Across the political spectrum

Kevin Lewis

April 06, 2012

ABA ratings: What do they really measure?

John Lott
Public Choice, forthcoming

This study reveals the ABA as systematically giving lower ratings to Republican circuit court nominees, although no similar bias appears to exist for district court nominees. The data show how important it is to separate the evidence for circuit and district court nominees. This study fits in with my previous research showing that it is the brightest nominees who face the most difficult time getting confirmed and that the most difficult confirmations involve circuit court nominees. One difference with earlier findings is that the biases seem to be hidden and are worse than looking at the averages across administrations. For example, the oldest Republican nominees, who will not be on the court for long, receive the highest ratings. The reverse is true for Democratic nominees. Similarly, the research explains why Republican nominees tend to get their lowest evaluations from the ABA when the Democrats control the Senate.


One Vote out of Step? The Effects of Salient Roll Call Votes in the 2010 Election

Brendan Nyhan et al.
American Politics Research, forthcoming

We investigate the relationship between controversial roll call votes and support for Democratic incumbents in the 2010 midterm elections. Consistent with previous analyses, we find that supporters of health care reform paid a significant price at the polls. We go beyond these analyses by identifying a mechanism for this apparent effect: constituents perceived incumbents who supported health care reform as more ideologically distant (in this case, more liberal), which in turn was associated with lower support for those incumbents. Our analyses show that this perceived ideological difference mediates most of the apparent impact of support for health care reform on both individual-level vote choice and aggregate-level vote share. We conclude by simulating counterfactuals that suggest health care reform may have cost Democrats their House majority.


Issue Salience, Party Strength, and the Adoption of Health-Care Expansion Efforts

Ethan Bernick & Nathan Myers
Politics & Policy, February 2012, Pages 131-159

This article studies the joint effects of issue salience and party strength on health-care expansion efforts in the American states. We contend that Democrats and Republicans fall back on their traditional policy stances when an issue is highly salient, but when it is less so, policy makers move to the more politically practical policy alternatives. We find that when health care is highly salient, Democrat-controlled states will be more likely to support direct coverage programs, while a Republican-controlled state will be more likely to support tax incentives. During periods of low-issue salience, policy makers are more open to pursuing options less consonant with traditional partisan policy preferences to make progress on the issue. This important contribution to the literature indicates that the level of attention an issue receives can not only affect whether effort is made to address the problem, but the substance of the policy too.


Rethinking Regime Politics

Matthew Hall
Law & Social Inquiry, forthcoming

Many recent studies of "regime politics" argue that judicial review is ultimately used to promote the interests of the dominant governing regime. I explore this claim by evaluating whether the invalidation of federal laws by the US Supreme Court fits the empirical expectations of the regime politics approach. I find that the Court frequently invalidates statutes when (1) the ideology of the Court diverges from that of the sitting elected branches (suggesting that the Court does not fear sanctions or nonimplementation), and (2) the ideology of the sitting elected branches converges with that of the elected branches that enacted the statute (suggesting that the Court is defying the sitting elected branches). My findings suggest that the Court does not primarily use judicial review to promote the interests of the dominant governing regime.


Reading the Tea Leaves: Understanding Tea Party Caucus Membership in the US House of Representatives

Bryan Gervais & Irwin Morris
PS: Political Science & Politics, April 2012, Pages 245-250

In the summer of 2010, 52 Republican members of the US House of Representatives joined the newly formed Tea Party Caucus, bringing the first institutional voice to the Tea Party movement. To understand both the policy orientations of the organized Tea Party (in its caucus manifestation) and the institutional strength of the caucus's membership, we assess the extent to which caucus members are distinctive from their fellow Republicans in the US House of Representatives. Our results suggest that membership in the caucus is primarily driven by ideology and economics. Specifically, we find that Tea Party Caucus members are Republicans who are ideologically oriented toward limited government and lower taxes and who hail from particularly prosperous congressional districts. We find no evidence that Tea Party Caucus members serve safer districts or have greater seniority or institutional stature than their Republican colleagues who are not members of the caucus. These findings, we believe, speak not only to the nature and orientations of the Tea Party Caucus, but to the wider Tea Party movement itself.


