The Monkey Cage

We are professors of political science.

Another Holiday Tradition

President Obama yesterday unveiled this year’s version of a holiday tradition rather closer to presidents’ hearts than the lighting of the White House Christmas tree or the Easter egg roll on the South Lawn. Yes, it’s this year’s quietly released signing statement… This tradition took root when Pres. George W. Bush famously signed into law a bill banning torture, doing so on the Friday entering the 2005-06 New Years’ weekend, then releasing a signing statement that night on the White House website leaving to his executive discretion the decision whether to actually follow that law. This year’s edition – see here for text, here for the NYT summary – is in itself far less sweeping, though it deals with some of the same lingering issues of the war on terror, such as the treatment and trial of detainees. Here for instance is a ban on spending money to transfer terror suspects to the US. Obama notes his “intent to interpret and apply” such provisions “in a manner that avoids constitutional...

Jacobs and Shapiro on how politicians try to mold public opinion

In my NYT column on how to think about conflicting polls, I wrote: A vast majority of Americans — including half of all self-identified Republicans — think there is “too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations.” And a solid majority believes that “the country’s economic system unfairly favors the wealthy.” On the other hand, close to 60 percent of Americans do not see the country as “divided into haves and have-nots” and over 60 percent see “big government” as the biggest threat to the country in the future. What gives? I think it’s fair to say that there’s enough here to support different political themes. A supporter of higher taxes for higher incomes can focus on the “too much power in the hands of the rich” angle, whereas a supporter of cuts in low-income and middle-income entitlement programs can focus on the lack of resonance of the haves and have-nots argument. The ambiguity revealed in these polls actually makes sense: if there were a clear and...

What Do Political Polls Really Accomplish?

This is a guest post from Lawrence Jacobs , who is the Mondale Chair at the University of Minnesota and the author with Robert Shapiro of Politicians Don’t Pander: Political Manipulation and the Loss of Democratic Responsiveness , among other books. One of the odd paradoxes of American politics is that political polling is soaring as responsiveness to popular opinion is in decline. Roger Simon’s missive flagged non-existent problems with surveys, as many have noted , and pulled a Bill Buckner on a serious problem that does exist: the impact of polls on American politics. Simon reports that “polling drives our political process” and that it is “changing the prism through which the media — both mainstream and social — see events, which changes the national conversation. You can challenge the accuracy of polls. But you can’t challenge their influence.” That’s a serious point but Simon flubs it. The public spotlight is, naturally enough, on the polls that we see but there is an enormous...

Getting the Facts Straight: Payroll Tax Edition

From Princeton political scientist Nolan McCarty’s blog : For me at least, one of the frustrations about the debate over extending the cut in the payroll tax is extent to which politicians have tried to exploit the public’s lack of understanding about how the Social Security system works. The first lie is the Republican claim that extending the payroll tax will somehow deprive the Social Security system of funds and jeopardize the retirement security of seniors. Democrats have responded not with the truth but with the claim that the revenue losses from the extension will be offset by “general revenue.” Understanding why both of these claims are untrue requires some background knowledge of how Social Security works. Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system where current retirees are supported by the payroll tax payments of current workers. When I pay payroll taxes, they do not go into some account with my name on it, they go to my mother-in-law. Every year since 1984, the payroll tax...

Do Low Corporate Tax Rates Attract Inward Investment?

It may seem like a no-brainer that low corporate tax rates will attract investment from multinational corporations. However, the empirical evidence is surprisingly scanty, and in a forthcoming article in Comparative Political Studies (earlier non-paywalled version here ), Nate Jensen finds no significant relationship across OECD countries, even when he tries to control for endogeneity. The mantra that governments must remain competitive in the global marketplace by slashing levels of corporate taxation permeates public policy debates and has influenced academic scholarship. To date, few studies have systematically analyzed the impact of lowering levels of corporate taxation on changes in FDI inflows. Utilizing dynamic tests for up to 19 OECD countries from 1980 to 2000 and isolating the impact of time-varying factors on FDI inflows, I find no empirical relationship between corporate taxation and FDI inflows. Using a number of different tax rate variables, control variables, and...

