November 23, 2008

Political engagement on the web

The Compete Blog (which posts a wealth of interesting data charts mined from monitoring web surfers) posted statistics
about proportion of web surfers that visit political websites:


Colorado, Connecticut and New Jersey are at the top. Colorado was a battleground state.

Posted by Aleks Jakulin at 5:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 22, 2008

A question about the youth vote

Shivaji Sondhi writes:

I had a question for you about the youth vote. What are its ethnic and red/blue composition? The reason I ask is that I was trying to integrate the apparently growing Democratic dominance in this segment with various other beliefs I have seen expressed, e.g

a) that red states have larger fertility (affordable family formation or whatever)

b) that families have an impact on the political beliefs of children (more than educators, as educators insist - at least at the college level, I haven't really seen a discussion of school teachers) which would then provide a mechanism for (a) to affect voting share to the right of the spectrum

c) that the minorities form a growing share of the young which would tilt the playing field to the left.

My reply:

1. I don't yet have raw survey data. The exit polls on the web do break down the vote by age and race. Among blacks, Obama won about the same among all age groups. Among Hispanics, Obama did 8% better among the young than the old, and among whites, Obama did 14% better among the young than the old.

But . . . if you believe the exit polls (which I don't, completely), there was an interaction between age and race: many more of the young voters were ethnic minorities. Among blacks and Hispanics, there were three times as many under-30's as over-65's. (By comparison, among whites, there were more old voters than young voters.)

So the age effect partly arose from lots of young ethnic minorities coming out to vote.

2. People do tend to vote like their parents--children of Republicans are, on average, more likely to vote Republican--but cohort effects go on top of this. The recent economy and George W. Bush's approval ratings aren't likely to make the Republican Party popular with young people--especially those who are ethnic minorities. Any differences in birth rates between states are small compared to these big political swings, which are not just about Obama; see this graph from 2006:


Posted by Andrew at 5:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 18, 2008

Estimated votes by county among non-blacks

Ben Lauderdale writes:

I [Ben] had this map [see below] on my door for the last week. Based on exactly the same calculation using constant 95% black support and census-proportional representation. The white counties are the ones whose census names didn't match properly with the names used in the library(maps) package in R, I was too lazy to fix them.


Cool. I'd only suggest using light gray rather than heavy black lines between counties; the map as it is overemphasizes the county borders, I think. But I respect his laziness; there's always time later to fix the details.

Ben continues:

[Below are] the state-by-state county share plots for the lower 49, Obama vote share as a function of black population share. V.O. Key's observation that whites who live near blacks in southern states are less positively inclined towards them is *still* visible in several states.


The circle areas are proportional to county voter turnout. (The biggest circle is L.A. county in California, and so forth.)

Ben also had this comment about his map:

It reminded me of something Bob Putnam would say every time someone presented an empirical talk in our Center for the Study of Democratic Politics series during the year he was a fellow here at Princeton: "You should include miles to the Canadian border as a variable in your regression, it is the most important proxy for political culture in America!" At least in the eastern half of the country, he has a point.

Except for New Hampshire and Vermont, I think.

P.S. For graphics enthusiasts, here are some earlier graphs that I gave the thumbs-down on before Ben came up with the 50 plots above:

First version:


Second version:


Ben was skeptical about proportional circle sizes, but I think it turned out pretty well.

I'd also recommend non-alphabetical ordering of the states and moving away from the misleadingly square 7x7 grid, but I didn't want to hassle Ben any more.

Posted by Andrew at 4:25 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 17, 2008

Just when I thought I was out . . . they pull me back in

I said I wouldn't do more posts on the election, but . . . Eric Rauchway merged our provisional county data with Census numbers on %black and made some graphs, which I played with a little to get the following:


Percent black acts as a floor on Obama's vote share; beyond that, it predicts his vote better in some regions than others.

But really there are two things going on. First, Obama's getting nearly all the black vote; second, depending on the region, whites are voting differently in places with more or fewer African Americans.

Then I had a thought. Obama got 96% of the black vote. If he got 96% in every county--which can't be far from the truth--then we can use simple algebra to figure out his share of the non-black vote in every county. If B is the proportion black in the county and X is the (unknown) Obama vote share among non-blacks, then, for each county, = 0.96*B + X*(1-B)

And so

X = ( - .96*B) / (1 - B)

This is only an approximation--for one thing, it assumes turnout rates are the same among blacks and others--but it can't be too far off, I think. And it leads to the following graph:


(Lowess lines are shown in blue.) None of this is a huge surprise: outside the south, places with more African Americans tend to be liberal urban areas where people of other ethnicities also vote for Democrats; in the south, many African Americans live in counties where the whites are very conservative.

1. These graphs are non-blacks, not whites. Some of the variation has to be explainable by the presence of other minority groups.
2. For a few of the southern counties, our estimates of X are negative; that just means that Obama got less than 96% of the black vote there, or there was differential turnout, or some combination of these.

Posted by Andrew at 11:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 16, 2008

How did the Democrats do in the 2008 congressional elections?

John Kastellec made this graph of seats and votes in 2006 and 2008. For each year, the dot is what actually happened and the line is our estimated seats-votes curve based on modeling from the previous election year.


The Democrats did well in both years, but they didn't get as many seats as we would've expected, given their vote share. As I've already discussed, the Democrats' 56% share of the average district vote was pretty impressive, a 5.7 percentage point gain since 2004:


But the Democrats performed less well than expected in converting votes to seats. This explains to me why Charlie Cook et al. felt that the Democrats' performance was disappointing. At the level of voters, however (and of public opinion), the party did fine in congressional voting.

Posted by Andrew at 8:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 15, 2008

Election decided by toss of a coin

I just love these stories.

Posted by Andrew at 4:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 13, 2008

What's going to happen in the Minnesota Senate recount?

Michael Herron sent me this article-in-progress by Jonathan Chapman, Jeffrey Lewis, and himself on residual votes in the 2008 Minnesota Senate race. They conclude:

In the Minnesota Senate case there is no doubt that the number of residual votes dwarfs the margin that separates Coleman from Franken. We show using a combination of precinct voting returns from the 2006 and 2008 General Elections that patterns in Senate race residual votes are consistent with, one, the presence of a large number of Democratic-leaning voters, in particular African-American voters, who appear to have deliberately skipped voting in the Coleman-Franken Senate contest and, two, the presence of a smaller number of Democratic-leaning voters who almost certainly intended to vote validly in the Senate race but for some reason did not do so. . . . At present, though, the data available suggest that the recount will uncover many of the former and that, of the latter, a majority will likely prove to be supportive of Franken.

Posted by Andrew at 9:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 12, 2008

"Not a few" = 6?

In a discussion of the historic nature of Barack Obama's election, Christopher Hitchens writes, "there were not a few elected black American representatives 40 years ago."

This claim surprised me, so I looked it up. In 1968, there were 5 African Americans in the House of Representatives and 1 in the Senate. This sounds like only "a few" to me! Was Hitchens just confused here, or am I missing something?

P.S. Somebody pointed out that there were black state and local officeholders as well. I guess it all turns on what is meant by "not a few." Blacks were certainly a very low percentage of all U.S. elected officials back then.

Posted by Andrew at 11:04 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

"Cooperation is the selfish act that hurts the larger group"

Tyler Cowen's recent remark against team players reminded me of my paper a few years ago, Forming Voting Blocs and Coalitions as a Prisoner's Dilemma: A Possible Theoretical Explanation for Political Instability:

Individuals in a committee or election can increase their voting power by forming coalitions. This behavior is shown here to yield a prisoner's dilemma, in which a subset of voters can increase their power, while reducing average voting power for the electorate as a whole. This is an unusual form of the prisoner's dilemma in that cooperation is the sefil sh act that hurts the larger group. Under a simple model, the privately optimal coalition size is approximately 1.4 times the square root of the number of voters. When voters' preferences are allowed to di ffer, coalitions form only if voters are approximately politically balanced. We propose a dynamic view of coalitions, in which groups of voters choose of their own free will to form and disband coalitions, in a continuing struggle to maintain their voting power. This is potentially an endogenous mechanism for political instability, even in a world where individuals' (probabilistic) preferences are fixed and known.

Cool jargon, huh? Here's a pretty picture from the article:


And here's a schematic of the reasoning:


Posted by Andrew at 8:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

It's about who you are and where you live

Richard Florida writes:

The critical feature of the creative economy is that it makes place the fundamental feature of politics, culture, and economics.

This isn't literally true, at least not in Alabama and Mississippi, where whites went 8 to 1 for McCain and blacks went something like 25 to 1 for Obama. But I think what Florida means is that place is more important than it used to be within demographically defined subgroups of the population (in particular, upper-middle-class whites).

The question is: how to state this hypothesis carefully, how to test it, and how to understand where (in space and time) it's largely true and where it's not. This is an important research project, I think.

Posted by Andrew at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 11, 2008

More on the swing in the House vote

In yesterday's blog entry I looked that the swing in congressional voting nationally (House Democrats gained 5.7%, on average, compared to 2004) and by state (compared to 2004, House Democrats gained in nearly every state). My graphs elicited several interesting comments including this from Steve Sailer:

Perhaps the reason that the GOP House losses of seats were considered not so bad compared to 2006 was because in 2008 the Democrats ran up huge turnouts in black-represented Congressional districts, which were already all Democratic?

Let's look at some district-by-district swings, starting in 2002:


Here, I'm excluding uncontested elections and those in which the challenger got less than 10% of the vote; dots indicate incumbents running for reelection, circles are open seats, and red points are those with black representatives as of 2008. (I just pulled the names off the Congressional Black Caucus website and didn't try to go back to earlier years on this.)

What happened? Overall, the Democrats gained a bit in 2004, a lot in 2006, and some in 2008. But we knew that (see the time series plot in the blog entry linked above). We also see a bit of scatter. Beyond this, yes, there are some patterns. In 2006, the Democrats particularly gained in Republican areas--see how those dots in the lower left of the second graph are way above the 45-degree line? In 2008, the swing is more uniform. (In addition, the black Democrats did pretty well in 2008 compared to 2006, but it doesn't seem like a big part of the story.)

Returning to the "How well did the Democrats actually do in 2008" question, I think that one problem is that people are comparing Obama's vote to Kerry's vote but then comparing the congressional Democrats in 2008 to the congressional Democrats in 2006. I think it's more appropriate to compare 2008 to 2004 in both cases. As Paul Krugman put it, "Maybe the reason people don’t see this is that the Democratic House gains were spread over two elections."

P.S. This is about it for now, I think. Time to return to regular statistics posting.

Posted by Andrew at 11:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Estimating public opinion in the states: gay rights and policy responsiveness

This is cool stuff (by Jeff Lax and Justin Phillips).

Posted by Andrew at 7:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The success of models predicting the election outcome from the economy

Mark Schmitt writes:

The long election cycle featured as many theories about how the election would turn out as there were presidential candidates in those first debates in 2007. Let's give some of the theories a post-final-exam assessment.

He discusses a bunch of things here, but the one that interests me the most is:

Economic Determinism: B. Some political scientists and economists like to remind us that for all the Palin jokes and PUMAs and debate gaffes, elections are pretty simple -- a good economy benefits the party in power; a bad economy creates a change election. There are various models that, ignoring all polls, aggregate and weight economic data to predict the outcome. The best known model is that of Yale's Ray Fair, which predicted an Obama victory with 51.9 percent of the vote, off by just a percentage point. Other models were also accurate.

My comment: Regarding the political science theories, I think "economic determinism" is a bit strong. These models do have other predictors and they also acknowledge error. Also, I know that Ray Fair did this stuff early on, but nowadays I think that political scientists such as Bob Erikson, Chris Wlezien, Doug Hibbs, Jim Campbell, and Larry Bartels are the more serious researchers in this area. If you want to read a whole book about the topic, I recommend Steven Rosenstone's Forecasting Presidential Elections from 1983. "Economic determinism" may look kind of simplistic, but I think the work of Rosenstone and his successors captures important truths.

Posted by Andrew at 10:29 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 10, 2008

Voter turnout update

Michael McDonald posts his updated estimate of voter turnout. Here's the updated graph:


And here are McDonald's comments. They are interesting from the standpoint of statistical inference as well as politically:

My [McDonald's] revised national turnout rate for those eligible to vote is 61.2% or 130.4 million ballots cast for president. This represents an increase of 1.1 percentage points over the 60.1% turnout rate of 2004. . . .

My [McDonald's] initial estimate of 133.3 million ballots cast proved to be too high due to an over-estimation of absentee ballots outstanding in states that have in the past reported a smaller proportion of their mail-in ballots on election night. . . .

Oregon and Washington appeared to suffer from a turnout decline similar to other states that lost their battleground status from 2004, further including Maine, West Virginia and Wisconsin (South Dakota's decline may be a consequence of the hot 2004 Senate race between Daschle and Thune which drew more votes than president in some counties). The largest turnout rate increases from 2004 were experienced in states that shifted onto the battleground, such as Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia. Other non-battleground Southern states such as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina (and the District of Columbia) experienced turnout increases, perhaps a consequence of high turnout among African-Americans excited to vote for president-elect Obama. Turnout declines in deep red states such as Alaska and Utah may reflect less enthusiasm among Republicans for Sen. McCain.

Posted by Andrew at 1:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 9, 2008

A Democratic swing, not an Obama swing

There's an idea going around that the Democrats turned in a disappointing performance in Congressional races this year. For example, a politically-minded friend of mine of the liberal persuasion wrote: "The election was good news, although the Democrats did not do quite as well in the Senate and House as I expected. Obama did not have very long coattails--given how anti-Republican Americans are these days."

Some of the pros say this too; for example, Charlie Cook writes, "given the strength of the top of the ticket nationally, one might have thought that the victory would have been more vertically integrated. . . . what happened down-ballot was not proportional to what happened at the top."

And Mickey Kaus attributes this to moderate ticket-splitters who, expecting that Obama would win, decided to support Republicans in Congress: "swing voters compensated for the bold, hopeful risk they took on Obama (including for overcoming any race prejudice) by gravitating back toward Republicans in their local Senate and House races."

The only trouble with this theory is that it's not supported by the data. Obama won 53% of the two-party vote, congressional Democrats averaged 56%. The average swing of 5.7% from Democratic congressional candidates in 2004 to Dems in 2008 was actually greater than the popular vote swing of 4.5% from Kerry to Obama.

Let's look at what happened state by state. Here I'm plotting the swing in average district vote in each state, comparing the congressional elections of 2004 to those of 2008, ordering the states by Kerry's share in 2004:


The horizontal blue line shows the average swing of 5.7%. The Democrats gained in nearly every state, with, unsurprisingly, some big swings in some of the small states that have only one or two congressional districts.

Now let's compare this to the state-by-state swing in the presidential vote:


Obama beat Kerry nearly everywhere, fairly uniformly with only a few exceptions--we knew that--but my point here is that Obama's swings weren't quite as large, on average, as the state congressional delegations'.

If you want, you can look at both swings at once:


In the states in the upper left of this graph, the Democrats improved more in the congressional than in the presidential vote; the states in the lower right are those where the Obama-Kerry swing was greater than the Democrats' swing in House races.

There are a lot more states in the upper left than in the lower right. Each state has its own story--for example, I wouldn't attribute Don Young's squeaker in Alaska to Barack Obama's coattails--but given the graphs above, I think it's hard to make the case that, overall, the voters were saying No to the Democrats in Congress. On the contrary, congressional Democrats averaged 56% of the vote--their best showing since 1976 (and far more than the Republicans' 52% in 1994).

Here's the story in a map:


For some historical perspective, here are the Democrats' two-party vote share in presidential elections and average two-party vote in congressional elections since 1946:


Presidential voting has been much more volatile than congressional voting (incumbency and all that). This makes the Democrats' 5.7-point gain over two elections even more impressive.


I think Charlie Cook was closer to the mark when he wrote, "The political environment and momentum that Democrats seemed to have in recent months may have led to an unrealistic set of expectations. In this, perhaps we pundits share some blame." I don't think it makes a lot of sense to consider Obama's 53% "enormously impressive" and congressional Democrats' 56% a disappointment.

The data demolish the idea that voters in 2008 were pulling the lever for Barack but not for the Dems overall (not for "Nancy Pelosi," if you will).


1. I thank John Kastellec and Jared Lander for gathering the data and sharing their thoughts.

2. I'm counting uncontested House candidates at 75% of the vote (see our earlier article for discussion of this and similar technical issues).

3. We use average district vote rather than total vote because congressional vote totals vary a lot, and we're trying to assess national public opinion (as judged, for example, in Kaus's quote above).

4. The Democrats won resoundingly; this means that the voters preferred them to the alternative; it does not necessarily mean the voters want the specific policies proposed by the Democrats. Recall the Democrats' surprising lack of popular success after 1976 and the Republicans' struggles after their 1994 sweep.

5. I'm talking about public opinion here, not campaign strategy. I'm sure that Democratic leaders were disappointed in their party's performance in key congressional races, especially given their immense financial resources this year. At the level of public opinion, though, the Democrats in Congress outperformed Obama overall and in 38 states--and their swing beat Obama's overall and in 32 states--so I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that the voters were balancing toward the Republicans in congressional voting. This is not to say that the voters have given the Democrats a blank check, but it really was a Democratic swing, not an Obama swing.

Posted by Andrew at 11:40 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 8, 2008

Big city Barack

This note by Nate inspired me to check the vote swings by county population. I don't have the urban/suburban/rural status of counties in an easily grabbable form (maybe Boris has these and can send to me) and so as something quick I plotted vote swing vs. county population. Actually, I don't have county population right here either and so I used total number of votes in the county in 2004. Many of the large-population counties are urban (such as Los Angeles, the largest); others are major suburban counties. Anyway, here's what we see:


The blue line is the lowess curve fit to the data. There's a lot of variation--county size is not such a good predictor of swing--but there is indeed a pattern of bigger Obama swings in larger counties. (The counties are already ordered by size so there's no need to use larger circles to indicate larger counties as I did in the plots of county income posted earlier.)

To understand this better, let's break up the data by region of the country. Also, since we're at it, let's look at swings in the past couple of elections as well.

Here are the swings broken up by region of the country for the past few elections. The left column shows 1996/2000, the middle column shows 2000/2004, and the right column shows 2004/2008.


What do we see?
1. The large-county/small-county differential in Obama's gains was particularly strong in the south and did not occur at all in the northeast. For example, Obama won 84% of the two-party vote in Philadelphia--but Kerry got 80% there four years ago. This 4% swing was about the same as Obama's swing nationally. Part of the issue here is that Obama had almost no room for improvement in these places.

2. The pattern of Democrats improving more in large-population counties is not unique to 2008. Gore did (relatively) well in big counties in all regions in 2000.

Posted by Andrew at 11:49 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Vote swings in rich and poor counties

I got ahold of the county-level election returns from 2008 (as of a few days ago, so lots of precincts missing, but that's what I have to go with for now) and crosstabbed it with county income, dividing the counties into poorest, middle, and upper third, with cutpoints set so that approximately one-third of the U.S. population is in each category.

What happened in each lower, middle-income, and rich America?


Obama did better than Kerry in all three graphs, but he did most uniformly better in the rich counties. (In this and subsequent graphs, the area of the circle is proportional to the number of voters in that county in 2004. It turns out that Obama did the worst, compared to Kerry, in low-population poor counties, so the graphs actually look a bit different if you plot all counties with equal-sized circles.)

These patterns are new to 2008. Checking the corresponding plots from 2000/2004 and 1996/2000, we don't see much of anything different comparing poor, middle-income, and rich counties.

The next step is to break things up by region of the country. Here's what we see:


In the midwest and west, Obama outperformed Kerry in all sorts of counties. In the northeast, Obama did just a bit better than Kerry (who had that northeastern home-state advantage). In the south, Obama did almost uniformly better in rich counties, also did well in middle-income counties (although less so in Republican-leaning areas), and basically showed no improvement from Kerry in poor counties.

So, region and income are both part of the story here. As we already know from those maps of vote swing by county. These scatterplots are another way to look at it.

What happened in the two previous elections?

Let's take a look at the swings from 2000 to 2004:


Nothing much here. But what about the 1996/2000 swing?


This is interesting. Gore held performed about as well as Clinton in most of the middle-income and rich counties but he got nuked in poor counties in all regions of the country. Consistent with the David Brooks story about growing divisions between Red and Blue America.

P.S. Thanks for Cosma Shalizi, Yair Ghitza, and Boris Shor for grabbing and putting together the data.

P.P.S. Recall that the 2008 data are incomplete. Out of 3114 rows in the data, 23 rows have < 50%, 49 rows have 50-75%, 68 rows have 75-90%, 117 have 90-99%, and 2857 have 100% reporting. So at some point we'll need to redo these graphs.

P.P.P.S. Yes, I know that income isn't all. Feel free to take these data and run whatever regressions you want, including %black and anything else you're interested in. That said, I think the above plots are interesting--especially considering that the patterns in 1996/2000 and 2000/2004 were different.

Posted by Andrew at 9:25 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 6, 2008

They had an advertisement for horse feed

My post-election interview with Kathleen Dunn on Wisconsin Public Radio. It was fun. I blame Zacky for all my coughing.

Posted by Andrew at 10:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Affordable family formation

Steve Sailer writes:

Based on the extremely similar results in 2000 and 2004, I [Sailer] had invented a novel and ambitious theory explaining why American states vote in differing proportions for Republican or Democratic candidates. My Affordable Family Formation theory isn't about who wins nationally, it's about how, given a particular national level of support, which states will be solid blue (Democrat), which ones purple (mixed), and which ones solid red (Republican). . . .
My basic theory is that Democrats do best in states with metropolitan areas where land for homes is scarce because they are hedged in by oceans or Great Lakes; while Republicans do best in inland areas where homebuyers can look around for homes in a 360 degree radius around job sites. I call this the Dirt Gap: Republicans are found more in areas with more dirt and less water.

This means that homes in inland areas tend to be cheaper because the supply of land within a certain commuting time is greater. In turn, cheaper homes mean that non-Hispanic whites tend to marry earlier and have more children, which means they attract family oriented people and their cultures tend to be more family-oriented, making Republican family values appeals more appealing there. . . .

Take a look at the Average Years Married between ages 18 and 44 among non-Hispanic white women in the 2000 Census. That's a statistic I invented to be the marital analog of the well-known total fertility rate measure (which estimates from the latest available year's birth behavior how many children a woman will have in her lifetime). Likewise, Average Years Married estimates how many years out of the 27 between 18 through 44 will a woman be married. The Average Years Married for non-Hispanic white women does a remarkably good job of predicting McCain's (or Obama's) share of the total vote across all races in the states.

Thus, McCain carried 19 of the top 20 states on Average Years Married among non-Hispanic whites, while Obama carried 18 of the 19 lowest states. The correlation coefficient was r=0.88 . . . By the way, this explains much of the Sarah Palin Hysteria: with her five children, she elicits the SWPL ["stuff white people like," although when I looked at that website, it didn't make any sense to me--maybe I'm not white enough??] whites' secret dread that they are being outbred by the non-SWPL whites.

My thoughts:

1. The affordable family formation story makes a lot of sense to me; as we discussed in Red State, Blue State, it's consistent with the red-state, blue-state distinction being more important among upper income voters (who are more likely to be buying houses and, I suspect, have more flexibility in deciding where to live) and it's also consistent with these changes arising in the past thirty years, during which time we've seen huge housing price increases in coastal cities.

2. As Sailer notes (see also my scatterplots here), 2008 at the state-by-state level wasn't much different from 2004, which in turn was nearly a replay of 2000.

3. I'm not so sure why he focuses on non-Hispanic whites, especially given that the Hispanic vote is increasingly important. I mean, I recognize that excluding minorities makes the statistical picture clearer, and so from a social-science perspective he's explaining the data. A 90% correlation is indeed impressive. But then at some point I'd think you'd want to go back and put the minority votes back in to complete the story.

4. I'm skeptical about Sailer's analysis of reactions to Sarah Palin. Why not the simpler story that she's on the far right, and liberals don't like that very much. Similar to the reaction that Republicans might have if Obama had chosen a running mate on the left wing of the Democratic party. I don't really see how the children fit into this--I'd guess that a childless Palin with the same positions and qualifications would evoke similar attitudes.

Comments 3 and 4 aside, I think this is interesting stuff. See here and here for my earlier thoughts.

Posted by Andrew at 9:50 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

What does non-uniform partisan swing look like?

I wrote here here that the red/blue map was not redrawn; it was more of a national partisan swing.

In comment #39 to that entry, Scott de B. wrote: "How else would you define 'redrawing the red/blue map' other than 'a nationwide partisan swing'? By your definition, Reagan didn’t redraw the national map, but if Mondale’s lone state in 1984 had been Alabama instead of Minnesota, he would have."

My first response is that, yes, Obama's national swing was important, but it didn't much change the relative positions of the states. Let's see what happened in 1980/1984:


and in 1976/1980 (newly added):


These changes were indeed less uniform in their swings as compared to 2004/2008.

On his blog, Steve Sailer wrote: "If you drew up the equivalent graph for the 1952 and 1956, which featured Eisenhower and Stevenson running both times, it would look more like a random scatterplot. On a state-by-state basis, the political environment was a lot more dynamic in the 1950s than today."

OK, what did the 1950s look like?


Not exactly a random scatterplot but, again, more variation than we saw in 2000/2004 and 2004/2008. Actually, the variation from 1952 to 1956 and from 1980 to 1984 is more comparable to the variation in two recent elections, say from 2000 to 2008:


P.S. Above graphs fixed; thanks to commenters for pointing out the errors.

Posted by Andrew at 9:28 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 5, 2008

The stunning^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H slight increase in voter turnout

Henry posted some great links to voter turnout data and discussions of the topic by Michael McDonald. Henry's graph is here.

Just for fun, I decided to redisplay the information; here is my version:


I've updated it with the latest estimate as of 9 Nov 2008.

Key differences between my graph and Henry's:

1. I go back to 1948, Henry starts at 1980.
2. My y-range goes from 45% to 65%; Henry goes all the way from 0 to 100.
3. Henry's graph labels every election; I label every 20 years.
4. Henry's graph is in gray with many black horizontal lines and a blue line with data; mine is black and white with a line and with data points indicated by dots.

Items 1 and 2 above are the most important; I think: by showing a shorter time range and compressing the y range, Henry makes the changes look less impressive. I understand the rationale for including the whole y-range here, but in this case, since changes are being discussed, and a 5% change is, historically, a big deal, I prefer my graph. I did extend the y-scale out to the [45%,65%] range, though, because I wanted to give a little bit of perspective; it would somehow seem misleading for the data to cover the entire y-range in this case.

In any case, I'm not trying to criticize Henry here; making graphs is just something I like to do, and something I like to think about.

P.S. Below is my (updated) R code, for those of you who want to play at home:

# turnout time series

turnout.year <- seq (1948,2008,4)
turnout.vap <- c(.511,.616,.593,.628,.619,.609,.552,.535,.528,.533,.503,.550,.489,.512,.553,NA)
turnout.VEP <- c(.522,.623,.602,.638,.628,.615,.562,.548,.547,.572,.542,.606,.526,.556,NA,.601)
turnout.VEP[turnout.year==2004] <- turnout.vap[turnout.year==2004] + (turnout.VEP[turnout.year==2000] - turnout.vap[turnout.year==2000])
n <- length (turnout.year)

png ("turnout.png", height=300, width=400)
par (mar=c(4,4,2,0), tck=-.01, mgp=c(2,.5,0))
plot (turnout.year, turnout, type="l", xlab="Year", ylab="Percentage of voting-age\npopulation who turned out to vote", xaxt="n", yaxt="n", bty="l", ylim=c(.45,.65))
points (turnout.year[1:(n-1)], turnout[1:(n-1)], pch=20)
points (turnout.year[n], turnout[n], pch=21, cex=1.2)
axis (1, seq(1960,2000,20))
yticks <- seq (.45,.65,.05)
axis (2, yticks, paste(yticks*100,"%",sep=""))
mtext ("Voter turnout in postwar presidential elections", line=1)

Posted by Andrew at 12:36 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Election 2008: what really happened

I was just in Grant Park . . . it was pretty cool but I couldn't actually hear anything. So I went back to my hotel room and crunched some numbers.

Here are the take-home points:
1. The election was pretty close.
2. As with previous Republican candidates, McCain did better among the rich than the poor. But the pattern has changed among the highest-income categories.
3. The gap between young and old has increased–a lot. But there was no massive turnout among young voters.
4. Obama gained the most among ethnic minorities.
5. The red/blue map was not redrawn; it was more of a national partisan swing.
6. The pre-election polls did well, both for the national vote and for the states.

Here's the full story (with graphs!).

Posted by Andrew at 3:01 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 3, 2008

Play the 2008 election in the comfort of your living room

This is sort of silly but I couldn't resist doing a couple hours of programming today. . . . I took Nate Silver's latest simulations and computed the forecast of the national election (popular vote and electoral vote), conditional on various scenarios as of 7pm Eastern time.

The states whose polls close earliest are Virginia, Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Kentucky (and also Vermont, which I'll ignore because of its atypicality).

I worked out a few scenarios, such as the five early states going as expected, McCain doing 5 points better than expected in those states, Obama doing 5 points better in those states, McCain winning Virginia, etc. Also some pretty pictures. For next election I want an interactive widget so people can really play at home, but these offline calculations are a start.

See here for details, or here for the longer article.

Posted by Andrew at 11:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


I realized just realized that our maps of states won by Republicans and Democrats by income group (see here, for example, also recently posted by Matthew Yglesias) are from 2000, not from 2004. We also mislabeled these in Plate 3 of the Red State, Blue State book. My bad. Here are the maps and scatterplots based on exit polls in 2004:


Not so different from 2000 (especially when you look at the scatterplots), with the most notable difference being Kerry's strength in New England.

Posted by Andrew at 10:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 2, 2008

"The evidence of lived experience" vs. the statistics

John Kastellec sends in this blog entry by Jay Nordlinger, entitled "Dept. of Enduring Myths":

I’ve just come back from a weekend in Vermont — and here’s how I understand it: Modestly off people — “real Vermonters,” as some people say — are voting for McCain and Palin. Comfortably off people, such as those who own ski chalets, are voting for Obama and Biden. And the following has been frequently noted about the city of my residence, New York: The rich are voting Democratic. And those who work for them — driving cars, cleaning rooms, and so on — are voting Republican.

Yet, when I was growing up, the Republican party was always called the party of the rich, and it still suffers from that label. Over and over, that which I was taught is contradicted by the evidence of my lived experience.

Here are the results from the 2000 and 2004 exit polls:


At a national level, Republicans did much better among the rich than the poor. In New England, the relation between income and voting is weak, with richer voters being slightly more likely to vote Republican. We'll have to see what happens in 2008.

P.S. As statisticians we're taught to rely less on our lived experience and on impressions from a weekend visit to Vermont, and more on random-sample survey data. And that's what I'm doing here. But I have to admit that in many areas of my professional life (for example, in considering strategies for teaching and for research), I rely pretty much only on my lived experience and on the research equivalents of weekend visits to Vermont. Somehow, for things that affect me directly, statistical principles become less important. So I can see how, for a political journalist such as Nordlinger, it can be difficult to discount one's personal impressions. Nonetheless, I hope he can do so.

Posted by Andrew at 9:46 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Are Republicans healthier than Democrats?

From S. V. Subramanian and Jessica Perkins.


P.S. See John's comment below. He seems to have a good point. More here from Steve Kass.

My bad in not screening this more carefully before posting. In defense of Subramanian and Perkins, they sent me the paper and it was my idea to blog it. They were planning all along to do more systematic analysis of the raw data (which they haven't yet received).

Posted by Andrew at 8:03 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Millionaires for McCain, Billionaires for Obama . . . or maybe not

At Red State, Blue State it's about politics, here at Statistical Modeling it's about survey sampling. Was it all based on a sample of size 6?

Posted by Andrew at 9:32 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 1, 2008

Rationality of voting, again

Dear Mr. Leonard,

A colleague pointed me to your article about our paper on why it is rational to vote. I'm glad you think our article is "pretty funny." We try to be entertaining even in our most serious writings. I agree with your comment that "we don't need a rational choice framework to provide a reason for participating in the process." And, in a world where nobody was making rational choice arguments, our article might not be necessary. But with prominent economic writers such as Steven Levitt telling people that it's irrational to vote, we think our article offers a useful corrective.

Beyond this, we are making a point which I believe you overlooked, which is that if you _are_ voting for rational reasons, than what is rational is to be voting for (perceived) social benefits, not for your own pocketbook. It is indeed irrational to vote if the gain that you're expecting is a potential $300 tax cut or better health insurance for yourself or whatever. But it is _not_ necessarily irrational to vote if your goal is to help the country as a whole.

Andrew Gelman

P.S. If you're interested, our longer research article on rational voting is here.

Posted by Andrew at 4:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 31, 2008

In 1920, the population of Nevada was only 77,000

Sure, I knew it was a desert. But I didn't realize that so few people lived there.

Posted by Andrew at 9:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Len "RSA" Adleman looks at the polls.



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October 29, 2008

Multiply Pr(decisive vote) by 2, perhaps

After reading our article on the probability that your vote is decisive, James Fowler wrote:

Doesn't this estimate ignore David Nickerson's APSR paper that shows 60% of the effect of contact spreads to a second person in the household? If people are connected in networks that are correlated in preferences (e.g. most friends of Democrats are Democrats) and increase exponentially in network distance (we have many more friends of friends than friends), then one person's vote affects many more than just one person.... And hence ties are not the only outcomes that make a person pivotal.

Here's David's paper.

And an earlier paper I wrote with a conservative estimate of the multiplier that was based on a 10% effect transfer rather than a 60% effect transfer.

My reply: Sure, maybe you should multiply this number by 2 if you're married and can persuade your spouse. Or maybe multiply by 100,000 if you're Oprah.

Posted by Andrew at 3:55 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 28, 2008


How is the 2008 election different from 2004, beyond the (currently predicted) national swing of about 4 percentage points (enough to move from Kerry's 49% of the vote to 53% for Obama)?

Here's a graph of Obama's predicted share of the two-party vote in each state (based on Nate Silver's recent poll aggregation) compared to Kerry's in 2004:


I then fit a simple linear regression; here's a map of the residuals, showing where Obama is doing particularly well or poorly, compared to last time:


See here for further discussion and more graphs.

Posted by Andrew at 11:04 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 27, 2008

What is the probability your vote will make a difference?

See here for more (including the link to the article by Nate Silver, Aaron Edlin, and myself describing what we did).



[Typo in caption to figure 1 fixed, thanks to commenters.]

Posted by Andrew at 11:09 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

October 26, 2008

Red State, Blue State this week

The New America Foundation in D.C. on Monday at noon.

The University of Chicago statistics department Tuesday at 4:30.

Posted by Andrew at 9:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Good Roads Everywhere

"Such a system of National Highways will be paid for out of general taxation. The 9 rich densely populated northeastern States will pay over 50 per cent of the cost. They can afford to, as they will gain the most. Over 40 per cent will be paid for by the great wealthy cities of the Nation. . . . The farming regions of the West, Mississippi Valley, Southwest and South will pay less than 10 per cent of the cost and get 90 per cent of the mileage."

Posted by Andrew at 9:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 23, 2008

Red State, Blue State at New America Foundation on Monday

The election is coming up so this is our last DC event . . . I'll be speaking on Red State, Blue State this Mon, 27 Oct, at the New America Foundation. The event will be from 12.15-1.45, and there will be a discussion by David Frum. Frank Micciche of the New America Foundation will moderate. Info is here.

Below is the description of the event. (My coauthors won't be present at the talk but they will be implicitly there, as I'm presenting our joint research.)

Rethinking Red and Blue
Myths, Perceptions, and the 2008 Vote

Monday, October 27, 2008
12:15 - 1:45 p.m.

Lunch will be provided.

New America Foundation
1630 Connecticut Ave, NW, 7th Floor
Washington, DC

In 2000, the poorest voters in Mississippi (50th in nation in per capita income), Ohio (middle of the pack) and Connecticut (1st in PCI) were equally likely to vote for George W. Bush. The richest residents of the same three states diverged sharply, with more than 3/4 of wealthy Mississippians voting Republican, 60 percent in Ohio and about half in Connecticut. This pattern held in 2004.

Dr. Andrew Gelman, co-author of Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State has analyzed voting patterns and found that the media have missed, and misstated, the real correlations between voting and income level. It turns out the mythical lower-income "Values Voter" who puts "God, guns and gays" before economic concerns is just that. The Republican edge in poorer states has little to do with the cultural concerns of lower-income voters, and far more to do with the intensity of GOP support among the wealthy in these states. In other words, we're not in Thomas Frank's Kansas any more.

Please join us to hear a revealing analysis of how and where income and other demographic trends actually affect voting patterns, and what it all means for the 2008 election. Following a presentation of Dr. Gelman's findings, we will hear from David Frum, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and author of a recent New York Times Magazine article on "The Vanishing Republican Voter."

Featured Speakers
Dr. Andrew Gelman
Professor of Statistics and Political Science, Columbia University
Author, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State:
Why Americans Vote the Way They Do

David Frum
Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Former Economic Speechwriter, President George W. Bush

Frank Micciche
Deputy Director, Next Social Contract Initiative
New America Foundation

What the Findings in Red State, Blue State Can Tell Us About the Presidential Race:

Q1.Why hasn't Barack Obama's edge in fundraising and intensity of support translated into a runaway election, and why is Obama now apparently pulling away?

A1: Because, until recently, the patterns that Gelman identified had held. For example, in early September, Pew Research had McCain leading Obama 53 to 39 among those making $75,000 or more. Their latest poll has Obama up 48 to 46 in this category. Pew's horserace poll has Obama gaining almost exactly the same magnitude in overall support nationally during this period. According to Pew, Obama has also gained 8 points in the last month among weekly churchgoing white mainline protestants and 9 points among Catholics who attend weekly mass.

Q2. Hasn't Obama "changed the map," particularly in poorer states with relatively large minority populations?

A2. No. Among the 10 lowest-income states, McCain leads by an average of 15 points, trailing only in New Mexico, a classic "battleground" state. Similarly, 8 of the 10 richest states remain firmly Democratic in 2008. Obama has swung Colorado and Virginia into his column. So, among the 10 richest and 10 poorest states, only three look to be moving away from the party they favored in previous elections. Of these, two are simply falling into line with their fellow wealthier states, and one is continuing a pattern of vacillation between parties (although looking solidly Democratic at this point).

Q3.With these patterns locked in, what will decide whether November 4 produces an Electoral College landslide, ala 1996, or another late night nailbiter?

A3. Real Clear Politics lists 142 electoral votes not solidly in the GOP or Democratic column (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia). Gelman's so-called "supergraph" tracking partisan intensity in bellwether rich (Connecticut), median (Ohio) and poor (Mississippi) states indicates that the poorer a state, the more likely their wealthiest voters are to vote Republican. This is reflected in a steeper incline (toward the GOP) as you move up the income scale within Mississippi than within Ohio and steeper still between Mississippi and Connecticut. If Obama can smooth the curve in poorer toss-up states (Georgia and North Carolina), and reverse it in richer ones (building on his impressive gains in Colorado and Virginia), he may well get a landslide.

To RSVP for this event, go to the event page:

For questions, contact Cecille Isidro at (202) 986-2700 x 141 or

Posted by Andrew at 9:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 21, 2008

Roosevelt and Reagan as statisticians

"Are you better off . . ."

Posted by Andrew at 11:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 20, 2008

"Data Shows Nothing is the Matter with Kansas"

I've always wanted to write something for the Wichita Eagle . . .

P.S. My proposed title was, "What's the Matter with Kansas? Nothing--and the data prove it." I don't mind the revision but I would always always write "data" as plural!

Posted by Andrew at 11:52 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 19, 2008

My talks in Toronto

"Creating structured and flexible models: some open problems" at the Statistics Department, Monday 3pm in Room 1180 of the Bahen Centre, 40 St. George Street.

"Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way they Do" at the Martin Prosperity Insitute, Rotman School of Management, Tuesday 2pm in Room 108N of the Munk Center for International Studies, 1 Devonshire Place.

I hope to see you there!

Posted by Andrew at 5:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 16, 2008

Red State, Blue State on C-Span this weekend

Our Cato event from last month will be on Book TV on C-Span2 this Sat, 18 Oct, 7pm, and Mon, 20 Oct, 6am. My presentation has gotten a bit slicker since then, but it's still good stuff, and you also get interesting discussions by Brink Lindsey and Michael McDonald.

Posted by Andrew at 9:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 14, 2008

Allocating campaign resources and the reverse random walk model

From Aaron Strauss.

Posted by Andrew at 10:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 13, 2008

Red Blue at NYU

I'll be speaking Tues 14 Oct (that's tomorrow) 10am on Red State, Blue State at NYU, at 802 Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South. Pat Egan will discuss, and then there will be time for discussion. The talk will be open to the public.

Posted by Andrew at 1:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 12, 2008

How the financial crisis could've been avoided!!

See here.

Posted by Andrew at 8:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 11, 2008


Aleks sent along this article that suggests that debate-watchers are influenced by crowd noise and feedback graphics:

"We don't realize how much we are influenced by other people," said Steven Fein, a social psychology professor at Williams College who has used footage from presidential debates in experiments examining how voters might be swayed. "We can't ignore what we think other people think." . . .

Two studies published in the last two years suggest continuous-reaction graphs can affect opinions -- at least in an experimental setting. In one, led by a researcher at Emory University, 253 college students evaluated "American Idol"-like performances with fake audience feedback superimposed on screen. Those who saw negative reactions themselves viewed the performances more negatively.

In a study conducted by Dr. Fein, 94 college students used dial-meters while watching a 10-minute excerpt of a 1984 debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale with on-screen feedback manipulated to favor one candidate or the other. Those who saw pro-Reagan feedback were 2.8 times more likely to say they would have voted for Mr. Reagan than those in the Mondale group; in the pro-Mondale group, participants were 1.8 times more likely to say they would have voted for Mr. Mondale.

But does this have any appreciable impact on the election. That, I don't know.

Posted by Andrew at 4:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 8, 2008

Whassup with the white working class?

A colleague asks,

How do you deal with the following from Alan Abramowitz and Ruy Teixeira's Brookings paper:
Indeed, just how far the Democrat party fell in the white working class' eyes over this time period can be seen by comparing the average white working class (whites without a four year college degree) vote for the Democrats in 1960-64 (55 percent) to their average vote for the Democrats in 1968-72 (35 percent). That's a drop of 20 points. The Democrats were the party of the white working class no longer…… Al Gore….lost white working class voters in the 2000 election by 17 points. And the next Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, did even worse, losing these voters by a whopping 23 points in 2004. One could reasonably ascribe the worsening deficit for Democrats in 2004 to the role of national security and terrorism after 9/11 but the very sizeable 2000 deficit cannot be explained on that basis. Apparently, the successes of the Clinton years, which included a strong economy that delivered solid real wage growth for the first time since 1973, did not succeed in restoring the historic bond between the white working class and the Democrats.

My reply: When you slice things by income, you see a clear pattern of Republicans doing better among the rich of all races (except maybe Asians, but I don't particularly trust those numbers what with small sample size):


Compared to earlier years, Democrats have lost among less well-educated voters and gained among the more educated voters, but their income profile hasn't changed so much. As E.J. Dionne has noted, the Democrats' strength among well educated voters is strongest among those with household incomes below $75,000--"the incomes of teachers, social workers, nurses, and skilled technicians, not of Hollywood stars, bestselling authors, or television producers, let alone corporate executives."

So a quick answer is that I don't necessarily see a machinist, say, as having more street-cred than a social worker with a graduate degree who makes the same amount of money. As Larry Bartels has pointed out, it's not so easy to identify exactly what is meant by "working class." There have been changes, but remember that the difference in voting between rich and poor has been as large in the past 10 years as it's ever been; see page 47 of the red-blue book. Yes, it's different rich and poor people than before, but it's still there. It's a mistake to think there was a past golden era of class-based voting. Geographic factors were important in voting decades ago, and they are now as well.

See here for my earlier comments on the Teixeira and Abramowitz article.

Finally, David Park made this graph of the trend since the 1950s of the rich-poor voting gap (the difference between Republican vote share among the upper third of income, minus the Republican vote share among the lower third) in Presidential elections. The gray dots represent all voters, the black dots represent whites only (yes, I know, they should be white dots...).


The rich-poor voting gap among whites has in recent elections been a bit below its 1970s-1990s peak, but it's far from zero. And, what with increasing diversity in the minority population, it's not so clear that "whites" is as useful a category as it once was.

P.S. More here.

Posted by Andrew at 10:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 7, 2008

Red-blue roundtable

Here's a fun discussion (still developing, it'll be going through Thursday, I think) on red and blue America, featuring pollster John Zogby, journalist Bill Bishop, consultant Valdis Krebs, and myself, moderated by Tom Nissley at

My strategy is to make my points using graphs.

Posted by Andrew at 12:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 6, 2008

Macartan Humphreys's paper on coalitions

I gotta read this article:

The game theoretic study of coalitions focuses on settings in which commitment technologies are available to allow groups to coordinate their actions. Analyses of such settings focus on two questions. First, what are the implications of the ability to make commitments and form coalitions for how games are played? Second, given that coalitions can form, which coalitions should we expect to see forming? I [Humphreys] examine classic cooperative and new noncooperative game theoretic approaches to answering these questions. Classic approaches have focused especially on the first question and have produced powerful results. However, these approaches suffer from a number of weaknesses. New work attempts to address these shortcomings by modeling coalition formation as an explicitly noncooperative process. This new research reintroduces the problem of coalitional instability characteristic of cooperative approaches, but in a dynamic setting. Although in some settings, classic solutions are recovered, in others this new work shows that outcomes are highly sensitive, not only to bargaining protocols, but also to the forms of commitment that can be externally enforced. This point of variation is largely ignored in empirical research on coalition formation. I close by describing new agendas in coalitional analysis that are being opened up by this new approach.

And also this. And then relate all this to my research on coalition formation as a prisoner's dilemma.

Posted by Andrew at 10:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How Liberal Was Obama as a State Senator in Illinois?

Head over to the Red State, Blue State blog for my post on my new measure of Senator Barack Obama's (and other prominent IL Democrats) ideology from his service as an Illinois state Senator (from Hyde Park). It comes from a new research project of mine on state legislative ideology.

Posted by Boris at 2:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 5, 2008

Amazon, U.S.A. has this cool website showing which sorts of political books people are buying in which states:


What struck me was the similarity of this to the "voting patterns of the rich" map from our book:


I wonder what data from Wal-Mart from Wal-Mart would look like. Maybe like one of the lower of the two maps? I'm not sure, though, since, even at Wal-Mart, buyers of political books are more politically active and thus maybe more like "rich people" in their red-blue divisions.

Posted by Andrew at 11:37 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

This week's Red State, Blue State events

There's a lot going on for those of you in the NY/NJ area.

1. On Monday morning I'm doing an activity on the Electoral College. But you can't come to that unless you're a 4th grader in Zacky's school.

2. Monday 4.30pm at room 801 International Affairs Building (at Columbia), I'm speaking on Red State, Blue State in an event cosponsored by the Columbia Journalism School, with discussions by Nicholas Lemann and Thomas Edsall and moderated by Sharyn O'Halloran.

3. Monday 7pm at the Princeton Club in midtown Manhattan, I'm speaking and signing books. You can only go to this one if you're a member of the club, I think.

4. Tuesday 4.30pm at Robertson Hall at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, there's an event sponsored by the New York and New Jersey chapters of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, featuring Joe Lenski, Chris Achen, Larry Hugick, and myself. After the panel there will be lots of time for informal discussion as well.

Posted by Andrew at 7:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 2, 2008

Cool historical maps

Hey, see here for info on a site that has cool interactive electoral vote maps with good historical details. Here's the map for the most important of all presidential elections:


Posted by Andrew at 11:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why do swing states matter?

Hey, I got quoted in the Weekly Reader! Much cooler than the Annals of Statistics.

Posted by Andrew at 6:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2008

Mavericks of the past

Phil Klinkner writes:

History doesn’t repeat itself, the saying goes, but it does rhyme.
To me [Klinkner], the recent House defeat of the financial bailout bill echoes the defeat of the national sale tax in 1932. The Depression dried up federal revenues, so the Hoover administration proposed a national sales tax to raise money. Business and the leadership of both parties favored the bill, but the public was overwhelmingly opposed. Liberal Republican Fiorella LaGuardia led a bipartisan revolt against the bill. House Speaker John N. Garner actually left the speaker’s chair to go into the well and plead with his fellow Democrats to pass the bill. Garner normally had tight control on his party, but not this time. The bill was defeated 153-223.

In both cases, an unpopular Republican administration put forward a proposal to deal with an economic crisis, supported by the Democratic leadership in the House and the vast majority of the business community. Nonetheless, a bipartisan populist revolt sent it down to defeat.

And, Phil forgot to mention, James Garner was Maverick.

Posted by Andrew at 9:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 26, 2008

Interactive graphs of polls

From Mark Blumenthal.

Posted by Andrew at 11:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Conspiracy-mongering, or, The one advantage that we have over the New Yorker is that we have Google and they don’t

See here for my failed attempt to construct a political conspiracy theory around Lehman Brothers and the financial crisis.

Posted by Andrew at 1:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2008

Mellow liberals and jumpy conservatives

Jamie points out this interesting article by Douglas Oxley et al. that appeared in Science last month. Here's the abstract:

Although political views have been thought to arise largely from individuals? experiences, recent research suggests that they may have a biological basis. We present evidence that variations in political attitudes correlate with physiological traits. In a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs, individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. Thus, the degree to which individuals are physiologically responsive to threat appears to indicate the degree to which they advocate policies that protect the existing social structure from both external (outgroup) and internal (norm-violator) threats.

I myself am extremely sensitive to sudden noises, so make of that what you will . . . Seriously, though, this seems related to John Jost's work on personality profiles and political affiliation.

Posted by Andrew at 9:33 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Drew Linzer's poll tracker

Here. See here for my thoughts.

Posted by Andrew at 9:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 22, 2008

Red-blue on Wisconsin Public Radio

I'll be talking about Red State, Blue State on the Kathleen Dunn show on Wisconsin Public Radio tomorrow (Tues 23 Sept), from 10-11 Central Time (that's 11-12 Eastern Time). For the second half of the show, you can call in with questions!

Posted by Andrew at 10:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tom Holbrook sez: chill out about the debates


Posted by Andrew at 8:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 21, 2008

Red State, Blue State in Philadelphia

I'll be speaking on the Red State, Blue State book this Monday (22 Sept) at 4:30pm at the University of Pennsylvania. It'll be at the Annenberg School for Communication, Room 109. The address is 3620 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. This is your chance to ask questions and also to meet some interesting people: the talk is cosponsored by the departments of Statistics, Biostatistics, and Political Science as well as the Annenberg School.

Posted by Andrew at 11:43 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 19, 2008

Practicing political science without a license, or, all the rants conveniently in a single place

Larry Bartels writes about how "the contemporary electoral landscape, which is less volatile and more partisan than it has been at any time in the past half-century or more." Larry's presentation is clean and well illustrated by graphs, adding nicely to earlier discussion of this topic by John Sides.

Larry also has some comments about the problems that can occur when a historian is "moonlighting as a political scientist." Which reminds me of my own rants:

- The astronomer moonlighting as a political scientist

- The qual moonlighting as a quant

- The physicist moonlighting as a computer scientist

- The physicists moonlighting as political scientists

- The legal scholar moonlighting as an electoral historian

- And, my favorite, the English political theorist moonlighting as an Americanist ("But viewed in retrospect, it is clear that it has been quite predictable")

- And, really really my favorite, the sociologist moonlighting as a biologist (follow the links, if you can stomach it).

Seeing all this, you can probably conclude:

1. I spend way too much time focusing on the mistakes of others.

2. Political scientists (if I'm any example) are super turf-conscious.

But really I'm happy when people moonlight in political science. After all, I'm primarily a statistician and thus am myself a moonlighter. Whatever mistakes people make can ultimately be cleared up, and this is one way we share our knowledge with outsiders.

P.S. Larry's entry is part of his new blog (with Nolan McCarty and others) on the 2008 election. Check it out.

Posted by Andrew at 5:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The electoral college does not favor large states

Every four years, some hardworking and enterprising journalists do some digging around in the political science literature, talk with some people who sound like they know what they're talking about, and then resurface to tell the world about the counterintuitive finding that the Electoral College actually benefits voters in large states.

Well, as I like to say to my social science students: Just 'cos it's counterintuitive, that don't make it true.

The Electoral College benefits voters in swing states, and it slightly benefits voters in small states (on average). Large states are not benefited (except when they happen to be swing states such as Ohio or Florida, but we knew that already).

