chance. He turned to me from the pulpit, and indicated that someone like me running for president -- well, that was crazy. (Laughter.) But he supposed it was good crazy.

He was talking about faith, the belief in things not seen, the belief that if you persevere a better day lies ahead. And I suppose the reason I enjoy coming to the CBC -- what this weekend is all about is, you and me, we're all a little bit crazy, but hopefully a good kind of crazy. (Applause.) We’re a good kind of crazy because no matter how hard things get, we keep the faith; we keep fighting; we keep moving forward.

Health and Herman Cain

Our chapter on social welfare policy discusses the new health care law. Although Democrats expected that it would prove to be a political asset, the public has yet to embrace it. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports on a new survey:
Americans’ opinions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) remain divided, much as they have since the law was passed. This month, 41 percent say they have a favorable view of the law, while 43 percent have an unfavorable view. Support for the law continues to be divided along party lines, with most Democrats holding a favorable view (65 percent) and most Republicans an unfavorable view (76 percent). After reaching a high in August, the share of Republicans with a favorable view of the law dropped from 24 percent down to 14 percent this month, possibly as a result of the criticism of the ACA from Republican candidates in the presidential primary campaign.

Overall, about a third of the public expects the law won’t make much difference for them and their families (34 percent), while a similar share (32 percent) expects to be worse off under the law and nearly as many expect to be better off (27 percent). The public is similarly divided on whether the country will be better off (38 percent) or worse off (36 percent), while one in six (18 percent) expect no difference for the country. And as has been the case since the beginning of this year, more than half (52 percent) want Congress to keep the law as is (19 percent) or expand it (33 percent), while fewer than four in ten (37 percent) want it repealed and replaced with a Republican‐sponsored alternative (16 percent) or repealed outright (21 percent).

In any case, the candidate who is benefiting most from the issue is Herman Cain, who won a surprise victory in a straw poll in Florida. During this week's debate, he had noteworthy moment when describing his own battle with cancer:



Indeed, health care launched Cain's political fortunes. In March, Joshua Green wrote of the moment when Cain became a national political figure:
His entrance into national politics was a fluke—albeit, if he runs, an enormously beneficial one. In 1994, Cain, then still CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, participated in a town-hall meeting that Bill Clinton held to drum up support for his flagging health-care plan. He challenged the president’s claim that restaurateurs would bear only a marginal new cost. Clinton objected, but Cain wouldn’t relent. “I’d had my financial people run the numbers,” he told me. The Wall Street Journal published them, and after Clinton’s plan collapsed, Newsweek identified Cain as one of its “saboteurs”—a badge of honor, especially among conservatives today.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Murky Tea

The post-election update of our book discusses the tea party movement. Despite its name, it is not a political party: it has no place on the ballot, no hierarchy, no single platform. Instead, it is a loose social movement, a set of often-warring organizations as well as rank-and-file supporters with varying degrees of attachment. They agree broadly on what they are against, but naturally have trouble agreeing on what they are for. At Roll Call, Janie Lorber and Ambreen Ali write:

Every interest group in town is vying for the attention of the super committee members except the very movement that drove the federal deficit to the top of Congress' agenda.

Tea party leaders can be found this fall hawking a Constitution-themed coloring book, riding a tour bus across the country and endorsing 2012 candidates — but not issuing policy proposals for cutting the deficit.

"It's generally not what we do," said Mark Meckler, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, which is leading a campaign to encourage schools to teach lessons drawn from the Constitution. "We are an organization that's designed to push the debate toward fiscal responsibility. Our job is not to come up with policies."

Patriotism and Waiting

Our chapter on civic culture quotes filmmaker Michael Moore as saying that other countries live in "a world of `we,' not `me.'" In a recent interview, he expanded on this idea in the context of health care. RealClearPolitics reports:
"Things that are not life-threatening," Moore said on HBO's "Real Time" with host Bill Maher. "The reason why you have to wait sometimes in those countries is they let everybody in the line. We make 50 million people out of the line so the line is shorter, so sometimes you have to wait as long. If you are a patriotic American, you want every American to be covered the same as you. No, not 'I'm going to get ahead because I have health insurance and they don't,'" Michael Moore explained.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Birthers Still Believe

(updated 3:05 PM PDT)

Previous posts have dealt with "birthers," who deny that President Obama was born in the United States and thus believe that he is constitutionally ineligible to be president. The State reports:
Even after Obama released a detailed, long-form birth certificate that shows he was born in the United States and repeatedly said he is a Christian, a Winthrop poll released Monday found 36 percent of S.C. Republicans and Republican leaners think the president was “probably” or “definitely” born outside of the U.S., making him ineligible to serve as the country’s chief executive.

