Thursday, February 28, 2013

Copyright reform, right and left


Matt Yglesias asks me what I think about any likely partisan division over copyright reform.

The claim, made by Joe Karaganis at NRO (semi-gated) and echoed by Jerry Brito, is that the Republicans could be leading the fight for copyright reform because even though both parties have constituencies on both sides, the conservative pro-reform position has a natural home on the Right.

Karaganis (via Brito):
How would an Internet politics emerge in the Democratic party? The answer is probably simple: It is impossible in the short term because of the power of Hollywood and inevitable in the long term because of the power of time. Most of the young are already Democrats.
How would an Internet politics emerge in the Republican party? Given the decades of rhetorical entrenchment around property rights and law enforcement, it would probably require the recasting of intellectual-property rights as government monopoly, of SOPA-style bills as crony capitalism, and of Internet enforcement as part of a digital-surveillance state.
Maybe. I don't know as much as most about this issue, but it seems this analysis gets wrong the party identification of those who most benefit from the status quo.

Sure, the celebrity liberal activists of the film business are definitely Democrats ... your Susan Sarandons and your Barbara Streisands and your Matt Damons. But the guys who actually hold all the copyrights, who are trying to squeeze the last penny out of Battleship -- not necessarily. Gimpel, Lee and Parrott, for example, break down partisan giving by economic sector, and they show that those in the Motion Picture and Video Distribution sector appear to have no party preference. Those in Motion Picture and Video Production give slightly more the Republicans. The "talent" in the entertainment business may be Liz Lemon, but the corporation is still run by Jack Donaghy. Remember the writers' strike?

If that's right, then it's more than "rhetorical entrenchment" around property rights. It's actually supporting conservative business interests. Intellectual property is property, and copyright laws are designed to keep people from stealing your property. Anything else is socialism.

Meanwhile, the libertarian, information-just-wants-to-be-free folks are neither as big a part of the Right as this makes them out to be, nor are they uniquely on the Right. Liberals actually don't like unaccountable big government either -- see for example lefties on (1) drone strikes and (2) Aaron Swartz.

My guess is that this issue isn't going to move to the top of the agenda as quickly as we might think. It's a classic unorganized issue, where those who benefit from the status quo have power and influence, while those who would benefit from reform are diffuse and often are not even aware of the issue.

Trying to answer John Roberts' question about racism

Chief Justice John Roberts, during arguments over the Voting Rights Act yesterday:
Is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North?
Well, here's what the 2008 American National Election Study had to say:
For more, see Sides, Bouie, and Valentino and Sears.

Update: Chart text changed above.

Further update: Jessica Trounstine sends in this graph of several questions from the General Social Survey:
All data are from the combined 1998-2008 GSS surveys for non-Hispanic white respondents. The question wording is as follows:
  1. Work Way Up: Do you agree strongly, agree somewhat, neither agree nor disagree, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly with the following statement: Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without special favors. (Graph shows proportion agreeing somewhat and agreeing strongly.)
  2. No Interracial Marriage: Do you think there should be laws against marriages between (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) and whites? (Graph shows proportion responding yes.) 
  3. Blacks Shouldn’t Push: (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) shouldn't push themselves where they're not wanted. Do you agree strongly, agree slightly, disagree slightly, or disagree strongly? (Graph shows proportion agreeing strongly and slightly.)
  4. No Open Housing Laws: Which law would you vote for? A) One law says that a homeowner can decide for himself whom to sell his house to, even if he prefers not to sell to (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans). B) The second law says that a homeowner cannot refuse to sell to someone because of their race or color. (Graph shows proportion selecting option A.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Parties are more boring than you think

I'm sympathetic to films and TV shows that seek to dramatize politics. There's real drama in politics, of course, but not all of it makes for good public theater, which leaves filmmakers with the difficult task of inventing drama where it doesn't necessarily exist.