See here for the fuller discussion.

I just wanted to put this out here to get out in front of the discussion. So that if any of you do see this argument floating around, youall can shoot it down before it fully takes off...

Posted by Andrew at 2:09 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 17, 2008

Graph of voter turnout by age

Here's a pretty picture (from Charles Franklin, link from John Sides):


What a great graph! I won't be picky, but if I were, I'd make the following suggestions:
- Bigger numbers on the axes--as is, they're hard to read.
- Add percentage signs on the y-axis.
- Label age every 20 years rather than every 10.
- Put the "80-84" age group at 82 (rather than 80), and put the "85 and up" group at 88 (rather than 85).
- Pick colors other than red and blue.

Posted by Andrew at 8:26 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 15, 2008

Do more unequal places tend to vote for Democrats?

Jim Manzi says yes, and he has some data. He says that in 46 out of 48 states, there's a positive correlation between a county's neighborhood-level inequality and its vote for Kerry.

P.S. Also see interesting thoughts in the comments section below.

P.P.S. This paper by Mark Frank also seems relevant to the discussion. Frank writes:

For many states, the share of income held by the top decile experienced a prolonged period of stability after World War II, followed by a substantial increase in inequality during the 1980s and 1990s. This paper also presents an examination of the long-run relationship between income inequality and economic growth. Our findings indicate that the long-run relationship between inequality and growth is positive in nature and driven principally by the concentration of income in the upper end of the income distribution.

P.P.P.S. See also the graphs here (from chapter 5 of the Red State, Blue State book).

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September 13, 2008

My talk at Harvard on Wed 17 Sept

I'll be speaking on Red State, Blue State this Wed, 17 Sept, 12-1:30, in the Government Dept at Harvard. It's at 1737 Cambridge St., Room K-354. If you live in the Boston area, this is your chance to come and ask your questions and give your suggestions.

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September 10, 2008

My talks this week in D.C.: today (Wed.) at George Washington University, Thurs. at the Cato Institute

If you're in D.C., you should stop by. . . . I'm speaking in the statistics department at George Washington University on the topic of interactions. Here's the powerpoint and here's the abstract:

As statisticians and practitioners, we all know about interactions but we tend to think of them as an afterthought. We argue here that interactions are fundamental to statistical models. We first consider treatment interactions in before-after studies, then more general interactions in regressions and multilevel models. Using several examples from our own applied research, we demonstrate the effectiveness of routinely including interactions in regression models. We also discuss some of the challenges and open problems involved in setting up models for interactions.

The talk will be today, Wed 10 Sept, at 3pm at 1957 E Street, Room 212. If you don't know where that is, you can call the department (202-994-6356) and they should be able to give you directions.

Tomorrow (Thurs) I'll be speaking with Boris at noon at the Cato Institute on Red State, Blue State. It's not too late to sign up for that.

Posted by Andrew at 12:39 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 9, 2008

Back and forth with David Frum on income inequality and voting

David Frum responded at his blog to my graph-laden comments on his New York Times article.

Frum emphasizes the difference between looking at county-level inequality as compared to state-level inequality. He also makes the point that inequality (at the state and county level) is often associated with big cities. Interesting stuff.

Frum also mentions Missouri, which is one of the states where richer counties favor the Democrats. Richer counties also lean Democratic in Nebraska, and most of the western and northeastern states (see pages 68-70 of the book), but in Indiana, South Dakota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and most of the South, it goes the other way, with richer counties being more Republican. (I showed this in the map of Texas in my previous blog entry.) The patterns really do look different in different parts of the country, and Missouri is not like Texas in this respect. In any case, I haven't crunched the numbers on county-level inequality, and I agree with Frum that the patterns within a state can differ from those between states. Individually, richer Americans still lean Republican, but location matters a lot also.

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September 8, 2008

Frum's facts and fallacies

David Frum, author of “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again,” wrote an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday that has some interesting insights and but also suffers from some of the usual confusions about rich and poor, Democrats and Republicans. Overall I think Frum has some interesting things to say but I want to point out a couple of places where I think he may have been misled by focusing too strongly on the D.C. metropolitan area.

Income inequality and Democratic voting

Frum writes: "As a general rule, the more unequal a place is, the more Democratic; the more equal, the more Republican." At least at the state level, it's not so clear. Below is a map of the states with high income inequality (in dark colors) and low inequality (in light colors), revealing high-inequality Democratic states such as California and New York but also high-inequality Republican states such as Texas and Arizona, with the most unequal states being those with high immigration. Overall, the Democrats’ vote share by state is slightly correlated with income inequality, but much less than the correlation with income itself. It is in the rich states, but not consistently the unequal states, that Democrats are doing best:


Rich and poor counties

Frum writes about rich Fairfax County, Virginia, which, we writes, was largely middle class a third of a century ago and now is rich. During this period, Fairfax, like many wealthy east-coast suburbs, has moved from the Republican to the Democratic column. This is interesting but I want to point out a few things:

1. This is a coastal thing. In other places, the rich suburbs go for Republicans, not Democrats. See this graph of Bush vote vs. county income in Texas:


The graph above shows the pattern: Collin and Zavala (the dark circles on the scatterplot) are the richest and poorest counties in Texas, and there is a clear pattern that poor counties supported the Democrats while the Republicans won in middle-class and rich counties.

When we showed this to a political scientist, he asked about the state capital, noted for its liberal attitudes, vibrant alternative rock scene, and the University of Texas: "What about Austin? It must be rich and liberal.'' We looked it up. Austin is in Travis County and makes up almost all its population. Travis County has a median household income of $45,000 and gave George W. Bush 53% of the vote, putting it about midway between Collin and Zavala counties in the graph.

By comparison, if you go to a state such as Maryland or Virginia, the pattern isn't so clear, and it's possible to pick rich or poor counties that go either way.

2. Fairfax County is rich now, but it was also rich a third of a century ago. Here are some numbers. In 2004, when Kerry beat Bush in Fairfax County, the median family income there was $90,000, which 1.7 times the U.S. median of $54,000. In 1979, it was $33,000, which was 1.7 times the U.S. median of $19,500. Fairfax is, by some measures, the richest county in America today. A third of a century ago, it was in the top five richest, I believe.

3. Frum writes, "America’s wealthiest ZIP codes are a roll call of Democratic strongholds." Again, this is a red-state, blue-state thing. In the coastal blue states, rich areas are likely to lean Democratic, but in red states, rich areas are more Republican. See the graphs on pages 68-70 of Red State, Blue State.

4. The "media center" thing. Frum lives in D.C. and he is naturally attuned to patterns in the northeast. If he were to go to Oklahoma or Texas, he would see that it is the richer areas, and the richer voters, who are more Republican. By focusing on Fairfax County, Virginia, he's missing the big picture.

Concerns about inequality in general

Frum talks about Republicans' attitudes toward inequality. One thing I'd like to add, in favor of his argument, is that, on average, inequality has been decreasing in poor, Republican-controlled states and increasing in richer states, which tend to have Democratic majorities. In poor states, the poor have been getting richer:


And in rich states, it is the rich who have been getting richer:


See here (and in chapter 5 of our book) for further discussion of this point.

P.S. See here for Frum's further thoughts and here for my thoughts on Frum's thoughts on my thoughts on Frum's thoughts.

Posted by Andrew at 7:39 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

September 5, 2008

Red-blue event at Cato in Washington, D.C.

Boris and I will be speaking at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., next Thurs (11 Sept) at noon on our Red State, Blue State book (also written with David Park, Joe Bafumi, and Jeronimo Cortina). The event will be moderated by Will Wilkinson; see the description here of the event on his blog.

All are welcome to come, but you should register online for the event. We'll be having a panel discussion with Michael McDonald (Brookings Institution and George Mason University) and Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute. I'm curious what they have to say about our work, especially some of the stuff at the end of chapter 9 about the connections between public opinion and policy.

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September 4, 2008

Popular governor of a small state


See here for discussion.

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September 3, 2008

Harold Ross would never have let this one get by . . .

David Remnick, writing in The New Yorker about the Democratic convention:

Michelle Obama tore up the wing-nut caricatures of herself as a closet radical by revealing, without exploiting, the irresistible charms of her children and delivering a warm, genuine, and impassioned introduction to her husband.

Huh? Where do I start on this?
- Can't a "closet radical" have irresistibly charming children?
- Can't a "closet radical" deliver a good speech?
And, the biggest thing of all: if you're really a "closet" radical, then of course you'll try to act like a normal person when you're on national TV.

I mean, sure, you can say she gave a good speech or that you agree with what she had to say or even that she seems likable (although that seems to be stretching it; after all, it's just a prepared speech). But a public speech has gotta be the last place to look if you're trying to evaluate whether someone has a hidden agenda!

P.S. Just to be clear: I'm not saying anything at all about Michelle Obama here. I'm just stunned at the gap in logical reasoning here. Isn't The New Yorker famous for its fact-checkers???

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Prosperity and views about the European Union

Josh Tucker sent me this paper by Alexander Herzog and himself on attitudes toward the European Union in different European countries. Here's the abstract:

In this paper, we [Herzog and Tucker] document a hitherto unrecognized “micro-macro paradox” of EU accession in post-communist countries: on the micro-level, economic prosperity increases the likelihood of supporting EU membership; while on the macro-level, economic prosperity decreases aggregate levels of support for EU membership.
We first present evidence demonstrating that economic winners were consistently more likely to support EU membership than economic losers across five years (1995, 1996, 2001, 2002, 2003) and ten countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, and the Czech Republic). We then demonstrate that across this same set of countries we are unable to find a systematic corresponding link between aggregate level measures of economic prosperity and aggregate levels of support for EU membership. Moreover, in almost every analysis where we can find a consistent pattern, it is in the opposite direction: less economic success translates into higher levels of aggregate support for EU membership. Our explanation for the micro-macro paradox of EU accession builds off of previous work by one of the authors (Tucker et al. 2002) suggesting that for citizens in post-communist countries the EU represents a guarantee that the economic reforms will continue. However, we argue here that there may be other meanings for EU membership as well and that the relative salience of these different meanings may in particular be conditional on the passage of time and on a country’s likelihood of joining the EU. We then demonstrate how this more nuanced approach to the meaning of EU membership in the post communist context both explains the original paradox and test the extent to which additional observable implications of the argument are supported by the data.

Interesting. It makes sense to me that poor countries should want to join the EU, because it's economically redistributional. Also, as Herzog and Tucker discuss, there's the idea that the EU will protect your country from dictatorship. I don't know enough about the internal politics of the EU to have a sense of why richer people within a country should support the EU. I mean, I know the whole story of populists vs. Eurocrats or whatever, but I don't really understand where this is coming from. (I could easily imagine an opposite scenario in which upper-income voters would feel they have more to lose from the EU, with lower-income voters, especially in poor countries welcoming the opportunities that would come.)

I'd like to see some estimated varying slopes--I think this is in the article but it's hard for me to find--and also data on support for EU in other European countries, not just the 10 east European countries in the dataset.

And, of course, I love that the connect this to our red-blue stuff.

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August 30, 2008

Barney Smith and Smith Barney

Tom Ferguson writes:

At the Democratic Convention, perhaps the most memorable line was by one Barney Smith, who said that he wanted a candidate who cared more about Barney Smith than Smith Barney. Just for the record, Smith Barney is owned by Citigroup (it's Salomon Smith Barney). We all know who sits at the top of Citigroup: one Robert Rubin. The director of research for the Obama campaign is Jason Furman, who is closely associated with Rubin and the latter's Hamilton Project. Citigroup's cash is split massively in favor of Obama; about $400,000 to 260,000 or so.

Overall, the richest Americans give much more to Republicans than to Democrats, but the financial services industry is one of the Democrats' strengths.

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A (former) Alaskan's view of Sarah Palin

Ubs writes that the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, is extremely popular in her home state of Alaska because of her bipartisan competence. I think Ubs has some interesting things to say, both about Alaska politics and about competence and ideology in general. But I think he may be overinterpreting the poll data on her popularity.

I'll copy over some of Ubs's words and then give my thoughts:

Ubs says:

Holy crap, he actually did pick her! I've had a long, half-composed Sarah Palin post in the back of my mind since about May, when I first saw her mentioned as a running-mate candidate. . . . My initial reaction was that this tells me McCain doesn't expect to win. . . . But then I have to pause ... because my own opinion, in fact, is that Palin would probably be a pretty good president. . . .

The most interesting part of that formula — and unfortunately the part we'll probably hear the least about — is "popular governor" part. Sarah Palin is not just popular. She is fantastically popular. Her percentage approval ratings have reached the 90s. Even now, with a minor nepotism scandal going on, she's still about 80%. . . . How does one do that? You might get 60% or 70% who are rabidly enthusiastic in their love and support, but you're also going to get a solid core of opposition who hate you with nearly as much passion. The way you get to 90% is by being boringly competent while remaining inoffensive to people all across the political spectrum.

Bipartisanship is a perpetual topic in political punditry, but it is distorted by the media environment. Due to the nature of what makes a story, the news media thrives on partisanship. Everything is viewed through partisan-colored glasses. , , , The real significance of Gov Palin's success and her phenomenal approval ratings is that they demonstrate her genuine talent as a non-partisan.

Ubs gives a long discussion of Alaska's unique politics and then writes:

Palin's magic formula for success has been simply been to ignore partisan crap and get down to the boring business of fixing up a broken government. . . . It's not a very exciting answer, but it is, I think, why she gets high approval ratings — because all the Democrats, Libertarians, and centrists appreciate that she's doing a good job on the boring non-partisan stuff that everyone agrees on and she isn't pissing them off by doing anything on the partisan stuff where they disagree.

Because politics is only news when there is conflict, the political narrative focuses exclusively on those issues where there is disagreement. . . . Politicians are judged by where they stand on these partisan issues. Those who don't consistently fall on one side or the other (eg, Lieberman, Hagel) are newsworthy, while those who are reliably partisan on the partisan issues but devote most of their political effort to issues that are not partisan in the first place (eg, Feingold, Lugar, Coburn, and, yes, Obama) are not.

My comments:

1. I know next to nothing about Alaska, and it is interesting to learn all this stuff that Ubs tells us in his full post (follow link above).

2. But I think Ubs may be overinterpreting Palin's popularity. I haven't seen enough poll data on governors to be sure, but my impression is that it's nothing remarkable for a governor to be extremely popular, especially in a small state. For example, I found this on the web, from Rasmussen Reports. 64% of Alaskans rate Palin "excellent" or "good". This indeed is popular--the only three who are doing better are Mike Beebe of Arkansas (68% popularity, by this measure), John Hoeven of North Dakota (72%) and Jon Huntsman of Utah (68%)--but there are a few others who aren't far off. (Although I have to admit I'm a little suspicious of these numbers, considering that Janet Napolitano (Arizona) has ratings of Excellent, Good, Fiar, and Poor that add up to 108%!)

My impression is that you can maintain high popularity if you are noncontroversial and do not have serious opposition. See here (unfortunately from 2006). Of the 14 governors with over 70% approval, all but two came from small states. Again, this is not to dispute Ubs's impressions of Palin's competence, just to suggest that, while "popular governor of a small state" is indeed a political accomplishment, it's not so remarkable as he might think.

Posted by Andrew at 8:38 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

108% of respondents say . . .

I was looking up the governors' popularity numbers on the web, and came across this page from Rasmussen Reports which shows Sarah Palin as the 3rd-most-popular governor. But then I looked more carefully. Janet Napolitano of Arizona is viewed as Excellent by 28% of respondents, Good by 27%, Fir by 26%, and Poor by 27%. That adds up to 108%! What's going on? I'd think they would have a computer program to pipe the survey results directly into the spreadsheet. But I guess not, someone must be entering these numbers by hand. Weird.

P.S. Mark Blumenthal writes that the question of whether to trust Rasmussen is complicated:

On the one hand (as Charles Franklin, Nate Silver and others can attest) their final polls in statewide races usually score as well or better than other pollsters on measures of accuracy. On the other, they break a lot of the rules: They now seem to prefer to do one night samples, make no call backs to non-contacted numbers (even with multi-night polls) and make no effort to randomly select a respondent within each household. Their questionnaire design choices can be...unusual.

And he links to this column which is relevant.

Posted by Andrew at 8:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 27, 2008

Red State, Blue State on the radio

If you live in NYC, you can hear me tomorrow (Fri 29 Aug) from 12.30-1 on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC, 93.9 FM and AM 820. I'll be talking about our Red State, Blue State book.

P.S. The interview is here.

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August 25, 2008

When voting on Supreme Court nominees, senators respond to public opinion

John Kastellec sent me this attractive paper:

We [Kastellec et al.] study the relationship between state-level public opinion and the roll call votes of senators on Supreme Court nominees. Applying recent advances in multilevel modeling, we use national polls on nine recent Supreme Court nominees to produce state-of-the-art estimates of public support for the confirmation of each nominee in all 50 states. We show that greater public support strongly increases the probability that a senator will vote to approve a nominee, even after controlling for standard predictors of roll call voting. We also find that the impact of opinion varies with context: it has a greater effect on opposition party senators, on ideologically opposed senators, and for generally weak nominees. These results establish a systematic and powerful link between constituency opinion and voting on Supreme Court nominees.

Another triumph of the Lax/Phillips approach of linking policy to state-level opinion (see also here). Also another example of the synergy that's supposed to happen with an academic department, with Jeff, Justin, John, and myself each bringing unique contributions. I don't think any of this would've happened if we weren't all brought together with repeated interactions on the 7th floor.

One could certainly disparage this work by pointing out that it's no surprise that senators are responsive to public opinion. That's the idea, right? But, as Kastellec et al. point out, it's not so clear at all from the literature. So they're making a real substantive contribution as well as an analytical tour de force.

Also, the graphs are just beautiful. I find it a bit distracting that some of the histograms in Figure 1 use different bin widths, but that's about all I can say. At a substantive level, it's interesting how high the average levels of support are. There's clearly a presumption on the part of the public to support almost any nominee.

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August 22, 2008

"Red State, Blue State" reviewed in the New York Observer

Robert Sommer is very kind:

I realized while reading Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State that I hadn’t seen a book with so many charts and graphs since I struggled though economics and statistics—and that if the textbooks back then had been as interesting as Andrew Gelman’s analysis of the American electorate, I might have done better in college. . . .

But how do the Democrats manage to win in the rich states without winning rich voters? This is the Freakonomics-style analysis that every candidate and campaign consultant should read. . . .

That was our aim. . .

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The conventions: who's bouncin'?

From Gallup Polls. Some discussion is at the blog of our Red State, Blue State book:



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August 14, 2008

The difference between "quals" and "quants"

In an article on U.S. foreign policy and domestic politics, Samantha Power writes:

Since 1968, with the single exception of the election of George W. Bush in 2000, Americans have chosen Republican presidents in times of perceived danger and Democrats in times of relative calm.

So here's the difference between qualitative and quantitative researchers. Samantha Power knows more about foreign policy and politics than I'll ever know. But she could whip off the above sentence without pause. Whereas, when I see it, I think:

- Why start in 1968? Is this just a convenient choice of endpoint? Eisenhower ran as a national security expert, no?
- What evidence can you expect to get about public opinion from the essentially tied elections of 1968, 1976, and 2000?
- Anyway, if you're talking public opinion, it was Gore who won more votes in 2000--so it's funny to be taking that as an exception at all!
- How are "perceived danger" and "relative calm" defined? Was 1988, when George H. W. Bush floored Michael Dukakis, really such a time of "perceived danger"?

I have no expertise to comment on the rest of Power's article; I just think it's funny that she'd throw in a sentence like that. It's just a throwaway comment she made; I wouldn't put it in the class of David Runciman's "but viewed in retrospect, it is clear that it has been quite predictable" or John Yoo writing an entire op-ed on something he appears to know nothing about. It's just one of these things that rings alarm bells to a "quant" such as myself but just passes right by the qualitative analyst.

P.S. On an unrelated note, that same issue of the New York Review of Books had this great line by Michael Dirda: "Real readers always read for excitement; only the nature of that excitement changes through life."

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August 11, 2008

Partisan Bias in Federal Public Corruption Prosecutions

Sandy Gordon sent me this paper, which begins:

The 2007 U.S. Attorney firing scandal has raised the specter of political bias in the prosecution of officials under federal corruption laws. Has prosecutorial discretion been employed to persecute enemies or shield allies? To answer this question, I [Gordon] develop a model of the interaction between officials deciding whether to engage in corruption and a prosecutor deciding whether to pursue cases against them. Biased prosecutors will be willing to file weaker cases against political opponents than against allies. Consequently, the model anticipates that in the presence of partisan bias, sentences of prosecuted opponents will tend to be lower than those of co-partisans. Employing newly collected data on public corruption prosecutions, I find evidence of partisan bias under both the Bush and Clinton Justice Departments. However, additional analysis suggests that these results may understate the extent of bias under Bush, while overstating it under Clinton.

Interesting. This reminds me of Bill James's comment that Major League Baseball's discrimination against blacks could be seen by the fact that black players had much better statistics than whites: under a discriminatory regime, they were taking marginal white players who were worse than the marginal black players. It's also similar to what we found in Section 5.3 of our stop-and-frisk paper: the whites who were stopped were more likely than the blacks to be arrested, which suggests that police were disproportionally stopping minorities, at least with regard to this measure.

Gordon writes,

Employing an approach from economic models of discrimination, I [Gordon] treat partisan bias as a "taste" or preference for prosecuting one's political opponents (or for not prosecuting allies). This approach, pioneered by Becker (1957), has been employed recently to study discrimination against minorities in setting bail (Ayres and Waldfogel 1994; Ayres 2001), racial pro ling (Knowles, Persico, and Todd 2001), and discrimination against female candidates in congressional elections (Anzia and Berry 2007).

I actually think this model makes more sense for studying prosecutors (as in the current paper) than for studying racial profiling of police (the subject of my paper with Jeff Fagan and Alex Kiss). Without any direct knowledge of prosecutors or police, I'm only speculating, but the idea of a "taste" or political pressure to prosecute one side or the other makes sense to me, whereas the idea of a police officer having a "taste" for stopping one race or the other sounds a little silly. My impression of police stops is that the police use whatever cues they have, and many of these cues are correlated with race. That to me doesn't seem like the same thing as having a preference for stopping racial minorities per se.

Gordon writes, "The 2007 U.S. Attorney firing scandal raised the possibility that federal corruption laws could be deployed for partisan ends. In this paper, I have sought to move beyond anecdotes to construct a systematic test of partisan bias in corruption prosecutions." This makes sense to me. What I'd also like to see is some work bridging the anecdotes to the quantitative results, giving a sense of who are the people being prosecuted that are driving these results.

Little things

I find Table 1 confusing (also, the numbers can be rounded to the nearest percent). Perhaps a flowchart like Figures 2 and 3 here would be clearer?

I'd also recommend that the captions of the tables be expanded. I don't know if many other people are this way, but when I read an article I flip through to the graphs (or, if there are no graphs, the tables). So, for example, when I got to Table 2, I couldn't figure out what was meant by "Public" and "Private." I also couldn't figure out why there were data from 1998-2000 and 2004-2006, but nothing from 1993-1997 or 2001-2003. I'm sure this is described in the article somewhere, but it would be good to see in right there in the table.

The numbers in Table 3 can be rounded. For example, there's no way that "21.86 months" is informative. "22 months" would be fine. A graph would be better, but if it's a table, please round! Similarly for Tables 4 and 6. You certainly don't need to present things such as p-values to 3 decimal places. The usual asterisks would be fine! And for Table 5, please use a graph such as in Chapter 10 of our book.

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August 6, 2008

My comment on Bryan Caplan's comment on the Red State, Blue State book

See here and here for his comments and here for my further thoughts.


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August 5, 2008

If you're at the Joint Statistical Meetings

You can see a copy of my new book, Rich State, Poor State, Red State, Blue State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do, at the CRC Press booth. (It's not actually published by CRC but they kindly agreed to bring one copy so people could look at it.)

book cover

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My talk in Denver

I'll only be at the Joint Statistical Meetings for a couple of hours. My talk is on Wed at 3pm. (The session goes from 2-4pm.).

See here for a brief description of what we did, or see here for the full paper, where we say:

Could John Kerry have gained votes in the 2004 Presidential election by more clearly distinguishing himself from George Bush on economic policy? At first thought, the logic of political preferences would suggest not: the Republicans are to the right of most Americans on economic policy, and so in a one-dimensional space with party positions measured with no error, the optimal strategy for the Democrats would be to stand infinitesimally to the left of the Republicans. The median voter theorem suggests that each party should keep its policy positions just barely distinguishable from the opposition.

In a multidimensional setting, however, or when voters vary in their perceptions of the parties’ positions, a party can benefit from putting some daylight between itself and the other party on an issue where it has a public opinion advantage (such as economic policy for the Democrats). We set up a plausible theoretical model in which the Democrats could achieve a net gain in votes by moving to the left on economic policy, given the parties’ positions on a range of issue dimensions. We then evaluate this model based on survey data on voters’ perceptions of their own positions and those of the candidates in 2004.

Under our model, it turns out to be optimal for the Democrats to move slightly to the right but staying clearly to the left of the Republicans’ current position on economic issues.

The material is also in chapter 9 of the Red State, Blue State book.

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August 1, 2008

The nonpuzzle of the close opinion polls

See here.

Posted by Andrew at 2:52 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 30, 2008

Differences between researchers in psychology and political science

See here.

Posted by Andrew at 3:51 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

My proposed budget cut

Politicians always promise to cut government waste but the experts always say it can't be done. But I came across an example today. A bunch of trucks came by to tear up and repave our street. But our street is just fine. The city clearly has money to burn in this budget line.

Posted by Andrew at 12:25 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 25, 2008

Question wording effects

Get Dr. Kahneman on the line . . .

Posted by Andrew at 12:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 23, 2008

Answers to questions about our graphs of left-right ideology of voters, congressmembers, and senators

At our Red State, Poor State, Rich State, Poor State blog.

Posted by Andrew at 2:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 21, 2008

Left-right ideology of voters, congressmembers, and senators

See here for some pretty pictures (from our forthcoming Red State, Blue State book) that display the distributions of voters, House members, and senators on a common scale.

Posted by Andrew at 2:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 14, 2008

Thoughts on new statistical procedures for age-period-cohort analyses

See here.

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July 11, 2008


Julie Rehmeyer has a nice article up about Nate Silver's election models. A nice motivator for all the quantitatively minded students out there.

Posted by Andrew at 6:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 10, 2008

More graphical propaganda

John Sides reproduces this graph showing Kenyan election results:


What a horrible graph! The re-coloring and re-ordering of the wedges makes the difference between "official results" and "poll" seem much greater than they are.

As in my earlier example of PDA (propaganda data analysis), I have no comments on the merits of the case (for example, what can you learn from a poll taken six months after the election)--I'm just weighing in on the graphical presentation.

Posted by Andrew at 3:27 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 9, 2008

Capital punishment and recidivism

Greg Mankiw writes,

Cass Sunstein and Justin Wolfers say we don't really know whether or not capital punishment deters crime.

Maybe so, but it does solve the problem of recidivism.

He links to a news article that refers to an excellent article by Wolfers and Donohue. But I don't think Mankiw is correct about capital punishment solving recidivism. A key aspect of the death penalty in the U.S. is how rare it is for prisoners to actually be executed. I don't see how you solve the problem of recidivism by executing on the order of a hundred people a year. And, given that already our best estimate is that a person who is sentenced to death has a two-thirds chance of having that sentence reversed by a higher court, it's hard for me to believe that the rate of executions can be increased very much.

Posted by Andrew at 12:36 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

July 8, 2008

Education and the hardening of political attitudes

Henry presents another example of more educated voters being more ideological:

Graph of inequality by political information

The above graph (from Larry Bartels) shows the probability that liberals or conservatives agree with the statement that income inequality between rich and poor people has increased. The two groups diverge in their attitudes as they get more information.

Democrats can get things wrong, too

The above is an example where conservatives with high information levels get things wrong. Just as balance, here's an example (also from Larry Bartels) where Democrats are the ones in error. The example is in chapter 8 of our forthcoming red state, blue state book:

Even objective features of the economy are viewed through partisan filters. For example, a survey was conducted in 1988, at the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term, asking various questions about the government and economic conditions, including, “Would you say that compared to 1980, inflation has gotten better, stayed about the same, or gotten worse?” Amazingly, over half of the self-identified strong Democrats in the survey said that inflation had gotten worse and only 8% thought it had gotten much better, even though the actual inflation rate dropped from 13% to 4% during Reagan’s eight years in office.
The data on perceptions of inflation come from the 1988 National Election Study, as reported by Larry Bartels in his article “Beyond the running tally: Partisan bias in political perceptions,” published in Political Behavior in 2002. It was not just Democrats who misperceived or misremembered economic statistics—even among strong Republicans, only half thought inflation—but the gap between the parties is disturbing.

Another mysterious pattern in these surveys is that respondents of both parties thought more favorably about trends in unemployment than inflation. For example, among strong Democrats, 30% thought that unemployment had improved, but less than 25% said this about inflation; among strong Republicans, the corresponding numbers were 85% for unemployment and only 70% for inflation. Actually, though, unemployment declined only slightly during Reagan’s time in office (from 7.1% to 5.5%), compared to inflation falling by more than two thirds.

P.S. Here's the graph I posted earlier showing divergence of attitudes on climate change:


Posted by Andrew at 11:22 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 7, 2008

More info on the state liberalism/conservatism graph

In response to some of the questions about our graphs on state liberalism/conservatism:

- A lot of surveys don't include Alaska and Hawaii. I guess in the days of face-to-face surveys these places were too far to go to, and even for telephone surveys you have to deal with time zones.

- I can't remember the sample sizes, but in the small states they're not huge, so you can't take seriously the exact ordering of all the states in the graphs. When David gets back in town we can take a look at the uncertainty in these estimates.

- Could we look at dispersions as well as averages within each state? Yes, but I don't know that we'd get much out of this; dispersion measures are notoriously noisy.

- We show positive numbers as conservative and negative numbers are liberal because the number line goes from left to right.

- Yes, it would be interesting to look at other issue dimensions such as foreign policy.

- Some people asked what exactly was in our scales. From page 195 of our red-state, blue-state book:

We construct estimates for individual states using a multilevel linear model fit separately to each of the four sets of correlations, with economic and social issues scales that we constructed from the following questions in the 2000 Annenberg survey.

Economic: are tax rates a problem, favor cutting taxes or strengthening Social Security, federal government should reduce the top tax rate, federal government should adopt flat tax, federal government should spend more on Social Security, favor investing Social Security in stock market, is poverty a problem, federal government should reduce income differences, federal government should spend more on aid to mothers with young children, federal government should expend effort to eliminate many business regulations.

Social: federal government should give school vouchers, federal government should restrict abortion, federal government should ban abortion, favor death penalty, favor handgun licenses, federal government should expend effort to restrict gun purchases, are underpunished criminals a problem, is immigration a problem, favor gays in military, federal government should expend effort to stop job discrimination against gays, federal government should expend effort to stop job discrimination against blacks, federal government should expend effort to stop job discrimination against women, federal government should allow school prayer.

We recode each question so that lower numbers indicate liberal responses and higher numbers conservative ones. We then add the responses and rescale. Unfortunately, the 2004 version of this survey did not ask a full range of economic and social issue questions and so we were not able to construct good scales for that year.

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July 5, 2008

Predicting death sentences--is predictability an indicator of aribitrariness?--and what does it mean for a statistical method to be called a "computer system"?

Andrew Sullivan links to this news article which links to this research article by Stamos Karamouzis and Dee Wood Harper called "An Artificial Intelligence System Suggests Arbitrariness of Death Penalty":

The arguments against the death penalty in the United States have centered on due process and fairness. Since the death penalty is so rarely rendered and subsequently applied, it appears on the surface to be arbitrary. Considering the potential utility of determining whether or not a death row inmate is actually executed along with the promising behavior of Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) as classifiers led us into the development, training, and testing of an ANN as a tool for predicting death penalty outcomes. For our ANN we reconstructed the profiles of 1,366 death row inmates by utilizing variables that are independent of the substantive characteristics of the crime for which they have been convicted. The ANN's successful performance in predicting executions has serious implications concerning the fairness of the justice system.

I don't really see why the predictability of death sentences--in their data set, they say they "successfully classified 147 out of 158 non-executed inmates (93.0%) and 130 out of 142 executed inmates (91.5%)"--is evidence that death sentencing is "arbitrary." Predictable seems like the opposite of arbitrary.

We do know, though, that most death sentences get reversed:

We collected data on the appeals process for all death sentences in U.S. states between 1973 and 1995. The reversal rate was high, with an estimated chance of at least two-thirds that any death sentence would be overturned by a state or federal appeals court. Multilevel regression models fit to the data by state and year indicate that high reversal rates are strongly associated with higher death-sentencing rates and lower rates of apprehending and imprisoning violent offenders. In light of our empirical findings, we discuss potential remedies including “streamlining” the appeals process and restricting the death penalty to the “worst of the worst” offenders.

P.S. To make a more parochial comment, I'm surprised the news article was headlined "Computer predicts . . . " as if somehow this was done by HAL rather than a human statistical analyst. I don't know how the neural network method of Karamouzis and Harper compares to BART or logistic regression--I'm willing to believe it's better--but it seems a little funny to me to refer to it as a "computer system" rather than a "prediction method" or a "statistical method" or a "prediction algorithm."

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July 1, 2008

A legal mystery

Maybe someone can explain this to me?

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We need cover ideas, and we need them now!

Our publisher is putting together our new book (no, not Red State, Blue State, I'm talking about our next book, A Quantitative Tour of the Social Sciences), and we need a cover design. Now. Any ideas? Free book to the person with the best idea. And anybody with a particularly good idea, I'll take to lunch. (Or maybe Jeronimo, my coeditor, will take you to lunch if you're in Houston...)

Some background: The book has sections on history, economics, sociology, political science, and psychology, and each section has a different author (or set of authors). It's not a statistics book; rather, it's a set of discussions and case studies, giving the reader (most likely a student of one of the social sciences) a sense of how to think like a historian, economict, sociologist, etc. It's based on a course I created for our Quantitative Methods in Social Science program at Columbia. Anyway, there will be plenty of time for book promotion later; now, I'm just trying to give you enough information to come up with a good cover design for us.

Here's the table of contents:

I. Models and Methods in the Social Sciences (Andrew Gelman)
1. Introduction and overview
2. What’s in a number? Definitions of fairness and political representation
3. The allure and limitations of mathematical modeling: Game theory and trench warfare
Further reading

II. History (Herbert Klein and Charles Stockley)
1. Historical background of quantitative social science
2. Sources of historical data
3. Historical perspectives on international exchange rates
4. Historical data and demography in Europe and the Americas
Further reading

III. Economics (Richard Clarida and Marta Noguer)
1. Learning from economic data
2. Econometric forecasting and the flow of information
3. Two studies of interest rates and monetary policy
Further reading

IV. Sociology (Seymour Spilerman and Emanuele Gerratana)
1. Models and theories in sociology
2. Demographic explanations of social disturbances in the 1960s
3. Studying the time series of lynchings in the South
4. Attainment processes in a large organization
Further reading

V. Political Science (Charles Cameron)
1. What is political science?
2. The politics of Supreme Court nominations: the critical role of the media environment
3. Modeling strategy in congressional hearings
Further reading

VI. Psychology (E. Tory Higgins, Elke Weber, and Heidi Grant)
1. Formulating and testing theories in psychology
2. Some theories in cognitive and social psychology
3. Signal detection theory and models for tradeoffs in decision making
Further reading

VII. To Treat or Not to Treat: Causal Inference in the Social Sciences (Jeronimo Cortina)
1. The potential-outcomes model of causation; propensity scores
2. Some statistical tools for causal inference with observational data
3. Migration and Solidarity
Further reading

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June 30, 2008

Ranking states by the liberalism/conservatism of their voters

Here's a graph of the 50 states (actually, I think Alaska and Hawaii are missing), showing the average economic and social ideology of adults within each state. Each of these is scaled so that negative numbers are liberal and positive are conservative; thus, people in Massachusetts are the most liberal on economic issues and people in Idaho are the most conservative:


West Virginians are on the liberal side economically but are extremely socially conservative, whereas Vermont is about the same as West Virginian on the economic dimension but is the most socially liberal of all the states. Coloradans are economically conservative (on average) but socially moderate (or, perhaps, socially divided; these are averages only).

How do these rankings fit with our usual rankings of states? Here's a plot showing average economic and social ideology for each state, plotted vs. George W. Bush's vote share in 2000:

Democrats and Republicans separately

The next step is to break these voters down into Democrats and Republicans (based on self-reported party identification and following the usual practice among political scientists of throwing the "leaners" into the regular party categories). In the graph below, each state is shown twice: the avg social and economic ideologies of Democrats in the state are shown in blue, the avgs for Republicans in red.


We made these graphs during the primary election season, and one thing we noticed was that South Carolina ("SC") is in the middle of the pack among Democrats and among Republicans, but it's one of the most conservative states overall. My take on this: South Carolina is a strongly Republican state, and the moderates in South Carolina are likely to identify as Republican. This pulls the Republican average to the left (as they includes the moderates) and also pulls the Democratic average to the left (as they are not including so many moderates).

But the big thing we see from the graph immediately above is that Democrats are much more liberal than Republicans on the economic dimension: Democrats in the most conservative states are still much more liberal than Republicans in even the most liberal states. On social issues there is more overlap (although in any given state, the average Republican is more conservative than the average Democrat).

Details on data

David Park and I made these graphs from the Annenberg pre-election survey from 2000 (with its huge sample size), creating indexes based on issue opinions, giving each respondent an economic and social ideology score. We scaled these so that each had a national average of 0 and standard deviation of 0.5. (We used these scales in our Red State, Blue State book, but these particular graphs never made it into the book.)


Yes, I know the graphs could be better. We made them a few months ago and haven't organized them into any final form.

P.P.S. More info here.

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June 27, 2008

An economic argument for why TV is full of loud, in-your-face journalists

Ubs writes:

A TV journalist's career success is strongly correlated to how well-known he is to the audience, which in turn is strongly correlated to how much face time he gets. When you watch an interview on TV, if most of what you see are is person being interviewed, you won't remember the journalist so much. If more of your time is devoted to watching and hearing the interviewer talk, he'll be more recognizable next time. The latter probably does not make for a better interview, but it does make for a better chance of the journalist getting more gigs.
Quite likely, some ambitious journalists are well aware of this and they make a concerted effort to maximize their face time in furtherance of their careers. But even if they don't do it on purpose, the result is the same. If some journalists tend to hog the screen just by natural inclination, those hogs are going to become better-known; that will get them more gigs, which will make them even more well-known, driving out the meeker journalists who prefer to let the interviewee do most of the talking.

Ubs continues:

This is why we have a news media full of obnoxious TV journalists who hound their guests with stupid and unanswerable "gotcha" questions. This is why, on the rare occasion that a guest actually tries to explain something with more than one sentence, the interviewer loudly interrupts, "Stop dodging the question, Senator. Give me an answer, yes or no!" This interruption is essential to the interviewer's viability as a journalist. Without it, the camera might stay off him for more than ten precious seconds.

His solution:

With that in mind, I want to make a deal with the journalists: Let's agree that from now on the TV cameras will always be pointed at the guy who isn't talking. I realize that's stupid. Obviously, I'd rather see the facial expression of the person who is saying something. But if that's the price we have to pay to get journalists to shut the hell up and let the guest talk, it would be worth it.

There's gotta be a better way . . .

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June 25, 2008

"You change your mind so many times, I wonder if you have a mind at all."

Sunshine Hillygus and Todd Shields just came out with a book, "The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns," where they argue that "persuadable voters are not a homogeneous group of unsophisticated and indifferent policy moderates, as has often been believed. Rather, persuadable voters hold diverse policy preferences, making it less clear which candidate offers a better match." Hilligus and Shields point out that many many voters disagree with their party lines on important issues (see also my paper with Delia on this topic; correlations between party identification and individual issue attitudes have increased over the past few decades but are still only about 0.3 on a -1 to 1 scale).

The discussion of campaigns trying to exploit voters' cross-pressure reminds me of Dave Krantz's research on how people process information. Suppose you are evaluating hypotheses A and B, exactly one of which is true (for example, the suspect committed the crime or did not). You can imagine four kinds of evidence: (1) evidence supporting A, (2) evidence making A less likely, (3) evidence supporting B, and (4) evidence making B less likely. Dave et al. did some lab experiments manipulating these conditions, and found that people treat them differently: for example, people react differently if you give them evidence of the form (1)+(2), (1)+(3), or (2)+(4). Hillygus and Shields's work focuses this idea by considering an area--political campaigns--where there is a lot of effort being made on both sides to persuade people. Their recommendation to the news media is to look beyond broadcast ads and speeches, to monitor microtargeted messages and direct mail, to make it more difficult for a political campaign to send different messages to different audiences.

Posted by Andrew at 9:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Obama on rich liberal political donors

Boris forwarded to me this passage from The Audacity of Hope which was noted by Jim Geraghty:

Increasingly, I [Obama] found myself spending time with people of means - law firm partners and investment bankers, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists. As a rule, they were smart,interesting people, knowledgeable about public policy, liberal in their politics, expecting nothing more than a hearing of their opinions in exchange for checks. But they reflected, almost uniformly, the perspectives of their class; the top 1 percent or so of the income scale that can afford to write a $2,000 check to a political candidate. They believed in the free market and an educational meritocracy; they found it hard to imagine that there might be any social ill that could not be cured with a high SAT score. They had no patience with protectionism, found unions troublesome, and were not particularly sympathetic to those whose lives were upended by movements of global capital. Most were adamantly prochoice and were vaguely suspicious of deep religious sentiment...

I know that as a consequence of my fund-raising I became more like the wealthy donors I met, in the very particular sense that I spent more and more of my time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship of the other 99 percent of the population - that is, the people I'd entered public life to serve.

Geraghty follows up with:

Amen, senator! I think the donors Obama describes are a bunch of arrogant snobs. But what does that make Obama, who listens to them offer their opinion and concludes they have a hard time imaging "that there might be any social ill that could not be cured with a high SAT score"?

With Obama, it seems a $2,000 donation will get you his ear, but not his respect.

I don't quite agree with Geraghty here: It seems like he's putting Obama in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. If Obama says he agrees with his donors, he's a liberal elitist. If he disagrees with them, then he's being disrespectful to these innocent donors.

I think Geraghty would be on stronger ground to just take Obama at his word that he "became more like the wealthy donors I met, in the very particular sense that I spent more and more of my time above the fray . . ." and make the point that this is an inherent contradiction within liberal politics, that there are templates for failure but not template for success (i.e., "selling out"). Or maybe not; I'm not familiar enough with Geraghty to really know where he's coming from.

Perceptions of red and blue voters

More to the point, as Boris notes, "Obama's quote directly relates to the themes of our Red State, Blue State book: the contradiction between economic and social views at the very top, the blue state lens he sees rich people through, etc. etc." To spell this out in a bit more detail: in rich, Democratic-leaning states such as Illinois, upper-income voters tend to be more economically conservative but more socially liberal than lower-income voters. (In poor, Republican-leaning states, upper-income voters are much more economically conservative than lower-income voters but about the same, on average, on social issues.) So Obama was observing a tension that's particularly relevant in rich, "blue" states.

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June 20, 2008

Princes and princesses, kings and queens

Lots of stories for little kids have kings and queens, not many seem to have presidents, prime ministers, mayors, etc. I don't fully understand this. I mean, I see that these stories are traditional, or imitate traditional forms, and so it makes sense that you'd have a king or queen rather than a president. But there are lots of other traditional forms of government. You can see some examples in children's literature, but they're clearly exceptions. (For example, the wolves in The Jungle Book have a tribal council, and the animals in Winnie the Pooh don't have any government at all.) I guess what I'm asking is: How did the standard storybook world become codified, the world with a kingdom, a king and a queen living in a castle riding horses etc? Even in the late Middle Ages in Europe when, I suppose, such places really existed, there were lots of other, different, sorts of places nearby. How and when did the storybook kingdom became canonical? Maybe Jenny can answer this question--it seems to fall within her bailiwick.

P.S. More discussion in the comments to Mark Thoma's blog here. My favorite comment is the first one: "If Mr Gelman doesn't like kings and queens in childrens' stories maybe he should write some stories himself." You'd think that a commenter to an economics blog would've heard about the division of labor! I tell stories to kids, but I write for adults.

More to the point, there are lots and lots of stories without kings and queens, from "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" on down. What struck me, though, was how kingdoms are canonical. For example, Sesame Street is filled with original stories--not folktales or anything like that--and by default they are often set in kingdoms.

Posted by Andrew at 9:22 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

June 19, 2008

Income, education, and religion as "background variables" or "treatments"

The discussion here on the climate change attitude mystery reminded me of a funny thing about how we think when we classify people by education, or income, or religion.

The original question was to explain why college-educated Republicans are less likely (compared to non-college-educated Republicans) to believe in human-caused global warming, while, among Democrats, those with college education are more likely to believe in it. To me this was no surprise: college-educated people are more political polarized and are more likely to align their views with their political attitudes.

But many of Tyler Cowen's commenters had a different sort of explanation, along the lines of, Going to college makes Republicans more skeptical of scientific authority but convinces Democrats of these arguments.

Setting aside the specific issue of climate change, one interesting thing here is the way I, in common with most political scientists, think of education (and other variables such as income and religion) as traits, or background variables, or descriptors of people. Thus when we talk about how rich and poor people vote, or more and less educated, or Protestants and Catholics, or whatever, we think of these as different sorts of people. But you can also think of income, or education, or religious attendance, as "treatments" that affect people--for example, if you go to college and share a room with someone of a different ethnic or political group, you might become more tolerant. Or maybe if you are conservative and go to college, you'll be skeptical of what's taught in your physics class (or if you're liberal, maybe you'll be skeptical of what's covered in your econ class).

I don't really have much to add here . . . somehow it seems more reasonable to me to think of these as descriptors than as treatments, but I guess it depends on the person and on what issue is being considered.

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June 18, 2008


A reporter asked me, "Do people run for VP, who in the past, how, has it worked or failed?"

My reply: I haven't looked at this recently, but I recall when studying election forecasting 15 years ago, that the estimated effect of VP choice was something like +3 percentage points in the VP's home state, so nothing huge.

What about national effects? In 1988, I recall that polls found that Bush alone (in a Bush vs. Dukakis matchup) did about 2 points better than Bush-Quayle vs. Dukakis-Bentsen. But this is probably an upper bound:
- Quayle was a horrible candidate
- And probably, when it came down to the voting booth, it's my guess that less than 2% of people decided not to vote for Bush on the basis of Quayle.

So probably the biggest effect of VP is that this is a person who's likely to become president. (I don't have the stats on this, but the total probability must be pretty high.) If I were choosing, I'd pick the person I'd most like as a future president and probably not worry so much about electoral calculations, fun though they are to think about.

Posted by Andrew at 12:06 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 16, 2008

"Mean reversion" and "random walk" models of campaign effects

Seeing Nate's discussion here on random walks, bounces, and trends, I was reminded of a paper that Joe Bafumi, David Park, and I wrote a few years ago.

Basically, general election opinion polls can be modeled well with a "mean reversion" model, in which the outcome is predictable and the polls will eventually converge to this predictable outcome. But journalists and observers tend to implicitly assume a "random walk" model which starts at the current position of the polls and then moves from there. Here's the paper, here's the abstract:

Scholars disagree over the extent to which presidential campaigns activate predispositions in voters or create vote preferences that could not be predicted. When campaign related information flows activate predispositions, election results are largely predetermined given balanced resources. They can be accurately forecast well before a campaign has run its course. Alternatively, campaigns may change vote outcomes beyond forcing predispositions to some equilibrium level. We find most evidence for the former: opinion poll data are consistent with Presidential campaigns activating predispositions, with fundamental variables increasing in importance as a presidential election draws near.

And here is a key graph showing votes becoming more predictable during the election campaign:


Finally, here's my article with Gary from 1993, "Why are American Presidential election campaign polls so variable when votes are so predictable?" This article gives lots of evidence supporting the idea that people ultimately decide how to vote based on their enlightened preferences.

Posted by Andrew at 8:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 13, 2008

"But viewed in retrospect, it is clear that it has been quite predictable"

David Runciman writes,

Followed day by day, the race for the Democratic nomination has been the most exciting election in living memory. But viewed in retrospect, it is clear that it has been quite predictable. All the twists and turns have been a function of the somewhat random sequencing of different state primaries, which taken individually have invariably conformed to type, with Obama winning where he was always likely to win (caucus states, among college-educated and black voters, in the cities), and Clinton winning where she was likely to win (big states with secret ballots, among less well-educated whites and Hispanics, in rural areas).

"Predictable in retrospect"?? This seems like a contradiction. I agree with Runciman that there are patterns in the election results, but I'd only call it "predictable" if you actually predict it ahead of time, which I certainly didn't! He continues:

The salient fact about this campaign is that demography trumps everything: people have been voting in fixed patterns set by age, race, gender, income and educational level . . .

Is that really true? My impression is that there are big differences between states, after controlling for demographics. See the New York Times animation here.

Finally, Runciman writes,

One of the amazing things about the business of American politics is that its polling industry is so primitive. . . . The recent New York Times poll that gave Obama a 12 per cent lead was based on interviews with just 283 people. For a country the size of the United States, this is the equivalent to stopping a few people at random in the street, or throwing darts at a board.

Hmmm . . . I wonder why they don't just throw darts at a board, then? This would save them lots of money! For n=283, sqrt(p(1-p)/n)=.03, so +/- 2 standard errors is +/- 6 percentage points in the vote share for one candidate, or +/- 12 percentage points in the vote differential between two candidates.

Is this as good as a "dartboard" (i.e., an estimate based on prior information)? Maybe. It depends how good the dartboard is. The best solution is probably a weighted average of the "dartboard" and the poll, maybe weighting the dartboard more than the poll if the sample size is that small. But the size of the U.S. is not the relevant issue here. (The relevant formula is "1/n - 1/N.")

The WSJ and the LRB; Yoo and Runciman

David Runciman teaches the history of political thought at Cambridge University. I'm surprised he didn't walk down the hall and show his article to one of his political science colleagues there--I assume there are some researchers in American politics and public opinion he could talk with. This reminds me of John Yoo's Wall Street Journal article which I discussed earlier. There's no way that these authors intend to make mistakes; apparently, they don't try a lot of fact checking. This seems funny to me--if I were writing for a such a large audience, I'd be petrified of making a mistake--but I guess that journalistic writing is a different world, even when done by academics.

P.S. I sent David Runciman an email asking for claification. If anyone here knows him (perhaps some U.K. political scientists read this blog) and could get him to explain what he was trying to say, I'd appreciate it.

Posted by Andrew at 3:09 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 10, 2008

When corrections fail: the persistence of political misperceptions

After seeing my note on education, partisanship, and views on climate change, Jason Reifler sent me this paper he wrote with Brendan Nyhan, which begins:

An extensive literature addresses citizen ignorance, but very little research focuses on misperceptions. Can these false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics be corrected? Previous studies have not tested the efficacy of corrections in a realistic format. We [Nyhan and Reifler] conducted four experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that included either a misleading claim from a politician, or a misleading claim and a correction. Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire” effect in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.

That's scary stuff!

P.S. Nice graphs. Tables 1-4 could be made into graphs too (by adapting coefplot()), but, still, the displays are pretty good.

Posted by Andrew at 12:42 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 9, 2008

More on coalition dynamics

Catherine Farry writes,

I'm late to the party on this one, but as I was catching up on my blog reading I came across your 18 April post ("Coalition Dynamics") and was a bit surprised to see that nobody spoke up in the comments about the actual political issue (as opposed to the model) addressed in the paper you criticize.
I have no connection whatsoever to the authors of the paper but I have to say that I thought you were a bit too quick to criticize both their focus on "the number of countries in the European Union" and their "attempts to imply that their work is relevant to actual politics". I think you have missed the point of the paper, which to me at least does not appear at all to be about "Coalition Dynamics" (let alone whether "all voters are equal"), but rather about the impact of size on efficiency in group decisionmaking. Size, in the European Commission, is directly determined by the number of countries in the European Union. Moreover, the abstract makes clear that the authors are interested in this question because it has relevance for the debate (quite relevant, political, and current) about the size of the European Commission in the wake of the expansion of the European Union from 15 to 25 members (with possibly more to come).

To make my case, I have resorted to copying and pasting from the Wikipedia entry on the European Commision since it's succinct and easy to find:
"There is one Commissioner per member state, however Commissioners are bound to represent the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their home state.... The proposed Lisbon Treaty, the details of which were agreed in June 2007... proposed a number of changes, notably the number of Commissioners would be reduced; from 2014 only two out of three member-states would have the right to representation. The representation would be rotated equally between all states and no state would have more than two in any single Commission."

