The Monkey Cage

We are professors of political science.

The Snowe Retirement

…should there be a two-way race for the Senate seat (and that’s by no means a sure thing), Republicans will need a candidate who can run as a Snowe Republican. The currents of 2010 affect their ability to field such a candidate.

Hamsters vs. Rabbits

We are pleased to welcome back Graeme Robertson, an Associate Professor of Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill and author of a 2010 Cambridge University Press book entitled The Politics of Protest in Hybrid Regimes: Managing Dissent in Post-Communist Russia, with some observations on the run-up to the March 4, 2012 Russian presidential election.

While most political scientists in the US are marveling over Michigan and Rick Santorum gets laughs just for mentioning the words political science, some of us are entranced by another contest—hamsters versus rabbits. Hamsters, as we now know, not only store food in their cheeks but, in Russia at least, also like free elections. Rabbits, as the pro-Putin activists are being called, on the other hand, like stability, Vladimir Putin and driving in their underwear. The last two weeks have seen competing driving protests in Moscow (Saturday for Putin, Sunday against), some 100 000 rabbits gathering in the giant warren-like sports complex Luzhniki on February 23rd, or as we all know it Defender of the Fatherland Day, and hamsters creating a human chain around central Moscow.

Beyond the merits of the various protests, most of the commentary has focused on two classic issues: whose rallies are bigger, and whose are more authentic. While size clearly matters, authenticity is at least as important. Vladimir Putin was quick to allege that the State Department is behind the hamsters, and while this was perceived by many as a ridiculous charge, the charge had real resonance in Russia. More easily accepted in the West, were charges that the rabbits are inauthentic –paid or coerced students or employees of the Moscow city government. While there is almost certainly a lot of truth to charges that government resources and pressure have played a role in generating big crowds for Putin, it would be a mistake to ignore the fact that there are many real enthusiasts among the rabbits. Surveys taken in Moscow in advance of the Defender of the Fatherland Day festivities suggested roughly similar numbers of people planning to participate in pro and anti-Putin demonstrations. If the survey data are anything to go by, the fact that the pro-Putin rallies are generally larger indicates significant use of “administrative resources” to turn people out. On the other hand, there also seems about as much voluntary pro-Putin activity as anti-Putin activity. If true, in analyzing events in the streets around Russia, we neglect this real pro-Putin support at our peril, especially since, as the experts tell me, “one kick from a rabbit’s powerful back leg would kill a hamster.”

What Makes a Referendum Campaign Sing?

A Monkey Cage reader asks:

I’m just curious, is there much information out there about what (if anything) precisely impacts voting on referendums or initiatives? And if so, what aspects of a referendum campaign are most effective (like advertising, phone banking, door to door campaigning, etc.). Any information and/or help locating any information would be much appreciated.

Do Campaign Spending Bans Work?

This paper seeks to understand the effect of campaign finance laws on electoral and policy outcomes. Spurred by the recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which eliminated bans on corporate and union political spending, the study focuses on whether such bans generate consequences notably different from an electoral system that lacks such bans. We observe three key outcomes: partisan control of government, incumbent reelection rates and corporate tax burdens. Using historical data on regulations in 49 American states between 1935 and 2009 we test alternative models for evaluating the impact of corporate and union spending bans put in place during this period. The results indicate that spending bans appear to have limited, if any, effect on these outcomes.

Everything You Think About Negative Advertising is Wrong

Continuing the series, here’s another zombie idea: negative advertising “works.” Either by hurting the candidate who is attacked or by turning off voters from the campaign altogether.  The sheer volume of negative ads certainly keeps this zombie living.

As does the terrific string of cliches attached to so much writing about negative ads. Consider this piece. We have effluvia: “tsunami of slime,” “toxic.” Boxing: “win the fight with a knockout punch.” Gore: “expensive and brutal evisceration,” “bloody victory.” And, of course, war, war, war: “ammo,” “counter-offensive,” “sharpening their arrows,” etc. (I am not even one-fifth of the way through the piece.)

As does many examples of campaign reporting that discuss tactics—like negative ads or the micro-targeting of ads—with only vague statements about their effects. Often from people whose very profession involves convincing candidates to pay them to make ads!

