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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


from PS: Political Science & Politics
The 2010 Elections: Why Did Political Science Forecasts Go Awry?
David W. Brady, Morris P. Fiorina and Arjun S. Wilkins
In President Obama’s words, the Democratic Party experienced a “shellacking” in the 2010 elections. In particular, the net loss of 63 House seats was the biggest midterm loss suffered by a party since 1938–the largest in the lifetimes of approximately 93% of the American population.
Affective Forecasting Errors in the 2008 Election: Underpredicting Happiness
Catherine J. Norris, Amanda G. Dumville and Dean P. Lacy
Individuals tend to be very bad at predicting their emotional responses to future events, often overestimating both the intensity and duration of their responses, particularly to negative events. The authors studied affective forecasting errors in the 2008 election in a large sample of undergraduates at Dartmouth College. Replicating past research, McCain supporters overpredicted their negative affect in response to the (future) election of Barack Obama. Obama supporters, however, underpredicted their happiness in response to his victory. Results are discussed with reference to mechanisms proposed to underlie the impact bias, as well as the unique circumstances surrounding this historic election season.
The Political Relevance of Emotions: “Reassessing” Revisited
Ted Brader
Ladd and Lenz (2008) question a central claim of affective intelligence theory (AIT), namely that anxiety affects political judgments indirectly by reducing the role of predispositions and increasing the role of contemporary information. They claim that alternative hypotheses, especially the notion that emotions are simply rationalizations of political preferences, better explain the role of emotion in politics. Their ultimate conclusions, however, rest on an overly narrow view of both theory and evidence. Even if one accepts Ladd and Lenz’s reanalysis of survey data, there is insufficient evidence to cast aside either AIT or the hypothesis that anxiety affects the mode of political judgment. AIT explains a broad range of political relationships that are unchallenged by the reassessment and which cannot be explained by the offered alternatives. Moreover, numerous experimental studies reject the alternative explanations in favor of an exogenous, often interactive role for anxiety. AIT will surely require amendment, if not abandonment, someday. Competing theories of emotion already exist and, unlike the alternative championed by Ladd and Lenz, these theories too suggest a meaningful role for emotion in political judgment and behavior. For now, given all of the research to date, AIT is a robust competitor, scarcely in need of being “salvaged.” Burgeoning research on the political relevance of emotions will benefit from further debates, replications, and extensions, as long as new claims and evidence are put in proper perspective.
Does Anxiety Improve Voters’ Decision Making?
Jonathan McDonald Ladd and Gabriel S. Lenz
Affective Intelligence (AI) theory proposes to answer a fundamental question about democracy: how it succeeds even though most citizens pay little attention to politics. AI contends that, when circumstances generate sufficient anxiety, citizens make informed and thoughtful political decisions. In Ladd and Lenz (2008), we showed that two simpler depictions of anxiety’s role can explain the vote interactions that apparently support AI. Here, we again replicate Marcus, Neuman and MacKuen’s (2000)’s voting model, which they contend supports AI, and again show that it is vulnerable to these alternative explanations, regardless of how candidate choice is measured. We also briefly review the broader literature and discuss Brader’s (2005, 2006) important experimental results. Although the literature undoubtedly supports other aspects of AI, few studies directly test AI’s voting claims, which were the focus of our reassessment. In our view, the only study that does so while ruling out the two alternatives is our analysis of the 1980 ANES Major Panel (Ladd & Lenz, 2008), which finds no support for AI, but ample support for the alternatives. None of the responses to Ladd and Lenz (2008) addresses these findings. Overall, evidence that anxiety helps solve the problem of voter competence remains sparse and vulnerable to alternative explanations.
The Salience of the Democratic Congress and the 2010 Elections
David R. Jones and Monika L. McDermott
The results of the 2010 congressional elections were indeed historic. The loss of 63 seats by the Democrats was the biggest electoral loss by any party since 1948, making the more recent 1994 and 2006 turnovers pale by comparison. The question that political scientists naturally ask after an event of this magnitude is–why? This article addresses this question by analyzing the role played by the public’s attitudes toward Congress.
