Friday, April 18, 2014

Will Jeb Bush Get Stopped at the Border?

A lot of the punditry commenting on Jeb Bush’s flirtation with a presidential run has focused on his views on immigration.  But where do Republicans actually stand on immigration?  Nate Silver argues that Republicans actually have fairly centrist views on immigration.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, traditionally a stalwart of the GOP, has pushed hard for comprehensive immigration legislation  Large donors, who seem eager for Jeb to enter the race, generally back immigration reform.  Of all the leading Republican presidential possibilities, only Ted Cruz wholeheartedly embraces a hard line on immigration – and I doubt strongly that he will be the nominee.  Being “soft-liners” on immigration didn’t keep George W. Bush or John McCain from winning their party’s presidential nomination.

On the other hand, House Republicans have seemed pretty opposed to a “path to citizenship.”  (Or would they rather just not vote on the issue?)  The 2012 Republican platform denounces “amnesty,” calls for stricter workplace enforcement, and does not mention any form of a DREAM Act.  Marco Rubio’s presidential prospects took a beating last year when he took the lead on immigration legislation, similar to what happened to John McCain in 2007.  Even if Republicans overall hold moderate views on immigration, perhaps those who hold more restrictionist views care about the issue more strongly.  (There’s enough variation in polling on immigration to make one suspect that many citizens don’t have real views about it).   Polls show that Republicans – especially conservative Republicans – have more hardline opinions relative to other voters.  To put it another way, while most Republicans may not be immigration “hawks,” most immigration “hawks” are Republicans. 

But what constitutes an immigration “hawk?”  There we run into a problem.  If I want to know who is “pro-life,” I can ask the National Right to Life Committee.  If I want to know who is “pro-gun,” I can ask the National Rifle Association.  But there’s no large, respected organization that backs a more restrictionist approach to immigration.   The two best known groups both have extremist baggage, leading most politicians to avoid being associated with them.  The nation’s most vocal immigration “hawks” have been radio talk show hosts, who have a professional interest in being as provocative and strident as possible.  There are no set standards for deciding who has acceptable views on immigration.  

The immigration issue could also hurt Jeb Bush if it keeps him from winning support from key constituencies.  He’s unlikely to win support from Tea Party activists, but he does have a warm relationship with social conservatives.  Many evangelical leaders back immigration reform, but it’s not clear that their followers share those views.

So I have trouble reading the politics of the GOP on immigration.  I’m guessing that, while it is not irrelevant, it is not a litmus-test issue like abortion or gun control.  But I just don’t know. 

The Affordable Care Act's Near-Death Experiences Revisited

With President Obama announcing yesterday that enrollments through the Affordable Care Act have now topped 8 million (well over the CBO's projection of 7 million) and that the "overall age mix... is virtually the same as the age mix was in Massachusetts," it is a nice time to re-up my post on "The Affordable Care Act's Remarkable 4 Near-Death Experiences" that I did for my personal blog. In it, I speculate about the connection between this law's near disasters and recoveries, oppositional media coverage of that, and polarized mass opinions and beliefs about the law. Here is my concluding paragraph:
Finally, the way opposition media responded to these near death experiences is important. In essentially every circumstance where the progress of the ACA was under serious threat, Republican political elites and major conservative media didn't just alert their supporters that this was a major possible turning point. Rather, at basically every point I highlighted, they declared the ACA definitively dead. It's amazing how many premature touchdown dances the opponents of a single law have performed. The conservative media's reaction to the ACA's near death experiences helps us better understand public opinion on health reform. Political scientists know that one of the strongest determinants of the public's preferences is the rhetoric of politicians and elite media figures from one's own party. When a law has been over-and-over declared dead by elites you trust, yet it still somehow persists, it is less surprising that you think something illegitimate is going on, it was enacted by devious underhanded tactics, or that it still is a disaster and will never be implemented. The intersection of the ACA's near death experiences and the conservative media's coverage of them has surely enhanced polarization and conspiracy theorizing on this issue among the mass public.
To reiterate, I think neither the roller-coaster history of the law to this point, nor polarized opposition media are solely to blame for polarized opinions and beliefs about the law. Rather these two forces interact to create our remarkably persistent mass-level polarization on this topic.

Love Soundbites? Thank the Election of 1908

We can point to several presidential elections as pivotal ones -- 1960 saw the first televised presidential debate, 1952 saw the first widespread TV advertising, etc. But 1908 may top them all.

That year, NPR reports, both major party presidential candidates, William Howard Taft (R) and William Jennings Byran (D), recorded a series of short speeches on wax cylinders produced by Thomas Edison's National Phonograph Company. These cylinders were then sent around the country so that, for the first time, large numbers of voters could hear the voices of the candidates even when the candidates were nowhere near their state. Better still, a penny arcade in New York reportedly dressed up two mannequins to look like Taft and Bryan and played the recordings sequentially to simulate a presidential debate for visitors.

So the election of 1908 isn't necessarily the cause of modern soundbites or the reason that the lengthy campaign speeches of the 19th century were supplanted by quick punchy ads in the 20th century. But they're all part of the same trend. The speeches that were sent out by cylinder were short because the medium was limited and expensive to use. Same with TV ads. What makes 1908 an important turning point is that it reflects the challenges of a truly mass campaign. Candidates could previously travel by rail to much of the nation and give detailed speeches, but they still couldn't hope to be heard by as many voters as wax cylinders, radio, television, or the Internet would ultimately reach. To really put the candidates in touch with the voters, communication had to be shortened and simplified.