Roger Simon’s Ignorance about Polling

Roger Simon , the Chief Political Columnist for Politico: I have never been called by a political pollster and don’t know anybody who has, but I know some pollsters, who assure me they don’t make the numbers up, and I believe them. From George Gallup ’s mock Q-and-A in A Guide to Public Opinion Polls , which he wrote in 1948: “Why haven’t I been interviewed? Why have I never heard of anyone who has been interviewed?” These questions come up frequently in connection with modern public opinion surveys, because people do not understand how it is possible to get an accurate measurement of public opinion when only a small part of the total population is interviewed…In this respect, modern surveys merely apply to public opinion research certain well-established procedures which have been used for years in the fields of engineering, medicine, education, and all the social sciences. When an engineer wishes to judge the quality of ore in a mine, he examines a few “samples.” From these samples...

What If North Korea Collapsed?

Based on optimistic assumptions about how a collapse might occur, we estimate that 260,000–400,000 ground force personnel would be required to stabilize North Korea. This means that even in the relatively benign scenario that we describe, the requirements for stabilizing a collapsed North Korea would outpace the combined U.S. troop commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Managing a more demanding Korean collapse scenario would push these requirements higher or lengthen the duration of the operation, or possibly both. That’s one of many relevant bits from this new and timely article by Bruce Bennett of RAND and Jennifer Lind of Dartmouth. A gated version of the article is here . An interview with Bennett and Lind is here . [Hat tip to Holger Schmidt]

In Memoriam: The Conference Committee

Following Jordan’s excellent post , a few more thoughts about conference committees. The House this afternoon approved a motion to go to conference with the Senate to resolve chamber differences over the payroll tax cut bills. Although the Speaker has repeatedly referred to conference committees as “regular order,” avid Congress watchers might disagree. Donald Wolfensberger (a former Republican staff director of the House Rules Committee) put it best a few years ago when he asked: “Have House-Senate Conferences Gone The Way of the Dodo?” Indeed, in recent years, party leaders have increasingly favored alternative methods for reconciling bicameral differences. More often than going to conference, Congress increasingly relies on informal negotiations between party leaders or an exchange of amendments between the two chambers (known as “ping pong”) to reach agreement. Why are conference committees going extinct? As is lately often the case, partisan polarization shoulders much of the...

Probability Theory 101

Gregg Easterbrook : Gingrich is a wild card. He probably would end up a flaming wreckage in electoral terms, but there’s a chance he could become seen as the man unafraid to bring sweeping change to an ossified Washington, D.C. There’s perhaps a 90 percent likelihood Obama would wipe the floor with Gingrich, versus a 10 percent likelihood Gingrich would stage an historic upset. This is the dumbest thing I’ve seen since . . . ummm, I dunno, how bout this ? It actually gets worse because Easterbrook then invokes game theory. What next? Catastrophe theory? Intelligent design? P.S. Maybe I should explain for readers without an education in probability theory. Let’s suppose “wipe the floor” means that Obama gets 55%+ of the two-party vote, and let’s suppose that “an historic upset” means that Obama gets less than 50% of the vote. Now try to draw a forecast distribution that has 90% of its probability above 0.55 and 10% of it’s probability below 0.50. It’s a pretty weird-looking...

North Korea, East Germany, . . . California

Andrew Sullivan passes on this amusing line from James Pethokoukis: We’ve had some eye-opening natural economic experiments: North and South Korea. East and West Germany. California and Texas. Enough is enough. I don’t quite see the parallel here. I’ve heard that North Korea isn’t such a fun place and neither was East Germany. But I’ve been to California and it’s pretty nice. In all seriousness, what interests me about this quote is the way that two completely opposite arguments are being juxtaposed: 1. Life sucks in North Korea. Life sucked in East Germany. Communism sucks, and one piece of evidence for this is that life sucks in communist countries. 2. They have it too easy in California. California-ism sucks because Californians spend like grasshoppers and enjoy themselves too much. Argument 1 seems pretty strong to me. (Not perfect—-after all, communism isn’t really such a natural experiment—-but the point still seems pretty clear. ) Argument 2, though, . . . it’s possible , it...

