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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


from Electoral Studies
Leaders, Voters and Activists in the Elections in Great Britain 2005 and 2010
Norman Schoeld, Maria Gallegoa and JeeSeon Jeon
Discussion of the relationship between parties and the electorate is often based on the notion of partisan constituencies, that parties adopt policy positions that correspond to the average position of the party supporters. In contrast, the Downsian.spatial model. assumes that parties are purely opportunistic and maneuver to gain as many votes as possible. A third, more empirical model, based on the early work of Stokes, assumes that voter choice is based on the evaluation of each of the party leader.s competence or ability to deliver policy success. Such an evaluation can be provided by individual voter overall assessment in terms of the leaders. character traits. This paper attempts to relate these three classes of models by examining the elections in Great Britain in 2005 and 2010. Using the British Election Study, we construct spatial models of these elections in Great Britain as well as in the three regions of England, Scotland and Wales. The models incorporate the electoral perceptions of character traits. We compare the equilibrium vote maximizing positions with the partisan positions, estimated by taking the mean of each of the parties voters.preferred positions. We de.ne an equilibrium to be a stable attractor if the vote share at the equilibrium exceeds the share at the partisan position by a signi.cant proportion (determined by the implicit error of the stochastic model). We infer that none of the equilibria are stable attractors, and suggest that the partisan positions are also preferred by the party activists, the key supporters of each party.
Strategic campaigning, closeness, and voter mobilization in U.S. Presidential elections
Damon M. Canna and Jeffrey Bryan Coleb
The scholarly literature on voter mobilization is ambivalent regarding the effects of closeness on turnout. Economic analyses of turnout (i.e. the classic calculus of voting) contend that as elections become closer, voters perceive their participation as more valuable because there is a greater chance that they will cast the deciding vote. Other work argues that voters do not take closeness into account because the probability that their vote uniquely changes the outcome of an election is quite small even in close elections. Still, this second perspective maintains that closeness may increase turnout because elites distribute campaign resources to places where election results could be affected by mobilizing additional supporters. While the latter perspective is theoretically well-developed, empirical support for the notion that elite activity (rather than citizen perceptions) connects closeness and turnout is limited. Using improved measures of closeness and campaign activities, we test for citizen perception and elite mobilization effects on turnout in the context of U.S. Presidential elections. Results show that while closeness has no direct effect on turnout, elites indeed target campaign activities on close states and the asymmetric distribution of resources across states results in higher turnout in battleground states.
Raising the tone? The impact of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ campaigning on voting in the 2007 Scottish Parliament election
Charles Pattiea, David Denverb, Robert Johns and James Mitchell
Most survey-based research on campaign effects in British elections has focussed on exposure to the campaign. Far less attention has been given to how the campaign is perceived, although American research on the effects of negative campaigning suggests that this is a potentially important area. The article investigates the extent to which vote choices in the 2007 Scottish Parliament election were affected by perceptions of the parties’ campaigns as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. Partisanship and increased exposure to a party’s campaign increased individuals’ chances of rating a campaign positively. Other things being equal, however, campaigns which come to be seen in a negative light backfire on the party responsible, reducing the propensity of people to vote for it.
Social pressure, surveillance and community size: Evidence from field experiments on voter turnout
Costas Panagopoulos
Citizens participate in elections, at least partly, because they perceive voting as a social norm. Norms induce compliance because individuals prefer to avoid enforcement mechanisms–including social sanctions–that can be activated by uncooperative behavior. Public visibility, or surveillance, increases the likelihood of norm-compliant behavior and applies social pressure that impels individuals to act. Some scholars have linked social pressure to community size, advancing the notion that pressure to conform to social norms is heightened in smaller, less populous communities in which citizens interact frequently and where monitoring behavior is less onerous. Others argue that even highly-populated communities can exhibit “small world” properties that cause residents to be sensitive to social pressure. In this paper, I analyze data from a recent field experiment designed to test the impact of social pressure on voting taking interactions with community size into account. The findings I report suggest community size does not moderate the impact of social pressure.
