Posts Tagged ‘campaigns’


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 »


Elite cues in state judiciary elections

When it comes to electorates, there’s low-information, and then there’s low-information. State legislative elections features a lot of candidates that voters aren’t very familiar with, for example. An open city council primary like the one we just had in Carbondale — in which 16 candidates were whittled down to 12 for the general — is likely to rely on personal networking as much as anything else. But judicial elections are another beast entirely: Most people don’t really get what judges do, particularly at the appellate level and above (see, for example, Gregory Casey’s “The Supreme Court and Myth”).

So part of electing justices turns out to be lots of irrelevant scare-tactics about how Judge So-and-so wants to let child molesters loose in the schools, but another important part is elite cuing in the form of endorsements. You may not really know anything about the candidates or the job they’re running for, and you may not have the helpful cue of party identification, but it’s easy to sort out the latent partisanship of each candidate’s endorsements. Having said, Wisconsin will have a Supreme Court election in April, between incumbent David Prosser and challenger Joanne Kloppenburg. Let’s look at some of the prominent names in their lists of endorsers:

Prosser – Three former governors, a former lt. governor, apparently every Republican in the state legislature, many county sheriffs and DAs, and the county executive of Waukesha County

Kloppenburg – The county executive of Dane County, the mayor of Madison, several county supervisors, various aldermen, one state representative, and many private citizens.

Non-partisan election status aside, Prosser is the Republican and Kloppenburg the Democrat in this race. Notice the difference between how the parties understand this? The entire Wisconsin GOP is lined up behind Prosser, providing the kind of elite cuing that tells Republican voters how they should cast their ballot, even if they don’t know the first thing about Prosser or Kloppenburg as judges. Wisconsin Democrats, on the other hand, have apparently decided to sit this one out. Keep in mind, like all non-presidential elections, this is a turnout election — getting voters informed and interested in the election is the key to winning, particularly for a challenger. So where are the state legislative caucuses? Where is private citizen Russ Feingold and his considerable organizing and mobilizing weight? This is the first opportunity to demonstrate the energy of the anti-Scott Walker protests can be channeled into something sustained, and it has the added benefit of being a race that will impact the inevitable court decisions about what Walker’s trying to do.

Filed: We R in Control || 17:33, February 27 || No Comments »


The charge of the like brigade

In my particular position as a journalism professor who studies and consumes a lot of political media, I’ve been hearing from many corners that social networking is vital to political campaigning and the future of the news industry. No one ever seems to be able to tell me why, and I remain extremely skeptical. I consider this new Trilogy Interactive report a bit of vindication:

[Trilogy] found only a slight correlation between social media popularity and success in the Senate. That correlation “effectively disappeared” in House and gubernatorial races. … Trilogy says the Facebook margin of victory only explained about 13% of voting results. For gubernatorial races, that correlation is even lower, with the strength of a candidate’s Facebook presence only explaining about 0.8% of the vote margin. And for House races, there was actually a slight negative correlation, meaning a stronger Facebook popularity was associated with a smaller margin of victory.

And the visuals — first Senate, then House:

Senate/Facebook chart

House/Facebook chart

On a semi-related note, I’m presenting a paper called “Sarah Palin Likes This: Discussion of the ‘Death Panel’ Note in Social Media” at the annual MAPOR conference this weekend.

Filed: We R in Control || 16:29, November 17 || No Comments »


Save Our Senate!

In the 96-year history of popularly elected senators, the Senate has been more likely to change hands than the House. This is logically a little odd, because the entire House is up for election every two years, as compared with just a third of the Senate. And yet, there it is. Perhaps the races being at the state-level make them generally closer, which makes them easier to flip? I don’t know. But this historical fact, combined with the fact that the Senate really was never in control of the Democratic leadership, even with 60 members in the caucus, has lead me to be a little surprised by the focus on the Senate by the netroots and other Democratic activists. Liberal blogs and e-mail lists have been full of fundraising and volunteer requests for Senate candidates in tight races this year — Feingold, Sestak, Giannoulias, Conway, Reid. By contrast, I’ve noticed relatively little national activist attention on particular House races, or region- or state-based bundles of races. Attention to gubernatorial races — that is, the races that will have enormous impact on state spending, the lack of which is likely to exacerbate the economic downturn — seems to have been largely about uncompetitive sideshows, particularly in New York, Colorado and California. The competitive race in Florida got some attention, but Illinois, Pennsylvania and Minnesota didn’t.

