The Monkey Cage

We are professors of political science.

Can We Reduce the Influence of Money in Elections…With More Money?

Chris Blattman:

One fabulously rich person (or a gaggle of them) would put X million dollars into a trust that expires November 9th. X would have to be very large. Probably several hundred million.

The rules would be simple. You could choose a funding cap for all candidates, x, which is much, much smaller than X. Say, $100 million. Plenty of money for a modest number of attack ads, since the parties must have a little fun.

The key: If any one candidate’s super PACs raised more than x, then the trust would automatically release an equivalent amount of funds to the opponent’s super PACs. The trust would be ready to hurl all its money if it must.

Voting Behavior of US Military Personnel

In a post earlier this week, I asked whether anyone had conducted research regarding the voting behavior of US military personnel. Major Jim Golby, an Instructor in the Department of Social Science at the United States Military Academy at West Point and a Stanford Ph.D., kindly sent along the following response. Please be aware that these views are Jim’s and do not reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

To my knowledge, there are no current polls about military preferences for the GOP candidates. There are a few unscientific polls done by a newspaper, The Military Times, that measure military approval of the president, but that is it. They show approval for president Obama within the military at around 25%.

I have done some research in this field, however [paper available here]. One of the main take-aways from my research is that Republican officers in the military and elite veterans are no different, on average, than Republican civilian elites once we control for demographic factors. Although my work focuses on senior officers and veterans, Jason Dempsey’s book, Our Army, and Jeremy Tiegen’s paper support this general claim for soldiers and veterans, respectively.

I find one exception, however: military officers are marginally more conservative than civilian Republicans on social issues. This may bode well for Santorum v. Romney, but there is no evidence suggesting that any GOP nominee would have trouble winning the ‘military vote’ since there really is no such thing. There are not many Democrats in the military and there are even fewer liberals in the ranks; in general, most Democrats in the military are moderate or conservative Democrats (especially in the higher ranks).

There is one other small point to note. Although Ron Paul’s campaign has claimed to have the overwhelming support of military personnel over the last few months, there is not much evidence to support that view at this point. The last time I checked on the FEC database, around 500 military folks (active duty and retired) had contributed a little over $100,000 to Paul’s campaign, out of approximately 22 million veterans and 1.5 million service members. Paul has, in fact, received more contributions from people associated with the military than have other GOP candidates, but those contributors are not necessarily representative of the military as a whole. The low levels of participation among members of the military seen here also is consistent with the research of my colleague here at West Point, Heidi Urben, who finds that – with the exception of voting – members of the Army participate in domestic politics at very low rates.

Blame Avoidance and Budget Politics

Yesterday’s House approval of a line-item veto bill (HR 3521) continues our national reprise of the budget politics of the 1990s—complete with Newt Gingrich, but probably without the rather important denouement of ultimate compromise and budget surplus.

It is worth thinking about the structure and likely outcome of line-item veto proposals. Given the importance of the veto power to interbranch relations, why would Congress expand its scope, encouraging presidential encroachment on the power of the purse?

Don't Pull a Tucker Carlson

Charles Murray wrote a much-discussed new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

David Frum quotes Murray as writing, in an echo of now-forgotten TV personality Tucker Carlson, that the top 5 percent of incomes “tends to be liberal—right? There’s no getting around it. Every way of answering this question produces a yes.”

Frum does me the favor of citing Red State Blue State as evidence, and I’d like to back this up with some graphs.

Frum writes:

Say “top 5 percent” to Murray, and his imagination conjures up everything he dislikes: coastal liberals listening to NPR in their Lexus hybrid SUVs. He sees that image so intensely that no mere number can force him to remember that the top 5 percent also includes the evangelical Christian assistant coach of a state university football team. . . .

Defining Decline

I am delighted to welcome Michael Beckley’s response to my earlier post on China and the United States. I may write a brief response later this week.


Is the United States in relative decline to China? In a recent article in International Security, I say no. In a post on this blog, Erik Voeten says yes. Who’s right?

Gerrymandering 101

The latest issue of Legislative Studies Quarterly contains a neat piece (ungated, here) by Jason Kelly on the extent to which state legislators strategically use prison populations for partisan gain in redistricting at the state level.  The ingenuity of state mapmakers knows no bounds.

The census data used to redraw legislative districts counts the country’s nearly two million prisoners in the location of their incarceration, rather than their previous place of residence. By drawing these phantom populations into districts that lean heavily toward the majority party, legislators can free up eligible voters from those districts to be distributed among neighboring marginal ones, thereby increasing that party’s likelihood of winning additional seats in the state legislature. An analysis of state senate districts finds that prison populations shift systematically from districts controlled by one party to districts controlled by the other following a switch in partisan control.

How Liberal Is Barack Obama?

President Obama is the most moderate Democratic president since the end of World War II, while President George W. Bush was the most conservative president in the post-war era.

Is Climate Change Likely to Increase Conflict?

Likely not, according to Nils Petter Gledditsch, in the introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Peace Research on this topic. Research to date shows little evidence for systematic relationship between increased global warming, water shortages, etc., and violent conflict.

