Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Ground Game in 2012

Location of all Obama (blue) and Romney (red) campaign field offices in 2012.
Data from John Sides and Lynn Vavreck. Map created using Google Fusion.
Last fall, I wrote about Barack Obama's field office advantage in the swing states. The final tally shows that, across all the states, Obama had 786 field offices; Romney had 284. With the election behind us, we can now assess whether that made any difference in the election's outcome.

In my analysis of the 2008 election, I found that Obama's field offices conveyed an advantage for him, generating roughly six-tenths of an additional percentage point of the two-party vote in counties where he had a field office. I ran the same analysis on the county-level vote in 2012 for all fifty states. The field office locations were provided by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, who are using the information for their new book. I obtained the county-level election results from David Leip. I controlled for a variety of demographic characteristics of the counties.

What the new results show is that Obama's field offices did help him, but that effect was smaller than it was in 2008. While the effect was about six-tenths of a percentage point in 2008, it was about three-tenths of a percentage point in 2012. This finding is consistent with what Dan Hopkins found about advertising effects -- the effect was about three times as large in 2008 as it was in 2012 or in 2004. It's also consistent with what John Sides and Alan Abramowitz found in their preliminary studies of the 2012 campaign, which basically had a difficult time identifying any campaign effects at all. (I found no statistically significant effect for the Romney offices, just as there was no effect for the McCain offices four years earlier.)

There are several possible reasons why the 2012 Obama campaign (which, by most accounts, was even more technologically sophisticated than the data-driven 2008 version was) might have been less effective than its 2008 predecessor:

  • As Hopkins suggests, elections in which an incumbent is running (e.g.: 2004, 2012) may just experience less effective campaigns. Campaigns are likely to have more influence when voters know less about the candidates and need the ads and voter contacts to fill in the gaps. Voters knew plenty about Obama by November of 2012 and could render a verdict on his first term without help from the campaigns. 
  • It's also possible that, even if Romney's offices weren't able to move voters in his direction, they were more effective at checking Obama's efforts than McCain was. Notably, the correlation between Romney's and Obama's field office locations was .53; it was only .45 between Obama's and McCain's. Not a huge difference, but suggestive that the Republican approach was somewhat more effective this time around.
  • Finally, it may just be that Obama's innovations just weren't so... innovative this time around. His campaign's use of sophisticated voter targeting and social media were truly novel in 2008. But novelty wears off quickly, and voters become accustomed to being contacted that way. The advances in 2012 over 2008 were notable, but not enormous.

At any rate, the effect of these offices in 2012, while small, was not negligible. My analysis suggests that it was actually enough to change the outcome in Florida, which was the state settled by the narrowest margin last year. Had those voters who were motivated to vote for Obama by his field offices instead voted for Romney or not voted at all, the state would have voted, very narrowly, for Romney.

I'll have more to say on all this at a symposium next Monday at the Harkin Institute at Iowa State. If you're anywhere near Ames, Iowa, next Monday, be sure to stop by!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Basketball players also avoid low-percentage shots.

Charlie Cook has a nice piece up at National Journal noting that congressional leadership is working to avoid forcing their members to take "politically costly votes."

This is an oft-overlooked fact. I think the only flaw in Cook's piece is the suggestion that this is something new. It may not have been as easy for leaders to protect their flock when the parties were less ideologically homogenous, but this is a natural feature of, well, democracy.

We elect people to office. They want to get re-elected. The threat of not getting re-elected is the key element of democratic accountability. But some votes will make it hard for politicians to get re-elected. Those votes are called "politically costly," and parties avoid them. The Democratic Party avoided civil rights for a generation because it was politically costly. Slavery was held off the agenda because it was politically costly.

So it's disappointing to call politicians "wimps" for paying attention to the incentives that democracy provides. And it's just inaccurate to say that if they were "bold" or "dynamic," it would be "refreshing" and we would reward them. No, we (collectively speaking) would not. They'd lose their seats. That's what it means for a vote to be "politically costly."




Do politicians need to be friends to cut a deal?

