Thursday, August 30, 2012

Do Parties Use Convention Floor Seats as Carrots/Sticks?

The Washington Post today has a piece on the floor seating at the Republican National Convention.  In their piece they ask whether states with good floor position at the convention are more likely to vote for Romney in November.  I’m not sure this is a serious question, and it’s not clear that the Post is posing a serious question—I suppose news outlets have to fill their convention coverage somehow. The evidence they show (e.g. floor maps for 2012 and 2008) is pretty weak. However, it’s worth noting that there is some evidence about floor seating positions in legislatures affecting the votes of legislators. In the legislative case, there is a causal mechanism—the social interaction of legislators.  In the party convention case, there is no logical causal mechanism between the location of a state delegation on the convention floor and the behavior of voters back home on Election Day.
The more interesting part of the Post’s piece, from a party politics perspective, is the allocation of seats to states that held early primaries.  The Republican party had hinted that they would punish some states for holding early primaries (e.g., Florida, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, Arizona), and that “punishment” might come in the form of a “bad” floor location for the state delegations at the convention. Rather, these states received good floor positions, and the early primary sanction has come in the form of restricted voting rights for these delegations (according to the Post only half their votes count).  There are a number of ways to interpret this sanction, but my gut tells me that the RNC didn’t really want to come down hard on these states and the rule only emphasizes that delegate voting at conventions is relatively meaningless.

As Seth has previous noted, conventions are about celebration, activating your base, following traditions, hype, and advertising—not so much about real decision making.  The lack of a substantial consequence for the early primary states suggests that the GOP is not all that upset about the increased attention on their selection process that happens as a result of increasingly early primaries.

Should we bring back "Crossfire"?

The following is a guest post from Jonathan Ladd, an associate professor at Georgetown University and the author of Why Americans Hate the Media and How it Matters (Princeton University Press, 2012).
Several weeks ago, Ramesh Ponnuru published an article on Bloomberg View titled “Save Political Debate. Bring Back ‘Crossfire.’” In response, Jonathan Chait and Tim Carney expressed support for Crossfire, and a number of political scientists that I follow on twitter expressed opposition. I may be in the minority among political scientists, but I think that programs like Crossfire are not harmful and can actually be moderately helpful to the political process. 

The first thing to keep in mind about cable programs like Crossfire (or even the super-wonky Up with Chris Hayes at the other end of the spectrum) is that, even if they are successful, they are watched by a small segment of the electorate that tends to be already very well informed and have strong political preferences. These are people whose basic views about politics are very difficult to change. No electoral outcomes will be affected by any of these shows.

But I would argue that both of these types of shows (heavily conformational and heavily wonky/policy-oriented) can play an important role in helping party elites to coordinate their partisan and ideological coalitions. As several political scientists have pointed out (and I do in my book as well) the news media can play an important role in helping political coalitions made up of different factions with diverse policy demands come together to form a united front. By exposing political elites to the types of arguments each side of the political divide is making, they can better deliberate and coordinate which policy stances will be in their coalition and which will be in the opposing coalition. When parties can better coordinate, the can offer clearer choices to voters and elections can provide more accountability. If anything, the less polite arguments on Crossfire might be even more helpful in clarifying the positions of the two coalitions.

But ultimately, I think the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow cable political debate shows, as illustrated by Up with Chris and Crossfire, largely just reflects the aesthetic preferences among the political elites who watch these shows. Some political junkies prefer the political shows they watch for entertainment to be like a college seminar, where topics are debated politely. Others prefer their political shows to be set up more like a sporting event, were people argue. Whichever one prefers to watch, I see no reason to believe that both don’t equally serve the purpose of building and maintaining political coalitions.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Who's watching the conventions?

The following is a guest post from Jonathan Ladd, an associate professor at Georgetown University and the author of Why Americans Hate the Media and How it Matters (Princeton University Press, 2012).