Another 30 percent say Obama is a Muslim.

Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University and the director of its poll, called the anti-Obama views a sign of the “kick-a-puppy syndrome,” which holds that someone you strongly dislike is capable of all manner of meanness and mendacity.
“Do you really believe that person has kicked a puppy?” Huffmon asked as a hypothetical question to someone who strongly dislikes another person.

“Sure,” Huffmon said the person would say. “I bet he has kicked a puppy.”"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Public Looks at the Media

Our chapter on the mass media looks at issues of bias and reliability. The latest Gallup survey suggest that the public sees problems:
The majority of Americans still do not have confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. The 44% of Americans who have a great deal or fair amount of trust and the 55% who have little or no trust remain among the most negative views Gallup has measured.

The majority of Americans (60%) also continue to perceive bias, with 47% saying the media are too liberal and 13% saying they are too conservative, on par with what Gallup found last year. The percentage of Americans who say the media are "just about right" edged up to 36% this year but remains in the range Gallup has found historically.
The Pew Research Center offers more detail:
Negative opinions about the performance of news organizations now equal or surpass all-time highs on nine of 12 core measures the Pew Research Center has been tracking since 1985. However, these bleak findings are put into some perspective by the fact that news organizations are more trusted sources of information than are many other institutions, including government and business.

Further, people rate the performance of the news organizations they rely on much more positively than they rate the performance of news organizations generally.

And the public’s impressions of the national media may be influenced more by their opinions of cable news outlets than their views of other news sources, such as network or local TV news, newspapers or internet news outlets. When asked what first comes to mind when they think of “news organizations,” most name a cable news outlet, with CNN and Fox News receiving the most mentions by far.

A Demographic Divide

Ronald Brownstein writes in National Journal of an important demographic trend:

Census data show a widening demographic divide between America’s youth and senior populations. Brookings Institution demographer William Frey tracks what he calls the “cultural generation gap”—the difference in the white share of the population among children (under 18) and seniors (over 65). In 2000, whites comprised about 61 percent of America’s children and almost 84 percent of its seniors, for a 23-point gap. By 2010, the gap had widened to about 26 points, because whites still comprise 80 percent of seniors, but plummeted to less than 54 percent of children. As recently as 1980, the difference between the white share of the senior and the youth populations was only about half that big.

This change’s principal engine is the young and burgeoning Hispanic population, which is rapidly dispersing beyond the traditional big-city immigration magnets. As a result, the cultural generation gap is not only deepening but also broadening to affect more places. Although the senior population remains at least 60 percent white in every state except Hawaii, minorities now constitute a majority of the under-18 population in 10 states and more than 40 percent in 12 more, Frey’s figures show. That current is washing over states not previously touched by diversity, including Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Utah. Indeed, since 2000 the minority share of the youth population has increased in every state. “You have a whole generation of young people … whose peers are not majority white any more,” Frey says.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Netanyahu and the GOP

The New York Times reports on the friendly relationship between congressional Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The article, however, leaves out the long history of that relationship. His first stint as Prime Minister started in 1996, and one of his campaign advisers at the time was an American who had worked with Republicans. Soon after his victory, he spoke to a joint meeting of Congress. From USA Today, July 11, 1996:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded like a savvy American politician Wednesday as he vowed to invigorate Israel's economy with a mix of deregulation, downsizing and market economics.

To disparate audiences all day, Netanyahu continued to defend his view that Israel can give up no more land unless Arabs guarantee peace. But, in the American style, he tailored his delivery to fit the audience.

"I'm committed to reducing the size of government," he told Congress. Quoting President Clinton and parroting House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., Netanyahu said, "The era of big government is over. It's over in Israel too."

With Gingrich beaming, he added, "There is not a Hebrew word for deregulation. By the time this term of office is over in Israel, there will be a Hebrew word for deregulation."