My reply: There's nothing in the Klimek et al. paper (to which I link in my earlier blog entry) giving any evidence that there's anything special about a cabinet size of 20. Their graphs show various bad things being positively correlated with cabinet size, but they could've just as well drawn a cutoff at cabinets of size 10 or 30. Their model is mathematically pretty but as far as I can tell has no relevance to the political issues that you discuss.

Finally, I do think that equal representation for countries is a bad idea. I don't see why a country of 5 million should have any more representation than a province of 5 million within a larger country. But this last bit is really a separate issue from my statistical criticisms, which stand even if you would like countries to be equally represented.

Posted by Andrew at 1:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 6, 2008

Uggghhh! More on people overinterpreting opinion polls, shading inevitably into a into a sociological discussion

Um . . . no, "if the general election were held today" is not a particularly interesting question. The polls can move a lot in 5 months. Remember President Dukakis? See here (from our 1993 paper):


The triangles on the right side of each plot are the actual election outcomes, and the little arrows on each graph show the dates of the Democratic and Republican conventions in each year. As you can see, polls this early are in many cases not even close to the outcome.

I'm sure that Dr. Tyson means well, and I'm a big fan of Nova, but, really, he should talk with some political scientists before glibly writing about politics and concluding, "The political analysts need to take it from here." We've taken it pretty far already, dude! Tyson has every right to speculate about politics--I wouldn't claim that you need some sort of political science affiliation as a "union card" to do political science research--but it would make sense to ask around a bit, right? I mean, if a couple of political scientists wrote a paper on astrophysics in a journal called Mathematical and Computer Modeling . . . well, before trumpeting it in the New York Times I'd first go up to the 10th floor and ask my friend David, the astronomer, whether it's for real.

Posted by Andrew at 3:04 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

June 5, 2008

Damn this is cool

Chris Zorn writes,

He's clearly a man of few words. I'll give it as a link. You can play with it, click on things, see all sorts of fun stuff.

What I'd really like to do is pipe this through a hierarchical model to smooth out the inevitable survey fluctuations. Also, it would be good to subtract off main effects. For example, in the graph below, are well-educated Arkansans particularly strong Clinton supporters, or is this just a combination of Arkansas being a Clinton state and small-sample fluctuation?


Anyway, I'm not complainin, just suggesting even more things that could be done with these data and this software. The first thing to do is to run it with the 2000 and 2004 exit polls. This app would go great with our Red State, Blue State book.

Posted by Andrew at 12:06 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 3, 2008

Non-strategic behavior of political parties when deciding when incumbents should retire

One thing I learned in econ class in 11th grade was that government policy should be counter-cyclical (spending more in recessions and cutting back in boom times), but that there’s a lot of pressure to be pro-cyclical, which will tend to exacerbate business cycles. (Except I suppose they didn’t say “exacerbate” in 11th grade.) At a personal level, too, it’s natural to spend more when we have more and cut back when we aren’t doing so well. Every now and then you hear about a “rainy day fund” but my general impression is that these are never big enough to counter the business cycle.

Political parties seem to apply a similar pro-cyclical behavior in their congressional election campaigns. Consider 2008. . .

It’s expected to be a good year for the Democrats, and so now should be the time for them to make some investments in new, young candidates. They should encourage lots of their incumbents to retire, because in 2008, they can win a lot of these districts without needing the incumbency advantage (estimated to be about 10% of the vote, i.e., enough to take you from 50% to 60%). Conversely, this is the time for the Republican Party to hold on to what it has, and to keep all their incumbents in, trying to hold out until 2010 when the pendulum might swing back in their favor. But we don’t see that—actually, something like 30 Republican House members are retiring this year. Republicans retiring, Democrats sticking around—that’s a recipe for big Democratic gains this year. But then in 2010, or 2014, or whatever year it is when the Democrats get wiped out—then a bunch of their incumbents will probably retire, and boy will the Democrats wished they had put in younger incumbents back in 2008 when they had a chance!

One of the difficulties here is that I’m talking about the long-term goals of the parties, but “the parties” are, to a large extent, simply their officeholders. And congressmembers’ incentives can be much different from those of the party as a whole. In particular, it makes sense that an incumbent congressmember will want to quit in a year when he or she would be facing a tough reelection battle, and when the prize for winning is to remain in the minority. Conversely, why step down when you’re facing an easy reelection and the prospect of some juicy committee assignments? So the individual officeholders have an incentive for pro-cyclical behavior, even if it harms their party’s long-term interest.

Beyond the benefits or lack thereof to the individual parties, pro-cyclical behavior would seem to increase the size of political changes, making the swings in congressional representation larger than would be expected simply based on swings in public opinion. Actually, many political scientists would consider this a good thing (an increased “swing ratio”); my point here is that some of this swing is “endogenous” in the sense of arising from pro-cyclical decisions of individual congressmembers deciding whether to run for reelection. It would be interesting to see if this happens with state legislatures as well.
We also see this in the Senate. For example, 84-year-old Frank Lautenberg is running for reelection in New Jersey. This is a Democratic year when the Democrats might do well with just about anybody. (Or maybe not; I don’t really follow New Jersey politics and am just extrapolating from national polls.) In 6 years, they’re going to need to find someone new, and at that point they might wish they had an incumbent already in the slot.

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June 2, 2008

Men, women, and politics

Via Craig Newmark, I saw a column by John Lott summarizing his 1999 paper with Lawrence Kenny, "Did women's suffrage change the size and scope of government?" Lott and Kenny conclude Yes, by comparing the spending and revenue patterns of state governments before and after women were allowed to vote. I haven't looked at the analysis carefully and would need a little more convincing that it's not just a story of coinciding time trends (they have a little bit of leverage because women were given the vote sooner in some states than others), but the story is plausible, at least from the perspective of voting patterns nowadays.

On the other hand . . .

poll data appear to show that the gender gap in voting between men and women is relatively recent--if anything, women used to vote more Republican than men did--so it's not clear if the effect Lott seems to be finding is occurring from women actually voting for conservative candidates or from some indirect effect of legislators trying to adapt to what they perceive as the preferences of women.

Different views of what is authoritative

I hadn't heard of Lott's journal article but it seems to be well-known, with over 100 citations on Google scholar. I'm actually surprised Lott didn't mention it in his Fox News column, instead only linking to his recent book. I guess that indicates the difference between an academic reader such as myself who is generally more persuaded by peer-reviewed articles (although not always!) rather than general readers who might feel that a book is more authoritative.

Beware the status-quo bias

Finally, I have a couple of comments on Lott's column. He writes, "it seems that the policies adopted are much more important than who puts them into action, and the evidence indicates that women have long gotten their way" regarding government spending. But I don't see how he can make this claim. Accepting his claim that women's suffrage has increased spending, this is still compared to an all-male electorate. This isn't the same as women "having long gotten their way." A more reasonable conclusion is that outcomes are somewhere in between what women want and what men want. In fact, before 1980, men turned out to vote at a higher rate than women did, and so it would be more natural to assume that outcomes were closer to men's preferences than women's. I think Lott is making a sort of status-quo bias here and perceiving any change from all-male voting as women "getting their way."

Finally, I think that numerical representation is a real issue. This is not a matter of discrimination, but just the simple fact that certain groups such as women are underrepresented in public office relative to their population. Currently, women are 16% of congressmembers and 24% of state legislators, so they still have a ways to go before they catch up.

P.S. Lott also writes, "without the women's vote, Republicans would have swept every presidential race but one between 1968 and 2004." Poll data show a pretty close race in 1996 among men (in the Gallup poll, Clinton led Dole by 1% among men); it's possible that with an electoral vote calculation, Dole was the clear winner in that group, but my guess is that polling uncertainty is large enough that we can't really know how the men's vote would've gone in that year.

P.P.S. To summarize: this is an interesting topic. I'd like to hear from Adam Berinksy and other experts on early-20th-century public opinion: what are their thoughts on the political opinions and voting patterns of men and women back then, and how do they interpret the fact that increases in government spending coincided with women's suffrage?

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June 1, 2008

The Playing Field Shifts: Predicting the Seats-Votes Curve in the 2008 U.S. House Election

Here's the new paper by John Kastellec, Jamie Chander, and myself, and here's the abstract:

This paper predicts the seats-votes curve for the 2008 U.S House elections. We document how the electoral playing field has shifted from a Republican advantage between 1996 and 2004 to a Democratic tilt today. Due to the shift in incumbency advantage from the Republicans to the Democrats, compounded by a greater number of retirements among Republican members, we show that the Democrats now enjoy a partisan bias, and can expect to win more seats than votes for the first time since 1992. While this bias is not as large as the advantage the Republicans held in 2006, it is likely to help the Democrats win more seats than votes and thus expand their majority.

Here are our estimated seats-votes curves for 2006 and 2008:


As you can see, there used to be a strong Republican bias; now we estimate a Democratic bias. The change comes from the incumbency advantage (which we estimate to be about 8%, on average), which tends to lock in party control except in big swing years such as 1994 and 2006.

And here are some possibilities for 2008 in historical perspective:


The paper is a sequel to this article about the 2006 election.

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May 31, 2008

Shanto Iyengar's argument in favor of online experiments

From 2002, still interesting.

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May 29, 2008

It's all about Missouri

This is funny. Ubs takes us from "Since 1916, no Democrat has won the White House without winning West Virginia" to "No Democrat has won the White House without winning Missouri since 1824."

The sad thing is that I've seen reputable social scientists do analyses with data over several decades including "state effects," i.e., coefficients for states that don't vary over time. Going back to 1916 is sillier than most, but not all, such things I've seen. The trouble is that people have been brainwashed into thinking that something called "fixed effects" solves all their problems, so they turn their brains off.

Beyond this, predicting the winner doesn't make much sense, given that you're counting all the elections that have been essentially tied; see point 5 here.

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May 28, 2008

Forecasting House seats from generic congressional polls

Here's Joe Bafumi's graph predicting House vote shares from pre-election polls in midterm elections:


(See here for the big version of the graph.)

I imagine there's something similar going on in presidential years.

See here for more discussion.

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May 27, 2008

Jonathan Rodden's graphs of population density and Democratic vote

Commenting on our comparison of 1896 and 2000, Jonathan Rodden sent in this graph of Democratic vote share vs. population density in congressional districts from 1952-1996:


As Jonathan noted, the pattern of high-density areas voting strongly Democratic is relatively new. (But I don't buy the way his lines curve up on the left; I suspect that's an unfortunate artifact of using quadratic fits rather than something like lowess or spline.) Also there seems to be some weird discretization going on in the population densities for the early years in his data.

P.S. I don't like that the graphs go below 0 and above 1, but that's probably a Stata default. I don't hold it against Jonathan--after all, he made a graph for me for free--but I do think that better defaults are possible.

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May 23, 2008

Voting patterns of Jews and other religious groups

John Sides has a graph showing that, for the past twenty years, Jews have been giving 70-80% of their votes to Democratic presidential candidates. From our forthcoming Red State, Blue State book, here are some data going back to 1968 (from the National Election Study):


Perhaps also of interest is how this relates to religious attendance. More frequent attenders are more likely to vote Republican, but the pattern varies by denomination. Here's what was happening in 2004 (as estimated from the Annenberg pre-election survey):


The graph for 2000 looks similar except that the line for Jews was flat in that year.

Why care about Jewish voters?

The underlying question, though, is why should we care about a voting bloc that represents only 2% of the population (and even if Jews turn out at a 50% higher rate than others, that would still be only 3% of the voters), most of whom are in non-battleground states such as New York, California, and New Jersey? Even in Florida, Jews are less than 4% of the population. I think a lot of this has to be about campaign contributions and news media influence. But, if so, the relevant questions have to do with intensity of opinions among elite Jews rather than aggregates.

P.S. This sort of concern is not restricted to Jews, of course. Different minority groups exercise political power in different ways. I just thought it was worth pointing out that this isn't a pure public opinion issue but rather something with more indirect pathways.

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May 19, 2008

Planned missingness with multiple imputation: enabling the use of exit polls to reduce measurement error in surveys

Marco Morales sent me this paper of his with Rene Bautista:

Exit polls are seldom used for voting behavior research despite the advantages they have compared to pre and post-election surveys. Exit polls reduce potential biases and measurement errors on reported vote choice and other political attitudes related to the time in which measurements are taken. This is the result of collecting information from actual voters only minutes after the vote has been cast. Among the main reasons why exit polls are not frequently used by scholars it is the time constraints that must be placed on the interviews, i.e., short questionnaires, severely limiting the amount of information obtained from each respondent. This paper advances a combination of an appropriate data collection design along with adequate statistical techniques to allow exit polls to overcome such a restriction without jeopardizing data quality. This mechanism implies the use of Planned Missingness designs and Multiple Imputation techniques. The potential advantages of this design applied to voting behavior research are illustrated empirically with data from the 2006 Mexican election.

This sounds cool. I'd only add that all surveys are "planned missingness." That's what makes it a survey rather than a census. Also I want to take a look at their data and see if their results are consistent with what we found in our analysis of the 2006 Mexican presidential election.

(I'd also make some comments on the Tables, but I think you know what I'd say, so I won't say it, and I'd say that in Figure 3 they should remove the little numbers on the lines and just label the y-axis, and I'd say that in Figure 4 they should remove that second decimal place and compress the scale of the axes and give full names or party labels rather than abbreviations on top of the plots, and on figure 5 I'd recommend just displaying "positive minus negative" rather than separately showing both (and getting rid of those silly vertical lines at the ends of the error bars, and getting rid of the confusing labels at -0.3 and +0.3 that appear in part of the graph but not all of it), but that would be a distraction from the important contributions of the article, so I won't waste your time on that sort of picky comment, instead simply appreciating the effort that did go into this paper.)

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May 15, 2008

Solving the climate change attitude mystery

Brandon Keim writes,

Over the last year and a half, the number of Americans who believe the Earth is warming has dropped. The decline is especially precipitous among Republicans: in January 2007, 62 percent accepted global warming, compared to just 49 percent now. . . . The confounding part: among college-educated poll respondents, 19 percent of Republicans believe that human activities are causing global warming, compared to 75 percent of Democrats. But take that college education away and Republican believers rise to 31 percent while Democrats drop to 52 percent.

That strikes me [Keim] as deeply weird. I don't even have a snarky quip, much less an explanation.

This does seem a bit weird: you might think that college grads are more likely to go with the scientific consensus on global warming, or you might think that college grads would be more skeptical, but it seems funny that it would go one way for Democrats and the other for Republicans.

Things become clearer when I looked at the graph (which was thoughtfully presented next to Keim's article):


Among college grads, there is a big partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. Among non-graduates, the differences are smaller. This is completely consistent with research that shows that people with more education are on average more politically polarized (see, for example, figure 9a of my paper with Delia). Basically, higher educated Democrats are more partisan Democrats, and higher educated Republicans are more partisan Republicans. On average, educated people are more tuned in to politics and more likely to align their views with their political attitudes.

From this perspective, it's really not about the scientific community at all, it's just a special case of the general phenomenon of elites being more politically polarized (a phenomenon that we discuss in chapter 8 of our forthcoming book, and which is related to divisions between red and blue states).

P.S. I followed the link from Andrew Sullivan. And here's the detailed Pew report (and, remember, Pew gives out raw data!).

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May 10, 2008

Yeah, but what about Mr. Pibb?

You never know what you'll find in the Dining and Wine section nowadays.

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Partisans returning to the fold

John Sides posts these useful graphs:


As John writes, "The party loyalty of Democrats has been increasing over time and has essentially hovered at 90% since 1992. (And Republicans are similarly loyal to the Republican nominee.)" Here's the story from the 2000 election:


To which I'd also add this (from this paper with Joe Bafumi and David Park):


This shows the improvement in prediction given party ID and also demographics and political ideology.

The short story: voters are more predictable than they themselves realize.

P.S. John's graphs are fine, but the y-axis shouldn't go below 0 or above 100%.

Posted by Andrew at 9:41 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 9, 2008

Campaign contributions and policies

Michael Franc looked at Federal Election Commission data on campaign contributions and found some interesting things:

Through May 1, the Democratic presidential field has suctioned up a cool $5.7 million from the more than 4,000 donors who list their occupation as “CEO.” The Republicans’ take was only $2.3 million. Chief financial officers, general counsels, directors, and chief information officers also break the Democrats’ way by more than two-to-one margins. . . .

I'm not actually sure where these numbers come from. When I queried the FEC database (looking up "ceo" from 01/01/2008 to 05/01/2008), the total contributions (not just for presidential candidates) were only $45,124. So I must be doing something wrong here in my query. In any case, I guess it makes sense that most of the contributions have gone to Democrats so far, since (a) the Democratic primary has been much more competitive than the Republican, and (b) the Democrats are favored to win this year.

Franc continues:

In this upside-down campaign season when populist GOP campaigners like John McCain and Mike Huckabee surprised the pundits with their primary victories or, in the case of Ron Paul, their fundraising prowess, it almost makes sense that the party of the country club set has been winning the fundraising race among the common man. . . . This trend extends to the saloons, where the Democrats carry the bartenders and the Republicans the waitresses. . .

The bit about the bartenders and waitresses caught my eye. But when I looked it up, I found no contributions from either group this year. Going to the entire database, I did find some "waitress" contributions between 1998 and 2005, but they were mostly to Democrats. Also a few bartender contributions since 1998, again mostly to Democrats. So I'm not really sure about that. I emailed Franc to ask for his data source so I hope to learn more.

Setting aside the data difficulties, I think Franc makes an important point in the conclusion of his article:

National political parties, after all, reflect their supporters, and party leaders traditionally feel a responsibility to cater to their supporters’ whims. A party that receives overwhelming support from elite Wall Street investment firms, corporate bigwigs, and highly educated professionals may find it exceedingly difficult to raise their taxes or impose draconian new Big Government regulations on them. Similarly, a party that is losing well-educated suburban professionals and gaining support from blue-collar workers may find it more difficult to support free trade agreements and embrace globalization.

Washington Democrats have already adapted their Big Government instincts to this new reality. They have designed government guarantees, subsidies or handouts to address the insecurities of middle- and upper-income American families. Think of the new subsidies proposed on Capitol Hill for higher education, more generous flood insurance for vacation homes, bailouts for homeowners with mortgages as high as $730,000 and welfare-style health coverage for kids in middle-income families, and you get the idea.

Their Republican counterparts, meanwhile, have struggled over how best to sell the benefits of limited government, lower taxes, and free markets to the elites who used to love them or their new, more populist constituent base. Addressing this new reality may be the most important challenge both major parties face in the months and years ahead.

I wonder, though, if he's confusing relative with absolute numbers. Even if the Republicans are doing better with waitresses etc. than they used to, they're still getting a lot more money from business. So, I agree with Franc about the tension within the Democratic and Republican parties, but I suspect that, to the extent that both parties are influenced by their contributors, they'll both be pulled in a pro-business direction.

Also, it's not clear that big business will always support free trade. As Thomas Ferguson reminded us, it was Franklin Roosevelt who implemented a free trade policy in the 1930s, during a period when the Democrats were supported by labor and the Republicans were supported by much (although not all) of big business. Ferguson discusses the idea that different industries have different policy goals.

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May 3, 2008

Motivations for political contributions

I came across this paper by Sanford Gordon, Catherine Hafer, and Dimitri Landa, who write:

Do individuals give political contributions simply because they derive an expressive or other consumption benefit from doing so? Or are they attempting to influence policy outcomes? If the consumption view is correct, then political donations are just another means by which citizens participate in the political process (unequal to be sure), and need not imply improper or undemocratic influence. In contrast, donation decisions that are driven by an investment motivation, especially when they are made on behalf of small but economically powerful minority interests, naturally raise concerns about the possibility of an undemocratic exchange of policy for dollars.

We [Gordon et al.] propose a strategy to distinguish investment and consumption motives for political contributions by examining the behavior of individual corporate executives. If executives expect contributions to yield policies beneficial to company interests, those whose compensation varies directly with corporate earnings should contribute more than those whose compensation comes largely from salary alone. We find a robust relationship between giving and the sensitivity of pay to company performance, and show that the intensity of this relationship varies across groups of executives in ways that are consistent with instrumental giving but not with alternative, taste-based, accounts. Together with earlier findings, our results suggest that contributions are often best understood as purchases of "good will" whose returns, while positive in expectation, are contingent and rare.

The empirical part of the paper looks cool--I have no experience looking at this sort of data and so can't really say anything beyond "it's cool." (Well, I will say that I'd like to see a scatterplot to make it clear at a glance what their data are saying.) But I do have some thoughts on the general framework. They consider political contributions as "consumption" or "investment"--which, as far as I know, follows the mainstream of the discipline, but I have a problem with this approach.

I just don't really see the clear distinction between "consumption" and "investment" in this context.

If someone is contributing from an "expressive or other consumption benefit," presumably this person is giving to the candidate whose policies he or she favors. (Perhaps there are some people who give to the other side for reputational reasons, for example an oil company executive who happens to be a Democrat might give to a Republican so he won't stand out in the crowd, or a college professor might donate to Obama to fit in, even if he's actually a McCain supporter. Or maybe it could go the other way too, that someone would donate $20 to the other side just to get a reputation for being unorthodox. But I imagine this sort of thing represents only a very tiny minority of contributions.) Conversely, someone who's donating as an investment probably thinks that his or her candidate is good for the country as a whole. As the authors note, the translation of unequal financial resources to unequal political resources is a potential distortion of the democratic process--I just don't understand this distinction, especially in light of the fact that voting and small-dollar political contributions are rational to the extent that the voter or contributor believes that his or her preferred candidate will benefit the general good.

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May 2, 2008

Election as trial by combat?

The 2008 Democratic primary brings to mind a similar contest in 1972, where an experienced champion faced an exciting young challenger. I'm speaking, of course, of the world chess championship, where Bobby Fischer, down 2 games to zero, destroyed Boris Spassky and unequivocally established himself as the best player in the world.


The Clinton-Obama contest has led to confusion: Obama has basically won the election in the sense of being on track to get more than half of the delegates. In that case, how can Hillary Clinton retain the support of 40% of Democrats nationwide? And how did she manage to win Pennsylvania?

I think these questions represent a misunderstanding. The campaign has been viewed as a chess match or sporting contest in which Obama and Clinton, with their similar policy agendas, are viewed as competing on electability, with the idea being that candidates battle it out in the sequence of state primaries. The trouble with this story is that, first, it's hard to know about the candidates' relative electability (I'd actually argue that there isn't much difference in any case) and, second, voters do differ on which candidate they prefer.

After the World Championship, there weren't too many people around who thought Spassky was the better player. After an election, though, the supporters of the losing candidate don't suddenly decide they made a mistake. Even after Obama wins, Clinton's supporters are still allowed to prefer her.

P.S. I'm not saying that I predicted the outcomes in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, etc., or even that they were predictable. Rather, I'm saying that in light of what happened, the Pennsylvania vote shouldn't seem like a surprise, or something that needs additional explanation (Obama failing to connect with white voters, or whatever).

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May 1, 2008

Pretty polling plots

John Sides presents some data backing up the standard political science view that news blips are not so important in determining election outcomes in two-candidate races.

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Through the looking glass

Ubs links to a Wall Street Journal column by John Yoo on problems with the Democrats' presidential nominating procedure. Before going into the details of how Yoo makes a botch of election history, Ubs writes, "I'm not accusing Yoo of being ignorant of history. I know he's a well-educated man, and his words in this column strongly suggest he knows exactly what he's talking about. In spite of that, he somehow manages to turn history upside-down so that it seems to mean exactly the opposite. How one does that, other than out of ignorance, I don't know. Outright deceit? A lawyerly disregard for anything but advocacy? I'm definitely accusing him of something, I'm just not sure what."

My take on this is slightly different: I'm guessing that Yoo is like a lot of people who, once they take a side on an issue, quickly slip toward the assumption that all the facts automatically support their position. As a statistician, I'd like to think I'm particularly aware of the general issue of discordant evidence. (To take Yoo's example, just because a particular nominating system might be bad, you don't have to think that it's bad in all cases--this is what seems to have led him astray in his discussion of the 1824 election, as Ubs discusses in detail.) In contrast, a lawyer may be trained more to brush aside or not even notice details that contradict his main story. Perhaps this is even more true of a lawyer such as Yoo who is famous for writing opinions that are kept secret.

The unwillingness to accept discordant evidence is not unique to lawyers, of course. Hal Stern once telling me about how, in the classic book on racetrack betting, Dr. Z's examples were set up so his system always won. As Hal pointed out, no system will win all the time--all that's required is that it beat the track's 18% edge or whatever--but in a narrative it's disturbing to see counterexamples (unless they're clearly swallowed up into an "it's all right at the end" narrative).

Anyway, that's just a longwinded way of saying that I don't think Yoo was necessarily being deceptive or malicious here. First, I think he probably is somewhat ignorant of the details of elections from the early 1800s (after all, so am I, and I'm a political science professor specializing in American politics); second, he can be falling into the unfortunate but common habit of just assuming that his argument, if correct, must hold in 100% of cases.

But, why?

The more interesting question to me, though, is something that Ubs doesn't ask, which is why did Yoo write this Wall Street Journal column at all? With all his notoriety, wouldn't he be better off keeping his head down rather than writing partisan articles that bring his name further to attention? After all, he's not an expert on elections (at least, I can't find any research by him on the topic), so presumably he could've recommended that someone else write that article. Why would he stick his head up like this and make himself a target?

Here my theory is that Yoo has fully gone through the mirror at this point and has emerged as a political activist. As an academic researcher, you have to be careful of what you say, lest it affect the reputation of your scholarly efforts. Thus the endless qualifications that I and others resort to in all our published work.

To elaborate further: I'm not taking about mistakes. Researchers of all levels of ability make mistakes. Yoo's example seems different--the issue is not so much that he made some errors in his column, but that he stuck his neck out by writing a column on a topic where he's not an expert, and then made the mistakes. It just seems so unnecessary to me.

But, and here the metaphor of the "looking glass" comes in: All of us who are applied researchers have mirror images in the public sphere, where our work--or distorted versions of our work--become more widely known. Many of us want to publicize our work--to write Wall Street Journal op-eds, as it were--partly just to make our work more widely known, partly to present our work the way we think it should be presented, and partly to position ourselves to be more likely to promote our future work. But in doing that we have to protect our research reputations. At some point, though, the publicity or advocacy becomes the point, rather than the research itself. For Yoo, perhaps his reputation as a researcher is so politicized at this point that there's nothing left to protect. At this point, he might as well go for it and develop a name for himself as a freelance editorial-page writer?

As a researcher, I envy newspaper columnists' opportunity to have their writings immediately read by millions of people. At the same time, I assume they envy my ability to spend as much time on in-depth research projects as I would like. On the occasions that I try to write something for a broad readership, I'm careful to protect my viability (as Bill Clinton might say) as a researcher. I wonder if Yoo has decided that the choice has already been made for him.


The other question, I suppose, is why the Wall Street Journal would publish this. It makes sense for them to publish Yoo's opinions on constitutional law (for example, Terrorists Have No Geneva Rights), but . . . his thoughts on the 1824 election?? Perhaps Yoo's notoriety generates buzz and sells papers? (After all, Ubs and then I commented on his column, which we might not have done had it been written by an equally distinguished but less controversial law professor.) Then again, Meet the Press had Doris Kearns Goodwin on as an expert on plagiarism, so maybe the real issue is that, once someone's connected, they tend to stay connected.

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April 29, 2008

Congestion pricing

OK, here's a blind item . . . I was talking with a colleague about a certain academic journal, traditionally ranked #2 in a social science field that is associated with government and politics . . . my colleague told me that said journal had recently converted to electronic submissions and that the journal's editors, expressing concern about the increasing volumne of submissions, had decided to slow things down by deliberately sitting on each submission for a month. So, you send them a paper, they wait a month, then they send to reviewers. Reviewers send in their report, the editors wait a month, then they send you the report. You send in your revision, they wait a month, then they send back to reviewers. And so forth.

To me, this seems self-defeating--it would take me more trouble to keep track of the one-month delays than to just review the damn paper. Also, this is the first time I heard of a journal discouraging submissions. My impression is that even the top journals--and their #2 counterparts--find top-quality submissions to be few and far between. On the other hand, they must really be overwhelmed by the workload if they feel the need to resort to such wacky tactics.

Any suggestions? My thought would be to split the journal into 3 or 4 parts with separate editorial staffs for each.

P.S. I've been told that charging $ for submissions (as is done in economics) is a nonstarter--a lot of the people who might submit articles don't make a lot of money and can't easily spare a nonrefundable $50 or whatever to submit.

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April 26, 2008

What would Rosenstone say?

I can understand Paul Krugman's frustration over the level of discourse in the Democratic primary election campaign, but I don't know of any evidence to support the implicit claim in his last sentence: "unless Democrats can get past this self-inflicted state of confusion, there’s a very good chance that they’ll snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this fall." I pretty much take the general view of political scientists that general election outcomes are pretty much determined by fundamentals--that the voters will get the information needed to realize roughly where Obama (or Clinton) and McCain stand on the key issues and vote accordingly. (See here and here for our evidence, including the picture below.)


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April 25, 2008

70,000 Assyrians

One of my favorite instances of numeracy in literature is William Saroyan's story, "70,000 Assyrians," which I read in the collection, Bedside Tales. The story is typical charming early-Saroyan: it starts out with him down-and-out, waiting on line for a cheap haircut, then he converses with the barber, asking if he, like Saroyan, is Armenian. No, he replies, he's Assyrian. Saroyan says how sad it is that the Assyrians, like the Armenians, no longer have their own country, but that they can hope for better. The barber says, sadly, that the Assyrians cannot even hope, because they have been so depleted, there are only 70,000 of them left in the world.

This is the numeracy: 70,000 is a large number, a huge number of people. It's crowds and crowds and crowds--enough for an entire society, and then some. But not enough for a country, or not enough in a hostile part of the world where other people are busy trying to wipe you out. The idea that 70,000 is a lot, but not enough--that's numeracy. People can be numerate with dollars--for example, $70,000 is a lot of money but it can't buy you a nice apartment in Manhattan--but it's my impression and others' that people have more difficulty with other sorts of large numbers. That's why this Saroyan story made an impression on me.

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April 24, 2008

The opiate of the elites

In case you didn't see our graph-laden Vox EU article, here it is. The Obama reference is already a bit stale but the content is still fresh, I hope . . .

Barack Obama attracted attention recently by describing small-town Americans who were “bitter” at economic prospects who “cling to guns or religion’’ in frustration. This statement, made during the height of the Democratic nomination battle, has received a lot of attention, but it represents a common view. For example, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia wrote, “Working Americans have been repeatedly seduced at the polls by emotional issues such as the predictable mantra of ‘God, guns, gays, abortion and the flag’ while their way of life shifted ineluctably beneath their feet.’’ And this perspective is not limited to Democrats. For example, conservative columnist David Brooks associates political preference with cultural values that are modern and upscale (“sun-dried tomato concoctions”) or more traditional (“meatloaf platters”).

All these claims fit generally into the idea of religion as the opiate of the masses, the idea that social issues distract lower-income voters from their natural economic interests. But there is an opposite view, associated with political scientist Ronald Ingelhart, of post-materialism—the idea that, as people and societies get richer, their concerns shift from mundane bread-and-butter issues to cultural and spiritual concerns.

Which story better describes how Americans vote? Who are the values voters? Are they the poor (as implied by the “opiate of the masses’’ storyline) or the rich (as would be predicted by “post-materialism”)?

Case studies are interesting but do not resolve the question. Thomas Frank described how Kansas is full of socially conservative Republicans at all income levels. But then there is south Texas, whose low-income Latinos are socially conservative on many issues but vote for Democrats. Manhattan’s upper west side remains strongly Democratic despite its steadily increasing income level, but the suburbs of Dallas are full of high-income conservative Republicans.

There are many ways of looking at social class, attitudes, and voting. We’ll take a demographic approach and compare religious to secular voters.

Regular churchgoers are about 15% more likely than non-attendees to vote Republican. Perhaps surprisingly, this big religion gap did not show up until 1992, when Bill Clinton ran against George H. W. Bush, as we show in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Difference in probability of voting for the Republican candidate for president, comparing people who went to church at least once per week to nonattenders. Nothing much was happening until 1992, when all of a sudden George H. W. Bush received 20% more of the vote among religious than among the nonreligious.

Back in 1980, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and other Religious Right organizations played a prominent role in rallying support for Ronald Reagan and other Republican candidates. But the gap between religious and non-religious in voting was actually less for Ronald Reagan—in both 1980 and 1984—than for Gerald Ford in 1976. As Glaeser and Ward (2006) point out, the recent political divisions associated with religious belief coincide with the geographic pattern of richer states supporting the Democrats and poorer states going Republican.

So religion matters. For whom does it matter? Does it matter for the frustrated masses, seduced by emotional issues, or for the less economically-pressed elites? We can answer the question by measuring the religious/secular gap among voters at different income levels.


Figure 2. Support for George W. Bush, as a function of income, plotted separately for frequent church attenders, moderate attenders, and non-attenders. The difference between rich and poor is large for religious people but disappears among the non-religious.

The difference in Republican support, comparing regular religious attendees to non-attendees, is huge for rich voters but low among the poor; see Figure 2. This result—that church attendance predicts voting more for the rich than the poor—is consistent with the finding of Ansolabehere, Rodden, and Snyder (2007) that “low-income Americans are significantly less inclined to vote based on moral values than are high-income groups.” They find the impact of economic issues on voting is larger for regular churchgoers, residents of Republican-leaning states, and rural voters than for non-churchgoers, residents of Democratic states, and urban or suburban voters.

To connect to Figure 2: the line for regular churchgoers is steep, while the line for non-attenders is flat. Thus, income predicts how you vote—if you are religious. We had earlier found that income predicted voting more in poor states than in rich states (Gelman, Shor, Bafumi, and Park, 2007). This again fits the story of post-materialism, that economic concerns are more important in poorer areas, with social and religious issues mattering more among the rich.

The United States is far from unique in having religion as a political division. Religious and secular voters differ no more in America than in France, Germany, Sweden, and many other European countries, consistent with the post-materialist notion that people in richer countries have the luxury of voting on social issues. Figure 3 tells the story.


Figure 3. For each of thirty countries (ordered by per-capita GDP), estimated vote for conservative parties by income and religious attendance. In each plot, the solid, light, and dotted lines show the estimates for frequent religious attenders, occasional attenders, and nonattenders. With only a few exceptions, churchgoers and higher-income people are much more likely to vote for conservative parties. The curve show logistic regression fits, which can be misleading because the actual pattern is not always smooth; for example, in some countries, middle-income people vote more conservatively than the rich or the poor. The purpose of this figure is to quickly show overall patterns of richer or more religious people voting conservatively in different countries.

Huber and Stanig (2007) and Huber (2007) noted that, within each country, the differences between rich and poor voting tend to be larger among religious voters; however, the differences between rich and poor—both in their voting patterns and in the size of the religion gap—are larger here than in most other countries, a finding also consistent with post-materialism. Incomes are more unequal in the United States than in other rich countries today, and so it makes sense that rich and poor vote more differently. And, indeed, the Democratic and Republican parties are farther apart on issues of economic redistribution than are left and right parties in most European countries.

Religious Americans are more Republican than secular Americans, but the difference between them is mostly among the middle class and rich—the “post-materialist” values voters. The evidence does not support the idea that lower-income Americans are voting based on “God, guns, and gays.”


This article is based on material in some of the material in chapters 6 and 7 of the forthcoming book, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do, by Andrew Gelman, David Park, Boris Shor, Joseph Bafumi, and Jeronimo Cortina. Related material appears at

Our analyses used U.S. poll data from the National Election Study and the Annenberg Election Survey and international data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems. Self-reports of religious attendance can not necessarily be trusted (see Haraway, Marler, and Chaves, 1993, along with the follow-ups cited here. Nonetheless, we follow the usual practice in social science and work with the survey responses, assuming that people who say they attend church weekly are more religious than those who say they do not attend, whatever their actual practices.

Here are the other references cited, in order of appearance:

Webb, Jim (2006). Class struggle: American workers have a chance to be heard. Wall Street Journal, 15 November.

Brooks, David (2001). One nation, slightly divisible. Atlantic Monthly, December.

Inglehart, Ronald (1971). The silent revolution in post-industrial societies. American Political Science Review 65, 991-1017.

Frank, Thomas (2005). What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. New York: Macmillan.

Shapiro, Walter (2005). What’s the matter with Central Park West? Atlantic Monthly, March.

Glaeser, Edward, and Ward, Bryce (2006). Myths and realities of American political geography. Unpublished paper.

Ansolabehere, Stephen, Rodden, Jonathan, and Snyder, James (2006). Purple America. Journal of Economic Perspectives 20, 97-118.

Gelman, Andrew, Shor, Boris, Bafumi, Joseph, and Park, David (2007). Rich state, poor state, red state, blue state: what's the matter with Connecticut? Quarterly Journal of Political Science 2, 345-367.

Huber, John, and Stanig, Piero (2007). Why do the poor support right-wing parties? A cross-national analysis. Unpublished paper.

Huber, John (2007). Religious belief, religious participation, and social policy attitudes across countries. Unpublished paper.

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April 18, 2008

Coalition dynamics

I hate to publicize this sort of thing, but two different people forwarded it to me, so I thought I should comment. It's a paper by Peter Klimek, Rudolf Hanel, and Stefan Thurner:

The quality of governance of institutions, corporations and countries depends on the ability of efficient decision making within the respective boards or cabinets. Opinion formation processes within groups are size dependent. It is often argued - as now e.g. in the discussion of the future size of the European Commission - that decision making bodies of a size beyond 20 become strongly inefficient. We report empirical evidence that the performance of national governments declines with increasing membership and undergoes a qualitative change in behavior at a particular group size.

I admire the goal of doing empirical analysis, and the graphs are great, but I agree with the Arxiv blogger that their mathematical model of "a critical value of around 19-20 members" is "somewhat unconvincing" (except that I'd remove the "somewhat"). Do people really believe this sort of thing? It seems like numerology to me.

The problem with counting countries

Another problem, to my mind, is the reference to the number of countries in the European Union. I understand that these are sovereign states, but I don't think it makes sense to count them equally. Applying a model in which all voters are equal doesn't make sense to me.


I am unhappy with the authors' attempts to imply that their work is relevant to actual politics. That said, I like the rest of the paper--it's a fun model, and you have to start somewhere. After all, I wrote a paper on coalitions myself that had no empirical relevance. So I can hardly object to this sort of academic exercise.

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Who are the "values voters"?

Larry Bartels wrote an excellent op-ed on rich and poor voters, ringing many of the bells that we strike in our forthcoming book. Bartels writes:

Do small-town, working-class voters cast ballots on the basis of social issues? Yes, but less than other voters do. Among these voters, those who are anti-abortion were only 6 percentage points more likely than those who favor abortion rights to vote for President Bush in 2004. The corresponding difference for the rest of the electorate was 27 points, and for cosmopolitan voters it was a remarkable 58 points. Similarly, the votes cast by the cosmopolitan crowd in 2004 were much more likely to reflect voters’ positions on gun control and gay marriage.

Small-town, working-class voters were also less likely to connect religion and politics. Support for President Bush was only 5 percentage points higher among the 39 percent of small-town voters who said they attended religious services every week or almost every week than among those who seldom or never attended religious services. The corresponding difference among cosmopolitan voters (34 percent of whom said they attended religious services regularly) was 29 percentage points.

It is true that American voters attach significantly more weight to social issues than they did 20 years ago. It is also true that church attendance has become a stronger predictor of voting behavior. But both of those changes are concentrated primarily among people who are affluent and well educated, not among the working class.

Well put, and nicely backed up by statistical evidence.

One little thing . . .

I don't, however, follow what Larry is saying in the conclusion of his op-ed:

John Kerry received a slender plurality of [rural, working-class] votes in 2004, while John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, in the close elections of 1960 and 1968, lost them narrowly.

Mr. Obama should do as well or better among these voters if he is the Democratic candidate in November. If he doesn’t, it won’t be because he has offended the tender sensitivities of small-town Americans. It will be because he has embraced a misleading stereotype of who they are and what they care about.

First, I don't see why Larry says that Obama "should do as well or better" among rural, working-class voters than Kerry. Unless he's just referring to the general expectation that Obama is predicted to do better than Kerry overall--Doug Hibbs predicts a 53-54% Democratic vote share in 2008 [typo fixed]. Second, I don't see why Larry says that, if Obama doesn't outperform Kerry among those voters, that "it will be because he has embraced a misleading stereotype..." My guess is, if Obama doesn't do well in this group, it'll be because the economy is going better than expected.

In any case, I don't see how Larry's last paragraph follows from everything that came before. Otherwise, though, I like the article a lot. Maybe there's just pressure in an op-ed to come to a ringing conclusion?

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April 17, 2008

The rich-poor voting gap in rural areas

For some reason David posted this on his other blog rather than here . . .


David writes,

We can see a steady decline of Republican support among rural poor voters starting in 1972. Even with a big jump in 2000, support for the Republican presidential candidate was less than 50 percent. So, Obama, it looks like poor rural Americans have no problem voting for Democrats.

I'm not quite sure why 2004 isn't included here too, but in any case, the sample size of rural voters is pretty small in each year, so you don't want to over-interpret the jumps from year to year.

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April 15, 2008

Redundancy and efficiency

Walking through Penn Station in New York, I remembered how much I love its open structure. By "open," I don't mean bright and airy. I mean "open" in a topological sense. The station has three below-ground levels--the uppermost has ticket counters (and, what is more relevant nowadays, ticket machines), some crappy stores and restaurants, and a crappy waiting area. The middle level has Long Island Rail Road ticket counters, some more crappy stores and restaurants, and entrances to the 7th and 8th Avenue subway lines. The lower level has train tracks and platforms. There are stairs, escalators, and elevators going everywhere. As a result, it's easy to get around, there are lots of shortcuts, and the train loads fast--some people come down the escalators and elevators from the top level, others take the stairs from the middle level.

The powers-that-be keep threatening to spend a couple billion dollars upgrading the station. I hope that never happens, because I know that it will all become much more organized and airportlike, with "gates," long lines, and only one way to get from point A to point B. Something horrible like that new Chicago public library (not so new now, I guess--it was built around 1990) that was so pretty and so nonfunctional.

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April 11, 2008

The decline of the white working class and the rise of a mass upper middle class

Richard Florida links to this article by Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz:

Dramatic shifts have taken place in the American class structure since the World War II era. Consider education levels. Incredible as it may seem today, in 1940 three-quarters of adults 25 and over were high school dropouts (or never made it as far as high school), and just 5 percent had a four-year college degree or higher. . . . by 2007, it was down to only 14 percent. . . . In 1940, only about 32 percent of employed US workers held white collar jobs (professional, managerial, clerical, sales). By 2006, that proportion had almost doubled to 60 percent . . . we [Teixeira and Abramowitz] discuss these shifts in the class structure and analyze their political implications, primarily by focusing on the decline of the white working class.

Yu-Sung made some graphs (to appear in our book) that extend earlier estimates of Brooks and Manza show some of the trends in voting over the past fifty years:


Professionals (doctors, lawyers, and so forth) and routine white collar workers (clerks, etc.) used to support the Republicans more than the national average, but over the past half-century they have gradually moved through the center and now strongly support the Democrats. Business owners have moved in the opposite direction, from close to the national average to being staunch Republicans; and skilled and unskilled workers have moved from strong Democratic support to near the middle.

These shifts are consistent with the oft-noted cultural differences between Red and Blue America. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, and office workers seem today like prototypical liberal Democrats, while businessmen and hardhats seem like good representatives of the Republican party. The dividing points were different 50 years ago. The Republicans still have the support of most of the high-income voters, but these are conservatives of a different sort. As E. J. Dionne noted in analyzing poll data from 2004, the Democrats' strength among well-educated voters is strongest among those with household incomes under $75,000---"the incomes of teachers, social workers, nurses, and skilled technicians, not of Hollywood stars, bestselling authors, or television producers, let alone corporate executives."

We tried to take our analysis further by regressing on income within occupation groups, but we didn't find anything exciting; there wasn't much evidence of different rich/poor voting gaps in different occupation categories. The Teixeira and Abramowitz article adds something to this picture because they talk about how the relative sizes of these different groups are changing.

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April 7, 2008

Faces and elections: an update

Matthew Atkinson, Ryan Enos, and Seth Hill sent along this paper:

Recent research finds that inferences from candidate faces predict aggregate vote margins. Many have concluded this to mean that voters choose the candidate with the better face. We implement a survey with participant evaluations of over 167,000 candidate face pairings. Through regression analysis using individual- and district-level vote data we find that the face-vote correlation is explained by a relationship between candidate faces, incumbency, and district partisanship. We argue that the face-vote correlation is not just the product of simple voter reactions to faces, but also of party and candidate behavior that affects which candidates compete in which contests.

This is great stuff. They're talking about a 2005 article by Alexander Todorov, Anesu Mandisodza, Amir Goren, and Crystal Hall which found that people thought the faces of winning congressional candidates looked more "competent" than faces of losing candidates. I wrote about this about a year ago and expressed skepticism about the interpretation of those findings . . .

It seemed likely that the more competent-looking candidates were more likely to be the ones that were more credible candidates for political reasons that were not directly related to looks (incumbency, ability to raise money, etc). In short, I suspected that, even if the voters had no idea what the candidates looked like, the Todorov et al. findings could still occur. Well, Atkinson et al. didn't just speculate, they went and did a bunch of analyses. They find,

Because many congressional contests in the United States are not competitive and because candidates with high competence are more likely to enter the contests in which they have a reasonable chance of success, we find high competence candidates defeating their usually low competence challengers in the majority of contests. This dynamic produces a high correlation between facial competence and election outcomes. That candidate faces are not distributed randomly across contests and that it is likely that parties and candidates are making decisions which affect the allocation of candidates to races suggests avenues for future research. . . . Some of the media attention surrounding the research by Todorov et al. (2005) was probably generated by the sense that the finding demonstrates that the voting public is uninformed. We have demonstrated that appearance plays a much smaller role in election outcomes than one might infer from a casual reading of Todorov et al. (2005) or its representation in the media.

I like the little things about the paper too, such as the graphical displays of inferences. (I don't like the tables so much--I write entire empirical research articles with no tables at all--but I guess that adding graphs is the first, key, step. Removing the tables can come later.) And they make a good choice by modeling incumbent vote share rather than simply modeling the binary win/lose outcome, which would discard information. I also like that the authors explicitly discuss the media reports of the Todorov et al. research.

Finally, I feel a little awkward saying this, but I think they should refer to my blog entry from last year, since it's the first publication that I know of that questioned the "faces decide elections" reasoning. Even though Atkinson, Enos, and Hill probably came up with their ideas on their own and only encountered my blog entry later (as noted above, they went far beyond my speculations and did actual research), it would still be appropriate to cite it as relevant early work.

More thoughts on the least-important part of what I wrote above

P.S. Henry Farrell linked to the above and pointed out, correctly in my opinion, that a typical blog entry such as mine (a link with some quick discussion and not much follow-through) falls somewhere between an offhand comment (which can be cited in acknowledgments) and a published article. Atkinson, Enos, and Hill were aware of my blog entry (that's why they sent me their article) but I don't really know how my thoughts fit into their work.

Let me emphasize that I liked the Atkinson, Enos, and Hill paper and very much appreciate that they sent it to me. If they want to cite my blog entry, that's fine, and if they don't, I bear them no ill-will. I agree with some of the commenters to Henry's blog post, who said that, if Atkinson et al.'s work preceded my blog entry, then it's a pretty minor point that somebody else (in this case, me) noted something similar. If Atkinson et al. came up with the idea independently and did all the work, then they clearly deserve all the credit.

I certainly wouldn't want for a blog entry to have any kind of intimidating effect, where I'm implying that so-and-so should definitely cite me. It's really up to the authors of the article to decide how a brief blog entry fits into the existing literature. To me it seemed relevant as the first "published" criticism of the Todorov et al. paper, but I'm completely ignorant of the literature so I'd trust Atkinson et al. much more than me on this point.

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April 5, 2008

Comments on comments on "Voting as a rational decision"

After reading our article, "Voting as a rational decision," Mark Thoma asked,

If helping other people makes me happy, why would caring about other people be contrary to my own self-interest? This is essentially a question about the meaning of the term selfish. I [Mark] assume selfishness means maximizing my utility, which may or may not include the happiness of other people as an argument.

My reply:

The challenge in all such arguments is to avoid circularity. If selfishness means maximizing utility, and we always maximize utility (by definition, otherwise it isn't our utility, right?), then we're always selfish. But then that's like, if everything in the world is the color red, would we have a word for "red" at all? I'm using selfish in the more usual sense of giving instrumental benefits. For example, if I cut in front of someone in line, I'm being selfish. If I don't do it (because I get pleasure from being a nice guy and pain from being a jerk), then that's other-directed. I'm sacrificing something (my own time) in order to help others. Just because something is enjoyable it doesn't have to be selfish, I think.

To put it another way, if "selfish" means utility-maximization, which by definition is always being done (possibly to the extent of being second-order rational by rationally deciding not to spend the time to exactly optimize our utility function), then everything is selfish. Then let's define a new term, "selfish2," to represent behavior that benefits ourselves instrumentally without concern for the happiness of others. Then our point is that rationality is not the same as selfish2.

Also, some of his commenters questioned whether a single vote could be decisive, what with recounts etc. The answer is, yes, it can, because there is ultimately some threshold (even if unobservable) as to whether the recount occurs. And even if this threshold is itself probabilistic, the probabilities can be added. We demonstrate this mathematically in the Appendix to the 2004 Gelman, Katz, and Bafumi article in the British Journal of Political Science; see page 674 here.

P.S. Mark has further remarks here. Those are his comments on my comments on his comments on my article which, when you come down to it, was basically a comment on some of the political science literature. That should be enough, I think.

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That chasm

Charlie Williams asks if I have any comment on this. I'll refer you to Brendan Nyhan's discussion here. Brendan seems to have done everything that I was thinking of doing here.

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April 4, 2008

Networks of political donations

Henry Farrell writes:

Via Cosma Shalizi, this is a nice tool for mapping the relationship between donations from energy companies and politicians in Presidential, House and Senatorial elections. . . . Why is it that there appears to be so little literature out there on this kind of network? Is it the difficulty of establishing causal relationships (although surely this would invalidate whole swathes of US political science if this standard were applied rigorously)? Is it difficulties in gathering the relevant data (Cosma notes that gathering it and cleaning it up is surprisingly hard)? The perceived publication practices of major US journals? I'm genuinely puzzled as to the reason why there's this gap in the literature. Both comparativists (Jerry Easter) and international relations scholars (Charli Carpenter) have published well regarded articles in the major journals of their field on the importance of networks in domestic and international settings. So why not Americanist political scientists?

In trying to answer this question, I think it's important to separate two aspects of the above research: network analysis as a general statistical/social-science research method as applied to Americna politics, and the analysis of political contributions in particular.

In social science as a whole, networks have become very trendy--and I pretty much think that's a good trend. There are some roadblocks in applying these ideas to the study of public opinion and voting, however, since we're talking about a network of 250 million adults where the average person knows only 750 other Americans. You can get this sort of data from surveys but it's hard to know what to make of it. Tian Zheng, Tom DiPrete, Julien Teitler, and I have been involved in a research project estimating the segregation of Democrats and Republicans in social networks, and we collected data specially for our study. Still, the analysis is difficult, just at the technical level of building a statistical model for what we've got. It's no surprise that a lot more work has been done on networks in Congress. This isn't the part of American politics that I study but it counts, right? But, getting back to public opinion and voting: networks are clearly important but they're hard to study given the inherent sparseness of the data.

Moving to research on political contribution networks, I wonder if one reason you don't hear much about it is that this sort of work is politically marginalized, as it's associated with left-wing critiques of the political system, rather than more traditional representations of American politics as being generally representative of public opinion. For example, I don't know that Thomas Ferguson has formally used network analysis, but he and his collaborators have done lots of work tracking down campaign contributions (and I'm not talking about Vin Scully here). I agree with Henry that political donations would be a natural place for network analysis, since many of the major contributors have clear enough links that sparseness is less of an issue.

Posted by Andrew at 9:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Polls and elections

Richard Morey points us to this article. We posted Yair's take on the polling problems here.