And so you get this from a forthcoming New America Foundation event:

Mudslinging isn’t pretty. But research—and conventional wisdom—says negative political ad campaigns work. Indeed, the tone early on in the 2012 contest suggests that accentuating the positive will not be the hallmark of this election cycle. Should that be of concern to us all? Are negative ads corrosive to our political discourse, or are they, in fact, a vital means of informing the electorate? Join us to consider how political messaging has evolved to its current state, as well as its impact on our broader culture. (And yes, we’ll be airing many past and current commercials.)

Why Tuesday?

A readers points me to the group, Why Tuesday, that wants to move Election Day to a more convenient time.  They write:

Today, we are an urban society, and we all know how hard it is to commute to our jobs, take care of the children, and get our work done, let alone stand on lines to vote. Indeed, Census data over the last decade clearly indicates that the inconvenience of voting is the primary reason Americans are not participating in our elections.

If we can move Columbus Day, Presidents’ Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Holiday for the convenience of shoppers, why not make Election Day more convenient for the sake of voters? First and foremost, it is time to end the deafening silence of good people on this vitally important issue. So we ask: Why Tuesday?

Unpacking the "Zombie" Confusion

John Sides and Larry Bartels have recently spent some space explaining the “political science” view of social class and voting in American politics, in contrast to the claims of journalists Thomas Frank, George Packer, and Jonathan Chait, that working-class whites vote Republican. Frank, Packer, and Chait are outspoken liberals, but their views of class and politics align well, at least in this point, with arguments by conservatives such as David Brooks, Michael Barone, and Charles Murray about the prominence of upper-class liberals.

Morphing Zombies

One of the commenters on John’s “Zombie Politics” post notes that Jonathan Chait has a new piece applauding George Packer, doubting Sides (and Bartels), then transitioning to a discussion of Packer and others discussing Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart. Chait’s title: “Why Are Poor Whites Conservative? And Poor?”

Zombie Politics

Zombie politics—a play on Zombie Economics—refers to ideas about politics that have become so cemented in conventional wisdom that it is virtually impossible to dislodge them. It doesn’t matter what the data says, or what published research says, or what this blog or any blog says. Zombie politics means that even though the ideas are dead, they just can’t be killed. I regret using the by-now-hackneyed zombie metaphor, but it remains apt.

And so, George Packer:

Perhaps the biggest political puzzle of our time is why, as the lives of working-class whites have descended from the stability and comfort of “All in the Family” to the chaos and despair of “Gran Torino” and “Winter’s Bone,” these same Americans have voted more and more reliably Republican.


  • Big Data. Featuring Justin Grimmer, Gary King, and some dude named Gelman.
  • The “98 percent of Catholic women” who’ve used birth control?  Maybe not.

Steamy, Sexy, Hot Political Scientists

From today’s New York Times profile of economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers:

In her third year there, a handsome Australian on a Fulbright scholarship arrived. At first, Ms. Stevenson dismissed him as a mere political scientist. “It wasn’t what he said; it was his long hair,” she said.


Mr. Wolfers, kneading one of Ms. Stevenson’s pedicured feet, interrupted.

“Betsey used to tell this story as, ‘He was too good-looking to be an economist,’ ” he said. “But somehow the story has gotten less generous.”

More on political opinions of U.S. military

Following up on this and this, Paul Gronke writes:

There is a fairly active literature on attitudes of military personnel. The bulk of the literature has come out of sociology, much of it inspired by the pioneering work of Morris Janowitz (Chicago) and Charles Moskos (Northwestern, passed away in 2008). The primary academic journal in the field is Armed Forces and Society.

Political science engagement has been primarily driven be interests in the “civil military gap” that has grown as a consequence of the all-volunteer force. Peter Feaver, an old friend and colleague of mine when at Duke, has been a leader in this area, working mainly through the Triangle Institute for Security Studies, along with Dick Kohn (History at UNC, now emeritus) and Chris Gelpi (Duke, moving now to the Mershon Center at OSU). I worked with Peter, Chris, and Dick on a set of parallel surveys of civilian and military elites and the mass public, and much of this work was published in a 2001 MIT Press book Soldiers and Civilians: The Civil-Military Gap and American National Security.

