‘We R in Control’ Category Archive


The nucleus burning inside of the cell

My previous post looked at 2016 turnout and results in cities across Wisconsin, but had some specifically interesting findings about Milwaukee. As the state’s largest and least white city, Milwaukee plays a polar role in Wisconsin politics (as do similar cities in their states’ politics — Detroit, Chicago, etc.). It’s a conservative scare tactic, often paired with liberal Madison in a two-tone dog whistle meant to remind the rural population who’s taking all their money.

Wisconsin is, by some measures, the worst state in which to be black, and Milwaukee itself is one of the most segregated cities in America. The voter ID law that kept 77-year-old Delia Anderson out of the voting booth for the first time since the 1950s is by no means the first assault by Wisconsin conservatives on the people of Milwaukee.

One of the key results that I found in the turnout data was the steep decline in voting in the city of Milwaukee from 2012 to 2016. Given the city’s high level of segregation and the targeted nature of the voter ID law, there’s good reason to expect that the 14.6% average drop in total votes cast would not be uniform across the city. Luckily, Milwaukee adopted its current voting ward map in 2011, meaning that the same map was used for both 2012 and 2016, allowing for direct comparison. What we don’t know is the extent of movement in and out of the city, or between wards within it, but Census Bureau estimates don’t suggest any major changes in population distribution between the two elections.

Milwaukee has 323 voting wards that can be legitimately analyzed (three had zero votes in either election, and one had four votes in 2012 and five in 2016). Only 16 of them had more ballots cast in 2016 than in 2012, and they’re largely in well-off, mostly white areas — Bay View, downtown and the Third Ward, the tony Northpoint neighborhood. They’re almost all on the east side, with the exception of a couple on the far west that border Wauwatosa.

Meanwhile, 158 wards had turnout proportional to 2012 that was worse than the city average of 85.8%, including 30 that were at 70% or below. Look at, and compare, the extent of turnout decline by voting ward and 2000 census data on percentage of residents in each tract who are black:

mkewardmap mkeracemap

The ready explanation for this is, well, Barack Obama wasn’t on the ballot, so obviously black voters aren’t going to turn out. This is a very convenient argument for how tens of thousands of black voters disappeared in Wisconsin, but until I see some strong data it’s hard to buy the idea that upwards of 30% of black voters were only showing up for Obama and didn’t recognize the existential threat presented by Donald Trump. It’s also important to note that we can’t account for the impact of the voter ID law just by looking at how many people were turned away at polling places. There are also those who knew (or thought) they didn’t have the necessary ID and couldn’t expend the resources to get it, those who were hassled in a previous election and didn’t want to bother with it again, and those who weren’t sure but did know they’d been told repeatedly that voter fraud is a felony. It could go without saying that the state will not support any efforts to do rigorous study about this, but hopefully there is funding to be secured by scholars at UW-Madison or UW-Milwaukee, as long as the state doesn’t threaten to defund the school as a result.

(Thanks to The Both, whose “Milwaukee” provides the post title.)

Filed: We R in Control || 13:44, December 22 || No Comments »


Out in the city, into the sunshine

One of the weirder aspects of the extended election post-mortem this year has been the focus on Wisconsin. The state flipping from blue to red was certainly a surprise to all observers (including both campaigns), and it slots into a neat narrative about overconfidence and the “forgotten working class” (or a certain subset of it). Nevertheless, anything that the Clinton campaign did to win Wisconsin would not have mattered a lick if it didn’t also flip at least one other state (Florida), or more likely two more (Michigan and Pennsylvania). So anyone making the argument that Russian hacking doesn’t matter because they didn’t keep Clinton from visiting Wisconsin is, to put it mildly, not engaging in good faith discussion. Anyone not talking about the role of Scott Walker’s vote suppression law is also not engaging with the reality of what went on in Wisconsin this year, as reported last week by the Los Angeles Times:

Starting with John F. Kennedy’s victory over Richard Nixon in 1960, Delia Anderson had voted in 14 straight presidential elections.

She had cast her ballot at the same polling place for years, never with a glitch. This year, however, a volunteer driving her to the polls mentioned that she would be asked to show a state-approved photo ID.

“Don’t these poll people already know who I am?” replied Anderson, who is 77, black and uses a wheelchair, as she frantically sifted through her purse for anything to prove her identity.

