Political scientists Mo Fiorina (Stanford) and Sam Abrams (Sarah Lawrence College) have done work analyzing and ultimately critiquing Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing’s popular Big Sort.
Synopsis of Big Sort: Bill Bishop claims that we are increasingly self-sorting ourselves into neighborhoods politically and only associating with like-minded political neighbors with all kinds of horrible consequences. Much of Bishop and Cushing’s evidence about the corrosive effect comes from psycho-sociological experiments like Asch‘s where group pressure causes people to behave immorally (a la Lord of the Flies or the Stanford Prison Experiment), or to censure their own dissonant voice even when they originally believed those views to be correct. [Note: Fiorina has made quite a name for himself on how the political elites in America have become ever more polarized and the masses have over time sorted themselves out more reliably into political parties but the masses views' have not become any more extreme, so obviously the Big Sort doesn't square with his other research that uses ongoing surveys like the General Social Survey, the American National Election Studies, etc.] There is a wonderful cartoon that the New York Times did about the Big Sort.
While Bishop and Cushing try to look a wide variety of evidence, among them voting records, patent applications, IRS income data, advertisers’ data, etc., Fiorina asserts that the backbone of Bishop’s evidence compares two closely fought presidential elections — 1976 where a moderate Republican Gerald Ford took on a moderate southern Democrat Jimmy Carter vs. 2004 when a Texas born-again Republican George W. Bush took on a liberal northeastern Democrat John Kerry. Bishop observes that there was an increase of 22 percentage points in the number of “landslide” counties from 1976-2004 (defined as a county that went for a candidate by more than a 60/40 margin).
Fiorina thinks that this comparison in and of itself is skewed since presidential campaigns are all about personalities and one can’t simply compare one against another and assume that one is witnessing changing behavior of voters. Furthermore, he thinks because of the contestants in those contests, there are many reasons to expect more landslide results by county in 2004 when voters were faced with a starker choice.
Nonetheless, he and Sam Abrams have searched for a measure that proxies well for voter preference but measures against a more steady yardstick than votes. They look at partisan political registration by county (which they say predicts voter choice according to other scholarly work). Comparing counties in 1976 and 2004, even if one dramatically lowers the threshold of “landslide” counties to ones where a simple majority of registered residents are one political party (e.g., Republicans), there has been a drop in such counties from 75% of counties in 1976 to 40% in 2004. This doesn’t show sorting at all. For sure, there has been a significant increase over this same time in voters registering as independents, but that itself is an undermining of the “Big Sort” hypothesis, since independents’ vote choice is much more volatile according to Fiorina. Fiorina is doing another project on independents: they are almost never just weak identifiers with a party, but either break with a party over one significant issue or have a much more esoteric alignment of political values. He says that looking at independents over time one sees that there may be as low as 35% of Independent voters from one presidential election to the next consistently saying they are Independent, voting Democratic.
Fiorina also says that even if there were a “big sort” going on, and the data found increasing polarization at the neighborhood level (his data show nothing like this happening at the county level), he’s not convinced it would have a big impact on politics for three reasons:
- Neighborhoods aren’t such an important center, especially in the age of media and blogs and where 2/3 of Americans only know at most 25% of their neighbors’ names.
- Neighbors don’t talk to each other all that much: a Howard, Gibson and Stolle 2005 CID study found that 55% of Americans never talk about politics with neighbors and Putnam’s Bowling Alone showed how interactions with neighbors has sharply declined over last generation;
- Politics is simply not that important a topic of discussion or way in which we identify ourselves. The three most important ways in which people identify themselves are family (51%), occupation (16%) and religion (10%). Even if you go down to people’s third most important factor, politics only registers 2.7% of people listing that as the third most important factor.
Questions: one person asked Fiorina about the Bischoff-Reardon study showing increased income residential segregation over the last generation (at the census tract level); since income itself predicts being Republican, she wondered how those findings are consistent. Fiorina hadn’t seen the study so didn’t want to comment.