President Obama recently spoke about the value of developing personal relationships in politics, something that a bunch of political scientists have been writing about recently (examples below). Jonathan Bernstein wrote about this in his blog and backed up the President by arguing that scholars of the presidency “have been telling us for decades that schmoozing just isn’t all that important.”  However, other recent political science research has investigated the value of social networks among political actors and draws some conclusions that contradict the President, sort of.

Mr. Obama’s argument is not wrong, but it is incomplete.  He argues that deals get worked out (or not) in Washington not because of who knows whom, or who likes whom, but because of ideology and policy preferences. This is true. An examination of roll call votes in Congress would reveal that political party, our best and simplest way of measuring a legislator’s ideology, explains more than 90 percent of the variance across all votes.  But how do we know that one’s party (or ideology or policy preference) has not been informed by social interactions?  And what about the remaining 10% of votes that aren’t explained by these primary factors?

Politicians’ personal social networks inform their thinking, and their voting.  Research shows that legislators’ personal friendships with one another can affect their voting patterns, or at least that legislators develop strategic relationships with one another for the purposes of forging future coalitions or, in the least, to have a sounding board against which to “check” one’s preferences.   Other scholars (and here) have argued that by examining patterns of cosponsorship in the U.S. Congress we observe the effects of consequential social networks that ultimately affect legislative voting.

We also have good evidence that voters’ social networks affect patterns of political activity in the civic arena (see here, here and here).

The evidence is mounting and compelling: social networks play an important role in human behavior. What is not yet entirely clear is how these networks matter and to what extent they matter. In a forthcoming book with University of Michigan Press, Nils Ringe and I argue that legislators form social relationships with one another strategically through Legislative Member Organizations (such as caucuses in the U.S. Congress). The relationships forged through LMOs cross typical partisan and institutional divides in ways that are ultimately productive for lawmaking.

My view of the relative importance of social networks in political decision making is heavily influenced by the conclusions we draw in this research.  That is, social networks are consequential, but most likely in an indirect way.  Who you know, who you talk to, how frequently political actors socialize with one another—these are things that may affect political events on the margins, or at the agenda setting stage where effects are more difficult to discern.   

But sometimes it’s the margins that count. President Obama noted that he enjoyed playing golf with Speaker Boehner, but that it didn’t help them reach a deal on the fiscal cliff.  However, the deal came together because of negotiations between Vice President Biden and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who have been colleagues and friends for more than 20 years. Biden and McConnell have successfully helped the nation avert crises three times in recent years (including the deal about the 2010 expiring Bush tax cuts, and in August 2011 regarding the debt ceiling). Explaining why Biden and McConnell seem so successful at these deals, one Republican staffer explained, "It's a buddy thing." So, with all due respect to the President, it may not entirely be true that social relationships had no impact on finding a deal on the fiscal cliff.

On historical rankings of presidents

Nate Silver has an interesting piece attempting to forecast how historians will ultimately rank Obama, based on what we know about his presidency thus far. I don't know if he intended this, but Silver did an excellent job undermining the value of these rankings altogether. Reasonable people, of course, may disagree about whether a president was good or not, but we generally have faith that the historians who contribute to these rankings know this material a lot better than we do and aren't misled by myth and hagiography. Silver's post suggests that this faith is misguided.

Note this section:
There were five presidents who died during their first terms. It is hard to know how to rank them, particularly William Henry Harrison, who survived for just 32 days into his presidency. However, when asked to do so, historians have viewed four of the five unsympathetically. The exception is John F. Kennedy, whom the historians rank ninth overall. 
I recognize this might be an unpopular position, but one can ask if there is some inconsistency here: whether Kennedy has been ranked so highly based more on his potential than his actual accomplishments.... Harrison, who accomplished almost literally nothing, is not regarded as average but instead as the fourth-worst president. (Put another way, only three presidents’ accomplishments are regarded as having been worse than nothing.) If that is the measure, it is hard to see how Kennedy is ranked similarly to Dwight D. Eisenhower by the historians, when Eisenhower had a very popular and productive presidency and served for almost three times as long.
I think it would be quite fair to just omit William Henry Harrison from such rankings -- how can we have any idea how he would have fared? -- but to rank him among the worst presidents just seems silly (and rude). And Kennedy is a whole other issue. Why is he considered the ninth best president of all time? His accomplishments while alive were fairly meager, and while he may have claimed many of the successes that Lyndon Johnson won had he survived 1963 and won reelection the following year, he likely would have had many of the same problems that befell LBJ, notably the Vietnam War. Is it possible that presidential historians have fallen for the same post-mortem hagiography on JFK that the public has?