But what really amused, or upset, me, was what I encountered when following the link on that page which read, "Smarter poll could call the closest races." That headline set off some warning bells--the closest races are the ones that can't be forecasted! I followed the link to an article that I couldn't read without a subscription, so I found it through our library and tracked down the original research article, "A new approach to estimating the probability of winning the presidency," by Edward Kaplan and Arnold Barnett, professors of management at Yale and MIT. The article appeared in 2003 in the journal Operations Research and is pretty misinformed. It's bad in so many ways, and the also, annoyingly, call their method Bayesian. Huge amounts of detail on essentially trivial algebra and a complete misunderstanding of elections. The sad thing is, there are excellent quantitative political scientists at both Yale and MIT--if these guys had just walked over a few buildings and asked for help, they could've been spared this embarrassment. Seeing this stuff just makes me want to barf: it's just not that hard to do something reasonable, and I hate the way they put in all this algebra for what are straightforward simulations of a probability distribution. (But ya gotta give the publicity office of Yale or MIT credit for getting this mentioned in the popular press.)

I hope the paper that Kari and I are writing will clear things up.

P.S. I have nothing against these guys personally. It's the kind of thing that can happen when you come into a field from the outside and don't know who are the right people to talk to. I'm sure if I tried to write a paper about business management, it would be equally silly.

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April 3, 2008

A human rights statistician


Juli pointed me to this article about statistician Patrick Ball:

Since 1988, Ball has been "hacking code" – writing software – to unlock secrets from numbers. He taught himself computer programming so he could get a job that would cover expenses not included in his undergraduate scholarship to Columbia University. . . . He took a leave of absence and went to El Salvador with the Peace Brigades . . . Ball wrote software that allowed the commission to aggregate and analyze the human rights records of officers in the El Salvadoran Army. The results forced a quarter of the military leadership to retire. . . . Kosovo attracted international concern when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees fled to Albania. Amid what seemed little more than chaos, Ball saw dozens of data sources that, could point to the cause of the crisis: "Everything is data to us. A pile of scrungy paper from the border guards – 690 pages – that's data." He combined those scrungy papers, one for nearly every family that crossed the border, with crossing records kept by several international organizations; later, he brought in data from 11 sources on civilian deaths in the province. He analyzed the two separately, using one method for patterns of migration and another for mortality. . . .

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March 31, 2008

Disaster aid as vote buying?

Jowei Chen sent along this paper:

In the aftermath of the summer 2004 Florida hurricane season, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) distributed $1.2 billion in disaster aid to Florida residents. This research presents two empirical findings that collectively suggest the Bush administration engaged in vote buying behavior. First, by tracking the geographic location of each aid recipient, the data reveal that FEMA treated applicants from Republican neighborhoods much more favorably than those from Democratic or moderate neighborhoods, even conditioning on hurricane severity, home value, and demographic factors. Second, I compare precinct-level vote counts from the post-hurricane (November 2004) and pre-hurricane (November 2002) elections to measure the effect of FEMA aid on Bush's vote share. Using a two-stage least squares estimator, this analysis reveals that core Republican voters are easily swayed by FEMA aid - $16,800 buys one additional vote for Bush - while Democrats and moderates are not. Collectively, these results suggest the Bush administration maximized its 2004 vote share by concentrating FEMA disaster aid among core Republicans.

This is interesting. In many aspects of politics, it seems clear that politicians reward their supporters, but political scientists sometimes really resist this idea, arguing on logical grounds that candidates should be focusing their efforts on the median voter. It's interesting to see some clear evidence where supporters are getting rewarded--and it's also good to see someone getting down and dirty with the data, rather than just reanalyzing the same old datasets over and over (which is what I usually do...). Sure, it's ultimately an n=1 study, but I imagine it will add something useful to the literature on government spending

Also, my little thoughts:

1. Chen has a good description on page 2 of why the term "vote buying" might be appropriate here, but I don't think the word "bribery" is appropriate. Giving someone federal aid to motivate them to vote for you could be called "vote buying" but I don't see how it's a "bribe" in the usual sense of the word.

2. In the abstract, Chen writes, "core Republican voters are easily swayed by FEMA aid –
$16,800 buys one additional vote for Bush." Is that really "easily swayed"? $17,000 is a lot of money, no? To sway a million votes would take $17 billion, which can't quite be buried in the federal budget. I've heard it said that in typical election campaigns, it costs something like $40 to change a vote.

3. The usual comments about rounding, tabular displays, etc. In the abstract, $16,800 should be $17,000 (or even $20,000). The sort of precision implied by "$16,800" just isn't there, and can really never be there, given that conditions are always changing. And then on page 4 it says "$15,989"! I mean, really! Why not give the cents, too?

The tables should be graphs, and also the predictors should be rescaled so you're not in the awkward position of having to interpret a coefficient of 0.054 for wind speed in miles per hour. (One more mile per hour corresponds to a change of 0.054 . . . hmmm, what's that again?) Table 2 has meaningless numbers like 107.16 and house values to the nearest dollar . . . (Yeah, yeah, I've been an offender too; see Table 1 here. But that won't stop me from trying to get others to clean up their acts.) Other tables have the no-no of including interactions without first centering the predictors (see Chapter 3 for discussion of that point). Finally, Figure 1 has some nice features, but that business of adding 1 so you can take the log . . . that's ugly, man. I mean, why add $1, why not $100 or $1000 or whatever (maybe that's what was actually done). Also better to use log10 or, better still, to display dollar amounts.

4. Some of the labeling is confusing. Models (1), (2), (3), (4) on page 24 don't seem to be the same as models (1), (2), (3), (4) on page 27. This is a problem for readers like me who like to jump to the results right away when reading a paper.

5. I'm a little worried by the analysis associated with Figure 1. You shouldn't be taking 2004 vote minus 2002 vote; you should be regressing 2004 on 2002 [typo fixed] and looking at the residuals. Otherwise you can get the usual regression-to-the-mean artifacts. It's also sort of weird that, in the regressions, some variables are logged (household income) but others aren't (for example, house value). Probably no big deal but it looks funny somehow.

6. I noticed that a citation to a paper by someone named Sam Houston. Well, I suppose that sort of thing has to happen sometime.

7. On the bottom of page 1 there's a copright notice. I don't recall seeing that sort of thing before on a working paper. Is this a new trend?

P.S. John Sides has some comments here.

Posted by Andrew at 9:26 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 25, 2008

Incredible Illinois, or fun with percentages that can be larger than 100

Tyler Cowen links to a calculation by Tom Elia that "of Sen. Obama's 711,000 popular-vote lead, 650,000 -- or more than 90% of the total margin -- comes from Sen. Obama's home state of Illinois, with 429,000 of that lead coming from his home base of Cook County." This is interesting, but it's more a comment on how close the (meaningless) total popular vote count is, than a reflection of something funny going on in Cook County.

Put it another way. Suppose Obama's total margin was only 111,000 votes instead of 711,000. Then his 650,000 vote margin in Illinois would represent a whoppin 580% of the total margin, and Cook County would represent 390% of the total margin! But wait, how can a part be 390% of the whole??

What I'm sayin is, the "90%" and "60%" figures are misleading because, when written as "a percent of the total margin," it's natural to quickly envision them as percentages that are bounded by 100%. There is a total margin of victory that the individual state margins sum to, but some margins are positive and some are negative. If the total happens to be near zero, then the individual pieces can appear to be large fractions of the total, even possibly over 100%.

I'm not saying that Tom Elia made any mistakes, just that, in general, ratios can be tricky when the denominator is the sum of positive and negative parts. In this particular case, the margins were large but not quite over 100%, which somehow gives the comparison more punch than it deserves, I think.

P.S. Elia's comment that "Sen. Obama's 429,000-vote margin in Cook County alone is larger than the winning margin of either candidate in any state" is more directly interpretable because it's a difference, not a ratio. Obama won Illinois by a 32-percentage-point landslide. (By comparison, Clinton won New York with a 17-point margin and California [typo fixed] with a 9-point margin.)

Posted by Andrew at 2:59 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Peeking behind the curtain, or, What's (not) the matter with Portugal?

This is pretty embarrassing, but I think it's better to tell all, if for no other reason than to make others aware of the challenges of working with data . . .

OK, so we're reanalyzing some data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, basically replicating some findings of Huber and Stanig but including additional countries and with some slightly different coding of political parties.

We have two key graphs.

First, for each country, we compute the difference between rich and poor in voting for the conservative party or parties. This graph (not shown here) reveals that the rich-poor gap in the United States is larger than most of the other (mostly European) countries in the sample.

For our second graph, we fit a model predicting conservative vote given income and religious attendance. For each country, the three lines show estimated conservative vote (compared to the national average) as a function of individual income, among people who attend religious services frequently (solid line), occasionally (light line), and never (dashed line).


The countries are ordered by increasing per-capita GDP. On the bottom line is the United States, with its familiar pattern of religious attendance mattering more for the rich than the poor. As you can see, religious people vote for conservative parties in many countries--Americans are far from unique in that way.


But whassup with Portugal? The only country where the religious vote in a less conservative way than the secular--the lines go in the wrong order! We asked some experts what was going on, and we were told that the center-left Socialist Party and the center-right Social Democratic Party seem to be resistant to the direction or degree of religiosity, and that the party competition in Portugal is basically non-ideological.

But, then, why the big difference between religious and secular in our data? Well, we were also told that the data for Portugal are probably crappy. So we figured we'd just remove Portugal from our graph and add a note why we excluded it, based on concerns about data and some comments about the party structure there. Put then we looked at the data again . . .

It turned out the problem was in the name of one party (the Popular Party)--it had an extra comma in its name and when we read in the data, we mistakenly counted it as a different party. Whoops! (Or, as Mezzanine-era Nicholson Baker would say, Whoop!)

Here's the corrected figure:


Yeah, yeah, I know, we better check all the party names carefully now.

P.S. I guess we could make the case that we were being Bayesian, in checking the results that contradicted our prior distribution. In this case, the prior wasn't really that religion always is associated with conservative voting, but rather that the countries followed some smooth distribution. Actually, when I first noticed the problem with Portugal, I assumed the data were ok and that there was some Portugal-specific story, perhaps a left-wing church-based party. (Yes, I'm sure that comment reveals my ignorance of Portugal, but that's the point here.) I was looking for the magic x-variable that explained the unexplained variation. In this case, the x-factor was a coding error...

P.P.S. More here.

Posted by Andrew at 12:15 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 24, 2008

New faces in political methodology

Burt Monroe alerts me to this conference at Penn State on May 3. That bald guy looks pretty scary! New faces, indeed. Also, I'll have to find out from Eduardo what he's doing on “The Political Consequences of Malapportionment." It sounds like it might be related to our project on representation and spending in subnational units. (The short story: low-population areas are overrepresented in legislatures around the world--the U.S. Senate is not the only serious offender--and these areas also get more than their share of government spending.) The conference seems like a great idea.

Posted by Andrew at 8:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Social class and views of corporations

I was looking through the Pew surveys and they are just full of fascinating things. I actually hate to tell youall about this because I think I could just go through this report and pull out one table per day for months and impress you with my political knowledge . . .

Anyway, here's an interesting bit, having to do with how people view businesses in America: Nearly two-thirds of respondents say corporate profits are too high, but, "more than seven in ten agree that 'the strength of this country today is mostly based on the success of American business' – an opinion that has changed very little over the past 20 years."

Everybody loves Citibank

People like business in general (except for those pesky corporate profits) but they love individual businesses, with 95% having a favorable view of Johnson and Johnson (among those willing to give a rating), 94% liking Google, 91% liking Microsoft, . . . I was surprised to find that 70% of the people were willing to rate Citibank, and of those people, 78% had a positive view. I mean, I don't have a view of Citibank one way or another, but it would seem to me to be the kind of company that people wouldn't like.

Professionals vs. working class

Now here's where it gets really interesting. The Pew report broke things down by party identification (Democrat or Republican) and by "those who describe their household as professional or business class; those who call themselves working class; and those who say their family or household is struggling."

Republicans tend to like corporations, with little difference between the views of professional-class and working-class Republicans. For Democrats, though, there's a big gap, with professionals having a generally more negative view, compared to the working class:


A puzzling pattern

There's a pretty consistent pattern across the entire table which I don't fully understand, that goes as follows:

- For some corporations (Halliburton, Walmart, Exxon, McDonald's, Pfizer, Coke), the working-class Democrats are much less supportive than the working-class Republicans. For these corporations, there is almost no difference between professional and working-class Republicans. The only exception is Coke, which was viewed much less favorably by professional-class than working-class Republicans.

- For the others (Citibank, GM, Coors, American Express, Target, Starbucks), working-class Democrats had views that were similar to or more favorable than their Republican counterparts. And for these, there was a consistent pattern of much stronger favorability by professional than working-class Republicans.

I can come up with a story in each individual case but I don't really have a good way of thinking about all these together. (Also, for some reason, the report doesn't give the responses for those who say their families are "struggling." Perhaps the sample sizes were too small.)

One more bit

Respondents were asked how concerned they were about business corporations and government "collecting too much personal information about people like them." In general, Democrats and Independents were more concerned about both.

80% of Democrats and Independents were concerned about business collecting personal information and 65% were concerned about government. Among Republicans, 60% were concerned about business collecting the information and only 40% concerned about government. The survey is from 2007; perhaps Republicans' views about government snooping will change if there is a Democratic administration.

Also, people with higher income and higher education have "less concern about government data collection, while lower income is associated with higher concern. Income and education did not affect opinions about businesses collecting data." The bit about higher status people trusting the government more makes sense and is consistent with other survey results I've seen, but I'm surprised that there isn't a similar pattern regarding concern about businesses. Perhaps there are different patterns among the parties. The data are downloadable from Pew's website so you can go crunch the numbers yourself it you'd like.

Posted by Andrew at 5:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MPs for Sale?

Sarah Nequam sends along a link to this paper by Andrew Eggers and Jens Hainmueller:

While the role of money in policymaking is a central question in political economy research, surprisingly little attention has been given to the rents politicians actually derive from politics. We use both matching and a regression discontinuity design to analyze an original dataset on the estates of recently deceased British politicians. We find that serving in Parliament roughly doubled the wealth at death of Conservative MPs but had no discernible effect on the wealth of Labour MPs. We argue that Conservative MPs profited from office in a lax regulatory environment by using their political positions to obtain outside work as directors, consultants, and lobbyists, both while in office and after retirement. Our results are consistent with anecdotal evidence on MPs' outside financial dealings but suggest that the magnitude of Conservatives' financial gains from office was larger than has been appreciated.

I don't know enough to know what else has been done in this area but it looks interesting. I think that in political science we're usually more interested in politicians' funders than their personal finances--the usual view, which I assume is true, is that the amount of money a politician might personally derive from office is minor compared to the flow of government funds whose dispersal he controls. (Here I'm talking about typical elected politicians in developed countries, not politician-businessmen like Berlusconi or people like Mobuto or King Leopold who pretty much own entire countries.) So, my first inclination is to think of findings like those of Eggers and Hainmueller as interesting but not crucial to political understanding. But I could be wrong on this, and it certainly seems worth looking into. And the authors seem to have done an impressive amount of work here.

Some minor comments:

- I hate the term "rents" when it's not actually applied to rent. It just seems like a jargony thing to me, and I'd rather just say directly what's being studied.

- Doesn't their word processor have that "£" symbol? That seems cleaner than "GBP."

- Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 should be graphs. (Sorry, I had to say that. But I mean it.)

- Getting more specific on the tables: In table 8, they should rescale the predictors so the coefficients are directly interpretable (then you won't have numbers like "2e-4" to try to figure out). You could use coefplot() to display it and the other tables of regression coefficients. In table 7, are the mean values of age, years as MP, years as former MP all really integers to 2 decimal places? I guess it could happen, but maybe there was some rounding? I wouldn't mind except for those pesky ".00"'s.

- Figures 5 and 6 are nice. They tell the story right away. Only a couple things need to be done to make these better. First, I'd use smaller symbols (dots, rather than squares and circles) and remove the legend, instead labeling the x-axis appropriately so it's clear that everything below 0 is losing and everything above 0 is winning. (You don't need separate symbols--position tells all here--and if you use a dark color for your points, then little dots will be visible.) Second, I'd do it all in black and white. I mean, color is fine, keep it if you want, but it's not necessary. Third, do log-base-10 rather than log. log10 is more directly interpretable. Better still, just label the y-axis with actual money values (10 thousand, 100 thousand, etc); i.e., use a log scale but put unlogged round numbers on the axes). Finally, make the graph s a little more squat and then you can stack Figures 5 and 6 together as one figure that tells your whole story. (You can just put the word "Conservative" or "Labour" inside each graph on the upper left.)

Posted by Andrew at 12:40 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 21, 2008

Poll and survey faqs

From the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

Posted by Andrew at 3:50 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 14, 2008

The increasing importance of moral issues in American politics

From my paper with Delia:


Party identification and self-defined liberalism/conservatism are increasingly correlated with positions on specific issues. The increases in correlations have been highest for moral issues. Issue positions have also become increasingly correlated with each other--but the increases have been smaller than the increased correlations with party ID and liberal/conservative ideology. Correlations between pairs of issues have increased by about 2% per decade, on average, while correlations of issues with party or ideology have increased by about 5% per decade (again, on average). The data come from the National Election Study.

Our story: voters are sorting themselves into parties and ideologies based on their issue attitudes; having done this sorting, they are aligning themselves slightly with their new allies.

Posted by Andrew at 12:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 13, 2008

Doug Hibbs sez: It's a good year for the Democrats

Doug Hibbs writes:

Presidential election outcomes are well explained by just two objectively measured fundamental determinants: (1) weighted-average growth of per capita real personal disposable income over the term, and (2) cumulative US military fatalities owing to unprovoked, hostile deployments of American armed forces in foreign conflicts not sanctioned by a formal Congressional declaration of war. At the end of 2007 weighted-average growth of real incomes during Bush’s second term stood at 1.1 percent per annum. If the same performance were sustained for the rest of the term it might barely suffice to keep the Republicans in the White House, other things being equal. However the economy slid into recession at the beginning of the year and per capita real incomes will most likely decline throughout 2008. Moreover, by Election Day cumulative US military fatalities in Iraq will approach 4,500 and this will depress the incumbent vote by more than three-quarters of a percentage point. Given those fundamental conditions the Bread and Peace model predicts a Republican two-party vote share of 46-47% and therefore a comfortable victory for the Democrats in the 2008 presidential election.

Here are the basic data from Hibbs's bread-and-peace model:


or this:


See Hibbs's latest paper for details on his 2008 forecast.

Posted by Andrew at 1:54 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Who talks like a "townie"?

I asked,

I'm writing a book about rich and poor voters in red and blue states, and one thing we've found is that the political differences between so-called red and blue states are much larger among the rich than the poor (or, more precisely, comparing high and low income, since we don't really have measures of "rich" and "poor" in our surveys). Anyway, the point is that the famed Red America / Blue America distinction is among the rich, not the poor.

But, in other ways, it's poorer people who are more localized: lower-income people generally travel less, are more likely to have local accents, and are less likely to know people in other parts of the country.

Well, that's what I think, but I don't really know. Do you happen to know if there have been studies supporting my claim that lower income people are more likely to have local accents?

Mark Liberman replied:

I've often read that "lower income people are more likely to have local accents", as you put it.

For example, Jenny Cheshire and Peter Trudgill, "Dialect and education in the United Kingdom", in Jenny Cheshire, ed., _Dialect and Education_ (1989), starts like this:

In Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as in many other countries, the relationship between social and regional language varieties is such that the greatest degree of regional differentiation is found among lower working-class speakers and the smallest degree at the other end of the social scale, among speakers from the upper middle class.

However, I don't know any research that evaluates this generalization in quantitative terms. (That doesn't mean there isn't any.) And the situation in the United States is probably somewhat different in this respect from the situation in Great Britain, if only because African-American speakers are (I think) less geographically variable in accent than other groups, while also being disproportionately distributed towards the lower end of the S.E.S. scale.

With respect to the more general social-networking questions -- "lower-income people generally travel less, ... and are less likely to know people in other parts of the country" -- again, it seems to me that the historical situation in the U.S. is somewhat different from the British experience. When the draft was in effect, the army to some extent played the role among the poor that elite education playedamong the rich. And there have been large population movements in relatively recent times -- the general migration of farm labor to the cities, and specifically the movement of rural southern blacks; the Okie migration to California, Chicago etc.; the post-WWII migration from the rust belt to the sun belt -- that have involved poorer people at least as much as richer people.

I suspect that it remains true in the U.S. that on average, lower-income people are more likely to have local accents. They are certainly -- pretty much by definition -- more likely to have speech patterns that are perceived as in some way non-standard. But this is not always the same thing. Thus "g-dropping" is other things equal more common for lower-SES speakers -- however, this is true more or less all over the English-speaking world.


P.S. I wanted to call this "Will the real townies please stand up, stand up?" but I was afraid that Mark L. would accuse me of snowcloning.

Posted by Andrew at 12:48 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 12, 2008

The value of political connections in Nazi Germany

Thomas Ferguson and Hans-Joachim Voth write:

From Indonesia and Malaysia to Italy, politically connected firms are more valuable than their less fortunate competitors. Yet a key event in the history of the twentieth century has not been examined in terms of the value of political connections—the Nazi rise to power. We systematically assess the value of prior ties with the new regime in 1933. To do so, we [Ferguson and Voth] combine two new data series: A new series of monthly stock prices, collected from official publications of the Berlin stock exchange, and a second series that uses hitherto unused contemporary data sources, in combination with previous scholarship, to pin down ties between big business and the Nazis. . . .

Drawing on previously unused contemporary sources about management and supervisory board composition and stock returns, we find that one out of seven firms, and a large proportion of the biggest companies, had substantive links with the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Firms supporting the Nazi movement experienced unusually high returns, outperforming unconnected ones by 5% to 8% between January and March 1933. . . .

By international standards, the value of connections with the Nazi party was unusually high. Comparison with the results of Faccio (2006) suggests that in her sample of 47 countries from around the globe, only Third World countries with poor governance showed similarly high returns. Also, associations with the NSDAP were formed voluntarily, not through family links; also, they were not in place decades before their political value became apparent, as in many Third World countries. One question for future research is how many of these connections turned out to be valuable in the end and through which channels the party rewarded its supporters. Though some businessmen felt that the donations were large, their value was small compared to the rise in stock market value of connected firms. Interestingly, even recently formed affiliations such as those resulting from the fundraising party in Berlin on February 20, 1933, appear to have boosted firms’ fortunes on the stock market. Returns were not arbitraged away by many other firms entering the fray. This suggests that Hitler’s rise to power may have come as a genuine surprise to many, that an ideological distaste for his party kept numerous businessmen from contributing, or that NSDAP representatives deliberately focused their attention on a subgroup of sympathetic business contacts.

Interesting stuff. Certainly not what you usually see in the history books.

P.S. This reminds me of the question of the very high rate of return that seems to be available from political contributions in the U.S. I mean, I know that not every contribution brings a benefit, and many contributions are defensive, designed to stop legislation that would hurt a company. Nonetheless, the total amount of money spent on campaigns is so much less than the amount of the economy that is affected by government policy, that it still seems to me (without doing any calculations) that the returns to contributions must be something like 1000%. I don't know how much money the big agribusinesses give to Congressmembers, but it must be a small fraction of what they get back in government subsidies. (And ditto for universities: I don't know what Columbia spends on lobbyists, but I'm sure they get back much much more in student loans, government grants, etc.)

I saw Steve Ansolabehere give a talk where he claimed that contributors don't really get anything for their money, but I just found it hard to believe. As my friend Phil said when he heard that Kentucky legislators were getting busted for taking $400 bribes, "Hell, for that amount of money I could afford a legislator of my own!"

Posted by Andrew at 8:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 10, 2008

Square footage as a predictor of vote and party affiliation?


After reading Steve Sailer's discussion of unmarried Democrats living in crowded cities and Republicans with large families, we decide that the ultimate predictor of political leanings would be . . . square footage of your residence. It has all the right properties:

- Within any state, people in bigger houses vote more Republican. Check.

- Lower cost-of-living states, where houses are bigger (I assume), are more Republican. Check.

- In crowded coastal states, there is little difference in square footage between the houses of the rich and the poor; in less-crowded, poorer inland states, rich and poor differ more in house size. As a result, the "square footage" model predicts that the rich-poor gap in Republican voting should be larger in poor than in rich states. Check.

I don't know of any datasets that have voting or party ID along with square footage--although, with a large amount of effort it should be possible to put something together using public voter registration information. Also, I can't really see anything useful about the hypothesis (that square footage is an excellent predictor of who you vote for), even if it's true. Nonetheless, the idea amuses me.

P.S. Seeing as I live in a cramped NYC apartment with no understanding of square footage at all, so I'd appreciate others' input on this. (Also, I have no idea how this would work in other countries.)

Posted by Andrew at 9:01 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

March 8, 2008

Democrats know Democrats, Republicans know Republicans

From a survey of voters in the 2000 election, the estimated percentage of people they talk politics with who supported Bush for president:


Each respondent was asked to name up to four contacts. On average, each respondent discussed politics with 0.5 family members and 1.4 others. The two plots show separate estimates for the two groups. The top, middle, and bottom lines on each plot show the results for Gore and Bush voters in strongly Republican, battleground, and strongly Democratic states, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, Gore voters were much more likely to know Gore voters and the reverse for Bush voters. The differences between red, blue, and purple states are tiny among family members (about three-quarters of whom share the political affiliation of the survey respondent) but are larger for friends. On average, Bush voters perceived their non-family conversation partners to be more similar to themselves, compared to the perceptions of Gore voters.

(Thanks to Christian Logan for crunching the numbers from the National Election Study.)

Posted by Andrew at 8:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 6, 2008

Rich state vs. poor state, rich voter vs. poor voter, over time

Here's the graph that David made showing the Republican share of the two-party vote for president since 1940, for states in the upper third and lower third of per-capita income:

It used to be that rich states voted Republican, now they go for the Democrats (the famous red-blue map). The voting gap between rich and poor states has gradually widened since the early 1980s.

And here's the plot comparing upper and lower income voters:


Rich people are much more Republican than poor people. Differences in voting by income have returned to 1940s levels.

Pulling out the South

We also did separate analyses for southern and non-southern states, since the South is poorer than average and has also moved steadily from the Democrats to the Republicans over the decades. First, a plot showing the difference between rich and poor states over time, overall and in southern and non-southern states:

And now the differences each year between rich and poor voters in the country as a whole and in south and non-south:


Data issues

We used the Republican share of the two-party vote (for the state analysis in 1948, including Thurmond's votes as part of the Democrats'). The state election data are public information and easy to find, for example from David Leip's atlas.

For each election year, we defined rich and poor states in each election year as follows. We first sorted the states by per-capita income using data (from the Census, I think) that Justin Phillips gave us. We then aggregated by population from the top down and the bottom up, to construct a collection of states at the high end whose total population approximated 1/3 of the U.S. population in that year, and similarly for the low end. We rounded down to get rich state and poor state groupings that each had no more than 1/3 the population for that year.

When making the plots for states, we pooled the popular vote within each grouping (rich states and poor states) in each year. For individuals, we took the respondents from the National Election Study (since 1952) and data from Gallup polls prepared for us by Adam Berinsky and Tiffany Washburn (for 1940 and 1944). We don't have individual level data for 1948, since our National Election Study data didn't have state identifiers for respondents in that year.

Posted by Andrew at 8:48 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 4, 2008

The stir-fry/bbq index

Carp pointed me to this article by Mark Liberman. I'm more sympathetic to David Brooks than Mark is, but I have to say, I thought this was funny:

  stir-fry BBQ BBQ/stir-fry ratio







  stir-fry BBQ BBQ/stir-fry ratio













P.S. I don't know why the tables came out so weird--I copied them straight from the html file of Mark's post.

Posted by Andrew at 4:03 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 3, 2008

Where the Starbucks and Walmarts are




P.S. The above graph is wrong (see comment by Alex F. below). Corrected graphs are here.

Posted by Andrew at 12:46 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

February 29, 2008

Give our book a title and win a free ice cream cone

What should we call our book? A possible title is:

"Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: How Americans are Polarized and How They're Not"

Or maybe,

"The Red State, Blue State Paradox: ..."

We've been told that a subtitle is a good idea, but it would be good for the main title to be crisp.

Perhaps we have to think outside the box and forget about the red/blue thing, I dunno.

Any suggestions?

Thanks in advance. We'll give a free ice cream cone to anybody who comes up with a good idea!

P.S. The book is intended for a general audience. It'll be coming out around Labor Day.

P.P.S. One concern is that I don't know of a lot of popularly successful books with 8-word titles (and that's not even counting the subtitle). One to three words would be best, I'd think.

Posted by Andrew at 12:44 AM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

February 24, 2008

Don't believe the hype (another reference to the "baby-faced politicians lose" study)

I was reading this otherwise-excellent article by Elizabeth Kolbert and came across this:

Like neoclassical economics, much democratic theory rests on the assumption that people are rational. Here, too, empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Voters, it has been demonstrated, are influenced by factors ranging from how names are placed on a ballot to the jut of a politician’s jaw. . . . A 2005 study, conducted by psychologists at Princeton, showed that it was possible to predict the results of congressional contests by using photographs. Researchers presented subjects with fleeting images of candidates’ faces. Those candidates who, in the subjects’ opinion, looked more “competent” won about seventy per cent of the time.

I can't really comment on the bit about democratic theory, but I do want to put in a word about this study of candidates' faces. It's a funny result: at first it seems impressive--70% accuracy!--but then again it's not so impressive given that you can predict something on the order of 90% of races just based on incumbency and the partisan preferences of the voters in the states and districts. If 90% of the races are essentially decided a year ahead of time, what does it mean to say that voters are choosing 70% correct based on the candidates' looks.

I can't be sure what's happening here, but one possibility is that the more serious candidates (the ones we know are going to win anyway) are more attractive. Maybe you have some goofy-looking people who decide to run in districts where they don't have a chance, whereas the politicians who really have a shot at being in congress take the time to get their hair cut, etc. More discussion here (see also the comments).

Anyway, the point of this note is just that some skepticism is in order. It's fun to find some scientific finding that seems to show the shallowness of voters, but watch out! I guess it pleases the cognitive scientists to think that something as important and seemingly complicated as voting is just some simple first-impression process. Just as, at the next level, it pleases biologists to think that something as important and seemingly complicated as psychology is just some simple selfish-gene thing.

Posted by Andrew at 8:10 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 21, 2008

Confusion about the changing positions of political parties in the U.S.

In the article, "Activists and partisan realignment in the United States," published in 2003 in the American Political Science Review, Gary Miller and Norman Schofield point out that the states won by the Democrats and Republicans in recent elections are almost the opposite of the result of the election of 1896:


Miller and Schofield describe this as a complete reversal of the parties' positions. In their story, in 1896 the parties competed on social (racial) issues, with the Republicans on the left and the Democrats on the right. Then the parties gradually moved around in the two dimensional social/economic issue space, until from the 1930s through the 1960s, the parties primarily competed on economic issues. Since then, in the Miller/Schofield story, the parties continued to move until now they compete primarily on social issues, but now with the Democrats on the left and the Republicans on the right.

It's an interesting argument but I have some problems with it. First off, it was my impression that the 1896 election was all about economic issues, with the Democrats supporting cheap money and easy credit (W. J. Bryan's "cross of gold" speech) and the Republicans representing big business. At least in that election, it was the Democrats on the left on economic issues and the Republicans on the right.

Getting to recent elections, the evidence from surveys and from roll call votes is that the Democrats and Republicans are pretty far apart on economic issues, again with the D's on the left and the R's on the right. So, from that perspective, it's not the parties that have changed positions, it's the states that have moved. The industrial northeastern and midwestern states have moved from supporting conservative economic policies to a more redistributionist stance. Which indeed is something of a mystery, and it's related to attitudes on social issues, but I certainly wouldn't say that economic issues don't matter anymore. According to Ansolabehere, Rodden, and Snyder, social issues are more important now in voting than they were 20 years ago, but economic issues are still voters' dominant concern.

1896 vs. 2000 by counties within each state

Here are some more pretty pictures. First, within 6 selected states, a scatterplot of Bush vote share in 2000 vs. McKinley vote share in 1896. There are completely different patterns in different states! Nothing like as clean a pattern as the statewide plot above.


And here's another plot, this time showing each county as an ellipse, with the size of the ellipse proportional to the population of the county (more precisely, the voter turnout) in the two elections.


Nowadays the Democrats clearly do better in the big cities (in these graphs, the large-population counties). In 1896 the pattern wasn't so clear. I'd be interested to know what Jonathan Rodden thinks of all this. . .

Posted by Andrew at 12:39 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 19, 2008

Tied presidential elections

Apropos of this discussion, here's a list of all the U.S. presidential elections that were decided by less than 1% of the vote:


Funny, huh? Other close ones were 1844 (decided by 1.5% of the vote), 1876 (3%), 1916 (3%), 1976 (2%), 2004 (2.5%).

Four straight close elections in the 1870s-80s, five close elections since 1960, and almost none at any other time.

Posted by Andrew at 12:48 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 18, 2008

Electability blah blah blah

The predictability of election outcomes from fundamental variables suggests that different presidential candidates from the same party don't differ much in the votes they will receive in the general election. It's better to be a moderate than an extremist, and it's better to be a better campaigner etc., but all these things together probably only count for a couple of percentage points of the vote.

Steven Rosenstone wrote about this in 1984 in his book, Forecasting Presidential Elections, and I don't think the elections since then have given any reason to doubt Rosenstone's logic.

Now, don't get me wrong: a couple of percentage points of the vote can make a big difference--just look at the tied elections of 1960, 1968, 1976, and 2000, as well as the very close election of 2004. Also, who knows how things will go with the unprecedented "woman or young black guy vs. old white guy" dynamic. But, based on past elections, I'd say the whole "electability" thing is overrated. Once Election Day comes around, people will find a reason to vote for the party they want to support.

Posted by Andrew at 12:33 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

February 15, 2008

Red states, blue states, and affordable family formation

A couple of colleagues sent me a copy of an article by Steve Sailer in The American Conservative called Value Voters and subtitled, "The best indicator of whether a state will swing Red or Blue? The cost of buying a home and raising a family.'' It's here online, and an excerpt is on Sailer's blog.

The article gives a new (to me) take on the red-state, blue-state paradox: the point that Republicans do well in lower-income states, even though they do better among richer voters. Sailer points out that the strong Republican states in the south and middle of the country have lower cost of living (which of course goes along with them being low income). But, more to the point, many of the rich, Democratic-leaning metropolitan have housing costs that are even more expensive. Sailer attributes some of this to what he calls the Dirt Gap--coastal cities such as NY, Boston, and LA are bounded by water which limits their potential for growth, as compared to inland cities such as Dallas or St. Louis: "The supply of suburban land available for development is larger in Red State cities, so the price is lower."

Sailer notes that Republicans do better among married voters, and he has the following impressive graph:


Even excluding D.C., the correlation is high. (Sailer has some discussion about why he's only looking at white women here. I don't follow all his reasoning here; you can read his article to get the details.)

We were talking about Sailer's article around the office today, and the point was made that the above graph illustrates that Bush did better in states where people are more culturally conservative (in this case, as measured by the chance of women marrying at a young age).

I'm not quite sure how this relates to our finding that the Republican advantage among high-income voters is large in poor states and small in rich states. One suggestion was that, in poor states, your high income gets you a larger house, whereas in a rich state, even with a high income you're not living in a palace. Sailer might say that cultural conservatives will move out of rich states, even if they're high income, because they want a nice house with a yard for their kids to play in. We've tried to look into some of these things, but it's a challenge to analyze data on moving. It's easier to analyze cross-sectional surveys, so that's what we spend most of our time doing.

To get back to the main point, Sailer is making a geographic argument, that Democrats do better in coastal states because families are less likely to live in coastal metropolitan areas, because housing there is so expensive, because of the geography: less nearby land for suburbs. This makes a lot of sense, although it doesn't really explain why the people without kids want to vote for Democrats and people with kids want to vote for Republicans. I can see that more culturally conservative people are voting Republican, and these people are more likely to marry and have kids at younger ages--but in that sense the key driving variable is the conservatism, not the marriage or the kids.

I think Sailer's arguments are interesting but I can't quite follow him all the way to his conclusion, where he says that "the late housing bubble . . . reduced the affordability of family formation, which should help the Democrats in the long run." I just don't see where the data are showing this. I'm not saying he's wrong--I've certainly heard it said, for example, that the postwar boom helped the Republicans, and conservative causes generally, by moving millions of people up into the middle class--but it just seems like a stretch. I also don't follow his claim that if the Republican party should move to restrict immigration--that it "could then position itself as the party of more weddings and more babies." Immigrants have weddings and babies too, right?

That said, the point about affordability of housing seems important, and it's not always captured in standard cost-of-living measures (see here). And it's interesting to see these correlations between demography and voting.

P.S. Some of the comments to Sailer's blog entry are pretty amazing; for example, "For white engineers like me this is a hard call. Engineering jobs outside of these deep blue areas seem to be very rare. High-tech companies tend to get rich and attract immigrants of other ethnicities and races who happily raise families in apartments. You will not be able to find a white woman who shares this preference" and "Expensive housing is merely an attribute of the kinds of lives which are led by the people who choose Death over Life." I suppose it's good for a Manhattan resident to know that there are people out there who think this sort of thing. I mean, I know that people say these things, but there's something weird about to seeing them in writing.

P.P.S. There is further discussion of Sailer's "affordable family formation" idea here.

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February 13, 2008

Personality profiles and voting preferences: should liberals or conservatives like research in this area?

In his American Psychologist article reviewing studies of personality profiles and political affiliation, and the followup article here, John Jost writes,

Compared with liberals and moderates, conservatives score significantly higher on psychological instruments designed to measure epistemic needs for order, structure, simplicity, certainty, and closure, and they score significantly higher on instruments designed to measure the intensity of existential concerns such as fear of death and perceptions of a dangerous world. In terms of basic personality dimensions, liberals (and leftists) score significantly higher on Openness to New Experiences, and their greater open-mindedness manifests itself in terms of creativity, curiosity, novelty, diversity, and interest in travel. By contrast, conservatives (and rightists) score higher on Conscientiousness, and they are generally more orderly, organized, duty-bound, conventional, and more likely to follow rules. The evidence strongly contradicts the commonly held assumption that political orientation is “consistently and strikingly unrelated to personality and temperament factors."

Like much social science, the above statement seems either obviously true or a ridiculous distortion, depending on how you look at it. But that's the purpose of doing research, to try to evaluate such hypotheses. There are usually many different interpretations, but it's good to establish the facts.

Taboo research?

In any case, what interests me here, beyond the importance of the topic itself, are the political reactions to such work. Jost's article is called "The End of the End of Ideology" and it describes how studies of personality characteristics, political orientation, and authoritarianism were popular in the 1950s but had fallen into disfavor for several decades after. One claim that Jost makes is that much of the opposition to this research has been, implicitly or explicitly, political: findings such as, "conservatives have more authoritarian personalities, and liberals have more openness" are not value-neutral and do not fit into the mainstream of modern political science. (In contrast, a psychologist can feel more free to do such work, since psychologists do not have the same occupational inclination toward treating different political orientations symmetrically.)

The short version of the argument is: the data show correlations between personality types and political ideologies, but these results don't fit well into the usual framework of political science, so this line of research is less well developed than it should be. It's what Steven Pinker would call a taboo question. In this case, it's people on the right who object to this research, who find it silly.

More recently, there's been research on genetics and political behavior (see here for some of James Fowler's work in this area), and I imagine there's some resistance from people on the political left, considering the general association of genetics with racism or, more generally, social determinism (the idea that our positions in society are basically determined by our genes and thus (a) aren't anybody's fault, and (b) can't easily be fixed.

Political cover?

I'm hoping that these two strands of research can provide political cover for each other. The people who study personality types can connect their work to genetics (or "human nature," for the nonbelievers in evolution) to placate the conservatives, and the people who study genetics can discuss the personality research to keep the liberals at bay.

Posted by Andrew at 7:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 9, 2008

What it takes to impress the youth of America

This reminds me of the following story:

We have a high school student working here one day a week on some of our research projects. It's great to have him around. Anyway, he was telling us a few weeks ago that Hillary Clinton spoke at his school and he met her. I asked him what she was like. He said that she was really old. Also, really short. He said she's supposed to be 5'7" (see here for some competing estimates) but that in his judgment she couldn't have been 5'4" in heels. I told him that Isiah Thomas probably isn't really 6'1" either.

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February 8, 2008

Dead heat

Gary sent along this news article from the Syracuse Post-Standard:

Dead heat: Obama and Clinton split the Syracuse vote 50-50

by Mike McAndrew

In the city of Syracuse, the strangest thing happened in Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary.

Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama received the exact same number of votes, according to unofficial Board of Election results.

Clinton: 6,001.

Obama: 6,001.

"Wow, that is odd," said Jay Biba, Clinton's Central New York campaign coordinator. "I never heard of that in my life."

The odds of Clinton and Obama tying were less than one in 1 million, said Syracuse University mathematics Professor Hyune-Ju Kim.

"It's almost impossible," said Kim, who analyzed the statewide and citywide votes.

Lisa Daly, Obama's Syracuse campaign coordinator, said she thought a mistake had been made when she was first told the tally by the Board of Elections.

What are the chances of it happening?

"Good thing it wasn't a mayor's race," quipped Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

A total of 12,346 votes were cast for Democrats in the city. Four other Democrats also received votes: John Edwards, 114; Dennis Kucinich, 113; Bill Richardson, 90; and Joe Biden, 27.

The tie is likely to be broken when elections officials recanvass the voting machines and add in the absentee and affidavit votes.

But for now, it's all even.


The story The Post-Standard broke about Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama battling to a tie vote in the city of Syracuse was being posted Thursday on internet sites across the country.

Clinton and Obama each received 6,001 votes in Syracuse in the unofficial Board of Elections results. A total of 12,346 votes were cast in the city.

After doing a statistical analysis for The Post-Standard, Syracuse University mathematics professor Hyune-Ju Kim noted that the odds of Clinton and Obama getting the exact same amount of votes in Syracuse was less than one in 1 million.

To come to that conclusion, Kim factored in the state-wide and city-wide results in the Democratic primary.

Elaborating on Thursday, she noted: "The "almost impossible" odd is obtained when we assume the Syracuse voter distribution follows the New York state distribution. Since it is almost impossible to observe what we have observed, statistically we can conclude that Syracuse voter distribution is significantly different from the New York state distribution."

There would be less than one in 1 million chance of a tie occurring between Clinton and Obama in voting by a randomly selected group of 12,346 New York Democratic voters, she said.

Not to pick on some harried mathematics professor who'd probably rather be out proving theorems, but . . . of course Syracuse voters are not a randomly selected group of New Yorkers. You don't need a statistical test to see that. Regarding the probability of an exact tie: I don't think that's so low: a quick calculation might say that either Clinton or Obama could've received between, say, 5000 and 7000 votes, giving something like a 1/2000 chance of an exact tie. That's gotta be the right order of magnitude.

Anyway, I know this is silly--as pointed out in the article, it doesn't matter if there's a tie in Syracuse anyway. This might make a good classroom example, though. (See also here and here for more on the probability of a tied election.)

Posted by Andrew at 6:28 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

February 7, 2008

Primary impressions

From a recently overheard conversation:

Friend 1: Who did you vote for?

Friend 2: How about you?

1: I slightly preferred Obama but I voted for Clinton because I wanted to make my wife happy--she's really excited about Hillary.

2: I can't stand Hillary but I don't know if that's real or whether I've just been manipulated by the media.

1: Hmm . . . what don't you like about her?

2: Y'know, that $100,000 she made in three hours investing in cattle futures, all those sleazy people they hang out with, they pardoned that guy Marc Rich . . . but, yeah, probably every politician has some sleazy connections.

1: It's just part of the game. Obama's younger, maybe he hasn't made all these contacts yet, but it'll happen.

2: Yeah, sure. I'm sure McCain has lots of crooked friends too. . . . There's also the war. That's a legitimate reason to not want to vote for Hillary--she supported the war. It's not enough of a reason for me to hate her, though.

1: Especially since you supported the war yourself.

2: No I didn't.

1: Yeah, I remember having a long conversation with you back in 2003. I opposed the war and you supported it.

2: No way! I was torn about the war but I opposed it.

1: That's not what I remember.

2: No, I opposed it.

1: There was a study that found that lots of people say now that they opposed the war, lots more than actually opposed the war. I think you're one of those people.

2: No, you just don't remember what I said to you back then.

1: I understand what you're saying, but I think you're the one who's misremembering.

etc etc.

P.S. Rebecca adds: thought you might find Matt's very brief but insightful take on the Hillary electability question interesting. I think he's right that these results might give us some purchase into how she'd fare in a genral election. . .

On the subject of how Hillary will do in a general election, the following results stood out at me from Super Tuesday:

Alaska - 74 - 25 Obama
Idaho - 80 - 17 Obama
Kansas - 74 - 26 Obama
Colorado - 67 - 32 Obama

Yikes! She is not liked out West. I mean, those were Democrats.

Posted by Andrew at 2:48 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Why Welfare States Persist

My review of “Why Welfare States Persist,” by Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza, for Political Science Quarterly:

Why do welfare states persist? Because they are popular, argue Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza in their new book, a statistical study of the connections between public opinion and policies in 16 rich countries in Europe and elsewhere.

Rich capitalist democracies around the world differ widely in their welfare states—their systems of government--provided social support--despite having comparable income levels. Brooks and Manza report that welfare state spending constituted 27% of GDP in “social democratic countries” such as Sweden and 26% of GDP in “Christian democratic countries” such as Germany, but only 17% in “liberal democracies” such as the United States and Japan. These differences are correlated with differences in income inequality and poverty rates between countries.

In their book, Brooks and Manza study how countries with different levels of the welfare state differ in their average policy preferences, as measured by a cross-national survey that asks whether respondents think the government should (a) provide a job to everyone who wants one, and (b) reduce income differences between rich and poor. Brooks and Manza find that countries where government jobs policies and redistribution are more popular are the places where the welfare state is larger, and this pattern remains after controlling for time trends, per-capita GDP of the country, immigration, women’s labor force participation, political institutions, and whether the ruling party is religious or on the left. The analysis is based on the following countries: listing in approximate order of increasing welfare state sizes, the United States, Japan, Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Holland, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, France, and Sweden.

Brooks and Manza make a convincing case that attitudes are indeed correlated with policies, which implies that the voters in these countries are generally getting what they want, at least when considering comparative levels of social welfare spending. Chapter 2 of the book attempts to go further and make a claim of causality, to say that variation in countries’ attitudes are not just associated with policy variation but are actually a contributing cause of these policies. As a substantive matter, the causal claim undoubtedly has truth: in a democracy with all other things equal, we would expect a change in attitude to generally push toward the corresponding policy. (One can imagine exceptions, for example if an issue is “owned” by a faction or a minor party in a multiparty system, such that an increase in its vote actually harms the coalition that might advance the policy. But on average over 16 countries, we would expect a positive causal effect.) That said, I do not see that the statistical methods used by Brooks and Manza establish causality in the way that they claim. Using a statistical “test for endogeneity” cannot get around the fundamental issue that this is a cross-national comparison based on observational data: some countries have bigger welfare states than others, and these tend to have higher support for welfare states, even after (approximately) adjusting for some country-level factors.

As the authors note, the connections between attitudes and policies are complex. On one hand, governments are constrained by the general popularity of programs that give to the majority of voters; on the other, fiscal constraints make it difficult for governments to provide the sort of “Santa Claus” programs that citizens might want. Complexity arises because voters are aware of these constraints and typically don’t want to support political parties that don’t have a chance of winning or economic policies that are judged to be unsustainable.

Turning to surveys from individual countries--Sweden, Norway, Holland, and the United States--Brooks and Manza find that attitudes toward government-provided social services vary by country but have changed little from 1975 to 2000. Cross-national differences in attitudes, as well as in policies, seem stable and not tied to trends or to short-term factors such as the business cycle or changes in the party in power. Meanwhile, the size of the welfare state in rich countries has been stable since 1980, although with variation in individual countries (for example, a sharp decline in benefits in Switzerland and an increase in Italy).

These findings of stability in opinions and, in general, in spending, appear to contradict the conventional wisdom that welfare state policies have become repudiated in recent decades because of various factors, including: the fall of Communism and the corresponding discrediting of socialism as an economic policy; various economic crises since 1973 which have brought into question the ability of governments to pay for generous welfare benefits; and the growing presence of immigrants from poor countries, which has reduced the social consensus for income redistribution. One possible reconciliation of Brooks and Manza’s story and the general “decline of the welfare state” narrative is that, since 1980 or so, we have seen a conflation of welfare state expansion and reduction which happens to have averaged to a pattern of stability. In the wake of an aging population and lower employment rates, health-care spending has increased while job security programs have declined. Perhaps Brooks, Manza, and others who know more about this topic can let us know if this attempted synthesis makes sense.

Brooks and Manza have made a useful contribution by combining information from several sources to link public opinion and public policy on welfare provision. Various pieces of the story are well known, but I, for one, have not seen it all put together in this way. The book makes a compelling case for how policy differences between countries can persist, even in our modern, globalized, and post-socialist economy.

P.S. Lane Kenworthy points me to this discussion he wrote of Manza and Brooks's argument, expressing concerns similar to mine about their causal reasoning. Kenworthy's article has lots of pretty graphs and seems like a good start in the struggle to figure out a good general way to think about time-series cross-sectional data. The graphs on page 9-12 are particularly helpful. (I wouldn't order them alphabetically, I'd make them smaller so more can be fit on one page and thus be visible at once, and I'm not a fan of the double-y-axis style, but these are all quibbles.)

Posted by Andrew at 1:58 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Cycles in closeness of elections

Dave Wascha writes,

I’m auditing a grad course in System Dynamics at the University of Washington. For our final project we’ve chosen to model the structure of the US Constitution and its impact on voting behavior over time. I’ve graphed the margin of victory for presidential elections from 1856 to present and the result is an oscillating pattern that is a common artifact of System Dynamics. It implies that there is too long of a delay in the feedback loop (elections). We see this across many domains like boom and bust economic cycles, traffic patterns, even the popularity of restaurants. I’m sure you’re familiar with it.

For our project I’ve stipulated (not based on much) that I believe it to be the case that voters cyclically vote the majority party out of the executive branch and/or the legislative branch after some period of time where discontent builds. There are potentially three interesting oscillating patterns at play with one another. The executive branch, the legislative branch and a long arc feedback loop in the judicial branch. These are naturally designed as a system of checks and balances which is why I think it is such a great use of System Dynamics to take a look at.

Both parts of the legislative branch have different “policies” in System Dynamics parlance, around term lengths and limits and of course the executive branch is limited to two terms of 4 years each. Every voting opportunity represents a cycle of feedback and as I mentioned before since there is an oscillating pattern it means that there is a delay in the system. I would like to explore whether this delay is a function of term lengths and limits and if so what the potential implications are of changing the policy around term lengths and limits. The goal would be to come up with a new policy that minimizes the amplitude of the oscillation. In this case the new policy could be a change in term lengths or limits or both.

My only comment is that the recent close elections can be attributed to increased political polarization: as William Leblanc explained to us in our seminar last week, with more voters having strong feelings about the two parties and fewer voters in the middle, you'll get smaller swings.

Posted by Andrew at 12:04 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 29, 2008

Random term limits

We had this discussion today about how most congressmembers are in safe seats, where voters can only make a difference in the primary elections for the rare open seats. One solution to the problem is term limits, but Bob Erikson pointed out that then there's a lame-duck problem, with congressmembers who are about to be term-limited no longer being moderated by the voters.

So here's my solution: each year, select some congressmembers to be term limited. You can adjust the probability to match the turnover rate you want; for example if you do 40 a year, you'll cycle through all of them every 10 years or so, on average. Then schedule a special election (or else do the lottery in February or so, to give candidates time to run in the primary).

I'm sure there are lots of reasons why this is a bad idea, but I kind of like it. When some really great congressmember gets term limited out, he or she can perhaps consider some appointive office or contribute to government in some other way.

P.S. Ted Dunning suggests a different solution (see comments below): move the district lines randomly after every election. I like this, since it seems cleaner to implement from a constitutional perspective. Also has the advantage of allowing the districts to equalize population more frequently, and, beyond this, it puts less pressure on each redistricting to be super-balanced, since the lines would be redrawn every two years.

Posted by Andrew at 7:05 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Ask me (and the two Bobs) questions about red states and blue states


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January 24, 2008

Once a midwesterner . . .

Lee Sigelman refers to himself as a "midwesterner" even though he lives in D.C. This reminds me that we want to redo our geography-and-voting analyses looking at the states where people come from (rather than where people currently live). A bunch of surveys ask this, I think.

More generally, I assume that some sociologists have looked at the question of how people define themselves by region. I know there's been lots of research on people's racial, ethnic, and national self-definition. I remember that, about 15 years ago, Michael Hout gave a talk in our seminar: "How 4 million Irish immigrants became 40 million Irish Americans." Contrary to expectations, it wasn't about prolific breeding, it was about how people of mixed background choose to classify themselves. (Maybe things are different now, in the era of Caublanasians.)