It was a lost cause. She had planned to vote for Hillary Clinton. Instead, for the first time in 56 years, she did not cast a ballot.

“Lord, have mercy,” she said. “What happened to voting?”

Such stories abound in Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold in a state where Donald Trump won by 22,748 votes, a key victory in his path to the presidency.

Now, voting rights advocates, elections officials and political experts have zeroed in on the city as a case study of whether controversial new rules requiring ID for voting — the kind used in several states in November for the first time in a presidential election — blocked vast numbers of largely young and racial minority Democrats from casting ballots and contributed to Clinton’s defeat.

In a state that saw its lowest turnout in 20 years, nearly 248,000 people voted in Milwaukee, roughly 41,000 fewer than in the last presidential election.

“I believe it was voter suppression laws from the state government that crushed turnout,” said Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki, one of two officials who oversees local elections. “They tend to hit hardest on people who are poor, who don’t drive and don’t have a license, who are minorities.”

That said, Wisconsin is a very interesting case quite apart from its lack of impact on the overall outcome of the election. The state has long been at the median of many social indicators across the country, and has experienced a precipitous move to the right since 2010. It’s not for nothing that Hillary Clinton did better there than Russ Feingold, who obviously spent quite a bit of time campaigning in the state. There has been a considerable amount of examination of county-by-county results so far, with a particular emphasis on urban/rural splits (and for background on this, Kathy Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment is the place to start), but even in Wisconsin, rural counties are not where most people live. So although the data aren’t superb yet, I decided to explore a bit in the vote records for 2012 and 2016 to see what happened in Wisconsin’s cities.

The ten biggest cities in Wisconsin, as of the 2010 census, are home to 1,449,059 people, or just a little more than a quarter of the state’s population. More than half of that group lives in the state’s two biggest cities, Milwaukee and Madison. That is to say that, like most states in 2016, Wisconsin’s population is concentrated in cities. Unlike most states in 2016, Wisconsin saw its voter turnout hit a 20-year low, as the state cast only 97% of the total number of presidential ballots it cast in 2012 (which doesn’t take population growth into account, so the actual drop in turnout was larger than 3%). If Walker’s attempt to suppress Democratic votes worked like it was supposed it, we would not expect to see that number even across the board, but to generally be lower in cities, and especially to be lower in cities with larger non-white populations.

Wisconsin is also a state that both nominees lost in the primaries, and where neither was especially well-liked. That also suggests a reason for voters to turn away (despite there being a competitive and potentially balance-tipping Senate election on the ballot) or to vote for a non-major candidate. So below I tabulate three things. First, the net change in votes and percentage points for Clinton over Trump compared with Obama over Romney, the net change in third party and write-in votes and percentage points, and the number of ballots cast as a proportion of the total from 2012 (to compare with the percentage of the population that is white).

Clinton
net votes
Clinton
net pct.
3rd party
net votes
3rd party
net pct
Turnout
vs. 2012
Pct.
White
Appleton -1284 -3.3 1685 4.7 95.9% 85.2%
Eau Claire -1487 -4.0 2482 6.9 99.6% 90.3%
Green Bay -5397 -11.4 2542 5.8 95.3% 73.3%
Janesville -3689 -10.4 1838 6.2 92.8% 88.8%
Kenosha -6057 -11.9 1890 4.8 91.3% 69.5%
Madison 9311 5.1 7242 4.7 101.8% 75.7%
Milwaukee -27845 -1.5 9605 4.1 85.8% 37.0%
Oshkosh -3868 -11.5 1898 6.1 95.5% 88.9%
Racine -5201 -9.1 1266 4.5 83.8% 53.5%
Waukesha 2172 5.1 2404 6.8 94.1% 80.4%

With the caveat that there’s a lot that raw vote totals can’t tell us, there are several interesting things here. Starting at the right side of the table, turnout relative to 2012 and whiteness are highly correlated (r = .76). This is only the ten biggest cities, of course, and it would be worth extending this analysis to every municipality for which the Census Bureau has race data. It is a compelling finding, though, and particularly so for Milwaukee and Racine, the state’s two blackest cities and the two with the biggest dropoffs in this set. I’ll have more on Milwaukee’s low turnout in a subsequent post.