This week (baring a major disruption from Hurricane Isaac), Republicans will hold their presidential nominating convention in Tampa Bay, FL. It will be followed one week later by the Democratic nominating convention in Denver, CO. Historically, conventions have produced “bumps” in the trial heat polls. On his blog, Tom Holbrook of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, produces a chart showing the bounces generated by major party conventions since 1964.
Some of these are quite large, including a 14.1 percentage point bounce for Nixon in 1968, a 13.6 point bounce for Clinton in 1992, and a 12.9 point bounce for Goldwater in 1964. Holbrook uses a regression model to predict that this year Romney will receive a 3.6 point bounce and Obama a 1.1 point bounce.

What are the important considerations that we should keep in mind when thinking about the importance (or lack thereof) of the conventions for the presidential race? 

Monday, August 27, 2012

The purpose of conventions

The Republicans are convening today in Tampa for their 2012 presidential nominating convention, and the Democrats will do the same next week in Charlotte. Given that modern national conventions don't really have the responsibility of actually picking nominees anymore, and that the platforms are already set, is there a purpose to having these conventions, or treating them as week-long media spectacles?

I rather enjoyed Hanna Rosin's thoughts on this question during last week's Slate Gabfest:
Look, most Americans pay no attention to politics, and then comes the convention, and then it's like a pageantry, and that's as interesting as politics is going to get. I feel it's slightly bogus when political reporters say things like, "Oh, no policy happens." Like you were going to write about policy if it did happen? All you do is write about image and message for the entire year and then the convention comes and you complain because it's only about image and message.
I agree with Rosin: the pageantry matters! This is the part of the election cycle where normal Americans (read: not political junkies) begin to pay attention to the candidates, the parties, and the issues, and the conventions are a big part of how that happens.

Along these lines, conventions serve as an opportunity for a party to present its candidates and its stances to the general public. Those who only learn about the current election from advertisements are getting a somewhat abbreviated and decidedly negative perspective; the conventions are the parties' chance to define themselves and lay out their arguments for why they should be in charge. We also get to see some of the up-and-coming candidates in a party; the next two weeks will give most Americans their first opportunity to hear from some of the likely 2016 presidential candidates.

Conventions also provide a rare opportunity for gathering something close to the entire party (depending on how one defines that) under one roof. That is, a national convention includes delegates, donors, activists, interest group members, officeholders, opinion leaders, and candidates from all levels of government. It's a chance for some of these people to meet each other and discuss issues, strategies, future candidates, etc. Oh, and if you happen to research parties, this is a pretty great opportunity to talk to a wide range of party members.

Finally, the convention is a chance to witness factionalism within a party. Although party leaders will go through great efforts to downplay dissent, sometimes rival factions will use convention events to make their viewpoints heard or champion certain candidates. Supporters of Hillary Clinton did this in Denver in 2008, and Ron Paul's supporters may try something along these lines this week in Tampa.

For more on these topics, please check out this piece by Jon Schuppe (which quotes my co-author Michael Heaney and me).

Update: I missed Jonathan Bernstein's take on this over the weekend, and he apparently touched on many of the same points. Please read it!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stuck with Akin

Some vacation travel kept me from posting on the Todd Akin situation when it first broke. I have nothing to add on the policy or physiological aspects of his comments, but I did want to comment on the parties perspective. The Republican Party establishment, broadly speaking, has made no secret of its desire to dump him as their nominee for the Missouri Senate race, but they've been unsuccessful in convincing him to bow out. I was kind of struck by this comment from GOP consultant Mike Murphy:
Moments like this – when a buffoon candidate needs to be sacked and dropped off at the state line – make me miss the old time pol[itical] bosses.
One can certainly sympathize with Murphy on this, but the comment seems a bit misguided. For one thing, it's a stretch to say that the "old time political bosses" had the power to dump nominees who became embarrassments. Yes, party bosses had a great deal of power to hand pick candidates and secure their nomination by controlling nominating conventions. But once a nominee had been selected, it was no small thing to remove them, which is why selecting the right nominee has always been such a crucial task. An Akin situation 150 years ago likely would have had similar results. It's not like some party boss would have kidnapped or murdered him. (I very much doubt that the kind of political violence portrayed in "Gangs of New York" was ever widespread in the United States, even in mid-1800s New York City.)