Climate change is the world’s first truly global manmade environmental problem and a firm warning that human activities can influence our physical environment on a global scale. The range of possible consequences of climate change is so wide, even for the limited temperature changes foreseen in the IPCC scenarios, that it is difficult to sort out the main priorities. Obviously, if a reversal of the trend towards a more peaceful world was one of these consequences, it should have a prominent place on the policy agenda. Based on the research reported here, such a pessimistic view may not be warranted in the short to medium run.

Challenging Romney's Beliefs on the Very Poor

Mitt Romney’s focus is on “middle-income Americans” because “these are the people who’ve been most badly hurt during the Obama years”; they’re “the folks who are really struggling right now.”

Here is a rough test of Romney’s claim. Caveats follow the jump.

Did Romney’s Ads Win Him Florida?

It seems obvious that they did. He outspent Gingrich 5-1 precisely when his poll numbers were increasing. But, as is well-known in social science, conclusively demonstrating the effects of campaign ads or other media is actually quite difficult.

Thanks to some data that SurveyUSA was willing to provide me, I took a stab in this new post at 538. The conclusions are certainly not ironclad, but maybe they constitute a baby step.

Who Do You Blame For Gridlock?

A journalist writes:

I’m tentatively writing a profile of Eric Cantor, and one of the big-picture aspects of the piece I was hoping to get my head around was the question of who voters hold responsible for congressional intransigence. I’ve always been under the general impression that voters don’t usually differentiate all that much between the parties in their low regard for Congress, even when one party is pretty clearly responsible for Congress’s failings; I’m wondering (a) if that’s actually right, and (b) if so, whether there’s any reason to think based on the evidence that that could change under remarkable circumstances like Cantor et al’s current strategy: the fights over the debt ceiling, payroll tax, etc. I.e., is it reasonable to wonder whether the strategy of legislative intransigence that the Republicans have pursued to great effect since 2009 could actually go too far, and damage the Republican brand with the electorate in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections?

The Mitt-ens Come Off

You may have seen a news item in today’s New York Times (posted yesterday as part of “The Caucus” blog on the Times’ site), which noted that negative ads accounted for over 90% of the political advertising Floridians saw during the last week. Figures are courtesy of Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Anti-Gingrich 68%
Anti-Romney 23%
Pro-Gingrich 9%
Pro-Romney 0.1%

Or, put another way:

Will a Losing GOP Shift Rightward?

George Packer:

McGovern’s debacle forced the Democratic Party to find its way back from the ideological wilderness—from being the party of delegate quotas and “acid, amnesty, and abortion.” Every successful Democrat after 1972, from Carter to Clinton to Obama, has had at least one foot in the party’s center. A Gingrich rout in November might have the same effect on Republicans—it might drive their party back toward the center, and toward mental health, in 2016. But if Romney wins the nomination and loses the election, the party will continue down into the same dark hole where Palin, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Santorum, and now Gingrich all lurk.

Sex Scandals and Race

With Herman Cain endorsing Newt Gingrich over the weekend, one can’t help but notice that one of these two had a sex scandal at least partially knock him out of the race, whereas the other one seems to have survived fairly widespread allegations of marital infidelity and kept on going.

While there are of course many differences between Cain’s and Gingrich’s purported affairs—one important one certainly being that Gingrich’s is old news whereas Cain’s was a more recent development—recently published research in the journal Political Behavior suggests another possible factor: the race of the candidates. In the previous US presidential election cycle, Adam Berinsky, Vincent Hutchings, Tali Mendelberg, Lee Shaker, and Nicholas Valentino conducted experiments to examine people’s reactions to stimuli suggesting that either Barack Obama or, ironically enough, John Edwards were potentially guilty of “sexual indiscretion” (p.185; see p.198-200 for actual cues). Here’s their summary of the article and its findings:

A growing body of work suggests that exposure to subtle racial cues prompts white voters to penalize black candidates, and that the effects of these cues may influence outcomes indirectly via perceptions of candidate ideology. We test hypotheses related to these ideas using two experiments based on national samples. In one experiment, we manipulated the race of a candidate (Barack Obama vs. John Edwards) accused of sexual impropriety. We found that while both candidates suffered from the accusation, the scandal led respondents to view Obama as more liberal than Edwards, especially among resentful and engaged whites. Second, overall evaluations of Obama declined more sharply than for Edwards. In the other experiment, we manipulated the explicitness of the scandal, and found that implicit cues were more damaging for Obama than explicit ones. (emphasis added)

Calling for Evidence-Based Elections

That’s the message I take from a recent book by James Gilligan, a psychiatrist at New York University. In Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous than Others, Gilligan documents a striking statistical connection between changing rates of violent death in the United States over the past century and the party of the president. He concludes that Republican administrations are “risk factors for lethal violence,” and that the only reason they have not produced “disastrously high epidemic levels” of suicides and homicides is that Democrats have repeatedly undone their damage. (I’ve added handsome hand-coloring to Gilligan’s key figure in order to highlight the partisan pattern.)