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 . ***** 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. Following a party switch, the incumbent attempts to frame the decision as one based on ideology (principles). Specter claimed the Republican Party had moved “far to the right.” By contrast, opponents and the media tend to focus on electoral motivations (opportunism). For example, Representative Joe Sestak’s ad showcased Specter’s own off-hand, and somewhat out-of-context, remark that he switched “in order to get re-elected.” With these two competing narratives so apparent, we conducted a survey of registered voters in western Pennsylvania—run by the...

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? It may be useful to look at a comparative example to ponder how more information could change the nature of campaigns. In the Netherlands each party provides excruciatingly detailed party platforms. No-one expects that voters will weed through all of this. The information needs to be translated into something more directly useful to voters. There has been a proliferation of on-line programs (and apps) similar to Project VoteSmart that help voters make choices based on answers to a set of policy propositions.There are at least four popular general ones (here is one in English ) and there are also more targeted programs for the elderly , kids , cannabis lovers ,...

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...

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. The story would focus on that disparity, and whether the Democratic party needs to use its convention to introduce new faces. Is it natural that there is less focus on the “bench” when the party is in power, i.e., President Obama and the Dems right now? My response went like this. This is a really questionable moment at which to evaluate the party’s benches. We’ve just gotten a chance to see all the GOP faces, but not the Democratic faces. Who knows what will happen at the Democratic convention? I would wait...

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...

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. He then summarizes several survey items and finds that both Democrats and Republicans express attitudes that are not favorable to blacks. He concludes: It is undeniable that some Americans are racist but racists split about evenly across the parties. No party has a monopoly on racists. I think Tabarrok’s conclusion is closer to the truth that Hayes’s statement. Let me see if I can elaborate this issue in some useful ways. As a measure of racism—and by no means a perfect one—I will use two different items from the 2008 American National Election Study . Respondents were asked to evaluate whites, blacks, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans on two scales. Each scale was numbered 1 to 7. At one end was the word “intelligent” or “hardworking.” At the other end was “unintelligent” or “lazy.” Respondents gave their answers to these...

Is Paul Ryan the Most Conservative Vice-Presidential Nominee of All Time?

(Flickr/wallyg)
This is a guest post from University of California, Berkeley political scientist Eric Schickler . ***** There are many good things about journalists and other political observers using concepts and measures from political science as they analyze contemporary politics. But an example this weekend from Nate Silver, the excellent analyst of polls and related matters, offers a cautionary lesson. Silver uses NOMINATE scores to argue that Paul Ryan “is the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice presidential slot since at least 1900. He is also more conservative than any Democratic nominee was liberal, meaning that he is the furthest from the center.” Ryan may well be the most conservative Vice Presidential nominee in decades, but the NOMINATE methodology is not suited to making claims about the relative liberalism or conservatism of politicians over the long time span invoked by Silver. An obvious problem is that the scores are comparing Ryan to Republican...

Why Campaign Finance Reform Is Hard

From a new Washington Post -Pew poll : So, 65 percent have heard little or nothing about campaign spending by outside groups, 75 percent think the effect of this spending will be neutral or have no opinion about its effect, 69 percent do not think it will help one candidate more than the other or have no opinion about this, and 60 percent cannot identify what a super PAC is. These sorts of findings are one reason why, despite Americans’ distaste for money in politics, the public rarely provides much impetus for campaign finance reform.

The Declining Culture of Guns

This is a guest post by political scientist Patrick Egan . The massacre unleashed by James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado shortly after midnight on Friday is a tragedy of national proportions. Like other mass shootings before it—Columbine in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007 come to mind—it leaves us desperate for explanations in its wake. There are those who blame our nation’s relative paucity of gun control laws and others decrying the power of the gun lobby. Cultural explanations abound, too. On the right, one Congressman has pinned the blame on long-term national cultural decline. On the left, fingers are pointed at America’s “gun-crazy” culture. But as pundits and politicians react, they would do well to keep in mind two fundamental trends about violence and guns in America that are going unmentioned in the reporting on Aurora. First, we are a less violent nation now than we’ve been in over forty years . In 2010, violent crime rates hit a low not seen since 1972; murder rates sunk to...

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. The first means that political scientists imagine a world in which, say, a candidate did not commit a gaffe or air a particular ad, but journalists imagine a world in which that candidate did not campaign at all. The latter counterfactual leads journalists to infer big effects but the former leads political scientists to infer small effects. I disagree with this characterization, because I don’t think it accurately represents the thinking of journalists. I think...

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 ). Zach Beauchamp suggested a post on this, implying facetiously that Obama’s comments vindicate Drew Westen’s argument . Of course—given my previous posts —I think Obama’s comments better reflect how easy it is...

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. This probably reflects the majority view among legal scholars, although they differ on precisely which four justices acted on “good principles.” Nonetheless, to imply that this principled behavior is non-political is a bit silly. Indeed, Barnett writes that: It is hard to imagine Republican politicians citing John Roberts as the type of justice they favor nominating in the future (as many did up until now). Whether or not the decision does lasting damage to the Constitution and the Court, however, itself will depend on...

Has Anthony Kennedy Moved to the Right?

This is a guest post by Michael Bailey . See also his earlier post on the ACA decision. ***** Has Justice Kennedy moved dramatically to the right? Many believe so and Kennedy’s behavior on the health care case certainly reinforces this view. I want to express a bit of skepticism about such claims. First, these claims rest on justice ideology scores developed by Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn. But these scores aren’t great at tracking preference change over time. As the figure below shows, their method implies that the Court reached a conservative peak in the early 1970s, a time when the Court was creating constitutional rights to abortion and against the death penalty. Quinn has (with Dan Ho) expressed concerns about using these scores to compare preferences over time and I agree . Second, it’s not clear to me where the apparent shift to the right is coming from. The Court is not ruling in a “conservative” direction more often, as the graph above demonstrates. (There are questions...

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. In some ways, things might even be worse now than in 1931, as there seem to be a lot of opinion-makers in the United States who are rooting for Europe to fall apart economically, as this would represent a discrediting of the social-democratic political system that holds in the leading countries of Western Europe. The attitude on the part of these Americans, I think, is better for Europeans to have the pain sooner than later. What...

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