I don't know what an ideal presidential ranking system would look like. I suppose my fantasy ranking would somehow factor out economic performance, the partisan makeup of Congress, and other factors largely out of the president's control, and just assess how well the president managed to enact his agenda. But, of course, we'd also need to assess whether that agenda was actually good for the country -- both Bushes convinced Congress to endorse war on Iraq, but were both those actions good ideas? -- and that's a lot squishier.

I don't mean to bash historians. (Some of my best friends are historians! Seriously!) I'm sure that ranked lists trivialize much of what historians do. But if you're going to rank presidents... well, I'm just not sure we're really learning anything from these lists.

Update: I had somehow missed Andrew Rudalevige's excellent post on this same subject. Definitely worth reading.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Proposed Senate Reforms: Recap and Discussion

The Congressional news (see links to text in article) of the day is that Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell have reached a tentative agreement on a package of Senate reforms, subject to approval by (most of) their party conferences.

The reforms are limited to agenda-setting motions, conference committees, and nominations. Here is a recap with commentary following each proposal:

Motion to Proceed

In practice, senators set their chamber agenda by unanimous consent, or by making motions to proceed to a bill that is waiting to be considered on the Senate floor. Currently these motions can be filibustered (unless they are offered in "morning hour", which never happens), so before the Senate can begin debating a bill (say, immigration reform) it must first agree by a 60% majority to stop arguing about whether to even discuss the bill. Since 1979, senators (especially majority leaders) have argued that these motions should always be immune from filibusters. Go ahead and filibuster bills, they say, but don't filibuster whether we even discuss issues.

There are two different proposals.
1) A process for a simple-majority motion to proceed. This proposal, which would be a standing order that expires at the end of the current Congress, would allow four hours of debate on the motion and, if the motion is approved, would guarantee the right to offer four amendments, sequenced as
a) minority party
b) majority party
c) minority party
d) majority party
These amendments must be filed (with sequenced deadlines) before any vote to invoke cloture on the bill. If cloture is approved on the bill (by the standard 60% majority) then each amendment is limited to 1 hour of debate and any non-germane amendment would require 60 votes to pass.

My analysis: this process seems tailor-made for the most contentious issues. The majority party gets the right to bring its priority bills to the floor as long as the minority party can force a roll call vote on any issue it wants. While it is possible that these guaranteed amendments will be used to perfect the underlying legislation, it is also possible (and quite likely) that each party will use this process to force votes on its hot-button "message" issues. Note, too, that the majority party gets the last guaranteed amendment slot, so it can use its last mover advantage to erase any actions taken on the minority-offered amendments. This would enable majority party members to say "I voted for [X] before I voted against it" on any issue.

It is also noteworthy that this version grants less power to party leaders than earlier drafts. The previous iteration specified that the right to offer these guaranteed amendments belonged to the floor managers for a specified bill and to the minority and majority party leaders. This version does not make this explicit and instead grants amendment rights to "the minority" and "the majority."

2) An expedited bipartisan process to invoke cloture on motions to proceed. This permanent rule change would
a) allow a vote on the motion to proceed to occur after a one-day wait (instead of the regular two)
b) prohibit any debate after cloture is invoked
...but only if the leaders and seven other members of each party sign onto the cloture petition.