Participant Observation and the Political Scientist: Possibilities, Priorities, and Practicalities
Andra Gillespie and Melissa R. Michelson
Surveys, experiments, large-N datasets and formal models are common instruments in the political scientist’s toolkit. In-depth interviews and focus groups play a critical role in helping scholars answer important political questions. In contrast, participant observation techniques are an underused methodological approach. In this article, we argue that participant observation techniques have played and should continue to play a key role in advancing our understanding of political science. After demonstrating the use of these techniques, we offer readers advice for embarking upon participant observation research and explain how this approach should fit into a scholar’s long-term career plans.
The Political Scientist as a Blogger
John Sides
In November 2007, I helped found a blog, The Monkey Cage, with two of my colleagues, David Park and Lee Sigelman. This site joined a nascent political science blogosphere that is now composed of at least 80 blogs (Farrell and Sides 2010). The goals of The Monkey Cage are to publicize political science research and use this research to comment on current events. Although blogging is a promising way for scholars to promote their work to a larger audience, political scientists have been slow to take up this medium. To be sure, blogging is not without its challenges, particularly in terms of the time and energy needed to maintain a site. But blogging can also have its benefits by not only helping political science reach a broader audience, but also aiding individual scholars’ research, teaching, and service goals.
The Political Scientist as Local Campaign Consultant
Robert E. Crew Jr.
During my 45 years as an academic, I have followed the admonition sometimes attributed to the legendary Jedi warrior Obi-Wan Kenobe that political scientists should “use [their] power for good and not for evil.” In this spirit, I have devoted substantial portions of my career to public service by providing strategic advice and campaign management to candidates for small state and local elective offices–state legislature, county commission, city clerk or treasurer, school board, and the like–and supporters of citizen ballot initiatives. These campaigns generally cannot afford the professional campaign assistance that is now virtually a necessity for winning elections at all levels of government.
Expect Confrontation, Not Compromise: The 112th House of Representatives Is Likely to Be the Most Conservative and Polarized House in the Modern Era
Alan I. Abramowitz
An examination of the results of the recent midterm elections indicates that the new House of Representatives will probably be the most conservative and ideologically polarized House since the end of World War II. Republicans will hold 242 seats after a net gain of 63 seats, constituting the largest Republican majority in the House of Representatives since the 80th Congress (1947-49), which also had 242 Republican members.
Tea Time in America? The Impact of the Tea Party Movement on the 2010 Midterm Elections
Christopher F. Karpowitz, J. Quin Monson, Kelly D. Patterson and Jeremy C. Pope
By winning the presidency and strengthening its majority in both chambers of Congress, the 2008 election gave control of the government to the Democratic Party. However, as the 2010 election season unfolded, the news for the Democratic Party could not have been much worse. Economic conditions had not improved dramatically. A bitter and lengthy fight over health care reform signaled to citizens that little had changed in how Washington, DC, governed. The stimulus package and its impact on the federal debt caused unease in a segment of the electorate that was concerned with the size of government. In this context, observers of American politics began to take note of the number of citizens affiliating with, or at least expressing favorability toward, a loose coalition of groups known as the Tea Party movement. Tea Party rallies began to occur throughout the United States, seeking to draw attention to the movement’s primary issues.
The 2010 Midterm Elections: Signs and Portents for the Decennial Redistricting
Michael P. McDonald
The 2010 midterm elections are consequential not only in terms of the candidates who were elected to office, but also in terms of the government policies that they will enact. High on the list of important policies is the decennial practice of drawing new redistricting plans for legislative offices. A new census reveals population shifts that will result in a reallocation of congressional seats among the states through apportionment and–following U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the 1960s–a re-balancing of congressional and state legislative district populations within states that aims to give fast-growing areas more representation and slow-growing areas less. Of course, much more than an innocuous administrative adjustment occurs during the process of redistricting. The individuals who draw districts are keenly aware that district lines may affect the fortunes of incumbents, political parties, and minority voters’ candidates of choice.