(h/t John Dickerson)

Update: Taft's name fixed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rush Limbaugh is Correct. Stephen Colbert is a Liberal, While Jon Stewart Is Just a Progressive Era Reformer

Last Thursday, CBS announced that they will replace retiring Late Show host David Letterman with Stephen Colbert, who currently hosts the satirical Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh was outraged at the move, saying,

CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America. No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservative values — now it’s just wide out in the open. What this hire means is a redefinition of what is funny and a redefinition of what is comedy and they’re blowing up the 11:30 format under the guise of "the world’s changing."

While I have no idea whether politics played any role in CBS’s decision, Limbaugh is right about Colbert’s politics. The editorial perspective of the Colbert Report is more liberal than any late night comedy show currently on the air, substantially more liberal than the Daily Show. To state the obvious, the premise of the show is to ridicule conservative pundits generally and Bill O’Reilly in particular. It is a spot on but not friendly parody, as illustrated by the adversarial relationship between Colbert and O’Reilly over the years. In 2006, four months after starting his show, he made news with an unusually biting anti-Bush monologue at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, which was poorly received by the DC establishment. He has also testified before Congress about the plight of immigrant farmworkers after spending a day picking corn and packing beans on a farm in collaboration with a pro-immigrant group to raise awareness of the issue. 

Colbert ran a remarkable 20 month long stunt in which he started his own super-PAC to illustrate the porousness of campaign finance regulations. Supreme Court correspondent Dahlia Lithwick argues that “[Colbert’s] sustained, crazy, years-long assault on the Citizens United decision had no parallel in the national conversation with the court… Colbert became Exhibit A in the public effort to persuade the court that Justice Anthony Kennedy was wrong…” Finally, consider how Colbert describes his political perspective in a 2004 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross,

When I got to the Daily Show… Jon asked me to have a political opinion, and it turned out that I had one. I didn't realize quite how liberal I was until I was asked to make passionate comedic choices…

Announcing Our New Contributors

We are pleased to announce that we have added four new regular contributors to our ranks, allowing us to offer more material over a wider range of subjects. While the mission of this blog remains the study of political parties, our new writers address this topic from a broad array of perspectives and methods.

Without further ado, the new Mischiefs:
Julia Azari is an assistant professor of political science at Marquette University. Her new book Delivering the People’s Message examines changes in the ways that presidents interpret elections over​ time. She is also the co-editor of The Presidential Leadership Dilemma. She has written a guest post here previously and is broadly interested in ideology and political parties and the relationship between parties and the presidency. 
Jonathan Ladd is an associate professor at Georgetown University with appointments both in public policy and government. His book, Why Americans Hate the Media and How it Matters, examines the contentious relationship between journalists, political leaders, and the mass public throughout American history. He has written several guest posts here previously, and he has published extensively on the news media, public opinion and elections. His recent research focuses on political information and party polarization. 
John Patty is a professor of political science and director of the Center for New Institutional Social Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. He is a formal political theorist who has blogged regularly at The Math of Politics for the past year, helpfully using game theory to explain recent political events. He is the co-author of two books, Learning While Governing (with Sean Gailmard) and Social Choice and Legitimacy: The Possibilities of Impossibility (with Elizabeth Maggie Penn). 
Richard Skinner currently teaches at Johns Hopkins and George Washington Universities and is the author of More Than Money: Interest Group Action in Congressional Elections. He has written several guests posts at this site on the subjects of party issue stances and party leadership. His research focuses on campaign finance and modern party development.
This blog has basically been a four-person project since its inception two years ago. We’re excited to add these voices to our own.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Essential Party Readings VII

John Dickerson (at 10:29) on the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination:
The Committee to Have a Totally Uninteresting Nomination seems to have met, picked Hillary Clinton, and then they're going to all go to the Hamptons for the weekend.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What Makes Hillary Different

Jonathan Bernstein had a good piece up yesterday advising reporters to stop focusing on the question of whether Hillary Clinton will or won't run in 2016. His argument is that the "will she/won't she" topic misses the main point about party nominations. She already is running, as are many other people, but only some candidates will make this point publicly known, and only after discussing the idea with potential donors and endorsers and after getting a sense of what the 2016 political environment will look like. The party, broadly speaking, will discourage a lot of potential candidates from running long before the Iowa Caucus or any debates, and it may encourage one or two to run. That's the nature of the invisible primary.

I totally agree with what Bernstein is saying on this topic, except that I think Hillary Clinton's candidacy is a bit different. The reason it's different is that, at least as far as things look for now, the party has already cleared a path for her. Yes, it's still early, but Democratic party elites have broadly signaled an acceptance of her as the nominee. She will have all the money she wants. The Obama campaign infrastructure has signaled its support for her.

Now, none of this makes a Clinton nomination inevitable. And she also looked very strong at this stage in the 2008 cycle. So, yes, another candidate could emerge (although it's not obvious who that would be), a scandal could take her down, Democratic elites could decide they're just not comfortable with her and go looking for someone else, etc. And few people have actually publicly endorsed her yet.

But to the extent that we have signals on this, they're saying that she's got the nomination if she wants it. Which means that the main thing standing between her and the Democratic nomination is the question of whether she really wants to do this. Which makes that a pretty good question for the media to be discussing. (Not that anyone really has any insight to offer on the question, of course, but it's still an important question.)

So, yes, when reporters describe a nomination contest in explicitly candidate-centered terms, as they often do, and ignore the huge influence that party insiders have over who ends up running, they're missing a lot of the story. But Hillary has a legitimately candidate-centered decision to make, and it doesn't strike me as wrong to focus on that in her case.