from Perspectives on Politics
The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican
Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol and John Coggin
In the aftermath of a potentially demoralizing 2008 electoral defeat, when the Republican Party seemed widely discredited, the emergence of the Tea Party provided conservative activists with a new identity funded by Republican business elites and reinforced by a network of conservative media sources. Untethered from recent GOP baggage and policy specifics, the Tea Party energized disgruntled white middle-class conservatives and garnered widespread attention, despite stagnant or declining favorability ratings among the general public. As participant observation and interviews with Massachusetts activists reveal, Tea Partiers are not monolithically hostile toward government; they distinguish between programs perceived as going to hard-working contributors to US society like themselves and “handouts” perceived as going to unworthy or freeloading people. During 2010, Tea Party activism reshaped many GOP primaries and enhanced voter turnout, but achieved a mixed record in the November general election. Activism may well continue to influence dynamics in Congress and GOP presidential primaries. Even if the Tea Party eventually subsides, it has undercut Obama’s presidency, revitalized conservatism, and pulled the national Republican Party toward the far right.
Blue-Green Coalitions: Fighting for Safe Workplaces and Healthy Communities. By Brian Mayer
Laura A. Henry
When do labor-environmental coalitions emerge and endure? In a period when headlines are dominated by economic recession, unemployment, and oil spills, the focus of Brian Mayer’s book takes on practical urgency. The question is theoretically intriguing as well. Labor unions are often characterized as archetypical interest-based organizations, representing industrial workers’ concerns for their own material well-being. Environmental mobilization, in contrast, is seen as a quality-of-life movement most commonly associated with members of the postindustrial middle class who possess leisure time and resources sufficient to enable their activism. When the question of how to regulate industries that employ toxic chemicals arises, these two groups can become locked in an acrimonious jobs versus the environment debate, making them more likely antagonists than allies. This sense of latent opposition is captured by one worker’s assertion that greens want to “save the whales and kill the workers” (p. 2). How can these divisions be overcome? In his clearly written and compelling book, Blue-Green Coalitions, Mayer argues that concern over the effects of hazardous materials on human health offers one avenue for generating powerful and enduring coalitions.
Response to Laura Henry’s review of Blue-Green Coalitions: Fighting for Safe Workplaces and Healthy Communities
Bryan Mayer
Both the labor and environmental movements have recently experienced significant crises of faith in their ability to mobilize enough popular support to carry on with their respective missions. At a 2004 meeting of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, a report entitled “The Death of Environmentalism” proclaimed that environmentalism as a special interest group had accomplished its goal of raising awareness but had ultimately failed to galvanize a sustainable social movement. Mirroring that debate within the environmental movement, in 2004 the Service Employees International Union called for major reforms within the AFL-CIO; demanding that the labor federation focus on organizing new workers rather than defending its existing members. This divide within the AFL-CIO ultimately led to the formation of the Change to Win coalition, with several other major unions joining the SEIU in a new reformist coalition federation.
from Public Opinion Quarterly
Rethinking the Role of Political Information
Matthew S. Levendusky
Political information is a central variable for the study of mass behavior; numerous theories argue that voters with more information behave fundamentally differently from those with less. Nearly all of the empirical support for these theories, however, comes from cross-sectional data. As a result, these findings are typically biased, and systematically overstate the effect of information on behavior. I demonstrate how to minimize these biases and more accurately estimate the effects of information using several different analytical techniques. These adjustments cause the estimated effect of information to shrink dramatically, often falling to one-half to one-quarter of its former size. I conclude by discussing the implications of my results for the study of political information and political behavior more generally.
Social Identity Processes and the Dynamics of Public Support for War

Scott L. Althaus and Kevin Coe
Contemporary theories of opinion dynamics–exemplified by Zaller’s “receive-accept-sample” model–tend to assume that attitude change should occur only following exposure to new, attitude-relevant information. Within this prevailing view, the expected direction and magnitude of opinion change is largely a function of the tone and content of the new information to which one is exposed. In contrast, social identification theories show how opinion change can occur when a person’s environmental context activates social knowledge stored in long-term memory. These theories propose that attitude change can result merely from increasing the perceived salience of a social conflict. They further propose that the direction and magnitude of opinion change should be unrelated to the tone or content of the information that draws attention to the conflict. This study examines how the ebb and flow of war news on the front page of the New York Times is related to changes in levels of domestic public support for major American military conflicts from 1950 to the present. We find no consistent or compelling evidence that levels of aggregate war support change in ways predicted by information updating models. To the contrary, a social identification process appears to be underlying the aggregate dynamics of war support.