Posted by Andrew at 8:14 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Does jittering suck?

Antony Unwin saw this scatterplot (see here for background):


and had some comments and suggestions. I'll show his plots below, but first I want to talk about jittering. I wonder if the main problem my original graph above is that it is too small.

In any case, the jittering makes it looks weird, but I wonder whether it would be better if it were jittered a bit more, so that the clusters of points blurred into each other completely. (Since the data are integers, we could just jitter by adding random U(-.5,.5) numbers to each point in the x and y directions.)

But Antony says:

Jittering makes strong assumptions, which are rarely mentioned. It is bad for small cell sizes (you can get odd patterns unless you specifically adjust your jittering to account for cell size and how many do that?) and is bad for large cell sizes (because of overplotting and because you get solid blocks which can hardly be distinguished from one another). In fairness I should declare myself as an anti-jittering fundamentalist and say that there are hardly any circumstances when I think jittering is useful. Jittering is a legacy from the days when you could only plot points. Area plots should always be the first choice.

Maybe he's right. A gray-scale plot using image() might be a better way to go in a situation like this one with many hundreds of data points.

The Unwin solution

OK, now here are Antony's plots:




and the following description:

The attached fluctuation diagram was drawn in iPlots (which expects mosaicplot variables to be factors):
imosaic(econ,soc, type="fluctuation")

I think this plot shows the bivariate distribution of the data much better. It is clear where the bulk of the data lie and differences between cells are much more apparent. Best of all, you can link to other displays. I have included the same plot twice more, once with the Democrats highlighted, once with the Republicans highlighted.

The parties were selected from a barchart of party affiliation:


He then makes a plot showing Dems, Reps, and Independents in the same grid:

You just include another level in the fluctuation diagram:

imosaic(pid,soc,econ, type="f")

I [Antony] think it looks better with the cells shaded, which can be achieved with


or colour them by party with


It might be better to leave out the Independents, as there are not so many, though the ordering looks right, with their plot lying between those for the Democrats and the Republicans.

Here are the pics:




(Sorry about all the white space. I converted the plots from pdf to png to display on the blog.)

(Fixed 1/24/2008 10:42)

Posted by Andrew at 6:00 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 22, 2008

Rich state, poor state, red-state, blue-state: it's all about the rich

As we've discussed before, the Republican party gets more support from the rich than from the poor, especially in poor states. (In poor states such as Mississipi, rich people are much more Republican than poor people; in rich states such as Connecticut, rich people are only slightly more Republican than the poor.)

Rich voter, poor voter

The next step is to look at time trends. Here we use the National Election Studies pooled into 20-year intervals. First, the difference between rich and poor voters in rich, middle-income, and poor states. As you can see, the gap in voting between rich and poor voters has increased, but especially in the poor states:


I don't know exactly how this is related, but in the past 25 years, income inequality has actually been increasing faster in the rich states than the poor states.

Rich state, poor state

Next we look at things from the other direction, comparing the voting patterns of rich and poor states, but looking separately at rich, middle-income, and poor voters. As you can see, within each income category, there didn't used to be any large systematic differences in voting patterns in rich and poor states until recently. Even now, the rich-state, poor-state difference shows up mostly among high-income voters, somewhat among middle-income voters, and not at all among the poor:


Thus, the familiar "red America, blue America" pattern, the "culture war" between red and blue states, is really something happening at the higher range of incomes.

P.S.: whites-only analysis

In response to some of the commenters below, I did an analysis with just whites (88% of the total dataset). Removing the minorities reduces the differences by about half. Here's the new version of our first picture:


And here's the second picture:


Among whites, the red-state, blue-state divide is still strongest among the rich but it's no longer zero for the poor.

Posted by Andrew at 11:56 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 20, 2008

Voting Technology and the 2008 New Hampshire Primary: Herron, Mebane, and Wand don't find any problems

There's been a lot of talk about the recent New Hampshire primaries. Now it's time to hear from the experts, in particular, Michael Herron, Walter Mebane, and Jonathan Wand, the political scientists who, among other things, did the definitive estimate of the Florida vote from 2000. Their punchline: "with respect to Hillary Clinton’s surprise victory in the Democratic Primary and the notable differences across vote tabulation technologies in Clinton’s and others’ levels of support, our results are consistent with these differences being due entirely to the fact that New Hampshire wards that use Accuvote optical scan machines typically have voters with different political preferences than wards that use hand counted paper ballots."

Here's their paper, and here's the executive summary:

We [Herron, Mebane, and Wand] address concerns that the reported vote counts of candidates running in the 2008 New Hampshire Presidential Primaries were affected by the vote tabulating technologies used across New Hampshire.

• In the Democratic Primary, Hillary Clinton was more successful in New Hampshire wards that used Accuvote optical scan vote tabulating technology than was Barack Obama, receiving 4.3 more percentage points of the vote there (40.2% for Clinton versus 35.9% for Obama). In contrast, Clinton did worse than Obama in wards that counted paper ballots by hand, trailing by 6.1 percentage points (33.7% versus 39.8%).

• In the Republican Primary, Mitt Romney trailed John McCain by 3.6 points in Accuvote wards and by 15 points in wards that counted ballots by hand.

• In New Hampshire the choice of vote tabulation technology is made ward by ward, and electronic technology was used in wards that typically differ demographically and politically from wards that count ballots by hand. Wards that selected electronic tabulation are disproportionately from the southeast part of New Hampshire, and they tend to be more densely populated and more affluent. Accuvote and hand count wards have also typically produced divergent voting patterns in elections prior to the 2008 primary. It is plausible that most or all of the observed differences between vote tabulation technologies in the votes candidates received reflect such background differences and not anything inherent in the tabulation methods.

• Using a subset of New Hampshire wards that have similar demographic features and voting histories but differ in their vote tabulation technologies, we find no significant relationship between a ward’s use of vote tabulating technology and the votes or vote shares received by most of the leading candidates who competed in the 2008 New Hampshire Presidential Primaries. Among Clinton, Edwards, Kucinich, Obama and Richardson in the Democratic primary and Giuliani, Huckabee, Paul, Romney and McCain in the Republican primary, we observe a significant difference only in the votes counted for Edwards, and that difference is small (a deficit of between 0.6 and 3.4 percent in the hand-counted votes).

• With respect to Hillary Clinton’s surprise victory in the Democratic Primary and the differences
across vote tabulation technologies in Clinton’s and others’ votes, our results are consistent with these differences being due entirely to the fact that New Hampshire wards that use Accuvote optical scan machines have voters with different political preferences than wards that use hand counted paper ballots.

Posted by Andrew at 5:01 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 16, 2008

Selection bias in measuring polarization

A lot of people are concerned with political polarization--the idea that people are becoming divided into opposing camps that don't communicate with each other. (Not everyone worries about polarization--some people see it as healthy political competition, others worry about opposite problems such as political apathy and non-participation, and you even used to hear people say that there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties.)

Anyway, polarization can be measured in various ways: one approach is to ask people who they talk with, and find out the extent to which people mostly associate with people similar to them. Another method is to look at people's positions on the issues and see if most people have extreme positions. Regarding this latter approach, Jeremy Freese points out a potential source of measurement bias:

Occasionally social scientists become interested in whether Americans are becoming “more polarized” in their opinions. The obvious strategy for considering this question is to take a bunch of survey items that have been asked of comparable samples in the past and now, and to look at whether people hold more divergent views now than they did then. . . . [But] people buying survey time are typically interested in questions that vary. If they are asking a question that doesn’t vary, it’s for some reason, like perhaps because it has been asked repeatedly in the past. . . . So, items that would provide evidence of polarization — consensus then, divergence now — are disproportionately less likely to be part of the universe of available items for comparison over time, while items that provide evidence of no polarization — divergence then, consensus now — are disproportionately more likely. And thus researchers claim to producing findings about the world of public opinion when the patterns in their data actually reflect the world of public opinion surveys.

It's an interesting issue--selection bias of questions rather than the usual worries about survey respondents--and it's something that Delia and I thought about some when using National Election Studies to analyze trends in issue polarization. These issues are real, although I don't know that it's such a problem as you say, because in any case the inferences will be conditional on whatever questions you happen to be studying--so, in any case, the researcher has to justify which issues he or she is looking at.

It happens all the time

Here I just want to point out that these measurement issues are not unique to the study of polarization. For example, is the Supreme Court drifting to the left, the right, or roughly staying the same? These things can be measured, but with difficulty because it depends on the docket for each year.

Or you could even ask simpler questions about median voters. For example, when I wrote why it it can be rational to vote (because you can feel that having your preferred candidate win would likely make a big difference to many millions of people), some people replied that it's somewhat naive to feel that _your_ preferred candidate will be so great: if approximately half the people preferred Bush and half preferred Kerry, then what makes you so sure that your views are more valid than the other 50% of the population? One difficulty with that argument is that the answer depends on the reference set. For example, suppose you live in Texas. If you voted for Kerry, who are you to say that your judgment is better than the 61% who supported Bush? On the other hand, if you voted for Bush, who are you to say that your judgment is better than the (presumably) vast majority of people around the world who hate the guy? What it means to be in the "center" depends on your reference set. I'm sure there are many other examples of this sort of selection bias in measurements.

Back to polarization

The way that Delia and I actually measured polarization was through correlations between issue attitudes. The idea is that, if the population is becoming more polarized, this should show up as increasing coherence in issue positions, so that if I know where you stand on abortion, I'm more likely to be able to figure out where you stand on social security (for example). You can see our results here: they seem consistent with Fiorina's theory that voters are sorting into parties more than they are polarizing on the issues.

One other amusing thing (well, it's amusing if you're a statistician, maybe)

Polarization is a property of a population, not of individuals. It doesn't mean anything (usually) to say that "I am polarized" but you can talk about a group of people being polarized into different subgroups, or polarized along some dimensions. The polarization of a group cannot be expressed as a sum or average of polarizations of individuals. It's an interesting example, because many (most?) of the things we measure in this way tend to be individual properties that we simply aggregate up (for example, the percentage of people who support candidate X, or the average age of people in a group, or whatever). In statistical terms, polarization is a property of the distribution, not of the random variable.

Posted by Andrew at 12:46 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 15, 2008

The most common county names in America

David and I were looking at comparisons of county-level election results (cool scatterplots to come) and, just for laughs, we made a ranking of the most common county names in America. Take a guess as to what they are. . . . The top 15 are listed below:

Washington (31 states)
Jefferson (26 states)
Franklin (25)
Lincoln (24)
Jackson (24)
Madison (20)
Union (18)
Clay (18)
Montgomery (17)
Monroe (17)
Marion (17)
Wayne (16)
Grant (15)
Warren (14)
Greene (14)

Posted by Andrew at 2:45 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 9, 2008

What was going on with the New Hampshire polls?

Yair writes:

Before Iowa, Hillary was beating Obama in NH by like 20 points, or at least double digits. After Iowa, Obama got this huge surge in the polls. You can see the time series here.

It's a mystery why the polls were so wrong. Here's my theory (which gets a bit long and technical but might be interesting to some, and I just feel like writing it down). I think it comes down to three parts:

1. The likely voter screen and its potential deficiencies
2. Problems in survey weighting, especially when Iowa turnout was so strange
3. Obama being black

First - Erikson, Panagopoulos, and Wlezien wrote a paper showing that the Gallup poll overestimates fluctuation in the electorate when using the likely voter screen early in the election (paper attached). In a nutshell, what happens is this: because the Gallup poll (and most other polls) are interested in interviewing "likely voters" only, they ask a series of screening questions at the beginning of the poll to gauge the respondents' interest in the election. They then have some formula to determine who is a "likely voter", and they throw out the remainder of the results. This paper examined the results that were thrown out along with the poll and found that, when something is going wrong for a candidate, their supporters are less enthusiastic and therefore less likely to be considered "likely voters" during this screening process. As a result, many of the supporters of the "losing" candidate just aren't counted in the poll, because pollsters think they're not going to vote. This makes fluctuations in polling seem more dramatic than they actually are.

In this case, Hillary was winning big in NH. When Barack won Iowa and everyone in the media started praising him relentlessly, he started getting a boost. Because of this likely voter screen thing, his boost in the polls was exaggerated, and because the elections were so close to one another, the polls didn't have a chance to settle down into an equilibrium. This means Obama was never actually leading, and all this talk about "something happened in the last 24 hours" is all a load of BS.

Second - survey weighting. Whenever a pollster does a survey, they need to make the poll representative of the voting electorate (that's why they do the likely voter screen, for example). Another big thing they do is essentially guess what the demographic makeup of the electorate is going to be. Usually this is done on historical data and census data, but it's always really hard in primaries because they're not very consistent. So, for example, usually it'll be something like 10% of the electorate is people 18-25, and like 25% are 65+, and so on (I'm making these numbers up). So the pollster will first try to get this breakdown in who they actually talk to, and if they can't, they'll then "weight" the survey - meaning count certain people more than others - to simulate the expected breakdown.

In this case - I'm guessing here, but I think the pollsters probably saw how weird the electorate was in Iowa (i.e. SO many people turned out, and so many young people), that they probably tried to compensate by weighting young people a ton in the following polls to NH. Now, we know that young people support Obama disproportionately. If the pollsters overcompensated for young people, then Obama's support was artificially strengthened in the polls. I'd have to look at the actual turnout numbers in more detail to check this out.

Third, Obama is black. Some people have a theory that people will lie in a poll and say they support the black candidate because they don't want to seem racist, but then they actually vote for the white person. This one is going around in the media already, but I find it hard to believe, or at least I don't think it's the only reason for the problems. First, the idea in general seems kind of crazy, that people think it makes sense to lie in this way in large numbers - crazy that it would have such a large effect, anyway. Second, we're talking about Democratic primary voters, NOT the general electorate. These people are the least likely to be racist. Third, it's not like the alternative was some gun-toting white guy from the Klan, it was Hillary Clinton. If these people are racist, they're probably not going to be running to her. Still, this might have had a small effect.

So anyway, that's my theory. It should be noted that none of this is written or talked about anywhere in the media, which is a shame in my opinion. And if I'm correct, this has huge implications to the election which are going to be ignored. Specifically what I mean is this - these early primaries and caucuses are important not really because of the delegates, but mostly because they build momentum and a storyline for the media to talk about in advance of the future primaries. In this case, the media's storyline goes something like this ... "Obama won Iowa and had all the momentum. Hillary was on the ropes and losing by double digits. But her campaign rallied in the final 24 hours. She 'found her voice', showed some resiliency and this is a turning point for her." Based on the data they're looking at, this makes sense. Too bad it might be totally wrong.

In reality, I think Hillary was steadily losing ground as Obama was gaining momentum, and it truly is remarkable that Obama closed the gap by so much in the final weeks. If the media saw this, the storyline would be totally different, which has significant effects on the future primaries - donations, momentum, etc. And to me, this storyline makes a lot more sense. I'm sorry, but I just don't believe that crying on TV in the middle of a speech is good for a presidential campaign. I looked at a bunch of the events on CSPAN in the last week, and I'm telling you, that looked like a campaign on the ropes. She was breaking down, Bill was going crazy, the audiences were NOT enthusiastic at all, and the media coverage was dismal. The theory that "something just happened" in the last 24 hours seems insane to me.

My only comment is that things are a lot less stable when there are several candidates in the race to choose from. Even if the main focus is on #1 and #2, there are a lot of these other options floating around that make the decision more complicated and the outcome less predictable.

P.S. Daniel Lippman points us to these three news articles about how the polls got things wrong: 1 2 3.

P.P.S. More here.

Posted by Andrew at 6:20 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 8, 2008

The center of public opinion on the issues . . .

Paul Krugman writes,

I read a lot of polls, and they suggest that the center of public opinion on the issues is, if anything, left of the center of the Democratic Party.

Is this true? Here is a graph based on National Election Study data from 2004. Each dot represents where a survey respondent places him or herself on economic and social issues: positive numbers are conservative and negative numbers are liberal, and "B" and "K" represent the voters' average placements of Bush and Kerry on these scales:


Most voters tend to place themselves to the right of the Democrats on economic and on social issues, and most voters tend to place themselves to the left of the Republicans in both dimensions. (See here for more about our research on this topic; the Annals of Applied Statistics article is here.) Just to be clear: I'm talking about survey questions asking people on their opinions on various issues and policies, not about self-identified liberalism or conservatism.

Other data?

This makes me wonder what the basis was of Krugman's comment above. It possibly arises from choices of which issues to include in measuring public opinion, or maybe how you define the "center of the Democratic Party," or maybe changes between 2004 and 2007? I dunno, though, because Joe Bafumi and Michael Herron found something similar to what we found, that the average Democratic congressmember was to the left of the average voter, and the average Republican was to the right. I'd be interested to see Krugman's data in order to resolve the discrepancy.

Posted by Andrew at 5:15 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 7, 2008

Where do you stand on the issues?

Maarten Buis writes,

Here is a nice site. It is a tool that is quite popular in the Netherlands during election times, but now ported to the US presidential elections. People can answer 36 questions and than compare there own position relative to the candidates, in general or on specific areas, e.g. immigration, the economy, or Iraq. It may make more sense in the Dutch situation where getting a quick overview of your position relative to 24 parties is harder than in a two party system, but it is still fun.

The questions are set up as statements where you say if you strongly agree, agree, ..., strongly disagree. I have problems with some of the questions, for example, "The effects of global warming are grossly exaggerated." I didn't know how to answer this, since (a) the effects are presumably grossly exaggerated by some and understated by others, and (b) I don't know the effects either, since there's lots of uncertainty. I mean, I know what they're getting at with the question, but I didn't really know how to answer it in a direct (as compared to a "political") way.

It was pretty fun, though. Even more fun in a system with 24 parties, I'm sure...

Posted by Andrew at 4:34 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 4, 2008

Justin Wolfers and Bob Erikson on election prediction markets: the greatest thing since sliced bread, or nothing but warmed-over polls?

Following these comments of mine, Justin wrote:

I [Justin] like Bob's paper a lot, and I'm glad you raised it, because I think it is a bit under-appreciated, and also a bit misunderstood. It turns out that Bob and I disagree a bit about the message from his paper (although after a few long chats, we don't disagree *that* much).

My [Justin's] thoughts:

1. Bob and Chris has four elections in their data, so it is hard to draw too much from it. That said, I draw two conclusions. First, markets beat an unconditional use of polls as forecasts. Second, correcting the polls, the two are pretty darn close. Based on a sample of four elections, I'm not sure I am willing to call one method or the other the winner.

2. My conclusion is that this actually tells us a lot of what prediction markets do: they digest and aggregate the polls, and create a pretty useful adjusted forecast. If I don't have the time to do the careful aggregation that Bob and Chris have, then I'm glad to have the market to do this for me. So I interpret their paper as telling me something about the mechanism by which prediction markets do well in forecasting elections. (This suggests an interesting puzzle: why did prediction markets do well in the pre-polling era?)

3. Your comment that polls are a snapshot, not a forecast, strikes me as a bit beside the point. Many people use polls as a forecast, and so it is reasonable to ask if they are a good forecast. (And pollsters sell them as forecasts, until you suggest they don't do well, and then they fall back on the "snapshot" argument.)

4. Bob and I have a friendly bet (I can't remember whether it's a bottle of wine, or not), on whether his results will hold up in a larger sample. Given that we have both state-by-state polls and state-by-state markets for the 2004 and 2008 election cycles, one can extend his approach so that we get around 100 markets (rather than four). We are planning to work together on this. My guess is that this larger sample will confirm the view that markets beat even Erikson-adjusted polls, although Bob's guess is the opposite.

Point is, the facts can resolve our debate, and we are planning on doing exactly that. I think it will be fun to work with Bob on this, as he is clearly much more deeply embedded in many of the issues around political forecasting than I am. It should be a fun learning opportunity.

Bob then chimed in:

Of course the market prices have value, particularly at this early pre-campaign stage when the polls are rather meaningless.

From my paper with Chris, the main critique is two-fold:

(1) there is an (extreme?)long-shot bias. For instance each general election set of market prices in spring of the election year is virtually 50-50. The market says 'anything can happen' while the polls usually say 'x is favored' and then x wins. (Maybe if the market says probabilities of 52 and 48 we should bet on the 52?)

(2) I have seen no evidence that markets incorporate information not in the polls. And this is not because I resist the idea or haven't looked for it.

I look forward to to working on the project with Justin on state polls. I think we might find that (1) with long-shot adjustment (not really possible in our earlier analysis), the markets could do at least as well as the polls


(2) with a long shot bias. To simplify the expectation a bit, the prices look reasonable with a tilt toward the market winner.

The question I have for Justin is this:

Apart from the electoral arena, what are the best claims for information market efficiency?

Justin then wrote:

I think that the strongest evidence for prediction market efficiency comes from sports betting markets. There's a ton of data out there, and while there are some smallish anomalies (including the favorite-longshot bias), the evidence in favor of the performance of markets v. experts is really very strong there. As you know, I grew up working for bookies, so this really was where I began. My colleagues in finance would suggest that the real evidence comes from equity / bond / futures / options markets, but there are enough well-known anomalies in those domains that I'm a bit less convinced. (And if you were making the rhetorical point that prediction market aficionados often overstate the evidence for their beliefs, I completely agree.)

I hadn't really coded your piece with Chris as being driven by the favorite-longshot bias, but now you say it, the point is obvious. I'll make sure to reference your paper in the draft that Eric and I are working on about favorite-longshot biases in political markets generally. (I think you saw early work on this, while in Palm Desert.) For Andrew's benefit: we have collected data on literally hundreds of political prediction markets, and find fairly pervasive evidence of a favorite-longshot bias. The work on that paper isn't done yet, but the message is very unlikely to change. There is a very strong favorite-longshot bias in political prediction markets.

BTW, I'm willing to make an even stronger forecast than Bob: I think the unadjusted markets will outperform even the Erikson-adjusted polls. (And for sure, the Wolfers-adjusted markets will beat the Erikson-adjusted polls.) And yes, I'm partly informed on that score by my experience with sports betting markets.

In terms of your question as to whether markets include info not in polls, I think you are right to infer that a lot of what markets are doing is following polls. Equally, the strongest evidence of markets doing some independent info aggregation comes from looking at political prediction markets in the pre-polling era. (If you haven't seen it, I think you will really enjoy Rhode and Strumpf's paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, where they review political prediction markets back to 1880.)

Also, I think that there are some pretty clear examples of the markets getting ahead of polls. Take Fred Thompson, who still does moderately well in national polls, but who the markets have written off. Obviously the polling result is driven by pure name recognition, and so what the markets are doing here is appropriately discounting the predictable polling errors, but they are using non-poll info to do this. (eg They don't think Hillary's advantage will also dissipate.)

Then Bob wrote:

This is just to clarify my comment on whether market prices incorporate useful non-poll info. The comment was directed at markets vs. polls during the election year campaign, not early pre-election moments like today when candidates like Thompson can make superficial advances in the volatile primary election polls.

Can, for instance, short term price changes (as if incorporationg new info) predict subsequent poll shifts? I have searched for evidence and can't find any.

Even this primary season, it is my impression that "events" like Guliani's or Clinton's bad week(s) has little impact on the polls whereas one might think it does. Of course maybe the correct answer is that these "bad weeks" are random noise that should be ignored. But then there is no dynamism to deal with. Once you know the candidates, you know their chances, and that is all you need to know.

And I wrote:

I'm fine with prediction markets being better than the polls, I just want "the polls" to be defined appropriately. For example, parties typically gain 5-10% in the polls after their nominating conventions. The conventions, on average, provide no information. Clearly if you just look at "the polls" before and after the convention, you'll screw up your forecasts. But that isn't the right thing to do--it's the snapshot/forecast distinction. I just get irritated at the raw claim of markets being better than polls, since polls aren't supposed to be direct forecasts. To put it another way, I think there are two points to be made: (1) Polls aren't forecasts (even when people try to ask clever questions such as "who do you plan to vote for" or "who are you sure to vote for" rather than the usual "who would you vote for if the election were held tomorrow"; see our 1993 paper for a discussion of question wording), and (2) Prediction markets work almost as well as, or better than, adjusted polls. Both points are interesting, but the statement, "markets are better than polls" is mostly due to (1), and I think you're interested in (2).

And I'll give Justin the last word:

To Bob: I think it is fair to say that only reasonably important events matter. For instance, the markets clearly do move during the presidential debates. To my eye, they even moved in a sensible way. Equally, when Drudge said that Kerry had "an intern problem" (later proved false), that did cause the markets to move against Kerry.

It will be interesting - through this campaign - to see if there are other examples of what you and I would call "news", and to see whether the markets react. On Thompson, I think it is fair to say that the markets responded to his lackluster campaigning well in advance of the polls. But perhaps you would judge that too early to be useful.

To Andy: I do think that both #1 and #2 are relevant. You are smart enough to adjust polls for post-convention bounce, but not everyone else is. And also, if we always ignore the movement in polls subsequent to a convention, then we risk ignoring those times when a convention actually does shape public opinion.

Equally, I think you (and Bob) are both right to ask for more evidence on #2. I'm guessing that this is what we'll learn from our research.

Posted by Andrew at 8:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 2, 2008

By popular demand: data on presidential nominees' names

In response to a request here, Ubs sends this data file and writes,

On the comments someone wished there were data to play with.

I've typed some up. No guarantees it's perfect. Obviously, I didn't intentionally do anything incorrect, but I didn't spend any time proofreading it either.

Rules for inclusion

Presidential candidates:
- Listed only if win at least one full state of electoral votes
- (Means 1789, 1792, 1820 treated as unopposed)
- Note that lots of stray 3rd candidates qualify in the early years (like when a state legislature decides to give their EV to some non-candidate). For most uses might make sense to exclude them, at the cost of losing the few legit 3rd party candidates (ie, 1912, 1968). Some later 3rd party candidates don't even show because they get popular vote but no EV (eg, Henry Ross Perot).

Vice presidential candidates:
- Listed only if an official or de facto running-mate of qualified presidential candidate. (Sometimes requires judgment call in early years.)
- Note that its possible for a non-qualifying VP candidate to get more EV than a qualifying one (eg 1832).
- If presidential candidate has multiple running mates (eg, Bryan one year, I forget which), only list the running mate(s) who win(s) at least one full state of EV.

- Ranking is by # of electoral votes (eg, 1 is the 1st most EV, etc)
- Exception: winner always gets 1, even if less EV (ie JQ Adams in 1824)
- Note that in complicated races (eg, 1824, 1832) the P order and V order might not match, so it doesn't follow that V3 is running mate of P3, for example.

- anti-federalists are labeled Dem-Rep even before the party officially so named. (That party is somewhat meaningless for the period around 1820-24 when essentially there's just the one party.)
- National Republicans labeled Whig (1828-1832)
- some candidates received support from multiple parties. Picked the bigger party, which can be a judgment call
- Lincoln/Johnson 1864 listed as Rep and Dem instead of Natl Union

The alternate first name field is for middle name guys only. did not do short/nicknames like Al for Albert, Jimmy for James.
- possible I missed some middle names, and I'm not sure about Cabot Lodge.

- is how they were officially designated for constitutional purposes (in some cases not an obvious match for true home)
- for some VP candidates I've deduced but not confirmed; a couple not determined at all, entered as ??

last ran as
- If you test this for zero that should give unique individuals counted only once, right?
- has no way of indicating if a V1 succeeded to presidency and thus was incumbent president (or even a 0, in case of Gerald Ford). Other incumbencies can be deduced, I think.

Posted by Andrew at 12:02 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 31, 2007

Terrorism futures

In writing an entry motivated by Justin Wolfers's article on prediction markets, I had another thought, which was a bit tangential to my main point (a poll is a snapshot, not a forecast, etc.), so I'm putting it separately here.

Justin writes,

It is the accuracy of market-generated forecasts that led the Department of Defense to propose running prediction markets on geopolitical events. While political rhetoric about "terrorism futures" led the plug to be pulled on that particular experiment . . .

I don't know exactly why the plug was pulled on that program, but I seem to recall that it was being run by convicted criminal John Poindexter--a guy who was actually involved in what were arguably terrorist activities (the project of secretly sending weapons to Iran in the 1980s). So, yeah, maybe we should be a bit suspicious! Labeling this as "political rhetoric" dodges the real concerns about this program.

Beyond concerns about foxes guarding the henhouse, etc., even the "good guys" (however you define them) are subject to all sorts of cognitive biases, and I don't know that I want somebody in a position of power being in the position to make money if there is a terrorist attack. Even if it's small amounts of money, this sort of thing can affect people's judgment. Maybe it would affect people's judgment in a good way, I don't know, but it's certainly not obvious to me that the "terorrism futures" thing is a good idea.

Posted by Andrew at 7:30 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Are Political Markets Really Superior to Polls as Election Predictors?

Here's an article by Bob Erikson and Chris Wlezien on why the political markets have been inferior to the polls as election predictors. Erikson and Wlezien write,

Election markets have been praised for their ability to forecast election outcomes, and to forecast better than trial-heat polls. This paper challenges that optimistic assessment of election markets, based on an analysis of Iowa Electronic Market (IEM) data from presidential elections between 1988 and 2004. We argue that it is inappropriate to naively compare market forecasts of an election outcome with exact poll results on the day prices are recorded, that is, market prices reflect forecasts of what will happen on Election Day whereas trial-heat polls register preferences on the day of the poll. We then show that when poll leads are properly discounted, poll-based forecasts outperform vote-share market prices. Moreover, we show that win-projections based on the polls dominate prices from winner-take-all markets. Traders in these markets generally see more uncertainty ahead in the campaign than the polling numbers warrant—in effect, they overestimate the role of election campaigns. Reasons for the performance of the IEM election markets are considered in concluding sections.

I was motivated to post this after reading Justin Wolfers's Wall Street Journal article, "Best Bet for Next President: Prediction Markets," where he writes, "Experimental prediction markets were established at the University of Iowa in 1988, and they have since amassed a very impressive record, repeatedly outperforming the polls."

As I wrote a couple of years ago,

Prediction markets do a good job at making use of the information and analyses that are already out there--for elections, this includes polls and also the information such as economic indicators and past election results, which are used in good forecasting models. The market doesn't produce the forecast so much as it motivates investors to find the good forecasts that are already out there.

As an aside, people sometimes talk about a forecasting model, or a prediction market, "outperforming the polls." This is misleading, because a poll is a snapshot, not a forecast. It makes sense to use polls, even early polls, as an ingredient in a forecast (weighted appropriately, as estimated using linear regression, for example) but not to just use them raw.

But . . .

That said, I like Justin's work a lot, including his paper with Zitzewitz on prediction markets. (And I'm a big fan of the idea of betting--we have an example of football point spreads in chapter 1 of Bayesian Data Analysis.) I think Justin's Wall Street Journal article is just fine--I understand that it's necessary to simplify a bit to reach a general audience amid space limitations. I'm just wary of overselling them or of misunderstanding of what is learned from polls.

P.S. More discussion (including comments from Wolfers and Erikson) here.

Posted by Andrew at 7:02 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Who listens to the polls? (and a link to a four-year-old rant)

Daniel Lippman sent me this article, which states, "A dose of perspective for the poll junkies out there: 45 percent of Americans say they 'have not read or heard anything about public opinion polls about the upcoming presidential election.' That's according to a new poll (what else?) from AP and Yahoo!"

The circularity of this reminded me of a study I heard about a few years ago (when reviewing an article for a journal, I think it was Public Opinion Quarterly) where people were polled and asked, "How many times were you surveyed in the past year?" That particular study was trying to get at the idea of the country being divided between "professional survey participants" who actually answer these surveys, and the rest of us who just hang up.

I'm one of the hanger-ups myself, but I justify it by feeling that this just creates more job opportunities for statisticians who analyze missing data. Anyway, I think there are too many polls.

Posted by Andrew at 2:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 28, 2007

More on presidential names

Following up on this entry, Ubs writes,

It's not always an obvious call who counts as a "major nominee", particularly in the multi-candidate races and in the early elections before the 12th Amendment.

I'm counting three candidates in 1912, only Washington in 1792, two candidates in every other race, and no one at all in 1789. In 1856 I'm counting Breckenridge but not Douglas, and in 1824 I'm excluding both Crawford and Clay. I think that's cutting it pretty tight, but even so I still get 106 nominees total, so I have no idea how she gets it down to 105 -- especially considering that her "215 years" implies she does count Washington in 1789, and the mention of Strom Thurmond suggests she's counting him, too, neither of which I count.

Anyway, here's my figures. First list counts candidates once per election; second list counts them once per person.

James: 11
John: 11
William: 11
George: 7
Thomas: 7
Franklin: 5
3 each: Andrew, Charles, Richard, Stephen
2 each: Abraham, Adlai, Alfred, Benjamin, Dwight, Henry, Herbert, martin, Ronald, Theodore, Ulysses, Winfield
1 each: Albert, Alton, DeWitt, Gerald, Horace, Horatio, Hubert, Lewis, Lyndon, Michael, Robert, Rufus, Rutherford, Samuel, Walter, Warren, Wendell, Zachary
Total: 106

James = 8
John = 8
William = 5
George = 5
Thomas = 3
2 each: Alfred, Charles, Franklin, Winfield
1 each: Abraham, Adlai, Albert, Alton, Andrew, Benjamin, DeWitt, Dwight, Gerald, Henry, Herbert, Horace, Horatio, Hubert, Lewis, Lyndon, Martin, Michael, Richard, Robert, Ronald, Rufus, Rutherford, Samuel, Stephen, Theodore, Ulysses, Walter, Warren, Wendell, Zachary
Total: 68

Either way, her 1/3 figure for James + John + William + George holds with room to spare.

I'm counting Stephen Grover Cleveland (x3), Thomas Woodrow Wilson (x2), and John Calvin Coolidge (x1) by their actual first names, by the way.

Amusing trivia: In 1916 a Thomas-Thomas ticket ran against Charles-Charles.

Posted by Andrew at 6:28 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 24, 2007

Measuring voters and legislatures on the same scale

Joe Bafumi and Michael Herron write,

We consider a fundamental question about the elected American political institutions: do they work? . . . Any given set of democratic institutions may aggregate preferences fairly—i.e., the associated aggregation process yields an outcome that reflects an appropriately designated representative constituent—or it may fail to do so—i.e., the aggregation process leads to distortion between its outcome and a representative constituent. Thus, to discern whether the elected American political institutions fairly aggregate preferences, we must address the question, who precisely is represented by these institutions and, importantly, is this individual representative of Americans writ large?

Here's what they find:


The scale has liberals on the left (the negative numbers) and conservatives on the right (the positive numbers). As is well known, voters tend to be more moderate than representatives, but the median of the voters is not far from the median of the current House and Senate. (Joe and Michael unfortunately ignored my advice and labeled the congresses by number rather than year.)

Joe and Michael made the graph by taking a large national survey and putting in questions asking about attitudes on a bunch of issues that were also voted on by the House and Senate. They then used an ideal-point model (see, for example, chapter 14) to line up voters and congressmembers on a common scale. They also did some adjustment to match the sample to the general population. Good stuff.

Questions about the distribution of voters

Getting distributions of congressmembers is standard now (Poole and Rosenthal, etc), but getting voters on the same scale is new. I just have two questions about those cool distributions of voters.

First, I wonder about the bimodality. There seem to be two things going on. On issue attitudes, voters are basically unimodal, with more people in the center and some in the extremes. On party identification, voters are bimodal, with many strong Democrats and strong Republicans. Bafumi and Herron put this all together and end up with a bimodal distribution, but I wonder how sensitive this is to their particular methods.

Second, I wanted to point out the asymmetry in their graph. According to the analysis, something like 20% of the people are more liberal than the median Democratic congressmember, but only about 5% are more conservative than the median Republican congressmember. An some basic level, this is hard for me do believe, but I suspect it has to do with the issues that congress votes on. It would be interesting to see this broken down, issue by issue.

The seats-votes curve

Regarding the point in the paper about 2006, it's worth noting that, for various reasons (including incumbency, gerrymandering, and simple geography), congressional elections have shown a big partisan bias in the seats-votes curve in favor of the Republicians. (Before then there was a bias in favor of the Democrats).

So this explains part of what they found, I think.

See Figure 1 in this paper (to appear next year in PS): From 1996 through 2004, the Dems were getting 50% or more of the vote just about every year but getting clearly less than 50% of the seats.

See Figure 2 of that paper for estimated seats votes curves since 1958.

Even in 2006, the Dems didn't get their fair share of the seats (compared to what the Reps would've gotten with that vote share).

The Bafumi and Herron paper is great but I think it would be strengthened by including the role of the seats-votes curve.

OK, OK, I had to say it . . .

Some minor comments:

Figures 5,6: Please, please, please don't order these states alphabetically!!! It would be much more informative to order them from most conservative to most liberal. Also, I'd suggest putting the two graphs side by side on the same page. Similarly with Figures 7,8.

Similarly, Fig 9 should not be alphabetical either!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Other than that, though, the pictures are really pretty.

And don't get me started on the tables.

Posted by Andrew at 9:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

America's 10 political regions redefined

I'm a sucker for this sort of silly thing:


Maybe we can look at income and voting within each of these regions.

Posted by Andrew at 4:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 21, 2007

Candidates on web networks

Aleks labels this "if clicks were votes," but maybe it would be more accurate to label it "clicks aren't votes" . . . .

Posted by Andrew at 12:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 20, 2007

Trends in voting by occupation

Here are some graphs Yu-Chieh made from data from the National Election Studies, extending Manza and Brooks's analysis of voting by occupation up to 2004.


Within each occupatoin class, we're plotting Republican presidential vote (relative to the national mean each year); you can see some striking trends, with professionals (doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc) going to the Democrats and business owners going to the Republicans, among other patterns.

Our next step is to throw income into the analysis and see income tracks with Republican vote more in some occupation categories than others. (A quick analysis found the difference in voting patterns of rich and poor to be similar in the different occupation categories.)

P.S. There was some problem with the coding for 1972. We'll have to go back and see what we did wrong for that year. (I'm hoping the other years are ok. They're roughly consistent with what Manza and Brooks found, so I expect they're fine.)

Posted by Andrew at 2:50 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

New names and old

In explaining why she picked "Barack" as the 2007 Name of the Year, Laura Wattenberg spits out the following stunner:

In 215 years of American electoral history encompassing 105 major nominees, the overwhelming majority of candidates have had traditional English names. In fact, the names George, James, John and William alone account for more than a third of all nominees.

She continues:

Among rarer names, most are based on English surnames such as Rutherford and Winfield. Many of these are taken from the nominee's mother's maiden name, and many were actually given as middle names: Thomas Woodrow Wilson, James Strom Thurmond, Stephen Grover Cleveland.

A few candidate names have had more creative flair, like those of Horatio Seymour and the man who defeated him, Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses). Both names harken back to a 19th-century vogue for classical names which also yielded hits like Rufus and Augustus. They were uncommon but not foreign, and in step with American fashions. The most unconventional name on the list is probably Adlai Stevenson, but even Adlai is a biblical name. It had been used in Stevenson's family for generations, including by a grandfather who served as U.S. Vice President.

No notably foreign names. Nothing remotely like Barack. Because Barack isn't just "un-English," it's very much something else. . . .

P.S. More detail here.

Posted by Andrew at 12:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 19, 2007

Cool graphs of trends in income inequality within states

Below are 50 little graphs showing the 90th percentile and 10th percentile in income, within each state, for the past forty years. The patterns are pretty striking: the high end has increased pretty consistently in almost all the states, and the low end increased a lot in poor states, especially for the first half of the series. I don't really know what more to say about this--we made the graphs because we are trying to understand the differences between rich and poor states in the past 20 years, and what has made them into "blue" and "red" states--but the graphs are full of interesting patterns. Incomes are inflation-adjusted and presented on a logarithmic scale (with a common scale for all the graphs), and the states are ordered from poorest to richest.

OK, here's the picture:


And here are the trends since 1981, plotted vs. avg income within states:

In poor states, the poor have been doing better; in rich states, the rich have been doing better.

Income inequality between states

All states have been getting richer over the decades (as measured by average real incomes). Up until about 1980, income inequality between states decreased, then since then it's increased slightly (which is consistent with the above scatterplots). Here's the key picture:


Further discussion is here.

Posted by Andrew at 1:55 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Drugs, sports, and politics

Maybe someone can do some record-linkage on this list and the list linked here .


Actually, I find the campaign list more interesting than the drugs list!

Posted by Andrew at 12:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 17, 2007

Vote fraud in Russia?

Aleks sent me this link.

(I haven't looked at this myself; note the "?" in the title above.)

Posted by Andrew at 12:04 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 15, 2007

Bread and peace: forecasting the election from the economy, and a question about plotting

Douglas Hibbs's latest paper on his "bread and peace" model (predicting presidential election voting based on the economy, with corrections for wartime) is here. It's clear and worth a read. Even more amusing (to me, but probably not to most of you) is this exchange, which Hibbs posted on his webpage.

[Scroll down to the bottom to see my latest version of the graph.]

Here's my first version of the killer graph (adapted from Hibbs's to include his 2004 data):


This looks pretty good. The big exceptions are 1952 (Korean war) 1968 (Vietnam war). Beyond that, as Hibbs noted, 1996 and 2000 are the biggest outliers.

This stuff isn't news--we all heard about it in grad school. But at another level, it's always news.

Which picture do you prefer?

Here was my first try at the graph:


I put in some effort to make the more elaborate graph higher up on the page as a template for a sort of enhanced scatterplot that provides more information about each data point. I've seen this sort of dotplot before, and it seemed to make sense, since the points were roughly evenly spaced along the "economic growth" axis anyway.

I prefer the top graph on the page. But . . . there's something compelling about the scatterplot--forecasting y from x--that seems to be lost in the more elaborate dotplot. So I'm not quite sure what to do.

P.S. In his article, Hibbs convincingly explains why his model is much better than the much-ballyhooed Ray Fair model.

A new contestant

Following Sandapanda's comment below, I redid the upper graph width different proportions so that the area with the dots is larger. I also gave it a cleaner title:


Is it better now?

Or maybe I should plot them in decreasing order of avg income growth (i.e., 1964 and 1984 at the top, down to 1992 and 1980 at the bottom). This might be clearer because the dots would show a satisfying increasing relationship (rather than the more confusing negative slope seen here).

OK, OK, . . .

Here's the newest version:


I wasn't thrilled with this last version because it didn't make it clear what is being predicted from what. Here's a new version (see below) which puts the economic growth first, followed by the election outcome:


Posted by Andrew at 9:13 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

December 13, 2007

"Justly acquired endowment"??? Taxing as punishment or as a way to raise money

Tall political scientist David Park and tall economist Robin Hansen point to this paper by Mankiw and Weinzierl on the idea of taxing tall people. I have no problem with the paper--it's wacky, but intentionally wacky, one might say, using height as an example of a variable that is correlated with income in the general population. Height isn't actually correlated very much with income (together, height and sex predict earnings with an R-squared of only 9% (see, for example, page 63 of our book), so in some way it's not a great example, but maybe that's part of their point too.

Anyway, David and Robin both quote a news article that states that Mankiw and Weinzierl "say that height is a 'justly acquired endowment': it is not unfairly wrested from anyone else, so the state has no right to seize its fruits."


I think there's something I'm missing here, but . . . who ever said that you can only tax something that was "unjustly wrestled from someone else"? Haven't they ever heard of the sales tax? Even a society with no unjust wrestling at all would still need taxes. Setting redistribution aside entirely, there are reasons for higher taxes on the rich (they can more easily afford it) and reasons for not taxing the rich (depending on your mathematical model for the efficiency of the economy), but I don't really see how something being "justly endowed" means that it can't be taxed. The tax money needs to come from somewhere.

Why taxes?

The same article also says, "By the same logic, they imply ... the government has no right to force someone with the 'justly acquired endowment" of entrepreneurial genius to pay a higher tax rate." This also confuses me since I hadn't heard that anyone was proposing a tax on "entrepreneurial genius."

Maybe this is a difference between how economists and political scientists view the world. Mankiw and Weinzierl seem to view taxes as a way to punish people, whereas I see taxes as a way to raise money?

Posted by Andrew at 10:46 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Should the Democrats move to the left on economic policy?

The 2008 primary election season is just beginning, and, amid the debates between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and others, there's been active discussion about whether the country is looking for a centrist "New Democrat" in the Bill Clinton mode or someone from Howard Dean's "Democratic wing of the Democratic party."

One way to get a handle on this question is to consider the strategies considered in 2004. Could John Kerry have gained votes in the recent Presidential election by more clearly distinguishing himself from George Bush on economic policy? At first thought, the logic of political preferences would suggest not: the Republicans are to the right of most Americans on economic policy, and so it would seem that the optimal strategy for the Democrats would be to stand infinitesimally to the left of the Republicans. The "median voter theorem" (as political science jargon puts it) suggests that each party should keep its policy positions just barely distinguishable from the opposition.

In a multidimensional setting, however, or when voters vary in their perceptions of the parties' positions, a party can benefit from putting some daylight between itself and the other party on an issue where it has a public-opinion advantage (such as economic policy for the Democrats). Is this reasoning applicable in 2004 (or today)?

What we did

Our paper has two parts. In the theoretical part, we set up a plausible model in which the Democrats could achieve a net gain in votes by moving to the left on economic policy, given the parties' positions on a range of issue dimensions. In the data-analysis part, we fit a set of regression models based on survey data on voters' perceptions of their own positions and those of the candidates in 2004.

For example, here is a graph based on National Election Study data from 2004. Each dot represents where a survey respondent places him or herself on economic and social issues: positive numbers are conservative and negative numbers are liberal, and "B" and "K" represent the voters' average placements of Bush and Kerry on these scales:


Most voters tend to place themselves to the right of the Democrats on economic and on social issues, and most voters tend to place themselves to the left of the Republicans in both dimensions. Having (approximately) located the voters, we fit a model estimating the probability that each person would vote for Bush or Kerry, given the person's distance from each of the two candidates on economic and social issues. We can then artificially imagine moving the candidates to the left or right and seeing what would happen to their votes.

What we found

Under our estimated model, it turns out to be optimal for the Democrats to move slightly to the right but staying clearly to the left of the Republicans' current position on economic issues.

First, here are the estimated results based on one-dimensional shifts; that is, Kerry or Bush shifting to the left or the right on economic or social issues. Positions on the economy and on social issues are measured on a -9 to 9 scale, and a -8 to 8 scale, respectively, so shifts of up to 3 points to the left or right are pretty large (see the scatterplot above to get a sense of where the voters stand, and how they rate the candidates). For all shifts, the graphs show the estimated change in Bush's share of the vote.


Based on this model, Kerry should've shifted slightly to the right in both dimensions, Bush should've shifted slightly to the left on social issues and a great deal to the left on economic issues. (The curves are slightly jittery because of simulation variability.)

Now here are the estimated results for two-dimensional shifts, in which a candidate can change his position on economic and social issues:


According to this model, the optimal strategy for Kerry is to move 1 point to the right in both dimensions; in contrast, Bush would benefit by moving about 2 points to the left on social issues and nearly 3 points to the left on the economy. (Recall that the scales go from -9 to +9.)

In summary . . .

The answer to the question posed by the title of the paper appears to be No, Kerry should not have moved to the left on economic policy. Conventional wisdom appears to be correct: Kerry would have benefited by moving to the right, and Bush by moving to the left. The optimal shifts for Bush are greater than those for Kerry, which is consistent with the observation that voters are, on average, closer to the Democrats on issue attitudes.

Does this make sense?

Could the Democrats really move a bit to the left or the right? I think they could; there's been various debate along these lines in the 2008 primary season, with Hillary Clinton generally viewed as the more centrist candidate and John Edwards being more to the left on economic issues.

Could the Republicans move strongly toward the center, as recommended by our calculations? This seems less likely, given that the debates among the Republicans in the primaries seem to be focusing more on establishing the candidates' conservative credentials.

We conclude with a reminder that candidates need not, and perhaps should not, necessarily follow these seemingly optimal strategies. For one thing, the recommendations are only as good as the models, and the very act of a candidate trying to move to the left or to the right could affect voters's attitudes and other ways. For another thing, you only need 50%-plus-one electoral votes to win the election, and sometimes that can be done with a position that is less than optimal, as with George Bush's successful 2004 campaign, where he did fine without having to move to the center. He might have won more states with more centrist positions, but he didn't need to.


This is based on the article, "Should the Democrats move to the left on economic policy?" by Andrew Gelman and Cexun Jeffrey Cai, to appear next year in the Annals of Applied Statistics.

Posted by Andrew at 5:07 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

December 12, 2007

Statistics is a "mathematical science," so here's another opportunity . . .

I got this in the email:

The American Mathematical Society (AMS), in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), will sponsor a Congressional Fellow from September 2008 through August 2009.

The Fellow will spend the year working on the staff of a Member of Congress or a congressional committee, working as a special legislative assistant in legislative and policy areas requiring scientific and technical input. The program includes an orientation on congressional and executive branch operations, and a year-long seminar series on issues involving science, technology, and public policy.

The fellowship is designed to provide a unique public policy learning experience, to demonstrate the value of science-government interaction, and to bring a technical background and external perspective to the decision-making process in the Congress.

A prospective Fellow must demonstrate expertise in some area of the mathematical sciences; have a good scientific and technical background; be cognizant of and demonstrate sensitivity toward political and social issues; and, most importantly, have a strong interest and some experience in applying personal knowledge toward the solution of societal problems.

Applications are invited from individuals in the mathematical sciences. Applicants should have a Ph.D. or an equivalent doctoral-level degree in the mathematical sciences by the application deadline (January 31, 2008). Applicants must be U.S. citizens. Federal employees are not eligible.

An AMS Fellowship Committee will select the AMS Congressional Fellow. The fellowship stipend is US$67,000 for the fellowship period, with allowances for relocation and professional travel. Benefits include a substantial contribution toward health insurance.

To apply, candidates should submit a statement expressing interest and qualifications for the AMS Congressional Fellowship, as well as a current curriculum vitae. Candidates should also arrange for three letters of recommendation to be sent to the AMS by the January 31st deadline. All application materials should be sent to: AMS Congressional Fellowship, American Mathematical Society, 1527 Eighteenth Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20036.

Application deadline: January 31, 2008

Posted by Andrew at 12:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 9, 2007

How to think about instrumental variables when you get confused

"Instrumental variables" is an important technique in applied statistics and econometrics but it can get confusing. See here for our summary (in particular, you can take a look at chapter 10, but Chapter 9 would help too).

Now an example. Piero spoke in our seminar last Thursday on the effects of defamation laws on reporting of corruption in Mexico. In the basic analysis, he found that, in the states where defamation laws are more punitive, there is less reporting of corruption, which suggests a chilling effect of the laws. But there are the usual worries about correlation-is-not-causation, and so Piero did a more elaborate instrumental variables analysis using the severity of homicide penalties as an instrument.

We had a long discussion about this in the seminar. I originally felt that "severity of homicide penalties" was the wackiest instrument in the world, but Piero convinced me that it was reasonable as a proxy for some measure of general punitiveness of the justice system. I said that if it's viewed as a proxy in this way, I'd prefer to use a measurement-error model, but I can see the basic idea.

Still, though, there was something bothering me. So I decided to go back to basics and use my trick for understanding instrumental variables. It goes like this:

The trick: how to think about IV's without getting too confused

Suppose z is your instrument, T is your treatment, and y is your outcome. So the causal model is z -> T -> y. The trick is to think of (T,y) as a joint outcome and to think of the effect of z on each. For example, an increase of 1 in z is associated with an increase of 0.8 in T and an increase of 10 in y. The usual "instrumental variables" summary is to just say the estimated effect of T on y is 10/0.8=12.5, but I'd rather just keep it separate and report the effects on T and y separately.

In Piero's example, this translates into two statements: (a) States with higher penalties for murder had higher penalties for defamation, and (b) States with higher penalties for murder had less reporting of corruption.

Fine. But I don't see how this adds anything at all to my understanding of the defamation/corruption relationship, beyond what I learned from his simpler finding: States with higher penalties for defamation had less reporting of corruption.

In summary . . .

If there's any problem with the simple correlation, I see the same problems with the more elaborate analysis--the pair of correlations which is given the label "instrumental variables analysis." I'm not opposed to instrumental variables in general, but when I get stuck, I find it extremely helpful to go back and see what I've learned from separately thinking about the correlation of z with T, and the correlation of z with y. Since that's ultimately what instrumental variables analysis is doing.

Posted by Andrew at 12:59 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 7, 2007

Graphical Representations of Voting Results

Matt pointed me to this paper by Robert Vanderbei:

We describe and illustrate various ways to represent election results graphically. The advantages and disadvantages of the various methods are discussed. While there is no one perfect way to fairly represent the outcomes, it is easy to come up with methods that are superior to those used in recent elections.