My analysis: I am not sure how often this will be used. Both party leaders would have to cooperate to squelch dissent. The payoff is a shortened timeline for proceeding to a bill. How often will BOTH leaders think that the payoff is worth the headache and heartache of telling a member of their own party to shut up?

Conference Committees

Currently an effort to go to conference with the House on a particular bill is subject to three separate filibusters:  first on the motion to disagree with the action of the House, second on the motion to request a conference, and third on a motion to appoint conferees. If a single senator forces the issue, it would take at least six votes (three cloture votes, three simple majority votes), up to 90 hours of post-cloture debate, and six days of waiting for cloture petitions that have been filed to "ripen" so the Senate can vote on them. Of course, once a bill returns from the conference committee it can be filibustered again!

The leaders propose a rule change that condenses the three motions into a single motion and shortens the timeline to invoke cloture on the motion: a two-hour wait for a cloture petition to ripen and zero debate time after a successful cloture vote.

My analysis: kudos. Seriously. The traditional conference committee process was in danger of disappearing because few MCs wanted to brave the slings and arrows of outrageous obstruction in the Senate. This reform makes it feasible to go to conference again, subject to a single three-fifths vote.

Nominations

Currently, nominations wending their way through the Senate are subject to a filibuster. They are also subject to filibuster threats, or holds. Since most nominations are not worth the floor time required for a separate cloture-based fight (file a cloture petition, wait two days, 3/5 vote on cloture, 30 hours of post-cloture debate, simple majority vote on approval), a single threat of a filibuster can tie up a nomination for days, months, or even indefinitely. These threats often have nothing to do with the nominee herself and instead are based on senators' arguments with the administration or each other, but nominees often pay a hellacious price as they linger in the limbo between the job they have already quit and the job they cannot start until they are approved.

The standing order proposal makes two minor changes. First, post-cloture debate on a nomination is reduced from 30 to eight hours. This only applies to executive branch officials who are not in the top strata of officials. Second, post-cloture debate on district court judges is reduced to two hours of post-cloture debate.  Both these changes expire at the end of the current Congress.

My analysis: these are incremental changes in the right direction. Individual senators can still force cloture votes and approval votes on as many nominations as they like, and they can gain a lot of leverage by making such threats. I would prefer to see guaranteed simple-majority votes on executive branch nominations (they are short-termers, and the president must accept the blame if they do a bad job) and see shortened debate times for appellate court judges as well. I suspect that in order for the Senate to move further in this direction, senators need to find different and healthier ways to hold the executive branch accountable, such as holding committee hearings and passing appropriations bills.

Overall

I expect that this package of reforms will be criticized for what it is not. It does not lower the cloture threshold or set up a realistic process for forcing filibustering senators to hold the floor. Nonetheless, it does address some of the worst problem areas: nominations, conference committees, and redundant filibusters as the Senate debates about what to debate. What I do like about these reforms is that they focus on an under-discussed source of Senate paralysis: the time lags built into the operation of the cloture rule. It's not just the cloture rule's supermajority threshold that retards the Senate; the time required to wait for a cloture vote and the 30 hours of "debate" time after the Senate votes to limit discussion are extremely costly in a chamber with a limited budget of floor time. They force the Senate to waste its days and nights, to remain in session but empty, and allow individual senators great power over petty issues.

Senator Reid will doubtless be blamed for selling out the true reformers of the Senate instead of attempting a grand confrontation with the Republicans. Reid has a persuasive if indelicate answer: there probably weren't enough Democratic votes to push through more drastic reforms, and the short-term payoffs for any major change would be limited by the Republican majority in the House.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Victory Lab

I just finished -- and thoroughly enjoyed -- Sasha Issenberg's The Victory Lab. The book does an excellent job highlighting the still-minimal nexus between political scientists and political consultants -- not only some of the recent work of the Obama campaign but also the history of this nexus. As Issenberg portrays it, this sort of applied political science work has basically always been heretical on some level. Traditional political scientists view dabbling in the applied world as inherently unscientific; consultants dismiss the academics as paper-writing eggheads who don't understand the way real politics works.