Of course, then as now, the party does have ways of getting an embarrassing nominee to step aside, but this is a negotiation, rather than an order. One way a party can get a candidate to abandon the race is by offering something valuable in return. A candidate could be offered another post, perhaps at a later time, in exchange for dropping out. In the case of Akin, the party really doesn't have anything to offer him. He gave up his House seat to run for Senate, so it's this or nothing. And the party has already labeled him toxic, so it's not like they want him in another public office. Besides, as far as Akin's concerned, if he steps down now, he'll always be remembered as the ignorant sexist who was forced out of the race. If he manages to win the seat, at least he has a shot at mitigating that reputation with a reasonably productive Senate career.

Another way a party can get a candidate to drop out is to threaten that he'll never work in party politics again if he doesn't do what they say. But that's pretty meaningless in this case, since it's already clear that Akin will never work in Republican Party politics again, unless he somehow wins this Senate seat. So he's got little incentive to drop out, and the party has little with which to entice or threaten him.

One sort of thing a strong party boss might do is to just abandon the nominee and back another party's candidate. This isn't something that just happened back in the days of the strong bosses. It's actually precisely what happened in Colorado in 2010 when GOP elites rallied around American Constitution Party nominee Tom Tancredo for governor rather than their own party's nominee, Dan Maes. And this may yet end up happening in Missouri.

Short of that, though, most of what the party can do is just cut off Akin and make a very public stance of doing so.

(h/t Kim Yi Dionne)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Who's the Party?

At The Monkey Cage, David Karol explains why Paul Ryan is a party insider, for those who apparently didn't know.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Does the party pick the vice president?

Parties spend a great deal of time vetting their presidential candidates. Mitt Romney went through dozens of debates, hundreds of media interviews, and countless meetings with voters, donors, and activists -- in two election cycles -- before Republicans settled on him for their presidential nominee. It's a very public and expensive process. Conversely, just a handful of people (mainly Romney) were responsible for selecting Paul Ryan as the vice presidential nominee, and the decision was made entirely behind closed doors. Yet it's an important decision. No, the vice presidential candidate doesn't much affect whether the ticket will win or not, but Paul Ryan's influence on a Romney presidency would no doubt be considerable, and Ryan's own chances of becoming president someday just increased substantially. Do the parties have much of a say in vice presidential selections?

We don't entirely know the process by which Ryan was selected, but it seems likely that party forces weighed pretty heavily on Romney's decision. We have some evidence from 2008, for example, that John McCain wanted Joe Lieberman to be his running mate, but that McCain's advisers rejected this because the party would never accept it. That is, there was considerable fear that party activists would abandon the ticket if it had a pro-choice lifelong Democrat on it, and would either stay home or back a more conservative third-party ticket instead. So McCain made his famous game-changing pick. Not many members of the GOP were in the room when he did that, but the party's influence in limiting his choices was considerable.

Romney, like McCain, has been concerned about retaining the support of conservative activists given his own (recent) past with moderation, and he wanted a running mate who would remove some of the doubts about his ideological purity. Ryan has become the darling of fiscal conservatives and many in the Tea Party movement over the past few years, and tapping him sent a signal to those parts of the GOP that Romney takes their concerns very seriously and is willing to tie his fate to theirs. Romney may well have made this decision on his own, but partisan actors certainly played a very powerful role in constraining that decision.

Friday, August 10, 2012

In California, the parties pretty much got what they wanted

California's new top-two primary supposedly opened up the nomination contests to greater competition. The parties tried to stem some of this competition by offering pre-primary endorsements, sending a message to their loyal supporters about which candidates they preferred to represent their party. How did the parties do? Eric McGhee runs the numbers:
All incumbents who ran this year advanced to the fall campaign, and all but four finished in first place. Likewise, 101 of 113 non-incumbent candidates endorsed by the major parties advanced.
Now, it's probably wrong to say that the party endorsements caused all these candidates to win. In many cases, the party was probably picking people they thought likely to win. Nonetheless, 101 out of 113 is a pretty impressive record for open seats. I don't know if anyone has compiled records of this sort of thing, but I'd guess that this record is on par with party machine success rates in anointing candidates in conventions in the days before direct primaries.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Shifting opinions on gay marriage

Two posts (by co-authors no less) on opinion change on gay rights.