In the middle columns, we see that every single city gave non-major candidates at least four more percentage points than they did in 2012, up to nearly seven in Waukesha and Eau Claire. Even this maybe undersells it — for Eau Claire that was a 328% increase (from 1.8 percentage points to 7.7). Those big increases are also how Trump was able to win the state with only 47.2% of the vote. But the top and bottom of the list also tell another story. There was a lot of discussion during the campaign among people on the left about whether refusing to vote for Clinton was a move based in privilege (and also whether it was a big free-rider move, but that’s another discussion). The two least white big cities in Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Racine, had the lowest increases in non-major voting; they also had the lowest raw third-party and write-in rates of these cities. That is to say, these electorates appear to be the ones least interested in screwing around with this election. Waukesha, at the other end of the list, is interesting for another reason. It is the center of Wisconsin Republican politics, but it’s not a place that was ever happy with Donald Trump. Its big jump suggests a lot of Republicans there couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton, but chose to vote for Gary Johnson or wrote in Paul Ryan instead.

(Aside: We don’t know how many write-in votes Ryan or Bernie Sanders or any other non-registered write-in candidate got, but we do know how many Evan McMullin got. For some reason, he absolutely dominated the write-in vote in Appleton, Kenosha, and Racine, getting 546 of 576 write-in votes in those cities. At the same time, in liberal Madison, write-in votes were up from 251 to 2,099, but McMullin got only 367 of those; I’d bet most of the others went to Sanders.)

Waukesha has a lot to tell us about Clinton’s columns, as well. It and Madison — political polar opposites — are the only two of the ten cities where she had a net gain over Obama’s 2012 margins, 5.1 percentage points in each. In relative terms, Trump did horribly in Waukesha, getting only 51.1% compared with Romney’s 57.1%. Clinton did only a little worse than Obama, and might have done better if a few more of those anti-Trump Republicans had been willing to vote for the only candidate capable of actually beating him. The results in Madison, full of liberals and students, suggest that turning out those two frequently scapegoated groups was not the problem in Wisconsin. Clinton got a higher percentage of the Madison vote than Obama did, Trump did worse than Romney, and Madison’s increase in non-major candidate voting was lower than the state as a whole. Madison was also the only city of these ten that cast more ballots in 2016 than it did in 2012, so the suppression of the student vote does not seem to have been all that successful, especially in light of how much turnout cratered in Milwaukee.

In 2012, Milwaukeeans cast 287,387 presidential ballots; this year it was only 246,617. Both major party candidates were down in percentage point terms from the 2012 nominees, with a relatively small net loss for Clinton. The much bigger loss came from votes that were never cast. If Milwaukee’s turnout drop had been the same as the state average and those extra votes cast in the same percentages as the others in the city, Clinton would have a net gain of a little more than 21,000 votes. But there’s good reason to think the lost votes wouldn’t be cast the same as the votes that happened; they would likely be more favorable to Clinton. In a follow-up post, I’ll dig specifically into Milwaukee turnout to look at how vote suppression manifested in this election.

(Thanks to Locksley for the great song that provides the title of this post.)

Filed: We R in Control || 18:25, December 21 || No Comments »


Build that wall

For the good of the country and the world, Twitter must wall off Donald Trump’s account. Yesterday saw Trump double down on his embrace of Taiwan by tweeting a bunch of stuff about China being a currency manipulator, not “asking us” before they did various things, etc., etc. This is genuinely dangerous stuff for the entire world, and there’s no indication Trump intends to quit shooting his mouth after taking office.

Luckily, Trump only seems interested in Twitter and not any other social platforms, presenting exactly one point of failure in his quest to get everyone killed. Twitter has a lot to answer for, but there’s an opportunity here for them to make up for a big chunk of the damage they’ve caused society in recent years. All they need to do is quite a virtual Twitter environment and quietly slot Trump’s account into it.

Make a bunch of bots, only visible to him, that retweet him, like his tweets, post autogenerated replies, etc. You’d also need a curator to selectively make some of his tweets public, to avoid him seeing “Why did Trump stop tweeting?” pieces on CNN. This won’t be a simple undertaking, obviously, and unfortunately they can’t make any noise about it. But if they let him continue to use their platform as he has been, Twitter will be complicit in everything he does.