Now, whether or not the Senate or House were structurally more likely to flip is an open question. I think the answer is probably the House, given the make-up of this year’s open Senate seats (some were looking at 2010 as a potential Dem pick-up year in the Senate, way back when), but that’s easy to say in hindsight. The question of whether the Senate was worth focusing on is also an open one, considering that the likely 53-47 majority isn’t going to be able to do much in the face of continuing minority obstinance. But what I find interesting is that the Senate focus seems like it might have worked. Democrats underperformed both the model consensus (loss in the mid-40s) and the poll consensus (loss in the mid-50s) by losing 65 seats in the House. They lost some potentially winnable governorships and state legislatures, with Pat Quinn hanging on by a Chicago neighborhood in Illinois. And yet, they beat the Senate consensus by one seat, and nearly hung on in Illinois and Pennsylvania. In 2012, of course, the lion’s share of the attention will be focused on the presidential race, but in 2014 it’ll be worth looking at this as something of a firewall strategy and examining how it can be understood and built upon the next time the campaign gets decentralized.

Filed: We R in Control || 10:59, November 3 || No Comments »


What is the value of political celebrity?

After getting home from voting this morning, I found myself gazing across my bookshelf for no particular reason, when my eyes stopped on Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason. In a 2007 blog post called “Why Gore Will Run” (which was to be followed by another called “Why Gore Won’t Run,” I should add), I discussed how Assault read like an alternate-universe campaign book. In the spring of ’07, Gore was the hidden heavyweight of the Democratic Party, and probably could have sapped a lot of the anti-Hillary left-wing energy that Barack Obama ultimately corralled. Instead, he has spent the past three and a half years largely out of the public eye, popping up occasionally to get divorced or be accused of sexual assault. His signature issue was taken off the table in 2009, after health care and the stimulus drained the party of its will, but you wouldn’t know it by looking Gore-ward for signs of consternation or calls to action.

With the Democratic base apparently disheartened and staying home — in record numbers, if the polling gap between likely and registered voters is to be believed — why hasn’t Gore been marshaled to campaign for his party-mates? To parachute into Milwaukee and Philadelphia and Las Vegas to make the case against apathy? To follow the Gingrichian path to both partisan and traditional media outlets? Only Bill Clinton, the relentless and preternatural campaigner, has been so dispatched for the Democrats, venturing into the Blue Dog territory where Obama is least welcome. But if progressive disinterest is the key stumbling block today, sending a centrist to persuade southern, conservative Dems to stick around isn’t going to get the job done.

There are many potential reasons Gore isn’t out there, of course, the foremost among them being that maybe he doesn’t want to be. He’s done running for office. He may be looking at the model of the Clinton Global Initiative as something he can replicate, and that’s a model that’s largely divorced from electoral politics. And he’s famously not a great campaigner, of course. But compare Gore to another base-pleaser: Sarah Palin. Whether she’s running for president or just looking to cash in, yes, she has her own motivations for inserting herself into the 2010 campaign as much as she has. And yes, plenty of Republicans don’t like her or think she’s qualified to be president (at least according to those anti-dentite bastards at Politico). But she — along with others like Gingrich and Glenn Beck — is using her private citizen celebrity to bring attention to an array of candidates who couldn’t attract it themselves, particularly during primaries. She hasn’t had a 100% success rate, of course, but she has succeeded. She’s not going to be president, she’s not going to be the GOP nominee, and she’s probably not going to even make a serious run, but she is going to get richer and she is going to help get some conservative extremists elected. In 2012 there will be a fairly prominent Democratic figure spending a lot of time on the campaign trail, but in 2014? Like this year and all others, broad fundamental factors (primarily economic) will foretell most of the results in the general elections, but primaries are another story. After the success of conservative primary candidates this year, now is the time for progressives to begin thinking about how to approach those primaries, and to think about the potential value of the transferred credibility and interest that political celebrities can bestow.

Filed: Super Special Questions || 14:15, November 2 || 1 Comment »