The Monkey Cage

We are professors of political science.

Mandatory Voting Isn’t a Solution to Polarization

William Galston : The third argument for mandatory voting goes to the heart of our current ills. Our low turnout rate pushes American politics toward increased polarization. The reason is that hard-core partisans are more likely to dominate lower-turnout elections, while those who are less fervent about specific issues and less attached to political organizations tend not to participate at levels proportional to their share of the electorate…A distinctive feature of our constitutional system — elections that are quadrennial for president but biennial for the House of Representatives — magnifies these effects. It’s bad enough that only three-fifths of the electorate turns out to determine the next president, but much worse that only two-fifths of our citizens vote in House elections two years later…But if you think that today’s intensely polarized politics impedes governance and exacerbates mistrust — and that is what most Americans firmly (and in my view rightly) believe — then you...

Calling the Tune

The president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed”: is that a duty, or a power? Over time, with the growth of the executive branch and the American administrative state, “presiders” have become “deciders”: hence Elena Kagan’s famous law review novella “Presidential Administration,” a how-to guide of sorts. Kagan is now on the Supreme Court, of course, and yesterday had to deal with just this issue. A 2002 law allows Americans born in Jerusalem to place on their passports, as the place of their birth, “Israel.” President George W. Bush objected at the time, in one of his many signing statements, that this bound the executive branch to a diplomatic position it did not hold (U.S. policy is neutral on the provenance of Jerusalem) and should be under no obligation to assert. President Obama has affirmed this position. And so Menachem Zivotovsky (or rather his parents – Menachem was born in 2002) has now sued to uphold the plain text of the statute. The oral arguments for...

On Potential Deals in the Super-Committee

Political scientists Regina Smyth and William Bianco have written a pithy and interesting analysis of the sorts of deals that might emerge from the Super-Committee and, perhaps more importantly, the kinds of side-payments that party leaders might have to make if one of those deals is to win enough support in each chamber. Here is their analysis . Here is short excerpt: Many predictions about the shape of a potential deal emerging from the Debt Supercommitte (SC) process have centered on the personal chemistry of committee members, or the dearth of good feeling between congressional Democrats and Republicans. These analyses do not recognize the substance of bargaining, including the set of programs and policies that might be on the chopping block and the degree of overlap in members’ preferences over these specifics. In considering the shape of the potential deals, we base our analysis on measures of legislator preferences, as mediated through the fundamental congressional institution...

Should voting be mandatory?

You can see my contribution to the discussion here . I discuss the research of Jan Leighley, Jonathan Nagler, and others. Here’s my conclusion: Whether or not mandatory voting is a good idea, I think it’s unlikely to happen at a national level. Even setting aside the practical difficulties of taking a now-voluntary action and making it compulsory, bringing in the other half of the potential electorate would change the political conversation so much that it’s hard for me to see current officeholders supporting such a plan.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s…. Technocratic Government!

The sky is falling! The Euro is collapsing! What can we do? Look, up in the sky: it’s a bird! it’s a plane, it’s….TECHNOCRATIC GOVERNMENT ! Destined to save small and large European governments alike, the sudden appearance of technocratic government as a deus ex machnia is probably raising a similar thoughts in most (especially American) people’s head: just what is a technocratic government? Here at The Monkey Cage , that means it is time for another round of Q&A (although this time I’ll do both the Q and the A): Q (me): Ok, so what’s a technocratic government? A (me): Technically (no pun intended), a technocratic government is one in which the ministers (or what we call “Secretaries” in the United States) are not career politicians; in fact, in some cases they may not even be members of political parties at all. They are instead supposed to be “experts” in the fields of their respective ministries. So the classic example is that the Finance Minister (or Treasury Secretary in the...

Magic Johnson and Public Opinion about AIDS

Twenty years ago today, Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV -positive. In my newest post at 538, I discuss how this affected public opinion, drawing on a 1994 paper by political scientist Philip Pollock . The upshot: Johnson’s announcement led the public to think about HIV and AIDS in terms of opinions about heterosexual sex, rather than just opinions about homosexual sex. The post is here .

Are Deep Voices More Persuasive?

It is well-known that non-human animals respond to information encoded in vocal signals, and the same can be said of humans. Specifically, human voice pitch affects how speakers are perceived. As such, does voice pitch affect how we perceive and select our leaders? To answer this question we recorded men and women saying “I urge you to vote for me this November.” Each recording was manipulated digitally to yield a higher- and lower-pitched version of the original. We then asked men and women to vote for either the lower- or higher-pitched version of each voice. Our results show that both men and women select male and female leaders with lower voices. These findings suggest that because women, on average, have higher-pitched voices than men, voice pitch could be a factor that contributes to fewer women holding leadership roles than men. From a new paper by Casey Klofstad , Rindy Anderson , and Susan Peters .

