The Monkey Cage

We are professors of political science.

Madisonianism or Opportunism?

Matt Dickinson’s blog Presidential Power over the weekend updated us on an important legislative development (hard though it is to believe there could be a legislative development at present): the Senate’s odd bipartisan effort to require that all terrorism suspects be detained by the military and tried, if at all, by military tribunals rather than the civilian courts. As Matt notes, this would be true even if the suspect was an American suspect, captured on American soil. President Obama has threatened a veto. A New York Times editorial urged that he do just that about a month ago, on the grounds that it was a bad idea, but also that Congress was committing “an outrageous usurpation of executive authority.” Two quick thoughts. One, for nearly a decade – and as recently as the NATO intervention in Libya (though an “all’s well that ends well” attitude towards that adventure seems to have kicked in) – the left’s accusation has been that the president was usurping legislative authority...

Blogging at Behind the Numbers

Dan Hopkins , Danny Hayes , and I will be contributing regularly to Behind the Numbers, the polling blog of the Washington Post . The announcement is here . We hope to be contributing discussion of new scholarly literature as well as our own analyses of polling data from the Post and others. We thank Jon Cohen and the rest of the Post’s polling team for the opportunity. Danny’s first post—on public opinion about a military attack on Iran—is here .

Congress in Action

For your weekend viewing pleasure, from official Monkey Cage cartoonist Ted McCagg :

Did Race Cost Obama in 2008?

Erik recently blogged about a new paper (pdf) by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz that used Google searches to measure racial prejudice in American media markets and found this: The estimates imply that racial animus in the United States cost Obama three to five percentage points in the national popular vote in the 2008 election. The Google methodology is a viable way to grapple with people’s unwillingness to reveal racial prejudice in polls and surveys. Of course, one can criticize it—as Rebecca Greenfield does here —but an even better strategy is simply to see if Stephens-Davidowitz’s results are confirmed by recently published research using other kinds of measures. Here’s an example, from a recent paper in Political Psychology by political scientist Brian Schaffner ( ungated ; see also the rest of the issue , also ungated thanks to Wiley-Blackwell publishers): In this paper, I introduce a relatively unobtrusive measure of racial salience to examine whether these initial interpretations...

Lamentably common misunderstanding of meritocracy

Tyler Cowen pointed to an article by business-school professor Luigi Zingales about meritocracy. I’d expect a b-school prof to support the idea of meritocracy, and Zingales does not disappoint. But he says a bunch of other things that to me represent a confused conflation of ideas. Here’s Zingales: America became known as a land of opportunity—a place whose capitalist system benefited the hardworking and the virtuous [emphasis added]. In a word, it was a meritocracy. That’s interesting—-and revealing. Here’s what I get when I look up “meritocracy” in the dictionary : 1 : a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement 2 : leadership selected on the basis of intellectual criteria Nothing here about “hardworking” or “virtuous.” In a meritocracy, you can be as hardworking as John Kruk or as virtuous as Kobe Bryant and you’ll still get ahead—-if you have the talent and achievement. Throwing in “hardworking” and “virtuous” seems to me to an...

Can Google Search Behavior Predict Political Behavior?

One of the driving forces behind the creation of Google Insights was the observation that Google searches can predict flu epidemics more quickly than other types of observations. Shauna Reilly , Sean Richey , and Benjamin Taylor have a forthcoming article (nongated), which suggests that political behavior too can be predicted from search terms. In particular they find that the level of Google searches on ballot questions taken one week before Election day correlates with actual participation on those ballot measures. The authors highlight that this illustrates that measures based on Google search data may be valid measures of behavioral intentions (see yesterday’s post on racially charged search terms). Yet, it also suggests that search data can be used for forecasting. just for fun, I created a simple chart (sorry, can’t figure out how to embed it) for search behavior for Gingrich. It seems to track changes in the polls pretty well: Gingrich first started making inroads in polls...

Does Retail Politics Work?

The subject of my new post at 538 is whether retail politics—that is, presidential candidate travel to and appearances in crucial states—matters. I also discuss whether local political outlets are inherently more favorable to candidates than national media. Coincidentally, Jeff Zeleny’s new piece in the NY Times discusses the decline in certain kinds of retail politics such as drop-by’s in local restaurants and living rooms.

Thinking With Models

Scott Page at University of Michigan is offering a free graded course on ‘thinking with models.’ We live in a complex world with diverse people, firms, and governments whose behaviors aggregate to produce novel, unexpected phenomena. We see political uprisings, market crashes, and a never ending array of social trends. How do we make sense of it? Models. Evidence shows that people who think with models consistently outperform those who don’t. And, moreover people who think with lots of models outperform people who use only one. Why do models make us better thinkers? Models help us to better organize information – to make sense of that fire hose or hairball of data (choose your metaphor) available on the Internet. Models improve our abilities to make accurate forecasts. They help us make better decisions and adopt more effective strategies. They even can improve our ability to design institutions and procedures. In this class, I present a starter kit of models: I start with models of...

