The Monkey Cage

We are professors of political science.

Arlen Specter's Guide to Party-Switching

This is a guest post by Kevin A. Evans,  Rolfe D. Peterson, and Nathan J. Hadley.

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In 2009, Arlen Specter left his political party and made headlines, enemies, and a few friends in the process. He serves as a cautionary tale to those thinking about jumping ship; Specter did not make it past his primary. Our research (gated; earlier ungated version) helps to illuminate why the election after a switch is an uphill battle.

Detailed Campaigns

One of the complaints about the Republican Convention that will surely be repeated when the Democrats gather in Charlotte is that newly uttered proposals sound great but lack sufficient detail to be evaluated seriously. Who is going to do precisely what to Medicare? How much of what government services are going to be cut?

Science Confirms that Mitt Is Really, Really Good-Looking

Harvard University political science Ryan Enos reports some important findings:

Mitt Romney is better looking than almost everyone reading this blog.  Back in 2008, I wrote about how Sarah Palin’s looks put her in the 95th percentile of politicians.  Romney has even Palin beat—he scores above the 99th percentile.

These results come from a study with my colleagues Matthew Atkinson and Seth Hill, in which we developed a method for obtaining the ratings of the facial competence of governor and Senate candidates from 1994 to 2006 by showing the images of these candidates to undergraduate students for 1 second, as pioneered by Alex Todorov.  In 2007, when we collected this data, we removed highly-recognizable candidates so that opinions about the candidates, other than their appearance, would not affect the ratings.  However, as with Palin, we are fortunate that Romney was a relative unknown at the time (at least to the undergraduates in California that we used), so we obtained a rating of his face.

And what a face it is!  We gathered the ratings of 728 candidates for Senate and Governors’ seats and Romney outscored all but four of them.  The only persons to win election that beat him are Russ Feingold (the best looking Democrat) and John Thune (the best looking overall).  Romney also appears to far outdo Paul Ryan, who came in in the 67th percentile of the 2004 House candidates (although the photos did not include abs).  (Also, that study only included white male candidates and the House was not measured on a common scale with Senators and Governors, but I’d feel pretty confident saying the 67th percentile of the House puts you well behind Romney).

We don’t have a rating of Obama because we deemed him too well-known, even in 2007, because his Senate race had attracted a lot of attention and there was already an excitement building around a possible White House bid.  However, we do have a score for Biden—and Romney has him beat badly.  Biden only comes in the 62nd percentile of Senate and governor candidates.

So, if the election were decided on looks, it would be no contest.  Fortunately for Obama and Biden, the election is not decided by looks.  As we point out in our paper associated with the study, most of the correlation between candidate appearance and election outcomes is probably spurious.  Very few voters are willing to cast their ballot for a candidate based on looks – we estimate that if a candidate moves from the 25th to the 75th percentile in attractiveness, this is likely to gain that candidate about 3.5 percentage points in vote among independent voters, which was not enough to decide the winner of even a single Senate race out of 99 that we examined.  Rather than good looks directly affecting voters’ decisions, it is likely that good looking people like Romney have a lot of success in life, obtain significant human capital—education, career success, education—and because of all they have to lose, they are strategic about which races they enter.

In a certain respect, Romney’s career both fits and is counter to this explanation, because he ran for Senate in 1994, against Ted Kennedy when he did not have a good chance of winning, but he did not run for Governor until 2002 where he used his good looks and the considerable capital he had earned from the Salt Lake City Olympics to run in a seat with no incumbent.  Of course, Romney may not have been able to be as strategic about when to run for President – and unfortunately for him, most voters seem to have made up their mind long ago—nevertheless, if a candidate’s appearance every can make a difference, it should make a difference for Mitt Romney and his face in the 99th percentile.

Who's Running in 2016?

A reporter asks:

In advance of the Dem convention next week, I’m working on a piece about the 2016 presidential candidate “bench,” for lack of a better term. It seems that plenty of Republicans are mentioned as potential candidates in 4 years: Christie, Daniels, Rubio, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush… even Nikki Haley and Rand Paul. It seems far fewer Democrats are on the bench… there’s always Hillary, and some talk about Martin O’Malley and Andrew Cuomo, but I don’t hear too many more.

Karl Marx, Republican

Via a Tweet from Ned Resnikoff, this letter from Karl Marx, congratulating President Lincoln on his re-election.

We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery. From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver? … The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.

Ryan the Bipartisan?

Jordan Ragusa:

So this campaign of late to make Paul Ryan seem like a moderate, bipartisan guy who works with Democrats is just wrong.  The claim that Ryan “works with Democrats about as often as any Republican” is technically true, but very misleading.  But the important point is that the problem isn’t Paul Ryan, the problem is that the two parties (especially Republicans in the House) are so highly polarized that the average Democrat and Republican hardly ever works with his or her rivals.  Being “typical” in a polarized Congress does not make one a moderate.

Are Racists Only in One Political Party?

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Alex Tabarrok quotes MSNBC’s Chris Hayes:

It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other.

Journos v. Political Scientists

Carlisle Rainey discusses a potential reason political scientists and political reporters have different views of campaign effects: they use different underlying counterfactuals, in two senses:

First, political scientists tend to discuss the effects of small changes in campaigns, while journalists tend to imagine big changes. Second, political scientists construct counterfactuals in which campaigns are responding to each other and cancelling out, while journalists tend to hold one campaign constant and vary the other.

Obama's Lackluster Storytime

(Flickr / Daniel Ogren)

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama sat down with CBS News’ Charlie Rose for an exclusive interview that will air on CBS Sunday Morning. In the interview, Obama was pressed by Rose to describe what he thinks has been the biggest mistake of his presidency. The president replied that he thought he got the policies correct, but his salesmanship was lacking. Specifically, Obama said:

When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well. The mistake of my first term—couple of years—was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times (Via Mediaite).

When Is Judicial Behavior Political?

(Flickr / s_falkow)

The debates about Chief Justice Roberts’s motivations for his health-care opinion rage on with new leaks appearing almost every day. Randy Barnett responds to Jonathan Adler’s attempt at showing that Roberts’s opinion is quite consistent with his past judgments:

But this does not [make] his bending himself into a pretzel to uphold a law when the screws were put to him any less political. [..] 8 justices acted on principle:  4 on good principles and 4 on bad principles.

If Paul Krugman is Right and it’s 1931, What Happens Next?

The New York Times columnist writes:

Suddenly normally calm economists are talking about 1931, the year everything fell apart. . . . And it’s happening again, both in Europe and in America. . . . None of this should be happening. As in 1931, Western nations have the resources they need to avoid catastrophe, and indeed to restore prosperity — and we have the added advantage of knowing much more than our great-grandparents did about how depressions happen and how to end them. But knowledge and resources do no good if those who possess them refuse to use them.

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