Another asked how one knows whether Americans really are moderate or like to portray themselves that way. Fiorina said that any survey data is subject to such doubts but that highly volatile results, like the recent contrasting results in Ohio criticizing Obamacare while supporting the rights of unions, with many voters voting yes on both are consistent these data. Fiorina also noted that one has to look back to the late 1800s for 4 consecutive elections that show the level of political instability that exists today. [2004: All Republican control of president and both houses of government; 2006 Republican president, democratic control of both houses of Congress; 2008 democratic control of President and both houses of government; 2010 democratic presidency, republican House and Democratic Senate.] We’ve had four elections each with a distinctive result, and the next election, if current Intrade predictions pan out could show a 5th result and a flip from 2006, with a democratic President (Obama) re-elected and republican control of both houses of Congress. See also David Brooks’ interesting related column “The Two Moons.”
Fiorina who is working on Americans Elect, believes that the way this could change is for things to get bad enough that a “younger, saner Ross Perot emerges” as a third party candidate (quoting David Brooks). While this is not predictable, Fiorina cited Sid Verba who noted that before the Berlin Wall fell, no one saw this coming, and afterwards everyone could identify the reasons why this was inevitable.
He thinks Obama’s most promising re-election strategy is to assert that he’ll be the bulwark against likely control of both houses of Congress by the extremist Tea Party-led Republicans and a bulwark against the political extremism among political elites.
Fiorina believes that although trust of Congress is at all all-time low of 9%, turnout is not down because the political parties are providing a much stronger ground game and a much higher percentage of voters now indicate they’ve been contacted by the political parties. [It may also be a function that more voters see an increasing difference between the two political parties and the media and others may make stronger appeals that the stakes are ever more consequential.]
Fiorina also commended the recent research by Jim Stimson and Chris Ellis and a forthcoming book that indicates that most liberals truly are liberals whereas white conservatives are a blend of different things. 26% of conservatives are movement conservatives who really do have conservative values (what Ellis/Stimson call “constrained”); 34% are traditional-symbolic conservatives (like Mike Huckabee), many of whom are recruited through churches but don’t necessarily know the conservative party position or have consistent conservative beliefs (what Ellis/Stimson call “moral” conservatives); slightly less than a third are what Fiorina calls “clueless” conservatives (what Ellis/Stimson call “conflicted” conservatives), many of whom are younger, who actually hold liberal positions but think that the conservative label conveys greater respect (like a military official in uniform); and 10% of conservatives are libertarian (just wanting less government in general, whether it is for making marijuana legal and eliminating an army, or doing away with food stamps). Fiorina agrees with the book that when one says that 40% of Americans are “conservative” it is misleading since a far smaller percentage of them uphold conservative positions across the board.
See also this earlier post about the “Big Sort.”
Posted in Americans Elect, Barack Obama, big sort, bill bishop, Chris Ellis, CID Survey, Citizenship Involvement Demcracy Survey, congress, congressional approval, conservatives, critique, david brooks, Dietlind Stolle, divided government, elections, elites, Independents, Intrade, James Gibson, James Stimson, landslide counties, Marc Howard, Mo Fiorina, moderates, morris fiorina, partisanship, polarization, political elites, Sid Verba, Solomon Asch, sorting, Stanford Prison Experiment, summary, synopsis, Tea Party, the big sort, The Two Moons
Tagged Americans Elect, Barack Obama, big sort, bill bishop, Chris Ellis, CID Survey, Citizenship Involvement Demcracy Survey, congress, congressional approval, conservatives, critique, david brooks, Dietlind Stolle, divided government, elections, elites, Independents, Intrade, James Gibson, James Stimson, landslide counties, Marc Howard, Mo Fiorina, moderates, morris fiorina, partisanship, polarization, political elites, Sid Verba, Solomon Asch, sorting, Stanford Prison Experiment, summary, synopsis, Tea Party, the big sort, The Two Moons
Flickr photo by reskiebak
Approval ratings for Congress dropped into single digits this month for the first time since CBS News and the New York Times began asking the question more than three decades ago.