Political orientations, intelligence and education

Heiner Rindermann, Carmen Flores-Mendoza & Michael Woodley
Intelligence, March-April 2012, Pages 217-225

The social sciences have traditionally assumed that education is a major determinant of citizens' political orientations and behavior. Several studies have also shown that intelligence has an impact. According to a theory that conceptualizes intelligence as a burgher (middle-class, civil) phenomenon - intelligence should promote civil attitudes, habits and norms like diligence, order and liberty, which in turn nurture cognitive development - political orientations should be related to intelligence, with more intelligent individuals tending towards less extreme political orientations. In a Brazilian sample (N = 586), individuals were given the Standard Progressive Matrices (SPM) and a questionnaire measuring age, gender, income, education and political orientations. Firstly, intelligence has a positive impact on having any political opinion. Among persons with opinions those with the highest IQ's were found to be politically center-right and centrist respectively. The relationship held after correcting for gender, age, education and income. In a path-analysis, only intelligence had a positive impact on political centrality, whereas education promoted orientations that were farther from the center. These results are discussed in the context of results from other studies in different countries and in the context of different theoretical models on the relationship between political attitudes and IQ.


Strategic Party Government and the 2010 Elections

Gregory Koger & Matthew Lebo
American Politics Research, forthcoming

This article applies the strategic parties framework to the 111th Congress and 2010 election results that followed. In 2009-2010, the Democrats pursued an ambitious agenda over the nearly unanimous opposition of Congressional Republicans, leading to a high level of partisanship on both sides. This partisanship was costly in the 2010 elections. Like other papers on this election, we find some evidence that key roll calls were linked to decreased electoral vote share. However, the clearer pattern is that overall patterns of partisanship had a consistent detrimental effect on incumbents running for reelection.


Why does the majority party bother to have minority party members on committees?

Hong Min Park
Journal of Theoretical Politics, April 2012, Pages 248-264

Why would a generic parliament have committees with minority party members? If the majority party considers minority party committee members a burden, then it could choose to exclude minority party members entirely from the committee system. This, however, has rarely happened in history. In this paper, I provide an informational rationale for the bipartisan committee system through a simple signaling model. I show that, in equilibrium, the majority party on the floor can extract better information and, therefore, enact more preferred policy outcomes by forming committees with members of both parties.


Where Do Parties Live? Electoral Institutions, Party Incentives, and the Dimensionality of Politics

Shane Singh
Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming

Objectives: This study examines how electoral systems shape the underlying dimensionality of political discourse by incentivizing certain strategies among parties.

Methods: Cross-sectional linear regression is used to examine how electoral systems affect dimensionality. The study provides an original measure of dimensionality derived from an empirical estimation of a spatial model of voter preferences over political parties. Data are from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems.

Results: The analysis indicates that electoral institutions strongly affect a nation's dimensionality, especially in socioethnically homogenous countries. Less proportional electoral systems engender a unidimensional political space. Results are robust across several model specifications.

Conclusions: Individuals and the media conceptualize government and ideology in dimensional terms. Moreover, much academic work assumes certain dimensional constructs. By testing theoretical predictions about electoral systems and political dimensionality, this study provides an empirical basis for such assumptions.


Ideologues Beat Idealists

Sambuddha Ghosh & Vinayak Tripathi
American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, forthcoming

Our model considers a majority election between two candidates - an ideologue committed to a fixed policy and an idealist who implements the ex-post choice of the majority. Voters are aware that their individual rankings of policies may change after the election according to common or idiosyncratic shocks. We show that in equilibrium the ideologue often beats the idealist, even when this choice hurts all voters. Inefficiency arises both for sincere and for strategic voters; we also show that it is more pervasive in the latter case. Groups may be inflexible even when each individual has a preference for flexibility.


When parties are not teams: Party positions in single-member district and proportional representation systems

Stephen Ansolabehere, William Leblanc & James Snyder
Economic Theory, April 2012, Pages 521-547

Theoretical analyses of party positions commonly assume that parties act as teams to maximize their legislative representation. This assumption runs counter to another line of theorizing in which individual legislators maximize their own chances of winning reelection. To resolve this tension, the paper presents a model of party platform choice that relaxes only the assumption that parties are teams in the classical two-party spatial model. Platforms are chosen by majority rule among all legislators within a party. Politicians seek to win their own seats in the legislature, but they must run under a common party label. In both single-member district and proportional representation systems, equilibrium platforms are shown to diverge substantially, with one party located near the 25th percentile of the voter distribution and the other near the 75th percentile, rather than converge to the median. The model also yields predictions concerning short-term economic shocks, incumbency advantages, and gerrymandering.