Filed: We R in Control || 19:20, December 5 || No Comments »


Institutions of government are inherently political

For those of us clear-eyed (and arrogant) enough to consider ourselves judicial realists, it’s an incredible sight to see long-time New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse come around to what has long been self-evidently true about the Court and its members:

That’s not the case here. There was no urgency. There was no crisis of governance, not even a potential one. There is, rather, a politically manufactured argument over how to interpret several sections of the Affordable Care Act that admittedly fit awkwardly together in defining how the tax credits are supposed to work for people who buy their health insurance on the exchanges set up under the law.

Further, the case the court agreed to decide, King v. Burwell, doesn’t fit the normal criterion for Supreme Court review. There is no conflict among the federal appellate circuits. (Remember that just a month ago, the absence of a circuit conflict led the justices to decline to hear seven same-sex marriagecases?) In the King case, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., unanimously upheld the government’s position that the tax subsidy is available to those who buy insurance on the federally run exchanges that are now in operation in 36 states.

There is simply no way to describe what the court did last Friday as a neutral act.

So this case is rich in almost every possible dimension. Its arrival on the Supreme Court’s docket is also profoundly depressing. In decades of court-watching, I have struggled — sometimes it has seemed against all odds — to maintain the belief that the Supreme Court really is a court and not just a collection of politicians in robes. This past week, I’ve found myself struggling against the impulse to say two words: I surrender.

The difference between Congress voting 50 ineffectual times to repeal Obamacare and the Supreme Court deciding the wording that, just two years ago, they unanimously affirmed as allowing federal subsidies doesn’t actually do that, is that the Court faces effectively no limits on its exercise of power.

Filed: We R in Control || 14:08, November 13 || No Comments »


The Internet doesn’t do anything

By now everyone has seen the data: Young voters (18-29) made up 12% of the electorate in this year’s midterm elections, the same as 2010, and the same as 2006. If that proportion had been closer to what it was in 2012 (19%), assuming patterns of support among young voters didn’t change, lots of Democratic politicians would still have jobs.

2006, 2010, 2014. A bit of Facebook, lots of Facebook and decent Twitter, ubiquitous Facebook and significant Twitter and a ton of other things. Social network sites and content sharing platforms dominate the media diets of young adults, and have been home in recent years to a variety of high-profile progressive awareness campaigns, such as Kony 2012 and #YesAllWomen. Numerous studies have extolled the virtues of social media for “contribut[ing] to new models of citizenship now emerging in younger generations” (see also Bennett, Wells, & Freelon, 2011; Gil de Zúñiga, Bachmann, Hsu, & Brundidge, 2013). Unfortunately, this research skirts around a lot of practical participatory outcomes, most notably voting.

What does this tell us? Well, among other things, it tells us the Internet doesn’t do things on its own. The cultural political movements that have been enabled by the connectiveness of online communities have been terrific in many ways — certainly where American attitudes stand today regarding gender equality has been affected positively by discussion primarily occurring online — but they have also been sometimes counter to the interests of the largely progressive young generation (e.g., Gamergate, the Tea Party). Regardless, the young citizens who support access to birth control mostly did not vote. The young citizens who support establishing a living wage mostly did not vote. Relaxation or elimination of marijuana prohibition. Militarization of police. Non-dischargeability of student loan debt. Voter ID laws that specifically target students for disenfranchisement. No presidential race on the ballot? Not interested.

This is an observation of a problem I see with the framework of our thinking about the Internet and political participation, and I don’t have an answer to it at this point. I think parts of the answer lie in at least two places. First, Facebook’s experiments in social pressure about voting (and numerous other studies) point to one avenue that can’t be overlooked: awareness that elections are actually taking place, established long enough ahead of time to get registered and integrate “voter” into one’s self-concept. Many places have been inundated with ads for the last few months, but that’s not true everywhere, and it is true that many of these potential voters see relatively few TV ads anyway. One important data point could be the amount of news coverage devoted to midterm elections compared with presidential ones, but again, that doesn’t implicate much of this demographic.

The second part of the process may be a fundamental revisiting of what voting is for. This is an area in which the American left has long lagged behind the right. The conservative movement has long understood that it is both a social movement and an electoral one, and that the Republican Party is its primary electoral tool. Progressive and social justice organizations, on the other hand, from traditionally held skeptical views toward both the Democratic Party and electoral politics in general. This attitude seems like it may be resilient among young non-voters (or at least their enablers in the press), who believe that their votes won’t change anything. This reflects an upside-down view of what voting it is for. It is not to make change; it is to consolidate change make socially. If you make change in society to support equality and freedom, and then fail to vote for it every other election, you’ve failed to make the change happen.