A New York Times/CBS poll conducted between October 21-24, 2011 showed just 9% percent of US respondents approving of the job of Congressional lawmakers. [The question read "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?'] This is a drop from 11% back in September and the first time approval ratings have been in single digits over the almost three and half decades that the question has been asked (since 1977). [84% in the recent October poll said they did not trust congressional lawmakers and 9% said they didn't know.]
Rates of approval peaked in the early 2000s when over 60% approved of the way Congress was handling its job and has dropped precipitously since then.
The same precipitous drop is true about trust of national government. [Question: "How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right?"] Trust of national government hit an all-time low in October 2011 of 10%. Back in the early 2000s, about 55% of Americans said they trusted the government in Washington.
One can see the time series for Congressional approval and trust of the federal government since 1977 here.
For sure, a heavy component in these declines in trust are macro assessments about the economy and the country. That said, at least in the short-term, the precipitous decline in trust of government presents a strong headwind for those who aspire to mobilize government to do something either about record high levels of inequality or to help stimulate the US out of the deepest recession it has experienced in the last century. I am also working on some scholarship with Chaeyoon Lim (not yet published) that suggests that partisanship may be greater in times of greater economic woes, so this may also be playing a role in the declining trust.
See earlier comments of Bob Putnam from 18 months ago on these declines in governmental trust.
Posted in CBS, congress, congressional approval, distrust, government, new york times, trust, trust government
Tagged CBS, congress, congressional approval, distrust, government, new york times, trust, trust government
President Obama responded to the tragic shooting of 20 on January 8, 2011 including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in with a wonderful and healing memorial speech in Tucson, calling for a higher level of political discourse. Obama’s passionate voice seems to have returned.
The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives — to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.
I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here –they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.” On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life. “I hope you help those in need,” read one. “I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.”
If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.
We hold Gabby and the other victims of the January 8 shooting in the Light with hopes for strong recoveries (amid recent reports of Gabby’s eye opening and cognitive understanding that showed “raw courage” and “raw strength”).
In addition, may Obama’s speech have life beyond the tragedy and start to transform our politics. I hope for our country’s sake that it does, but it involves politicians putting aside point-scoring and running Congress to focus far more on critical problems facing our country (global warming, a decline in educational performance relative to other advanced nations, an investment in jobs of the future, etc.) and focus far less on trying to unseat Obama from the re-election campaign of 2012.
Read transcript here
Posted in Barack Obama, Christina Taylor Green, citizenship, congress, Gabby Giffords, Jared Lee Loughner, John Roll, memorial, political discourse, political engagement, political interest, political voice, politics, politics of hope, public discourse, speech, tragedy, tucson
Tagged Barack Obama, Christina Taylor Green, citizenship, congress, Gabby Giffords, Jared Lee Loughner, John Roll, memorial, political discourse, political engagement, political interest, political voice, politics, politics of hope, public discourse, speech, tragedy, tucson
Flickr photo by Dean Terry
Preliminary evidence suggests that voting turnout among all Americans was up in the November 2010 election. Compared with the last non-presidential election (2006), both voting turnout experts (Curtis Gans and Michael McDonald) agree that turnout among eligible voters rose 1.1-1.2 percentage points (based on preliminary estimates that will obviously change as all ballots are counted and certified). Regardless of whether one likes the outcome in 2010, it is civic good news that more Americans got involved.
Preliminary evidence suggests electoral turnout rose in at least nine states, and significantly in Texas, Florida and Minnesota. Ohio and Pennsylvania, among other states, seems to have experienced a turnout decline. [Curtis Gans projects voting turnout at 42 percent of registered voters; Michael McDonald believes that 41.5% of voting-eligible Americans turned out to vote.] Note: McDonald has now lowered his turnout estimate 1.2 percentage points to 40.3% (VEP Highest Office Turnout, as of 11/8/10).