The coolest thing in the paper are some 3-color maps. Here's 1992: blue is Clinton, red is Bush, and green is Perot:


It has the usual problem that large sparsely-populated areas are overrepresented but otherwise is ok, and certainly provides some interesting information. Vanderbei has some interesting discussion of the choice of colors for displaying these scales.

My other thoughts on the paper:

1. What's with the lower-case "democratic" and "republican"? It's standard to write these in caps.

2. I really hate those so-called "cartograms" (p.10 of the paper) since they draw attention to the distortion (the distribution of population) rather than the votes, which is really what we want to see.

3. I still like this map, which unfortunately isn't in the paper:


4. For the maps by Congressional district (page 11 of the paper), I'd prefer to put one dot per district rather than shading. The shading overemphasizes large areas (as usual) and also adds another distracting feature of drawing attention to the shapes of the districts, which is not the main point of interest.

That said, I do often present colored-state maps myself, because it is a clear way of presenting the information, despite all the problems in interpretation.

Posted by Andrew at 2:51 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 6, 2007

Do voter identification laws depress turnout?

John Sides says yes, or maybe yes, linking here to a couple papers on the topic here. My comments on the Alvarez, Bailey, and Katz paper are here. And also Leighey and Nagler's research on the possible effects of increasing turnout.

Posted by Andrew at 1:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 5, 2007

The politics of evolution

Jerry Fodor puts some effort here into shooting down evolution, or more precisely adaptationism, the idea (in human terms) that we adapted for a stone-age environment and that's why we have difficulties in the modern world, or (in more general terms) that natural selection is the key aspect of the evolution of species.

What I'm interested in here, though, is not the scientific issue about evolution (which I'm certainly not competent to judge) but some of the related political issues. I'd like to write something longer on this (if I could figure out exactly what to say) but the idea is that the big underlying issue is politics. Fodor is (I assume) a political liberal in U.S. terms, meaning that he supports some combination of income redistribution, feminism, gay rights, environmental protection, a nonmilitaristic foreign policy, etc. And he's opposing adaptationism partly, I think, because it is associated with conservatives--people who want to keep traditional social and economic arrangements and support open markets, traditional religious values, minimal regulation, an active military, and so forth. The conservative arguments typically have the flavor of, "Human nature is the way it is, we can't change it so don't try. Clever efforts at reform end up being too clever by half and have unintended consequences." Adaptationism fits here as a scientific basis for "human nature," supplying what Fodor (quoting Gould) labels as "just-so stories" about why men should be the boss, why people are inherently aggressive so we need a strong defense, why family ties are important, etc. As Steven Pinker and others have noted, adaptation doesn't need to have any particular political implications. (For example, if men are naturally killers because of our stone age evolution, this could be an argument for accepting some violence (yeah, I'm talking about you, Michael Vick), or an argument for rigorous laws to stop the violence.) And, even accepting adaption, there's still room for lots of debate on the details.

That said, I think that Fodor is reacting to the current vogue for adaptation as an explanation/motivation for conservative ideas by what he would view as modern-day Herbert Spencers.

Let me be clear here. I'm not saying that adaptationism is some sort of hard truth that Fodor doesn't accept because he doesn't like it's political implications. Rather, I'm saying that adaptation is a tricky scientific question, and I suspect that one reason for Fodor's interest in it is that it's been used by conservatives to support their political positions. Maybe the political dimension is one reason it's so difficult for me to follow the discussions (for example, go here and scroll down to "Why Pigs Don't have Wings").

Posted by Andrew at 8:28 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 4, 2007

Meritocracy won't happen: the problem's with the "ocracy"

David Brooks wrote a column today on "the dictatorship of talent" in China, which reminds me of a big problem with all discussion of "meritocracy," which is that it's actually a self-contradiction. I learned this several years ago from a wide-ranging and interesting article by James Flynn (the discoverer of the "Flynn effect", the steady increase in average IQ scores over the past sixty years or so). Flynn's article talks about how we can understand variation in IQ within populations, between populations, and changes over time.

At the end of his article, Flynn gives a convincing argument that a meritocracatic future is not going to happen and in fact is not really possible. He first summarizes some data showing that America has not been getting more meritocratic over time. He then presents the killer theoretical argument:

The case against meritocracy can be put psychologically: (a) The abolition of materialist-elitist values is a prerequisite for the abolition of inequality and privilege; (b) the persistence of materialist-elitist values is a prerequisite for class stratification based on wealth and status; (c) therefore, a class-stratified meritocracy is impossible.

Basically, "meritocracy" means that individuals with more merit get the goodies. From the American Heritage dictionary: "A system in which advancement is based on individual ability or achievement." As Flynn points out, this leads to a contradiction: to the extent that people with merit get higher status, one would expect they would use that status to help their friends, children, etc, giving them a leg up beyond what would be expected based on their merit alone.

Flynn also points out that the promotion and celebration of the concept of "meritocracy" is also, by the way, a promotion and celebration of wealth and status--these are the goodies that the people with more merit get. That is, the problem with meritocracy is that it's an "ocracy". As Flynn puts it:

People must care about that hierarchy for it to be socially significant or even for it to exist. . . . The case against meritocracy can also be put sociologically: (a) Allocating rewards irrespective of merit is a prerequisite for meritocracy, otherwise environments cannot be equalized; (b) allocating rewards according to merit is a prerequisite for meritocracy, otherwise people cannot be stratified by wealth and status; (c) therefore, a class-stratified meritocracy is impossible.

He also has some normative arguments which you could take or leave, but the social-science analysis is convincing to me.

Posted by Andrew at 10:43 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 1, 2007

Republicans Report Much Better Mental Health Than Others

Boris noticed this report from Gallup:

Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent, according to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and 38% of Democrats. This relationship between party identification and reports of excellent mental health persists even within categories of income, age, gender, church attendance, and education.

The basic data -- based on an aggregated sample of more than 4,000 interviews conducted since 2004 -- are straightforward.


One could be quick to assume that these differences are based on the underlying demographic and socioeconomic patterns related to party identification in America today. . . . But an analysis of the relationship between party identification and self-reported excellent mental health within various categories of age, gender, church attendance, income, education, and other variables shows that the basic pattern persists regardless of these characteristics.



[Similar graphs follow by sex, age, and church attendance, followed by a multiple regression.]

This comes as a surprise to me. I would've expected the opposite--I associate Democrats with the "self-esteem" concept and Republicans with a grimmer, more conservative view of the world. I wonder what the time trends are on this.

P.S. As Matt suggests in comments, this might be a regional thing. I'd also like to see it broken down by urban/suburban/rural.

Posted by Andrew at 4:37 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

What difference would it make if everybody voted? Leighley and Nagler disagree with Wolfinger

This is a long one because it has a lot of information (collected and analyzed by others, not ourselves). To start with, some data from a study by Baldassare of Californians:



But political scientists generally hold that voters and nonvoters aren't really so different

This 1999 article by Highton and Wolfinger summarizes the basic political-science view of nonvoters and election outcomes:

Analyses of survey data show that no objectively achieved increase in turnout--including compulsory voting--would be a boon to progressive causes or Democratic candidates. Simply put, voters differ minimally from all citizens; outcomes would not change if everyone voted. . . . The absence of a consequential link between outcomes and turnout can be explained by answering a hitherto neglected question: who does not vote? . . .

If everyone had voted in 1992, Bill Clinton's share of the vote would have shrunk by 1.2 percentage points, compared to a loss of 2.5 points by President Bush. Clinton's margin over Bush would have risen from 13.7 to an even 15 points. Ross Perot would have picked up a few more votes and marginal candidates would have done marginally worse. . . . Both Republicans and Democrats were just barely more numerous among voters than in the total population. . . . By and large, voters were representative of the entire sample on most policy questions. Voters were, by five percentage points, more conservative than the whole sample about whether "it is important for the government to provide many more services [in areas such as health and education] even if it means an increase in spending." Employment preferences for blacks were more popular among the entire sample, 21 percent of whom supported this policy, compared to 17 percent of voters. Voters were less favorable about the federal government guaranteeing a job and a good standard of living to everyone but more sympathetic to abortion rights. On all other issues, differences in either direction did not exceed two percentage points.

In 1996, universal turnout would have expanded Clinton's share of the vote from 53.1 to 59.5 percent, chopped Bob Dole's vote more than 11 points, and doubled Clinton's winning margin. Changes among other candidates were trivial, and four percent of the sample had no candidate preference. In contrast to 1992, Democrats were slightly less numerous among voters and Republicans somewhat less so. As always, Independents were scarcer among voters than in the general public.

The pattern of differences on issues was somewhat more pronounced in 1996. This was particularly the case on redistributive economic questions. By anywhere from five to nine percentage points, voters were more conservative than the whole sample. . . .

These findings are incontestable evidence that on some major issues voters were more conservative than the entire adult population in 1996. We defer for the moment trying to appraise the importance of this tilt to the right, other than to note that the differences between voters and the entire electorate, while indisputable, are relatively modest; none is as high as 10 percentage points. . . .

How can one estimate what nonvoters would do if they were to vote? . . . we attributed to nonvoters the perspectives of voters in their respective income quintile. We assigned to poor nonvoters the political preferences of poor voters, rich nonvoters the characteristics of rich voters, and so on. . . . If everyone had voted in 1992, Clinton would have gained two and a half percent more of the vote and Bush would have lost 1.5 percent . . . The results would have been about the same in 1996, except for a slightly larger rise in Clinton's vote share. In the 1990s, universal turnout would have been a slight benefit to Democratic presidential candidates. These results confirm the conventional wisdom, although the modest size of the advantage might disappoint some readers.

Why is it surprising that with universal turnout voters would differ so little from those who actually go to the polls? . . . No single characteristic is shared by a majority of those who did not vote in 1992 or 1996; the "party of nonvoters" is rather diverse. The two most common demographic features of nonvoters are residential mobility and youth, two characteristics that do not suggest political distinctiveness, let alone a Mother Lode of votes for Democratic candidates or pressure for liberal causes. In both 1992 and 1996, fully 43 percent of nonvoters had moved within two years of the election and one third were under the age of thirty.

Would election outcomes and the substance of public policy in the United States dramatically change if more people voted? Contrary to the expectations of many others, we have found that universal turnout would bring modest changes. . . . Taken as a whole, nonvoters appear well represented by those who vote.

I'd say that Highton and Wolfinger's view is accepted by most political scientists and well-informed journalists (just for example, see this 1988 article by E. J. Dionne, " If Nonvoters Had Voted: Same Winner, but Bigger").

A new synthesis?

But Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler are writing a book, Who Votes Now? And Does It Matter?, about the importance of differences between voters and nonvoters. In their words:

Who votes does matter in terms of policy benefits. Hill and Leighley (1992), for example, find that state electorates in which the poor vote as much as the wealthy provide significantly higher welfare benefits. Similarly, Martin (2003) finds that members of Congress allocate federal grant awards to areas where turnout is highest. Thus, those who vote more are rewarded with more substantive policy benefits. . . .

Consistent with the results for partisanship . . . the ideological distribution of voters and non-voters in 2004 is fairly similar to that in 1972: moderates are most under-represented, while conservatives are over-represented. Importantly, the magnitude of these differences increases between 1972 and 2004. . . We therefore draw a very different inference than did Wolfinger and Rosenstone regarding the policy representativeness of voters. Our data, too, suggest that the differences in 1972 were modest. However, our results for each of these three issues after 1972 suggests though that these differences on class-based issues are enduring and increasing. . . .
the conventional wisdom suggesting that "who votes" does not matter due to the relatively representative policy preferences expressed by voters seemed to conflict with a broader appreciation of the notable demographic, economic, and political changes that have occurred in the U.S. since Wolfinger and Rosenstone's classic statement. . . . we take issue with the assumption that voters are indeed representative of non-voters.

This is important! It would be good to resolve the disagreement between the different experts in this area.

P.S. Here is John Sides's summary of the situation.

Posted by Andrew at 10:23 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 30, 2007

Running Regressions for the New York Times

David writes:

When I read a New York Times article (or any newspaper or magazine for that matter) based on a survey they conducted, I always lament the fact that they only offer simple crosstabulations in their analysis. For example, the article will discuss whether primary and caucus voters weigh issues versus electability more when selecting a candidate (see previous post), yet they only provide the percentage of voters who say issues and electability are important, respectively. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just put both (scaled) predictors in the same vote choice model to see which has a larger impact on vote choice? Since I’m sharing an office with Andrew Gelman, while working on our Red State Blue State Paradox book, I mentioned to him that we should offer our services, free of charge, to the New York Times to run regressions and write up a short article that a general NY Times reader (without any statistical knowledge) could understand. The short article could be available just online at the Bill Keller, any thoughts?

Seems like a good idea for me. This woul also work with Gallup etc. These polling organizations have research departments, but I don't see these sort of in-depth reports coming out; I'm not sure why. Ideally they'd hire some Ph.D. in quantitative political science full time to do this, along with someone like me as a consultant to keep an eye on things. Polls themselves are fairly expensive so this doesn't seem like such an outlandish idea to me, not that I know anything about the business end of anything,

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November 29, 2007

Reagan's words

Edo sent along this paper describing a Bayesian approach to determining the authorship of Reagan's speeches.

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November 26, 2007

A political science research blog

David Park, John Sides, and Lee Sigelman have a blog on political science research, with a focus on (but not limited to) American politics. There's some interesting stuff here, mostly descriptions of recent papers they've read, for example this on the importance of endorsements in primary elections and this on the economic costs of wars. Compared to our blog, theirs is going to have fewer pretty pictures and less on multilevel models, but on the upside they may have more political content and fewer comments of the "they should turn their tables into graphs" sort.

Also, I don't know if this new blog means that David won't be posting here anymore . . .

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Statistics vs. Econ (Re: Is an Oxford degree worth the parchment it's printed on?)

Dan Luu writes,

The short version of my question is: A lot of the papers I've been reading that sound really interesting don't seem to involve economics per se (e.g.,, but they usually seem to come out of econ (as opposed to statistics) departments. Why is that? Is it a matter of culture? Or just because there are more economists? Or something else?

If you don't mind getting random unsolicited email just because you write a blog, then there's the longer version of my question.

I've been reading your blog for a couple of years and this post of yours from a month ago got me thinking about studying statistics. My background is mainly in engineering (BS CompE/Math, MS EE). Is it possible to get accepted to a good stats program with my background? I know people who have gone into econ with an engineering, but not statistics. I've also been reading some epidemiology papers that are really cool, so statistics seems ideal, since it's heavily used in both econ and epidemiology, but I wonder if there's some domain specific knowledge I'd be missing.

I've noticed that a lot of programs "strongly recommend" taking the GRE math subject test; is that pretty much required for someone with an unorthodox background? I'd probably have to read a topology and number theory text, and maybe a couple others to get an acceptable GRE math score, but those don't seem too relevant to statistics (?). I've done that sort of thing before – I read and did all the exercises in a couple of engineering texts when I switched fields within engineering, and I could do it again, but, if given the choice, there are a other things I'd rather spend my time on.

Also, I recently ran into my old combinatorics professor, and he mentioned that he knew some people in various math departments who used combinatorics in statistics for things like experimental design. Is that sort of work purely the realm of the math departments, or does that happen in stats departments too? I loved doing combinatorics, and it would be great if I could do something in that area too.

My reply:

1. A lot of interesting papers are being written by economists now, but I'm also a big fan of papers by psychologists. Psychologists will cram the results of ten different experiments into a single article. Instead of just exploring a question with a single dataset, they'll really try to figure things out, running different experiments to consider different possibilities.

As to the question of why don't statisticians write more interesting applied papers: I don't know. I suppose people go into statistics because they like math, not because they care about any particular application. I've seen some pretty crappy applied work by well known and respected statisticians--people whose theoretical work I respect a lot. The best scientific work by statisticians is probably not social science but rather in biology, the most famous example being R. A. Fisher's model unifying the genetics of discrete and continuous traits (I hope I'm not garbling that too much). Also, yeah, there are more economists, and they're in a more competitive field, so maybe they put more effort into promoting their own work. (Yes, I know, I'm one to talk, seeing as I promote my own work all the time, but maybe I'm not typical of statisticians.)

2. I think it's easier to get into a top statistics Ph.D. program than to get into a top econ program. I'm a big fan of stat Ph.D. programs, especially if you can work with a good advisor and do some interesting stuff. I don't know the deal with the math GRE. We used to require it at Columbia but we'd get a lot of applicants who hadn't taken it, and we'd consider their applications too, so it seemed only fair to diminish it to a recommendation rather than a requirement.

Finally, yes, there's combinatorics in classical experimental design but I don't know that much is done in this area anymore. But there is some work, both in probability theory and in applied statistics, on models for networks and trees, for which the mathematics is highly combinatorial in an interesting way. Here are a couple of papers as an example (one of which is in an econ journal!): The mathematics and statistics of voting power and Forming voting blocs and coalitions as a prisoner's dilemma: a possible theoretical explanation for political instability.

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What to teach if you only have three weeks, and suggestions for the ten most interesting and accessible quantitative papers in political science

Frank Di Traglia writes,

I'm going to be teaching a three-week, introductory statistics course for local high school students next summer, and wanted to ask for your advice. I have two questions in particular.

First, I doubt that three weeks will be enough time to teach the usual Statistics 101 course. If you had only three weeks, what would you skip and what would you emphasize?

Second, since next year is an election year, I thought it might be fun to build the course around substantive examples from political science. Although I've enjoyed many of your poly-sci papers, my own background is not in this area (I did my masters in Statistics, and am currently pursuing a PhD in Economics). What would you consider to be the ten most interesting and accessible quantitative papers in this field?

My reply:

1. It's gotta depend on how many hours per week you have! To consider the larger question, I'm unsatisfied with the usual intro stat course (including what I've taught) because it comes across as a disconnected set of topics. As I wrote here about the "sampling distribution of the sample mean":

The hardest thing to teach in any introductory statistics course is the sampling distribution of the sample mean, a topic that is at the center of the typical intro-stat-class-for-nonmajors. All of probability theory builds up to it, and then this sample mean is used over and over again for inferences for averages, paired and unparied differences, and regression. This is the standard sequence, as in the books by Moore and McCabe, and De Veaux et al.

The trouble is, most students don't understand it. I'm not talking about proving the law of large numbers or central limit theorem--these classes barely use algebra and certainly don't attempt rigorous proofs. No, I'm talking about tha dervations that lead to the sample mean of an average of independent, identical measurments having a distribution with mean equal to the population mean, and sd equal to the sd of an individual measurement, divided by the square root of n.

This is key, but students typically don't understand the derivation, don't see the point of the result, and can't understand it when it gets applied to examples.

What to do about this? I've tried teaching it really carefully, devoting more time to it, etc.--nothing works. So here's my proposed solution: de-emphasize it. I'll still teach the samling distribution of the sample mean, but now just as one of many topics, rather than the central topic of the course. In particular, I will not treat statistical inference for averages, differences, etc., as special cases or applications of the general idea of the sampling distribution of the sample mean. Instead, I'll teach each inferential topic on its own, with its own formula and derivation. Of course, they mostly won't follow the derivations, but then at least if they're stuck on one of them, it won't muck up their understanding of everything else.

Given these thoughts, my first suggestion would be for you to indeed focus on one particular thing, for example public opinion, and focus your course on that. Have the students download raw data from polls and do some analyses (maybe using JMP-in). This is what Bob Shapiro does when he teaches intro stats here.

2. If you'd rather do something closer to standard statistics, I'd recommend focusing on sampling, experimentation, and observational studies. You can do one week of each--in each week, they first do an in-class demo (a survey in week 1, an experiment in week 2, an obs study in week 3), then they together do something larger. I have some examples in my book with Deb, but I can't say I've worked out all the details of such a course. It's easier to talk about it than to do it.

3. The ten most interesting and accessible quantitative papers in political science? That's a good question. Of my own papers, these are the most accessible, I think: Why are American Presidential election campaign polls so variable when votes are so predictable?, Voting, fairness, and political representation, Voting as a rational choice: why and how people vote to improve the well-being of others, A catch-22 in assigning primary delegates, Rich state, poor state, red state, blue state: What's the matter with Connecticut? I also like the paper, Methodology as ideology: mathematical modeling of trench warfare, even though it's not really statistical.

I wouldn't include all of these in a top-ten list, but I'd include at least one! Beyond this, perhaps the blog readers have some suggestions?

Posted by Andrew at 12:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 20, 2007

Red State Blue State Article Published

Our (Andrew Gelman, Boris Shor, Joseph Bafumi, and David Park) "Rich State, Poor State, Red State, Blue State: What's the Matter with Connecticut?" paper has finally been published in the November 2007 Quarterly Journal of Political Science. You can access the paper here.

Here is the abstract:

For decades, the Democrats have been viewed as the party of the poor, with the Republicans representing the rich. Recent presidential elections, however, have shown a reverse pattern, with Democrats performing well in the richer blue states in the northeast and coasts, and Republicans dominating in the red states in the middle of the country and the south. Through multilevel modeling of individual-level survey data and county- and state-level demographic and electoral data, we reconcile these patterns. Furthermore, we find that income matters more in red America than in blue America. In poor states, rich people are much more likely than poor people to vote for the Republican presidential candidate, but in rich states (such as Connecticut), income has a very low correlation with vote preference.

Here are the blog posts relating to this project.

Here are some radio interviews and external blog posts on preliminary versions of the paper.

Posted by Boris at 11:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 18, 2007

If anybody knows those Freakanomics people . . .

. . . could you please ask them to stop saying, "We know that voting doesn’t make good economic sense." I recognize that "Freakanomics" is intended to be entertainment, not scholarship, but I don't think these dudes are doing economics any favors by spreading this kind of misconception. Voting isn't a good way to make money, but that doesn't mean it "doesn't make good economic sense." The full story is here (based on an article by an economist and two political scientists). I'll repeat here for convenience, but I recommend going to the original entry to see some of the give-and-take in the comments:

With only a year to the next election, and with the publicity starting up already, now is a good time to ask, is it rational for you to vote? And, by extension, is it worth your while to pay attention to what Hillary, Rudy, and all the others will be saying for the next year or so? With a chance of casting a decisive vote that is comparable to the chance of winning the lottery, what is the gain from being a good citizen and casting your vote?

The short answer is, quite a lot. First the bad news. With 100 million voters, your chance that your vote will be decisive--even if the national election is predicted to be reasonably close--is, at best, 1 in a million in a battleground state such as Ohio and less than 1 in 10 million or less in a less closely-fought state such as New York. (The calculation is based on the chance that your state's vote will be exactly tied, along with the chance that your state's electoral vote is necessary for one candidate or the other to win the Electoral College. Both these conditions are necessary for your vote to be decisive.) So voting doesn't seem like such a good investment.

But here's the good news. If your vote is decisive, it will make a difference for 300 million people. If you think your preferred candidate could bring the equivalent of a $50 improvement in the quality of life to the average American--not an implausible hope, given the size of the Federal budget and the impact of decisions in foreign policy, health, the courts, and other areas--you're now buying a $1.5 billion lottery ticket. With this payoff, a 1 in 10 million chance of being decisive isn't bad odds.

And many people do see it that way. Surveys show that voters choose based on who they think will do better for the country as a whole, rather than their personal betterment. Indeed, when it comes to voting, it is irrational to be selfish, but if you care how others are affected, it's a smart calculation to cast your ballot, because the returns to voting are so high for everyone if you are decisive. Voting and vote choice (including related actions such as the decision to gather information in order to make an informed vote) are rational in large elections only to the extent that voters are not selfish.

That's also the reason for contributing money to a candidate: Large contributions, or contributions to local elections, could conceivably be justified as providing access or the opportunity to directly influence policy. But small-dollar contributions to national elections, like voting, can be better motivated by the possibility of large social benefit than by any direct benefit to you. Such civically motivated behavior is consistent with both small and large anonymous contributions to charity.

The social benefit from voting also explains the declining response rates in opinion polls. In the 1950s, when mass opinion polling was rare, we would argue that it was more rational to respond to a survey than to vote in an election: for example, as one of 1000 respondents to a Gallup poll, there was a real chance that your response could noticeably affect the poll numbers (for example, changing a poll result from 49% to 50%). Nowadays, polls are so common that a telephone poll was done recently to estimate how often individuals are surveyed (the answer was about once per year). It is thus unlikely that a response to a single survey will have much impact.

So, yes, Virginia--and Ohio, and Florida, and Pennsylvania, and New Jersey--it is rational to vote. Utah, Wyoming, and Massachusetts: maybe it's not worth your time. On the other hand, there's a chance you could swing the national popular vote (which can affect the perception of a mandate) and in any case you're likely to have close local races that can ultimately affect policies from schools to taxes to crime and punishment, so if you have any preferences there, it might very well be worth your time to cast your ballot and have a small chance of making a big difference.

Here's our research article in the journal Rationality and Society spelling out the reasoning and evidence in more detail.

P.S. No, I didn't vote today. I don't think any of the local elections were close. I doubt there was serious opposition to any of the candidates.

P.P.S. I was motivated to post this by this Freakanomics article which brings up the old argument that it's irrational to vote because the probability of your vote being decisive is so low. Stephen Dubner writes, "The irony is that the typical voter is more likely to have an impact in a smaller election than in a larger one, but it’s the bigger elections that draw far more voters." Actually, it's not such an irony at all: bigger elections have bigger effects, thus more motivation to vote. It all becomes clear when you realize that most people vote because of what they think will be good for the country, not for their own personal benefit. It's fine for individual people to disagree with this--maybe Dubner and Levitt vote for other reasons--but it's an unfortunate blind spot for them to identify rationality with selfishness.

I don't mind that Levitt, Dubner, and Hagen don't want to vote, or that they present arguments against voting, but I don't think it's so great for them to use their wide influence to spread the notion that "voting doesn't make good economic sense" as if this is some sort of absolute truth. In all seriousness, I think it is far more consistent with the principles of Freakanomics to try to understand people's behavior, not to snarkily dismiss it as not making sense.

Anyway, if any of youall know the Freakanomics people, please pass this message along to them. I recognize there are legitimate differences of opinion about the rationality of voting, but, as a person who's thought a lot about these issues, I don't think it's a good idea for these misleading messages to be spread.

P.S. I expect the Freakanomists are not aware of our article. I know that even in my scholarly work, I've missed important references (in fact, we joke that one reason to send a paper out to review is to catch all the literature we missed). I hope this entry (if someone sends it to them!) will alert the Freakanomists to the literature on rational sociotropic voting.

Posted by Andrew at 11:06 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

November 13, 2007

Scaling and Universality in Proportional Elections

Somebody (I can't remember who) pointed me to this paper by Claudio Castellano and Santo Fortunato. Here's the abstract:

A most debated topic of the last years is whether simple statistical physics models can explain collective features of social dynamics. A necessary step in this line of endeavor is to find regularities in data referring to large-scale social phenomena, such as scaling and universality. We show that, in proportional elections, the distribution of the number of votes received by candidates is a universal scaling function, identical in different countries and years. This finding reveals the existence in the voting process of a general microscopic dynamics that does not depend on the historical, political, and/or economical context where voters operate. A simple dynamical model for the behavior of voters, similar to a branching process, reproduces the universal distribution.

I wrote to them, doing the traditional academic thing of referring to my own papers:

You may be interested in our paper, The mathematics and statistics of voting power, which considers some mathematical models for correlations among votes. Further empirical analysis is in our paper, Standard voting power indexes don't work: an empirical analysis.

I do not think it is necessary to assume contact by word of mouth (as you say in your paper) as the correlations can occur for other reasons, including similarity of interests among nearby voters, and also news media effects.

Fortunato and Castellano replied,

We have finally had the time to read the two papers you recommended to us. We find them interesting. However we think that the problem we deal with in our paper is rather different from what is discussed in yours.

In particular, we consider proportional elections with multiple-seat constituencies and open lists and we focus on the performance of candidates within each party list, trying to factor out the choice of the party and the issues associated to it.

Our main result is that the empirical analysis reveals striking similarities for the histograms of the relative performance of candidates in different years and in different countries. This result is very remarkable to us.

In order to explain these findings we have devised an elementary model, based on the idea of word-of-mouth influence in the network of voters, that allows to reproduce the empirical evidence. We do not claim that word-of-mouth is a necessary ingredient for understanding the phenomenology uncovered. Nor we assert that our model is the only way to explain the data. The model is an attempt in this direction. It is likely that other plausible modelizations of the correlations among voters, as those you mention, could reproduce our results. Additional empirical evidence is needed to allow for a more stringent test of the model(s).

We have tried to approach the social/political science community in order to have feedback on our work and find relevant related literature.

And so I posted this discussion here.

Posted by Andrew at 10:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 11, 2007

Happy conservatives and gloomy liberals

This post by Tyler Cowen recounts a debate in which he and another conservative argued that Americans are happy, versus two liberals who argued that Americans are not so happy, which makes me wonder how this happened. It reminds me of

. . . the debates between Democrats and Republicans in Reagan/Carter/Mondale era. Reagan could certainly be serious about the problems facing the country, but he was basically pro-happiness and anti-gloom-and-doom.

It hasn't always been this way. In the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, it was the Democrats who were the happy party, favoring prohibition repeal, loose money, federal spending, and economic growth, whereas the Republicans were the grouches. Look at the Barry Goldwater campaign, for example, for some serious grouching. Why have the terms of debate changed? An explanation that makes sense is that the U.S. has lower tax rates than Europe, so the high-tax, low-tax battle gets transferred to the question, "Are people happier in the U.S. than in Europe?" But we've only been able to have this battle since 1970 or so; before that, Europe was still much poorer than the U.S.

So, in a way it all makes sense, but there's still something funny about it to me, since it really seems to be a debate about what tax rates in the U.S. should be.

For some historical perspective, here's a quote from G. K. Chesterton's book on George Bernard Shaw:

I [Chesterton] know it is all very strange. From the height of eight hundred years ago, or of eight hundred years hence, our age must look incredibly odd. We call the twelfth century ascetic. We call our own time hedonist and full of praise and pleasure. But in the ascetic age the love of life was evident and enormous, so that it had to be restrained. In a hedonist age pleasure has always sunk low, so that it had to be encouraged. How high the sea of human happiness rose in the Middle Ages, we now only know by the colossal walls that that they built to keep it in bounds. How low human happiness sank in the twentieth century our children will only know by these extraordinary modern books, which tell people that it is a duty to be cheerful and that life is not so bad after all. Humanity never produces optimists till it has ceased to produce happy men. It is strange to be obliged to impose a holiday like a fast, and to drive men to a banquet with spears. But this shall be written of our time: that when the spirit who denies beseiged the last citadel, blaspheming life itself, there were some, there was one especially, whose voice was heard and whose spear was never broken.

Chesterton was a Catholic conservative of the early 1900s, Shaw was a socialist, and both were famous for expressing their ideas in paradox.

Shaw, the leftist, associated progress with material happiness, while Chesterton, the rightist, said things were better in the Middle Ages. Nowadays, the debates usually go in the other directions, with people on the left being less positive about material progress and people on the right saying that things are great now and are getting better.

P.S. Don't forget that Sweden is not Finland.

P.P.S. Further miscellaneous thoughts on happiness.

Posted by Andrew at 9:11 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 6, 2007

Do the Democrats represent the rich?

Boris points to this post by Megan McArdle which discusses some of the political implications of the Democrats doing best among lower-income voters but winning the states and congressional districts where more of the higher-income Americans live. As McArdle puts it,

[Michael Franc] is actually making a good point: the constituency of the Democrats will force many of them to support the interests of the rich, even where they might ideologically prefer to oppose, because doing so is good for their district. Voters, especially poor voters, are highly influenced by local economic conditions. It is thus in Chuck Schumer's strong political interest to keep the financial services industry happy, whether or not they vote for him. Ditto Nancy Pelosi and Silicon Valley.

This does seem like a real tension: I'd only add that it's not just what the Democrats ideologically prefer, but also what their voters want. I haven't looked at the data from Nancy Pelosi's district, or for that matter at votes for Chuck Schumer, but where we have looked at voting (thanks to Henry Farrell for linking to our paper on this), the Democrats do better among the poor and the Republicans do better among the rich. It's not a perfect correlation by any means, but to the extent that Nancy and Chuck are listening to their party's supporters, they'd be listening to teachers, nurses, students, and, for that matter, unemployed people, not hedge fund managers.

McArdle writes,

Democrats indisputably represent more rich voters than Republicans; their constituency is the people in their district, not the people in their district who voted for them.

I'd respond to this with a Yes and No. In terms of the Constitution, I agree; for that matter, congressmembers also represent nonvoters and people such as children and noncitizens who are ineligible to vote, just as back in 1789 they were said to represent women, non-property-owners, and 3/5 of the slaves. On the other hand, the two parties are different, and voters generally have enough information about candidates to vote for the one who is closer to their preferences. So in that sense, congressmembers do actually represent the people who vote for them. After all, Democrats are much more liberal than Republicans in otherwise-comparable districts. (There's lots of evidence on this; see, for example, the graph on page 213 of our recent book.)

Another way to look at this is to flip it around and consider the Republicans, who represent richer voters but poorer states. A simple geographically-based analysis would suggest that the Republicans would be trying to raise taxes on the rich and raise benefits for the poor. But they're not. Arguably the Republicans' pro-business, low-tax policies are ultimately what's best for the poor (and also the rich), but they're certainly don't seem like the kind of populist notions that would make people in poorer districts happy.


The sweet spot for either party is spending that benefits its favored voters: rich people in poor states if you're a Republican, or poor people in rich states if you're a Democrat. This could be military contracts in the South (if you're a Republican) or mass transit in the Northeast (if you're a Democrat).

Now consider slopes. In the "red states," the slope is steep so there's not much of a motivation for R's to support measures that help poor people in poor states (if there is such a program). But in the "blue states," the slope is flat enough that there is a motivation for Chuck Schumer et al. to want to help out hedge fund managers (as well as to support programs such as Amtrak that benefit upper-middle-class types in the Northeast).

To put it another way, recall that the "red state, blue state" divide occurs among the rich, not among the poor. So you might expect the parties to have pretty consistent national policies on targeted benefits to the poor, but to be much more localized when considering benefits to the rich, with the Democrats favoring the financial and high-tech industries, and Republicans favoring agribusiness and small-business owners, for example. It would be interesting to see this studied more systematically.

The man-bites-dog factor

Another aspect of this is the idea that the Democrats are expected to be fighting the rich, and it's a surprise for things to go the other way. If it's the Republicans supporting the rich, this would not be news. To put it another way, Michael Franc's article is titled, "Democrats wake up to being the party of the rich," but on his terms (unwillingness to impose taxes on "mega-millionaires"), I assume the Republicans would be "the party of the rich" also.

Similarly, Fred Siegel writes that the Democrats are the party of the rich and that this is a trend since 1972. This may be the case but it doesn't show up in the polling data. Consider this graph (from this paper by David Park and myself) showing the difference in proportion of Republican vote, comparing voters in the upper third of income to voters in the lower third:


The Republicans have been doing consistently best at the higher end of the income scale. Again, I'm not disagreeing with Franc and Siegel about the geographic and fundraising bases for the Democrats' support; I'm just pointing out that with data such as shown above, it's no surprise that the Republicans too are going in that direction.

Based on survey data, most voters tend to place themselves to the right of the Democrats on economic and on social issues, and most voters tend to place themselves to the left of the Republicans in both dimensions; see, for example, this graph based on National Election Study data from 2004. Each dot represents where a survey respondent places him or herself on economic and social issues: positive numbers are conservative and negative numbers are liberal, and "B" and "K" represent the voters' average placements of Bush and Kerry on these scales:


Despite all the push by rich funders on both parties, the Hollywood parties and the oil money, this is where things stand. Larry Bartels has a story of why this is, but in any case, it doesn't quite fit into a simple story of the Democrats being the party of the rich. At least not yet. They have to go a ways before they catch up to the Republicans on that one.

Posted by Andrew at 7:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Yes, it's rational to vote in presidential elections

With only a year to the next election, and with the publicity starting up already, now is a good time to ask, is it rational for you to vote? And, by extension, is it worth your while to pay attention to what Hillary, Rudy, and all the others will be saying for the next year or so? With a chance of casting a decisive vote that is comparable to the chance of winning the lottery, what is the gain from being a good citizen and casting your vote?

The short answer is, quite a lot. First the bad news. With 100 million voters, your chance that your vote will be decisive--even if the national election is predicted to be reasonably close--is, at best, 1 in a million in a battleground state such as Ohio and less than 1 in 10 million or less in a less closely-fought state such as New York. (The calculation is based on the chance that your state's vote will be exactly tied, along with the chance that your state's electoral vote is necessary for one candidate or the other to win the Electoral College. Both these conditions are necessary for your vote to be decisive.) So voting doesn't seem like such a good investment.

But here's the good news. If your vote is decisive, it will make a difference for 300 million people. If you think your preferred candidate could bring the equivalent of a $50 improvement in the quality of life to the average American--not an implausible hope, given the size of the Federal budget and the impact of decisions in foreign policy, health, the courts, and other areas--you're now buying a $1.5 billion lottery ticket. With this payoff, a 1 in 10 million chance of being decisive isn't bad odds.

And many people do see it that way. Surveys show that voters choose based on who they think will do better for the country as a whole, rather than their personal betterment. Indeed, when it comes to voting, it is irrational to be selfish, but if you care how others are affected, it's a smart calculation to cast your ballot, because the returns to voting are so high for everyone if you are decisive. Voting and vote choice (including related actions such as the decision to gather information in order to make an informed vote) are rational in large elections only to the extent that voters are not selfish.

That's also the reason for contributing money to a candidate: Large contributions, or contributions to local elections, could conceivably be justified as providing access or the opportunity to directly influence policy. But small-dollar contributions to national elections, like voting, can be better motivated by the possibility of large social benefit than by any direct benefit to you. Such civically motivated behavior is consistent with both small and large anonymous contributions to charity.

The social benefit from voting also explains the declining response rates in opinion polls. In the 1950s, when mass opinion polling was rare, we would argue that it was more rational to respond to a survey than to vote in an election: for example, as one of 1000 respondents to a Gallup poll, there was a real chance that your response could noticeably affect the poll numbers (for example, changing a poll result from 49% to 50%). Nowadays, polls are so common that a telephone poll was done recently to estimate how often individuals are surveyed (the answer was about once per year). It is thus unlikely that a response to a single survey will have much impact.

So, yes, Virginia--and Ohio, and Florida, and Pennsylvania, and New Jersey--it is rational to vote. Utah, Wyoming, and Massachusetts: maybe it's not worth your time. On the other hand, there's a chance you could swing the national popular vote (which can affect the perception of a mandate) and in any case you're likely to have close local races that can ultimately affect policies from schools to taxes to crime and punishment, so if you have any preferences there, it might very well be worth your time to cast your ballot and have a small chance of making a big difference.

Here's our research article in the journal Rationality and Society spelling out the reasoning and evidence in more detail.

P.S. No, I didn't vote today. I don't think any of the local elections were close. I doubt there was serious opposition to any of the candidates.

P.P.S. I was motivated to post this by this Freakanomics article which brings up the old argument that it's irrational to vote because the probability of your vote being decisive is so low. Stephen Dubner writes, "The irony is that the typical voter is more likely to have an impact in a smaller election than in a larger one, but it’s the bigger elections that draw far more voters." Actually, it's not such an irony at all: bigger elections have bigger effects, thus more motivation to vote. It all becomes clear when you realize that most people vote because of what they think will be good for the country, not for their own personal benefit. It's fine for individual people to disagree with this--maybe Dubner and Levitt vote for other reasons--but it's an unfortunate blind spot for them to identify rationality with selfishness.

Posted by Andrew at 6:18 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Mapping State and Congressional Ideology on a Cross-Institutional Common Space: An Update

An updated version of my (Boris Shor, Harris School, University of Chicago) paper with Nolan McCarty (Princeton) and Christopher Berry (Harris School, University of Chicago) on state legislative ideology is available here. A prior version of the paper was featured in an April 2007 post on this blog.

Basically, the idea is to try to understand the ideology of state legislators along some common scale. We have good estimation techniques (like NOMINATE and item response models) that exploit roll call votes to line people up along ideological dimensions.

There have been some attempts to apply this at the state level, and researchers have come up with ideological scores for legislators within individual states. But a major problems remains: how can we make sure scores are comparable across states? We know that legislative agendas differ. We also know that the meaning of Democrats and Republicans is different across the states, too. Illinois Republicans probably aren't the same thing as Florida Republicans. But while we may suspect that Democrats and Republicans in the various states are more or less liberal or conservative with respect to each other, we have never been able to find out if this was actually true. Nor have we been able to tell if the divisions within states are comparable in size across states.

We address this well-known problem with a trick: it turns out that quite a few former state legislators have gone on to serve in Congress. So we use the well-understood congressional ideology of these people to rescale the ideology of all state legislators who didn't go on to Congress. So, in essence, we have rescaled all the ideological placements of thousands of state legislators over a decade to be on the "Congressional scale." We use this approach for California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. We start with these large states because their congressional delegations are larger, which means there is more chance for former state legislators to become our institutional "bridges."

Therefore, we can now make valid comparisons of various measures of state legislative ideology across across states. Read the paper for the full details, but here's a little preview of the result.

Below is a boxplot of the two parties in each state, but pooled over a decade and across upper and lower chambers. So this gives you a basic flavor of the ideological orientation of these states, but doesn't show you all the juicy details of what is going on in each chamber over time (see the paper).

Scores are on the vertical axis. Positive numbers indicate conservatism and negative numbers liberalism, and 0 is "moderate." The dark lines are the party medians.

What is interesting is how different the states are from each other (and Congress). California is highly polarized (parties are far apart and there's no overlap), while New York and Pennsylvania's are far less so. State parties often move in tandem in ideological directions: Illinois Democrats and Republicans are more liberal than, say, Michigan Democrats and Republicans.


This paper is still in development, so we welcome your comments here or by email.

PS: Corrections in the text of the post made, thanks to Lee Sigelman (GW).

Posted by Boris at 12:01 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 5, 2007

Counting churchgoers

When studying religoius attendance and voting, it's worth remembering this measurement issue.

Posted by Andrew at 7:41 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Income, religious attendance, and voting: recent patterns and trends since 1992

I can't say I have much of an explanation for this, but it's interesting:


Church attendance is a strong predictor of how high-income people vote, not such a good predictor for low-income voters.

There's lots of talk about religion and income and voting, but people don't always know that interactions are important.

Here are some time trends (from this paper with David Park). The graphs below show the difference in Republican vote between rich and poor, religious and non-religious, and their interaction (that is, the difference in differences), computed separately for each presidential election year:


As others have noted (although not, as far as I know, looking at interactions), it all started in 1992. We heard a lot about the Moral Majority back in 1980, but it doesn't seem to have started showing up in voting patterns until Clinton.

You can read more about interactions in the linked article. The key points are that (a) higher-income voters support the Republicans and have done so for awhile; (b) more recently, churchgoers have supported the Republicans, (c) the difference between churchgoers and non-churchgoers is much greater for the rich than the poor.

P.P.S. I posted the top graph several months ago but the recent interest in these religiosity/income graphs and these state voting maps motivated me to repost.

Posted by Andrew at 12:17 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

November 4, 2007

Religiosity and income in the U.S.

David noticed this article by Dan Mitchell reporting the well-known fact that people in richer countries tend to be less religious. What about states in the U.S.? We (that is, David Park, Joe Bafumi, Boris Shor, and I) look at it two ways.

First, here's a scatterplot of the 50 states, plotting average religious attendance vs. average income. (Religious attendance is on a -2 to 2 scale, from "never" to "more than once a week," and average income was originally in dollars but has been rescaled to be centered at zero.):


States that voted for Bush in 2004 are in red and the Kerry-supporting states are blue. You can see that people in richer states tend to be less religious, although the relation is far from a straight line. There is also some regional variation (more religious attendance in the south, less in the northeast and west).

Second, here's a plot showing the correlation of religious attendance and individual income within each state. We get a separate correlation for each state, and so we can plot these. Here we plot the correlations vs. state income, using the same color scheme:

Again, there's quite a bit of variation from state to state, but overall we see a positive correlation between income and religiosity in poor states and a negative correlation in rich states: To put it another way, in Mississippi, the richer people attend church more. In Connecticut, the richer people attend church less.

(See also here for more on income and voting by state, and here for more on income, voting, and church attendance.)

P.S. Typos fixed (thanks to commenters Derek and Sandapanda).

P.P.S. Colors of Iowa and New Mexico fixed (thanks to commenter David).

Posted by Andrew at 6:33 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

November 2, 2007

Comparing red states and blue states: more pretty graphs

"Like upscale areas everywhere, from Silicon Valley to Chicago's North Shore to suburban Connecticut, Montgomery County [Maryland] supported the Democratic ticket in last year's presidential election, by a margin of 63 percent to 34 percent." -- David Brooks, 2001.

Some of the discussions of our red-state, blue-state maps picked up on the differences between where national journalists live (the mid-Atlantic states and California) and other parts of America. The income-voting pattern is different in the red states and the blue states. We have some more thoughts on this (scroll down for the pretty graphs).

David Brooks, the New York Times op-ed columnist and author of Bobos in Paradise and On Paradise Drive, explored the differences between Red and Blue America in an influential article, "One Nation, Slightly Divisible,'' in the Atlantic Monthly shortly after the 2000 election. Sometimes described as the liberals' favorite conservative, Brooks embodies the red-blue division within himself. He has liberal leanings on social issues but understands the enduring appeal of traditional values---"today's young people seem happy with the frankness of the left and the wholesomeness of the right,'' and his economic views are conservative but he sees the need for social cohesion among rich and poor. His Atlantic article compared Montgomery County, Maryland, the liberal, upper-middle-class suburb where he and his friends live, to rural, conservative Franklin County, Pennsylvania, a short drive away but distant in attitudes and values, with "no Starbucks, no Pottery Barn, no Borders or Barnes & Noble,'' plenty of churches but not so many Thai restaurants, "a lot fewer sun-dried-tomato concoctions on restaurant menus and a lot more meatloaf platters.

Brooks lives in a liberal, well-off area. It is characteristic of the east and west coasts that the richer areas tend to be more liberal, but in other parts of the country, notably the south, the correlation goes the other way. A comparable journey in Texas would go from Collin County, a suburb of Dallas where George W. Bush received 71% of the vote, to rural Zavala County in the southwest, where Bush received only 25%.


The graph above shows the pattern: Collin and Zavala (the dark circles on the scatterplot) are the richest and poorest counties in Texas, and there is a clear pattern that poor counties supported the Democrats while the Republicans won in middle-class and rich counties.

When we showed this to a political scientist, he asked about the state capital, noted for its liberal attitudes, vibrant alternative rock scene, and the University of Texas: "What about Austin? It must be rich and liberal.'' We looked it up. Austin is in Travis County and makes up almost all its population. Travis County has a median household income of $45,000 and gave George W. Bush 53% of the vote, putting it about midway between Collin and Zavala counties in the graph.

By comparison, the next graph shows the counties of Brooks's home state of Maryland: here there is no clear pattern of county income and Republican vote. We have indicated Montgomery County, the prototypical wealthy slice of Blue America, in bold, and it is not difficult to find poorer, more Republican-supporting counties nearby as comparisons. Rich and poor counties look different in Blue America than in Red America.


We can also look at income and voting for individual voters in each state. In Texas, there is a strong relation between income and voting:


In Maryland, the pattern is much weaker:


And here, by popular demand, is the notorious Kansas:


P.S. Just to be clear, I think Brooks's observations about cultural differences between red and blue America are interesting and important; you just have to be careful when aligning these with income or wealth.

Posted by Andrew at 8:39 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

The effect of voter identification laws on turnout

Mike Alvarez, Delia Bailey, and Jonathan Katz just completed this paper:

Since the passage of the “Help America Vote Act” in 2002, nearly half of the states have adopted a variety of new identification requirements for voter registration and participation by the 2006 general election. . . . In this paper we document the effect of voter identification requirements on registered voters as they were imposed in states in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, and in the 2002 and 2006 midterm elections. Looking first at trends in the aggregate data, we find no evidence that voter identification requirements reduce participation. Using individual-level data from the Current Population Survey across these elections, however, we find that the strictest forms of voter identification requirements — combination requirements of presenting an identification card and positively matching one’s signature with a signature either on file or on the identification card, as well as requirements to show picture identification — have a negative impact on the participation of registered voters relative to the weakest requirement, stating one’s name. . . .

It looks interesting to me. It's a hard problem to study because the number of states with changes is not large. Also, I'm still a little baffled by Figures 5 and 6, where it says that Pr(voting) > 90% for "an average registered voter". Turnout isn't really that high! I thought it was closer to 70%? Perhaps something was set to zero rather than the middle of the distribution when computing the average? It shouldn't make a difference for the comparison but it would be good to get that intercept settled to a reasonable value. One thing that would also help would be to plot the raw data on top of some of these graphs to make sure the model is doing what it's supposed to be doing.

I was also suspicious that in Figure 6, the confidence intervals have the same width for nonwhite as for white respondents. There are fewer nonwhites, so I'd think their confidence intervals should be wider. But since the model has no interactions, I guess it makes sense for the confidence intervals to have the same with here. Also, I'd take Figures 7-9 and make them as one figure with 8 columns and 3 rows, this would allow easier comparisons.

Posted by Andrew at 12:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 30, 2007

Why does the press cover the horse race, not policies?

Paul Krugman writes,

The news media seem determined to destroy the republic:
In all, 63% of the campaign stories focused on political and tactical aspects of the campaign. That is nearly four times the number of stories about the personal backgrounds of the candidates (17%) or the candidates’ ideas and policy proposals (15%). And just 1% of stories examined the candidates’ records or past public performance, the study found.


The press’ focus on fundraising, tactics and polling is even more evident if one looks at how stories were framed rather than the topic of the story. Just 12% of stories examined were presented in a way that explained how citizens might be affected by the election, while nearly nine-out-of-ten stories (86%) focused on matters that largely impacted only the parties and the candidates.

This has always bothered me too. One reason Gary and I did our research on why are American Presidential election campaign polls so variable when votes are so predictable was that we wanted to convince the news media to do more substantive stories and less polling. Our point was that general elections for president are generally determined by fundamental variables, not short-term news or bandwagon effects--things are different for primary elections, which have multiple candidates and are inherently unstable--and so this horse-race coverage was a waste of time.

Why, then?

Nonetheless, horse-race coverage persists. I don't know whether it's worse than before--the site linked to by Krugman does not have comparative time series data--but it's still there. I'd also include the ridiculously-frequent polling as an example of this problem. Anyway, why is it still happening?

My theory, at least for the general election, is that most of the voters have already decided who they're going to vote for--and even the ones who haven't decided are often more predictable than they realize. Suppose, for example, that 40% have pretty much already decided they'll vote for the Democrat, 40% will vote for the Republican, and the fight is over the remaining 20%--most of whom do not follow politics closely in any case. Now think of the audience for political news. 80% of the people don't need to know the candidates' positions--they've already decided their votes--but they're intensely interested in the horse race: are "we" going to win or lose? The substantive coverage that Krugman and I might want is really just for 20% of the audience. So, from that perspective, it makes sense for the media to give people the horse race. (Yes, survey respondents say they want more of candidates position issues and less on which candidate is leading in the polls--but I don't know that I believe people when they say this.)

That said, when talking about the primary elections, yeah, I think it would make sense for the media to report more on where the candidates stand on issues.

Finally, on thing that does surprise me is that they don't run more stories on the sources of the candidates' money. Y'know, this sort of thing. It's fun and also could be informative about the candidates.

P.S. The histogram here should be a horizontal dotplot. Trying to read a colored plot with a key on the side--that's bad news.

Posted by Andrew at 11:35 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

More precision on income and voting?

Jeff writes,

Some questions of interest, picking up from your trio of income/state winners graphs:

At what income cutoff ($) would Dems and Repubs tie in electoral votes? What national income percentile is this?

What if you take the top x% within each state by income? (How low do you have to go before the Dems can win?)

My reply: I imagine the threshold would be close to the 50th percentile, just by symmetry since each party got about half the vote, and when we last looked, the electoral college had little partisan bias (i.e., the seats-votes curve goes close to 50/50; see here)..

But I'm wary of trying to get a more precise answer because this would lean too heavily on the assumed linearity of the income predictor in the model. Linearity fits reasonably well, but still, this is the sort of modeling exercise I wouldn't trust. I certainly wouldn't trust the linear model on theoretical grounds, given that the categories are just the arbitrary divisions used by NES.