Some of the ideological and partisan information that Josh asked about is contained in that book, and Dempsey’s work is a superb addition to the field, in some ways updating the TISS surveys, and in other ways challenging some of our conclusions. I think there remains some really interesting questions, not only about the partisan and ideological leanings of the military, but other questions, such as how service in the military may interact with, or even offset, some demographic influences on voting turnout and voting behavior.

From a methodological perspective, there are a number of challenges to answering Josh’s question. The military population can be devilishly hard to track. Of course, the Pentagon knows who are enlisted personnel, but is not about to allow anyone to randomly sample off of that list, and even if they did, are likely to resist including a lot of politically charged questions. If you choose to work outside of the Pentagon, you face other hurdles. A typical national survey will include a very small number of self-identified military personnel, misses anyone who lives on base (if I recall correctly, the NES sampling scheme does not include on-base housing), and anyone serving overseas. If you think you can sample from voter registration lists, think again. While in the ideal world, all military personnel will have an FPO or APO address, many who live off base may not.

One last data source that readers may be interested in is the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s biennial survey. There is not a lot of ideological and partisan information, but there is a lot of demographic information. The surveys are available at this website.

Military officers have different opinions than enlisted personnel

Josh asks about political opinions of U.S. military personnel. Jason Dempsey and Bob Shapiro have done some work on this. Here’s Dempsey’s website, and here’s something he wrote a few years ago that’s relevant to the discussion:

The Military Times released the results of a survey showing that members of the armed services planned to vote for John McCain over Barack Obama by a factor of nearly three to one–this at a time when the Democratic nominee was handily beating his Republican rival in almost all national polls. The survey apparently reaffirmed the long-held conventional wisdom that the U.S. military overwhelmingly backs the GOP. . . .

The truth about the military’s politics, however, is more complex and all too often obscured by narrowly focused polling. Participants in the Military Times survey, for example, tended to be white, older, and more senior in rank–that is, they were hardly a representative sampling of the armed services. . . .

In a study of the Army that I [Dempsey] conducted in 2004 with my colleague, Professor Robert Shapiro, I tried to get a fuller picture of the social and political attitudes of soldiers, producing the first and only random-sample survey to canvass enlisted personnel and junior officers, as well as their superiors. Broadening the survey yielded results that fly in the face of the conventional view. The Army, it turns out, is hardly a bastion of right-wing thought.

It is true that the upper echelons of the military tilt right. My own research confirmed that about two-thirds of majors and higher-ranking officers identify as conservative, as previous studies found. But that tilt becomes far less pronounced when you expand the pool of respondents. That is because only 32 percent of the Army’s enlisted soldiers consider themselves conservative, while 23 percent identify as liberal and the remaining 45 percent are self-described moderates. These numbers closely mirror the ideological predilections of the civilian population. . . .

The political differences between officers and enlisted personnel can be partly explained by a demographic divide. Whereas officers are predominantly white, have at least a bachelor’s degree, and draw incomes that place them in the middle or upper-middle class, the enlisted ranks have a higher proportion of minorities, make less money than officers, and typically enter service with only a high school diploma. Nevertheless, even when controlling for factors like race and gender, officers are significantly more likely than soldiers to identify as conservative. . . .

In addition to its ideological moderation, the Army is not as partisan as popularly portrayed. Whereas 65 percent of Americans think of themselves as either Republican or Democrat, according to the Annenberg survey, my study shows that only 43 percent of the military identifies with one of the two major political parties. Two out of three officers consider themselves either Republican or Democrat, but only 37 percent of enlisted personnel do so.

Officers tend to be not only more partisan, but also more Republican, with GOP affinity strongest among the highest ranks. While I [Dempsey] was unable to fully parse the reason for this, the evidence strongly suggests the pattern is generational. Today’s senior officers entered the Army during the late 1970s and 1980s, a time when the Republican Party had a strong advantage on issues of national defense and the Democratic Party was seen as antiwar if not anti-military. By contrast, junior officers who joined the Army after 2001 are almost as likely to be Democrats as they are Republicans, foreshadowing a possible shift in officer attitudes. . . .