But the bad news is what voices are being heard or not heard. Voting turnout rates were down among young voters (18-29) and blacks made up a lower percentage of voters in 2010 than in 2008 when Obama’s candidacy excited African-Americans to vote. For example, blacks made up 12% of voters in 2008 and appeared to make up just 10% of voters in 2010 (based on exit polls). This drop, if it holds up in more authoritative numbers like the Current Population Survey would negate this encouraging finding reported in 2008 that the black-white voting gap had disappeared. [Exit polls suggest that Hispanics maintained their share of the electorate, rising from 7% in 2008 to 8% in 2010, although one would have to compare this rise against their expanding voting-eligible numbers to truly understand whether their political voice was diluted, and if so, how much.] It wasn’t a simple story of the richest folks’ accounting for more of the votes, since those earning $100,000 or more accounted for 26% of the votes in both 2008 and 2010, but due to the elimination of restrictions on corporate campaign contributions in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United case, the wealthy disproportionately had chances to influence election outcomes even before voters got to their polling places.
[For information on 2008 turnout, click here.]
Posted in 2008, 2010, african-americans, blacks, campaign, campaign finance, citizens united, Curtis Gans, election, electoral participation, hispanics, Michael McDonald, November, numbers, politics, turnout, vote, voter turnout, voting, wealthy, young adults, youth, youth engagement
Tagged 2008, 2010, african-americans, blacks, campaign, campaign finance, citizens united, Curtis Gans, election, electoral participation, hispanics, Michael McDonald, November, numbers, politics, turnout, vote, voter turnout, voting, wealthy, young adults, youth, youth engagement
Flickr photo by tinyinsomniac
One key problem for the democrats in Tuesday’s election was that young voters stayed home.
Voters ages 18-29 made up 11% of the voters yesterday (according to exit polls); down almost 40% from the 18% of voters that youth comprised in 2008 and even below the 12 percent of the voters that youth comprised in the last mid-term election in 2006. It is this dropping out of younger voters while the older voters stayed engaged that E.J. Dionne calls “the enthusiasm gap.” Of course, while the concentration of 18-29 year olds among voters is important for what voices are heard in an election, these figures can be misleading — the percent youth comprise of the electorate can fall if there is especially high turnout among other age groups even if youth turnout stays constant.
Another way to examine this is youth turnout (what % of eligible voters voted). On this score, the 20.4% of eligible youth who turned out in 2010, was markedly lower than the 52% who voted in 2010. This is probably an unfair test, since turnout is always higher in presidential elections. But even compared with other mid-term elections, the 20.4% was a drop from the 23.5% of eligible 18-29 year-olds that voted in 2006 and a return to levels from 2002 or 1998. Another way of seeing this is that turnout among 18-29 year old citizens in presidential elections went from the high thirties in 2000 to 48% in 2008 (an increase of 10%); over roughly the same time period (including the latest dismal youth turnout numbers), youth turnout dropped a couple of percentage points or stayed flat from 1998 or 2002.
So much for the huge gains in youth turnout that we witnessed with election of Obama. And it raises some doubts about the trends Bob Putnam and I discussed in “Still Bowling Alone? The Post 9/11 Split“
How about youth’s very strong preference for democrats? Back in 2008, we were predicting that the youth being overwhelmingly democratic was going to cause the Republicans to be rightly scared for a long time since political loyalties once solidified are much harder to shake. Viewed two years later, it’s clear that many youth haven’t yet solidified their loyalties: youth 18-29 still voted democratic (with exit polls noting 56% of 18-29 year olds voting for House members voting demogratic, as opposed to 40% voting republican). But this 16 percentage point spread toward democrats was much smaller than the 38 percentage point gap toward democrats that 18-29 year-olds exhibited in the 2008 election (where youth preferred Obama over John McCain 68-30 percent); see 2008 map of 18-29 year old preference by state.
We reported earlier how the self-identification of young people 18-29 is also trending away from democrats.
Despite the lower turnout, young voters generally supported democratic candidates. If one looks at exit polls of votes for Governor in 2010 that had breakouts by age, there were 15 contests (AZ, AR, CA, CT, FL, IL, IA, NV, NH, NY, OH, PA, SC, TX,WI). In 12 of these, the youth vote broke democratic and in 8 of these states, youth supported the demographic candidate by 20 or more percentage points than youth support for the republican candidate.
