Category: Political Science

Republican fact of the day

The speed with which Republicans have forgotten their "core values," as David Brooks put it after the vote on the DeLay rule, has been shocking. Earlier this year, a Boston Globe article made a few comparisons between the 1993-94 Congress that Newt Gingrich ousted and the one now ending. The Republican Congress added 3,407 pork barrel projects to appropriation bills in conference committee, compared to 47 for 1994, the last year Democrats held both houses. The Republican Congress allowed only 28 percent of the bills on the floor to be amended, "barely more than half of what Democrats allowed in their last session in power in 1993-94." The number of nonappropriations bills "open to revision has dropped to 15 percent."

Read the whole thing, but please note I don’t think a contemporary Democrat majority would be any better.

Addendum: Alex said it best.

Diversity in Academia?

Of course not.  The New York Times reports on new survey research by Dan Klein on the voting behavior of academics.  Anthropologists are comfortable living with cannibals in South America but they vote Democrat 30 to 1.   Economists are among the least "biased", they vote Democrat to Republican at about 3 to 1. 

This reminds me of the great Adlai Stevenson lineA supporter once called out, "Governor Stevenson, all thinking people
are for you!" And Adlai Stevenson answered, "That’s not enough. I need
a majority."

Addendum: Thanks to Vicki White for directing me to the correct quote which I had earlier misattributed.

Senatorial Privilege

In February we reported on a new study showing that the stock picks of Senators, as revealed in their financial disclosure forms, outperformed the market by a whopping 12 percent.  Insider trading anyone?  Although it’s not clear whether any laws have been broken, Alan Ziobrowski, one of the study’s authors says "there is cheating going on, at a 99 percent level of confidence."

The SEC looked at the study but, surprise, surprise, it seems that they are too busy going after Martha Stewart to have the time to look into evidence that our leaders are using their political power and influence for personal gain.  An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer notes slyly, "the SEC may have little incentive to tangle with the Senate, given their relationship. Senators approve members of the SEC’s governing body, as well as the agency’s budget."

Unfortunately the article is not yet published, it is forthcoming in the Journal of Financial and Quantiative Analysis

Thanks to Professor Bainbridge for the pointers.    

Indira Gandhi after twenty years

The Indian magazine The Week (Nov.7 issue) polled 1,274 people in ten cities, and found that Indira Gandhi remains a political idol. 

69 percent of the people wish they could vote for her today.

54 percent believe that she would go to war with Pakistan over Kashmir.

47 percent approve of "The Emergency," her suspension of civil liberties; only 38 percent oppose it.

67 percent believe that the Nehru-Gandhi family should be in politics.

Indira’s two greatest achievements are seen as victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak war and nationalizing the banking system.

Here is my previous post entitled "Are Indian Voters Irrational?"

My question: Does Karl Rove understand Indian politics better than we think?

Excuse Me, Bob, We Don’t Bowl Alone

Political scientist Robert Putnam made news a few years ago with Bowling Alone, where Putnam claimed that American community has been in decline. Putnam’s book draws its title from the following passage:

Whether or not bowling beats balloting in the eyes of most Americans, bowling teams illustrate yet another vanishing form of social capital… league bowling, by requiring regular participation with a diverse set of acquaintances, represented a form of sustained social capital that is not matched by the occasional pickup game.

Tim Hallett, a colleague of mine, his dissertation advisor Gary Alan Fine and graduate student Mike Sauder decided to see if people really bowled alone. They recently published a summary of their findings in the magazine Society. Fine, Hallett and Sauder write: “As occasional bowlers – although not in leagues – we asked a simple question: Do Americans really bowl alone, and what, if anything, does it mean?”

To answer that question, they went bowling and observed over 800 bowlers at six Chicago area bowling alleys. What did they find? Less than 1% of the people seen bowling actually bowled alone. In interviews, only 13% said they had bowled alone during the past year. What about those loners? Were the solo bowlers introverted and anti-social? To the contrary, 12 out of 22 interviewees who admitted to bowling alone did so to practice so they could do well in bowling leagues. In other words, bowling alone correlates with being in a bowling league.

To be fair, Putnam himself admitted bowling might be social. But he seems to have underestimated the social side of modern bowling. A lot of bowling alleys throw parties and turn their lanes into disco style social clubs. It is also common for all kinds of clubs and groups to socialize at bowling alleys. So maybe bowling leagues are on the decline, but Americans don’t bowl alone.

Will every election be a tight one?

The well-known median voter theorem suggests that the two major party candidates should adopt arbitrarily close positions. The left- and right-wing parties each move just short of the center to pick up swing voters. It also suggests that elections should be extremely close. The former prediction is clearly falsified (there are real differences between Bush and Kerry), but the latter was not the last time around. Endogenous voter participation, of course, can account for both results. Elections will be very competitive but without policy convergence. If a candidate moves too close to the center, his base decides to stay at home.

Of course few past elections have been very very close, Goldwater and McGovern being two cases in point. Parties may have strategic reasons to run suicide candidates, or primaries may not reflect a rational decision-making process. Candidates also may misjudge which strategy maximizes the number of expected electoral college votes.