Example: In episode 4 of "House of Cards" (U.S. version), Rep. Francis Underwood (D-SC), the Majority Whip, attempted a bit of a coup. The background is that he wanted the Speaker's support for a piece of education legislation. When the Speaker wouldn't provide it, Underwood pitched the Majority Leader with the idea of running for Speaker, guaranteeing him all the minority Republican members' support along with enough Democrats to put him over the top. The Majority Leader angrily dismissed the idea, but then Underwood acted as though the coup was happening anyway, convincing the head of the Congressional Black Caucus to join in (with the chance of becoming Majority Leader himself) and bring most of the Black Caucus with him. The beauty move is that Underwood never had to follow through with the coup -- he went and presented it to the Speaker himself, blaming the sitting Majority Leader for the idea and offering to make it go away in exchange for the Speaker's support on the education bill. When the current Majority Leader protested his innocence, Underwood told him that if he made a scene, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would oppose him in his next primary. The Majority Leader (having actually done nothing wrong) was dismissed from his leadership post anyway and replaced with the head of the Black Caucus. 

It's a pretty interesting strategy for a party leader. So why don't we see this more often in real life?

Because it's insane. Well, maybe not so much insane, but it reflects little of how legislative parties are actually run. The main problem is that Underwood's bluff would not have been remotely believable in real life. The idea that whole Republican caucus would join together to back a Democratic candidate for Speaker? That basically never happens. I checked in with a bunch of congressional experts (well, two: Greg Koger and Jeff Jenkins) on this and confirmed that the last time the majority of one party backed a Speaker candidate from the other party was 1839. Voting for Speaker is the defining partisan act for any member of the U.S. House; people who vote for a candidate of another party usually do not last long in the chamber.

Now, I should note that this occasionally happens in state legislatures, but not inconsequentially. For example, Republicans took over the California Assembly by one seat in 1994. Outgoing Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) brokered a deal in which Assemblywoman Dorris Allen (R-Orange County) became Speaker with every Democratic vote and one Republican vote -- her own. How did Republican activists in her home district react to the fact that their member was now Speaker, the first Republican Speaker in decades and the first female Speaker in the state's history? They recalled her. Conspiring with Democrats was enough to destroy her political career.

All of this is to say that legislative parties do not operate in a vacuum, and members of Congress (even prominent legislative leaders) can't manipulate them at will without expecting significant consequences from party activists outside the chamber. These sorts of stunts generally don't work. Other members know that, which is why people don't usually try to pull these stunts in the first place.

Oh, and the idea that the DCCC would go after a prominent incumbent in a Democratic primary? That also basically never happens, except maybe when a member is accused of some sort of criminal activity that seen as damaging to the party. The DCCC, like other legislative campaign committees, is basically an organization by and for incumbents. It doesn't favor primary challengers over incumbents just because they've lost favor.

The fact that these things really don't happen is a source of great stability in our political system. The behavior of legislative parties is actually quite predictable from day to day, and even very ambitious politicians know they can't bend them to their wishes. That's a nice feature of American politics, even if it makes for dull television.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Republican Brain Smash Risk!

Republicans and Democrats don't just think differently, they actually use their brains differently:
We explore differences in brain function in liberals and conservatives by matching publicly-available voter records to 82 subjects who performed a risk-taking task during functional imaging. Although the risk-taking behavior of Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives) did not differ, their brain activity did. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, while Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala. In fact, a two parameter model of partisanship based on amygdala and insula activations yields a better fitting model of partisanship than a well-established model based on parental socialization of party identification long thought to be one of the core findings of political science. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and they support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli.
That's from "Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans," by Darren Schreiber, Greg Fonzo, Alan N. Simmons, Christopher T. Dawes, Taru Flagan, James H. Fowler, and Martin P. Paulus. Just to be clear, the finding is that Democrats tend to use the insula, which is used in the monitoring of one's internal feelings, when assessing risk, while Republicans tend to use the amygdala, which is the brain's threat response center, for the same task.

Chris Mooney explains the causality involved:
Current research suggests not only that having a particular brain influences your political views, but also that having a particular political view influences and changes your brain. The causal arrow seems likely to run in both directions—which would make sense in light of what we know about the plasticity of the brain. Simply by living our lives, we change our brains. Our political affiliations, and the lifestyles that go along with them, probably condition many such changes.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Raising barriers to voting, with predictable consequences

What happens to the electorate when you tighten up rules for voting? Does everyone have a harder time voting, or are some groups of voters affected more than others?