The Economy in Iowa Isn't Too Bad (But Don't Forget the Big Picture)!

In response to Michael Lewis-Beck’s guest post below, the New York Times Washington Bureau Chief David Leonhardt tweets : Conclusion seems either off or old. IA’s UE rate is still 6% & risen much less than US vs 12/07. There are two questions that I think pertain to the original NYT article Lewis-Beck was responding to. One is how representative Iowa is. The article’s author, A.G. Sulzberger, writes: As the first state to take part in the Republican nominating contest, Iowa has long been criticized as too much of an outlier to be permanently endowed such an outsize influence in shaping the presidential field. Too small, critics say. Too rural. Too white. But this election cycle, there is another particularly relevant way in which the state does not represent the nation as a whole: it is too economically healthy. Sulzberger and Leonhardt are absolutely correct that, as of 2011, Iowa’s economy is doing better than the nation’s. At the same time, part of Lewis-Beck’s point, and see...

The Death of Kim, Jong-il: Grounds for Apprehension

We are delighted to welcome the following guest post from Patrick M. Morgan , the Tierney chair in global peace and conflict studies at the University of California Irvine. Among others, he is a specialist on deterrence and a founding member of the Council on U.S. Korean Security studies. (Full disclosure: Pat is also my father in law.) *************** While anticipated, Kim, Jong-il’s death could turn out to be quite problematic. Efforts at contingency planning have been underway in various places for some time because numerous actors have a strong interest in what happens. But those actors disagree sharply on what they want to happen, and have therefore done much of their planning without closely consulting each other and in some secrecy. The ones in North Korea have been particularly restricted in this regard, but those in Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Washington, and even Moscow are certainly not ready to say what is to come next and not ready to say for certain how they will react to...

Actually, Iowa is Extremely Representative in Terms of its Economy!

We are once again pleased to welcome back Professor Michael Lewis-Beck of the University of Iowa, with the following guest post suggesting that Iowa – far from being atypical in terms economic conditions – is actually the most “representative” state in the country in this regard! Before every presidential campaign, there is intense discussion over whether Iowa should retain its “first in the nation” status, in terms of the presidential nomination process. Often media commentators argue that it does not deserve this status. The current front page comments by A.G. Sulzberger ( New York Times, December 18, 2011, p.1 ) are illustrative, asserting Iowa “is an odd staging ground for an election that is often said to be all about jobs and the economy,” since the Iowa economy is decidedly atypical. But is this assessment objectively so, when a comprehensive systematic battery of economic indicators for the American states is examined? Is Iowa an outlier, a decidedly unrepresentative American...

Kim Jong Il and Vaclav Havel: How Much Do They Really Matter?

As the world digests the deaths of Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-Il , an interesting and unresolved questions is raised for observers of politics: how much influence does any one person ever really have over the evolution of politics in a country, a region, or even the whole global political systems? From our earliest days in school, most of us are taught history as a story of individual contributions by the great men and women of the past. The American War of Independence? George Washington. The evils of WWII ? Adolf Hitler. In contrast studies of political science often focus on institutional factors. We ask whether the global system is bi-polar or multi-polar, not whether its great powers are led by visionaries or megalomaniacs. We look at prospects for social-welfare reform in terms of whether a country employs majoritarian or proportional electoral rules, not over whether countries are led people with a strong sense of morality. It seems to me – especially at a time like this – that...

Kim Jong Il and Vaclav Havel: How Much do Individuals Matter in Politics?

As the world digests the deaths of Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-Il , an interesting and unresolved questions is raised for observers of politics: how much influence does any one person ever really have over the evolution of politics in a country, a region, or even the whole global political systems? From our earliest days in school, most of us are taught history as a story of individual contributions by the great men and women of the past. The American War of Independence? George Washington. The evils of WWII ? Adolf Hitler. In contrast studies of political science often focus on institutional factors. We ask whether the global system is bi-polar or multi-polar, not whether its great powers are led by visionaries or megalomaniacs. We look at prospects for social-welfare reform in terms of whether a country employs majoritarian or proportional electoral rules, not over whether countries are led people with a strong sense of morality. It seems to me – especially at a time like this – that...

Pages