The chamber erupted in applause. To many Republicans in the audience, the words were an international validation for the GOP agenda. "That's as Republican as it gets," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. "I'm thrilled."

Netanyahu, 46, spent 14 years in the USA. He attended high school in Philadelphia and got two degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Unlike his predecessors, who read speeches haltingly in thick foreign accents, Netanyahu speaks like a native. "He seems like one of us," says Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Ill.
Here is his address to a joint meeting of Congress, July 10, 1996:

The Case Against a District System

An earlier post looked at a Pennsylvania proposal to adopt the district system for allocating electoral votes. At the Morning Call, Professor Christopher Borick of Muhlenberg College argues against the idea:

Herein lies the problem: The congressional district system that serves as the heart of the proposed election system is about as rotten of a core as you will ever find. Congressional districts are generally designed with a single purpose — preservation of party dominance in that district. The gerrymandering of congressional districts has successfully killed off real competition in a vast majority of districts throughout the state and nation. In only a handful of districts do you see real and regular competition between Democrats and Republicans.

Yet even with the failings of congressional districts glaringly apparent to even the most casual observer, the proposal floated by Republican leaders in Harrisburg, such as Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, seeks to make such districts the foundation upon which presidential elections in Pennsylvania will be built. In the parlance of card players, Harrisburg is considering doubling-down on a very bad hand, and the ability of Pennsylvania's voters to cast meaningful votes for president is at stake.

...

If Pennsylvania turns to a system where Electoral College votes are chosen district by district, you will ensure that most of the state's electoral votes will be determined before the race even begins, much in the way that a majority of Pennsylvania's members of Congress are currently selected. Of course, presidential candidates will spend neither time nor money campaigning where the outcome is pre-ordained; it makes no sense to use precious resources on done deals.

The Military in Higher Education

A new report from the US Department of Education looks at veterans and military members in higher education. Key findings:
• In 2007–08, about 4 percent of all undergraduates and about 4 per-cent of all graduate students were veterans or military service members. About two-fifths of military undergraduates and one-fifth of military graduate students used GI Bill education benefits.
• Unlike their nonmilitary counterparts, a majority of military undergraduates and military graduate students were male. Military students also were more likely than their nonmilitary peers to be married.
• Military undergraduates studied at private nonprofit 4-year institutions, pursued bachelor’s degrees, took a distance education course, and studied computer and information sciences more often than their nonmilitary peers. The percentage of military undergraduates who received financial aid (including GI Bill benefits) and the amount they received (including GI Bill benefits) generally exceeded or was not measurably different from those of nonmilitary independent undergraduates.
• A larger percentage of military graduate students than nonmilitary graduate students waited 7 or more years between completing their bachelor’s degree and starting graduate school, were enrolled in master’s degree programs, attended part time, and took a distance education course.

Deliberation in Kansas

Our chapter on federalism discusses deliberation in state legislatures. At The Wichita Eagle, Professor Burdett Loomis writes:

[L]egislatures everywhere are in trouble. To an extent this is because these bodies are fundamentally misunderstood by citizens who often recoil from legislative "bickering." Well, that's what legislators do — they talk, sometimes loudly, sometimes at the same time, and often to little effect.

Legislatures operate under arcane rules, and at times minorities can legitimately complain about arbitrary rulings. Still, members are mostly civil to one another and can deliberate in good faith, often compromising to get things done.

Increasingly, however, legislatures are failing at performing their basic job of deliberation — of talking things through to come up with well-considered laws.

In Congress, a growing number of legislators simply do not want to engage in the legislative process that has served us well for 220 years. Rather, they pledge never to raise taxes and they hold the debt-ceiling bill hostage to pure party politics, thus eliminating the potential for useful deliberation or productive compromise, even in the face of enormous problems.

Kansas has a very different partisan makeup. And the current Legislature, with its overwhelming conservative Republican majority, can pass almost anything it desires. Given a rookie administration and lots of new legislators, swept into office on a national tide, there's little perceived need for deliberation and almost no need to compromise.

The only reason for any deliberation or compromise is that the Senate, while under GOP control, is not nearly so conservative. But population trends, redistricting and well-funded challenges to moderate Republican senators could well change that.