Posted by Andrew at 12:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 25, 2007

Some cool graphs of rich states and poor states

I'll take advantage of Paul Krugman's recent link to our paper on income and voting by putting up some cool scatterplots that we made recently. It started with our maps of which states Bush and Kerry would've won if only the votes of the poor, middle-income, and rich were counted:




We noticed that the familiar red-blue pattern (rich northeast and west coast supporting the Democrats, rest of the country supporting the Republicans) showed up clearly among rich voters, but not among the poor or middle class.

Here are the data shown another way: for each income category, we show Bush's vote share for each state, plotted along with the state's income. For poor voters, there is no systematic difference between rich and poor states. But for middle-income and especially for rich voters, there is a very strong pattern of rich states supporting the Democrats and poor states supporting the Republicans.




Thus, the familiar red-blue divide of cosmopolitan coastal Democrats and heartland-state Republicans shows up among the rich but not the poor.

Posted by Andrew at 10:48 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Those numbered Congresses

Since I'm layin down the law on terminology . . .

Could the entire subfield of American politics please stop talking about the 77th Congress or the 103rd Congress and start talking about the 1941-42 Congress and the 1993-94 Congress and so forth? This would just make everybody's life easier.

Thank you. I'll stop bugging you now.

Posted by Andrew at 2:36 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 23, 2007

Nobody ever mentions it . . . because it's false

This one's pretty funny. TV personality Tucker Carlson writes,

OK, but here’s the fact that nobody ever, ever mentions — Democrats win rich people. Over 100,000 in income, you are likely more than not to vote for Democrats. People never point that out. Rich people vote liberal. I don’t know what that’s all about.

Well, yeah, nobody ever points that out, because it's actually false! Here are the 2004 data, and Krugman links to the 2006 polls. (I followed the link originally from Mark Thoma.)

Income certainly doesn't determine everything--the Republicans only beat the Democrats 52-47 among the over 100,000's. Nonetheless, there's something funny about someone complaining that people aren't repeating a false fact. You'd think he would've thought something like, Huh, this is an interesting fact . . . nobody every mentions it . . . maybe it's actually false.

Posted by Andrew at 9:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 19, 2007

Is an Oxford degree worth the parchment it's printed on?

I received the following email:

I recently graduated a U.S. university with a degree in Political Science and Applied Mathematics. At the moment, I'm starting out at Oxford where I'm studying statistics. While I've always been interested in politics and statistics, I didn't start to combine the two until my last year of college, and even then, only on occasion. . . . I saw your recent posting for post-docs at Columbia's Applied Statistics Center and thought about how much I would love that job, or one like it, at some point in the future. The practical question is this: I have been given a great opportunity to study at Oxford, but there is a question as to how much American institutions value Oxford degrees. I'm currently on track to get a master's degree followed by a doctorate in statistics. However, some old advisors are strongly discouraging me from pursuing a DPhil (Oxford's PhD) and instead think that I should get an American PhD in Political Science or Economics. While there are of course other factors in this decision, I was hoping you might have some advice. Would an Oxford DPhil be competitive for a job like the one you posted? Do you think I would need more substantial qualifications to teach in statistics or political science in the States?

My reply:

1. We should be having these postdocs for the indefinite future, so I encourage you to apply in a few years. The top new PhD's in applied statistics can get good academic jobs right after graduating, but I think you can learn a lot in a postdoc position, especially ours, which is interdisciplinary but with a core in statistical methods.

The other cool thing about a postdoc (compared to a faculty position, or for that matter compared to admissions to college or a graduate program) is that you're hired based on what you can do, not based on how "good" you are in some vaguely defined sense. I like to hire people know how to fit models and to communicate with other researchers, and my postdocs have included a psychologist, an economist, and a computer scientist, along with several statisticians.

2. I have no sense of how Oxford degrees are valued. I would assume it has the same value as a degree at an American university. Oxford statistics has some great people, including Chris Holmes, Tom Snijders, and Brian Ripley. Recommendations from these guys would carry a lot of weight, at least in a statistics department. More important, you can probably do something interesting when you're in grad school and also learn some useful skills.

3. You also ask about getting a Ph.D. in statistics or political science or economics. My general impression is that, to teach in a department of X, it helps to have a Ph.D. in X. But some people can do a lot of statistics in a poli sci or econ dept, or vice versa. My other impression is that econ is a cartel. The individual econ professors I know are, without exception, nice people and excellent colleagues who do interesting and important research. But the field as a whole seems so competitive, I would think it could be an unpleasant setting to be in, academically. Statistics (and, to a lesser extent, political science) seems much less competitive to me. Substantively, much of the interesting and important work in applied economics is statistical, and my impression is you'd be better prepared to do the best work there if you come at it from a statistical background.

4. Update: I mentioned this to a colleague and he said that, if you're interested in getting an academic job in the U.S., it isn't a bad idea to spend a year or two at a top U.S. department so people get to know you. (This doesn't contradict my point 1 above.)

P.S. The student replies,

I was not expecting your negative view of economics, however. My interest in the field has (naturally) been on the applied side, more as a potential combination of political science and statistics than anything else, and I gave it as a potential PhD option merely to add more diversity to the list.

My reply: No, I think economics (and economists) are great. I'm just not sure I'd recommend an academic career in economics, since I think you can do similar work in other fields without the intense competitive atmosphere. But that's just my impression as an outsider. In any case, I'm a big fan of the work that's being done in economics, sociology, psychology, and various other social sciences (along with political science and statistics, of course).

Posted by Andrew at 9:18 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 17, 2007

Redistribution through Taxes and Charity: The Cost of 'Compassionate Conservatism' to the Secular Poor

John Huber and Piero Stanig are speaking on this paper:

We [Huber and Stanig] analyze how institutions that establish the level of separation of church and state should influence the political economy of redistribution. Our formal model describes how incentives for charitable giving, coupled with church-state institutions, create opportunities for the rich to form coalitions with the religious poor, at the expense of the secular poor. In our analysis, religion can limit redistribution — not because of the particular faith, belief or risk attitudes of religious individuals (as emphasized by others) — but rather because of simple material greed among the rich and the religious poor. We explore how church-state separation will mediate efforts by the rich to form electoral coalitions with the religious poor, as well as the implications for the size of government, charitable giving, and the welfare of various social groups.

I don't have any specific comments on the paper, but I do wonder if the model can help explain the pattern that, in recent U.S. elections, income predicts of vote choice among the religious but not among non-church-attenders:


Posted by Andrew at 1:59 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 10, 2007

My talks at Dartmouth this Friday

The political science talk: Culture wars, voting, and polarization: divisions and unities in modern American politics. (Here's the higher-resolution powerpoint version.) Here's the handout that goes with the talk

The statistics talk: Interactions are important.

Posted by Andrew at 12:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 9, 2007

Why the square-root rule for vote allocation is a bad idea

Commentators and experts have taken two positions on the allocation of votes in a two-stage voting system, such as block voting in the European Union or the Electoral College in the United States. From one side (for example, this article by Richard Baldwin and Mika Widgren), there is the claim that mathematical considerations of fairness demand that countries (or, more generally, blocks) get votes in proportion to the square root of their populations. From the other side (for example, this article by Gideon Rachman), there is the claim that such mathematical rules are irrelevant to the real world of politics. This debate has real-world importance, in particular because of Poland's recent lobbying for square-root allocation in the European Union, in opposition to Germany's support of something closer to proportionality.

I make a different claim, which is that mathematical rules are relevant to the real world, but that when the mathematics and statistics are done correctly, we find that proportional allocation is much more fair than square-root allocation, in the sense of giving more equal voting power--probability of decisiveness--to individual voters. This sense of voting power is the criterion used by the square-root-rule proponents. Thus, I am taking them at their own word and saying that, under their own rules, the square-root rule is not fair.

The basic idea

I'll work with the EU as an example, since this is where the controversy is right now. The position of Germany is that each country should get a vote proportional to its population. Poland wants a square-root rule.

Let's start from scratch. Your voting power--the probability that your vote is decisive--is equal to the probability that your vote is decisive within your country (that is, the probability that your country would be exactly tied without your vote), multiplied by the probability that your country's electoral votes are decisive in the block voting system (so that, if your state flips, it will change the electoral vote winner), if your state were tied.

If your state has N voters and a block vote of B, the probability that your country is tied on any particular issue is approximately proportional to 1/N, and the probability that your country's block votes are necessary is approximately proportional to B. So the probability that your vote is decisive--your "voting power"--is roughly proportional to B/N, that is, the number of block votes per voter in your state. The allocation is roughly fair if a country's vote is proportional to its population.

The key issue: closeness of elections in large and small states

The point has sometimes been obscured, unfortunately, by "voting power" calculations that purportedly show that, counterintuitively, voters in large states have more voting power ("One man, 3.312 votes," in the oft-cited paper of Banzhaf, 1968) and recommend the square-root rule, discussed by Penrose in a paper from 1946. This claim of Penrose, Banzhaf, and others is counterintuitive and, in fact, false.

Why is the Penrose/Banzhaf claim false? The claim is based on the same idea as we noted above: voting power equals the probability that your country is tied, times the probability that your country's block votes are necessary for a national coalition. The hitch is that Penrose, Banzhaf, and others computed the probability of your country being tied as being proportional to 1/sqrt(N). This calculation is based (explicitly or implicitly) on a binomial distribution model, and it implies that elections in large states will be much closer (in proportion of the vote) than elections in small states.

Actually, though, elections in large states are not much closer than elections in small states. Here are some data (from this paper in the British Journal of Political Science):


Large elections are very slightly closer than small elections, but much much less than would be implied by the square-root rule. In the graphs above, the "alpha = -0.5" line shows what would happen under the square root rule; actual best-fit alphas are much closer to zero.

If you wanted to set a power-law based on the consensus of the data, it would make more sense to set a 0.9 power rule. But this is much closer to proportionality than to the square-root (or 0.5 power).

Engaging the argument

My claim (and that of Jonathan Katz and Joe Bafumi, my coauthors), thus, is that even if one accepts the voting power criterion, the square-root rule is inappropriate. Could we be right? Is it possible that the consensus of experts in voting power in Europe are wrong, and three political science professors from the United States got it right? Let me try to engage the voting-power experts on their own turf. I hope this can be the beginning of a deeper dialogue.

In this article on Vox ("Research-based policy analysis and commentary from Europe's leading economists") from 15 June 2007, RIchard Baldwin and Mika Widgrén write:

People versed in the game theory of voting know that the square-root is almost sacred. . . . This column reviews the logic of the square root for readers with some numeric skills. . . . Strange as it may seem, ensuring that the EU’s keystone decision-making body – the Council of Ministers – is such that each EU citizen has equal power – requires just this. Each Council member should have power in Council that is proportional to the square root of her nation’s population. Why? . . . In her national election, a typical German citizen has less power than a typical Luxembourger. Each group of voters chooses one government but German voters are 160 times more numerous. . . .

A first guess is that in her national election, a German voter is only 1/160th as influential as a Luxembourg voter is in hers. In this case, making EU citizens equipotent in the Council would require that the German Minister is 160 times more power in the Council than the Luxembourg Minister. It seems right – 1/160th as powerful in the national election and 160 times more powerful in the Council. But this is wrong since it misses a subtly that requires some mental gymnastics to comprehend.

In national elections, two things change as the number of voters rises. First, the likelihood of being critical in a particular winning coalition decreases and – as intuition dictates – it declines linearly with the number of voters. Second, the number of winning coalitions increases. Thus, the German has 1/160th the chance that a Luxembourger does of making or breaking a given winning coalition, but for the German this is applied to many more coalitions. Taking this into account one can see that the German voter’s power is less than that of a Luxembourger in their respective national elections, but the figure is not 1/160th as powerful, it is higher. . . . The precise answer is that for all EU citizens to be equally powerful in the Council, their Ministers should have power in the Council that is proportional to the square root of their national populations. . . .

For people trained in game theory and mathematical statistics, the square root is a snap. . . . power per citizen in national elections declines with the square root of the population, so national power in the Council should increase with square root in order to have a fair system, i.e. a system where each EU citizen is equally powerful in the Council of Ministers.

Where, you may ask, does the square root come from? The answer requires a bit of maths. Consider a randomly selected yes-no issue and suppose that member nations decide their stance on this issue by a referendum; define P_N as the probability that a typical citizen’s vote is critical in the referendum outcome. Then the member states vote in the Council. Define P_ms as the probability that the member state is critical in the Council vote. A citizen’s probability of being critical is thus P_N times P_ms and our fairness metric requires this to be equal for all member states.

P_ms has nothing to do with the number of voters (proxied by population), but P_N falls at the square root of population. . . . The mathematics of combinatorics gives us an exact formula assuming a voter’s stance is randomly determined on a randomly selected issue. Taking M as the minimum number of votes in a winning coalition and n as the number of voters, one can use the binomial distribution to work out the answer. The precise, the formula is complex, but it can be well approximated as the square root of 2/n(Pi), where n is the number of voters and Pi is 3.14 etc. (This approximation is called Stirling’s formula). Hence the square root.

I gave a long quote because I want to be fair to their argument. Anyway, the last paragraph above shows their key mistake: they count all possible coalitions (arrangements of N voters) equally, which corresponds to the implicit assumption that all coalitions are equally likely, which in turn is equivalent to voters flipping coins to decide how to vote. I don't object to the use of a simplified model--that happens all the time--but I do want to focus on the key implication of the equally-likely coalition rule, which is that elections in large countries will be much much closer, in proportional terms, than elections in small countries.

Again, our paper in the BJPS has the details; further theoretical discussion appears in our Statistical Science paper.

A quick summary of our argument: The square-root-rule is derived from a game-theoretic argument that also implies that elections in large countries will be much much closer (on average) than elections in small countries. This implication is in fact crucial to the reasoning justifying the square-root rule. But it's not empirically correct. For example, if a country is 9 times larger, its elections should be approximately 3 times closer to 50/50. This doesn't happen. Larger elections are slightly closer than small elections, but by very little, enough that perhaps a 0.9 power rule would be appropriate, not a square-root (0.5 power) rule.

How could they all get it wrong?

Mathematics can be seductive, as can be seen from some lines in the Baldwin and Widgrén article quoted above: "People versed in the game theory of voting know that the square-root is almost sacred. . . . a subtly that requires some mental gymnastics to comprehend. . . . it is not the easiest concept to grasp, but it is correct and has a cherished position in the mathematics of voting systems. . . . The answer requires a bit of maths. . . ." I think this stuff has been out there for so long that people just assume it's correct. Also, the opposing arguments tend to dismiss the mathematical reasoning entirely (for example, Gideon Rachman refers to "the baffling square root system." This sort of debate would lead the square-root-proponents to assume that the mathematics is on their side.

The other issue is that the use of mathematical arguments is a slippery slope. The square-root proponents might feel that, if a model must be used, it should be the simplest possible model of coin-flip voting. But I don't buy it. Their model has specific implications and they're using it to give extra votes to small countries. If the model is inappropriate--as, indeed, it is--then I don't think it should be used to set voting rules.

"Counterintuitive" is a tough sell by itself, but "counterintuitive and wrong" is really bad.

Don't blame Penrose . . .

Well, actually I do blame Penrose a bit. Even in 1946 without tons of data on the computer, he could've realized the error of the implication that large elections will be extremely close. But we have a lot more information now, so I think it's really time for the voting-power subfield of political science, economics, and mathematics to move beyond this silly model.

P.S. This is a topic I've written about before, but I found the recent discussion from a reference in a paper by Auriol and Gary-Bobo linked to by Mark Thoma.

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October 8, 2007

Political forecasting prize

Alfred Cuzan, Randy Jones, and Scott Armstrong announces that the International Institute of Forecasters will make a $1,000 award to the designer(s) of the empirical model that best forecasts the results of the 2008 American presidential election. There will be an official announcement soon; in the meantime you can look at this webpage for some background.

For $1000, it's more about the glory than the bucks, but that's fine.

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October 6, 2007

If one person asks, others might be interested too . . .

Shane Murphy writes,

I am a graduate student in political science (interested in economics as well), and I was reading your recent blog posts about significance testing, and the problems common for economists doing statistics. Do you know of and recommend any books to students learning econometrics or statistics for social science? Also, just in case your answer is your own book, "Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models," is this book an appropriate way to learn "econometrics" (which is just statistics for economists, right?)?

My reply: Yes, I do recommend my book with Jennifer Hill. I also think it's the right book to learn applied statistics for economics. However, within economics, "econometrics" usually means something more theoretical, I think. You could take a look at a book such as Wooldridge's, which presents the theory pretty clearly.

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September 30, 2007

“Politically it was a no-brainer — you know, guilty all the way"

I saw the following article by Jo Becker in the New York Times. There's something about it that doesn't seem right at all! I'll explain after first providing an excerpt:

From a political standpoint, it should have been an easy decision. The calls flooding Fred D. Thompson’s Senate office in the winter of 1999 showed that his Tennessee constituents overwhelmingly favored removing President Bill Clinton from office. But as the historic impeachment trial neared, records show, Mr. Thompson agonized . . . he pored over legal tomes on precedent. He ordered up lengthy staff memorandums on what the founding fathers intended when they said a president could be removed for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” scribbling his thoughts on a yellow legal pad. . . . when his convictions and his party’s interests diverged, Mr. Thompson brought a lawyer’s sensibility to his deliberations, rather than that of a rote partisan plotting a path to Pennsylvania Avenue. He veered from party orthodoxy often enough that his staff once proudly compiled a long list of votes titled “Breaking With the Republican Pack.” . . .

Mr. Thompson’s Tennessee field office reported that it “was getting a lot of people asking why Senator Thompson is not out front publicly supporting impeachment.”

“Politically it was a no-brainer — you know, guilty all the way,” Mr. Thompson recalled. . . . On Feb. 12, 1999, Mr. Thompson voted to find Mr. Clinton guilty of obstructing justice. But he joined just 10 other Republicans, many of them moderates from more liberal states, in voting to acquit on the perjury charge, reasoning that while the president’s conduct on that front was “sordid,” it did not justify removing him from office.

His Senate office phone lines immediately lit up with angry calls from Republican constituents. But Fred Ansell, one of his former senior aides, said Mr. Thompson shrugged off the potential political fallout by quoting the 18th century Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

OK. The thing I don't buy is the claim that "his Tennessee constituents overwhelmingly favored removing President Bill Clinton from office . . . “Politically it was a no-brainer — you know, guilty all the way." It would be interesting to look at the state-by-state breakdowns, but from this 1999 poll, when asked "What would you want your senators to do in the trial of President Clinton?", 61% of respondents said to vote against convicting, compared to only 36% who said to vote in favor of convicting. Tennessee is a somewhat conservative state, but based on these data I'd be very surprised if his constituents "overwhelmingly favored removing Bill Clinton from office." Actually, I'd think it would go the other way: Clinton's impeachment was an excellent place for Thompson to display his moderation, since most Americans--and, I suspect, most Tennesseeans--didn't want to convict.

P.S. I'm not intending this as a criticism of Thompson. There's nothing wrong with doing what most of the voters in your state want, and there's certainly nothing wrong with a lawyer/senator poring over legal tomes on precedent, etc. And I can't blame a politician for spinning to a newspaper reporter--that's what he's supposed to do, to present himself in the best possible light. I am surprised, though, that the reporter didn't recall that Americans generally supported Clinton during the impeachment proceedings. Even if many of the people who made phone calls to Thompson's office favored conviction, it was hardly an unpopular position to vote the other way.

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September 27, 2007

"So the polls must be wrong"

Jeff Lax sends along this article:

Are the polls obscuring the reality that Barack Obama is beating Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination for president? Drew Cline, the editorial page editor of New Hampshire's Union Leader thinks so.

Based on money-raising and visible support on the streets of New Hampshire, "the evidence shows that Obama has broader support than is being picked up by the polls," Cline writes at his Union Leader blog. "So the polls must be wrong."
. . .
"Think of it like a House, M.D. episode. When you have a test result you know is accurate (in this case, the fund-raising numbers) that contrasts with a symptom or test result you can't explain (the poll numbers), you go with what you know is right and keep testing the other one until they match." . . .

Much as I hate to contradict anyone named "Drew," I have to admit that a natural explanation for the discrepancy is that the visible support he's seen on the "streets of New Hampshire" does not represent a random sample of primary voters. Of course, as I never tire of saying, a poll is a snapshot, not a forecast, and things can definitely change.

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September 24, 2007

Fryer's measure of the compactness of redistricting plans: some political science and some mathematics

Roland Fryer spoke here last week on this interesting paper.

New York (actual redistricting):


New York (compact districting algorithm):


The idea is to measure the compactness of a districting plan in a state using the average squared distance between voters within districts. This seems like a great idea in that the measure is precisely defined and depends on where people live. I'm not quite sure how compactness would be balanced against other concerns, though. As Fryer notes, U.S. courts have required districts to be drawn with identical populations within states--a discrepancy of just 100 votes is too much--which is a little silly considering that districts change by thousands of votes between redistrictings, which are typically done every 10 years.

Also, it's not clear that the compactness measure captures all the ideas of compactness one might have. One can actually construct a simple example where the most "natural" (in terms of preserving natural community boundaries) districting is actually the least compact possible plan. Consider a South-Dakota-shaped rectangular state that must be divided into 2 districts, where 1/2 the pop lives in city exactly in the center of the state, and the rest of the pop is uniformly distributed through the state. In this case, the most compact districting divides the state with a north-south line down the middle (splitting both the city and the rural area), and among the least compact plans is the districting that has the city as one district and all the rest of the state as the other.

The noncompactness of the city/countryside plan can be seen from a mathematical identity, that Fryer's compactness measure--minimizing the average squared distance within districts--is equivalent to miminizing the variance (more precisely, the trace of the covariance matrix) within districts, and thus maximizing the variance of the centroids between districts. The city/countryside plan (in my simple example) has the centroids of the 2 districts in identical positions, thus minimizes compactness.

This is not to dismiss Fryer's idea, just to give an example to throw at it to better understand what it's doing.

Finally, a small technical point: the district numbers seem to have ben assigned by hand (see the New York example above). It wouldn't be hard to add an automatic numbering feature, numbering the new districts to minimize the average squared distances from the centroid of each new district to that of the same-numbered new district. This would be done after the districts have been drawn, so it would just aid in interpretation and not affect the way that Fryer's program draws the actual district lines.

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Measuring interpersonal influence

David Nickerson gave a wonderful talk at our quantitative political science seminar last week. He described three different experiments he did, and it was really cool. Here's the paper, and here are Alex's comments on it.

I've never really done an experiment. I like the idea but somehow I've never gotten organized to do one. I want to, though. I feel like an incomplete statistician as things currently stand.

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September 21, 2007

The Democrats' narrow victory in 2006

Paul Krugman writes:

For some reason a couple of people who have written to me . . . that the Democrats won a “narrow victory” in 2006. . . . In fact, it’s quite strange how the magnitude of the Democratic victory has been downplayed. . . . You might assume that this was because the Democrats barely eked out a victory. In fact, Democrats had an 8.5 percentage point lead, substantially bigger than the GOP win in 1994. . . .

Here's some historical perspective:


and here's an estimated seats-votes curve for the 2006 election:


Journalists respond to seats more than votes, I think, so that's one reason they might have understated what happened in 2006.

More on seats and votes in 2006 in our article here (to appear next year in PS).

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September 14, 2007

Dear Health Freedom Fighters . . .

I got the following forwarded email:

Dear Health Freedom Fighters:

There is a developing story from California that involves a mother with a 17 year old child who HAD melanoma. The mother, chose to go against her allopathic (conventional) doctor's orders (to have surgery and chemotherapy) - and instead try advanced natural medicine first - since she understood that supporting the body's ability to heal is more effective than destroying it as chemotherapy does.

Not surprisingly this approach worked! This young man is now CANCER FREE!! However, the allopathic doctor is insisting that the child must have chemotheray as well as surgery, which the mother refuses to have her child undergo. Interestingly, doctor, the allopathic doctor's unnecessary treatments will be compensated by the insurer or state, while the holistic strategies that actually worked are not eligible for coverage.

The Department of Child Services was called and her son was taken away from her and put in foster care. The DCS claimed she failed to properly care for her child. Note here: the advanced methods which worked are being defined as "child abuse" while the doctor's assault (which is what we call touching someone against their will) is supported by the power of the state. Is this Health Freedom?

Next, the mother was put in jail for 5 days in maximum security and suffered injuries in the neck and arm from jailers. Her child is still in foster care, where he was forcibly vaccinated. Disgusted yet? It gets worse...

The case is pending in Dependency Court in Orange County where the Judge is soon to rule whether her son will be ordered to have surgery and chemotherapy.

This 17 year old near-adult does NOT want to undergo chemotherapy or surgery and was forcefully vaccinated while in state custody. We support this brave young man and his clear thinking mother in their struggle to preserve his freedom. In doing so, they are struggling to preserve ours.

We will be reporting on the result of a court decision as it unfolds, perhaps as early as later today. The mother will also be sharing her story in a follow-up email shortly. At this moment, she has been barred by the court from discussing her case publicly. Not only is her son's Health Freedom under assault in this case, so is her Freedom of Speech. . . .

I find it striking that letter writer finds it "not surprising" that "this approach worked" to cure the cancer, and then that doctors want to apply chemotherapy. I'd think the letter writer doesn't really believe it but rather is just trying to get people agitated so they'll send money (for which there is a request at the bottom of the email). But then, again, presumably some of the people who read and forward the message actually believe it. It's instructive to see a worldview which is so completely different from mine. I mean, this isn't just a matter of different views about economic policy or whatever, we're talking about a belief that these doctors are not merely useless but actively evil. I don't usually think much about this, when studying public opinion: ideas that are basically incompatible with others.

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September 13, 2007

Fair Redistricting

Aleks said I should link to this article on redistricting by Tim O'Reilly. O'Reilly suggests that computers be used to redistrict automatically. O'Reilly links to this page by Brian Olson. I think this method would be fine. Actually, many different methods would be fine. I think that the U.K. had some sort of nonpartisan boundary commissioners and that worked ok also. Of course the biggest imbalance is the U.S. Senate.

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September 5, 2007

Trends in presidential voting by state

When you look at presidential election returns by state, they jump all over, but when you subtract the national vote and group by region, some clear patterns jump out:


I've ordered the regions roughly from strongest Democrat-trending to strongest Republican-trending, and only cheated slightly by putting Colorado in the southwest and Alaska in with the mountain west. I'm also embarrassed to say that I adjusted the state labels by hand to stop them from overlapping; I really need to write a program to do this. If it were really important to identify which state was which, I'd probably label the states on the left of each plot also. Overall I think it came out pretty well, though.

To the R users out there (not to mention the people who set the R defaults), please also note the relatively few tick marks, the narrow space between the plots, and the internal titles for the subplots.

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August 30, 2007

What's the Matter with the Middle Class?

David Weakliem sent along this paper coauthored with Robert Biggert:

Regional differences in party support have attracted a good deal of attention since the 2000 election. A striking feature of the current pattern is that Democratic support is higher in more affluent states. At the individual level, income is associated with Republican support, but in a recent paper, Gelman et al. (2006) find that this relationship is weaker in more affluent states. In affluent states, people with high and low incomes both tend to vote Democratic; in poorer states, people with low incomes vote Democratic while people with high incomes vote Republican. This paper extends Gelman et al.'s analysis by considering both education and income. We find that the effects of income and college education both vary among states, in a largely independent manner. Variation in the effects of college education is related to the educational composition of the state: where college education is more common, it is more strongly associated with support for the Democrats. Overall, regional differences are largest in the middle classes, contrary to the claims of some popular and theoretical accounts. There is some evidence that a pattern of weaker class divisions is associated with more support for the Democrats.

Looks interesting to me--we'll have to look into this some more.

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August 29, 2007

The most beautiful people in the world . . . and a request for a favor (see the very bottom of this entry)

Ralph Blair sent this in. It's so horrible that I have to put it in the continuation part of the blog entry. I recommend you all stop reading right here.

Stop . . . It's not too late!!!!!!!!!!!

OK, here it is. No, no, no... (Here's the technical article explaining the statistical flaws in this stuff.) Mistakes are made all the time, of course, but it doesn't help when they are tied to wacky political agendas.

The news article begins:

The Beautiful Person club is an exclusive one, and entry brings much - fame, wealth ... and daughters. Think of the most beautiful couples in the world - they all have daughters. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes? Check. Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen? Check. Brangelina and Bennifer? Check and check.

Actually, we looked up a few years of People Magazine's 50 most beautiful people, and they were as likely as anyone else to have boys:

One way to calibrate our thinking about Kanazawa’s results is to collect more data. Every year, People magazine publishes a list of the fifty most beautiful people, and, because they are celebrities, it is not difficult to track down the sexes of their children, which we did for the years 1995–2000.

As of 2007, the 50 most beautiful people of 1995 had 32 girls and 24 boys, or 57.1% girls, which is 8.6 percentage points higher than the population frequency of 48.5%. This sounds like good news for the hypothesis. But the standard error is 0.5/sqrt(56) = 6.7%, so the discrepancy is not statistically significant. Let’s get more data.

The 50 most beautiful people of 1996 had 45 girls and 35 boys: 56.2% girls, or 7.8% more than in the general population. Good news! Combining with 1995 yields 56.6% girls—8.1% more than expected—with a standard error of 4.3%, tantalizingly close to statistical significance. Let’s continue to get some confirming evidence.

The 50 most beautiful people of 1997 had 24 girls and 35 boys—no, this goes in the wrong direction, let’s keep going . . . For 1998, we have 21 girls and 25 boys, for 1999 we have 23 girls and 30 boys, and the class of 2000 has had 29 girls and 25 boys.

Putting all the years together and removing the duplicates, such as Brad Pitt, People’s most beautiful people from 1995 to 2000 have had 157 girls out of 329 children, or 47.7% girls (with standard error 2.8%), a statistically insignificant 0.8% percentage points lower than the population frequency. So nothing much seems to be going on here. But if statistically insignificant effects with a standard error of 4.3% were considered acceptable, we could publish a paper every two years with the data from the latest “most beautiful people.”

I don't blame the reporter (Maxine Shen) for this: it's natural to believe something that's been published in a book and a scientific journal. Perhaps, though, someone could send a note to whoever reviews this sort of book so that the errors won't be propagated indefinitely??

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August 27, 2007

Could the real conservative please stand up?

There's this funny thing that "conservative" is seen as a compliment, even coming from political liberals. For example, Nicholas Lemann writes in the New Yorker that Karl Rove "was never a real conservative, except in the liberal-hating sense, because the idea that everybody who participates in politics expects something from government was at the heart of his thinking." This seems to me to be a funny definition of "conservative." I would think a conservative would be realistic enough to expect that "everybody who participates in politics expects something from government." To continue, I'd think a conservative would want to preserve the existing social order as much as possible. There are different flavors of this; Rove's involves reducing taxes and business regulations, both of which seem like pretty mainstream conservative goals. I'm not saying that Lemann or others should necessarily support Rove--one might instead prefer goals such as redistribution, environmental protection, etc.--but I don't see how you can say that Rove was never a "real conservative."

In general, I think these sorts of labels are a topic worth studying: how do words like "conservative" get used differently at different times, and by people of different political persuasions.

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August 24, 2007

The Political Brain

Boris pointed me to this review by David Brooks of Drew Westen's book, ``The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.'' Brooks writes:

Westen . . . takes an interesting dollop of neuroscience and uses it to coat the conventional clichés of the Why Democrats Lose genre. . . . [Westen says] that Democrats have been losing because they have been appealing to the rational part of the mind. They issue laundry lists of policies and offer arguments with evidence. They don’t realize how the images they are presenting set off emotional cues that undermine their own campaigns. . . . Westen urges Democratic candidates to go for the gut, and includes a number of speeches that he wishes Democratic candidates had given. He wishes, for example, Al Gore had hit George Bush harder for being a drunk. . . . he imagines Gore exploding: “Why don’t you tell us how many times you got behind the wheel of a car with a few drinks under your belt, endangering your neighbors’ kids? Where I come from, we call that a drunk.” If Democrats would go for people’s primitive passions in this way, Westen argues, they’d win elections. . . . This thesis raises some interesting questions. . . . the states of upper New England and the Pacific Coast regularly used to vote Republican in presidential elections but now they generally vote Democratic. Did people in those states become less emotional, and therefore more amenable to the Democrats’ rational appeals over the past few decades? . . . . how did John Kerry beat Howard Dean in the Democratic primaries? Was it because of his Oprah-esque displays of emotional intensity?

Is it possible that substance has something to do with the political fortunes of parties? Could it be that Democrats won in the middle part of the 20th century because they were right about the big issues — the New Deal and the civil rights movement? Is it possible Republicans won in the latter part of the century because they were right about economic growth and the cold war? Is it possible Democrats are winning now because they were right about whether to go to war in Iraq? And if substantive policies correlate with political fortunes, what does that say about the human mind?

Finally, if voter decisions are driven by the sort of crude emotional outbursts Westen recommends, and if, as he writes, “a substantial minority of Americans hold authoritarian, intolerant ideologies driven by fear, hate and prejudice that are fundamentally incompatible with Democratic (and democratic) principles,” then shouldn’t we abandon this whole democracy thing?

I pretty much agree with Brooks here, but I think he's overstating his case by implying that a single factor would cause everything. I haven't seen Westen's book, but I assume that it makes the case that these gut-emotional attitudes make a difference in the margin--so maybe Gore lost some small percentage of swing voters because of his style of presentation.

Regarding the other examples: Lieberman was politically in the center, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he beat Lamont in the general election. (Not that Lamont couldn't have won, I'm just saying that no additional explanations are really needed.) Considering Edwards, Dean, and Kerry: primary elections with their multiple candidates are inherently unstable and so anything can happen--just because Kerry won the primary, it doesn't mean that emotional appeals couldn't have helped him.

Basically, though, I think Brooks is right, at least in a general election where the two parties have a chance to offer separate, coherent plans. The difficulty is when you agree with one candidate on some issues and the other candidate on other issues. At this point, the emotional arguments might help you justify a decision you're making for other reasons.

Brooks concludes,

It’s not necessary to dumb things down to appeal to emotions. It’s not necessary to understand some secret language that will key certain neuro-emotional firings. The best way to win votes — and this will be a shocker — is to offer people an accurate view of the world and a set of policies that seem likely to produce good results. This is how you make voters happy.

I don't necessarily agree with this last bit. The evidence seems to show that people vote based on policy concerns, but I don't know the evidence for the claim that offering an accurate view of the world is a vote-getter.

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August 23, 2007

On its last legs or healthy enough to be milked?

In The Strange Death of Tory England, a book full of great lines, Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes,

Just as the labour movement had never been quite sure whether the capitalist system was on its last legs and needed only a final push to be toppled, or was healthy enough to be milked over and again, so the cultural-intellectual left had never quite decided whether it liked increasing prosperity or not.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a sense of who's who in British politics of the past 40 years. It's the best political book I've read in awhile--maybe it helps to read about another country, it gives some distance on things.

Anyway, I like the above quote. I would add something analogous for conservatives, that they have never been quite sure whether the capitalist system is an amazing wealth machine with even low-income people being rich on an absolute scale, or whether the system is so fragile that people can barely afford to pay their taxes and that any particular tax or regulation will bankrupt the system. [Unfortunately, try as I might, I can't manage to phrase this as aphoristically as Wheatcroft did.]

I suppose that every political movement must balance between triumphalism and alarmism. For another example, environmentalists will announce their progress in protecting the environment and warn of all the horrible things that will happen if more isn't done. From the other direction, business groups will say that we can't afford to protect the environment (we want jobs, not owls) but at the same time insist that the environment is better than ever.

The political science research project all this would be to study these ideologies more systematically and see which groups follow different patterns in their statements.

Posted by Andrew at 3:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Early primaries

Frank DiTaglia writes,

Do you know of any research into the influence of early primaries? I've been wondering about the extent to which bandwagon effects give the first few primaries undue weight, but it seems like a relatively difficult problem to study. Any thoughts?

My reply: I agree that this is a difficult problem to study. I think, like most people, that early primaries are more influential because of the winnowing process as the number of candidates get reduced. There's "bandwagon" (which I interpret as voters supporting a candidate because they hear good things about the candidate, or even because the fact that the candidate gets support indicates that he or she has something good to offer. And then there's "electability" and there's "strategic voting" (or, as the say in England, "tactical voting") which is related but slightly different. I expect there's lots of research on these topics.

Posted by Andrew at 12:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 7, 2007

JudgeIt II

JudgeIt is a computer program for evaluating election returns and redistricting plans. Gary King and I wrote it around 1990 for the purpose of estimating seats-votes curves for congressional and state legislative elections, and at the same time adapted it to do other things such as district-by-district forecasting. Gary and others have used it many times since to evaluate actual redistricting plans (in actual court cases, or so I've heard). The method is described in detail in our 1994 AJPS paper--it's simple enough that we reprogrammed the basics from scratch in this paper on the 2006 House--but it's convenient to have it already programmed.

Anyway, Andrew Thomas and Gary translated Judgeit into R, and here it is! It's all open-source and so we're hoping people will improve it and criticize it as well as make it easier to use. The next step is to link it with a big database of elections. Also, we'd like to update our 1994 APSR paper to estimate the effects of the 1990 and 2000 redistrictings--people say that these were more nefarious, anti-competitive affairs than in the past, but my guess is that when we crunch the numbers, we'll find again that redistricting (usually) enhances democracy.

Posted by Andrew at 9:55 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What is a taboo question?

This is some mix of political science and sociology, I'm not quite sure which...

From Greg Mankiw I saw this newspaper article by Steven Pinker, "In defense of dangerous ideas: In every age, taboo questions raise our blood pressure and threaten moral panic. But we cannot be afraid to answer them":

Do women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men?

Were the events in the Bible fictitious -- not just the miracles, but those involving kings and empires?

Has the state of the environment improved in the last 50 years?

Do most victims of sexual abuse suffer no lifelong damage?

Did Native Americans engage in genocide and despoil the landscape?

Do men have an innate tendency to rape?

Did the crime rate go down in the 1990s because two decades earlier poor women aborted children who would have been prone to violence?

Are suicide terrorists well-educated, mentally healthy and morally driven?

Would the incidence of rape go down if prostitution were legalized?

Do African-American men have higher levels of testosterone, on average, than white men?

Is morality just a product of the evolution of our brains, with no inherent reality?

Would society be better off if heroin and cocaine were legalized?

Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease?

Would it be consistent with our moral principles to give parents the option of euthanizing newborns with birth defects that would consign them to a life of pain and disability?

Do parents have any effect on the character or intelligence of their children?

Have religions killed a greater proportion of people than Nazism?

Would damage from terrorism be reduced if the police could torture suspects in special circumstances?

Would Africa have a better chance of rising out of poverty if it hosted more polluting industries or accepted Europe's nuclear waste?

Is the average intelligence of Western nations declining because duller people are having more children than smarter people?

Would unwanted children be better off if there were a market in adoption rights, with babies going to the highest bidder?

Would lives be saved if we instituted a free market in organs for transplantation?

Should people have the right to clone themselves, or enhance the genetic traits of their children?

Perhaps you can feel your blood pressure rise as you read these questions. Perhaps you are appalled that people can so much as think such things. Perhaps you think less of me for bringing them up. These are dangerous ideas -- ideas that are denounced not because they are self-evidently false, nor because they advocate harmful action, but because they are thought to corrode the prevailing moral order.

Think about it

By "dangerous ideas" I don't have in mind harmful technologies, like those behind weapons of mass destruction, or evil ideologies, like those of racist, fascist or other fanatical cults. I have in mind statements of fact or policy that are defended with evidence and argument by serious scientists and thinkers but which are felt to challenge the collective decency of an age. The ideas listed above, and the moral panic that each one of them has incited during the past quarter century, are examples. Writers who have raised ideas like these have been vilified, censored, fired, threatened and in some cases physically assaulted.

. . .

Consider only ideas about the truth of empirical claims or the effectiveness of policies that, if they turned out to be true, would require a significant rethinking of our moral sensibilities. . . .

I'm a little confused here, and maybe the way to focus my thoughts is to think of how this could be studied as a problem in political science or sociology: what is a taboo question or a "dangerous idea"? Recognizing that Pinker has thought more about these issues than I have, let me try to focus the question a bit:

Mixin' it up

Pinker seems to be mixing a bunch of different sorts of ideas above. This is ok--after all, it's a newspaper column--but it may be helpful to separate the categories for further study. In particular, the list contains:

- Some statements that seem so obviously true as to not be "taboo" at all (for example, women having different aptitudes and emotions than men; or parents having "any effect" on the character or intelligence of their children)

- Some statements that are so ill-defined as to be unanswerable (for example, has the state of the environment "improved" (it's certainly improved in some ways and declined in others); or the question about Native Americans (how do you define "despoil"); or the question about suicide bombers (I assume that some are well-educated and some are not, etc))

- Some statements that are value judgments ("would society be better off", "would it be consistent with our moral principles", "would unwanted children be better off", "should people have the right...")

- A question whose premise is, as far as I know, false ("Is the average intelligence of Western nations declining because..." (I thought it was increasing--the Flynn effect--but I defer to Pinker's expertise as a psychologist here))

- A couple of questions I just don't understand ("Have religions killed..." (how do you count this sort of thing?); "Do men have an innate tendency to rape" (I just don't know what is meant by "innate tendency"--maybe they're talking about doing some sort of twin study, I dunno?--which men are they talking about here?)

- Several questions that seem scientifically legitimate but are phrased in one-sided ways (for example, maybe torture would increase damage from terrorism, maybe unwanted children would be worse off if there were a market in adoption, and so forth).

I'm also not clear why Pinker draws the line to exclude "harmful technologies . . . or evil ideologies, like those of racist, fascist or other fanatical cults." For example, Pinker asks "Would damage from terrorism be reduced if the police could torture suspects in special circumstances?" This was certainly not a taboo idea in Argentina in the 1970s or many other places (list your own favorite example). There are are a lot of racist, fascist, etc. ideas that are far less lethal than torture: why are these off limits? For that matter, once we allow torture, why limit it to the police? Maybe the army should be allowed to do it too? Or private citizens, like in Pulp Fiction? (Just to be clear: I'm not trying to make a slippery-slope argument here, I'm just commenting that Pinker's boundaries aren't as sharply defines as he seems to be implying.)

What ticks you off?

I have no problem with people studying Pinker's list of topics (although about half of them seem to me to be outside the scope of science, or even social science). What interests me is the choice of what to include on the list. It reminds me of the principle that people can be defined by what ticks them off. I knew an economist who was going on and on about how horrible rent control is. There's almost no rent control in the U.S., but whatever remnant was there--well, that pissed him off. I get pissed off by tables--I want them all to be graphs. Most of my friends agree with me on the merits but are amused that it seems so important to me. I know someone who is so pissed off by religion that he's always giving me arguments why God doesn't exist. Other people get bugged by typos in the newspaper.

Pinker appears to be ticked off that not enough work is going into studying his list of questions (or that, when they are studied, the results are ignored). I'm a little ticked off by Pinker's implicit assumption that these particular questions are so important. I mean, as an academic researcher I'm used to thinking that particular topics are under-researched. (Don't get me started about predictive simulation. I'm still frustrated at how the Bayesians at the 1991 conference didn't even want to think about the possibility of checking their model fit.)

Goal-based decision making

Another way to look at this--perhaps a more congenial approach to a cognitive psychologist such as Pinker--is in terms of Dave Krantz's goal-based approach to decision making. Instead of thinking about research questions, think about goals. For example, if the goal is reducing damage from terrorism, consider various options. Where does legalizing torture fit in the portfolio of remedies? If the goal is increasing the supply of clean drinking water (for example), how helpful is it to ask a general question about "the state of the environment"? I'm not saying it shouldn't be done, just that it might be sort of a silly question.

Or maybe it's just something about the content that bothers me. For example, I was also irritated by my friend Seth calling Holocaust denial "the new heresy." In this day and age, calling something a "heresy" is a compliment, I think--sort of like saying that something is "edgy" or "delightfully irrelevant"--and thus something of an endorsement.

Remaining confusion

I think there's something here I'm missing. For example, I'm still confused about what's dangerous about saying that "women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men?" I've been to an NBA game and a WNBA game, and I can tell the difference (and, yes, I know that these are not averages, but still, ...)

Final thought

I'm still not quite sure what ticks me off so much about Pinker's article. I think it's that it's chock-full of big implicit assumptions (for example, that it's taboo to say that women are different from men, or that torture would be expected to save lives)--I'm not offended by the idea of studying these things but I'm bothered by how the questions are framed. At the same time, I'm sure Pinker has thought a lot more than I have about these issues--I'm just offering my perspective (as a political scientist, I suppose).

In any case, I'd like to be productive by channeling my ticked-offed-ness into scholarship, and suggesting that there should be some way of classifying topics as taboo. Or perhaps Pinker has studied this from his perspective as a psychologist--that could be interesting.

Steven Pinker's response

P.S. I sent my above comments to Pinker and he responded as follows:

I appreciate the careful analysis of the individual questions, but I think the posting missed the point of the article. The questions at the beginning of the piece were not offered as a set of research topics that should be high-priority areas of study for the social sciences. Nor were they a list of my pet peeves or private concerns (presumably no one has that many pet peeves!). They were just examples – as many examples as I could recall -- of scholarly questions that have elicited intemperate, emotional, moralistic, or illiberal responses. The piece was an analysis of the free-speech and academic-freedom issues surrounding how the scholarly and journalistic communities should handle questions of that ilk, not a recommendation that that those issues are the ones most worthy of study, or even ones for which I particularly cared about the outcomes. Your noting that they were not all empirical issues in the social sciences is beside the point – universities also have departments of philosophy, government, law, bioethics, which evaluate moral and analytical questions as well as empirical ones. As for your rhetorical question, “I'm still confused about what's dangerous about saying that `women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men?’,” click here.

I agree with you, by the way, about the superiority of graphs over tables in conveying statistical information.

Hey, that's cool--another ally in the war against tables!

Posted by Andrew at 12:45 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

August 6, 2007

The Flynn effect and its relevance to neuropsychology, along with an idea for an observational study based on classifications of people as "mentally retarded"

From British Psychological Society research digest, a fascinating article by Merrill Hiscock on the Flynn effect. Here's the abstract:

Evidence from several nations indicates that performance on mental ability tests is rising from one generation to the next, and that this "Flynn effect" has been operative for more than a century. No satisfactory explanation has been found. Nevertheless, the phenomenon has important implications for clinical utilization of IQ tests. This article summarizes the empirical basis of the Flynn effect, arguments about the nature of the skill that is increasing, and proposed explanations for the cause of the increase. Ramifications for clinical neuropsychology are discussed, and some of the broader implications for psychology and society are noted.

Among other things, Hiscock notes that Flynn and others have found the Flynn effect, and the related occasional re-norming of IQ scores, to cause jumps in the number of people classified as mentally retarded (conventionally, an IQ of 70, which is two standard deviations below the mean if the mean is scaled at 100). When they rescale the tests, the proportion of people labeled "retarded" jumps up. Seems like a natural experiment that might be a good opportunity to study effects of classifying people in this way on the margin. If the renorming is done differently in different states or countries, this would provide more opportunity for identifying treatment effects.

See here for a discussion of Flynn's thought on why meritocracy is logically impossible (also here for related thoughts).

Posted by Andrew at 8:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 3, 2007

Democrats favor the Designated Hitter rule

Tim Penn links to this paper by Christopher Zorn and Jeff Gill. Here's the abstract:

Since its introduction in 1973, major league baseball’s designated hitter (DH) rule has been the subject of continuing controversy. Here, we investigate the political and socio–demographic determinants of public opinion toward the DH rule, using data from a nationwide poll conducted during September 1997. Our findings suggest that it is in fact Democrats, not Republicans, who tend to favor the DH. In addition, we find no effect for respondents’ proximity to American or National League teams, though older respondents were consistently more likely to oppose the rule.

My first thought is: this is amusing but why is it in a top political science journal? But, reading the article, I realize that it indeed has more general implications. In particular, if we can make the assumption that causality only goes in one direction here--that a change in the view on the designated hitter will not affect one's political preferences--then this is a clean study, a way of estimating the coherence of political ideology into non-political areas.

Also, the tables should be graphs. (Do we really need to know that a coefficient estimate is 0.707 with s.e. of 0.660, etc etc???) The one graph that is there, Figure 1, looks pretty goofy on its own, but it would look fine as one of a set of many comparisons.

One other thing: on page 198 they state that "Republicans are no more or less likely to support the DH rule than are political independents." But looking at the table, Republicans are less likely to support the DH. The difference is not statistically significant but I wouldn't call it zero. Most striking to me here is the huge difference between men and women (or, more precisely, that subset of women who are interested in baseball).

Personally, I've always thought the DH rule was silly (despite growing up as an Orioles fan) but Bill James made a good argument that it leads to better baseball, since you're no longer wasting 1/9 of the plate appearances--not a trivial amount of time--on lame bunt attempts.

Posted by Andrew at 12:23 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

August 1, 2007

Free hand abroad, divide and rule at home

Bob Shapiro sent along this paper:

Does unipolarity per se free the United States to use force abroad and thus make war more likely? Hardly. As the United States is learning, an imprudent war can still be costly for a sole superpower. The price tag for the Iraq occupation alone has been projected to exceed a trillion dollars. This is true not only in fact, as they say, but even more important, in theory. According to rational bargaining theories of war, an increase in the power of a hegemonic state should in itself have no effect on the likelihood of war. As long as all actors share common information about the change in power, the states losing relative power should simply give proportionately more concessions in disputes.

If so, the main effect of unipolarity on the likelihood of war, if any, should come from its effects on domestic politics and ideology, which could cause the expectations of the opponents to diverge. Under unipolarity, the immediate, self-evident costs and risks of war are more likely to seem manageable, especially for a hegemonic power like the U.S. that commands more military capacity than the rest of the world combined. This does not necessarily make the use of force cheap or wise, but it means that the costs and risks of the use of force are comparatively indirect, long-term, and thus highly subject to interpretation. This interpretive leeway may open the door to domestic political impulses that lead the hegemon to overreach its capabilities. If opponents sense that the hegemon is overplaying a weak hand, this increases the chance that the hegemon will need to fight hard to try to get its way.

Posted by Andrew at 6:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 30, 2007

Voting map without those ugly state boundaries

Matt Franklin sent in this improved version of this picture:


Thanks, Matt!

Posted by Andrew at 12:10 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 26, 2007

2D space of presidential election candidates, polarization and wedging

Masanao: Aleks and I did a PCA analysis on 2008 Presidential Election Candidates on the Issues data and plotted the 2 principal components scores against each other and got this nice result:
The horizontal axis is the 1st primary component score; it represents the degree to which a candidate supports Iraq War and Homeland Security (Guantanamo), and opposes Iraq War Withdrawal, Universal Healthcare, and Abortion Rights. The vertical axis is the 2nd primary component score which represents the degree to which a candidate supports Iraq War Withdrawal and Energy & Oil (ANWR Drilling), and opposes Death Penalty, Iran Sanctions, and Iran Military Action as Option.

The first principal component is the dividing axis for the Democrats and the Republicans. When we reorder the loadings according to the 1st component we get the following:
So for the first principal component, Republicans generally support red variables and the Democrats the blue colored variables. Ron Paul appears to be the only candidate that does not deviate much from the middle.

The second principal component is a little more difficult to interpret. Here most of the candidates are clustered around the middle except for candidate Ron Paul who supports Iraq withdrawal, Energy & Oil (ANWR Drilling), Immigration (Border Fence) but does not support other issues.
Here are the loadings ordered by the 2nd component:

Aleks: With the exception of Paul, there is a lot of polarization on the first component. To some extent the polarization is a consequence of the data expressing candidates' opinions in terms of binary supports/opposes. When a candidate did not express an opinion, we have assumed that the opinion is unknown (so we use imputation), in contrast to a candidate refusing to take an opinion on an issue. When it comes to the issue of polarization: Delia Baldassarri and Andrew have suggested, that it's the parties that are creating polarization, not the general public.

In fact, I think polarization is a runaway consequence of political wedging: in the spirit of Caesar's divide et impera, one party wants to insert a particular issue to split the opposing party. This gives rise to the endless debates on rights of homosexuals, biblical literalism, gun toting, weed smoking, stem cells and abortion rights: these debates are counter-productive (especially at federal level), but the real federal-level problems of special interest influence, level of interventionism, economy, health care get glossed over. It just saddens me that the candidates are classified primarily by a bunch of wedge issues. A politician needs a wedge issue just as much as a soldier needs a new gun: it's good for him, but once both sides come up with guns, the soldier loses. In the end, it's better for all politicians to get rid of wedge issues every now and then by refusing to take a stance on a wedge issue. In summary, it would be refreshing if the candidates jointly decided not to take positions on these runaway wedge issues on which people will continue to disagree on, and delegate them to the state level, while focusing on the important stuff.