We got some evidence on this question in Colorado recently. For several election cycles, Colorado has provided mail-in ballots automatically to those who have registered as requesting mail-in ballots in previous cycles. In late 2011, Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced that the state's mail-in ballots would henceforth only be sent out automatically to those who were "active" voters, meaning they had voted in the last general election. This led to a dispute between Gessler's office and the counties of Denver and Pueblo, with the Brennan Center and Colorado Common Cause getting involved. I was brought in as an expert witness to help determine the effect that the change would have on the electorate, specifically with regards to race.

With the help of University of Denver geographer Paul Sutton, I compared voting precincts in Denver, Pueblo, and throughout the state based on their racial breakdowns and on the percent of voters listed as IFTV ("Inactive - failed to vote," meaning they did not vote in the last general election). Below is a scatterplot showing the percent of residents who are Latino compared to the percent who are IFTV status, by precinct within Denver:
That's a very strong relationship, suggesting that the rule change would have a disproportionate impact on Latinos, making it less likely that they'll receive a mail-in ballot. Basically the same trend was found among African American residents:
I found these same patterns within Pueblo County and across the state as a whole.

Sutton then made these maps for Denver County, showing roughly the same trends geographically (click to expand):
Again, the trend is quite consistent: the higher concentration of a racial minority group within a precinct, the more people in that precinct who did not vote in the previous general election, and the more people who would be deprived of an automatic mail-in ballot.

Now, there is an ecological inference issue here: I'm making individual-level interpretations using precinct-level data. To try to get around this, I employed the ecological inference program Eco to make some estimations of individual-level behavior. The results suggested that roughly 10 percent of eligible white voters were IFTV status, but roughly a third of Latinos and African Americans were IFTV status. The change in the rule on mail-in ballots would have meant racial minorities having a harder time voting by mail than whites.

Based partially on this analysis, the judge in the case ruled against Gessler, and the change in mail-in voter policy is not being implemented. But given partisan voting patterns among different racial groups, it's not hard to imagine how this would have played out electorally had it been enforced.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

If campaign effects are so minimal, why even try?

Today marks the beginning of my gig as a regular blogger for Pacific Standard. I'll be doing a weekly column there on, you know, politics 'n stuff. (Thanks to Marc Herman for helping to make this happen.) Anyway, my first piece is a discussion about campaign effects, related to this blog post I wrote a few weeks ago. I try to explain why the Obama campaign, which was purportedly steeped in political science research and obsessed with empirical testing of its activities, spent so much time and money on activities (such as a massive ad campaign during the summer of 2012) that likely had zero effect on voters.

One explanation that I really didn't get into in the piece (although a friend wrote to discuss with me) is that a candidate who understands all this minimal effects research is nonetheless trapped in a collective action dilemma. The candidate has obligations to her supporters and to the other candidates on her ticket. If all those people (and reporters, party activists, donors, and other observers) believe that campaign activity matters a lot, then the candidate sends a terrible signal by doing nothing. What may be, on an empirical level, a very smart decision to not waste money on a particular ad campaign is nonetheless seen by others as, at best, a dereliction of duty and, at worst, an outright betrayal. So until these empirical findings are accepted by a very broad swathe of political observers (don't hold your breath), it will still be in candidates' political interests to keep paying for things with little or no payoff.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Political Networks Conference

Would you like to learn more about the fascinating subfield of social networks research? Would you like to learn how to do network analysis like this, and make spectacular network graphs that look like this and this, or maybe just this?

If so, I strongly encourage you to apply to the 2013 Political Networks Conference and Workshops, to be held June 26th - 29th at Indiana University. The application is here -- the deadline has been extended to Friday, February 15th.

The workshops are great whether you're just learning network analysis or whether you're experienced and are looking for some new research ideas. Details on the training sessions have not been worked out yet but will be posted soon on the website. The conference panels are also reliably fascinating. This year's keynote speakers will include Brint Milward and Robert Huckfeldt. Graduate student attendees may qualify for fellowship support.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Where does the corporation fit in a democracy?