Issenberg's history of this subfield begins in the early 20th century with Harold Gosnell's research at the University of Chicago. Gosnell sent out a variety of mailers to Chicago households to try to determine what sorts of messages boosted voter turnout. His approach was entirely consistent with what we consider good social science today, but many in the discipline were uncomfortable with his work then. At the 1910 APSA conference, for example, Woodrow Wilson objected to the term "political science," arguing that human relationships "are not in any proper sense the subject matter of science." Harvard's president Abbott Lawrence Lowell described politics as "an observational, not an experimental science." Few would follow in Gosnell's path until decades later.

Issenberg also charts the development of several political consultants, noting the disincentives in that field toward embracing scientific methods. Campaign budgets, first of all, are usually quite tight, and any funds devoted toward research in a campaign are usually considered wasteful. Second, clients usually have little interest in research -- their priority is to win the current race, not to worry about future ones. Third, there's a real resistance to creativity in the field. As direct mail legend Hal Malchow notes, "If you do something different, everyone will point at the thing you did different and say that's why you lost. So if you're the campaign manager you don't do anything different. If you follow the rule book strictly they can't blame anything on you." Consultant Mark Grebner is similarly critical of campaigns, which tend to repeat the same tactics each cycle without evaluating whether they work or not: "Why do people go out and sing Christmas carols before Christmas? Because they've always done it!"

Ultimately, it took a few established consultants with a bit of money to spare and an itch to see if they could improve the craft -- people like Matt Reese (whose class I took in the mid-90s) and Mike Podhorzer and Malchow -- along with some political scientists like Sam Popkin, Daron Shaw, Chris Mann, Don Green and Alan Gerber who were willing to risk sullying their academic reputations a bit by consulting for campaigns. It also took a few candidates like Rick Perry and Barack Obama who were willing to let the scientists experiment with their campaigns a bit in exchange for information that would be useful in subsequent elections.

Campaigns are still nowhere near as sophisticated as they could be -- my impression is that Apple and Coca Cola and Volkswagen are still much shrewder at figuring out what consumers want and exploiting that -- but they've nonetheless advanced a lot in just the past few years thanks to these and other pioneers. The 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns, in particular, were staffed by relentless experimenters who were constantly trying to figure out the best way to reach untapped voters and convert their sympathies into Election Day behavior. The consultants who favor more traditional dogmas are quickly being left behind (or just getting jobs as commentators on the news networks).

One thing that Issenberg doesn't really get into in this book is the question of just how much of an edge these new data-based campaign approaches provide for their candidates. That's a hard question to answer. To some extent, we can credit data-based campaigning with saving the campaigns some money -- they don't have to waste precious funds on campaign activities that are known not to work. But how much of an advantage are we talking about here? The research I did suggesting that Obama's 2008 field offices were worth roughly half a percentage point of the vote could be an indicator that the new campaign style mattered, or perhaps it was just the enthusiasm and overwhelming numbers of the volunteers that did it. And there's some recent evidence that Obama's 2012 campaign, undoubtedly more technologically skilled than Romney's, gave him no measurable advantage at all. (I'll have more on this soon.)

In some ways, the advocates for data have been lucky: Obama won the presidency twice, Rick Perry won a contested gubernatorial race, and we never really got to see a full test of his presidential infrastructure as that campaign died to due candidate-inflicted injuries. As more campaigns embrace these experimental methods and are willing to devote some funds to them, we're going to see some of them lose -- not because they used the methods wrong, but simply because the election fundamentals were against them. Yet the methods will likely get blamed. Then we'll know whether this is really the new style of campaigning or just the latest fad.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Enthusiasms

David Plotz with the claim:
The contrast to 2009 could not be starker. In 2009, Washington was a big party for a week.... Anyone on the left who ever cared about anything was in Washington for what was a huge party, a sense of optimism. The largest crowd perhaps in American history gathered on the Mall for that 2009 inauguration. The first African American president. This start of a new hope. It was epic, it was memorable. The [2012] inauguration... it feels like people are about as excited about that as they are about maybe a Washington Wizards game. There's no drama about it, no enthusiasm. Now, all second inaugurations suffer from this, but the contrast is pretty enormous. Why such a falloff?
Some images with the reality:

Hmm... no shortage of people there. Just once, I would love one of these claims of declining enthusiasm to be backed up with some sort of evidence. I wouldn't be surprised if the crowd this year turns out to be smaller than it was in 2009, but Plotz didn't offer any sort of data in support of his claim. He simply asserted it and left everyone else to explain why.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Death Star politics: the White House response

Praise where praise is due: the White House has issued a response to the petition calling upon the U.S. to construct a Death Star. (I like to think that this is the sort of thing I would have been tasked with writing when I worked in White House correspondence in the 90s -- I was the science and technology writer! -- but sadly, no one sent us such a petition.) My own views on the Death Star have evolved somewhat. I don't see it as a great investment militarily, but, unlike Koger, I generally favor construction for the technological benefits it would bring and for the massive stimulatory effect it would likely have on the economy.

Let me take on a few aspects of the White House's response:
The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
Okay, the White House is going with the $850 quadrillion estimate, but I've seen estimates for $15 septillion, and my own estimate was in the low quintillions. Generally, when the White House gives you the lowest of several widely divergent cost estimates for a government project, hold onto your wallet.

But beyond that, couldn't we just cover the cost by minting a quintillion-dollar platinum coin? Put Palpatine's face on it.
The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
Well, they probably didn't support using flying droids to blow up people a few years ago. But, you know, positions evolve.
Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?
Yes, that's an important point, but fortunately, we have research on this. Two previous experiments have revealed flaws with easy technological workarounds, like putting a $3 metal grate over thermal exhaust ports. Oh, and don't put it into combat situations until you've finished building it.

The post then goes on to describe all the admittedly laudatory space research the federal government is already supporting, but really, this is small bore stuff. A return to the Moon? Please. Neil Armstrong and a team of nerds did that with slide rules and tin foil. In the 60s.

The post concludes with this:
If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star's power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.
I am really, really tired of the Obama administration foisting its anti-Christian religious messages down our throats.

One final point: why am I posting about this on a blog devoted to parties? Because there's a great opportunity here for the Republicans that they have yet to exploit. The White House has just come down firmly against an important new military weapons system. They basically just put Dukakis in the tank. They've left us defenseless against our future extraterrestrial invaders. These attack ads write themselves. I predict -- and welcome -- massive polarization on this issue.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Senate Reform 101: The Case Against the Constitutional Option


On January 3, senators put off decisions about if or how to restrict the ability of senators to filibuster. The quasi-deadline for a decision is January 22. Why? Because, the argument goes, the first day of Congress is the magic hour when senators get to decide what their rules are. Once the magic day (and by "day" we mean "legislative day", so it lasts until the Senate adjourns) goes by, the current rules are locked in and there's just nothing that can be done about them.  This is known as the so-called "constitutional option" whereby senators declare that the Senate has no rules at the start of a new Congress until it formally adopts them. I think the reformers make a mistake to base their strategy on this argument.

In the media and blogosphere, the terms constitutional option and nuclear option are used in a variety of ways, sometimes so broadly that they essentially mean “any reform achieved by parliamentary precedent without the consent of the minority party” or “any reform that makes the minority party really mad.” I use the term more precisely to mean a reform strategy premised on revoking the notion that the Senate is a standing body with continuous rules and asserting the right to adopt rules de novo at the beginning of a new Congress.

The constitutional option has been discussed and attempted for decades. I will not bother with the arguments that the Senate should not be a standing body, or that the Senate’s practice is somehow unconstitutional. I am more interested in the practical questions of which reform strategy is most likely to succeed with the lowest short-term political costs and long-term jeopardy. By this standard, the constitutional option is probably not the best approach. I have six concerns.