Harold Meyerson points out that: Zero ” newly elected Republican senators in genuinely contested Senate races (excluding, therefore, those like North Dakota’s) …carried voters ages 18 to 29. Republicans may have picked up seats in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Wisconsin and held them in Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio, but young voters in those states voted Democratic. Even in Ohio, where Republican Rob Portman beat Democrat Lee Fisher by 18 percentage points, Fisher won the youth vote 49 percent to 45 percent. In the national exit poll on House voting, the Republicans lost the 18-to-29-year-olds by 17 points, and did better the older the voters got.” (“Election by the Numbers“, Washington Post, 11/5/10)
But in summary, these two trends: youth nationwide identifying less as Democrats and youth exercising their rights at the ballot box less are both undermining the attention that politicians pay to youth voters and their issues and helping to shift the electoral map towards Republicans. Obama and Democrats have to hope that they can still recapture some of the youth 2008 enthusiasm both for democrats and voting.
And if youth are going to fulfill the civic promise that they showed in 2008, they are going to have to exhibit more consistent political interest and enthusiasm to get their vote heard and make our country strong.
Posted in Barack Obama, civic engagement, Democrats, E.J. Dionne, harold meyerson, politics, Republican, robert putnam, Still Bowling Alone?, thomas sander, turnout, voter turnout, voting, washington post, young adults, youth, youth engagement
Tagged Barack Obama, civic engagement, Democrats, E.J. Dionne, harold meyerson, politics, Republican, robert putnam, Still Bowling Alone?, thomas sander, turnout, voter turnout, voting, washington post, young adults, youth, youth engagement
Citizens voting before Election day continues to increase as the above graph shows from Current Population Survey data. [The CPS didn't ask about early voting in the early 1980s.]
Early voting is lower in the off-presidential years, but party experts speculate that a third or more of voters could vote early in the 2010 election, as high or higher than the 2008 presidential election.
“This year, the District and 32 states, including Maryland, allow some form of early voting….Increasingly, states are making it easier for people to vote early, allowing “no excuse” mail-in ballots and automatically sending ballots to voters who voted by mail in the past…. In some states that make early voting especially easy – such as Nevada, where voting booths can be found in health clubs, libraries, supermarkets and shopping malls – it could be much higher. In the last election, 60 percent of Nevadans voted early.” (Washington Post, “Democrats hope early voters will give them an edge“, 10/20/10) [For a graphic of which states allow voting when, see the Early Voting Center.]
For sure this changes election strategy, pushing candidates not to hold as much of their advertising until the final days of the campaign, to reconsider their approach about last minute negative campaigning, and to invest more resources up front in a GOTEV (get out the early vote) operation. And in some states, voters may be locking in their votes before they even hear candidates debate, undermining some of the deliberation in our electoral process.
The Post’s headline focuses on the hope for Democrats but signs seem more mixed. For sure Democrats are trying to rebuild the grassroots machine that helped lift Obama to victory in 2008. In some states, like Iowa, early voting turnout is up both among Democrats and GOP in 2010.
Democrats hope early voting will change the tide in Senate races in Nevada, Colorado and Washington. But Politico reports that “In [Nevada's] Reno’s Washoe County and Las Vegas’ Clark County, Republican turnout was disproportionately high over the first three voting days, according to local election officials. The two counties together make up 86 percent of the state’s voter population.”
Republicans also seem to be early voters in North Carolina. For example, the “largest group of early voters in North Carolina is made up of white Republican men, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Democracy North Carolina, a campaign watchdog group.” Even though “[d]uring the 2008 Democratic sweep, black Democratic women led all groups during the 17 days of early voting.”
Michael McDonald, voting guru at GMU, summarizes the state of play as “This is the big test election to see if voter mobilization really has an effect on turnout….And at least according to the very earliest early-voting numbers, people who thought the Democrats were going to roll over and play dead, that’s not what’s happening.”
Posted in CPS, current population survey, early voting, Early Voting Center, GMU, Michael McDonald, Politico, politics, voting, washington post
Tagged CPS, current population survey, early voting, Early Voting Center, GMU, Michael McDonald, Politico, politics, voting, washington post