But will candidates and parties make these mistakes in the future? Don’t parties care about electability more than ever before? Doesn’t information technology (not to mention betting markets) give us an unparalleled measure of voter opinion? Shouldn’t we take the postulate of hyper-competitive political markets seriously?

The pessimist might suggest we are entering a future where most Presidential elections are arbitrarily close. In other words, the courts would choose the President every time, to the detriment of democratic legitimacy. Over time we might assign this task to an elected governmental body more decisive than the Electoral College, such as the Senate.

Alternatively, voters might have reasons to rebel against a tendency for very close elections. Some voters simply want someone to win (lose) by a clear margin. Other voters like to say they supported the victor. Perhaps Bush is campaigning in some Kerry states (e.g., New Jersey) simply to appear as a likely winner and thus capture these votes.

An article in the Hindu Times suggested that all the American undecideds will break one way or the other before the election, giving us a landslide for one candidate. If that is the case, some portion of the vote is inherently winner-take-all. Political choices will remain “lumpy” in certain regards and our future will remain (quasi-) democratic. This likely means that each candidate will be playing a gambling strategy across alternative non-median policy positions. Political competition can look as perfect as can be on the supply side, but the demand side can force politicians to take strategic chances. The median voter will still go home at night fed up. Not to mention the non-median voter, such as yours truly.

Margins of Error

The usually indispensable, which I check eagerly every morning, today contains the following howler:

Remember that Zogby saying PA is a (47-47) tie means the pollster is predicting that there is a 95% chance that the true score for each candidate falls in the range 43% to 51%, no more and no less.

Of course it means much more; for example it means that the candidates are substantially more likely to be about one point apart than to be about four points apart. But compounds the error:

All the battleground states are statistical ties. A couple of percent lead means nothing

Acutally, as no reader of will need to be told, the candidate with a 2% lead among those surveyed, if that lead is within the reported “margin of error” has less than a 95% chance, but still greater than a 50% chance, of having the lead among the public at large (ignoring, of course, all of the potential problems with surveys other than sampling error.)

Since everyone knows this, it’s hardly worth pointing out, except for the fact that these silly statements about margins of error have become ubiquitous in the press, and it’s worth asking why. Surely it must be obvious to all reporters and most readers that it’s better to have a two point lead in the polls than a two point deficit. So why does everyone keep saying otherwise?

Are Indian voters irrational?

India has been a functioning democracy since Independence, so why does it not have a higher standard of living? Why haven’t Indian voters opted for the kind of wealth-maximizing policies that have vaulted Singapore to a much higher standard of living? Have they in recent times, or are Indian voters especially irrational among democracies?

Here are a few hypotheses:

1. The real economic problem is local. Good policy at the national level won’t solve India’s fundamental problems, which include poorly defined property rights and corruption. Indian voters choose good leaders, but real change will require much slower piecemeal reforms at the micro-level.

2. Indian voters are just simply, plain, flat, downright irrational.

3. Indian voters seek to perpetuate the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty in some form. This leads them to choose from a narrow subsection of the elite. Indian economic policy has improved as this elite has moved away from socialism and has had greater exposure to market-based ideas.

4. Centrist Indian voters have evolved into rationality. Indians once elected socialists, but the current Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, is arguably the best man in the world for the job [TC: he wasn’t exactly directly elected…]. India does not improve more because Singh is constrained by other parties, which court irrational views at the fringes.

5. Singh is an accident, and India will likely return to leaders who reject the idea of wealth creation [but do note that Rao and Rajiv Gandhi were also pro-market reformers to some extent].

6. The real democratization story concerns the rise of “lower-caste” politicians in the 1990s, and the waning power of the Anglicized Brahmin elites. This will mean either:

a) The lower castes will choose future leaders unwisely and pursue a politics of resentment.

b) The lower castes will be forced to “own” Indian government to a greater extent. Their politicians also will be led toward pro-market reforms, given the nature of the problems they will face. India will become stronger and more unified in the long run, thereby making market reforms more wide-ranging and also more durable.

Yes many of these are contradictory but can they all be true?

Democracy: Theory and Practice

Amid all the scaremongering about a nailbitingly close election with a disputed outcome, it is worth observing that if you really believe in democracy, and if the election is close, then it doesn’t much matter who wins. The theory of democracy (stripped down to bare essentials, and omitting all sorts of caveats that I could list but won’t) is that the guy who gets more votes is the better guy. Surely, then, it follows that the guy who gets only slightly more votes is only the slightly better guy. And if one guy’s only slightly better than the other, then a miscount is no great tragedy.

You might have a strong preference for one candidate over the other, but if you have an overriding preference for democracy (“Let the majority rule, even when I’m in the minority”), then you can stop worrying about miscounts. Surely there’s not much difference between a world where Bush gets 3 more votes than Kerry and a world where Kerry gets 3 more votes than Bush. If Bush is the rightful president in one of those worlds, he’s got to be darn close to rightful in the other.