Measuring Americans’ Issue Priorities: A New Version of the Most Important Problem Question Reveals More Concern About Global Warming and the Environment
David Scott Yeager, Samuel B. Larson, Jon A. Krosnick and Trevor Tompson
For decades, numerous surveys have asked Americans the “Most Important Problem” (MIP) question: “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” Global warming and the environment have rarely been cited by more than a small number of respondents in these surveys in recent years, which might seem to suggest that these have not been the most important issues to Americans. This paper explores the possibility that an additional method of assessing the public’s priorities might support a different conclusion. Three experiments embedded in national surveys (two done via the Internet, the other done by telephone) show that when asked the traditional MIP question, respondents rarely mentioned global warming or the environment, but when other respondents were asked to identify the most serious problem that will face the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it, global warming and the environment were the most frequently mentioned problems. Furthermore, a large majority of Americans indicated that they wanted the federal government to devote substantial effort to combating problems that the world will face in the future if nothing is done to stop them. Thus, future surveys might include both versions of the MIP question to more fully document Americans’ priorities.
Electoral Competition and the Voter
Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan
This article examines how electoral competition, in the form of district-level campaign expenditures, affects voters’ opinions about elections. We direct our attention at how voters perceive competition, and at how electoral competition affects how people perceive elections. Although people generally overestimate the competitiveness of U.S. House races, we demonstrate that perceptions of competition are connected to actual levels of campaign activity. We also find that electoral competition may have contradictory democratic effects. District-level spending is associated with greater attention to news about the local campaign, but also with greater dissatisfaction with election choices.
from Political Science Quarterly
The Republican Resurgence in 2010
Gary C. Jacobsen
Analyzes the 2010 midterm election as a referendum on the Obama administration, driven fundamentally by the economy, but intensified by the deep animosity of the President’s opponents, the Republicans’ success in nationalizing the election, and the political failure of Obama’s legislative successes.
Managing Fear: The Politics of Homeland Security
Argues that the United States has spent excessively on homeland security since September 11. He outlines psychological and political explanations for this overreaction and concludes that these factors make some overreaction to terrorism unavoidable but offers four strategies to mitigate it.
from Politics & Society
What Do We Really Know About Racial Inequality? Labor Markets, Politics, and the Historical Basis of Black Economic Fortunes
William Sites & Virginia Parks
Racial earnings inequalities in the United States diminished significantly over the three decades following World War II, but since then have not changed very much. Meanwhile, black–white disparities in employment have become increasingly pronounced. What accounts for this historical pattern? Sociologists often understand the evolution of racial wage and employment inequality as the consequence of economic restructuring, resulting in narratives about black economic fortunes that emphasize changing skill demands related to the rise and fall of the industrial economy. Reviewing a large body of work by economic historians and other researchers, this article contends that the historical evidence is not consistent with manufacturing- and skills-centered explanations of changes in relative black earnings and employment. Instead, data from the 1940s onward suggest that racial earnings inequalities have been significantly influenced by political and institutional factors–social movements, government policies, unionization efforts, and public-employment patterns–and that racial employment disparities have increased over the course of the postwar and post-1970s periods for reasons that are not reducible to skills. Taking a broader historical view suggests that black economic fortunes have long been powerfully shaped by nonmarket factors and recenters research on racial discrimination as well as the political and institutional forces that influence labor markets.
The Emancipatory Effect of Deliberation: Empirical Lessons from Mini-Publics

Simon Niemeyer
This article investigates the prospects of deliberative democracy through the analysis of small-scale deliberative events, or mini-publics, using empirical methods to understand the process of preference transformation. Evidence from two case studies suggests that deliberation corrects preexisting distortions of public will caused by either active manipulation or passive overemphasis on symbolically potent issues. Deliberation corrected these distortions by reconnecting participants’ expressed preferences to their underlying “will” as well as shaping a shared understanding of the issue.The article concludes by using these insights to suggest ways that mini-public deliberation might be articulated to the broader public sphere so that the benefits might be scaled up. That mini-public deliberation does not so much change individual subjectivity as reconnect it to the expression of will suggests that scaling up the transformative effects should be possible so long as this involves communicating in the form of reasons rather than preferred outcome alone.

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