Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Charlie Cook on Safe Districts (and a Soc. Sec. Proposal)

Yet another call for changing our corrupt system of drawing legislative district lines... In his latest column, Charlie Cook wonders, "what are they smoking at the Ways and Means Committee, and does the Drug Enforcement Administration know?" The reason for his query is the proposal by Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) and several other Republicans for "private investment accounts to be funded out of the Social Security surplus." That's right, the Social Security SURPLUS. This coming on the heals of President Bush's claims that the system will soon be in deficit.

Cook argues that politicians will never be able to convince the average voter that there is a surplus in the Social Security system (or, at least, one that's large enough to be used right now). He says Thomas and other Republicans (not to mention many Democrats) are simply out of touch with mainstream Americans because they reside in safe districts. I'll let him speak for himself.

The thinking that led to this proposal is a consequence of having members in safe seats who have not met a swing voter in years. Don't get me wrong; Democrats have an equal share of members whose actions make one wonder what planet they live on.

That said, it should not come as a big surprise that drawing such safe districts means that it takes mind-boggling misbehavior to even draw a credible opponent. Add a campaign finance system that is so imbalanced that incumbents typically face opponents spending less than $50,000 for the entire cycle, and members become insulated from having to wonder what an average Joe or Jane Citizen would think about a given solution.

While there are a number of factors that have led to the paucity of competitive districts, this episode makes California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's case for him -- recalibrating districts would help to recalibrate Congress. If there were fewer slam-dunk districts for each party, then each side would have to look over its shoulder a bit more.

As someone who loves to see competition and wants to see more hot congressional races, regardless of who ends up winning, I say bring it on!
And I say, Amen!

By the way, Cook points out that the average loss to the president's party in the last six "6th year" elections is 36 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate. (Of course, in the most recent 6th year election, in 1998, the president's party gained seats.) Numbers like that aren't likely to obtain next year given the precision with which district lines are now drawn. In fact, only a handful of districts will be in play in 2006. Hence Cook's call for "recalibrating" congressional districts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

APSR Study Gets NY Times Coverage

Just noting that the American Political Science Review study I mentioned a few days ago did make the national media - it's in the New York Times. There's also a Times article on a June 10 study in Science on the influence of inferences of competence based on facial appearences on the outcome of elections.

A few people have asked in the comments about the availability of the APSR article on-line. Unfortunately, you have to pay for it, but anyone interested in doing so can find it here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

2008 Frontrunners

This is really OLD news, but a few weeks ago National Journal published the results of a poll of party insiders on the presidential frontrunners for 2008. The insiders were asked to name and rank the top five contenders for their party's nomination. Here are the top 10 for both parties (with total votes in parentheses; a first-place vote was worth 5 pts, second-place 4 pts, etc.):


1. George Allen (229)
2. John McCain (217)
3. Bill Frist (184)
4. Rudy Guiliani (129)
5. Mitt Romney (109)
6. Haley Barbour (93)
7. Jeb Bush (61)
8. Condoleezza Rice (56)
9. Chuck Hagel (36)
10. George Pataki (34)


1. Hillary Rodham Clinton (407)
2. John Edwards (205)
3. Mark Warner (179)
4. Evan Bayh (131)
5. John Kerry (90)
6. Bill Richardson (85)
7. Tom Vilsack (73)
8. Joseph Biden (49)
9. Wesley Clark (35)
10. Al Gore (21)

On the GOP side, I can't believe that Republican insiders really think that John McCain has a shot at winning the party's nomination. Of course, this poll was conducted before McCain helped broker the filibuster cease-fire. Still, he doesn't exactly toe the party line and he doesn't emphasize the social issues nearly enough to be taken seriously by the base.

Second, what does it mean that Jeb Bush was 7th? I had always thought that he would be a near shoe-in if he threw his hat in the ring (and, until recently, I thought he'd be nearly unbeatable in the general). Is this an acknowledgement that the name "Bush" might be a liability after this term?

On the Democratic side, notice that HRC is the front-runner by a significant margin. Is this wishful thinking on the part of Dem insiders, or just an objective assessment of what they think is likely to happen? (I suspect the latter. She's way ahead in polls of the public as well; see this recent Marist College poll. Of course, that's based on little more than name recognition at this point.)

The most interesting thing about this list, however, is the remarkably high placement of VA Gov. Mark Warner. I've not been the only one saying that Dems (and the GOP, for that matter) would be smart to pick a governor next time around. That Warner is from the south doesn't particularly mean much to me (I doubt he could even win Virginia, though it depends on who the Republicans nominate). But he has been a successful governor and I think that's the key. Watch Warner closely.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

In Response to Kevin Shaw

You might not know it, but I'm really no different than James Dobson, the arch-conservative founder of Focus on the Family. At least that's what one Kevin Shaw seems to think. Readers outside Pennsylvania may not care much about what follows, but it does illustrate how ridiculous some partisan bloggers can be.