1)      The constitutional option is complicated. If the Senate has no rules, then it is operating under general parliamentary law. What does this mean? No one knows. Senators, presiding officers, and parliamentarians will likely have an ongoing conversation about how to make decisions without rules. This creates ample opportunities for points of order, indignant protests, and embarrassment. Who knows how long it will take to get a direct vote on a rules change? Or if it will ever happen?

Sure, the House of Representatives manages to move from anarchy to order every two years, but it has had centuries of practice and has standard routines to guide its tradition.

2)      The constitutional option creates a process for radically empowering the majority party in the long run. No matter how innocuous the reforms adopted in the 113th Congress, once the constitutional option is affirmed the majority party will be empowered to propose and push through rules changes every two years. In this polarized environment, the temptation to centralize power as thoroughly as the U.S. House will likely be overwhelming. This may be especially galling if Democrats see their modest reforms of 2013 pave the way for the reign of Czar McConnell.

3)      While there is no doubt that the majority can exercise the constitutional option if it musters enough votes, it looks like a violation of the social contract. The minority party will likely gain public sympathy by characterizing the majority's actions as revolutionary, as a break with two hundred years of tradition and a renunciation of the last shred of bipartisanship in the Senate. 

4)      As a consequence of arguments 1-3 above, it has historically been difficult to muster a majority for a reform strategy based on the constitutional option. Much to the frustration of Senate reformers, there has usually been a swing group of senators who favor their proposed reforms but are unwilling to buy into the constitutional option. Whether they fear the long-term concentration of power in the hands of majority leaders or the prospect of running for reelection in states that lean to the opposite party, the constitutional optionper se deters would-be reform supporters.

5)      The logic of the constitutional option limits the opportunity for reform to the beginning of a Congress. If the effort fails but circumstances change—the minority party is even more obstructionist than expected, or uses new tactics, or new pro-reform senators join the Senate—the reformers deny themselves the option of mid-session reform by proclaiming that the rules of the Senate are immutable once accepted.

 6)      Due to arguments 1-5, the constitutional option has a long record of failure. To be fair, the credible threat of majority-imposed reforms led to compromises in 1959, 1975, and 1979, but that included a frustrating stretch from 1953 to 1975 when the reliance on the constitutional option retarded progress on reform. As my colleagues Sarah Binder and Steve Smith highlight, there were several cases of apparent majority support for reform during this era, but a critical group of senators shied away from supporting the key procedural votes of the constitutional option. In 1975 the reformers finally won one of these key votes, only to realize how difficult it was to translate this initial victory into the rules change they sought.

If the constitutional option was the only way to restrict filibustering, it would be understandable to disregard these arguments and plow ahead. But it is not.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Richard Ben Cramer, RIP

Richard Ben Cramer, author of What It Takes -- one of the best books ever written on American politics -- has passed away. Below, I repost a piece I did from two years ago on the book.



At the repeated urging of Jonathan Bernstein, I finally read Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes. And you know what? It's excellent. It's a very detailed behind-the-scenes look at most of the major candidates in the 1988 presidential election, including Dole, Bush, Gephardt, Biden, Hart, and Dukakis. The stories are wonderful. The candidates' backgrounds are fascinating -- I was surprised how many of them dealt with a serious illness or death of a loved one (Bush's daughter, Biden's wife, Dukakis' brother, Gephardt's son), not to mention Dole's own personal travails.

The book is very much not political science, but it contains a ton of evidence that political scientists would find useful. I got the impression that there's enough material there to write another The Party Decides, although the book just isn't organized that way. Take, for example, this discussion of Gephardt's campaign:
When you got down to it, [Gephardt] meant to run Jimmy Carter's campaign -- twelve years later, different issues, new wrinkles, but still, he meant to hike the trail that Carter blazed. He would come out of nowhere, win Iowa... get the bump... and then the hot light would hit. Dick had to be ready. He had to know how to run in the South, how to make his campaign truly national; had to know what the press would do, how to get the money while his name was hot, how to tie down the pols who meant to ride with a winner... how to build momentum until his nomination, like Carter's, could not be stopped.
So he sought Carter's advice, and he followed it. He started early. He made sure his contact with Iowans was not only broad, but deep -- and deeply personal. Thought his money was tight, he staffed not only Iowa and New Hampshire, but offices in several southern states. He picked his campaign team, and he backed it -- even in the worst times, he never second-guessed. He worked small towns, and corn boils, church picnics, county fairs... he did everything, in short, that Jimmy Carter did... did it just as hard, and much longer... and with two months before the Iowa caucus, he could see... it hadn't worked worth a damn.
Others, including the authors of The Party Decides, have pointed out how the 1970s were an atypical era in presidential politics where a bandwagoning candidate could actually put together a campaign on his own and win the nomination, and how that approach stopped working by the 1980s. And here's Cramer hitting the same point back in 1988. Pretty cool.