Voter Turnout in the 2010 Congressional Midterm Elections
Costas Panagopoulos
Against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential election, a watershed event in terms of electoral participation, many speculated that renewed interest in voting would spill over into the 2010 cycle, resulting in a meaningful uptick in voter turnout in the midterm elections overall. Turnout was expected to be especially robust among Republicans eager to regain their numbers in 2010, capitalizing on Democratic withdrawal fueled by voters’ frustration with President Obama, congressional Democrats, and the struggling economy. In 2008, an electorate energized around an historic contest and unprecedented levels of voter mobilization helped to drive more citizens to the polls on Election Day than ever before (Panagopoulos and Francia 2009). An estimated 131.1 million Americans voted for president, representing 61.6% of the eligible voting population (McDonald 2009). Voter turnout among eligible voters in 2008 was 1.5 percentage points higher than in 2004, when 122.3 million voters participated in the presidential election (Bergan et al. 2005). The 2008 election thus marked the third consecutive presidential election cycle in which voter turnout increased, reversing a trend of declining participation that began in the 1960s (McDonald 2009). In fact, national turnout in recent presidential elections has rivaled modern highs in the level of electoral participation that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.
Democrats in Split-Outcome Districts and the 2010 Elections
Jeffrey M. Stonecash
The 2008 congressional elections produced a House in which 84 members came from split-outcome districts. Forty-nine Democrats won in districts that Barack Obama lost, and 35 Republicans won in districts that Obama won. To protect their majority, the Democrats needed to retain these 49 members. Given the party’s 257 seats, these split members constituted the difference between being in the majority and the minority. The 49 Democrats faced the dilemma of whether to vote with their party, given that their district voted for the presidential candidate of the other party. The focus here is on these split Democrats: their electoral situation, their votes, and their fate in 2010.
More than a Dime’s Worth: Using State Party Platforms to Assess the Degree of American Party Polarization
Daniel J. Coffey
How polarized are American political parties? Recently, Kidd used an automated content analysis program to demonstrate that American party platforms reveal only minor policy differences. In contrast to his conclusions, this analysis produces three main findings. First, at the state level, state party platforms reveal considerable ideological differences between the parties. Second, differences in state public opinion do not account for these differences; rather, they are more closely correlated with activist opinions and increases in state party competition. Finally, the conflict is not simply ideological but applies to specific issues in the platforms. As such, American state parties are highly polarized on different measures. Automated content analysis programs clearly represent an important methodological advance in coding political texts, but the results here call attention to the importance of policy and agenda content in party platforms. Moreover, studies of American politics, particularly research focusing on parties and ideological polarization, need to take into account the diversity of agendas that is inherent in a federal party system.
Wikipedia as a Data Source for Political Scientists: Accuracy and Completeness of Coverage
Adam R. Brown
In only 10 years, Wikipedia has risen from obscurity to become the dominant information source for an entire generation. However, any visitor can edit any page on Wikipedia, which hardly fosters confidence in its accuracy. In this article, I review thousands of Wikipedia articles about candidates, elections, and officeholders to assess both the accuracy and the thoroughness of Wikipedia’s coverage. I find that Wikipedia is almost always accurate when a relevant article exists, but errors of omission are extremely frequent. These errors of omission follow a predictable pattern. Wikipedia’s political coverage is often very good for recent or prominent topics but is lacking on older or more obscure topics.
from Political Psychology
Physical Attractiveness and Candidate Evaluation: A Model of Correction
William Hart, Victor C. Ottati and Nathaniel D. Krumdick
Voters typically evaluate an attractive candidate more favorably than an (otherwise equivalent) unattractive candidate. However, some voters “correct” for the biasing influence of physical appearance. This reduces, eliminates, or even reverses the physical attractiveness effect. Correction occurs when political experts evaluate a political candidate under nondistracting conditions. Under these “high cognitive capacity” conditions, voters primarily correct for physical unattractiveness. However, correction fails to occur when voters possess low levels of expertise or are distracted. Thus, in most circumstances, attractive candidates are evaluated more favorably than unattractive candidates. Two experiments provide support for this model of appearance-based candidate evaluation.