Pennsylvania recently passed Act 72, a property tax relief measure that is complicated and flawed in many ways (e.g., school boards had to decide whether to opt into the Act 72 program; if they did, their power to raise income taxes in the future would be severely restricted). Anyway, our governor (Ed Rendell, a Democrat) was a big advocate of the measure, which includes the limited legalization of gambling (i.e., slot machines), the revenue from which would go to local school districts to help offset the reduction in property taxes. But the vast majority of school districts have voted not to participate in the program.

Anyway you slice it, this is a political loss for Rendell. He had barnstormed across the commonwealth using the bully-pulpit to convince local politicians to support Act 72. Kevin Shaw, incidentally, doesn't really disagree. In his blog on the PA for Democracy website, he says Rendell is "understandably embarrassed and upset because he failed to deliver on a campaign promise. If I worked my butt off to deliver on a promise and circumstances conspired against me, I be upset, too." Shaw also calls Act 72 "crap."

Now, in a Philadelphia Inquirer story on the political ramifications of Rendell's defeat, I was quoted, as a professor at Franklin and Marhsall College, as saying, "When you look at all the boards who voted this down, one after another, it's hard to believe it won't somehow come out of his hide." I also said, "It's hard not to identify the governor with this bill or its defeat."

Shaw cites those two statements and then says,

Are we talking about Franklin and Marshall College at Lancaster, PA, United Church of Christ, Evangelical-Reformed? Why didn't you [the reporter] just call the Heritage Foundation or James Dobson? I'll wait to see Mr. Medvic's research and statistics before I put any stock in his opinion.

Shaw doesn't have to put any stock in my opinion. But he really ought to be fair when he quotes me in order to compare me to a right-wing theocrat like Dobson. Here's rest of the Inquirer article where I'm mentioned...

Medvic said Rendell might not be entirely to blame for the defeat, saying bold plans to reshape a state are often met with resistance when they are complicated and difficult to understand, like Act 72.

"Local politicians voting on this had no idea what the consequences might be five years from now," he said. "When people can't predict the outcome of a plan, they tend to follow the status quo."

Not so controversial, is it? Rendell campaigned hard for Act 72, so having failed he'll pay some price (perhaps not a very big one); on the other hand, it was complicated legislation and school board members probably preferred to stay with the devil they knew - namely, the current property tax system. And here I thought I was being a neutral analyst!

Casey vs. Santorum

I just got the latest Keystone Poll (conducted by the Center for Opinion Research here at Franklin & Marshall College) and it contains horserace numbers on the 2006 Casey-Santorum race:

Casey 44 - Santorum 37 - "Don't Know" 19 (MoE = +/-4.5)


I'm going to use this opportunity to make the following statement about this race:

I'm planning an in-depth case study of the Casey-Santorum race in an attempt to test some theoretical work I've been doing on how campaigns are run. As a result, I will not be blogging on this race beyond an occasional factual post (including information like that above). This race is going to be extremely interesting and it will be hard not to chime in, but I don't want to do anything that will compromise my role as a neutral observer and analyst.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Was the 'Gulag' Statement Worth It?

E. J. Dionne takes Amnesty International to task today for the "gulag" statement. At first, I disagreed with him. Surely some hyperbole is acceptable in order to break through the din of the 24 hour news hole. Without some controversial claim, reports like Amnesty's get buried beneath celebrity trials and revelations of long-held secret identities.

But on second thought, Dionne is right. Amnesty made a mistake in comparing Guantanamo to a gulag. They did get attention, but it wasn't constructive attention. No one has heard the substance of the latest report, and the organization certainly lost some credibility. There's a lot to be gained from rhetorical flourishes; but, ultimately, the central argument has to be sound - or at least believable.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Political Attitudes and Genetics

I just received the latest issue of the American Political Science Review and I think there's an article in it that might garner some attention. John Alford (Rice), Carolyn Funk (Virginia Commonwealth) and John Hibbing (Nebraska) have a piece entitled, "Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?"

The authors looked at the political attitudes and behaviors of monozygotic ("identical") and dizygotic (fraternal) twins and found that "genetics plays an important role in shaping political attitudes and ideologies but a more modest role in forming party identification."

I haven't finished the article so I can't say much about the study itself, but I'd be surprised if this didn't show up in various national media outlets.