  • David Karol, over at The Monkey Cage, notes that while Republicans may be becoming more supportive of gay rights, the same is not true of abortion, despite what you hear about young Republicans not caring about "social issues.
  • Michael Bailey, at YouGov's Model Politics blog, finds some evidence of presidential opinion leadership on gay marriage among those who are predisposed to listen to Obama.

The risks of the "daring campaign"

Reihan Salam asks why Romney appears to be losing the presidential race, and suggests that the answer is that he's running too conventional a campaign. Salam outlines some ideas for a more bold and daring campaign in which Romney would take on a populist veneer, bashing the big banks and advocating a tax reform package less geared toward Wall Street.

There's a reason Romney's running a conventional campaign. Romney's trying to do something that is often attempted but rarely works: unseating an incumbent president. Of the 19 presidents who have sought reelection since 1900, only four have been denied their bid. (Make that five out of 20 if you count Ford, who was never elected to anything outside of Michigan.) There's a built in bias toward incumbents. Things have to be going pretty badly for one to be kicked out of office.

Romney is, according to the latest polling trends, trailing Obama by roughly a point. That's pretty good for someone trying to unseat an incumbent president. Yes, he'd lose if the election were held today, but it's not being held today. Basically, if the economy continues to expand, even at its current modest pace, Obama is likely to win regardless of what Romney says, but it's entirely possible that the economy will stumble. If so, Romney's economic message has him poised to take advantage of that. This strikes me as a reasonably smart strategy.

Now, what would happen if Romney were to follow a more populist approach? Chances are, most voters wouldn't notice or care. A lot of political observers would find it funny that Romney, who made his money in investment banking, was trying to sound like a pitchfork-carrying populist, and they'd no doubt mock him for it. The language might irk some of Romney's more prominent Republican supporters. Tea partiers might appreciate the shift in tone, but they're pretty much all in for Romney anyway at this point since they despise Obama so much. So it's not clear to me that this would do anything to help Romney and might do something to hurt him and his party.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The effects of primary election rules on legislative behavior

Do the rules governing primary elections affect the behavior of elected officials? I've mentioned some earlier research suggesting that it doesn't. But Michael Alvarez and Betsy Sinclair have a new article out indicating the opposite. In their paper "Electoral Institutions and Legislative Behavior," just out with Political Research Quarterly, they do a social network analysis of California Assembly members elected during the blanket primary system, which existed in that state from 1998 to 2000.* They find that there's higher legislative agreement (members voting the same way) across party lines for those first elected through the blanket primary than for those first elected through the closed primary. They further suggest that in a chamber in which everyone were originally elected through the blanket primary, there would be a roughly 5 percent increase in legislative agreement.

This is a very interesting finding, suggesting that creating a more open primary can actually create a more collegial legislature. It's hard to know just how much this increase in comity might actually affect the policy output of the chamber or whether this increased agreement would only occur on symbolic votes, but it's still suggestive, and encouraging for those who have been advocating primary reform in California and elsewhere. We should have some additional data to test this idea next year in the wake of Proposition 14.

(h/t John Sides)

*A paper that deals with networks, the California Assembly, and primary election laws? Talk about the trifecta! If it had only mentioned Star Wars, this would be the most amazing paper ever.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Links for following the election

I recently did a talk for an Election Watchdog Workshop run by Investigative Reporters and Editors, during which I provided a list of recommended resources for following the fall campaigns. I figured I'd reproduce the list below. Please feel free to suggest any other good ones.

Campaign Resources
Voter Identification Laws
Economic Indicators
Election Forecasts

(h/t to John Sides and Lynn Vavreck for some helpful suggestions)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Property Rights Over Legislation? When Did that Happen?

This week Politico had a story about Joe Walsh (R-IL) violating the norms of the House of Representatives by introducing a slightly altered version of a bill by Tim Bishop (D-NY) without his consent or even the courtesy of a phone call. While I would be the last one to argue that Joe Walsh is a nice guy, I thought the story deserved some historical context. Have House members always enjoyed property rights over legislation? If not, when and why did they develop?

