Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties and elections.

Recent Articles

The Day after Shutdown

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Denis Paquin, File S o it’s October … or maybe it’s six or ten weeks later, after a short-term continuing resolution has come and gone. The clock strikes midnight, Congress has failed to fund the government, and the next day it shuts down. What happens next? There’s been plenty of talk about the possibility of a government shutdown, along with the potential ways it could be avoided. But what happens after the shutdown? I don’t mean how the government operates or doesn’t operate; the Congressional Research Service has a good explainer on that. I’m talking about how the bargaining situation changes. Because remember: Government shutdown or not (I'm on Team Probably Not, for those counting at home), sooner or later a deal will be reached. 1. It’s Getting Hot in Here People will be inconvenienced, directly, by a shutdown, whether it’s vacations ruined (thanks to national parks closing), Social Security applications postponed , or government grants and contracts not awarded. Which...

If Obama Wants the GOP’s Help in Syria, He Must Deal with Torture First

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File
A mong the lessons of Syria for Barack Obama, there is one that stands out: The destruction of the Republican foreign policy establishment makes his job harder, and the president is now suffering the consequences of his choice to avoid, as much as possible, dealing with the fallout from torture during the George W. Bush administration. What is missing, specifically? The Republican side of “establishment” foreign policy. That is, a group of people who are certainly Republicans, but are not particularly partisan and who are comfortable working with the similar set of Democrats. Think Dick Lugar; think Colin Powell; think, perhaps more than anyone over the last 50 years, George H.W. Bush. Those Republicans, as Lugar’s defeat for re-election last year demonstrated, have been driven to the fringes of their party (or perhaps out of it; Powell is still a Republican, but supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012). Why does that matter for Barack Obama? There just are not very many Republicans...

Information Sharing Is Caring

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster M any members of Congress are either yahoos who couldn’t find Syria on a map or partisan hacks who make policy choices purely based on political expediency. And yet: The best thing about President Barack Obama’s decision to ask Congress to authorize a strike against the government of President Bashar Assad is that it increases the chances that the eventual road taken by the United States in Syria will be a good one. In fact, cases such as this one demonstrate the advantages of a more democratic system when it comes to achieving smart policy over a system which relies purely on the rule of experts. The problem for the presidency is always one of information. How do presidents know what policy to follow? In almost all cases, the president cannot fall back on his own personal knowledge. And, as with most presidents, Barack Obama’s personal expertise was quite limited before he entered the White House. So in the first instance, Obama must turn to the departments...

All the Pretty Little Districts

Why you need to stop whining about gerrymandering

flickr/Andy Proehl
Of all the good-government obsessions that keep people focused on process instead of substance, one of the very worst—and I know that lots of you reading this share it—is over the “unfairness” of how congressional district lines are drawn. Within that overrated problem, there’s nothing worse than the obsession with pretty and ugly districts. Really: let it go. If you care about politics and public policy, find something else to worry about. This paragraph of polite rage is brought to you by a current feature over at Slate ridiculing funny shaped House districts—such as one in Maryland which, as Chris Kirk tells us, has been called “’a crazy quilt,’ ‘a blood spatter from a crime scene,’ and a ‘broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.’” Kirk brings us through the most successful partisan gerrymanders of the last cycle—Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and a few more. And it’s true: In a handful of states, partisan gerrymanders really did cost Democrats (...

#FF Polling

Photo from Texts from Hillary
There’s a new study out purporting to show that Twitter mentions are just as good as polling in predicting elections. I’m skeptical, and regardless of the study’s findings, the truth is that good survey research—whether for campaigns, news organizations, or academic research—does far more than predict winners. The study (preliminary version here ), which was reported by co-author Fabio Rojas in a Washington Post op-ed, collected tweets about candidates for the House in the 2010 election cycle, and found that the number of mentions was correlated with election outcomes—the higher percentage of tweets that mentioned a candidate, the higher percentage of the vote she would receive. It didn’t matter whether the comments were positive or negative; it seemed that the candidate who got the more attention just did better. That’s fine, and not particularly surprising—after all, while Rojas brags about hitting the winner of almost every race, the truth is that most House elections can be easily...