An Exploration of the Content of Stereotypes of Black Politicians
Monica C. Schneider and Angela L. Bos
Do voters have the same stereotypes of Black politicians that they have of Black people in general? We argue that common stereotypes of Blacks (e.g., lazy, violent) may not apply to perceptions of Black politicians. Instead, we hypothesize that Black politicians are a unique subtype of the larger group Blacks, different enough to warrant their own stereotypes. We take an inductive approach to understanding the stereotypes of Black politicians. Employing a classic psychology research design (Katz & Braly, 1933) in which respondents list traits for a target group, we find that there is little overlap of stereotype content between Black politicians and Blacks. Our results therefore indicate that Black politicians constitute a separate and unique subtype of Blacks. Our analysis explores similarities and differences between stereotypes of Black politicians and two other groups: Black professionals (another subtype of Blacks) and politicians. We discuss the implications of our findings for the relationship between stereotypes and voter decisions.
from The Forum
The Media Game: New Moves, Old Strategies
Shanto Iyengar
Campaigns are strategic contests between candidates and reporters. While candidates have proven to be adept at gaming news coverage of their campaign advertisements, journalists have maintained their autonomy by curtailing coverage of the candidates’ stump speeches. The advent of online media, however, advantages the candidates by permitting direct communication between candidates and voters.
How Political Science Can Help Journalism (and Still Let Journalists Be Journalists)
Brendan Nyhan and John Sides
Political scientists frequently lament the media’s neglect of our research. Although reporters should have a basic understanding of the field, it is not reasonable to expect them to restate the conclusions of academic research on a daily basis. Moreover, it is not always clear how research findings apply within the conventions of political journalism, which is context-specific and episodic in nature. In this article, we propose an approach that would bring more political science to journalism while respecting the professional norms and organizational constraints of news organizations. Although academic research is not always conducive to the demands of the news cycle, political science provides a novel perspective that could improve reporting in five respects: putting episodic developments in a structural context; providing new angles on the news; countering spin about the effects of events by elites; better describing historical trends and comparisons; and identifying known unknowns in politics.
Challenges to Mainstream Journalism in Baseball and Politics
Greg Marx
The increasing acceptance of “sabermetric” perspectives by sports media outlets provides a useful framework to think about the relationship between political science and political journalism. In many ways, the experience in the sports world, in which the conventional journalistic narrative proved flexible enough to accommodate quantitative methods and new analytical frameworks, represents an optimistic model for those who hope to see political reporting become more informed by scholarly research. On the other hand, there are important differences between the two cases. For example, political science poses a much larger challenge to the prevailing approach among journalists to everyday reporting than sabermetrics did. For this reason, it have the field may have less influence on practicing journalists than its supporters hope.
Promoting Policy in a Mediated Democracy: Congress and the News
Christine DeGregorio
Whose interests do major news dailies serve when they report on policy debates in Congress? This study compares what members of the U.S. House of Representatives say about major policy with what is later reported in two news dailies: one liberal (Washington Post) and one conservative (Washington Times). The data include one-minute floor speeches by House members (168) and published stories–news and editorials–in the print media (117). Three high-profile policy initiatives of the 107th Congress (2001-2002) anchor the investigation: No Child Left Behind Act (HR 1), Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (HR 1836), and Airport Security Act (S. 1447). The evidence shows a discrepancy in the perspectives between reporters and officeholders. Where news coverage stresses talk of the president and the process, lawmakers stress the problem and the stakes for the American people. When the debate breaks along party lines, news coverage shows a weak ideological bias that favors Democrats.