Now, Cramer grants a much more powerful role to the media than most political scientists do today. And the media really do not come off very well. Respected journalists like E.J. Dionne are depicted buying into pack journalistic mentalities and grilling Gary Hart about his affairs because "everybody knows" he has a problem. What's more, the candidates seem to react to this press coverage. Hart and Biden are seen as pulling out of the race because the media would not leave them alone about Donna Rice and plagiarism, respectively. You can almost see Bill Clinton reading this book in 1990 and saying, "So all I have to do is ignore them and I can still win the race? Piece of cake."

The political media clearly have their own agenda separate from that of the parties, and they can seem quite feckless at times. But these stories aren't always wrong. Bill Clinton really did have a character problem, one that ended up dominating much of his second term in office. But Cramer presents evidence of pretty good people being driven from public life by nasty, personal media coverage based on little factual content, and it's hard to defend that.

Anyway, the book is definitely worth the read.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Are (some) academic stresses self-imposed?

Dan Drezner makes some nice points in response to the Forbes article that lists academia as one of the least stressful occupations. While he rightly notes that adjuncts face a great deal of career stress, he concedes that those of us in tenure or tenure-track positions enjoy a degree of autonomy and flexibility that those in careers at similar pay levels do not have.

He also makes a point about us self-selecting into this line of work, and I think this is an important one in the discussion of stress. Academics generally do their jobs because it's a career they actively sought out and they study a subject that deeply interests them. (No one ever wrote a folk song about being forced to become an academic because it was the only job in town.) Thus, we end up committing to a lot of things we don't actually have to do -- such as conference papers, journal reviews, academic blogs, etc. -- because we find them intrinsically interesting or we believe we have a decent contribution to make. Now, it's good for the discipline and for our own career reputations and professional advancement that we do these things, but they're not always mandatory, particularly for tenured faculty. So the professional commitments I took on during that blessed year between gaining tenure and becoming department chair certainly added to my stress levels, but a) I could have declined many/most of them and kept my job, b) the commitments brought some satisfaction that partially offset the stresses, and c) the stresses weren't remotely like those faced by firefighters, police officers, soldiers, miners, commercial fishermen, etc. That is, no MPSA paper is going to kill me, although some have tried.

Similarly, with teaching, many of us endeavor to improve our teaching or offer new courses because we believe it's important to do so. Taking on such a commitment invariably generates new stresses -- teaching a new course sometimes leads to initially lower course evaluations, generating a new course is harder than repeating an old one -- and we could usually just not do these things and still keep our jobs. Nonetheless, we take on the task of improving our course offerings, and the concomitant stress, because to quote Hyman Roth, "this is the work we have chosen," and we think this is the best way to do it.

[Cross-posted from Enik Rising]

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The fiscal cliff vote: Who voted no?

Below is a histogram of the House vote on the Senate's fiscal cliff resolution from yesterday, broken down by members' ideal points:
As we can see, the no votes overwhelmingly came from the Republican side, and from the more conservative members within the Republican caucus. Interestingly, the more liberal members within each caucus were more likely to support the bill (and that's statistically significant), although that relationship is much stronger among Republicans.

Update: Among Republicans, the second dimension negatively predicts passage (p≤.01), so I assume there's something in the bill that helps bi-metalists.