Masanao: Although the candidates' opinions in the spreadsheet are probably not their final ones, it's interesting to see the current political environment. If there was similar data on of the general public, it would be interesting to overlay them on top of each other to see who is more representative of the public.

Details of methodology:

We recoded the other/unknown as NA. Iraq War withdrawal was converted into 3 category variable: support -> 3, Supports phased withdrawal -> 2, and Opposes -> 1. Supported before / Opposes now was recoded as opposes.

We used R and pcaMethods package for PCA calculation.The method we used is Probabilistic PCA to handle the missing data.

Since the 4 Democratic Candidate on the left bottom corner were extremely close together, we manually separated them to make them distinguishable so all of the 4 are supposed to be around where "Edwards" is currently at.

Here is the data and the source code. When you run the code it will ask for the data so just tell it where it is.

Raw Principal Component score:
Biden -1.52-0.86
Brownback 1.321.13
Clinton -1.58-0.92
Cox 1.790.53
Dodd -1.58-0.90
Edwards -1.58-0.87
Giuliani 0.89-1.31
Gravel -2.341.51
Huckabee 1.73-0.42
Hunter 2.38-0.15
Kucinich -2.451.03
McCain 0.63-0.81
Obama -1.61-0.41
Paul 0.102.63
Richardson -1.54-0.66
Romney 2.25-0.33
Tancredo 2.270.49
Thompson 2.08-0.76

Posted by Masanao at 12:08 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 23, 2007

Continuing respect for the U.S. Supreme Court

Jim Gibson sent me this paper. Here's the abstract:

Conventional political science wisdom holds that contemporary American politics is characterized by deep and profound partisan and ideological divisions. Unanswered is the question of whether those divisions have spilled over into threats to the legitimacy of American political institutions, such as the United States Supreme Court. Since the Court is often intimately involved in making policy in many issue areas that divide Americans—including the contested 2000 presidential election—it is reasonable to hypothesize that loyalty toward the institution depends upon policy and/or ideological agreement and partisanship. Using data stretching from 1987 through 2005, the analysis reveals that Court support among the American people has not declined. Nor is it connected to partisan and ideological identifications. Instead, support is embedded within a larger set of relatively stable democratic values. Institutional legitimacy may not be obdurate, but it does not seem to be caught up in the divisiveness that characterizes so much of American politics — at least not at present.

My comments:

1. It's interesting to see that the court's support has stayed stable over this 18-year period, especially after Bush v. Gore. I'd be interested to see attitudes before 1987 as well. It's not easy, though: Jim points out that "most time-series indicators measure short-term satisfaction with institutional outputs, not institutional legitimacy, and the correlates of the former are much different from the correlates of the latter."

2. I'm confused about the material on pages 17-19. In particular, would the relative views of Dems and Reps be different before and after 2000? It says on page 18 that there are about 1000 cases, which suggests there is only one poll being studied here, but I can't figure out which year is being used. If data from many years are pooled, I'd be interested in seeing how these coefficients and correlations vary over time (plotting using the secret weapon).

3. Given that African Americans have shifted a lot in their views, if Democrats as a whole have not shifted, what does this mean?

4. If there is a chance for revision, all numbers should be rounded off to the nearest percentage. The last digits of numbers like 65.4% have no meaning.

Posted by Andrew at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2007

Questions not to ask me

I got the following email:

Dear Professor, My name is ... and I'm a junior in high school doing a journalism program ... for the summer. I'm working on a trend story about the use of text messages in political campaigns, and I have a few questions for you that would greatly help my paper. I'm looking to include direct quotes, with your permission. 1) Do you think texts are an effective campaign technique? 2) Does the use of text messages enhance the freshness of a candidate? Does it really make the candidate appeal more to a younger audience? And if so, does it do this at the expense of the popularity among the older crowd? 3) Do you see texting as a campaign technique that will continue to be prevalent in future elections? . . . [rest deleted; it's more of the same]

I was the wrong person to ask, since I don't actually know exactly what a text message is! It's something that gets sent on a cell phone, I think. And I know there are these blackberries, but they do email, that's different, right?

Posted by Andrew at 12:08 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

July 19, 2007

Isolationists and internationalists

Matt Winters points us to this paper by Brian Rathbun. Matt writes: "I came across this article today that reminded me of last week's discussion in the playroom regarding isolationists and internationalists. I haven't read it, but he appears to use principal components analysis of survey questions to identify people as caring about community or hierarchy at the international level or else being isolationists, and then he looks at how people's attitudes affect their responses with regard to proposed actions in hypothetical scenarios."

Here's the abstract to Rathbun's paper:

Although there is increasing evidence of a relationship between domestic and foreign policy attitudes among American elites, we have less of an idea about why these sets of attitudes cohere. The answer lies in a better understanding of what we mean when we talk about "left" and "right" or "liberal" and "conservative." Drawing on the literature on rights theory, partisan cleavages, and ideological continua, I posit the existence of two core values, hierarchy and community, that should manifest themselves both at home and abroad. I perform a principal components analysis on data capturing both the domestic and foreign policy attitudes of American elites. The results indicate an almost identical structure of attitudes in both domains, indicating that it is generally inappropriate to distinguish between the two. Using factor scores in a series of logistic regressions, I demonstrate that support for community is most important for predicting support for humanitarian military operations, while hierarchy and community both help determine positions on strategic missions.

The topic came up because we were discussing ways to distinguish among (in statistical jargon, "to identify") various foreign-policy-related attitudes, including militarism, liberal interventionism, internationalist ideology (for example, anti-fascism or anti-communism), and domestic political preferences. The idea is that any of these could be rationales for supporting a war, but under different circumstances, support could change. For example, a Republican might have opposed the Vietnam war under Johnson and supported it under Nixon, or a Democrat might have supported Clinton in Kosovo but opposed Bush in Iraq. But as these examples illustrate, other factors are changing at the same time, so it's tricky to try to separate these different attitudes. Especially because, at all four levels (policy rationales, elite discourse, arguments in the media, and public opinion), the different motivations get mixed.

Also, I haven't read the paper in detail either, but I can say that Tables 2 and 3 should be graphs. Figure 1 is ok but could be improved, maybe with three columns.

Posted by Andrew at 6:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 10, 2007

Build your own poll

Widgets are little rectangles people can easily "embed" into their web pages, social networking profiles and similar. A particularly interesting one was released a few days ago by the news aggregator Newsvine:


ElectionVine is a tiny polling widget that allows the visitors of a website to vote on different US presidential candidates. This wouldn't be anything new by itself, but what ElectionVine has done is aggregation from all these separate subpopulations into a joint display of political preferences, but also lists the results from individual virtual "polling stations".

For example, Facebook is not very politically biased, but many other websites are. These polls tell us a lot about the audience of particular web pages (and in reverse about the demographics), they probably don't tell much about the overall standing. In general, web population hasn't historically proven representative of that of the whole country. For example, Howard Dean was enormously popular on the Web, yet never made it beyond the primaries. I wonder if it is going to be the same case with Paul and Obama, who win at the web polls yet trail in the conventional surveys (for Rep or Dem). Perhaps it is because of the demographic slant in internet participation, that this BusinessWeek chart nicely displays.

There is some academic work on web-based polling, perhaps worth mentioning is a repository of web-based survey methods papers, WebSM.

As an aside, a few months ago McCain's MySpace page was using Mike Davison's (Newsvine co-founder) template without permission. As a prank, Davison then changed the template into a fake message.

Posted by Aleks Jakulin at 11:32 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 5, 2007

Sample size

Rebecca sent in this example of a common statistical error:

Public opinion about the project seems guardedly supportive, with a majority of residents saying they favor it, though more than a quarter want its size to be reduced. The polls, taken for a local newspaper, use small samples, 500 people, limiting their usefulness as a gauge of popular sentiment in a city of one million.

Actually, if it's a random sample, then it's not a problem that the sample size is only a small fraction of the population size.

Posted by Andrew at 10:48 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

June 15, 2007

Politics and economic perspectives, or, Were people better off in the middle ages than they are now?

G. K. Chesterton writes, at the end of his celebrated book on George Bernard Shaw:

I know it is all very strange. From the height of eight hundred years ago, or of eight hundred years hence, our age must look incredibly odd. We call the twelfth century ascetic. We call our own time hedonist and full of praise and pleasure. But in the ascetic age the love of life was evident and enormous, so that it had to be restrained. In a hedonist age pleasure has always sunk low, so that it had to be encouraged. How high the sea of human happiness rose in the Middle Ages, we now only know by the colossal walls that that they built to keep it in bounds. How low human happiness sank in the twentieth century our children will only know by these extraordinary modern books, which tell people that it is a duty to be cheerful and that life is not so bad after all. Humanity never produces optimists till it has ceased to produce happy men. It is strange to be obliged to impose a holiday like a fast, and to drive men to a banquet with spears. But this shall be written of our time: that when the spirit who denies beseiged the last citadel, blaspheming life itself, there were some, there was one especially, whose voice was heard and whose spear was never broken.

Chesterton was a Catholic conservative of the early 1900s, Shaw was a socialist, and both were famous for expressing their ideas in paradox.

Shaw, the leftist, associated progress with material happiness, while Chesterton, the rightist, said things were better in the Middle Ages. Nowadays, the debates usually go in the other directions, with people on the left being less positive about material progress and people on the right saying that things are great now and are getting better. (See, for example, Will Wilkinson's skeptical take on happiness

I don't have anything to add here except to note the interesting switch of polarity, which reminds me of my thoughts here and here on the changing views of left and right regarding science.

Posted by Andrew at 12:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 11, 2007

Partisans without constraint: Political polarization and trends in American public opinion

In recent years there has been a lot of discussion of polarization in American politics, and also some scholarly debate, with some researchers finding polarization (most notably, Joe Bafumi and Bob Shapiro's "stubborn American voter") and others (notably, DiMaggio et al.) finding stability in issue attitudes. The best synthesis, I think, is the book "Culture Wars? The Myth of Polarized America" by Fiorina, Abrams, and Pope, who find polarization in attitudes toward the Democrats and Republicans, but explain this polarization as a consequence of the parties' positions rather than extremism in voters' issue attitudes.

That's the background to this paper by Delia Baldassarri and myself, and here's the abstract:

Political polarization is commonly measured using the variation of responses on an individual issue in the population: more variation corresponds to more people on the extremes and fewer in the middle. By this measure, research has shown that--despite many commentators' concerns about increased polarization in recent decades--Americans' attitudes have become no more variable over the past two or three decades. What seems to have changed is the level of partisanship of the electorate.

We define a new measure of political polarization as increased correlations in issue attitudes and we distinguish between issue partisanship--the correlation of issue attitudes with party ID and liberal-conservative ideology--and issue alignment--the correlation between pairs of issues. Using the National Election Studies, we find issue alignment to have increased within and between issue domains, but by only a small amount (approximately 2 percentage points in correlation per decade). Issue partisanship has increased more than twice as fast, thus suggesting that increased partisanship is not due to higher ideological coherence. Rather, it is parties that are more polarized and therefore better at sorting individuals along ideological lines; the change in people's attitudes corresponds more to a re-sorting of party labels among voters than to greater constraint on issue attitudes.

We conclude suggesting that increased issue partisanship, in a context of persistently low issue constraint, might give greater voice to political extremists and single-issue advocates, and amplify dynamics of unequal representation.

Posted by Andrew at 12:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 8, 2007

Chicken-egg questions in political positions and issue attitudes

From J. Robert Lennon's rant, I learn about an article by Mark Helprin advocating unlimited copyright. Lennon writes:

It seems he [Helprin] would like copyrights to extend forever, thus allowing Disney to get rich off its stale creations for eternity. Here, though, is the money quote:
Were I tomorrow to write the great American novel (again?), 70 years after my death the rights to it, though taxed at inheritance, would be stripped from my children and grandchildren.

Can you see the mistake [writes Lennon]? No, no, not the parenthetical "again?", which is almost too pathetic to mention. The mistake is that the rights to his imaginary masterpiece would not be "stripped" from his heirs--in fact, his heirs would keep all their rights. They would just have to share them with everybody else.

I'm pretty sure that in 70 years my descendants will have more important things on their minds than royalty checks for Bayesian Data Analysis, so I can't say I have a dog in this fight--what interests me here is the political angle.

Helprin is well known as one of the few literary-type writers with strong Republican sympathies. (I'm sure there are others . . . well, obviously there's Tom Wolfe, and John Updike wrote about his support for the Vietnam War, hmm, Evelyn Waugh would be a Republican if he were living now, right? And P.J. O'Rourke isn't really a literary-type writer but surely he has the ability to do so if he were to put his mind to it . . . then there's Christopher Buckley, but does he really count? Maybe that Deliverance guy was pretty conservative, I dunno--hard to tell the politics from the novel. Kingsley Amis. And there's Kipling but that takes us back a bit. Anyway, you get the idea.)

I don't know anything about the background of Helprin's interest in copyright law, but I wonder whether his opinion came partly in reaction to the fact that leftist anti-corporate types are the ones opposing copyright extensions. (This is the chicken-egg question referred to by my title above.) Just as, in reverse, a Democrat might oppose the death penalty in reaction to the people who are its most visible supporters. It's an instinctive pro-business stance or an instinctive anti-business stance; either can be appropriate in any specific situation but either represents an "ideology" in the sense of being a perspective from which each specific situation is viewed.

In our recent research, Delia and I have found surprisingly low correlations between issue attitudes--but, to the extent these correlations are increasing, one possible explanation is that people are starting to align their attitudes with the attitudes of their allies (and against those of their enemies).

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June 7, 2007

Dynamics of Political Polarization


My colleagues Delia Baldassarri and Peter Bearman wrote a paper with a theoretical model of political polarization. Here's the paper, and here's the abstract:

This article accounts for two puzzling paradoxes. The first paradox is the simultaneous absence and presence of attitude polarization, the fact that global attitude polarization is relatively rare, even though pundits describe it as common. The second paradox is the simultaneous presence and absence of social polarization, the fact that while individuals experienced attitude homogeneity in their interpersonal networks, their networks are characterized by attitude heterogeneity. These paradoxes give rise to numerous scholarly arguments. By deploying a formal model of interpersonal influence over attitudes in a context where individuals hold simultaneous positions on multiple issues we show why these arguments are not mutually exclusive and how they meaningfully refer to the same social setting. It follows that the results from this model provide a single parsimonious account for both paradoxes. The framework we develop may be generalized to a wider array of problems, including classic problems in collective action.

It's a cool model of multidimensional issue attitudes with a nice story about how people can overestimate polarization in their social network because, when interacting with friends and acquaintances in settings where political attitudes are relevant, they are more likely to be aware of the issues where they agree, with areas of disagreement being less salient. We can thus perceive a polarized world even if, in aggregate, the social network is not so polarized.

Even if you don't believe all the the details of the model, it seems to capture some important aspects of perception and reality.

P.S. You'll have to read the paper to see what the above picture is all about.

Posted by Andrew at 6:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 30, 2007

Eurovision: bloc voting or cultural clusters

Duncan Watts wrote an op-ed in NY Times on The Politics of Eurovision. There he writes:

I had heard about this practice, of course, whereby geographical and cultural neighbors tend to vote for each other, and nobody votes for Britain (well, except for Malta). But it was startling to see just how flagrant it was. The Scandinavians all voted for one another; Lithuania gave 10 points to Latvia (whose entry, bizarrely, sang in Italian); former Warsaw Pact countries voted for Russia; and almost nobody voted for Britain (surprisingly, Ireland did — and, of course, Malta).

Indeed, there has been some debate on bloc-voting in 2007. The map on that page does show that East got better scores than West:


Eurovision has been studied by academics a couple of times by now: Derek Gatherer titled his paper "Comparison of Eurovision Song Contest Simulation with Actual Results Reveals Shifting Patterns of Collusive Voting Alliances" and Anthony Dekker has a paper The Eurovision Song Contest as a 'Friendship' Network. The titles are not very forgiving, and here is an example of a chart from one of these two papers (neither of which has been authored by Duncan, of course):

(there isn't a single Baltic country in the area denoted as "Baltic", but they are all in the Balkan peninsula).

Serbs and Albanians are pretty much in a state of war, yet they seem to be aligned together in a "friendship" network? The same goes for Greece and Turkey in 2005, and many other similar pairs. I guess the young form a voting alliance for the preservation of hip-hop and metal, and the old too form into an opera friendship. It's not preferences - it's politics! It's not musical taste, it's alliances! It's not quality, it's who is friends with whom! It's not the fact that musicians in Britain, Ireland, France, who top the charts, already have an excellent means of commercially deploying their music beyond the confines of their country. It's rare for a first-class musician from the West to try for Eurovision: why expose themselves to public ranking and ridicule in case of failure if they can already sell lots of music by other means. But not so with the East; for the musicians there, Eurovision is the best way of going beyond their borders.

It's true that Balkan music is overrepresented in the voting scores: it has many small countries with similar musical taste and little population. But as this Excel spreadsheet shows, Serbia would win even if all other countries were prevented from voting. In case only the 1994 members were allowed to vote, Turkey would win instead, followed by Serbia in the second place. The results are quite robust with respect to countries that are allowed to vote. If, however, we weighed the votes by population, allowed countries to vote for themselves, and excluded non-1994EU, the winning order would be Turkey, Greece, Serbia. So, even by population-weighting the votes, the results do not change much.

There are some interesting nonlinearities. It's known that novelty value plays a big role at Eurovision: and there will be little novelty value to British, Irish, Spanish and German music that are so successful and ubiquitous in the marketplace: they won't get novelty scores like some more exotic types of music will: the past winners include goofy entries such as Finnish monsters, Ukrainian warriors and an Israeli transvestite. On the other hand, anyone who has tried listening to classical music knows that it takes some exposure before you can enjoy music, just as it takes a certain amount of exposure to literature to enjoy poetry.

The reaction from Britain was quite harsh, dismissing scoring as pure politics. But the UK song should be examined in the context of the 1990 winner on a similar theme. Google can translate the lyrics and you can compare them to the UK entry. Among other events, that 1990 song was what inspired the chain of events that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia (where some of the states were pro-EU and others against), and possibly other nations too. For musical quality, compare it to the UK 1997 winner.

So, in summary, there are many models that explain correlations in data. A cluster in votes can be interpreted both as an alliance to win the majority, or it can be equivalently interpreted as a group of countries that shares cultural preferences. One interpretation is cynical, the other is respectful. If you are an author that doesn't distinguish between the Balkans and Baltic, you might find it hard to decide on the right interpretation. A respectful one is a safer bet.

Posted by Aleks Jakulin at 9:12 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

May 25, 2007

Treating discrete variables as if they were continuous

Francesca Vandrola writes,

Reading several papers published recently in Political Science journals (i.e. Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, etc), I find quite consistently that:

I) Authors have discrete variables such as

- Income, say, measured as follow: (1 = $15,000 or under, 2 = $15,001–$25,000, 3 = $25,001–$35,000, 4 = $35,001–$50,000, 5 = $50,001–$65,000, 6 = $65,001–$80,000, 7 = $80,001– $100,000, 8 = over $100,000)

- External efficacy, say, measured as follow: an index that sums responses from four questions: ‘‘People like me don’t have any say about what the government does’’, ‘‘I don’t think public officials care much what people like me think’’, ‘‘How much do you feel that having elections makes the government pay attention to what the people think?’’, and ‘‘Over the years, how much attention do you feel the government pays to what the people think when it decides what to do?’’. The first two questions are coded 0 = agree, 0.5 = neither, and 1 = disagree. The third and fourth questions are coded 1 = a good deal, 0.5 = some, and 0 = not much.

- Church attendance, say, measured as an index of religious attendance, 1 = never/no religious preference, 2 = a few times a year, 3 = once or twice a month, 4 = almost every week, and 5 = every week.

And so on and so forth.

II) Authors include the above variables in their models (as explanatory variables) as if they were continuous. Why? I see the point of not including some of the variables as categorical predictors (say, if the variable has 9 categories), but I am less clear on there being a good rationale for some other cases. Wouldn't it be preferable, especially if there are sufficient observations, to include some of those predictors in a categorical fashion? Maybe they will indeed behave like an index and have a linear effect... but maybe they won't.

My reply:

Variables commonly behave monotonically, in which case linearity can be a good approximation--even if the scale of the predictor is somewhat arbitrary. But then it makes sense to check the residuals to see if the linearity is strongly violated. The alternative--modeling everything categorically--is fine, but that requires work in building and interpreting the model, effort that might be better spent elsewhere.

Posted by Andrew at 6:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 23, 2007

The Playroom is open

We'll be doing the Playroom all summer, Wed and Thu afternoons from 12-5 in 707 International Affairs Bldg. The rough schedule is: statistics on Wednesdays, political science on Thursdays, but you can come by either day on either topic; people will be coming in and out, working on things, and meeting in small groups. Each Wed 2pm we're having our weekly meeting on multilevel modeling, causal inference, and missing data with Jennifer (and others), and each Thurs 2pm we're having our weekly meeting on social networks and political polarization with Tian, Tom, and Julien (and others).

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May 18, 2007

3-judge panels

John writes,

I'm starting to work on a paper empirically modeling dissents on appellate panels, and was hoping you could help me with the proper way to model them.

Here's what we can observe: 3 judges decide a case, 1 writes an opinion, and the other 2 either go along with that an opinion or write a dissent (about 10% of the time or less). In reality, the likelihood is that 2 of the three judges form a majority coalition, and then the 3rd judge decides whether to go along with them or not. However, we can't observe the formation of this coalition, except in the (rare) cases where there is a dissent.

Here's the problem: I want to model the individual judge's decision whether or not to dissent. The leading work in this area treats each of the 2 judges who don't write the opinion as separate observations, where 0 = no dissent and 1 = dissent, with standard errors clustered on cases. That it, they are essentially treating each judges' votes as independent (except in the error terms). But this strikes me as wrong because one judge's decision completely determines the other's, since you can't have 2 dissents in a case. I'm sure this issue must arise in other contexts (it's sort of like a conditional logit problem, but not really), and there must be ways to model this properly, but can't think of anything concrete.

My quick thought is that you want some sort of latent-data model. But I'm not quite sure what latent data you want. As Rubin says, what would you do if you have all the data? (Or, in your case, what are "all the data" that you want?) You already know how all the judges voted, right? Perhaps the latent data are the order of voting--the formation of the majority coalition. If so, you can set up a "structural model" with probabilities of each possible coalition (including unanimous 3-0 coalitions, I assume), along with a "measurement model" of the actual votes given the latent data. Such a model can then be fit using Bayes (e.g., Bugs).

Posted by Andrew at 7:20 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 16, 2007

Socially optimal districting?

Here's a paper by Stephen Coate and Brian Knight. The abstract:

This paper investigates the problem of optimal districting in the context of a simple model of legislative elections. In the model, districting matters because it determines the seat-vote curve, which describes the relationship between seats and votes. The paper rst characterizes the optimal seat-vote curve, and shows that, under a weak condition, there exist districtings that generate this ideal relationship. The paper then develops an empirical methodology for computing seat-vote curves and measuring the welfare gains from implementing optimal districting. This is applied to analyze the districting plans used to elect U.S. state legislators during the 1990s.

This is clever, no doubt about it. I never would have thought there would be a way to come up with an optimal seats-votes curve based on maximizing welfare gain. On the other hand, I can't say I really believe it. It just seems contrary to the basic idea of representative democracy to say that the optimal partisan bias is nonzero. It just seems too sensitive to the assumptions of the model. But here it is--your opinions may differ from mine. As I said, the paper is impressive as an intellectual endeavor!

Just a couple other comments:

1. It's funny how sensitive I can be, as a political scientist, to very slightly different phrasings used by others. In particular, we always say "seats-votes curve," but Coate and Knight say "seat-vote curve." And we would say "Democratic voters," but Coate and Knight say "Democrat voters." For another example, they give ideologies of 0 and 1 to Democrats and Republicans, whereas we would use -1 and 1 (so that 0 is the center). None of this matters, of course, it's just funny that I notice these things at all.

2. Regarding the presentation of results: in addition to the automatic point that the tables should be graphs, let me point out that there is no good reason to list the states alphabetically (better would be to list in decreasing order of population, or in order of Republican vote, or whatever), also with judicious rounding and formatting, about 6 of the tables could be combined into 1 table, much easier to read, with many columns.

3. Finally, the empirical seats-votes curves in Figure IV don't look plausible to me. I'd suggest using the model of our AJPS 1994 paper (which we actually applied to state legislatures in our APSR 1994 paper!).

Posted by Andrew at 9:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 11, 2007

A message from Nebraska

Eric Aspengren writes,

I just discovered your blog via . . . I work as a political operative in Nebraska and I'm trying to give myself a crash course in statistical analysis vis-a-vis political science and campaigns. I do not have a math background and have had to pick most of this stuff up piecemeal as I go. This summer, though, after our local elections, I plan to dive into this field as much as possible. Your blog seems to be a very good resource for finding the latest research in the field.

I've been searching for something like this for some time.

Are there any specific online resources for good, basic, tutorials in this sort of analysis? Also, I have some training in GIS and wonder if you know of any good online resources concerning geostatistical analysis concerning vote prediction and GOTV. I would specifically like to find ways to maximize limited resources given certain demographic and other data of voters.

I have to say that I'm not, given my limited understanding, sold on Bayesian analysis. The promises of Bayesian analysis, though, are quite tantalizing. I think I can be sold on this if I can find some evidence of its application to elections and GOTV.

Cool--a political operative in Nebraska! It's encouraging to know that we are reaching people outside of academia! In answer to the question, online resources for statistics are not so good. I recommend my own books, with the newest (Data analysis using regression and multilevel/hierarchical models) being the more accessible. We don't actually do geostatistical analyses, though. Regarding get out the vote, you could read the papers of Alan Gerber and Don Green. There is some controversy about their findings; see here.

Posted by Andrew at 8:42 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 10, 2007

A drop in cohesion predicts ousting of cabinet

With Antti Pajala we have built a database of roll-call votes in Finland for the last decade and a half or so. One of the things we focused on was examining the cohesion of the Eduskunta (Finnish parliament). Perhaps the most interesting thing we found was that if in the year preceding the elections, the cohesion of either the cabinet (and sometimes also of the opposition) would drop, the structure of the cabinet would be replaced with a different group of parties.


Notice the drops when the cabinet composition changed in 1995, 2002 and 2006. No change took place in 1999, however, and there was no change in cohesion either: so our approach predicts it correctly every time. My causal theory is that as MP's start disliking each other, they will no longer be as motivated to seek consensus and the dislike will also reflect in the next election, but Piero says that dislike is in turn caused by the cabinet losing popularity in the public and followed by the emergence of competing factions.

Our working paper (only written in Finnish, however) is here. It would be interesting to see if similar phenomenon shows up in other parliaments. It's always cool to be able to forecast elections a year in advance.

Posted by Aleks Jakulin at 5:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 9, 2007

Happiness, children, and the difficulties of trying to answer Why-type questions

Wil Wilkinson points to an interesting article by Nicholas Eberstadt (and adds some comments of his own) on the topic of the high birth rates in the United States compared to Europe. Wilkinson attributes the difference to Americans' higher average rates of reported happiness and, regarding government policy, cites Shelly Lundberg and Robert Pollak to suggest that birth rates could be raised via policies leading to lower unemployment for young adults. I know there have been some studies of the relation between local economic conditions and birthrates, but I can't remember the findings. I seem to recall some interactions, with different patterns among different ethnic groups.

The business of unemployment and children is interesting, since from an abstract perspective I suppose that lower unemployment is a good thing, but so are lower birthrates (at least in the U.S., where the population is growing via in immigration anyway). And of course if people are unemployed, presumably they have more time to take care of the children. Maybe "unemployment" isn't quite the right measure here.

To continue with the economic argument . . . Wilkinson writes, "I like the optimism explanation. It’s easy to see why folks would refrain from reproduction if they thought their kids had only a broiling, denuded planet full of wretched consumer-zombies living pointless lives in cookie-cutter McMansions and soulless big box strip malls to look forward to." This isn't quite right, I think: McMansions are good things to have--I think that pessimism is thinking you'll live in a bad neighborhood, not that you'll live in a McMansion.

What I really meant to say was . . .

Anyway, the real reason I brought this up was not to talk about happiness and birth rates (on which I'm no expert) but to discuss the challenges of the "why" sort of causal inference. It's a basic mode of science (and of social science): we see stylized fact X (in this case, higher birth rates in the U.S. than in Europe) and then try to make various comparisons to figure out the causes of X.

But Rubin has taught us to look for the effects of causes, not the causes of effects. A similar problem arose in our Department of Health study where we were trying to understand the different rates of rodent infestation comparing whites, blacks, and hispanics in NYC. Even after controlling for some available information such as the neighborhood, the quality of the building, the floor of the apartment, etc., there were more rodents in the apartments of ethnic minorities. We'd like to "explain"--understand--this pattern, but this sort of reasoning doesn't fit directly into the statistical framework of causal inference. One approach is to reframe things in terms of potential intervntions (as I've done above with the birthrate example by imagining policies that lower unemployment). But that doesn't seem to completely get at Wilkinson's question about happiness.

Posted by Andrew at 11:27 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 8, 2007

Red blue map with dots for every 2500 people

Does anyone know who made this map that Aleks pointed me to? I want a version without the city names, state boundaries, and state colors. Thanks!


Posted by Andrew at 2:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Measuring media bias

Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo wrote a paper on "A measure of media bias." Here's the paper, and here's the abstract to the paper:

We [Groseclose and Milyo] measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets. To compute this, we count the times that a particular media outlet cites various think tanks and policy groups, then compare this with the times that members of Congress cite the same groups. Our results show a strong liberal bias: all of the news outlets we examine, except Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times, received scores to the left of the average member of Congress. Consistent with claims made by conservative critics, CBS Evening News and the New York Times received scores far to the left of center. The most centrist media outlets were PBS NewsHour, CNN’s Newsnight, and ABC’s Good Morning America; among print outlets, USAToday was closest to the center. All of our findings refer strictly to news content; that is, we exclude editorials, letters, and the like.

They fit a version of an ideal-point model to mentions of "think tanks and policy groups" by Congressmembers and media outlets and they find, basically, that most of the newspapers they look at quote a mixture of groups that is similar to moderate-to-conservative Democrats, most of the TV shows are comparable in quotations to conservative Democrats in Congress, and two of the more partisan Republican news organizations (Fox News and the Washington Times) have quotation patterns that are comparable to liberal Republicans in Congress.

This makes sense--as the authors note, surveys have found that many more journalists are Democrats than Republicans, but partisans of both sides have to moderate their views in order to maintain journalistic credibility.

I wonder to what extent these bias measures depend on the issues under consideration. There's also the question of the relevance of quotation patterns to the larger questions of bias. As well as the question of what role the press should be expected to take in a representative democracy--for example, will a mass-readership press be expected to hold more left-wing views so as to be popular with readers, or more right-wing views so as to be popular with advertisers? There's also the difference between local and national news. Lots to think about.

Brendan's comments

P.S. Here are Brendan Nyhan's thoughts criciticm of the paper. Brendan's criticisms seem valid to me; notheless I'm a bit more positive than Brendan is about the paper, I think because the problem of studying media bias is tough, and I'm impressed about what Groseclose and Milyo did manage to do. Perhaps just my own bias in showing an affinity with quantitative researchers . . . I do agree, though, that "bias" isn't quite the right word to discuss what Groseclose and Milyo measure, since "bias" implies a deviation from some unbiased position or truth, which I don't see them measuring.


I also have a few comments on the presentation of the results:

Although Groseclose says on his webpage that the paper is scheduled to appear in a journal, perhaps it's not too late for them to fix things a bit . . . First, I'd replace the tables by graphs. This would be really easy: for example, Table 1 could be kept exactly the same, except that the three columns of numbers could become columns of dots (scaled from 0 to 100 for the first column, 0 to 600 in the second column, 0 to 1400 in the third column. Or the second and third could be done on the log scale. Table 2 could also be a dotplot (just as Bill Cleveland wrote about in his 1985 book), etc etc. If making graphs is too much work, then they could at least round off those numbers like "56.9" to the nearest integer. (Just as SAT scores are reported as "560," not "558.")

In Tables A1 and A2, please please please don't list the media outlets alphabetically! Howard Wainer and others have written on this. Use the same scale you used elsewhere, from most liberal to most conservative. (You should also do this with Table IV. "Most to least centrist" is confusing. Actually, you can combine Tables IV, A1, and A2 by plotting the estimate, with little horizontal lines showing the range of estimates under different models.

Figure 1 is ok. But the x-axis is weird. Labels every decade or two would be enough. Labeling every four years just makes it hard to follow.

Figure 2 really confused me for awhile. The way it's written, it looks like the news organizations have a much wider range than they really do. If done right, there's no need for all these ugly arrows. Play with the white space a little and you won't need, for example, to have some news orgs take up two lines. Also, it looks a little weird that some of the Congressmembers are given full names and others just get first initials.

Posted by Andrew at 12:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 7, 2007

Corruption and parking tickets

Ray Fisman spoke in our quantiative political science seminar, reporting on his paper with Ted Miguel on the number of unpaid parking tickets of each U.N. delegation in Manhattan. (Diplomats don't have to pay parking tickets, although in recent years the mayor of NY has reduced the problem by about 90% by more aggressively towing cars that are illegally parked.) There's a strong correlation between the number of unpaid tickets and a measure of corruption of each country--that is, diplomats from countries with more of a "culture of corruption" had more unpaid tickets.

The data and finding are pretty cool, but, once you see the results, it's not that surprising. So I asked Ray what he'd learned from this, i.e., wasn't it all just obvious in retrospect. He replied that, yes, the results made sense, but he did learn something because he realized that corruption is not simply determined by economic factors. The U.N. delegations are like a little laboratory: the different delegations are all subject to the same economic incentives but there is wide variation in how many parking violations they have. "Cultural" as well as economic factors matter. In some ways, no surprise, but this could make a difference in how we think about corruption and how to fight it.

This perspective is captured in the abstract to the paper:

Corruption is believed to be a major factor impeding economic development, but the importance of legal enforcement versus cultural norms in controlling corruption is poorly understood. To disentangle these two factors, we exploit a natural experiment, the stationing of thousands of diplomats from around the world in New York City. Diplomatic immunity means there was essentially zero legal enforcement of diplomatic parking violations, allowing us to examine the role of cultural norms alone. This generates a revealed preference measure of government officials’ corruption based on real-world behavior taking place in the same setting. We find strong persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on existing survey-based indices) have significantly more parking violations, and these differences persist over time. In a second main result, officials from countries that survey evidence indicates have less favorable popular views of the United States commit significantly more parking violations, providing non-laboratory evidence on sentiment in economic decisionmaking. Taken together, factors other than legal enforcement appear to be important determinants of corruption.

Ray said that one news report summarized his findings as: enforcement works, so the way to get rid of corruption is to enforce the law. Ray said that this isn't quite right: enforcement works in the U.S. which has a culture of law (at least with regard to parking) but wouldn't necessarily be so easy to pull off in other countries (or, perhaps, in the U.S., in other areas such as drug use).

Posted by Andrew at 2:14 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 2, 2007

Panels of judges

John Kastellec writes,

My [John's] research question involves the voting behavior of judges on the U.S. Courts of appeals. To give a little background, which you or may not know already, there are 12 circuits in the US, divided by geographic region, that consist of anywhere from 6 to 28 judges. Almost all cases heard by these courts are heard by panels of three judges, selected (for all intents and purposes) randomly from all the judges in the circuit. Once the panel reaches a decision, the losing party can appeal to the entire circuit as a whole -- which can decide to hear the case en banc, meaning every judge on the circuit sits together to decide the case -- or directly to the Supreme Court.

The response variable is whether the panel issues a liberal or conservative decision (defined in conventional legal terms). I want to model how the ideological composition of the panel (i.e. whether there are two conservative judges sitting with one liberal judge, or vice versa) in combination with the ideological composition of the entire circuit and the Supreme Court affects the probability of a liberal decision. So, for example, if two conservative judges are on a panel but the entire circuit is liberal, they are more likely to issue a liberal ruling for fear of being reversed by the entire circuit.

The data are randomly sampled (but see below) cases from the courts of appeals over many years (probably I will use 1961 to 1996). Thus, cases are individuals and circuits are groups.
The main individual level predictors are the composition of the panel. The group-level predictors are the circuit median and the size of the circuit, which are measured yearly. Here are my questions:

1) Is the best strategy to run separate models for each year? I had initially thought about pooling cases from every 5 years or so, but this would introduce a lot of measurement error into the group-level variables, since they change each year. Downside is that this would mean lots and lots of models.

2) Many of the cases in the data are heard by the same three judges, and thus are not independent observations. Should I use robust standard errors, clustered on the panel? If so, are there special considerations for doing so in multilevel observations? (I didn't see anything in Gelman/Hill about this.)

3) The data are not randomly sampled across the entire courts of appeals, but within each circuit. That is, for each year, about 25 cases are sampled for each circuit, even though some circuits hear many more cases than other. Is it necessary to weight the data, given that my main inferences will be within-circuit?

My response:

1. I'd start with 3 basic models:
a. Separate model for each year (or pairs of years, if you don't have enough data in each year), plot everything using the secret weapon. (No tables, even in your initial exploratory work. Especially in your initial exploratory work. The secret weapon is there to help you from getting overwhelmed with all these estimates.)
b. Pooled model, throwing all years together. Don't worry about s.e. corrections, just focus on the estimates.
c. Same as b, but with indicators for years.
Then you're more set up for a multilevel model.

2. I wouldn't bother with robust standard errors--they're a distraction from the goal of fitting a good model. What you should do is have "judge panel" as a grouping factor. This is discussed in our book, not for judges but more generally for any multilevel model.

3. You need to have circuit be another grouping factor (in lmer, for example, y ~ x + (x | panel) + (x | circuit))
You shouldn't weight in your estimation, but you can weight (poststratify) when summarizing over the entire U.S., if the coefs that you care about vary by area.

Posted by Andrew at 12:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 1, 2007

Mental hospital, prison, and homicide rates

Bruce McCullough points me to this note by Bernard Harcourt on the negative correlation between the rates of institutionalization and homicide. Basically, when more people have been in mental hospitals, there have been fewer homicides, and vice-versa.

It makes sense since, presumably, men who are institutionalized are more likely to commit crimes, so I'm surprised that Harcourt descrbes his results as "remarkable--actually astounding. These regressions cover an extremely lengthy time period . . . a large number of observations . . . and the results remain robust and statistically significant . . ." With a large data set, you're more likely to find statistically significance. Especially when the main result is so plausible in the first place.

Harcourt concludes with some interesting comments about the applicability of his results. (I'd also like to recommend the paper by Donohue and Wolfers on death penalty deterrence as a model example of this sort of analysis.)

P.S. See here for an update by Harcourt, where he explains why he finds his results surprising. I'm not convinced--I believe the results are important, just not that they're suprising.

Funny stuff

Harcourt's blog entry had some amusing comments:

I don't understand why you're including standard errors and p-values in your results.

What is your stochastic model, exactly? If I understand correctly, the underlying data (e.g. the crime rates) are population statistics, not sample estimates, correct?

So where is the randomness coming from?

(Good question. The randomness in the model comes from state-to-state and year-to-year variation.)

Graphs with two y-axes on different scales make Baby Jesus cry, especially when the axes aren't labeled.

(Actually, I understand from Howard Wainer that scatterplots are a fairly recent invention, probably not around in Jesus's time.)

Can you explain your findings in English for people like me who do not speak graph?

(Google clearly needs to implement that Graph -> English translator.)

Remember when this blog was all sweetness and light and Eugene's insightful comments on a variety of topics and puzzleblogger Kevan Choset's interesting observations and Adler's/Juan's snarky comments?

This blog used to be fun. Now, whoa, Ilya thinks he probably didn't (but maybe did!) change US policy on drug eradication in Afghanistan, and we've got graphs with two Y-axes on different scales, and it's all wonk all the time. Why have we abandoned the idea that posts should be entertaining and interesting to someone other than the author?

Include me out!

That's pretty funny, but even better is the note below the comment area:

Comment Policy: We'd like the posts to be civil, of course (no profanity, personal insults, and the like), but we're also hoping that people try to be as calm, reasoned, and substantive as possible. So please, also avoid rants, invective, substantial and repeated exaggeration, and radical departures from the topic of the thread.

Hey, I'd love to have some good rants here . . .

The note continues:

Here's a tip: Reread your post, and think of what people would think if you said this over dinner. If you think people would view you as a crank, a blowhard, or as someone who vastly overdoes it on the hyperbole, rewrite your post before hitting enter.

And if you think this is the other people's fault -- you're one of the few who sees the world clearly, but fools wrongly view you as a crank, a blowhard, or as someone who overdoes it on the hyperbole -- then you should still rewrite your post before hitting enter. After all, if you're one of the few who sees the world clearly, then surely it's especially important that you frame your arguments in a way that is persuasive and as unalienating as possible, even to fools.

In all seriousness, I doubt that this advice will work. I'm afraid a delusional person will not be able to process this sort of rational, well-intentioned advice. But I guess it doesn't hurt to try.

Posted by Andrew at 11:41 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 27, 2007

Baby-faced politicians lose

Greg Laun pointed me to this paper by Alexander Todorov, Anesu Mandisodza, Amir Goren, and Crystal Hall, whose abstract states:

Inferences of competence based solely on facial appearance predicted the outcomes of U.S. congressional elections better than chance (e.g., 68.8% of the Senate races in 2004) and also were linearly related to the margin of victory. These inferences were specific to competence and occurred within a 1-second exposure to the faces of the candidates. The findings suggest that rapid, unreflective trait inferences can contribute to voting choices, which are widely assumed to be based primarily on rational and deliberative considerations.

It looks pretty interesting. I'd also like to see things broken down by elections that were and were not seriously contested. Even without appearance, we can predict something on the order of 90% of races just based on incumbency and the partisan preferences of the voters in the states and districts. This is not at all to dismiss the finding but rather to place it in the context of other factors affecting voting.

You have to be careful in interpreting the results, however. Todorov et al. seem to be saying that individual voters' visual "inferences of competence" are affecting votes. Another story, perhaps more plausible, is that the more competent-looking people are the ones who rose to political success.

The accompanying editorial in the journal (by Leslie Zebrowitz and Joann Montepare) associates the appearance of competence with not looking baby-faced. But I'm amused by the part of the editorial that puzzles over why appearance isn't the only thing that matters: "When does perceived competence fail to predict election outcomes? Todorov et al. found that more competent-looking candidates were defeated in 30% of races. One possible explanation is that face biases could have favored babyfaced candidates in those particular contests. . . ." I mean, sure the findings are interesting, but chill out! Can't you be satisfied with predicting 70% of the time? That seems pretty good to me!

Finally, that "68.8%" in the abstract is funny. People just don't know about rounding. (And, of course, Table 1 should be a time series graph. But I do give them credit for doing a secret-weapon-style display.)

Posted by Andrew at 12:35 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 25, 2007

The Myth of the Rational Voter

Greg Mankiw and Tyler Cowen point to the release of this book by Bryan Caplan, so it might be worth pointing to my discussion of an earlier version of the book that he showed me when I visited his university in 2005. I don't like the title (unsuprisingly, since I wrote a paper called Voting as a rational choice), but Caplan's book is interesting.

My full comments are here, and here's the short version:

The basic argument of the book goes as follows:

(1) It is rational for people to vote and to make their preferences based on their views of what is best for the country as a whole, not necessarily what they think will be best for themselves individually.
(2) The feedback between voting, policy, and economic outcomes is weak enough that there is no reason to suppose that voters will be motiaved to have "correct" views on the economy (in the sense of agreeing with the economics profession).
(3) As a result, democracy can lead to suboptimal outcomes--foolish policies resulting from foolish preferences of voters.
(4) In comparison, people have more motivation to be rational in their conomic decisions (when acting as consumers, producers, employers, etc). Thus it would be better to reduce the role of democracy and increase the role of the market in economic decision-making.

Caplan says a lot of things that make sense and puts them together in an interesting way. Poorly-informed voters are a big problem in democracy, and Caplan makes the compelling argument that this is not necessarily a problem that can be easily fixed--it may be fundamental to the system. His argument differs from that of Samuel Huntington and others who claimed in the 1970s that democracy was failing because there was too much political participation. As I recall, the "too much democracy" theorists of the 1970s saw a problem with expectations: basically, there is just no way for "City Hall" to be accountable to everyone, thus they preferred limiting things to a more manageable population of elites. Caplan thinks that voting itself (not just more elaborate demands for governmental attention) is the problem.

Bounding the arguments

I have a bunch of specific comments on the book but first want to bound its arguments a bit. First, Caplan focuses on economics, and specifically on economic issues that economists agree on. To the extent the economists disagree, the recommendations are less clear. For example, some economists prefer a strongly graduated income tax, others prefer a flat tax. Caplan would argue, I think, that tax rates in general should be lowered (since that would reduce the role of democratic government in the economic sphere) but it would still be up to Congress to decide the relative rates. This isn't a weakness of Caplan's argument; I'm just pointing out a limitation of its applicability.

More generally, non-economic issues--on which there is no general agrement by experts--spread into the economic sphere. Consider policies regarding national security, racial discrimination, and health care. Once again, I'm not saying that Caplan is wrong in his analysis of economic issues, just that democratic goverments do a lot of other things. (At one place he points out that the evidence shows that voters typically decide whom to vote for based on economic considerations. But, even thought the economy might be decisive on the margin, that doesn't mean these other issues don't matter.)

Finally, Caplan generally consideres democracy as if it were direct. But I think representative democracy is much different than direct democracy. Caplan makes some mention of this, the idea that politicians have some "slack" in decision-making, but I suspect he is understating the importance of the role of the politicians in the decision-making process.

Posted by Andrew at 1:37 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 24, 2007

Political science methods talks at NYU

Jonathan Nagler posts this mini-conference:


Fri 27 Apr 2007

11:30 - 1:00: Lunch

1:00 - 2:30: Jake Bowers, "Drug Safety and Deadlines: An Application of Prognostic Scores, Propensity Scores, Full Matching and Permutation Inference to Regulatory Regime Change at the FDA"

2:45 - 4:15: Kosuke Imai, "Misunderstandings among Experimentalists and Observationalists: Balance Test Fallacies in Causal Inference"

4:30 - 5:45 Jennifer Hill, "Matching: Friend or Foe for Causal Inference"

All events will take place at University Hall, 110 E. 14th Street.

If you are planning to attend, please RSVP to Tanisha Johnson-Campbell (tanisha.johnsoncampbell (at) Please let her know if you will be coming in time for lunch.

It looks like interesting and important stuff.

Posted by Andrew at 9:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The psychology of power

In a comment on this entry, Chris points to this interview with Deborah Gruenfeld. Some excerpts:

I [Gruenfeld] have been studying the psychological consequences of having power for the past seven years . . . There are just so many good examples of people with power who behave in ways that demand some kind of psychological explanation.

For example, I had a brief career in journalism, and I occasionally met with Jann Wenner, the founder and publisher of Rolling Stone. . . . He had in his office a small refrigerator within arm’s reach of his desk. As far as I could tell, there were only two things in there: a bottle of vodka and a bag of raw onions. While we were meeting, he would reach over, open the door, drink vodka straight out of the bottle, and eat onions. What’s striking about it now is that none of us ever said anything to him about this, and he never even offered to share! He seemed to think it was perfectly appropriate to do this in a meeting. And that is, I think, a classic example of what we think is going on with power, which is what we call “disinhibition.”

Gruenfeld continues:

Disinhibition involves acting on your own desires in a social context without considering the effects of your actions. It implies a heightened sensitivity to your own internal state and also a reduced sensitivity to other’s interests and experiences. It implies action orientation in pursuit of a goal and also the possibility that you might use others as a means to an end.

We believe the reason power leads to disinhibition is that power activates the behavioral approach system. This is a psycho-physiological system that regulates our behavior in response to rewards and opportunities. . . . animal behavior . . . serotonin levels . . . monkeys move into alpha or beta position . . .

I have a couple of problems with this. First, as a person who regularly eats celery in meetings, I don't understand what's so bad about this, or why it's an example of "using others as a means to an end." I mean, I'd be eating the celery whether or not the other people are there; similarly, Wenner can drink vodka and eat onions whenever he wants--how is he using others as a means to an end? (Unlike Wenner, though, I do offer to share.)

My other comment is more general and relates to the comment at the beginning of the quote that the behaviors of people in power "demand some kind of psychological explanation." I would think that simple hunger would be enough of an explanation here. (When my students get hungry, they eat too--but, even more often, they're tired in the morning and drink coffee. As long as they don't leave the coffee cups sitting on the desks, I don't mind.)

Clearly I'm missing something here. Perhaps there's a clash of cultures here. Gruenfeld teaches at a business school, and I imagine the business world has a lot of formal and informal rules (e.g., "don't eat during meetings"). In contrast, the academic world (and maybe also the journalistic world of which Rolling Stone is a part) is more informal, thus no need for a psychological explanation for people to eat and drink during meetings.

Posted by Andrew at 12:33 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 22, 2007

The Foreign Policy Disconnect: Multilateralist Public, Unilateralist Officials

Benjamin Page is speaking on this paper:

Data from the 2006 CCGA national survey once again indicate that the American public is much more multilateralist than U.S. foreign policy officials. Large majorities of Americans favor several specific steps to strengthen the UN, support Security Council intervention for peacekeeping and human rights, and favor working more within the UN even if it constrains U.S. actions. Large majorities also favor the Kyoto agreement on global warming, the International Criminal Court, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the new inspection agreement on biological weapons. Large majorities favor multilateral uses of U.S. troops for peacekeeping and humanitarian purposes, but majorities oppose most major unilateral engagements.

He continues:

Analysis of more than one thousand survey questions asked of both the public and foreign policy officials over a thirty year period by the CCGA (formerly CCFR) indicates that significant disagreements between officials and the public have been very frequent, occurring 73% of the time. Disagreements between majorities of officials and majorities of citizens have occurred 26% of the time. On Diplomatic issues, gaps have reached a peak in the George W. Bush years. Over the years, however, there have also been many disagreements over Defense issues (the public is more reluctant to use troops and more opposed to military aid and arms sales), and even more disagreement on international Economic issues: citizens are more worried about immigration and drugs, and much more concerned about the effects of trade on Americans’ jobs and wages.

Page concludes that this is more of a problem with the experts than with the public, concluding:

Most gaps between citizens and officials appear to have more to do with differing values and interests than with differing levels of information and expertise. To the extent that this is true and that Americans’ collective policy preferences are coherent and reflective of the best available information, there would seem to be a strong argument, based on democratic theory, that policy makers should pay more heed to the public’s wishes.

This all seems reasonable to me; I just have one question: how does this square with this well-known finding: "In 1995, the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that, while an overwhelming majority supported aid in principle, a majority wanted to cut it. However when asked to estimate how much of the budget was devoted to foreign aid, respondents vastly overestimated its size, and when asked what would be appropriate they proposed an amount far higher than the actual amount."

P.S. I don't have a sense of whether 55% support for the United Nations is a high or a low value. It would be interesting to see the correlations between support for the World Health Organization, the U.N., the IMF, multinational corporations, etc. Are the same 50% supporting all of these, or are the responses essentially random? It would also be interesting to see how these responses correlate with party ID, now and during the Clinton admininstration.

P.P.S. More discussion in the comments.

Posted by Andrew at 8:31 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 19, 2007

Political psychology workshop

This looks interesting (it's this Saturday, from 10:30 to 4:00 in 801 International Affairs Building):

Susan Fiske and Lasana Harris (Princeton), "Which Groups We Consider Least Human: Evidence From Social Cognition and Social Neuroscience."

Mark Peffley (Kentucky), "Racial Polarization in Criminal Justice Attitudes."

Shawn Rosenberg (UC Irvine and Princeton), "Types of Democratic Deliberation: Can the People Govern?"

Posted by Andrew at 9:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 13, 2007

Mapping State and Congressional Ideology

Boris points us to this paper (with Christopher Berry and Nolan McCarty):


Boris writes:

Estimated congressional common space scores for four states compared with scores for the US House, 1996-2006 (unique legislators in this time period). Colored numbers under density plot indicate party medians (red are Republicans), the black number on the x-axis is the bichamber median. Short bars are 10th and 90th party percentiles. Party overlap statistics are reported in the legend.

Note how similar CA and MI look to the House in terms of party polarization, and how different PA and especially FL look.

And here's the abstract:

Two major problems exist in applying ideal point estimation techniques to state legislatures. First, there has been a scarcity of available longitudinal roll call data. Second, even where such data exists, scaling ideal points within a single state suffers from a basic defect. No comparisons can be made across institutions, whether to other state