Once Upon a Time Barney Frank Polling

Number of stories in Lexis-Nexis with words “Barney Frank and “prostitute” that were published between August 25 and October 4, 1989: 302. The percentage of people who answered “no” or “I don’t know” or gave an incorrect answer when asked “Do you happen to know who Barney Frank is?” in an Oct. 5-8, 1989 Times Mirror poll : 89%.

Those Early Negative Ads

Jeremy Peters discusses the GOP ’s ad campaign against Obama, which is well underway. I find this reporting necessary and valuable, but Peters misses an opportunity here: But going negative so early also carries substantial risks. One is that many voters are not yet paying much attention to the campaign and will not do so until much closer to next November, meaning the advertising expenditures could be largely wasted. And negative messages now could alienate moderate and independent voters who blame excessive partisanship for Washington’s troubles in addressing the nation’s big problems. In the same edition of the NY Times, Jim Rutenberg says something similar: In seeking to disqualify their opponent, they will have to be careful not to alienate critical independent voters, who react badly to negative campaigning. Two points. First, reporting about early campaign ads can go beyond simply stating what effects they “could” have. There’s research that reporters could cite or incorporate...

More on Mandatory Voting, Which Does *Not* Necessarily Make Electorate Less Informed

In response to the lively debate between the New York Times and The Monkey Cage ( 1 , 2 , 3 ), we are pleased to welcome Victoria Shineman , a Ph.D. candidate in NYU ’s Politics Department who is writing a dissertation on the effects of compulsory voting. In this guest post, she offers both a clarification of how participation requirements are implemented in modern democracies, and a discussion of how this affects political information and polarization. The positive effect of mandatory voting laws on turnout is well documented, and its success in reducing the disparities between voters and non-voters is more or less settled. Next: what is the effect of participation requirements on political information and informed voting? Brennan campaigns against increased turnout, pointing out that non-voters are less informed than voters, and arguing that increasing the number of uninformed votes worsens electoral outcomes. I disagree. Before I respond to this argument, a clarification is...

What’s Happened to Ron Paul?

The graph is from Charles Franklin at Polls and Votes . Everyone is talking about Gingrich, now because of the Manchester Union-Leader endorsement . See Nate Silver’s analysis . But I’m especially curious about Ron Paul. Why are his numbers dropping? Although it’s true that he hasn’t gotten much media coverage, it’s also true that media coverage can be as much bane as blessing (see: Cain, Herman). And Paul was relatively familiar to most Republican voters, which suggests that their attitudes aren’t changing simply because they didn’t know who he was and now they do. Or maybe they didn’t really know who he was—despite his 2008 campaign—and now his breaks with Republican orthodoxy are now more visible. But what would drive that impression? Again, it’s not like he’s getting a lot of media coverage. Or time to speak in the GOP debates. Maybe I’m missing something subtle. Or something obvious. I just wouldn’t have expected Paul’s numbers to move that much.

Corporate Lobbying and Tax Rates

The ten Fortune 100 companies that lobbied on 50 or more bills since 2008 paid an average effective tax rate of 17.1 percent in 2010; the ten companies that lobbied on between 25 and 49 bills paid an average effective tax rate of 18.0 percent; the remaining publicly-traded companies paid an average effective tax rate of 26.0 percent. The companies that lobbied on the most tax bills also have seen their tax rates decline the most since 2007. Moreover, we estimate that for the average company, each additional tax bill a company lobbied on since 2008 is associated with a lower 2010 tax rate of between 0.13 and 0.36 percentage points… From a post by Lee Drutman over at the Sunlight Foundation’s blog. See the post for more details from the analysis, along with caveats.

I have a theory

I have a theory about the nerd fight over political science forecasting models . So far, the debate has touched on a number of very interesting issues , but the thrust is whether political scientists are “too confident” in the models that predict the outcomes of elections on the basis of the economy, or whether there is room for the campaign to “matter.” The conclusion, which most reasonable people seem to agree on, is that of course there is room for the campaign to matter, but the fight continues over what that means about the importance of the economy. But I think the main source of conflict is a different perspective on why one might run these models in the first place. (And some political scientists may share that perspective.) Political scientists are not in the business of predicting the future. (I never thought journalists were, either.) Forecasting is good because it keeps us honest. Predicting outside the sample ensures you are not inventing an ad hoc explanation. But models...

Journalist’s Resource

“What we’re doing is, by hand, going through the political science journals and reaching out to people and saying, ‘Hey, what do you think we should include?’ And then try to boil it down to some core studies on topics of interest,” Wihbey said. “Maybe it’s the case that some of the more sophisticated reporters already know this stuff. But we think it could be useful, and we certainly welcome the whole blogging community that’s not necessarily institutionally affiliated to take a look at all this.” That is John Wihbey, of Journalist’s Resource at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. I mentioned Journalist’s Resource a while back, and they are still doing good work. Here’s an example . Here is their entire section on politics. If you are a researcher with a study that might be of interest to journalists, flag it for Journalist’s Resource. Contact information is here .