The Conservative Canon and Its Uses

Michael Lee
Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Spring 2012, Pages 1-39

In this essay, I aim to locate the scriptural force of American conservatism's secular canon. My basic claim is that the canon created and managed the potential for symbolic fusion and fracture among conservatives. The canon provided the tools to weather the rocky marriage between various conservative sects: traditionalists, libertarians, neoconservatives, and others; the canon afforded resources for each faction to establish their bona fides and to protect their version of authentic conservatism from impostors and apostates. I conclude by analyzing the link between the principles of classical conservatism and canonical politics.


Discharge petitions and the conditional nature of agenda control in the U.S. House of Representatives

Susan Miller & Marvin Overby
Party Politics, forthcoming

While complementary in many ways, the cartel and the conditional party government (CPG) theories of legislative party power have disparate expectations for the stability of the majority party's negative agenda control. Cartel theorists contend that negative agenda control is relatively constant over time, while CPG proponents suggest that this type of veto power varies with intra-party preference cohesion and inter-party preference distinction. In this article, we enter this debate by considering an alternative and under-explored indicator of negative agenda control: participation in discharge petition efforts. Our findings demonstrate the instability of the majority party's ability to control discharge efforts, with majority party (co)sponsors showing a significantly greater likelihood of ‘waffling' during periods of stronger party unity and more vigorous leadership power.


Right-Wing Political Extremism in the Great Depression

Alan de Bromhead, Barry Eichengreen & Kevin O'Rourke
NBER Working Paper, February 2012

We examine the impact of the Great Depression on the share of votes for right-wing anti-system parties in elections in the 1920s and 1930s. We confirm the existence of a link between political extremism and economic hard times as captured by growth or contraction of the economy. What mattered was not simply growth at the time of the election but cumulative growth performance. But the effect of the Depression on support for right-wing anti-system parties was not equally powerful under all economic, political and social circumstances. It was greatest in countries with relatively short histories of democracy, with existing extremist parties, and with electoral systems that created low hurdles to parliamentary representation. Above all, it was greatest where depressed economic conditions were allowed to persist.


A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on the Left and Right

Aaron Shaw & Yochai Benkler
American Behavioral Scientist, April 2012, Pages 459-487

In this article, the authors compare the practices of discursive production among top U.S. political blogs on the left and right during summer 2008. An examination of the top 155 political blogs reveals significant cross-ideological variations along several dimensions. Notably, the authors find evidence of an association between ideological affiliation and the technologies, institutions, and practices of participation. Blogs on the left adopt different, and more participatory, technical platforms, comprise significantly fewer sole-authored sites, include user blogs, maintain more fluid boundaries between secondary and primary content, include longer narrative and discussion posts, and (among the top half of the blogs in the sample) more often use blogs as platforms for mobilization. The findings suggest that the attenuation of the news producer-consumer dichotomy is more pronounced on the left wing of the political blogosphere than on the right. The practices of the left are more consistent with the prediction that the networked public sphere offers new pathways for discursive participation by a wider array of individuals, whereas the practices of the right suggest that a small group of elites may retain more exclusive agenda-setting authority online. The cross-ideological divergence in the findings illustrates that the Internet can be adopted equally to undermine or to replicate the traditional distinction between the production and consumption of political information. The authors conclude that these findings have significant implications for the study of prosumption and for the mechanisms by which the networked public sphere may or may not alter democratic participation relative to the mass mediated public sphere.


Building a Left Coast: The Legacy of the California Popular Front and the Challenge to Cold War Liberalism in the Post-World War II Era

Jonathan Bell
Journal of American Studies, February 2012, Pages 51-71

The Cold War in the late 1940s blunted attempts by the Truman administration to extend the scope of government in areas such as health care and civil rights. In California, the combined weakness of the Democratic Party in electoral politics and the importance of fellow travelers and communists in state liberal politics made the problem of how to advance the left at a time of heightened Cold War tensions particularly acute. Yet by the early 1960s a new generation of liberal politicians had gained political power in the Golden State and was constructing a greatly expanded welfare system as a way of cementing their hold on power. In this article I argue that the New Politics of the 1970s, shaped nationally by Vietnam and by the social upheavals of the 1960s over questions of race, gender, sexuality, and economic rights, possessed particular power in California because many activists drew on the longer-term experiences of a liberal politics receptive to earlier anti-Cold War struggles. A desire to use political involvement as a form of social networking had given California a strong Popular Front, and in some respects the power of new liberalism was an offspring of those earlier battles.


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