[There is] a gross mismatch between the corporate world we inhabit and the liberal individualist frames we use to interpret and address this world. It is commonplace, for example, to describe the United States as modern, liberal, democratic, market oriented, and individualistic. Yet the corporations that are the setting of its workaday world and portions of its leisure world are of premodern provenance and, internally, are neither liberal, democratic, marketized, nor individualistic, but instead are hierarchical, semi-cooperative, and organized through authority relations. Painting the corporation as private and contractual—a voluntary association of shareholders—masks this contradiction.
That's from "Beyond Public and Private: Toward a Political Theory of the Corporation," by my colleague David Ciepley, in the new APSR. This is a particularly timely piece given the increased focus on corporate influence over government but the lack of a framework for understanding this influence.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Initial post-election thoughts

I'm a bit late on posting this, but below is the video from the panel "The 2012 Election: What Happened," featuring Matt Barreto, Sunshine Hillygus, John Sides, and Lynn Vavreck. Peter Hanson, Nancy Wadsworth, and I hosted the event, held at the University of Denver on November 9, 2012. The panel ended up being a really nice review of what we know about elections and how the political science models held up well in the 2012 cycle. Great Q&A with the audience, as well.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Life (thankfully) not imitating art

In a recent interview, director Steven Soderbergh suggests that Washington could learn a thing or two from Hollywood:
One thing I do know from making art is that ideology is the enemy of problem-solving. Nobody sits on a film set and says, "No, you can’t use green-screen VFX to solve that because I’m Catholic." There’s no place for that, and that’s why I’ve stopped being embarrassed about being in the entertainment industry, because I’m surrounded by intelligent people who solve problems quickly and efficiently, primarily because issues of ideology don’t enter into the conversation. ... 
I look at Hurricane Katrina, and I think if four days before landfall you gave a movie studio autonomy and a 100th of the billions the government spent on that disaster, and told them, "Lock this place down and get everyone taken care of," we wouldn’t be using that disaster as an example of what not to do. A big movie involves clothing, feeding, and moving thousands of people around the world on a tight schedule. Problems are solved creatively and efficiently within a budget, or your ass is out of work. So when I look at what’s going on in the government, the gridlock, I think, Wow, that’s a really inefficient way to run a railroad. The government can’t solve problems because the two parties are so wedded to their opposing ideas that they can’t move. ... That’s how art works. You steal from everything.
There are quite a few ideas packed in here, which I'll try to address one at a time.

First, the problem during Hurricane Katrina was neither partisanship or gridlock. It wasn't like Congress wanted to vote on how to rescue people in New Orleans but someone filibustered. No one made the claim that people should drown to teach them the value of thrift. At least at the time of the crisis, government officials more or less agreed on what needed to be done; they just largely failed to do it. The problem was, to some extent, federalism, but more generally incompetence. In many other situations (the Haitian earthquake, Superstorm Sandy, etc.) the federal government has responded quickly and effectively, providing shelter and saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Maybe a movie studio could have pulled that off, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Now, as for Soderbergh's larger point, I'm sure he's right that filmmakers don't get hung up on the use of particular technological tools, but the reason they don't get hung up on these decisions is because they largely don't matter. If you decide to shoot in 35mm film rather than 16mm, that may be an interesting artistic decision, but no one (with the exception of a 16mm film manufacturer) suffers for it. There are no compelling interests at stake. 

On the other hand, when important ideas or revenue streams are at stake, Hollywood has found itself extremely polarized and occasionally gridlocked. Witness the Screen Actors' Guild strike of 2000, during which many actors refused to appear in commercials. Witness the Writers' Guild strike of 2008, which shut down many television shows and films for over three months. Or remember when the studios refused to hire any actor with alleged ties to the Communist Party? Good times.

The point is that people in the entertainment industry, just like people in government, will have a hard time agreeing when there are compelling interests at stake. It's possible that Washington will resolve its internal disagreements more slowly than Hollywood will, but that's precisely because Washington is democratically run. It resolves differences through roll call votes and through elections, which are inherently slow and messy. If Hollywood is more efficient, that's because its key decisions are usually made by studio executives, producers, or directors -- that is, dictators. We could certainly try that approach in government, but there are probably some down sides.

(via Sullivan)