Filed: We R in Control || 17:21, November 6 || No Comments »


Mothership connection

So I kind of quit blogging, because it was taking me too much time to develop and refine the things I wanted to write about, which is both unproductive in general and not great blogging in practice in particular. But this week I was caught by an idea I could get figured out fairly quickly.

It stems from this New Republic post bemoaning the tendency to blame the government shutdown (and ideological extremism in general) on gerrymandering. This is basically correct. The idea behind your garden variety gerrymandering is to pack as many of your opponents voters into as few districts as you can, giving them a few very safe seats and you the bulk of the seats, but with narrow margins. If you do it right, you wind up with something like Pennsylvania, which voted for Barack Obama in 2012, and also gave 13 of its 18 House seats to Republicans. But also if you do it right, you’re winning a bunch of 52-48 districts, which means you should be incentivized to run relatively moderate candidates. So it’s not a very attractive explanation for systemic polarization or individual extremism.

But what is? Well one clear one is the willingness of far-right conservatives to mount primary challenges against Republican incumbents. This is an asymmetric strategy, as liberals are far less able or willing to mount such campaigns against incumbent Democrats. Primaries are low turnout elections, and the strongly ideological are the most likely voters. That means that Republican challengers come from the right, and challenged incumbents must move right to meet them. In theory, this should make the winner of the primary (whether the incumbent or the challenger) more vulnerable in the general election, because they’ve moved away from the median voter, and the Democratic nominee can move to the center in response. And indeed, this is essentially the dynamic that we’ve seen with the awful Senate candidates the GOP has put up in the last two cycles — they are far enough to the right to win a primary contested strictly among ultra-conservatives, but the statewide electorate wants nothing to do with them.

OK, so how does the House differ? There are a few key factors here. First, Senate campaigns get much more attention from national media and the national parties than House campaigns do, on average. So when Todd Akin talks about “legitimate rape,” it becomes national news. When Kerry Bentivolio (now the Representative from Michigan’s 11th district) is called “mentally unbalanced” by his own brother, it doesn’t. Additionally, Senators don’t have districts, they have states, which experience less change than districts do based on either demographics or map changes (the latter of which never happen for states). At the district-level, voters are gradually self-segregating along political lines, creating safer districts without necessarily gerrying the mander. This has the potential to make party ID even more salient in these elections than it is for statewide and presidential elections.

Where this all points is in the direction of low-information primaries producing nominees who appeal to extremely partisan electorates, leading into general elections where party ID trumps nearness to the median voter. This is where the idea of “safe seats” shifts from incumbents to parties — these are districts in which voters are pulling the lever for the party without knowing or caring much about who the candidate is. Once they get to Washington, fealty to the movement and service to the party become the most important thing. What’s so incredible about this is that it might be as close as the US has ever come to installing a parliamentary system. The problem is that the rest of our system isn’t designed to handle a parliament — the Senate gets in the way, the President gets in the way, the 10th Amendment gets in the way, etc. Our House has to push as hard as it can to get through all those veto points, and as long as its relatively undisciplined among its parties, that’s fine. A House that is discretely divided is going to have a tendency to break our system, and that tendency isn’t going to go away when the present crisis ends.

Filed: We R in Control || 20:02, October 5 || No Comments »


Midwest aftermath

This fight is everywhere. Photo by John Rummel.

The levers of power are inherently political, Michigan edition:

The state House of Representatives voted 58-51 today to pass a right-to-work bill for public employees, and 58-52 on a bill for private sector workers.

Both right-to-work bills have already passed the Senate. All that is needed now is Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature and Michigan becomes the 24th right-to-work state.

In a parliamentary manuever, the House Republicans asked for a reconsideration of the bill to keep Democrats from asking for the same thing, which would have delayed final passage until Wednesday. Technically, the Republicans could remove that request later today and the bills will automatically head to Snyder.

It almost goes without saying that the Michigan GOP didn’t campaign on this in 2012, and that Snyder even testified earlier this year before the U.S. Congress that right-to-work wasn’t right for Michigan. But much the way traditional norms of government have been violated up and down the ladder of power over the past couple decades, so it is. The disparate protest movements that rose up in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere in 2011 failed to congeal into something broader, and that’s left Michigan vulnerable. It’s left state employees in Illinois to watch their pensions be stolen. And wherever else it’s possible, it will happen there, too.