Revealing the Submerged State

The hidden quality of social welfare benefits in the tax code means that many people are largely unaware of them, and have no idea of their overall impact. How could these policies of the submerged state be revealed, and what difference would it make? Matt Guardino and I created a web-based experiment to test the impact of providing people with small amounts of basic information about such policies. We found that it had two basic effects: (1) people who expressed no opinion on such policies in the absence of information became significantly more likely to do so after receiving information; (2) after the provision of information, people adopted views that made sense given their political values and their interests, as defined by income. Overall, opposition grew to the policies that aid predominantly high income people, while support grew for policies that aid low income people. One part of the study, for example, first asked people whether they support or oppose the Home Mortgage...

Not much of a mystery

Wow, that Steve Forbes guy is pretty dumb ! I wonder how someone this foolish got a column in Forbes magazine???

Overall then

Overall, then, I’d say there’s evidence that a white-knight candidate can succeed in executive office if he comes either from a government-dominated business sector such as telecoms where lobbying and politics are a major part of the business, or if he has been a senior officer in the secret police. White-knight leaders’ terms, if politically successful, probably lead to tremendous increases in corruption, clientelism, and centralised executive power, and to bitter political polarisation. White-knight leaders generally end their terms refusing to relinquish power, and embroiled in legal difficulties or popular uprisings. So I’m not generally optimistic about the idea of electing non-politicians to fix the mess in Washington. How about you? From a nice post by M.S. at The Economist.

The Economics Public Sphere

Mark Thoma, live at SSRN … economics lost communication with policymakers and practitioners leaving room for all sorts of “charlatans and cranks” to fill the void. In doing so, academics ceded important ground to think tanks aligned with one party or the other, to self-appointed economic experts, to business economists maximizing profit rather than public knowledge, and to a media that doesn’t always comprehend the economics that underlie a particular issue. Even in cases where there actually was fairly wide agreement among academic economists about a particular policy proposal, the public debate in the media did not convey that economists were largely united on the issue. There is another cost of disengagement as well. As academic economists severed ties with those who apply economic models to real world problems, the feedback from the users of models to those in academics who create them diminished. Because of this, the questions that academic economists ask drifted away from the...

The World’s Most Bizarre Political Ads, Part II

My call last week for bizarre political ads from across the globe received a fair number of peculiar and sometimes downright frightening examples. Especially popular were singing politicians, like these German Social-Democrats and Iceland’s Best Party , which actually won the mayoral election for which the ad was made although, according to commenter Sona, they failed to deliver on their campaign promise to bring a polar bear to Reykjavik’s zoo. The prize in this category, however, goes to this Polish politician who “sang” his campaign message accompanied by a death metal band. Other political campaigns thought it would be a good idea to feature talking fish , yogi jumpers , and wrestlers . The scariest electoral broadcast by far was by this Japanese politician.

Does Money Affect Election Outcomes in US Politics? A Quick Review of the Literature

Yesterday I addressed the question of whether Obama was actually having trouble raising money for his 2012 re-election campaign. This of course begs a larger question: how much does campaign spending actually affect election outcomes in US politics? I put this question to Andrew Therriault , a post-doctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University and an expert on campaign effects. Q: (me) What are the basic conclusions of the literature regarding overall spending in US elections? A: (Therriault): With regard to overall spending, Jacobson (1978) was the first to show an effect on vote outcomes, but this effect was mainly present for challengers [in Congressional elections]. In subsequent years, the effect of challenger spending was confirmed, but others also found effects for incumbent spending as well (e.g. Green & Krasno 1988, Erikson & Palfrey 1995, Gerber 1998). The basic takeaway is that spending more is clearly effective for challengers, and probably also matters for incumbents...

The one-sided bet rears its ugly head once again

The story of notorious speed-limit-violater and gambler-with-other-people’s-money Jon Corzine should remind us all of the problem with asymmetrical bets. Corzine’s behavior has been linked to the idea of “too big to fail” (see link above)—-and I agree these can make things worse—-but I think the fundamental problem would arise even in a world without bailouts. The fundamental problem seems to be that the laws put people like Corzine in a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose situation. If he makes his bet, he wins billions, but if he loses his bet, he doesn’t have to pay billions. Sure, he lost his reputation, but he’s not having to pay billions of dollars back to people. None of this is new but it’s worth keeping on the front burner, given that it happens over and over again (with or without government bailouts).

The Monkey Cage @ The American Prospect

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