It used to be quite common for House members to introduce duplicate versions of other members' bills. As Scott Thomas and Bernard Grofman point out,

In the 93rd Congress, House members introduced 7,275 duplicate bills, each with an average of 6.5 cosponsors. Indeed, 44.2%7 of all House bills introduced in that Congress were duplicates. By the 97th Congress, the number of duplicate bills had been cut to 472.
 Behind this change is the evolution in House rules restricting the practice of cosponsoring legislation, i.e. putting one's name on a bill introduced by someone else. Some quick history:

  • Cosponsoring was prohibited in 1909
  • In 1967, cosponsoring was allowed, with a limit of 25 cosponsors per bill
  • In 1978, the cap on cosponsors per bill was completely lifted.
As Thomas and Grofman point out, these changes helped change the culture of House entrepreneurship. Before 1967, if a member liked another member's bill--or was urged by an interest group to support it--he would casually re-introduce the bill under his own name. This had the disadvantage of wasting a little bit of money, but it also made for a confusing legislative environment--if a bill has dozens of "sponsors" it is not clear who is leading the effort, or who deserves the most credit. Furthermore, when committee leaders agreed to act on a bill, they thought little of introducing their own version to report out of committee so they got the credit for the bill. Nonetheless, the practice of duplicate sponsorship was helpful for members who wanted to take a strong position on an issue, and could always do so by introducing a bill.

Once cosponsoring was allowed without limits, however, members began to claim and respect property rights over ideas. When I was a House staffer, my boss got into a "property" dispute with Bill Thomas (R-CA, on the Ways & Means Committee) over a bill improving the tax treatment of farmers. Thomas decided he liked the idea, so he would take it. In this case, the deciding factor was that the farmer groups who had picked my boss in the first place decided to stick with their initial choice rather than a more powerful member on the committee of jurisdiction. 

This case suggests another reason (among several) why property rights have emerged: interest groups respect the rights of entrepreneurs, even their hand-picked sponsors. Interest groups no longer lobby members to introduce duplicate bills; they solicit cosponsors for bills by recognized sponsors. And, given multiple MCs who wish to work with them on a topic (as was the case with Walsh and Bishop) they usually pick a favorite as a lead sponsor, or coordinate a Democrat/Republican team, often with the majority party member as the formal sponsor.

For more on entrepreneurship and cosponsoring, see my article here

The president is neither a uniter nor a divider

Jonathan Martin writes in Politico today about Obama's "problem in the South." Now, there are a number of important problems with this article (e.g.: this), although, in fairness, Martin is trying to deal with an important and pretty intractable issue. I don't know who exactly thought that Obama's election would transform race relations in the South, but if those people do exist, sure, they're probably disappointed.

The major problem here is pinning hopes of overcoming racial and political polarization on one person, even if that person is the president. Obama, Bush, and Clinton ran for president promising to bridge divides, and they weren't completely disingenuous when they did so. But party polarization, no less racial polarization, is far bigger than the president. These are massive historic and political forces, and they do not shift in direction because senators decide to sit across party lines during the State of the Union Address or because the president has a beer with a white police officer and the African American professor he wrongly arrested.

Importantly, racial and party polarization are deeply intertwined in this country. The main reason the parties have moved apart over the past few decades is that white southerners -- historically some of the most conservative voters in the country -- got over their hatred of Lincoln and joined his party, while African Americans -- traditionally liberal on many issues -- have increasingly voted Democratic. The opposition of white southerners to Obama isn't strictly about race. John Kerry only received the vote of 14% of whites in Mississippi in 2004. But Obama actually did worse there, despite the fact that he improved on Kerry's vote share nationally by over five points. Race undoubtedly plays a role, but it's not like a white Chicago Democrat named Barry Dunham would have done a whole lot better in the Deep South.

Martin's article is filled with some kindly advice from southern politicians, from Jim Webb to Lindsey Graham to John Lewis, mostly encouraging Obama to spend more time in the Deep South. To the extent that Obama isn't doing that in an election year, it's because his campaign has no interest in expending limited campaign resources in an uncompetitive region. Beyond that, though, he should obviously feel free to visit and chat with folks there or in any other state. But to blame Obama, even in part, for a failure to be popular among white southerners is to turn a blind eye to history.