Rep. Brandon Dillon — inexplicably elected as a Democrat from Grand Rapids — railed against this bill, saying that it’s only being shoved through now because the votes won’t be there in the 2013 session. Maybe that’s true, but it elides the point a little bit. It’s being shoved through now because this is the period of least accountable power. It’s why George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security immediately as his second term began, it’s why Scott Walker went after the unions only weeks after being sworn in, and it’s why there’s such demand for a bipartisan “Grand Bargain” to keep rich people’s taxes low and destroy entitlements.

President Obama has thrown his weight behind the unions (which he somewhat conspicuously didn’t do in Wisconsin), and that’s big, but it’s probably too late. It’s entirely possible that Michigan unions are simply screwed. Even if the momentum built this week is enough to drive Snyder from office in 2014, keep in mind that when Tom Barrett ran against Scott Walker in the Wisconsin recall, he never promised to repeal Walker’s unionbusting bill. In Michigan, there’s no guarantee that Snyder’s replacement (with the help of a Democratic legislature) would undo this. (And if you want close coverage of the Michigan protests, follow Eclectablog.)

Voters with a union member in their household voted 40% for Mitt Romney. In 2008, it was 39% for McCain. That’s about 7% of all voters casting their ballots in favor of the gun that’s pointed at their own feet. Typically I’m happy to blame voters for their own bad outcomes, but in this case I think it’s a tremendous failure of imagination on the part of the Democratic Party. Get half of those voters back and you win every election forever. This ought to be the mandate for the politically unshackled and, yes, largely unaccountable second Obama term: Look for the union label.

Filed: We R in Control || 15:00, December 11 || No Comments »


Effetes don’t fail me now

It’s never the same thing, but it’s always something. American presidential elections are horrible things, though I can’t say whether they’re any more or less horrible than other countries’. Ours are sinkholes of mendacity and gamesmanship, in which winning is measured by the players in skim and by the public in the desperate hope that things don’t get any worse. At best, the campaign provides a distraction from the fact that our government is designed to fail, the institutional version of Monty Burns’s million diseases all getting in one another’s way. A public mismatched with its responsibility will again send a divided government to rule a structure that even one party could never reliably handle, expecting the president to “reach out” to the other side, and for the parties to “come together,” as if these magic words will erase the serious and deep divisions between them on fundamental issues of policy, values, and beliefs. If we’re lucky, only one incompetent or corrupt local election official will screw up thousands of ballots, and the winners will be known before the morning after Election Day; if so, we’ll be ready to leap right into Decision 2016. The lessons we will have learned this year are that truth, on every level, is valueless in the gate-kept circle of Hell inhabited by the Gang of 500; that because money couldn’t buy the presidency or the Senate, it’s OK if it buys mayors and judges; and that everyone who uses science to correctly predict things is just getting lucky or at least gay. We’ll play out this psychodrama again in four years, because most of us have no choice.

And now, on to the predictions!

I made a friendly wager that Barack Obama would defeat Mitt Romney well before the Republican primaries began, and I see no reason to deviate from that prediction now. His electoral vote margin will be smaller than it was in 2008, losing six votes to post-census shuffling, and then losing Indiana (11 votes), Florida (29 votes), North Carolina (15 votes) and the 2nd district of Nebraska (1 vote). All the other states will hold steady, for an Obama win with 303 votes to Romney’s 235. Obama will also become the first president to be elected a second time with a lower share of the popular vote than he got the first time since Grover Cleveland returned to the White House in 1892 with slightly less than he’d won in 1884. A final tally of 51% for Obama and 48% for Romney (rounded) will also indirectly point to the incredible disappearance of Gary Johnson, who had been seen as having the potential to swing New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and maybe even Colorado. Total votes cast for president will be around 135 million.

Democrats will retain control of the Senate, flipping seats in Massachusetts and Maine (via Dem-caucusing independent Angus King), while Republicans take Nebraska and Montana. The push on Election Day will leave the Senate split 53 to 47. Democrats will gain five seats overall in the House of Representatives, but will be well short of a majority, leaving John Boehner with the Speaker’s gavel by a count of 237 to 198. I’d like to be wrong about that one, but I have a hard time seeing where 20 more seats are going to come from.