Polarized Populism: Masses, Elites, and Partisan Conflict
Paul J. Quirk
Scholars offer differing accounts of the roles played by political elites, on the one hand, and ordinary citizens, on the other, in the highly polarized partisan conflict of contemporary American politics. Some take polarized elite conflict to indicate, in itself, that elected policymakers have escaped the constraints of democratic control and act essentially independently. In sharp contrast to this view, I outline a case for the importance of what I call polarized populism–a condition of politics in which elected officials accord very substantial deference to ordinary citizens, especially those who hold relatively extreme ideological views. I clarify the differences between elite centered and populist accounts of polarized policymaking, and then develop the argument for polarized populism, presenting theoretical considerations in support and assessing several kinds of relevant evidence. I also reply to some claims by Lawrence Jacobs and Robert Shapiro, proponents of the elite-centered view, in an earlier exchange in the Forum. In concluding, I comment briefly about some directions for research to assess the case for polarized populism and discuss some broader implications of this pattern of policymaking.
Advancing a Social Policy Agenda through Economic Policy: Obama’s Stimulus and Education Reform
M. Stephen Weatherford and Lorraine M. McDonnell
In using parts of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a down payment on an ambitious education reform agenda, Barack Obama has accomplished what few others presidents have. The strategy has given his administration three distinct advantages: a large discretionary funding source with little Congressional scrutiny; flexibility in pursuing education reform goals without crowding out other policies on the president’s agenda; and the ability to shape the national reform discussion for more than a year on the administration’s terms, without being constrained by negotiations over a specific piece of legislation. Now the question is whether the Obama administration’s political dexterity can be matched by skill in fashioning institutional arrangements that ensure the long-term sustainability of these reforms.
The Economic Records of the Presidents: Party Differences and Inherited Economic Conditions
James E. Campbell
Several studies of the post-war American political economy find that Democratic presidents have been more successful than Republicans. Most recently, Bartels (2008) found that economic growth had been greater and that unemployment and income inequality had been lower under Democratic presidents since 1948. If true, these findings combined with the frequent success of Republicans in presidential elections pose a challenge to theories of retrospective voting and responsible party government. This reexamination of these findings indicates that they are an artifact of specification error. Previous estimates did not properly take into account the lagged effects of the economy. Once lagged economic effects are taken into account, party differences in economic performance are shown to be the effects of economic conditions inherited from the previous president and not the consequence of real policy differences. Specifically, the economy was in recession when Republican presidents became responsible for the economy in each of the four post-1948 transitions from Democratic to Republican presidents. This was not the case for the transitions from Republicans to Democrats. When economic conditions leading into a year are taken into account, there are no presidential party differences with respect to growth, unemployment, or income inequality.
from Political Behavior
When Do the Ends Justify the Means? Evaluating Procedural Fairness
David Doherty and Jennifer Wolak
How do people decide whether a political process is fair or unfair? Concerned about principles of justice, people might carefully evaluate procedural fairness based on the facts of the case. Alternately, people could be guided by their prior preferences, endorsing the procedures that produce favored policy outcomes as fair and rating those that generate disliked outcomes as unfair. Using an experimental design, we consider the conditions under which people use accuracy goals versus directional goals in evaluating political processes. We find that when procedures are clearly fair or unfair, people make unbiased assessments of procedural justice. When the fairness of a process is ambiguous, people are more likely to use their prior attitudes as a guide.
Who’s the Party of the People? Economic Populism and the U.S. Public’s Beliefs About Political Parties
Stephen P. Nicholson and Gary M. Segura
Some observers of American politics have argued that Republicans have redrawn the social class basis of the parties by displacing the Democrats as the party of the common person. While others have addressed the argument by implication, we address the phenomenon itself. That is, we examine whether the populist rhetoric used by conservatives has reshaped the American public’s perceptions about the social class basis of American political parties. To this end, we used NES data and created novel survey questions for examining the class-based images of the parties. We examine whether the public holds populist images of the Republican Party and whether the working class and evangelical Christians are especially likely to hold this belief. Contrary to this argument, most Americans view the Democrats as the party of the people. Furthermore, working class and evangelical Christians are no less likely to hold this belief.

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