With their separation-of-powers format and two-chamber legislatures, the federal government and the individual states were not designed for strong party rule. The framers never foresaw political parties, but they certainly worried that dominant interests might overwhelm representative government.

For more on this subject, see:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Polls on Taxes: Different Questions, Different Results

As we point out in our chapter on public opinion, the wording of questions has a major impact on poll results. Taxation is a good example. Gallup reports:

Americans generally favor raising taxes on higher-income Americans and eliminating tax deductions for some corporations as ways of paying for President Obama's proposed jobs plan.

Please tell me whether you favor or oppose each of the following proposals President Obama has made to pay for the cost of the jobs bill. September 2011

At the blog of the conservative group Resurgent Republic, Jon McHenry notes a poll with a very different perspective:

To tackle the nation’s record deficits and debt, President Obama is proposing a $1.5 trillion tax increase, his so-called “Buffett rule.” It may sound at first blush to be a solid talking point to make sure investors like Warren Buffett pay the same tax rate as their secretaries, but a deeper look shows the folly of that approach (an AP fact check further debunks this premise, "Are rich taxed less than secretaries?"). Set aside for a moment the issue that government taxes things it wants less of — liberals propose increasing the gas tax in order to reduce auto emissions, or states increase the cigarette tax to reduce smoking. That’s an important consideration, and the last thing the country needs is to create disincentives to investment in a stagnate economy.

The rationale for a tax increase on investment, or on “millionaires and billionaires” — by the President’s definition, anyone earning $250,000 a year or more — falls apart politically as well. Resurgent Republic recently asked voters what they think the top tax rate should be for individuals, with voters overwhelmingly choosing a percentage that falls well short of current tax levels:

What do you think is the maximum percentage that the federal government should take from any individual’s income (ROTATE: ten percent, fifteen percent, twenty percent, thirty percent, forty percent, or fifty percent or more)?

Nearly two-thirds of voters — 65 percent overall, including 71 percent of Republicans, 62 percent of Independents, and 63 percent of Democrats — think the maximum tax rate should be twenty percent or lower. And a quarter of voters — 27 percent overall, including 26 percent of Republicans, 24 percent of Independents, and 30 percent of Democrats — think the maximum percentage should be no more than ten percent.


The Ask

Our chapter on the presidency discusses the rhetoric of chief executives. Yesterday, President Obama said that his deficit plan "asks the most fortunate among us to pay their fair share, just like everybody else."

He borrowed this phrasing from President Clinton. A few examples:
  • Remarks to OMB, 2/3/93: "Before I ask working Americans to work harder and pay more, I will ask the economic elite, who made more money and paid less in taxes, to pay their fair share."
  • Radio address, 2/6/93: "Then we'll ask the people who have benefited most from the eighties to give something back to their country. While most Americans paid higher taxes on lower real incomes, the privileged few paid lower taxes on much higher real incomes. We're going to ask them now to pay their fair share, along with corporations whose tax burden has been dramatically reduced in the last 12 years."
  • Remarks at Detroit town hall, 2/10/93: "I have also said that before I ask the middle class to pay, I'm going to ask the wealthiest Americans and companies who made money in the eighties and had their taxes cut to pay their fair share."
  • Radio address, 5/29/93: " We also asked the wealthy to pay their fair share because they are able to pay more and because in the last 12 years taxes have gone down on the wealthy as their incomes have gone up."
In all of these passages, the key verb is "ask." In his 1994 book, The Agenda, Bob Woodward quoted a 1993 comment by Robert Rubin, then director of the National Economic Council (and later Treasury Secretary): "And you can't say, we're going to make the rich pay more taxes. That sounds like it's coming out of the barrel of a gun. You've got to say, we will ask the well-to-do to pay their share."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Waste!

Our chapter on federalism notes that Americans have long tended to think that they get less for their tax money from the federal government than from the states and localities. In this light, Gallup reports:
Americans estimate that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every dollar it spends, a new high in a Gallup trend question first asked in 1979.

The current estimate of 51 cents wasted on the dollar is similar to what Gallup measured in 2009, but marks the first time Americans believe more than half of federal spending is wasted. The low point in the trend is 38 cents wasted on the dollar, in 1986.

Americans are less likely to believe state and local governments waste money they spend than they are to believe this about the federal government, with the state estimate at 42 cents on the dollar and the local at 38 cents.