Effete liberals, commies, moochers and anti-colonialists, let’s get out there and make it happen.

Filed: We R in Control || 15:08, November 5 || 1 Comment »


Elvis was a hero to most

Skewerism is the latest fad to take hold in the Republican Party:

Do you think pollsters are intentionally skewing their polls this year to help Barack Obama, or not?

GOP Dem Ind All
Yes 71 14 45 42
No 13 65 40 40
Not sure 16 21 16 18

In the face of such an assault on reason and the very notion of shared reality, I’m tempted to fall back on The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Something about it doesn’t seem to fit, though; Hofstadter’s paranoid style requires more acknowledgement of reality than we’re seeing here. And now that Mitt Romney has “won” the first debate, expect to see even more of this when he doesn’t launch into a big lead in the polls (despite the fact that this is not how debates work).

Filed: We R in Control || 9:50, October 4 || No Comments »


Mitt Romney and the need for fringe belief entrepreneurship

Christian media plays a prominent role in supplementing the influence of conservatism and Republicanism. Belief that vaccines can cause autism is not predicted by political identity, but could Christian media be home to the leading edge of right-wing belief generation?

Mitt Romney’s campaign took kind of an odd turn this week — odd even in the context of this campaign. They sent out a mailer in northern Virginia touting Romney’s plan to deal with the epidemic of… Lyme disease. This was not merely one line item in the mailer, it was the whole point: “What can a president do about Lyme disease?” asks the cover side, with the interior calling it a “massive epidemic threatening Virginia.” Virginia had 9.3 cases per 100,000 people in 2011, just above the national average of 7.8. Needless to say, this is an addition to the campaign agenda, and I’d wager an addition to campaign agendas in general going back a long, long time, and maybe forever. George Bush declared a Lyme Disease Awareness Week back in the summer of 1990, which is probably the closest it’s ever come to being a campaign issue.

The Romney mailer suggests a few ways that Romney will end the scourge of Lyme disease. First, “improve synergy.” Sure, sounds good. Second, “increase awareness.” This mailer sure has him off to a good start! Finally, “support treatment.” The interior of the mailer makes clear that supporting treatment is primarily about tort reform, because doctors who might get sued for malpractice can’t effectively treat Lyme disease. A friend suggested to me that this is really the point of this weird strategy, but I’m skeptical. The GOP desire for tort award caps is not something that is sublimated in any way — they’re open about it and they talk about it a lot. So why put out this odd mailer where tort reform is buried in one phrase of an interior bullet point, if tort reform is the point?

Simon van Zuylen-Wood, guest-blogging at Political Animal, had the same initial reaction I did: it’s about dog-whistling the Christian right. First, Virginia and its evangelical governor, Bob McDonnell, have actually been pushing Lyme disease prevention for the last couple years. McDonnell put together a Lyme disease task force headed by the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, rather than, say, a scientist. Apparently Romney’s desire to “get the CDC out of the way” resonated with this guy and now they’re pals.

This narrative is based on some nice dot-connecting among all these individuals and institutions, and it’s well worth reading the whole thing. My impression, on the other hand, comes largely from following and studying fringe beliefs over the last several years, and specifically from a study I conducted last fall. This is data I presented at MAPOR last year, and will follow up this year. One of the beliefs I examined in that study was the belief that vaccines can cause autism, and unlike some other science-related beliefs (climate change, evolution), there was absolutely no effect of ideology and partisanship. There was also no effect of using partisan political media. There was, however, a significant effect of using Christian media, that positively predicted belief in the autism-causing power of vaccines. To the extent that this belief is rising up, it’s happening in a venue that has little traction in mainstream social and political discourse. This is nothing new for American fringe beliefs — when Dr. Strangelove‘s Commander Ripper expressed concern over our “precious bodily fluids,” that was a satire of contemporary fringe concerns nearly 50 years ago.

So I find myself wondering if what Romney’s doing here is trying to innovate in the domain of fringe issues, playing on a right-wing Christian health and government paranoia. For a campaign still trying to solidify its base, and desperately in need of something to change the election’s trajectory, that kind of enterprise campaigning has a lot of upside and carries little risk. If it makes the campaign look kooky and generates some laughs on the national level, so be it — people are laughing anyway.

Filed: We R in Control || 12:13, September 30 || No Comments »