Americans have viewed the federal government as being the most wasteful of tax dollars -- and local government the least -- each time Gallup has asked these questions. That pattern is consistent with Americans' greater trust in state and local government than in the federal government.

Jobs in Politics and Government

Students in introductory courses sometimes ask, "What kind of a job can I get by studying American government?" There is no simple answer to the question, since undergraduate degrees in political science, government and related fields usually do not have a vocational bent. Nevertheless, many students who take such courses do eventually seek such jobs. And there is some rare good news on the employment front. Roll Call reports:
Members of Congress lament the country’s unemployment problems on a daily basis, but when it comes to Beltway jobs, they have little to worry about.

The downturn in the economy has not dimmed job prospects among the political class, career experts said. The job climate is instead dictated by — surprise — politics.

“There are always going to be jobs in politics,” said Mag Gottlieb, career development director at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. “I think honestly we’re fairly immune.”

Brad Traverse, who runs an employment-listing website with about 6,500 subscribers, said he has been posting as many job openings as ever. The site, bradtraverse.com, focuses on jobs on Capitol Hill or in government affairs, public affairs and communications.

“I’m not seeing any drop in employers looking for government affairs and public relations policy jobs,” he said. “I’m still listing probably anywhere from 20 to 60 a day, and even on the weekends.”

How does one get such jobs? As an earlier post indicated, internships are a very good way to gain relevant experience and contacts. And although the Traverse site is by subscription, there are number of free sites with employment information. Here are a few:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Religion, Money, and Politics

Our chapter on civic culture looks at the broad impact of religion in American public life. Our chapter on political parties notes its relationship to party identification. The Los Angeles Times reports on a new chapter in an old story:
Silicon Valley, the politically liberal technology hub, is an unlikely incubator of conservative Christian activism.

But a group of its venture capitalists is backing an ambitious project that seeks to affect the 2012 election by registering 5 million new conservative Christians to vote.

The nonprofit organization United in Purpose is using sophisticated data-mining techniques to compile a database of every unregistered born-again and evangelical Christian and conservative Catholic in the country.

...

The Champion the Vote website lists "right to life," religious freedom and traditional marriage as the organization's top issues. The group does not embrace any particular party or candidate, Dallas said, adding, "We're about the agenda of the lamb, Jesus Christ."

But that agenda undoubtedly would benefit Republican candidates if it adds significant power to the conservative Christian political movement, already revitalized by new efforts to engage pastors opposed to President Obama.

...
Democratic organizers also attest to the potential, which has prompted religious advocates on the left to expand their organizing efforts.

"We will roll out plans in battleground states that will give the right a run for their money," said the Rev. Jennifer Butler of the liberal group Faith in Public Life, which this cycle plans to triple the $1 million it spent on voter outreach and education in 2008.

Other left-leaning groups jumping into the fray include PICO National Network, a California-based activist group connected to more than 1,000 congregations in 17 states that has a budget of about $25 million.

...
The organization has already seen some early success, registering 268,000 new voters in Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado in 2010 by working with churches affiliated with the Sacramento-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, that group's president.
Of course, Democrats have long relied on African American churches. Just before the 2010 midterm, the Religion News Service reported:
Facing an electoral bloodbath at the voting booth next Tuesday, Democrats are turning to a key part of their base—African-Americans—and are using the black church to help get voters to the polls.

In an election where Republicans appear poised to recapture the House and possibly the Senate, strong black turnout could be “the difference between a bad election and a horrible election,” said David Bositis, a political analyst from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

The concerted outreach goes beyond traditional candidate stops at black pulpits on the Sunday before Election Day. President Obama has been on the phone with black clergy, and first lady Michelle Obama was the star attraction on a conference call with thousands of African-American women.

The Democratic National Committee has dispatched staff to coordinate with black ministers as part of an aggressive get-out-the-vote mobilization, hoping to seize on early voting options in key states.

“We’re making sure that not only on Sunday that pastors encourage their community to go out and vote, but even during the weekday services,” said Regena Thomas, director faith and constituent outreach for the DNC.

Thomas, who is an African Methodist Episcopal pastor from New Jersey, said African-Americans are being encouraged to vote early, even “before and after Bible study.”